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Title: The Rajah's Heir - A Novel in 3 volumes
Author: Despard, Charlotte
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE RAJAH'S HEIR

_A NOVEL_


[by Charlotte Despard]


IN THREE VOLUMES


LONDON

SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE

1890



CONTENTS

    CHAPTER

              PROLOGUE

    I.        THE HEIR

    II.       GENERAL SIR WILFRID ELTON

    III.      'IN VISIONS OF THE NIGHT'

    IV.       A MYSTERIOUS LEGACY

    V.        WHAT THE MOON AND RIVER SAID

    VI.       AN IRREPARABLE LOSS

    VII.      THE RAJAH'S HEIR SPEAKS FOR HIMSELF

    VIII.     THE MASQUERADE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

    IX.       DELHI--VIVIEN--A MALCONTENT

    X.        MEERUT AND THE ELTONS

    XI.       ON THE BORDERS OF NEPAUL--A JOURNEY THROUGH THE JUNGLE

    XII.      A VISIT TO JUNG BAHADOOR

    XIII.     LUCKNOW AND SIR HENRY LAWRENCE

    XIV.      A MODEL STATE

    XV.       THE RANEE OF JHANSI

    XVI.      THE RAJAH'S RECEPTION

    XVII.     HOW THE NEWS FROM MEERUT WAS RECEIVED AT GUMILCUND

    XVIII.    HOOSANEE'S MISSION

    XIX.      GENERAL ELTON'S MARCH

    XX.       THE SOUBAHDAR SUFDER JUNG

    XXI.      WITHIN THE WALLS OF MEERUT

    XXII.     THE RAJAH SURPRISED

    XXIII.    THE SNAKE-CHARMER AND THE VEILED LADY

    XXIV.     SUBDUL

    XXV.      AN AWFUL RIDE AND A RESCUE

    XXVI.     CAPTAIN BERTIE'S FAQUIR

    XXVII.    THE BREAKING OF THE MONSOON

    XXVIII.   A LITTLE BAND OF FUGITIVES

    XXIX.     THE WELCOME OF A SORROWFUL SPIRIT

    XXX.      CHUNDER SINGH'S PRECAUTIONS

    XXXI.     THE ENGLISH LADIES IN THE RAJAH'S PALACE

    XXXII.    NO NEWS

    XXXIII.   CONTAINING EXTRACTS FROM THE RAJAH'S DIARY, WITH HOOSANEE'S
              RECOLLECTIONS

    XXXIV.    GOING THROUGH THE LAND--FROM NORTH TO SOUTH, FROM EAST
              TO WEST

    XXXV.     A BRUSH WITH MUTINEERS AND A CLUE TO THE FUGITIVES

    XXXVI.    IN THE DEADLY TERAI

    XXXVII.   THE ADVICE OF BÂL NARÎN

    XXXVIII.  THE SHIKARI'S DISCOVERIES

    XXXIX.    WHAT BÂL NARÎN HAD BEEN DOING

    XL.       THE ELEPHANTS' CHACE

    XLI.      WHAT THE MORNING BROUGHT

    XLII.     'DOES PEACE RETURN?'

    XLIII.    A STRANGE JOURNEY

    XLIV.     MORE FUGITIVES IN GUMILCUND

    XLV.      NEWS OF MEERUT--GENERAL ELTON FINDS A NEW SPHERE

    XLVI.     HOW GUMILCUND RECEIVED HER PRINCE

    XLVII.    IN THE PALACE

    XLVIII.   A LETTER FROM ENGLAND

    XLIX.     SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF MORNING

    L.        VISHNUGUPTA, THE PRIEST

    LI.       THE RAJAH WELCOMES A GUEST AND HEARS A STRANGE STORY

    LII.      GIFTS AND CONGRATULATIONS

    LIII.     NEWS FROM LUCKNOW--TRIXY'S DETERMINATION

    LIV.      COMING BACK TO LIFE

    LV.       IN ENGLAND AGAIN--CONCLUSION



THE RAJAH'S HEIR

PROLOGUE


'A dream and a forgetting. Is our life that? The sages who have
searched into the past and future say that it is even so. A
dream--another dream; a beginning--an ending; a beginning again--an
ending again; in all the world no halt for the trembling spirit until
the dizzy height be reached. And that--when will it be? I accept not
the priceless boon alone. Ye Holy Ones, who have been my companions
from my boyhood, whose wills have wrought upon my will, whose bodiless
voices have counselled me, ye know what is in my heart. If I had
separated myself from my kind, from the children who depend upon me
for their daily bread, I might now have attained to the goal of my
spiritual desire; instead of going forth upon this weary flight I might
have been basking in the light of knowledge, as the Divine--nay, the
very Divine myself. But it cannot be. For their sakes I must begin
again.'

Slowly and brokenly the words fell upon the silence. He who spoke
them--a man but a few hours ago in the full pride and glory of
life--was dying. Early that morning he had gone out as was his wont
from his palace, he had ridden over fields which he had redeemed from
the wilderness, he had visited the fair markets that his munificence
had opened; he had gone on foot, as he had often done before, through
the crowded streets of the city he governed, when the hand of an
assassin struck him down. The blow was dealt before the eyes of the
loyal throngs that pressed round their rajah; yet the miscreant who did
the foul deed made no effort to escape.

'He is a Feringhee,' he muttered as (the wounded prince having
forbidden violence) the people led the assassin to prison. 'He is a
Feringhee. He will take away from us our religion and customs, and give
us foreigners to rule over us.'

Weeping and moaning, the attendants of the rajah had dressed his wound
with such cool unguents as they could procure on the instant, and,
while some carried him to his palace, others went in hot haste for
the European doctor at the Residency. He let them do what they would,
knowing that the doing would ease their pain; but, for himself, he was
well aware that the end of his life, as master of these good people and
lord of loyal Gumilcund, had come.

When everything that skill and care could devise had been done he
begged his attendants to leave him. He wished to be alone.

He had been brought back to his palace at mid-day, and now the evening
was drawing on. The golden light of the westering sun stole in through
perforated marble lattices, and lay in patches on the white pavement,
and made the water that flowed tinkling through, a trough in the centre
of the apartment shine like rubies and sapphires. The Arabian carpet
on which, propped up with cushions, the rajah lay, had been drawn by
his request close to this trough, and his long brown fingers played
aimlessly with the water. As he lay, his lower limbs covered with
shawls of the richest Oriental workmanship, and the upper part of his
body wrapped in a padded cloak of silk embroideries, exhausted as he
was with suffering, the peculiar dignity and beauty of his appearance
must have struck anyone who saw him for the first time. It was a grand
face, finely wrought, noble in form and expression. Those who looked
upon it loved it.

The jewelled turban, which he was never more to wear, lay beside the
rajah on his pillow, and close at hand was a lacquered tray, containing
a gold cup, an alabaster casket, and a silver bell.

The words given above, only a few out of many, were spoken aloud. The
effort of thinking was too great for the strength so swiftly ebbing
away. Smiling sadly, the rajah put out his hand for the gold cup. He
reached it, but he could not raise it to his lips, whereupon he touched
the silver bell. While the sound was still vibrating through the air,
one of the many dusky forms that were thronging the doorway stood
before him.

'Hoosanee,' he said, 'call Chunder Singh.'

Swift and silent as the shadow that sweeps across a ripe corn-field
were the feet of the servant. But he had not far to go. In less than
a minute a man, slender, but of commanding stature, dressed in snowy
white, and wearing a red turban, stood, with head humbly bowed and eyes
so dim with tears that he could scarcely see, before the rajah.

'My master wants me at last,' he said, an accent of reproach in his
voice.

'I am tired. Give me to drink,' said the rajah.

Chunder Singh raised his head and put the golden cup to his lips. He
drank, and the death-like languor left his eyes. 'That is enough. I am
stronger,' he said.

'I would it were the elixir of life,' murmured Chunder Singh, who was
weeping bitterly.

'Your words bring back the past,' said the rajah, his lips parting in a
sad smile. 'The Elixir of Life! Long ago, when we were boys together,
how diligently we sought for it, Chunder, poring over the ancient
Arabic manuscripts! We were to drink of it and live, age after age, age
after age. We were to bring our grey experience to the use and service
of the nations. We were to mould a new world, where righteousness would
be the law and happiness--happiness, instead of misery--the common lot.'

He paused. 'Dreams!' said Chunder Singh. 'Yet I wish now that they
might return.'

'Dreams!' echoed the rajah. 'We know--you and I--that we are deathless.
What need of elixirs for us? Though I seem to die--though to-morrow you
will take out this body and burn it--the chain of existence has not run
out to its limit. _I_ remain.'

'But not with us--not with us!' cried Chunder Singh, flinging himself
down with his face to the marble pavement.

He was aroused from his paroxysm of grief by the voice of the rajah.
'You are mistaken. Rise and sit beside me, and I will tell you what
will make your heart leap with joy.'

Then Chunder Singh rose and dried his eyes, and the rajah spoke. 'There
was a moment when I thought that this death would be my last; that
when I left the prison of this mortal body I should go forth into the
liberty of unconditioned existence; for I have lived as a sage. By day
and by night, at the ordered hours, I have meditated upon the sacred
books. I have conquered appetite and passion, and have worked for the
sake of others, looking not for reward. Is this true, Chunder Singh?'

'It is true, my lord.'

'I know that it is true, and I know that the door into the highest
heaven stands open. But,' in a low and broken voice, 'I may not enter
in.'

'Why will my lord say so?'

'I say what I know, what the Invisible Ones have revealed to me. It
is two years now since they spoke to me of this. "Brother," they
said, "the door stands open. Enter in." I bowed down with my face to
the ground. "And my people," I said, "they will enter in with me?"
"Nay," said the Holy Ones; "have they lived as you have done?" And I
said, "They will." And the Holy Ones answered, "Who will teach them
when you have gone? There is no communion between gods and men." Then
I trembled, and my knees smote together. "There will rise up others,"
I said, "like-minded with us; and these will teach them." And they
said, "So it may be; yet who knoweth aught of that which is to come?"
"Promise me," I said, "that they shall be led into the path that I
have trodden." But to my prayer no answer was vouchsafed. After that,
Brother Chunder, many days went by. Morning, noon, and night I thought
of my people, humbly beseeching the Invisible Ones to grant me the
assurance of their final emancipation; but the heavens were as brass
over my head, and my words as empty air. But one night, when I was
musing, I heard a voice that I had never heard before. "Sacrifice,"
it said, "is the salt of devotion." As I pondered what this might
mean there fell upon me suddenly great awe, and a horror of darkness
enveloped me. More days and nights passed over me, and then I spoke
again. "It is enough," I said, "I will return again to the dark forest
of conditioned existence, and my people shall live." Then at last
the Invisible Ones spoke clearly. "So be it," they said. "For your
brothers' sakes you shall go through another incarnation, and a body is
ready."'

Here Chunder Singh trembled.

'Be still,' said the rajah, laying a long brown hand upon his arm.
'Hear me to the end; for I have still stranger things to tell. Across
the sea, in the land from which my father's father came, there lives a
youth, to whom I desire to send you. He thinks himself wholly of the
West; but our blood runs in his veins. Into him it is decreed that I
shall enter, that, through him, I may return to my people and city.
Listen, Brother Chunder, and consider carefully what I shall say to
you. When these eyes are closed, and you have carried out this body to
the burning, you must go to the land where my father's father lived;
you must find that youth of our race; you must be faithful to him as
you have been faithful to me.'

'But how shall I know him when I see him?' said Chunder Singh.

'You will know him by this, that he is my heir. My last will and
testament is in England, in the hands of our agent, with whom you
have often communicated by letter. He, if you present the credentials
that I leave with you, will give you all the information you require.
Understand, Chunder, while the youth is in England, amongst the
friends of his boyhood, I do not desire that you shall press yourself
upon him. When he has--as I know he will--made up his mind to become
one of us, then you will wait upon and help him. Will you?'

'My lord, thou knowest,' cried the poor fellow, weeping. 'Of what value
is Chunder's life to him now, save as he can carry out the wishes of
his master?'

The rajah smiled. 'That is well,' he said, 'I am satisfied. This,'
laying his hand on the alabaster casket, 'I give to you. It contains
gold and English notes, and my secret instructions. Strike the bell
three times!'

Chunder Singh obeyed. On the instant the marble pavement round the
rajah's couch was thronged with the figures of men in white and
coloured garments, whose weeping and lamentation filled the air of the
apartment.

But when the rajah lifted his hand there was silence. Then every one of
them fell down with their faces to the ground. In a voice that faltered
with weakness he bade them rise and listen to his last words. They
obeyed him trembling. 'Listen, my children!' he said. 'It is the will
of the Supreme, who doeth as He listeth in the heavens above and in
the earth beneath, that I should leave you for a season; but when the
times are fulfilled I will return. Until I come the elders of the city,
Chunder Singh and Lutfullah and the others'--he looked smilingly from
one to another--'will rule you under the English Resident, whom I have
seen to-day, and to whom you will refer in case of difficulty. I call
you all to witness that to my faithful minister, Chunder Singh, I give
this casket with everything it contains. Hoosanee, my bearer, will take
the gold cup out of which I drink, and the diamond star in my turban.
To him and all of you there are legacies of which you will hear in the
proper time and place. It is my desire that the palace be kept as it is
till your lord's return. The treasury is in the hands of the Resident,
and he will give you your pay. My faithful servants, farewell! Thank
you for your service. I can say no more. As you love me, I beseech you
to withdraw quietly.'

Stifled sobs followed the rajah's words, but not a single word was
spoken. One by one, with lingering looks of love, they left the
apartment. At last there were none left but Chunder Singh, his
foster-brother, and Hoosanee, his bearer. He looked with yearning
affection from one to the other, said feebly, 'Chunder will tell my
Hoosanee,' and fell back dead.



CHAPTER I

THE HEIR


In a little green box by the banks of the silver Thames, far from
the busy haunts of men and commerce, yet near enough to a busy
little county town not to be altogether cut off from the society of
their fellows, there lived at the time of the death of the Rajah of
Gumilcund, known amongst his Indian contemporaries as Byrajee Pirtha
Raj, a widow and her son. They were English. The widow was of middle
age. She had been handsome, and she was still comely and pleasant to
look upon. The son had just turned his twenty-first year.

The two were somewhat of an enigma to their neighbours, one of
whom--the well-known Lady Winter--used to say that the good folks of
Surbiton and Kingston ought to be thankful to the Gregorys, without
whose eccentricities they would not have had anything to talk about.

Now, it was very well that Mrs. Gregory did not hear this kind speech,
for, however she may have affected her neighbours, it is very certain
that she had not the least desire to be eccentric. And indeed the
peculiarity which set all these busy tongues wagging had more to do
with her son than with herself. His appearance, to begin with--how did
he come to be so curiously, so abnormally, different from his mother?
No one seeing them together could have imagined that they were closely
related. She was one of those large, fair women--placid in temper and
gentle in manner--who develop naturally out of the lily-white blonde
of poetry and romance when she is foolish enough to step across the
boundary that divides youth from middle age. He had the lithe figure,
the olive skin, and the dark melting eyes that are supposed to belong
to the great southern races.

The observant said there was something more. They said that the
boy's expression of face divided him more completely from his mother
than its colour and form. I am speaking now of his childish years.
They say--I did not myself know him in these days--that there was a
wonderful stillness, a curious, unchildlike spirituality about him;
that he looked now and then as if his little soul were in the presence
of visions which made the things of earth strange to him. This was
noticed once to his mother by a garrulous neighbour, and the anger
with which she received the remark was remembered long after in the
neighbourhood. As a fact, the poor woman, placid as she seemed, had
her own strongly-marked ideals. When her infant was born, and she
called him Tom--a name which the neighbours said did not suit him in
the least--she had visions of him in the future as a fair-haired,
white-skinned Anglo-Saxon athlete, a cricketing and footballing hero,
winning the plaudits of the crowd and provoking the envy of meaner
mortals by his magnificent feats. Nature, however, had other views
for the lad. But of this we shall see more hereafter. In the meantime
it must be mentioned that the curious difference between the mother
and son was not their only peculiarity. It was whispered that there
was something strange--and we all know how much may lurk behind those
two little words--in their past history. That Mrs. Gregory had spent
several of her early years in India, where her grandfather, Sir Anthony
Bracebridge, had been one of those fine old Anglo-Indian officers
who by their military dash and political genius laid the foundation
of the vast English empire that was then slowly growing up in the
East; that her father had in his turn entered the service of the East
India Company and won distinction; and that her husband, Captain
Gregory, had belonged to the same order, and had been killed in one
of the little wars about which no one in England knew anything;--so
much everyone had heard, and this, it might have been thought, was
sufficient for the most exacting of neighbourhoods. And no one,
doubtless, would have asked for any more but for Mrs. Gregory's curious
reticence with regard to the past.

She was naturally an expansive and garrulous woman. Everyone knew that.
She was not in the least like Lady Winter, for instance, who measured
her words carefully. She loved talking and kissing, and the genial
company of intimate friends. Dearest Tom, and his little smart sayings,
the house, the servants, the tradespeople, her own and other people's
ailments; she was ready at any time to discuss these with effusion. But
let one of her acquaintances touch upon India or her early years, and
her lips were sealed immediately. So marked was this, that, curious as
some of her neighbours were--and those were the days when India was, to
the generality of people, a land of romance and mystery--it was tacitly
agreed that it should not be mentioned before her, and so by degrees
the gossip died down. Mrs. Gregory was an excellent neighbour and a
genial companion. She had a pretty cottage, a good-looking, dutiful
son, and she gave charming tea-parties. The neighbourhood accepted her
and let her past alone. The coming of General Sir Wilfrid Elton and
his family to Surbiton set tongues wagging again. Some one found out
that the Eltons and Bracebridges were friends of old standing. Some
one else suspected that Mrs. Gregory had not been particularly pleased
when she heard they meant to settle near her, and two or three of the
sensationally disposed looked forward to what they were pleased to call
'revelations.' None, however, came. The General was far too busy a
person to gossip. Lady Elton, a pretty, timid, domestic woman, took to
no one in the neighbourhood but Mrs. Gregory; and the girls either knew
nothing, or had no inclination to tell what they knew. Our story dates
from the summer of the Eltons' visit to Surbiton.

Tom Gregory, who was then just of age, had, in one respect, fulfilled
the promise of his childhood. He was a handsome man for all that his
beauty was not of that Anglo-Saxon type which was so dear to his
mother's heart. An artist who met him one autumn day wandering by the
riverside just as dusk had fallen, described himself as startled by his
beauty. He attended one of Lady Winter's receptions later, and asked
her in the presence of Miss Vivien Leigh, her pretty and eccentric
niece, who the young Greek god of the river was. Her ladyship lifted
up her eyebrows and wondered what upon earth he could mean. But Vivien
smiled. 'He's met Tom Gregory in his boating flannels, aunt,' she said,
in her light airy voice, which seemed always to have a ring of mockery
in it. 'And do you know I think I shall keep the illustration; it's a
remarkably good one. Which god, Mr. Walters--Apollo or Mars?'

'Scarcely Mars--not fierce enough; but the warlike element might
develop. Educate him, Miss Vivien.'

'Mr. Walters,' said Lady Winter, holding up her finger reprovingly, 'my
niece is quite naughty enough. She doesn't want any stimulating.'

I give this little scrap of gossip to show the effect which
Tom produced in those days on some of the most stylish of his
contemporaries. But although, not altogether, it must be confessed, to
his mother's approbation, Tom had kept his remarkable appearance, he
had changed in many ways from the beautiful boy who had woven golden
visions in the garden by the river. He had been educated, and educated
well. Acting on the advice of her friends, and chiefly of old Mr.
Cherry, legal adviser of the Bracebridges for three generations, Mrs.
Gregory had sent him first to a good preparatory school, then to Eton,
and lastly to the University of Oxford, where he had just finished
his term with credit. It was the general opinion that this elaborate
and costly training, which was supposed to have eaten largely into
Mrs. Gregory's slender resources, had been thrown away upon Tom, who
declined to belong either to the church, the bar, or the army--the
only professions which were in those days considered admissible for a
gentleman. But Mrs. Gregory was satisfied. 'It has made an Englishman
of him,' she said.

This was a little puzzling to the friend to whom the remark had been
made. 'Why Englishman?' she said; 'he was English before.'

'I ought to have said "gentleman,"' she answered; 'but, to my mind,
the one includes the other.' She was certainly no fool, this fair,
placid-faced widow.

Unfortunately, to be an Englishman, or even an English gentleman,
is not remunerative as a profession, and it having been constantly
impressed upon Tom that, if he were ever to live in that atmosphere of
refinement which is supposed to belong to a gentleman's condition, he
must make money, it became necessary for him to cast about for some
means of doing so.

He pondered for several weeks, visiting London two or three times in
the interval. All this time he said nothing to his mother, and she,
knowing his temperament, would not urge him to speak.

Then one evening he asked formally if he might have a little
conversation with her, and she knew, by the light in his face, that he
had come to a decision.

'Well,' she said, smiling, 'what is it to be? Will you take Mr.
Cherry's advice and be a lawyer? He will help you, I know, for the sake
of "Auld Lang Syne."'

'So he was kind enough to say,' answered Tom. 'But I thanked him and
said "No." I should make a poor lawyer. I want something practical to
do. If I were a rich man I should enter the diplomatic service. As I am
poor, I wish to make myself an architect.'

'An architect!' cried his mother, wondering within herself what
possible connection there could be between the two professions. 'A
builder of houses, do you mean?'

'Houses, churches, cathedrals, playhouses, anything I may be put to,'
said Tom, smiling at his mother's look of dismay. 'You see there is
something permanently useful about building--always supposing that you
build well--and it leaves the other half of the mind free.'

'The other half! What in the world do you mean, Tom?'

'I don't know that I am very clear about it myself, mother. But I think
it will be good for me to have my fingers and the constructive side of
my intelligence occupied.'

Of course Mrs. Gregory argued the point. She had never heard of a
Bracebridge being an architect. Even the Gregorys, so far as she could
learn, had always belonged either to the army or to one of the clerical
professions. Were architects gentlemen? Did they take a place in
society? Could they make money?

Her son quoted one or two great names out of ancient and modern
history; but these did not satisfy her in the least. When he continued
to urge his views she begged for time to consult their friends; but Tom
would not hear of it.

'No, mother,' he said, 'this is a question for you and me, no one
else. Can you put down the money'--he mentioned a comparatively small
sum--'which will be necessary to bind me as an apprentice, and will you
undertake to keep me for the next two years?'

'As to keeping you,' said the poor woman, tears filling her eyes, 'I
should do that under any circumstances. What have I to live for but
you? But----'

'Then, dearest mother, let us settle it so. In any case I shall not
be losing my time. Every art acquired is an additional power and
resource. If I find I am mistaken, if I wish to take up what you think
a loftier walk of life, I can always do it; and, in the meantime, we
are together.'

Yes, they were together, that was the great sweetener of everything;
and she was not one to do battle for ideal excellence, or to stand firm
against well-sustained importunity. 'After all it is you, not I, who
are choosing a profession,' she said feebly. 'And--and--you are not
quite like others. If things come to the worst----' And here she broke
off and set her lips together, as if she had a secret to guard.

'If things come to the worst,' said Tom, who was accustomed to these
little breaks, and did not mind them, 'we should manage to battle it
out somehow, little mother. I am not in the least afraid.'

They arrived at this decision early in the spring. It was then that
General Sir Wilfrid Elton, who was at home on a year's furlough from
India, paid a visit to his old friend Mrs. Gregory, and fell in
love with the cottage adjoining hers that had been empty since the
previous summer. She was very frank in pointing out its deficiencies:
the tumbledown condition of the fences and outhouses, the close
neighbourhood of the river, the likelihood of damp. 'It would be
pleasant to have neighbours,' she said wistfully, 'but I should be
sorry for such old friends as Lady Elton and you to do anything so
important with your eyes shut.'

'We shall certainly not do that,' said the General, with his hearty
laugh.

'But consider the girls!' said Mrs. Gregory, a pink flush mounting to
her face--the General was such a curiously quizzical man. 'This is a
dull place for young people.'

'Dull!' echoed the General, clapping his hand to his knee. 'You have
spoken the word. The good people in London have tired us out with
festivities. Since we came home it has been one rush. Lady Elton is
beginning to be sick of it, so am I. As for the girls, they must make
the best of it. Two or three months of eclipse in holland frocks and
brown straw hats will do the little monkeys all the good in the world.'

Of course there was nothing more to be said. Mrs. Gregory smiled
sweetly, and with a tremor at her heart, and an unuttered hope that
if Lady Elton and the General knew more about her former life than
her neighbours--a circumstance concerning which she could not be
perfectly sure--they would be discreet, entered, with the enthusiasm
of a friend, and the practical ability of an experienced housekeeper,
into the arrangements necessary to make the new _ménage_ comfortable.
As a fact the Eltons proved most delightful neighbours. Lady Elton
and Mrs. Gregory struck up a friendship which, while it had the charm
of novelty, drew much of its sweetness from the past. The girls,
who were not little schoolmisses, as might have been imagined from
their father's reference to holland frocks and straw hats, but young
women ranging from twenty-two to seventeen, flashed in and out of the
widow's rooms, dragged her off with them for picnics on the river,
and filled up her somewhat barren days with the overflowings of their
exuberant life. As for the General, who had become a great gardener in
his retirement, he looked in upon his neighbour, as a general rule,
once a day, to inquire after her health, and discuss the condition of
their respective crops of roses and strawberries. Tom meanwhile came
and went, going to town early in the morning and returning home in
the evening. To the surprise of everybody he seemed to like the life.
He showed a curious enthusiasm about his work, which he would call
neither a business nor a profession, but an art. The evenings and the
whole of Saturday and Sunday were his own property; and then he would
doff his city clothes and put on the flannels that became him so well,
and either spin himself up and down the river in his outrigger, to the
admiration of the Elton girls, or dream on his mothers lawn, or take
tea, a little primly, but withal satisfactorily, in their neighbour's
charming rose-garden, whither his mother and Lady Winter, and Sir
Reginald her son, and that pretty enigma, Vivien Leigh, would come; and
sometimes after these tea-parties he would find himself strolling along
the river with one of the girls--occasionally Grace Elton, oftener
Vivien Leigh--while the ringing voices of the rest of their little
party sounded behind them; until the sunlight faded, and the little
stars twinkled out in the pale zenith.

And so we come to that memorable day in June, from which, as Tom was
accustomed to say later, everything dated.

It was that loveliest moment of all the English year, when summer,
which has been coquetting for weeks with the enamoured earth, breaking
out one day into sunny smiles, and on the next hiding her sweet face
in mists and clouds, has issued forth at last in her full beauty. In
the irresistible magic of her presence the meadows had become gemmed
with flowers; the beeches and elms, and even the tardy old oaks, which
are of too ancient a lineage to be beguiled by mere promises, lifted
up golden-green canopies to the heavens; the birds--nightingales and
larks, and linnets and thrushes--made the copses and hedgerows resonant
with joyful music. For three whole days the sky and the river had been
penetrated with sunlight.

In weather such as this Tom Gregory spent as little time as possible
in town. On the particular day which I am trying to recall he found,
to his contentment, that there was not much doing, and he gained
permission easily from the head clerk of his department to leave
earlier than usual.

His mother was out when he reached the cottage--at Lady Elton's, the
servant said. Proposing to himself to join her there a little later, he
ran up to his room, threw off his city dress, put on his flannels and
went out into the garden.

There was a certain tree at its further end, a weeping-ash with long
pendent branches, under whose shadow it was often his pleasure to hide
and dream. He would take out a volume of poetry--Shelley and Coleridge
were his favourites--and lying on his stomach, with his head propped
on his elbows, would read a few stanzas, just, as he would express
it, to set himself going. After that, if he had nothing particular to
think out, he would give a free rein to his fancy, which would range
over heaven and earth with the unbridled, glorious luxuriance of youth.
Meantime he would watch the waters as they flowed past his retreat,
taking absent note of the procession of boats and the laughing music of
young voices, which blended sweetly with the sighing of the wind and
the chanting of the birds.

This evening, as he remembered later, he had taken out Coleridge. The
volume opened of its own accord at that magnificent fragment, 'Kubla
Khan.' He read it over twice, with that curious rapture of satisfaction
which nothing but the greatest poetry can call out; and then the mystic
imagery in its stately setting of miraculously beautiful words set his
mind wandering on a wild vision quest of its own.

What the vision was, or whether he was bold enough to imagine that _he_
could build

                       That dome in air--
    That sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice--

I must not venture to say, lest I should suddenly find myself, 'like
little wanton boys that swim on bladders,' floundering in depths
whither few will care to follow me.

The dream lasted for an hour, and the boy came to himself with a
start, for an image, which he did not in the least wish to detain, was
haunting him. He sprang up, gave himself a shake like a dog after a
swim, and went slowly towards the boat-house, murmuring, as he walked,
the words which had called up the unwelcome image--

    A savage place! as holy and enchanted
    As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
    By woman wailing for her demon lover!

'I wonder why that always makes me think of Vivien Leigh,' he said to
himself with a perplexed smile. 'I couldn't imagine her wailing for
any one, least of all a lover, demon or human. Perhaps it's because
she's a little inhuman herself. I'm sure she would have been put down
as a witch in the middle ages.' He began to whistle a lively air to put
Vivien out of his head. Then her image was expelled by another.

    Her face resigned to bliss or bale--
    Her face, oh call it fair not pale,
    And both blue eyes more bright than clear,
    Each about to have a tear.

'What a contrast!' he said to himself, as he stooped over his boat to
loosen the painter. '_She_ is human--exquisitely, beautifully human.'

At this moment he heard his mother calling him, and, tying up his boat
again, he went out of the boat-house and on to the lawn.

'Tom, Tom! where are you?' She looked flushed and excited and out of
breath.

'Here I am, mother!' he said. 'I thought you were at the Eltons. I was
just going to take my boat round and see if any one was in. You look
tired, dear. Come and sit down by the river.'

'Oh, dear! I have had such a hunt for you,' she said. 'I went in to the
Eltons after lunch to get them to show me a new stitch, and the girls
and their father were out; he has gone to town, for a wonder. So Lady
Elton and I sat chatting about old days, forgetting altogether how the
time went, and then I came in to see about your supper, and Sarah told
me you had been in an hour.'

'An hour or thereabouts, and I was just going out for a stretch. Can it
be time for supper already?'

'No, not quite; but----'

And here she pulled up, for she perceived to her annoyance that Tom was
not listening to her.

'Do you hear me, Tom?' she said. 'The post has just come in, and there
is a letter----'

The boy held up his hand beseechingly. 'One moment, mother!' he
pleaded. 'The letter will keep and that will not.'

Now Mrs. Gregory did not agree with him in the least; as a fact, she
had come out to find him, being moved with an irresistible feeling
of curiosity concerning the contents of his letter, which was of an
unusual character, and addressed in an unusual hand. Tom had very few
correspondents, and his mother generally knew from whom his letters
came by merely glancing at them. But she knew from experience that Tom
was not to be forced. Pliant as he seemed, there was a certain backbone
of stubbornness about him. So, keeping herself in check as well as
she could, she looked out at the sight 'which would not keep.' It was
certainly a pretty picture. Anybody would have been bound to confess
that. A pleasure-boat full of young girls, gliding softly along a broad
tranquil stream; their light garments and brown and golden hair steeped
in the rosy evening light. Of course it was pretty. Mrs. Gregory, who
liked and admired the 'dear girls,' from beautiful Grace, the eldest,
down to mischievous, tiresome, delightful Trixy, the privileged baby of
the two establishments, thought it not only pretty but interesting.
There was nothing new, however, nothing to provoke that irritatingly
intense look on her son's face and delay the gratification of her
curiosity.

But Tom! Ah! 'alchemy of youth and passion; how it transforms
everything it touches!' To him not Cleopatra in her barge of state,
floating proudly down her river to the strains of spirit quelling
music, was so beautiful.

There were no less than five girls in the boat. Two of them had been
rowing, and, as the impetus given by their last vigorous strokes
carried it along, they leaned forward on their oars, gazing dreamily
into the shadows; the third, a little golden-haired creature, lay
in the bows with her face towards the water, and two sat in the
stern--one, a royal-looking girl, whose tense expression, direct gaze,
and upright attitude showed that she liked the post of directress
steering; the other, a much softer, and, at the same time, a lovelier
woman, sitting back with hands folded, and singing in a rich low voice
a beautiful old English ballad.

As long as the voice could be heard and the boat seen the boy on the
river bank looked out and listened. Presently the air carried the
sounds away, and the outlines of the boat were lost in the shadows
of the willows that fringed the opposite bank. Then he turned to his
mother.

'Only the Eltons,' she said. 'I thought, from the way you called out,
I was going to see something wonderful. My dear boy, for pity's sake,
don't look so intense!'

'I am afraid I can't help my looks,' said Tom a little stiffly. 'Shall
we go back to the house? It is getting damp here. You will be having
your rheumatism again.'

'Yes, discretion is the better part of valour,' said Mrs. Gregory.
'Give me your arm, Tom. I am not so young as I was once. You know,
dear'--apologetically--'you mustn't mind what I say about your looks.
To me it is just the same, though, of course, I don't _like_ to see you
dreamy and romantic, for I know to what these things tend. I was so
once myself.'

'And it hasn't brought you to any great harm, little mother.'

'I don't know that, Tom. However, I am a woman, and I had friends to
look after me--not that they always--but that is neither here nor
there. You, my poor dear, _know_ what is before you. A man in your
position, with his way to make in the world, must keep all his wits
about him, or he will soon find himself nowhere.'

'A country about which I have always been rather curious,' said Tom,
to whom these admonitions were not new. 'How if I tried a little
wool-gathering, just to have a look in?'

'Oh, well, you may laugh; but you will remember my words some day,
and I only hope it may not be too late for your own comfort. And now,
perhaps, you will take your letter.'

'A letter for me!' said Tom. 'Why'--scrutinising it--'this looks
important--blue paper, black seal!'

'I thought it rather funny myself,' said Mrs. Gregory. 'But don't stare
at it, child! Open and read it!'

'Come inside first,' said Tom.

They went through a pretty little verandah, well furnished with plants,
into Mrs. Gregory's drawing-room, which, though very far indeed from
the daintily-æsthetic apartment that ladies haunt now, was pleasant and
comfortable--well supplied with books in handsome bindings and fine
engravings, and furnished with a low couch, an ottoman, and several
lounging-chairs. Into one of these Tom plunged, and, having thrown down
his boating-cap on the table, broke the seal of his letter. His mother,
who was watching him curiously, saw his face flush red. Then she knew
that there was something in his letter which surprised him. It seemed
to her at that moment as if all the blood in her body were rushing to
her heart, which bounded as if it would burst. The next thing she knew
Tom was looking at her, with the strangest expression in his face.

'Did you know of this, mother?' he said.

'Know of what?' she cried. 'Oh, Tom! Tom! what is it? Something has
happened!'

'Yes,' he said; and she fancied now that there was a curious, unusual
glitter in his eyes. 'Something has happened.'

She caught at his arm. 'It is something dreadful. I am sure of it from
your face.'

'Dreadful!' echoed the boy, breaking into a laugh which rang
unnaturally in his mother's ears. 'I think few people would call it so.'

'But what is it? Oh, Tom!' besought the poor woman, as her son turned
his soft meditative eyes upon her. 'Speak at once, and don't look at
me in that way. Child! child! It is like a dream come to life again. I
can't bear it. Tom, I say! Speak to me. God help me! He hasn't looked
so since he was a baby.'

It was Tom's turn to look surprised. 'My dear mother,' he said
soothingly, 'what is the matter? I am afraid I have been frightening
you. It is very stupid of me; but the news in this letter is so
extraordinary--so unexpected. I have read over the principal part of it
twice, and I feel still as if I must be dreaming. But Mr. Cherry is a
man of business; he would not be likely to make a mistake.'

'Mr. Cherry! Is the letter from him?'

'Yes; he tells me he is the agent and solicitor----Mother, what is it?'

'Nothing, dear, nothing--only you are telling the story rather slowly.
Mr. Cherry, you say----'

'Perhaps you had better read the letter yourself, mother. I can't say I
understand it quite.'

'Yes, give it to me! Quick! I hear the General coming up the garden. My
dear boy, don't look like that before him--don't, for pity's sake!'

As she spoke she seized the letter, glanced over its contents, put her
hands before her eyes as if the lamplight dazzled her, read it again,
and then, with a cry of mingled joy and sorrow, flung herself into her
son's arms.



CHAPTER II

GENERAL SIR WILFRID ELTON


The General was an intimate friend, who never waited to be announced.
He would come up through the garden, examining its condition
critically, with a view to a report for Mrs. Gregory's benefit, and,
frequently, her gardener's confusion. Then he would poke about the
verandah, where, on these fine evenings, his neighbour was often to be
found, and, failing that, he would look into the drawing-room. If Mrs.
Gregory was not there, he would make up his mind that she was either
dressing, eating, or visiting; and, keeping a careful mental note of
the particulars he had intended to report, would return to his family.

The General was a man of whose friendship anyone might have been
proud. Simple as he was in his speech and manner, it was well known,
even in Surbiton, that, in his own line, he was a brilliant and
distinguished person. Though no longer young, he was a fine man--a
soldier every inch of him--not tall, but spare and muscular. His
hair was plentifully sprinkled with grey; his face was bronzed by
years of exposure to weather; his light blue eyes looked at you keenly
and steadily from beneath finely pencilled brows that gave an air of
refinement to the face; and his mouth, for all that it was half hidden
by a grey moustache, had, in its lines, an expression of firmness and
self-dependence which would have won him respect anywhere. The most
superficial observer saw at once that the General, debonair as he might
be in his manners, was not a person to be trifled with. This evening he
came up the garden, as he was accustomed to do, but rather more rapidly
than usual, and neglecting to take notes.

He was actually in the verandah when Mrs. Gregory threw herself into
her son's arms; and, had not Tom seen him and begged him to come in, he
would certainly have retreated.

'I fear I am intruding,' he said, as Mrs. Gregory, who looked curiously
shaken, turned to greet him. 'Just like me. Lady Elton said to me,
"Much better wait;" but we are such intimate friends; besides--why,
Mrs. Gregory, my good old friend, you have borne so much bad fortune
with resolution, you are surely not going to break down when good
fortune comes knocking at your door? She's a jade we don't generally
find it difficult to welcome. Tom, my boy, I congratulate you. No more
building now--eh! You'll be giving orders instead of taking them--a
very different sort of business. You look surprised--only just know
yourselves? Well, curiously enough, it got wind at the club--how,
heaven only knows. I believe that rumours have wings. I was interested,
of course, having known all the family so well, and I called in at Mr.
Cherry's on my way home to ask him if there was any foundation for the
rumour.'

'And he told you it was true?' said Mrs. Gregory.

'Yes, he was civil enough to answer my questions. The rajah's will,
he says, will be public property to-morrow, so it is no breach of
confidence.'

As he spoke he had settled himself in an armchair and put his cane and
wide-brimmed straw hat on the floor beside him. 'Now, really,' he said,
looking from mother to son, 'you are the very funniest people I ever
met. I expected to find my young friend Tom dancing a war-dance. Why,
young man, do you know what it means to be rich?'

'I think I do, General.'

'Oh! do you? Then all I can say is, wait till you see. It means a good
many things, my boy, that you can't so much as guess at. But come, Mrs.
Gregory, you can't feel it so much! How many years is it since you met
your cousin, the rajah?'

'I am really afraid to think,' said Mrs. Gregory, rousing herself with
an effort. 'Still, a death is a death, and it was so unexpected.'

'You were in correspondence with the rajah?'

'Oh no! And that's what makes it so strange. I might have
thought--expected----'

'Just so. You might have expected to be remembered.'

'I don't know why,' said the poor woman, with a wan smile. 'But,
of course, there was the relationship. Very distant, as you know.
My poor father and the late rajah of Gumilcund's father were only
half-brothers. If it hadn't been for the infatuation of my grandfather,
Sir Anthony--but I am giving you ancient history----'

'On the contrary, you are interesting me very much. Sir Anthony was
always staunch to his Indian connections.'

'Yes; I wondered myself that he married a second time.'

'Oh! he was bound to have an English heir, said the General, smiling,
'a determination to which you may be said to owe your existence. But
about this fortune, are there any particulars? Your cousin, the rajah,
you know, is said to have been phenomenally rich. I heard something of
it when I was in India last, and, if I hadn't been so busy, I should
have got the resident Montgomery to have me invited. A discovery was
made in the state the other day--a ruby mine--think of that! I suppose
it is Tom's now. They say the city is a perfect little model. The rajah
was reviving lost arts and setting a new civilisation going. Will Tom
be expected to take the supervision of it all?'

'Oh, no, no! There are absolutely _no_ conditions. Mr. Cherry says so
expressly,' cried Mrs. Gregory.

'So much the better,' said the General. 'But most probably the state
will lapse to the Company. What is the matter, Tom? Are you waking up
at last?'

'I don't know,' said the boy. 'It is, of course, a little bewildering,
especially as I know nothing whatever of the family history of which
you and my mother have been talking. But this I do know. If I take up
this responsibility I will carry it through to the best of my ability.'

'But there is no responsibility,' said Mrs. Gregory, wringing her
hands. 'General, my old friend, tell the boy so. He needn't surely
become an Indian rajah because a rajah has left him a fortune.'

'Of course he needn't,' said the General lightly; 'though, really,
do you know'--looking at him--'I think he would play the part pretty
well. Tom, take your mother's advice. She has ten times more common
sense than you have. But'--rising with reluctance--'I must be going.
Supper? No, thank you. Uncommonly good smell, though. We have cold
meat. It's always cold meat here. Those young monkeys of mine have such
confoundedly good appetites. Did you see them on the river, by-the-bye?
Look well, don't they, in their boating get-up?'

'Very well indeed, General. Grace looks as well again since she came
down here,' said Mrs. Gregory. 'And Trixy ought to be strong. The
liveliness of that child----'

'Keeps you awake, does she?' said the General, stroking his iron-grey
moustache and looking out before him with a flash of satisfaction in
his keen blue eyes. 'Tell you what, ma'am, that child has the courage
and wit of the family. She is a splendid little creature. You see how
she'll come out if ever she's tried! And that reminds me--the little
witch has persuaded me to let her go back with us this winter.'

'Oh, General!'

'It is very weak I know, but, positively, I can't help it. You see, I
am taking out the other four, and it seems hard to leave her behind,
poor monkey.'

'Yes; but five girls in India!'

'You may well exclaim. I consider that the responsibilities of a
rajah's wealth are nothing to mine. Fortunately they are as good as
gold, and then, you know, I am not like a griff: I know the ropes, and
can make them pretty comfortable. That new bungalow of mine at Meerut
will be in first-rate order by this, and I mean to send them up to
Nainee Tal in the heats. Well, I must really be trotting. I am carver,
you know, and I shall be scolded as it is. Come and see my wife and the
girls when you are a little resigned and can talk it over calmly.'

He was talking when he crossed the verandah, and when he left off
talking he whistled a lively air and then sang lustily an old
barrack-song of his juvenile days, which brought him to his own garden
gate. He had no sooner opened it than he was fallen upon by a troop
of girls with light garments and flowing hair. He flourished his cane
and made a feint of trying to escape, but they took the cane from
him, wound their arms about him and held him fast. Then, as they moved
forward in a troop towards the house, drawing him on with them, they
all began to chatter together.

'You're not at all a good strategist, dad,' said one. 'We heard you a
mile off.'

'And we have been waiting about an hour,' from another.

'Supper's on the table; and I'm as hungry--as hungry--as a bear,' from
a third.

'Oh! never mind Trixy,' cried a fourth silvery voice, 'she's always
hungry. Tell us about _them_.'

'Weren't they frightfully surprised?'

'They must have thought you an angel for going in to see them at once.'

'But how did they look? What did they say?'

'Has Tom put on any airs yet?' This last was from Miss Trixy.

'Girls! girls!' from the highest of the golden heads, 'how is it
possible for dad to answer you if you all speak at once? Come in,
father----'

'No, dear, don't! Stay with us; we're quite as fond of you as Grace.'

'And as fond of gossip, you cupboard-love young women! Come, clear off,
Grace and all. There's not a pin to choose between you.'

He spoke in what was known as his voice of thunder--a voice which had
often made a thousand dusky warriors quake; but these mischievous girls
only chattered the more rapidly, and clustered round him the more
persistently.

'Where is your mother?' said the General.

'In the dining-room,' said Trixy, 'sitting like patience on a monument,
waiting for you.'

'Hear, dear! Am I so very late? I suppose I did forget the time a
little. Well, never mind. Here we are! Mother, my dear,' stooping
to kiss the forehead of a pretty elderly lady who was sitting in an
armchair by a little wood fire, stitching at white work and smiling
placidly, 'you must excuse me. I am afraid I am late.'

'Are you late, dear?' she said, rising and folding up her work, 'I
didn't know. The time slips away so quickly when one is busy. Oh, the
girls!' looking round affectionately. 'But they are always hungry.
River air and strong exercise, I suppose. Trixy, dearest, father would
like to get rid of his coat and see his letters. Call Yaseen Khan.'

Trixy, who was afraid to leave the room lest interesting news should
be given in her absence, went to the door and called out, and in the
next instant an Indian servant, old, but handsome still, and dressed in
gay garments of white and red and gold, a voluminous snow-white turban
crowning his dark eyes and dusky face, appeared upon the threshold.
The General asked him one or two questions in rapid Hindustani; he
answered submissively, and then, going about his business as steadily
as if the issues of life and death hung on its due performance, removed
the General's upper coat, his hat and gloves, and laid before him the
letters which had arrived by the latest post.

The girls and their mother were in the meantime taking their places
round the table, which was plainly furnished with cold meat, bread,
and salad. A dish of exquisite pink and yellow roses occupied the
centre, and there was a handsome tea equipage opposite Lady Elton, and
a large silver bowl, heaped high with snowy rice, at the General's end
of the table. There was certainly nothing luxurious here; but in the
arrangement of the meal, no less than in the appearance of those who
were partaking of it, there was an unmistakable air of distinction and
refinement.

The girls were hungry after their day on the river, and for a few
moments there was little heard but the clatter of knives and forks.
Then there was a little pause. The General, who had glanced over his
letters and laid them aside, was looking across at his wife. 'I saw
Mrs. Gregory and her son,' he said tentatively.

Immediately five pairs of inquisitive eyes were turned upon Lady Elton.

'Well!' she said, smiling. 'They had heard the news, of course?'

'Cherry's letter had just arrived.'

'Only just! I am afraid you were a little in the way, Wilfrid.'

'So I was, at first; but I think now it was as well. They were
curiously upset.'

'Poor dear Mrs. Gregory!' said Lady Elton gently. 'I can well
understand it.'

'I don't think I should be upset if I heard that I had come into a
large fortune,' said a mutinous little voice at the General's end of
the table. 'But Tom--how did he take it?'

'Do be quiet, Trixy; let father speak,' whispered the girl at her elbow.

'Yes,' said Lady Elton, whose kind face had grown curiously soft. 'Tell
us about Tom. The dear fellow is such a favourite of mine! Do you know
it is quite delightful to me to think that he is well off--not, of
course, that riches mean happiness. I hope I am not so foolish as to
imagine that. There are other things'--looking round her with a glow
of happiness in her sweet old eyes--that come far, far before riches.
Still it is pleasant to have a competence. A number of little anxieties
are knocked off at once, and then you can do kind things without
counting the cost.'

'But, my dear wife,' said the General, 'permit me to say that I
don't think you have quite grasped the position. The boy is the
rajah of Gumilcund's heir--his heir, mind you. Why, he will be
ridiculously--phenomenally rich!'

Lady Elton's colour rose, and she gave a little troubled glance round
the table, whence a prolonged 'Oh!' had risen. 'Then I can understand
his mother's uneasiness,' she said in a low voice. 'It is always
troublesome and dangerous to be exceptional.'

'But think of the pleasure and triumph if you can be it well,' said
Maud, the second girl. It was she who had held the rudder-strings in
the boat that evening.

Then came the mutinous little voice in the corner again.

'We are wandering from our point,' it cried discontentedly. 'The point
is Tom. Tom the fortunate man, Tom the handsome man, Tom the heir of
this romantic person in India--what did he say? How did he look? Did
his eyes shine? He has such expressive eyes, you know! Never shake
your head at me, Grace. You said so yourself--I heard you--to mother,
"capable of expressing every shade of feeling"--those were your very
words.'

Upon this Grace blushed, a circumstance which seemed to give the
keenest satisfaction to the mutinous little person in the corner;
the other girls laughed, and Lady Elton called them to order. In a
momentary lull the General was heard to say:

'You young ladies observe pretty minutely, I must confess.'

'Yes, yes!' cried Trixy. 'Girls, do let father speak.'

'I was going to say, Trixy, that my eyes, I am afraid, are not so
clever as yours. As far as I can remember, Tom took it very quietly,
didn't dance, didn't laugh, didn't put on height. His eyes may have
shone; but, as I am not a competent observer, I refuse to pledge
myself. My impression is that when you see him next you will know him.'

'Father, do you know that you are not at all interesting?' cried the
irrepressible Trixy.

'Oh! if you want romance you shall have it. Give me five minutes----'

'You _know_ we don't want romance. We want facts.'

'Which I have given you, Miss Monkey.'

'A very meagre supply, dad.'

'Limited intelligences----'

'Excuse me, dad; people with powers of observation and inference----'

'Take this girl away!' cried the General, laughing. 'Inference, indeed,
you monkey! Why, there will be no living with you soon. You have
finished supper. Go, all of you! Come, I dismiss you with my blessing!
And, Trixy----'

'Yes, dearest,' bleated the little creature. 'May I stay? I'll be as
quiet as a mouse.'

'And drink in every word I say. No, thank you. Tell Yaseen Khan to
bring my hookah, and then make yourself as scarce as you can. I want to
have a talk with mother.'

'I wish I were mother,' said Trixy, looking back discontentedly. But
she obeyed her father.



CHAPTER III

'IN VISIONS OF THE NIGHT'


Leaving the girls to think over what they had heard, we return to the
heir and his mother. Unlike as they were in appearance and temperament,
a strong affection united them. Mrs. Gregory had her weaknesses--her
tremors, her hesitations, her curious infelicities of speech and
action; but all of these her son tolerated, even, in a sense, loved.
What to him rose grandly above them was the self-forgetting affection
which throughout his life had shone out before him.

She, naturally, adored him. He may not have been altogether what she
would have liked him to be, but he was hers. She had watched him
through his infancy; in his childhood she had made herself a child
again that she might love the things he loved; she had nursed him in
his little sicknesses; she had taught him his catechism, and creed, and
collects, and the beautiful old stories of the Old and New Testaments;
with a full heart and passionate prayers she had sent him out to the
perilous little worlds of school and college; and now it was her chief
interest and delight to provide him with the physical comforts which,
she always maintained, kept the mind serene and the body vigorous.

Sometimes she was dimly conscious, poor soul, that he was moving away
from her spiritually. Having caught scraps of his conversation here
and there, she had begun to feel afraid that his ideas strayed beyond
the limits of the faith she had so patiently taught him. During the
day-time, when he was away, she would take up the book he had been
reading last--a volume of transcendental poetry or a dry philosophical
treatise, and try--oh! so pitifully--to understand what it was in it
that interested him. Her efforts were all in vain. After an hour of
patient effort she would put down the book with a heavy sigh. Her
failure was a measure of the distance that separated them--a proof, if
any were needed, that they moved in different worlds. 'What was the use
of giving him to me,' she would say to herself sometimes with a curious
bitterness, 'if he was only to belong to me in his childhood? He is
very little mine now. He will soon not be mine altogether.'

But these were only moments in her life; moments, indeed, of which Tom
knew nothing; and to say that to any appreciable degree they coloured
the every-day existence of the mother and son would be extravagant. As
a fact they lived together harmoniously and pleasantly, having entire
confidence one in the other.

And so, on this strange evening, when the General had gone and
supper was over, Tom, who was naturally burning to understand his
new position, expected that his mother would sit down in her usual
pleasant, gossipy way and talk it over with him. No such thing. She
annoyed him by bustling about. There was a letter she had forgotten to
answer. Wouldn't it do to-morrow? Certainly not (severely); to-morrow
had its own duties. Then an account to be dotted up. Wouldn't Tom
help her? she said feebly. She had a poor head for figures. While he
was looking over it she slipped away, and half an hour later, when he
went in search of her, he found her in the kitchen overlooking Sarah's
performances. She was so worn out that he simply carried her away with
him by sheer force of will, and laid her down on the conch in the
drawing-room, where she remained with her eyes closed for some minutes.

Unfortunately for herself she was too active and restless to keep up
any longer the feint of repose. She got up for her work, and her son,
seizing his advantage, pursued her with questions. Not one of those
questions would Mrs. Gregory answer directly. When he urged her, saying
he would rather she should answer them than anyone else, she pleaded
that she was as bewildered as he was. He could understand that, he
said, but she must know more. For instance, she had met the rajah--he
had heard her say so to General Elton. What was he like?

'Did I say so?' said Mrs. Gregory.

'Mother dear,' cried the boy, 'do you object to being questioned?'

'Oh no. Why should I?' she said, the colour mounting to her face. 'But
it is so many, many years ago.'

'That you met the rajah?'

'Yes.'

'Still, you remember him.'

'As he was then?'

'Of course, as he was then. Couldn't you give me your impression of
him? That will be some little guide.'

'Why are you so anxious, Tom?'

'Well, mother; but isn't it natural? He has come into my life as a new
power--new to me, although, of course, he must have known of me, and
been thinking of me for a long time.' Then breaking off: 'How pale you
are, dearest; have I said anything to hurt you?'

'No, no, it is nothing. It is only that I see you moving away from
me--so far--so far--and----'

'Mother!'

She came to herself with an effort. 'Forgive me, my son,' she said. 'I
am not very strong, I suppose, and you know'--with a little smile--'a
great change like this always gives one a certain shock.'

'I am tiring you with my silly questions.'

'Not at all; and I don't think they are silly. It is natural you should
wish to know something of the man who has enriched you. But I had
rather, on the whole, you went to Mr. Cherry. The business has been in
his hands for a number of years.'

'It isn't the business, mother----'

'I understand, dear. I understand perfectly. Well!' drawing her lace
shawl about her, 'another day. How curiously chilly it is becoming!
Will you shut the window?'

'Certainly, mother.' He had been sitting close beside her. He now took
a chair at a little distance and took up a book.

Mrs. Gregory watched him with a wistful pain at her heart. She was
conscious to the finger-tips of his disappointment, and she hated
herself for inflicting it; but there was nothing to be done. She could
not speak. She would not if she could. Yet the distance he was putting
between them wounded her intolerably. After she had borne it as long as
she could she called him. He was at her side at once. 'I am afraid I
have disappointed you, dear,' she said. 'Sit down near me again, and we
will talk.'

He obeyed silently. He thought he would give her the initiative this
time, determining, whatever she might say, not to show his feelings
again. By that delicate perception, which was one of heaven's best
gifts to him, he had long since learned to understand and shield his
mother's sensitiveness.

She, poor woman, scarcely knowing what she said, drifted into
mysterious warnings and entreaties. He must be wise; he must do nothing
rashly; he must be guided by Mr. Cherry, who was a good man and a
Christian. Tom gave her the assurances she asked; but they did not
satisfy her; and, I think, it was a relief to them both when, on the
stroke of ten, the little maid of the establishment came in with her
Bible to take part in the pathetic ceremony with which their day always
closed.

When his mother left him Tom sat down and looked round for a few
moments, blankly. He was tired; but he could not rest until he had
thought out this strange thing that had come to him, and here it was
impossible to think. The atmosphere of the room oppressed him. He had
a curious, irritating impression that, though his mother's bodily
presence had gone, her spirit was haunting the place, preventing him
from thinking freely. At last he opened the French window softly, let
himself out into the garden, and, allowing his feet to carry him along
mechanically, found himself presently on the lower lawn, close by the
boat-house and willows. There he stopped and let his eyes wander at
their will. Ah! what a world it was--this soft, mysterious midnight
world of June! Think! How could he think? But, happily, there was no
need yet. The hours of the sweet summer night were before him. With
a deep inspiration, in which he seemed to be throwing off a heavy
burden, he flung himself down on the grass, his face towards the sky,
his feet towards the river, while he gave himself up to the rapturous
sense-impressions of the moment. He saw the upper sky, veiled here
and there with thin, vaporous cloud-wreaths; and it was so near it
seemed to be stooping to embrace him. There was a streak of silver
between the cloud-wreaths. It shone out, disappeared, shone out again,
and the fleece about it was tinged with pale gold. It was a horn of
the young moon--the moon on which Endymion's heavenly love descended,
when on that starry night long ago she kissed his eyes open to behold
her. Through 'the solemn midnight's tingling silentness' he could hear
the swish of the water as it swept over the long grasses and reeds at
his feet. Lovely water! and the fish that swam in it, were they awake
too? Did they go on swimming all the night through? Lovely water! And
lovely, lovely little earth! Ah! how sweet it was to live--only to live
and breathe in her arms on such a night as this!

It might have been a moment, it might have been an hour, that the boy
lay upon the river bank. He could never tell. Of the prick--the tiny
throb of self-consciousness, that called him out suddenly from his Eden
he would often speak later with a smile. He sat up, frowned, drew his
relaxed muscles together. _This_ was not what he had meant when he came
out into the solitude, he said to himself severely. He was a man, not a
thing; it was a weakness, a folly, to allow himself to drift into mere
sensuousness.

Ha! what was that? He turned round suddenly. It was a sound like a
silver bell ringing close beside him. If he had been a child he might
have thought that a fairy in a lily cup was laughing at him; the sound
was so definite, so curiously round and clear.

Giving no attention to it he set himself sternly to his task, and two
or three ideas about the relative values of riches and poverty--ideas
far too fine and exalted to be put down here--followed one another
through his mind. It was a young mind, as we know. Young minds are
superior. If we have ever tried to walk on a tightrope, get up early in
the morning, or take a precipitous hillside at a rush, and succeeded,
we shall know how they feel. It is their newness which we experienced
people should not grudge them. In a little time--we know how very
little--they will find out that there is nothing new under the sun.

Now the young heir, who was exceedingly new, felt a certain throb of
exultation in the circumstance that he was able to feel as a serious
man should when a great change comes into his life. The train of
thought being pleasant he followed it out. I believe he made one or two
correct resolutions. He would not be led away into foolish and selfish
extravagance; he would avoid flatterers; he would do as much good as
he could with his money. Not original. Oh dear no! commonplace, I am
afraid. But goodness is just the one thing that does not require genius
to conceive it. I wonder if that is the reason why it is so often
thought dull? The kind of thinking on which Tom was engaged tends to
restlessness, and hence the downfall which I am about to record.

He got up from the grass, and walking on aimlessly left his mother's
garden, and went on for a few paces down the road. Presently he pulled
up with a smile and a start. He was at the side gate of the Eltons'
garden. An irresistible desire seized him to go in. Trying the latch,
and finding the gate unlocked, he stole in noiselessly. He was in a
narrow path that led through a thick shrubbery. In its midst he paused.
All his wise thoughts, all his correct resolutions, had flown, and
his heart was beating fast and furiously. What was this--what was
this--which was rushing through him, tingling in his veins like wine of
Paradise? 'And a spirit in my feet'--he murmured the words half aloud--

                'A spirit in my feet
    Hath led me--who knows how?
    To thy chamber-window, sweet.'

Slowly he went on along the dark little path. It came out on the
rose-garden, Grace's special pride and care, which was now in its
full glory. By the faint light of the summer dawning, for the night
was already on the turn, he could see the clustered blossoms, crimson
and pink and yellow, hanging from trellises and pillars, and weighing
down the branches of the young standards. But it was not this that
made him pause and catch at a pillar of the verandah for support. Once
already that night the beauty of the earth had touched him. Now it was
something more. As he stood the branch of a tall standard was swept
towards him by the breeze. There were roses on it, opened and half
opened. He caught at it passionately. Ah! how well he knew the touch
of the soft pale petals, the odour they exhaled! It was a La Trance,
Grace's favourite rose. The last time he saw her she had worn one in
her girdle. Scarcely knowing what he did he kissed the sweet flower
that had touched him. But in the next instant the colour had flooded
his face, and he was passing on rapidly to the lawn by the river, for
it was as if he had stolen what he had not won, as if his lips and her
lips had met on the petals of the flower that was her darling.

At the end of the lawn there was a bank crowned with willows, at
whose roots purple loosestrife and rosy willow-herb were growing. He
could see these things dimly as he looked out before him. Under one
of the willows was a rustic seat, where the girls often clustered in
the evening. Tom sat down upon it and gave himself up to the dreams
that were crowding upon him. Dreams! Dreams! In a misty radiance of
lovely shapes they swept by him. What a fool he had been! It was the
beauty of nature; it was love that binds young lives together; it was
passion, whose feet were on earth, and whose soul was in heaven which
was the reality. These other things--reason, philosophy, maxims of
prudence--they were an illusion--webs that the dull of heart weave to
hide their own dullness from themselves. And, after all, why should
a man think; why should a man be serious when happiness such as
this--_this!_ was opening out before him?

He got up and walked on for a few steps. His feet were unsteady, and,
with a smile of self-ridicule, he sat down again. He spread out his
arms with a low cry. 'Grace!' he murmured. 'Grace! do you know that I
love you?'

He paused. The faint, sweet kiss of the pale-petaled rose was lingering
about his lips. He was remembering how, two days ago, only two, when
he and she were together here--here at this very spot, he had longed
to speak but dared not. That rose was in her girdle. His lips had been
open to ask for it. Something had sealed them. He was too young--too
insignificant--his fortunes were too uncertain. For her sweet sake he
had held himself in check.

Now--ah! everything had changed. He was no longer insignificant--he
was the heir of a man of wealth and distinction--his fortunes were
certain--he could make a future for the woman he loved. If, as he had
imagined, dreamed----

But he could go no further. He flung himself on the grass. His
lips were towards the earth, and it was as if he was speaking to
_it_--telling it the secret ecstasy that he had not breathed to any
living soul. 'I could not speak then, but I can now. This wealth has
freed my hand. They will listen to me--they must! And she! Oh, Grace!
oh, my darling! Come to me and I will make the earth a Paradise to you!
Others do not know what love means. They promise and they forget. I
never will. My love! my beautiful love! Come to me, and let me care for
you. I will, I will. Care for you as never woman was cared for before.
Your lightest wish shall be my law. Your very imaginations and dreams
shall come to pass. You and I, Grace, you and I--our two lives shall
flow on together, loving and beloved, until----'

What was this? He pulled up short. It was a pang, sudden and swift,
like a cold hand on his heart. He rose slowly, and found that his limbs
were stiff, and that his clothes were wet with the night dews. Like one
in a maze he went on, for a few steps, blindly. The roots of a willow
stopped him, and he saw that he was on the edge of the sloping bank
that ran down to the river. He stood where he was, gazing out before
him, with eyes that saw nothing. In that little instant all his ecstasy
had gone, to be replaced by a dull misery such as he had never felt
before. Between night and morning there is a moment when life is said
to run sluggishly in the veins of earth's children. It is then that
the long-tortured drop into blissful, if brief unconsciousness; that
watchers nod drowsily; and that the dying fall on the sleep that knows
no waking. That moment had come.

Tom lifted his heavy lids and looked round him. A chill stole through
his frame, penetrating to the very marrow of his bones. He buttoned his
coat up to the chin and turned to leave the garden. But in the next
instant he was transfixed. It was as if a hand of iron was laid upon
his wrist, compelling him to stand where he was.

He passed his hand before his eyes dreamily.

When, after a brief interval, he looked up, it seemed to him that the
colour of the water had changed from the pale crystal of the morning
to deep blood-red. The trees were changing too, taking strange and
undistinguishable shapes, while there came towards him on the breeze a
confused murmur as of a multitude of steps and voices.

Again he closed his eyes; again he strove to shake off the leaden
weights that held his feet in prison; but it was useless. He looked
up to find all the familiar features of the landscape gone. What had
been the river was a zone of burning sand over which hung a sky lurid
and awful; the confused murmur was still in his ears; but it had drawn
nearer, and the crimson cloud that had hung between earth and heaven
seemed to be descending and distributing itself in multitudinous
forms. Then, in a moment or less, the zone of sand is filled with
figures--figures dark of face and threatening of aspect, that brandish
steel-bright swords in their hands.

He looks, but he cannot stir. It seems to him in those awful moments
that there is more to come--that he is waiting for it. Suddenly it
rises--or has it been there all the time and has he not seen it?--the
vision of a woman, in white garments, with golden hair and sad, wild
eyes. _Her_ face--not as he has ever seen it; but hers. A groan breaks
from his lips. 'It is a dream,' he says to himself. 'It is a dream.'

But a sound rises above the fierce cries of the warriors, a sound
piercing and shrill; it is the voice of his love, wild with terror,
calling out upon his name. Passionately he tries to reach her but he
cannot, and all the time, like the wild insulting chorus of fiends, his
own words, 'Come to me, and I will make the world a Paradise to you,'
are running through his brain.

His limbs are trembling now, and the cold drops of anguish stand upon
his brow. 'Oh, God!' he cries, 'I have sinned. Be merciful! I can bear
no more!'

Scarcely are the words out of his lips before the blood-red pavement,
the fierce faces, and the lurid sky have gone. But she--his love--is
still before him, a pale, sweet phantom, with wonder and a wistful
tenderness in its eyes.

In that same instant the chain that had bound his limbs is loosened.
Crying out 'Grace! Grace!' he dashes forward blindly.

In the next instant our dreamer found himself sprawling on his back
upon the grass, two hands of iron holding him down, and a pair of
glittering grey eyes above him.

'No, you don't,' said an irate voice, as he tried to release himself.
'No, you don't, sir. If you must commit suicide I can't help it, of
course, but it shall not be in my compound. Keep, still, I tell you,
madman! I'm not so young as I was, but I'm strong enough to fight you,
and, by Jove, if you attempt to stir, down you go again.'

By the time this harangue was over Tom had recognised the features
of his captor, realised the absurd nature of his position, and was
laughing heartily.

'Is it you, General?' he said.

'You know me, I hope,' said the old soldier sternly.

'Oh yes, perfectly. Would you be kind enough? Thank you,' as the
General, who was reflecting that intending suicides did not generally
preface their last exit with so natural a laugh as this of Tom's,
relaxed his hold. 'Do you know, General, your hands are like iron?' Tom
sprang to his feet as he spoke.

'Like iron are they?' he said. 'Well, they have had to do hard work in
their time. But come, boy--seriously--I should like to know what you
mean by it.'

'By what, General?'

'By being here at this extraordinary hour to begin with. I don't
believe, myself, that you have been in bed all night.'

Tom looked sheepish. It would not quite have done to quote Shelley's
couplet to the General, and there was absolutely no other reason to
give for his presence in the garden save that 'the spirit in his feet
had led him thither.'

'I am really very sorry----,' he began.

'Understand me,' interrupted the General, mollified by his penitence,
but feeling bound to express his displeasure: 'I have no objection to
see you either in the garden or in the house. I have begged you again
and again to come and go as you please. Lady Elton has done the same.
She has a strong regard for you, and so have I. But, sir, when you go
in for extraordinary athletic performances, I must beg you to find
another field than mine for the display of your talent. Also'--and here
his very hair seemed to bristle with indignation--'to find another name
than my daughter's to hang rhapsodies to. A very pretty little story
would have got about if anyone but myself had been here. And,' he
added as he turned away, 'there's too much talking as it is.'

The reddest of Grace's roses was scarcely as red as Tom's face when the
General turned away from him.

'Did I?' he stammered. 'I beg your pardon--hers, I mean. I must have
been dreaming. I couldn't sleep last night, General, and----'

Now, a confession was the very last thing the General desired. He broke
in hastily:

'All right, my dear fellow, all right. I mustn't be too down upon you.
It was a tremendous piece of news that you received last night, quite
enough to set a young man's wits wool-gathering. But take it quietly,
if you can. In six months, if I know human nature, you will be so much
accustomed to it that you will feel as if you had been rich all your
life.'

'But it isn't the riches,' began poor Tom, tremulously. 'It is----'

'Yes, yes. I understand. The change--prodigious, as you say. Now don't
talk any more. Go home like a sensible fellow and have a good sleep.'

'If I might have a little conversation with you first, sir----'

'Impossible, my dear boy. Quite out of the question. Look at
these'--pointing to the pot-plants--roses and geraniums and fuchsias
and lilacs, which Yaseen Khan and the gardener were bringing down in
batches and placing beside the river--'all to be seen to before the sun
rises.'

'I shall not be long. I only want to ask you a single question.'

'But how long will it take to answer? No, no; I am not going to be
betrayed into an argument. It takes all one's wit, I can tell you, to
deal with one's plants.'

As the General talked he worked. He had thrown off his coat and tucked
up his shirt-sleeves, and lighted a small briarwood pipe, and he was
moving about briskly among the plants, watering them, syringing them,
washing blight off their foliage, loosening the earth about their
roots, and drenching them with tobacco-smoke.

Tom meanwhile held his ground, watching him. Whenever there was a
pause he would jump up, as the old man said to himself discontentedly,
'like a Jack-in-the-box.' But he never found an opening for the little
conversation that he so earnestly desired, and finally the flight of
time and the General's perseverance carried the day. In a few moments,
if he remained where he was, a bevy of laughing girls would be down
upon him, pouring out questions which he might find it difficult to
answer.

So he rose regretfully. 'I will come again, when you are not so busy,'
he said.

'Yes, yes; certainly,' said the General, cordially. 'Come again, by all
means. You are always welcome. But if I don't look to the plants early
they suffer. Good rest to you, my boy, and a pleasant awakening.'

When Tom had gone he breathed a deep sigh of relief. But his work
flagged, and in a few moments he left the gardener to finish it, and
went up slowly to the house, to see if 'mother' was awake.

'That's the worst of having girls,' he said to himself discontentedly.
'There is always something brewing. Now, if four of them were boys----'

Ah! but which four? That was the difficulty. It seems unreasonable, but
it is the simple truth: for 'a wilderness of boys,' each of them as
handsome as Tom Gregory, the General would not have given the least of
his little girls.



CHAPTER IV

A MYSTERIOUS LEGACY


Mr. Cherry, head partner of the firm of Cherry & Lawrence, sat in his
private room, expecting the young heir. A japanned box, bearing the
Bracebridge name on its lid, was at his feet; a bulky packet, sealed
with many seals and addressed 'Thomas Gregory,' was on the table beside
him; and the parchment wrapper, out of which, apparently, the packet
had been taken, lay spread out on his desk. The wrapper bore the
following inscription:--

 'To William Cherry, of the City of London, solicitor,--My will and
 last instructions are sealed up in this packet, which I desire may be
 opened by you after my death, or, in case of your dying before me, by
 the representative you may appoint. By the love you bear me, I beseech
 you to see my last wishes carried out.'

 (Signed) 'BYRAJEE PIRTHA RAJ.'

Four years before this mysterious packet had been conveyed to Mr.
Cherry by a secure hand. He was an old man, and the rajah was in the
prime of life. It had never, therefore, occurred to him that his would
be the hand to open it. But the unexpected had befallen. The rajah
had fallen by the knife of an assassin; and when Mr. Cherry, in the
presence of two witnesses, opened the parcel left with him, he found
a formal, unusually brief will, duly signed and witnessed, with the
packet already mentioned, which was to be given as it was into the
hands of the heir.

By this time Mr. Cherry had recovered from his first shock of surprise,
but to any who knew him well it would have been evident that he was
still extraordinarily moved. He was a person well known in London
at that time. His mellifluous voice, his gift of well-balanced and
persuasive speech, and his dignified manner, with the snow-white hair
that became him so well, the broad massive forehead, determined mouth,
and calm blue eyes, made him the very prince of family solicitors. The
world said Mr. Cherry had mistaken his vocation: lawn sleeves and a
bishop's crozier would have suited him far better than a lawyer's gown.
Mr. Cherry agreed with the world. But Providence--a power towards
which he maintained and instilled the deepest reverence--had decreed
it otherwise, and he accepted his lot with cheerfulness, bringing the
gifts that would have adorned another profession to the service of that
into which he had been thrown. It must be confessed that the gifts
had proved useful. Mr. Cherry had a large and distinguished flock of
clients, enriched by whose gratitude he could have retired years before
from the arena of public life. But to retire was just the one thing
that they would not let him do. It was whispered that men and women
went to him as to a father-confessor; that secrets which would have
staggered the brain of an ordinary man were hidden away securely behind
that calm, wide brow; and that the reputations and fortunes of some of
the noblest families in England were in his keeping. However that may
have been, it is certain that no one ever repented having confided in
him. His clients were his children, whom it was his pleasure, no less
than his duty, to protect and guide.

The Bracebridges had for years belonged to the number of Mr. Cherry's
flock. The rajah who had just died was their last male representative,
for the English branch had long died out, and the family property, to
the profound grief of the old lawyer, had passed into other hands.
Mrs. Gregory, whose small patrimony he had nursed carefully, was the
only one left of the family; and although he was on perfectly good
terms with her, he had allowed her, when she married Captain Gregory,
to pass out of the sphere of his influence. He was sorry to-day that he
had not seen more of her boy.

'It is a great responsibility to fall upon young shoulders,' he said
to himself, 'and I fear the instructions won't help him much--a
mysterious, a _most_ mysterious dispensation of Providence. May God
help and guide the poor boy!'

This was not a mere form. Mr. Cherry did believe firmly in a Power
overruling the seemingly capricious allotments of what fools call fate.
That he felt it expedient from time to time to remind this august
Ordainer of the consequences that might flow from His mysterious
dispositions was a fault rather of the head than of the heart. He had
himself in his small way more than once played the part of a human
Providence, and he was conscious, even to morbidness, of the importance
of the rôle.

While he sat thinking Tom was shown in. He rose and saluted him
gravely. 'Mr. Gregory,' he said, 'I congratulate you. This is a great
change in your fortunes.'

'So great, Mr. Cherry, that I have not been able to realise it yet.'

'I can understand that. But sit down. I will try, with your leave, to
make things clear to you. Mrs. Gregory, of course----'

'One moment, Mr. Cherry,' broke in Tom. 'I must begin by telling you
that my mother has told me nothing. I did not know, until yesterday,
that we had any Indian relatives at all. I asked her to explain, and
she referred me to you.'

'Very strange! very strange!' said the lawyer musingly. 'Mrs. Gregory
was surprised?'

'She was more than surprised.'

'Shocked?'

'Yes; I believe she was really shocked,' said Tom. 'My mother told me,
you know, to speak to you freely,' he added.

'Certainly. I should be pained if you did not,' said Mr. Cherry in his
most impressive manner. 'Mr. Gregory, I have been the friend of your
mother's family for three generations. They have all treated me with
confidence. You, it seems, are chosen to carry on the traditions of the
race. Why this is, I must tell you frankly, I cannot even guess. But it
is so. If you permit it, I will be your friend as I have been theirs.'

'Thank you,' said Tom, grasping cordially the hand which the old lawyer
extended to him. 'I accept your offer with pleasure. And I only hope I
may prove worthy of your friendship.'

These preliminaries over, they proceeded to business. In a few clear
words Mr. Cherry explained to Tom what the relationship had been
between his mother and the rajah. The will, which should be laid
before him presently, was of the simplest. There were a few legacies
to servants and retainers, a bequest to Mr. Cherry, and the remainder
absolutely, in the words of the will, to 'Thomas Gregory, my cousin's
son.'

'Are there no conditions?' asked Tom.

'None whatever. I gather from a private letter, which I will put in
your hands, that you are nominated as your cousin's successor in the
raj. But, as Gumilcund has been for some years a protected state, the
Company will have something to say about that. You had better put
yourself in communication with the Lieutenant Governor. There is a
resident, who will look after things there meanwhile. I have _heard_
that Lord Dalhousie had a particular affection for Gumilcund. But this
is all for the future.'

'Whatever my responsibilities may be,' said Tom, 'I assure you that I
have no desire to shirk them.'

'Well said,' answered Mr. Cherry. 'But we must be patient. We must do
nothing in a hurry. I may tell you, in the meantime, that your cousin
had a considerable amount of property in England. He sent over his
surplus revenues for us to invest. This was with the view, I believe,
of carrying out some new scheme. We have large sums in our hands
now waiting to be dealt with, and you can draw upon them as soon as
you like. I keep a clerk on purpose to deal with what we call the
Indian-Bracebridge property--an intelligent fellow, and a keen man of
business. He shall wait upon you at whatever time you like to name, and
give you every sort of information.'

Here he paused and cleared his throat. The dramatic moment of the
interview had come, and it had to be met with proper dignity.

'You have something more to tell me,' said Tom.

'Yes,' said Mr. Cherry impressively. 'I have something more to tell
you. A will, as I have often said, is public property. It is the duty
of the law to see it carried out. But men may have wishes as well as
intentions, although they may not think it prudent to complicate their
last will and testament by inserting them. In such case they will often
leave them behind in other forms, leaving it to their successors to
carry them out. This, I imagine, your cousin the rajah has done.' He
drew forward the sealed packet. 'Inside the wrapper which contained the
rajah's will,' he went on, 'I found this.'

'How strange! How very strange!' said Tom. 'This is just what I was
hoping for.'

'Take it away with you,' said Mr. Cherry, 'and open it at your leisure.
But let me say one word first. There can be nothing legally binding
in these papers. You will read them, of course, and no doubt you will
try to act in their spirit; but I should not advise you to attempt
to follow them slavishly. Your cousin, though he had an English
grandfather, was an Asiatic of the Asiatics.'

'Was he a Mohammedan?'

'No; nor, I believe, a Hindu; but he was not a Christian. I am afraid
he had no settled religion unless at the last; there is just the
hope. The truth was put before him faithfully, though in weakness,'
said Mr. Cherry, his voice faltering. 'What I mean by his being an
Asiatic is that his sympathies were rather with the East than with
the West. He was one of the greatest Sanskrit and Persian scholars
of our generation. I am told he knew the Vedas and the Zend Avesta,
not to speak of all the great Hindu poems and the mass of Buddhistic
literature, as we know our Bibles. It was marvellous that one mind
could have carried so much learning. Yes, and he was a delightful man
to meet--courteous, gracious. He had the most wonderful way of setting
his friends at their ease and overcoming their prejudices. I think
sometimes now that, but for this charm of manner, I might have been
more faithful with him. But'--very sadly--'the opportunity has gone.'

As he spoke he rose from his seat. He saw by the strained look in Tom's
face that he was listening to him with an effort. 'Excuse me,' he said,
'I am an old man, and, I suppose, garrulous. You are anxious to be
alone with your papers.'

'I shall open them at home,' said Tom quietly. 'I am much obliged to
you, Mr. Cherry. I will come again when I have read them, and perhaps
you will tell me more about my cousin then. I assure you'--smiling--'I
cannot hear too much.'

'The boy has _their_ manner--their look too,' said the old lawyer to
himself when he was left alone. 'I wonder where he got it? Harking
back, I suppose. A very strange thing this heredity is--a very strange
thing indeed!'

       *       *       *       *       *

It was afternoon when Tom returned to the cottage. Finding, no little
to his relief, that his mother was out, he hurried up to his room, shut
and locked the door, and drew out his mysterious packet. As he sat with
it before him his heart beat more quickly than usual, for he felt like
one called upon to converse with spirits and to enter into the secret
counsels of the dead.

Then, his excitement increasing as he proceeded, he began to break one
by one the seals with which it was closed. At the last seal he paused,
and cast a rapid glance round the room, whispering half aloud: 'Is
anyone there?'

There was no answer, and his glance, which had been merely mechanical,
for he _knew_ no one had come into the room with him, strayed to
the window. 'I am dreaming as I did last night,' he said to himself
bitterly. 'If this sort of thing goes on I shall be a perfect visionary
soon, fit for nothing but a lunatic asylum. Ah!' he interrupted
himself, 'what is that?'

At the word he leapt up, crossed the room in one bound, threw the
Venetian shutters open, and looked out. There was no one--absolutely no
one--not a human being within sight or sound. The Sleeping Beauty's
palace could scarcely have been more still than this green garden
world, as it lay basking in the light of the golden afternoon.

Calling himself by a variety of contemptuous names, Tom strode back
to his seat. There should be no more of this foolish nonsense, he
said, and he broke the last seal. The wrapper at once fell open,
revealing a little pile of papers, which appeared to be covered with
minute handwriting. Tom's heart was by this time beating like a
sledge-hammer. What was he going to hear? What was he going to see?
He took up the first paper and examined it closely; but how great
was his disappointment when he found that he could not make out a
word of it! He passed rapidly to the next. It was as unintelligible.
Two--three--four he unfolded; the result was the same. To his eye,
unpractised in Oriental writings, one was exactly like the other. This,
he said to himself bitterly, was like offering a man bread and giving
him a stone. At last, when he had gone through nearly the whole of the
pile of papers, he came to one different in appearance from any of the
others. It was smaller in size, but thicker, and the leaves were gummed
together at the edges. He was about to open it when he saw that there
was an inscription on the outside, written in characters exceedingly
minute, but not Oriental. He held it up to the light and read as
follows: 'Unless you are capable of forming a firm resolution, go no
further!'

While he was wondering what this might mean he turned the roll over,
and saw that words were written on the other side also. These were
still stranger: 'If you are brave and resolute, open without fear.'

He paused to think. It was so silent in the room that he could hear the
beating of his own heart. He was asking himself if he had the qualities
required by his mysterious benefactor, and wondering what could be the
nature of the secret which must be approached in so resolute a spirit.
Weird stories of dim antiquity--of beautiful things grasped at by eager
hands and won, but won through strife, and blood, and tears--floated
through his brain as he sat hesitating, the unopened roll before him.
Suddenly he found himself speaking, uttering the thought that was
passing through his mind. 'I think I could act with resolution if the
necessity arose. I am not all I should be; of that I am well aware;
but----'

And here he broke short, for the impression he had combated a few
moments before had come to him again, and this time with a force that
there was no denying. For an instant he sprang up wildly. Then, feeling
dazed and helpless, he sank back, covering his face with his hands.

In the next moment a clear, low voice was sounding through the room.
'You mistake. It is not a question of worthiness, or even of ability.
The qualities we want are four: humility and honesty--and these you
have proved that you possess; courage, which you do not deny yourself;
and an obedient mind, which you may possibly have to learn. Open the
paper and learn its secrets!'

'Who are you that presume to command me?' said Tom tremulously.

'That I may not tell you. I have been near you all your life, but never
so near as now, when the Holy Ones have permitted me to be the bearer
of their message. The good that is given, they say, must be expended in
good.'

'Do you doubt that I feel it?' cried Tom.

'It is because I do not that I encourage you to open the paper.'

'But why----'

'I can tell you nothing. The past has gone from me. You must learn,
moreover, as it is given to you to learn, not altogether, but little
by little, and learning first an obedient mind.'

'To whom is my obedience to be given?'

'That will be shown to you. First steps must ever be taken with faith.
Have courage!'

'It is not cowardice that makes me hesitate.'

'You are right. It is honesty. Then take time. To-night you will
decide.'

At this moment, when all Tom's nerves were tingling, there broke upon
his ears sounds so familiar that in an instant they put to flight the
weird impressions under which he had been labouring. 'Tom; I say, Tom!
The dear boy is asleep or he would answer. I will go and see.' It was
his mother's cheerful voice that rang up the stairway. In another
moment her hand was on the door. 'Why, it is locked!' she cried. 'Are
you asleep, dear? Let me in!' And she gave a series of impatient taps.

'In one moment,' said Tom.

He gathered up the heap of papers, threw them into his writing-drawer,
looked searchingly round the room, and then, whispering under his
breath, 'Until to-night!' opened the door to admit his mother.



CHAPTER V

WHAT THE MOON AND RIVER SAID


'Were you asleep, dear?' said Mrs. Gregory gently.

As she spoke she cast her eye timidly round the room. It fell on the
writing-drawer, which Tom had not been able to shut on account of the
quantity of papers. 'You have been busy?' she said with a vague smile.

'My business will keep,' he answered. 'Only some papers, mother--about
the property, I suppose. Mr. Cherry gave them to me this morning. They
were with the will--addressed to me.'

'How strange! And you have read them?'

'Not yet. They seem rather elaborate. I expect they will take time.'

Mrs. Gregory brightened. 'Then they must keep,' she said cheerfully,
'for I want you. Lady Winter and her son are in the drawing-room. They
have come on purpose to congratulate you, and I should like you to see
them.'

'Very well, mother. Just let me make myself tidy first.'

'All right, dear, and I will entertain them. You know,' she lingered,
looking at him wistfully, 'Lady Winter has always been so nice to me;
and Sir Reginald knows everyone. He could help you on in society. You
will make yourself pleasant to them--for my sake?'

'My dear mother,' said the boy, turning his strained-looking eyes upon
her, 'I will do my best. No one can do any more.'

With a little sigh she left him and returned to her visitors.

Society has some curious arrangements. It reverses, as a general rule,
the Scriptural order. Those who honour themselves it delights to set on
high in its banquets, while the humble are allowed to fill perpetually
the low seats that they have chosen. Lady Winter honoured herself,
and her honour was accepted as the true estimate of her worth. She
seldom paid calls. She received them. Her parties were general, for if
anyone who could by any possibility be said to belong to society had
been shut out there would have been painful heart-burnings, and her
neighbours, many of whom were far richer than herself, were flattered
when she accepted little services, such as the use of their carriages,
and presents of flowers and fruit, game and vegetables. Besides
preserving this comfortable worship she could do three things well.
She could dress so as to hide the ravages of time; she could manage a
small income with grace and success; and she could say pretty things
with an _abandon_ that marvellously enhanced their charm. She had
in consequence many friends. Amongst these Mrs. Gregory, as she was
telling her to-day, had always taken a high place. Some people might
have thought that the change in their fortunes had quickened the flame
of friendship. Mrs. Gregory did not. She was a simple woman, and Lady
Winter, as she had told her son, had always been very nice to her.

But her face flushed a little at the kind words.

'And to think that you are rich!' said Lady Winter.

'It isn't me,' said Mrs. Gregory. 'It is my boy.'

'But it is the same thing, of course. An only boy--and one so devoted.
Ah! you may smile. We all know. I only wish my Reginald were half as
nice to me! Well, as you know, I don't think much of riches myself. I
had them once. Sir Thomas was a millionaire when we married--supposed
to be one at least. Poor man! he thought nothing good enough for
me--nothing! I tried to protest. It was of no use. If I didn't accept
the lovely things he gave me it made him miserable. The riches took
flight, and, curiously enough, I am as happy. A few years and it will
not make much difference whether we have been rich or poor. We all
stand on the same ground at last. But,' as the door opened, 'here is
your son. My dear boy,' holding out an exquisitely gloved hand, 'allow
your mother's old friend to congratulate you on your good fortune. I
know _someone_,' with a flattering smile, 'who will be enchanted to
hear it. But I think I shall keep _her_ out of the way a little while.'

'Good fortune, indeed!' The voice came from the depths of a low
lounging-chair, in which a long-limbed, handsome youth was reclining.
This was Sir Reginald Winter. He rose languidly, and went forward to
meet Tom. 'When my mother has done,' he said with his sleepy smile,
'perhaps I may be allowed to shake hands with you. Many happy returns
of the day! Isn't that the proper form? By Jove, though,' laughing, 'if
you had more than one, there wouldn't be room for anyone else. I hear
you are a millionaire.'

'I think he scarcely knows how he stands,' said Mrs. Gregory nervously.

'Of course not,' said Lady Winter. 'I believe you only heard of it
yourselves last night. Some of the Eltons told _us_. Charming people
the Eltons! I am positively in love with those dear girls. But such
gossips. Ah!' lifting up her grey-gloved hands, 'how they can talk! If
I had secrets I had rather confide them to the town-crier than to that
amiable family.'

'But this is no secret,' said Mrs. Gregory, the colour mounting to her
face.

'Tom's good fortune! Oh dear no; why should it be? I only wished to
explain how it was that we knew so early. You know,' in a low voice, 'I
couldn't help being a little excited. We are both mothers--both left
alone early. I have so often sympathised with you in your anxieties----'

'I know--I know,' answered Mrs. Gregory affectionately. 'And I can't
tell you how pleasant your sympathy is to me. We have so many kind
friends here. Their interest and affection have touched me deeply.'
She cast an appealing glance at Tom, who looked painfully wooden and
irresponsive. 'I am sure my son feels with me,' she added.

This seemed to arouse Tom, for he murmured something indefinite about
being much obliged.

'Never mind,' whispered Lady Winter to Mrs. Gregory. 'Young men are all
alike. They don't care for congratulations. Reginald was just the same.
When my poor old aunt died the other day, you know, and left him that
little bit of money, and people told me how glad they were, he behaved
quite naughtily. "Really," he said at last, "I wish she hadn't; I'm
sick of hearing of it."'

'Then I think he was very ungrateful,' said Mrs. Gregory severely. 'A
pretty sort of place the world would be if we had no one to rejoice and
grieve with us!'

'That is the woman's view, my dear friend. But men, you know----'

'Men!' echoed Mrs. Gregory scornfully. 'Boys!'

'Oh come! my friend Tom is not quite a boy,' said Lady Winter, with a
smile of exquisite graciousness towards that irresponsive person.

'Well done, mother. I shall treasure that up,' laughed Sir Reginald. 'I
am called a boy often enough, Mrs. Gregory, and I am ages older than
Tom. I say, Gregory, what do you say to a stroll and a weed? A fellow
is taking my new outrigger up and down. I should like you to see it.'

'Take Sir Reginald to the summer-house. Tom,' said Mrs. Gregory; 'it
has such a cheerful look-out. And bring him back to tea. Yes, Lady
Winter, you must stay, both of you. The boys will like to have their
chat out quietly, and Lady Elton and two of the dear girls are coming
in presently.'

'But we shall be too many for you.'

'Not at all. I must tell you,' whispered Mrs. Gregory as Tom went off
with Sir Reginald, 'that I had in additional help to-day. Such a smart
little servant; a capital cook, and knows how to wait at table. She was
five years in her last place, and has _such_ a character! It seemed
almost a Providence, if it isn't irreverent to say so. It was my dear
boy'--she looked out with dewy eyes to where she could see her son's
tall slender figure on the sunlit lawn. 'He says I have slaved for him
long enough, and now I shall have everything done for me. No one would
believe what a heart that boy has. Positively, I am afraid of what he
may think of doing now he is rich.'

'It is very nice to see young people like that,' said Lady Winter
pleasantly. 'Reginald is wonderfully soft-hearted too. But I have
tried to bring him up reasonably, and I do believe he has no crazes.
Seriously, I don't think your boy could have a more suitable friend
just now. You see Reggy has sown his wild oats. I am bound to confess
that the crop was innocent enough, but it cost me something. Now he is
as steady as old Time.'

'I am very glad that the two boys should be together,' said Mrs.
Gregory simply.

Here, to the annoyance of Lady Winter, who had more to say about Tom,
Lady Elton and two of her girls, Maud and Trixy, were shown in.

Lady Elton had been feeling a little nervous all the morning, wondering
what she should say; but the moment she saw Mrs. Gregory all her
nervousness fled. Her sweet face flushed a rosy red, as she went
forward impulsively, holding out her two hands. 'Dear friend!' she
said, 'we are so glad--so very glad--to hear of your good fortune.'

'I knew you would be,' said Mrs. Gregory, and, forgetting the dignity
of their respective positions--a General's wife and a millionaire's
mother--they kissed each other again and again, like two schoolgirls.

Maud meanwhile stood aside, and waited her turn. She was a handsome
girl of the aggressive type. No one would pass her over in a crowd.
She had flashing brown eyes, a profusion of silky brown hair, which she
wore, after the fashion of the time, in a sparkling beaded net, regular
features, and a determined mouth and chin.

Maud was never nervous. She considered herself equal to every
conceivable emergency. When Mrs. Gregory turned to address her she had
her little speech ready. 'We were delighted with father's good news
last night,' she said, smiling prettily, 'and we hope you and Tom will
be very happy.'

'"We" includes me,' said Trixy. 'Maud speaks so well, you know. We
always let her speak for us. But I really am tremendously glad.'

'Thank you, dears,' said Mrs. Gregory. 'I love to feel that you are
glad. We are so like one family that I feel as if it ought to be good
news to you all. And now,' looking towards Lady Winter, 'what do you
all say? Shall we sit out on the lawn until tea? It is just pleasant
now.'

'If you ask me, I should like nothing better,' said Lady Winter, rising
gracefully.

'But where is he--Tom, I mean?' said Lady Elton, as they went out. 'I
heard he had come back from town.'

'Reginald has carried him off for a smoke and a chat,' said Lady
Winter. 'I expect they will join us presently. But young men will have
their quiet hour in the evening.'

'I see them!' cried Trixy. 'They are just outside the summer-house.
I'll run and tell Tom you are here, mother.'

'No, no!' and 'Wouldn't it be rather a pity?' came simultaneously from
Lady Elton and Lady Winter. But Trixy did not hear them. She knew
instinctively that her friend Tom wanted deliverance, and she was off
across the garden with the speed of a lapwing.

       *       *       *       *       *

So far the conversation had been rather a one-sided business. Sir
Reginald had talked. He was giving information. Tom had listened.
He had heard of magnificent chambers in town going for a song; of
shootings and fishings to be had for very little more than the asking;
of horses perfect in wind and limb, concerning whose purchase Sir
Reginald would be glad to interest himself; of cellars of priceless
wines waiting for a buyer; of furniture, china, pictures, bric-à-brac
to be had at phenomenally low prices--of a world, in fact, that was
offering itself for purchase. The curious thing was that none of these
interesting pieces of intelligence seemed to move him. He sat, as Sir
Reginald said afterwards, like a wooden image, gazing at nothing. He
would not even take the excellent cigar he was offered. Then, just
as his companion hoped he was becoming a little interested, the wild
little Elton girl rushed down upon them, and his opportunity was at an
end.

Tom showed plenty of animation to Trixy; and when he heard that Lady
Elton had come over to the cottage with her, he said he would go back
to the upper lawn and see her. 'What will you do, Winter?' he said.

'Oh, thanks. Don't mind me. I'll finish my cigar out here, and join the
rest of you later,' said Sir Reginald.

The rest of the evening passed pleasantly by. Tea, which was a
composite meal such as women love, proved a complete success. Nothing
could have been prettier, Lady Winter said graciously.

After tea Tom devoted himself to Lady Elton, Sir Reginald made Maud
happy by talking down to her sleepily, Lady Winter chatted amiably to
Mrs. Gregory, and Trixy teased everyone in turn.

Presently came some music--the drawing-room music of that period, which
was before the days of amateur artists. Maud, thinking of handsome,
languid Sir Reginald, warbled a sentimental love ditty; Mrs. Gregory
was induced to play an old-fashioned fantasia; and Trixy rattled her
last piano piece, making her mother hot and cold by turns as she
stumbled over the difficult passages.

The Winters left early. She was enjoying herself so much, Lady Winter
said, that she _could_ stay all night; but she was bound not to keep
late hours. She was going to have some visitors--one in particular,
whom she believed they would like to meet, and she mentioned an early
day for tea at their house, begging Lady Elton to come too, and to
bring Maud and dear little Trixy with her.

To her son she said as they walked home: 'A little of that kind of
thing goes a long way. I wonder if those dear good people will ever
learn to be rich?'

'Tom won't. He is a regular muff,' said Sir Reginald. 'I shall take no
more trouble about him.'

'Oh! but you will, dear,' said his mother sweetly. 'For Mrs. Gregory's
sake. She is such a dear good soul! Not quite--well, you know what I
mean; but very nice--' and she added after a pause, for her son had not
thought it necessary to answer this appeal, 'I have written to Vivien.
I rather think she will be with us to-morrow.'

'I must say, mother,' said Sir Reginald, 'that you don't allow the
grass to grow under your feet. I shall be surprised if even Vivien,
clever as she is, gets anything out of that moonstruck youth.'

'Well, we shall see,' said Lady Winter.

In the cottage the departure of the Winters brought a certain sense of
relief, more especially to two of the party, Tom and Lady Elton.

There was a strong sympathy between these two. Sometimes, indeed, it
made Tom's mother jealous to see her son hang about her old friend
as he was doing to-night. After she had watched them for some time
wistfully, she said, her voice quivering:

'Haven't you appropriated Lady Elton long enough, Tom? Come over here
and entertain Maud and Trixy, and let me have her for a few moments.'

'I am afraid I am not in an amusing mood,' said Tom, rising with
reluctance.

'When you are next in an amusing mood perhaps you will let us know,'
said Trixy saucily.

'Those are things people ought to find out for themselves,' he said,
taking a seat beside her.

'How can they,' said the child, 'if there are no indications----?'

'Which means that you have always found me dull.'

'No, no, no. But I can't say you are ever very funny.'

'You see, Trixy, you give no one a chance.'

'Bravo, Tom! not bad for a beginner,' cried Trixy, clapping her hands.
'Maud'--to her elder sister--'how _ridiculously_ grave you look!'

'I see nothing to laugh at,' said Maud, whereupon the incorrigible
child folded her hands and looked down her nose demurely. The copy of
Maud's expression and attitude was so good that Tom could not help
laughing.

'Stop a little longer; the young people are just beginning to enjoy
themselves,' said Mrs. Gregory to Lady Elton.

'Thank you very much, but I am afraid we must really go,' she answered.
'The General will surely be at home by this. He took Grace up the river
this afternoon.'

'And he wouldn't take anyone else,' said Trixy, who was still smarting
under her grievance. 'I am _sure_ they were going to talk secrets.
Good-bye, Tom.'

'I mean to take you home as usual, Trixy.'

'Pray don't,' said Maud icily. 'It's only a step.'

A peal of laughter from Trixy greeted her speech.

'Maud,' she cried, 'you are too funny for anything. You will freeze us
up to nothing. I feel the process beginning. Don't you, Tom?'

'Trixy, you wild little creature, do you mean to stay all night?' said
Lady Elton, who was waiting hooded and cloaked in the verandah.

'No, mother, here I am,' said Trixy, 'and Maud is following me. Maud
can't walk very quickly, you know. Good-night, dearest, sweetest Mrs.
Gregory. Tom----'

'Tom will go with you, of course,' said Mrs. Gregory. 'Good-night,
dears. Come and see me again soon. Yes, the night air is a little
chilly, so I will shut the door. You may say good-night to me too, Tom.
I am tired, and I think I shall go to my room at once.'

The door of the cottage shut, and all but Mrs. Gregory went out into
the throbbing silence of the summer night. Its enchantment made even
wild little Trixy quiet for a few moments. As she looked up and saw
the little moon, half entangled in a web of rainbow-tinted clouds,
floating like a spirit in the dark spaces of the starlit sky, she said
in a stifled whisper that she didn't in the least wonder that looking
at the moon made people feel sentimental. In the next instant, however,
sentiment was put to flight.

A cheerful, sonorous voice, which they all knew, came ringing across
the lawn, while from under the shadows of the witch-elms a little band
of figures appeared. The General, and Grace, and Lucy, and Mildred had
come out in search of them.

'Good evening, Tom; good evening, everybody,' said the General. 'We
began to think you meant to keep my lady altogether, so we came out in
a body to fetch her back.'

'It was unnecessary. I was taking the greatest care of her,' said Tom;
'but I am glad to see you all the same, General.'

'Thank you, my boy, thank you,' said the General cheerfully. 'Well,
good-night to you!' And then he tucked his wife's hand under his
arm--he was her true lover still, as he would be to the end of his
days--whistled up the girls as if, stately Maud was saying to herself
discontentedly, they were a pack of harriers, and started off at a
quick pace for their own gate.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tom fell behind with Grace. He did not know exactly how he had managed
it, or whether any management at all had been required; but so it
was that when they came out into the moonlit road, he and Grace were
together. He looked down upon her with a beating heart. Words came
thronging to his lips, but he could not speak them. She seemed to have
moved further away from him than ever. This white light of moon and
stars in which she walked was, to his excited fancy, like the mystic
world that was her home, and she in her light garments, her pale gold
hair all ruffled by the breeze, making an aureole like a saint's halo
round her beautiful face, was as lovely, and alas! as unapproachable as
a vision. Silently they go along the interval of road that separated
Mrs. Gregory's grounds from those of General Elton. And now they are in
the little dark shrubbery behind the lawn and rose garden.

Here Tom, who has been sighing like a furnace, pulls up in desperation,
for he feels that his opportunity is slipping away from him.

'Are you tired?' he says in a shaken voice.

'Oh, no!' answers Grace, only a little more firmly. 'I am not at all
tired.'

'Then won't you come down to the river for a few moments?' he says
pleadingly. 'It looks so pretty in this light.'

His heart is thumping against his ribs, and there is a singing in his
ears which nearly deafens him. He hears indeed so imperfectly that he
is on the point of apologising humbly for having made a preposterous
suggestion when he realises that Grace has fallen in with it, that
she is, in fact, leading him to a little tangled path through the
shrubbery that leads straight to the lower lawn. 'Mind how you go!'
says the sweet voice. 'It is dark here, and the branches are low. To
the right; now to the left. Trixy calls this the maze.'

In a few moments they emerge from the shrubbery, cross an interval of
lawn, and stand on the bank above the river, at the very spot where Tom
saw his vision of the night before.

'Isn't it lovely?' says Grace, in a low voice. 'Come here, under the
willows, where the shadows are deep, and look down!'

'How dark and silent it is!' says Tom.

'Silent, but never still. I don't know how it is,' says Grace, with a
little sigh, 'but flowing water always makes me feel tired.'

'It is the constant movement. I have felt that too. But sit down,
darling. Don't look at it----'

She interrupts him a little impatiently. 'No; you don't understand. It
is not _that_ weariness; it is of the mind. I think of life; how it
is going on, always, always. No rest, not for a single moment; dying,
being born, loving, hating, thinking, fighting, suffering, sinning. It
is terrible.'

'But it is beautiful too, Grace.'

'It may be, or perhaps indifferent. To one here and there; one like the
river that receives but cannot give.'

'What do you mean, Grace?'

'I don't know that I quite know myself,' she says, wearily. 'But look
at the river. It is very old, isn't it? I imagine how, when it began to
flow, the big primeval world, with its forests and monsters, was about
it--ages upon ages--and then came men and their inventions--huts and
houses, and castles, and palaces, and cities, rising and falling as the
river flows on, the old, old river. And sometimes I think of the dead
it has hidden, of the tragedies it has seen, of the miseries it has
stilled. And _it_ is always the same; smiling in the sunlight, sleeping
in the shadow, making pictures of the trees and flowers on its banks.
Could one hope to like that?'

'But we do not see what the river does, Grace.'

'Some of us do. We carry in our hearts the passion and pain of the
past. I had rather not, much rather. Sometimes I feel as if it
would kill me, and then I long to be as this water is, smiling and
insensible. But when they have touched you once,' says the girl, her
voice vibrating strangely, 'you know that you can never be as you have
been; never, never!' She turns her back to the river. 'Come back to
the house,' she says abruptly. 'I hear my sisters laughing.'

'Must you go? Will you not give me two or three moments? I have so much
to say to you. So much' (smiling a little piteously) 'that I scarcely
know where to begin. Grace, dearest, my life is flowing on like the
water in the river, and this little hand of yours can turn it whatever
way it pleases.'

'Hush, hush!' says Grace. 'You must not say such things.'

'I must, for it is true. Grace! Grace! I love you.' He pauses. The
light of the moon is veiled by clouds, so that he cannot see her face;
but she is silent, and silence sometimes means more than speech. 'I am
not worthy of you'--his words leap out fervently--'so unworthy that
it is little short of madness to imagine you might care for me. But
I love you. I know'--with a catching back of the breath--'there is
nothing strange in that. Everyone who has seen you must love you. But I
think--I think--no one will ever love you as I do. My heart, my soul,
my life; everything I have and am are yours, if you will only take
them.'

And here suddenly he stops, the eloquent words frozen on his lips.
Grace has covered her face with her hands. 'What is it?' he whispers
very low. He would draw one of those little hands down and cover it
with kisses; but he dares not. In the next instant he is trembling. She
has lifted her sad eyes; she is looking at him, looking at him--oh,
God!--with the very eyes of his vision.

'I wish you had told me this before,' she says, brokenly. 'Is it only
now you know that you love me?'

'No, no. I have known it always, the first moment I saw you. But why,
in the name of heaven, do you ask me such a question?'

'It was a foolish question'--she is trying hard to speak calmly.
'Forget it.'

'I cannot, Grace; for pity's sake tell me!'

'Because, dear Tom--I will call you so this once--_then_ it might have
been; _now_ it cannot.'

'You might have accepted my love, oh, Grace!'--he tries to seize her
hands, but she will not give them.

'Not now, not now,' she says. 'It is too late.'

'But how can it be?' cries the poor fellow wildly. 'Grace, you are
torturing me. Two days ago--such a short time--we seemed to understand
one another quite well. I would have spoken then, but I had nothing to
offer you. It was for your sake, darling, because I could not--dared
not--run the risk of dragging you into poverty. My circumstances have
changed, nothing else. And, dear, if you object to being rich, there is
no need for us to spend our wealth as rich people generally do. For all
I know I may be only steward of my inheritance. To-night when I leave
you I am to read the papers which I believe will give me the real wish
of him who left it to me. Grace, I shall go to them with such hope,
such heart, such courage, if I take your promise with me. Answer me, my
darling, may I believe, may I hope, that whatever I may be called upon
to do may be done, not by me alone, but by you and me together?'

That question has never been answered. Grace had turned away from him.
Suddenly she cries out and grasps his arm convulsively. 'Look! look!
What is that?'

For an instant horror holds him spellbound. In the next he is rushing
headlong across the garden, crying out 'Fire! Fire!



CHAPTER VI

AN IRREPARABLE LOSS


The Gregorys' cottage was on fire. While Grace ran back to the house
calling her father, Tom leapt over the fence, ran along the road, and
tore into their garden, where, to his great relief, he at once saw his
mother and the two servants. The girls were weeping and wringing their
hands. Mrs. Gregory looked dazed. 'Thank God that you are all right!'
cried Tom, as he swept past her towards the burning house.

'Come back!' cried his mother. 'I beg you, I command you!' But Tom had
already gone.

The General joined her. 'All right so far!' he said. 'The fire is all
on one side. We may save the cottage yet. How did it happen?' turning
to the shrinking maids.

'I was going to bed,' sobbed one.

'But if I hadn't been up,' said the other, 'goodness knows what
mightn't have happened! It was like this here, sir----'

'Go to the General's, both of you,' interrupted Mrs. Gregory
impatiently. 'General, I am to blame, and only I. I put down a lighted
candle on the window-sill in the hall and forgot it. The curtains
caught.'

'Just so. Those new-fangled decorations are like tinder. I've said so
again and again,' said the General, grimly triumphant. 'It's a good
thing you got out safely. Here are Grace and my wife. Now take my
advice and go quickly to our house with them. I'll look after Tom.'

'Come with us, dear Mrs. Gregory,' said Grace.

'The General will do all he can,' said Lady Elton.

By this time the garden was alive. People were hurrying up from every
direction: water was being poured over the roof of the cottage, and all
sorts of things--from tables and chairs to millinery--were being flung
out of the windows. 'I can't go in till I know that Tom is safe,' cried
Mrs. Gregory.

'Why, here he is!' said the General, 'and by Jove! he looks as if he
had seen a ghost!'

Tom carried a lantern, the light of which, streaming upwards, showed
his face as white as death. He strode up to the little group, and,
taking no notice of the ladies, seized the General by the shoulder.
'Robbery has been done,' he said hoarsely.

'What? money! jewels! Lady Elton, for God's sake take Mrs. Gregory
away!' said the General. 'Now,' as the three ladies moved away slowly,
'don't rave; but tell me plainly what has happened!'

'My desk has been ransacked and papers of incalculable value to me have
been taken out.'

'Taken out? You are sure of that?'

'I am positive. I put them away in my escritoire. It has been forced
open.'

'Anything besides papers gone?'

'Nothing. I put a twenty-pound note there--the price of my last design.
It is there still.'

'And these papers--what are they?'

'I don't know. That is the cruel part of it. They were given to me by
Mr. Cherry as explaining my inheritance, and I was to have looked over
them to-night. But we are wasting time. Come back with me to the house
and watch the people there. I have a suspicion that the papers were
seized and the house fired by the same hand.'

'Impossible, Tom! I know how the fire arose.'

They had been hurrying back to the house; but, on hearing this, Tom
pulled up. 'You know!' he ejaculated. 'How can that be?'

'My dear boy, for heaven's sake don't be so melodramatic,' said the
General tartly. 'You will be accusing _me_ of stealing your papers
next. The fire broke out in the simplest way. Your mother put down her
candle on the window-sill in the hall, and those muslin curtains of
yours, against which I have preached till I am tired, caught fire. Now
don't, like a good fellow, stare at me so! I am repeating your mother's
own words.'

'Where is my mother?' asked Tom.

'She is with Lady Elton, and there she shall remain for the present. I
refuse to permit you to ask her a single question to-night.'

They were, by this time, in the midst of the little crowd that
surrounded the house. Water was still playing over it; but the flames
were dead. 'Pretty safe now?' said the General, addressing one of the
policemen.

'Yes, sir; and we saved a goodish lot of things.'

'So I see. Any strangers about?'

'No, General; not a single soul. I was up here from the first. Do Mr.
Gregory think----?'

'Mr. Gregory has missed some valuable papers.'

'If they were on this side, General, 'taint wonderful like.'

'They were on the other----'

'We must see after it to-morrow,' interrupted Tom hastily; and then,
raising his voice: 'I am much obliged to you all for helping me
to-night, and to-morrow, if you come to me, I will reward you for your
trouble. I believe there is nothing more to be done now.'

'Two of the police had better stay on the premises. There are all sorts
of things lying about,' said the General. 'You, Tom, will come back
with me.'

'I am much obliged to you, General; but I think I had rather not. My
own room is perfectly safe, I believe.'

'But the furniture is out, isn't it?'

'No; there was nothing of value but the papers; and, for reasons of my
own, I had it left as it was. Good-night, General.'

       *       *       *       *       *

So at last Tom was alone. He had given up his lantern to the policeman;
but he would not strike a light. He sat on the side of his bed,
listening while the sounds of the many footsteps died away, and gazing
out into the darkness, which was strangely empty to him. At last,
being utterly worn out, he flung himself down on the bed and slept. He
awoke early. Of course his first thought was the papers, to the loss of
which he could not reconcile himself tamely. Thinking it just possible
that he might have been mistaken in supposing he had left them in his
writing-drawer, he turned the room upside down in search of them. It
was all to no purpose. After a few wild moments of alternating hope and
despair, he made up his mind that they would not be found in the house.

He dressed and went down into the garden, which was choked up with
_débris_ from the gutted rooms. His mother's servants, under whose
directions some of the furniture was being carried in, were there
already. He questioned them closely about the night before, wishing
particularly to know if any stranger had been hanging about during the
afternoon or evening. But they could give him no satisfaction.

He went on into the Eltons' garden. Early as it was, the General was
out. Dressed in morning _déshabille_ he was sitting on the lawn, taking
the early cup of tea which strengthened him for his work amongst his
plants, while Yaseen Khan, his Indian servant, stood behind him,
holding up a white umbrella.

The General welcomed Tom warmly. 'Good morning, my dear boy!' he said.
'Got over last night's shock, I hope. Sit down! Yaseen Khan, another
cup. Yes, I insist. No sedative like tea.'

'Can I see my mother?' said Tom.

'Not yet, I am sure. She was very much excited last night, and seems
to have had difficulty in resting. The last I heard was that she was
asleep and not to be disturbed. You may as well take things quietly.
Papers found?'

'No, General.'

'Dear! dear! And you say they are important?'

'They are of the deepest, the most incalculable importance to me.'

'You don't mean to say so? I wonder Cherry let them out of his hands.'

'But they were mine--the legacy of the dead man who has enriched me. I
hoped to find his wishes, his instructions.'

'In fact,' said the General with a bland smile, 'they had no value
except for you. Set your mind at rest, then. They will certainly be
found. In the meantime here is your cup. Cream? Sugar? Now then,
Yaseen Khan--that fellow is moving like a snail to-day. Don't stare,
you son of an owl, but bring up that small table. Understand English?
Of course he does. See him when Trixy-sahib speaks to him.' A smile
had overspread Yaseen Khan's passive countenance, and he began to hop
about briskly. 'There! her very name is enough,' said the General. And
thereupon, beginning with Trixy, he talked about his little girls,
giving anecdotes illustrative of their peculiar ways of meeting
discipline, and of his own wise and subtle methods of bringing them to
what he was pleased to call reason.

Grace came out while this tirade was in progress, and she caught the
words: 'A firm hand, Tom. That's the secret. Let them know you mean
what you say.'

'Are you making Mr. Gregory believe that you are a tyrant, dad?' she
said, putting her arms round his neck and kissing him first on the
forehead and then on the cheeks. 'Because----'

'Now, pull up, young woman,' said the General, winking mischievously at
Tom, 'or I shall say that you are showing off before our young friend
here.'

'Father!' Grace was erect at once, with blazing cheeks and eyes.

'You see,' said the General, in high delight. 'That's how I do it.'

Grace laughed and kissed him again. 'You are the dearest old goose in
all the world, father,' she said. 'How you ever manage to make your
men obey you is a mystery to me. They are afraid of him, Tom. Can you
imagine it? I can't.'

'Another cup, Yaseen Khan!' said the General. 'We must stop this girl
somehow.'

'Not a cup for me, dear,' said Grace. 'I came out with a message.
Mother and I are having tea with Mrs. Gregory. She heard Tom's voice
and she wants to see him.'

'Thank you. I was very anxious to see her,' said Tom, rising.

'But mother says you must be sure to say nothing to excite Mrs.
Gregory,' said Grace, as they walked together towards the house. 'Her
nerves seem a little unstrung by the shock.'

Tom promised to be careful, and he was shown into a room where he found
his mother sitting up in bed, a fine Indian shawl of Lady Elton's
thrown round her shoulders. She did not look ill--in fact, there was
a brighter colour than usual on her face, while the only sign of the
excitement of which Grace had spoken was in her eyes, which shone
curiously.

'Why, mother,' said Tom, stooping to kiss her. 'I don't believe you are
any worse for the shock.'

'No, I don't think I am,' she answered, looking at him fondly. 'It is
such a relief that we are all safe. Did you hear that it was my fault?'

'I heard that you thought it was, mother.'

'But I should like to tell you how it really came about,' she said a
little eagerly. 'I told you I was going to my room. Well! I lighted my
candle and was on my way across the hall when I heard all the voices
in the garden. I wanted to see if Grace was there, and knew I should
know her by her light dress, so I put down the candle and went up to
my room in the dark. And then, dear, I don't quite know what happened
to me. I suppose I was dreaming about you, and dreaming of dear Grace
too. I must have fallen into a dream or trance, for I certainly knew
nothing until the servants came rushing out with cries of "fire." At
that moment I remembered the candle on the window-sill, but, of course,
too late. That's all. An accident, and happily, as Lady Elton says, no
very serious consequences. Just imagine what we would have felt if it
had happened a week ago.'

'I wish it had,' said Tom,'and then my papers might not have gone.'

'Papers?' echoed his mother, her voice fluttering strangely. 'Are they
burnt, Tom?'

'Speak of them another time,' said Lady Elton.

'Remember your promise,' whispered Grace.

The colour had leapt to Mrs. Gregory's face, and her eyes, which
glittered feverishly, were fixed upon her son.

'They can't have been taken away!' she whispered. 'Who would? Are you
sure--are you sure they were not burnt?'

'Of course they were burnt,' said Tom, bending over her in great alarm.
'What else could it be? If you excite yourself like this, you will be
ill, mother.'

'Oh, no!' she said. 'It is all right now.'

The excitement had died away as soon as it had arisen. She fell back
upon her pillows, pale and smiling. Tom left the room relieved on her
account, but feeling more baffled than ever about his papers.



CHAPTER VII

THE RAJAH'S HEIR SPEAKS FOR HIMSELF


It is at this point that the troubles of the writer of the above
record began. For Thomas Gregory--the Tom whom he had been following
through these curious vicissitudes of condition and fortune--became
suddenly dim to him. He heard rumours indeed--the rumours which were
circulating in the neighbourhood at the time, but these were vague and
contradictory. Moreover, they touched only the surface of Tom's life.
That he tried, or pretended to try, to find the lost papers; that he
was unsuccessful; that he passed through a period of severe mental
depression; that his mother, feeling alarmed at his condition, tried
her utmost to make him marry and settle down; that her wishes were
frustrated, some said by his wilfulness, others by the pride and folly
of the girl he loved, who, having been twitted about her attentions
to a wealthy man, was piqued into holding Tom at arm's length; and
that, at length, to his mother's great distress, he resolved to go
out to India; all this the writer has heard from those who were living
in Surbiton at the time. There were rumours, too, of spiritualistic
visitations both to the boy and to the girl. Those were before the days
when spirits played their pranks, for a monetary consideration, before
public audiences; and some said it was in obedience to these bodiless
voices that they kept apart.

But all this is mere guess-work. I know, however, as a certain fact,
having heard it on no less authority than Lady Winter's, that Tom's
first care, after he came into his property, was to surround his mother
with all the comforts and luxuries that money can give. A pretty house,
which became later one of the show places of the neighbourhood, was
built for her after his own design; and, in the meantime, she had
carriages and horses, and good dress and good living, with, what was
more to her than all her other luxuries put together, the opportunity
of doing boundless kindnesses to her friends, and of exercising a large
and benignant charity. Had it not been for her son's eccentricities,
which were more marked after he came into his inheritance than they had
been before, Mrs. Gregory, the world says, would have been perfectly
happy.

Lady Winter and her son, neither of whom had the least taint of
peculiarity, did their best to bring round the young heir, so at least
I have heard, to more healthy views of life; and Mr. Cherry backed them
up with his wise counsels; but Tom declined absolutely to do anything
like other people.

Now this I could understand; but when I heard of other things--of
the flirtation, for instance, between him and handsome Vivien Leigh,
who, it was reported, had thrown off a former lover for his sake,
of days and nights when no one, not even his mother, knew where he
was--eclipses from which he would emerge with a white face and sunken
eyes that made his friends shake their heads dolefully over him; of
some of his doings at Surbiton, and in particular the magnificent
river fête that he gave just before he left for India, and the fame
of which lingers in the neighbourhood to this day--then, I confess, I
was surprised, beginning at last to wonder if _my_ Thomas Gregory did
really exist, as if he was not only a dream of my imagination. Various
other reports, dealing mostly with his life in India, some of them
curiously minute, had fallen under my notice; but they did not seem
quite to fit in one with the other.

Then came the difficulty of selection. I had formed my own conception
of his character--a conception seriously shaken already by what I had
heard of him in Surbiton. Would not my selection, if I tried to choose
amongst the materials offered to me, be coloured both by the conception
I had previously formed and by the shock it had sustained, so that
the image produced would be distorted, and, in no sense, answering to
reality?

I was in this state of perplexity--on the point indeed of giving up
the task of tracing the fortunes of the rajah's heir, when, by the
mediation of a friend, who was anxious that the curious story should
not be lost, a diary, kept spasmodically by Tom himself for some years,
was placed in my hands, with liberty, under certain restrictions, to
use it according to my own judgment.

It has been of inestimable service to me, not only in filling up blanks
that would otherwise have remained vacant, but also as giving such a
mental image of the man himself as no one but himself could draw. It is
partly with a view of presenting the first outlines as it were of this
picture--partly because they form a good introduction to the stirring
events of his Indian life, that I have decided to give, almost as they
stand, the daily jottings in Tom's diary during his first voyage to
India.

       *       *       *       *       *

S.S. 'Patagonia,' _September_, 1856.--I will do as I have been advised.
I will write down my experiences, and some of the strange thoughts and
contradictory impulses that are constantly with me. It is possible that
in this way my purposes and aims may become more distinct to myself. I
don't think there could be a better moment than this for beginning my
record. In the little state-room which for the next few weeks is to be
my home there is a perfect quietness. I can hear the movement of feet
up above, and the throbbing of the engines as they beat the water, but
there is nothing else. After the excitement of the last few days it
seems like a blessed lull--a pause in my life.

It is three months now since I heard of the change that had come into
my life. I look back upon those months as I might on a tumultuous
stream that had borne me on its surface. Hurried from one mental and
physical sensation to another, I have not had time so much as to think.
I have felt like a foam-bubble on a wave, a toy ship in a storm. Before
the tumult begins again, as it will, I suppose, when my feet touch the
opposite shore, I must try to realise and define my position.

I am heir of my cousin, the rajah of Gumilcund, and I am going out to
take possession of my inheritance. Besides land and money he left me
the succession of his ideas, which succession I have lost through my
own cowardly delay, and liability to be guided by the _ignis fatuus_
of passionate impulse. It is this succession which I am seeking to
recover. From the lips of the men who knew him I may learn something
of what my papers would have taught me. Meantime, and with a view
to taking the best advantages of my opportunities, I am studying
the Oriental languages, and trying my hardest to grapple with the
difficulties of the Indian philosophies and religions. Until I know
what my task will be I have made up my mind not to take up any strong
personal interest into my life. I will live for this, and for nothing
else.

Sometimes--I will confess it here--there have been moments
when my nature has rebelled wildly against its self-imposed
restrictions--moments when I have forgotten that the inheritance came
to me with conditions which I must understand and fulfil before I can
so much as know that it belongs to me--when I have craved passionately
for the enjoyments of the senses.

Such a moment was that of my river-fête--Yes--and even now, although
I know how illusive are the brief, sickly-sweet pleasures of the
senses--my pulses will throb as I look back upon it. A night that seems
like a century! Beautiful Vivien Leigh, the designer of the festival,
as she was its queen, sat beside me. I remember a moment when she and
I and some others were floating down the river on a painted barge. She
was dressed in a robe whose colour was like that of ruddy flame; the
white glitter of diamonds lighted up her dark hair; her wonderful,
witch-like eyes, resting on mine, were drawing my soul away. I was
close to her--I was going to speak--when--Oh! Grace! Grace! this once
let me write your name. It was your boat, all lighted and dressed with
streamers, that passed us by. You, my dearest, were there, with the
rudder-strings in your hands, and your sisters--stately Maud and gay
little Trixy, and gentle Lucy and Mildred--held the oars. How lovely
you all looked in your white dresses! One of you called to me--it
was Trixy I think--and I left my flame-coloured lady, and stepped
down amongst you, and you gave me a pair of oars, and as I grasped
them, carrying the boat forward by a vigorous stroke, I knew that the
witchery had lost its power; that I was once more free.

I saw Mr. Cherry the day before I started. He is an admirable person,
perfectly sincere in his creed and in his life; but how singularly
illogical! I believe he thanks heaven for the loss of my papers,
feeling convinced that it came about in answer to prayers of his
own, for my salvation and guidance. He warns me, too, on scriptural
authority, against spirits that peep and mutter. And yet, because I
think that the curtain which hides the invisible from our senses has
been once lifted for me, he calls me a mystic. 'My dear sir,' I could
not help saying to him one day, 'I do believe that at this present
moment you are far more a mystic than I am.' Mr. Cherry's keen head
and clear judgment, when matters of business are in question, have,
however, been exceedingly valuable to me. He has advised me concerning
my correspondence with the Lieutenant-Governor, mapped out my route in
India, and given me the names and addresses of those known to him in
the East as the chief friends and associates of my cousin, the rajah.

--I have just been up on deck seeing the last of the English coast.
We are off the Isle of Wight, where we stopped, for a few moments, to
put off the Channel pilot. It is late in the afternoon, the atmosphere
misty and irradiated with the hues of sunset, so that we seem to be
floating in a rosy haze, through which the pale green shores of the
land we are leaving gleam faintly. There is scarcely any wind, and the
sea is as smooth as a lake in midsummer.

--I have been fortunate enough to find a person on board who can help
me in my Persian and Sanskrit studies. He is, or seems to be, a pure
Indian, by name Chunder Singh, such a handsome fellow, tall, well put
together, with a face whose fine cast and quiet dignified expression,
impress one at once! This afternoon I saw him looking at me with
interest, whereupon I spoke, and finding he understood English well,
talked with him for some time. I have spoken about him to the Captain,
who says he is needy, and will, no doubt, be glad to give me lessons.

--Chunder Singh has met my advances with a gentleness and benignity
that have charmed me inexpressibly. He was so princely in his manners
that I felt half ashamed of offering him money for the help which he
seemed so ready to give me; but when, with English awkwardness, I
blurted out that, if he gave me lessons he should be adequately paid
for them, he accepted my offer with a grace and dignity that caused me
to blush over my own hesitation. This morning we met for the first time
over my books with the crabbed characters to which I am extraordinarily
glad to return. Chunder Singh, I am sure, will prove an admirable
teacher.

--We are in the Bay of Biscay. There has been a considerable swell
on all day, and the decks have been empty of passengers; but Chunder
Singh and I have kept our feet. I like him more and more as the days
go by; but I confess he puzzles me exceedingly. I think he is more
than a professor of Eastern languages. His conversation, although free
from any sort of bombast, leads me to believe that he has occupied a
superior social position, and he has certainly mixed with men of mark.
Then I fancy I can detect in his manner a peculiar anxiety about me--an
interest, in fact, stronger than our respective positions and the
period of our acquaintanceship seems to warrant.

I mentioned this to Colonel Trent--an intimate friend of General
Elton's--who is travelling with us, and I put down his answer because
it may be useful to me hereafter. I must be on my guard, he says,
against inferring too much from manner in the East. The educated
Asiatic has a courteousness far exceeding ours. We, when we wish to
be friendly, speak to our companions about ourselves. He waits for
his friend's confidences, and listens to them with the most courteous
attention, which generally, however, is mere manner.

'I have spent twenty-five years in the East,' said Colonel Trent. 'I
am not without acuteness, and I believe I know the Asiatic better
than most Europeans. Well! I don't know him at all. That's just the
difference between me and those others. They think they do, I know I
don't. Between us and the native there is a great gulf fixed. I defy
any man living to bridge it. Yes, it is so. You may see them in their
hosts. You may have, as you suppose, friends amongst them. You may
study their history, their language, their ways; but are you any the
nearer to understanding them? Take one of the men whose characteristics
you have been studying. Look into his eyes! Have you any distant
idea about his thoughts? Watch his ways! There is not an antic he
performs--not a word he lets slip unconsciously--that will not be a
mystery to you. I would venture to lay a heavy bet that in a year that
man would give you so many surprises and shocks that you would give up
thinking you knew the native mind.'

This is certainly not encouraging from a man of so much experience; but
I reserve myself. I shall find out more presently. In the meantime,
and in the light of this conversation, it was no little curious to
hear what Chunder Singh had to say on the relations between England
and India. Our conversation took place this evening; in fact, as I
have only just come down from the hurricane-deck, which we have pretty
nearly to ourselves, every word of it is fresh in my mind.

'The situation is a strange one,' said the Indian meditatively. 'I
doubt if the world has ever seen a stranger. You have come to us--not
as a great nation that conquers another by the resources of a higher
civilisation--but as a company of traders. Money-making--that was
your object. Yet you sent us of your best--great soldiers, high
politicians, men of lofty will and noble aims. And we, Asiatics, who
adore in others the qualities we lack ourselves, have paid them homage,
and fought under their banners in defence of the rights won from the
weakness of our rulers. And so, out of the acts of a trading company,
a great empire has grown. But let me tell you,' said Chunder Singh
impressively, 'that the quality of the rule smacks of its origin. It
is just in most cases, but it is not sympathetic, nor is its policy
large and beneficent. With any other nation under the sun the results
would be disastrous. But you English are a strange people. You go
straight on. In your wildest flights you cannot forget that you
have a conscience, and so you have won the respect of some and the
superstitious dread of others, and your empire goes on increasing.'

'But you do not love us,' I said.

'How can we?' answered Chunder Singh. 'As in the Divine--which is the
model of all excellence--the Supreme Spirit, from whom all flows, and
to whom all must return--love must begin from above. Do you love us?
You know you do not. I am not speaking of you individually, or of any
other man. One here and there, considering the greatness of our land,
may take an interest in us. But, as a nation, do you care for us?'

It was impossible for me to say that we did, knowing full well the
contrary, and then those strange words, which echo still in my ears,
were spoken.

'Let England look to it! Let her listen to the voices of her wise men!
Let her know that if she does not bestir herself now the time will come
when she must! She is standing to-day on the thin crust of a volcano,
which, at any moment, may crack under her feet, sending her down into a
gulf of fire, which it will take all her strength to quench.'

He would not explain what he meant, though I pressed him earnestly. No
doubt his words were merely rhetoric--an idea of his own, coloured
with Oriental exaggeration; but they haunt me in a very curious way.
Can this, I ask myself, have had anything to do with the rajah's secret?

We are passing the coast of Portugal, a low, barren-looking country.
Rain clouds are floating about; the sea is lumpy, and a veil of white
mist covers the land; but this is sometimes lifted, and then the low,
sandy coasts gleam out with a startling brilliancy. I hear that, if
this wind holds, we shall put in at Gibraltar to-morrow.

--We did not put in yesterday. We were kept out at sea by a gale of
wind that came rushing in from the Atlantic. What a day it was! No rest
for anyone. The waves swept us from stem to stern, knocking us about
till our timbers creaked; and the wind howled dismally in the rigging;
and all day long there were shocks of crashing pottery and racing
engines. It was a perfect Pandemonium. Being new to this kind of work I
thought it alarming at first; and I shall never forget the chill that
swept over me when, early in the morning, I looked out into the grey
wilderness of leaping waves. I was quickly reassured by my friends.
Colonel Trent laughed at the storm; the officers looked, if anything,
more cheerful than usual; and the pale-faced ladies, who sat about in
the saloon, were as calm as if they had been in their own drawing-rooms
at home. I made acquaintance with several this morning, notably one
Mrs. Lyster, whom I think I shall like.

In the night the wind abated, and when I looked out this morning I
found that we were entering the Straits. The weather was delightful,
much warmer than it had been, the sun flooding the sea with silver
light, and a pleasant breeze blowing. The ship is steady, too, which,
after yesterday's experiences, has been a great comfort to us all.

--I meant to have written every day; but since we left Gibraltar it has
not been possible to do anything that requires attention, and writing
has been out of the question. What a Mediterranean it has been! Stormy
days, nights of black darkness and pelting rain; hurricanes that seem
to drive the ship before them; and every day, and all day long, the
wild symphony of the tempest in our ears. I think, however, looking
back, that I have liked it. I have had a curious, inexplicable feeling
of relief. I have not been obliged to do anything--even to think.
That sense of responsibility, which, since my life fell into its new
conditions, has weighed upon me so cruelly, was for the moment taken
away. Sometimes, with an awe that was not altogether painful, I would
wonder how it would be with me if I knew that the freedom was not for
a few moments, but altogether; if, with one of those shocks of wave
and wind, the engines should break, and the helm cease to work, and
the ship settle down into the boiling sea, and the officers come with
white faces to bid us prepare for death. After the first up-springing
of passionate regret--I suppose there must be that while we are
human--would there be this sense of relief intensified? No more beating
about of the troubled spirit, seeking the right way and finding it
not; no more pricking, heart-tearing activities; but in their place
resignation, a quiet acceptance of the decree of the All-Merciful!

I was not so much engrossed in my own sensations as to be oblivious
of what was going on around me; and I have, in the meantime, made
one or two friends. The chief of these is Mrs. Lyster. She impressed
me favourably at first, and I like her better and better every day.
I find that she is Irish, which perhaps accounts for the delightful
vivacity and naturalness of her manners. Though she has quite a host of
troubles, having just left a party of boys and girls whom she adores,
to join her husband in India, she never gives way to depression;
and, in fact, it is only at odd moments that she allows herself the
indulgence of thinking of her own affairs at all. The most of her time
is taken up in making things as comfortable as possible for everyone
else. I like her appearance, too, her slender, upright figure, her
well-bred head and delicate face, with a sad look in the dark eyes and
a humorous expression about the mouth, and her clever little hands that
are always busy about kindnesses. As she is travelling alone, she has
allowed me the pleasure of looking after her a little. At Gibraltar,
where we spent the greater part of a day, I was her escort on shore. In
the course of that excursion I found out, to my surprise and pleasure,
that we have mutual friends. She knows Lady Winter very well indeed,
and, having met my mother at Surbiton, where it appears she spent two
or three days this summer, she may almost be said to know me.

Since then she has given me a piece of news which surprised and
staggered me more than I could have thought possible. Vivien Leigh, the
heroine of my river _fête_, is married to a Captain Doncaster, in the
3rd Bengal Foot, a gentleman whom she has known since she was a child,
and to whom she has been betrothed for the last year at least. They
were married the day before our ship left the Docks, and will start for
India in the course of the autumn. I sincerely hope that we may not
come across one another. I never wish to meet Vivien again.

--The weather is much better. We have blue skies and sunshine, and a
beautiful silken sea. What a change it makes in the ship! The decks,
completely deserted a few days ago, are gay with people, and the ladies
have brought out their pretty dresses and their dainty sewing work,
and two or three children are playing about, and there is talk amongst
the energetic of music, and dancing, and charades. Mrs. Lyster, of
course, takes the lead. She is everybody's friend; and, besides being
the most persuasive and genial of women, she is an old traveller, who
has studied the art of organising talents. For my sake, I am sure--she
will insist that I think too much--she has made me her lieutenant, and
now all the time I can spare from my Oriental studies, which are in
full swing again, is devoted to the task of persuading people to make
themselves amusing, and, when I have succeeded so far, in bringing them
up to Mrs. Lyster to be 'organised.'

--Since I wrote last we have passed Malta. We lay in the harbour of
Valetta for a day and two nights, having freight to land. I went
on shore, with Mrs. Lyster for my cicerone, as she knows the little
town well. It was an enchanting day--the sky of the deepest blue,
and the sea like sapphire--and I enjoyed everything: the little
streets that seemed to slant up into the radiant sky, their whiteness
making the blue more intense; the feel of the earth under my feet;
the cathedral of the knights with its thrilling memories; the rush
of quaintly-dressed people in the cathedral square; our drive into
the barren-looking country outside the town; our saunter through the
curiosity shops. And Mrs. Lyster was as charming and sympathetic a
companion as one could wish.

In the course of our ramble through the shops we met several of our
'Patagonia' friends. The result of all this buying will, no doubt, be
seen to-morrow, when, if this fine weather holds, the little masquerade
which Mrs. Lyster and I have been planning is to come off on the
quarter-deck. The idea was started by Mrs. Lyster, and we all think it
excellent. A reception is to be held by the handsomest girl on board in
the character of Britannia. Everyone presented is to wear a disguise
and to speak and act in character with the impersonation. The first
officer, to whom the names are to be given beforehand, will act as
usher introducing the guests. When they are all assembled the Captain
and one of the elder ladies are to pass them in review, in order to
award a prize to the most striking and best-sustained personation.



CHAPTER VIII

THE MASQUERADE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES


The masquerade, which came off this evening, is over. I have taken part
in it, and I am tired and bewildered; but I know I shall not be able to
rest until I have tried to recall and to understand what has happened.
So I have asked for a longer supply of light than usual, and I am
sitting alone in my cabin writing it all down.

As soon as the masquerade was arranged I determined on my disguise.
I would be an Indian of high rank. I consulted Chunder Singh, who
with the most obliging readiness entered into my project, undertaking
to dress and instruct me for the part. With this view we retired to
his cabin in the early part of the day. He happened to have in his
possession such a dress as Indian rajahs wear upon state occasions,
decked out with jewellery which appeared to be of great value. In
these he dressed me. Then he stained my face and hands a light brown,
deepened the colour of my hair and eyebrows, and wound a magnificent
turban round my brows. This done he began to show me the proper
gestures to use and speeches to make, I in the meantime watching him
closely, and trying to mould my behaviour on his. At first, so far as
I was concerned, it was a mere game; but presently I felt as though
an indescribable and mysterious change were coming upon me. I was not
copying him only--his mind was being reflected upon my mind. I was, in
fact, stepping out of my own individuality and into that of another.
I might have thought myself the victim of a curious illusion had it
not been that there was an answering change in Chunder Singh. For a
few moments I saw him stand as if paralysed, then a wonderful light
overspread his face, and with outstretched arms he came towards me
slowly, murmuring 'Brother! Brother!'

To the end of my days I shall remember the misery of that moment. I
retreated before Chunder Singh. I would copy his gestures no longer. I
took off the dress and sent him away. As soon as it was done, however,
I laughed at myself for my folly. What did my uneasiness mean? I was
the successor of a rajah and the inheritor of his wealth. If I could
play the part of a rajah, so much the better. When the evening came I
sent for Chunder Singh, and said that if he would forgive my abruptness
of the morning I would put on his dress again. I had told no one what
I intended to be; not even Mrs. Lyster. Why I made all this mystery I
can't exactly tell. It was partly, I think, to humour Chunder Singh.
I remember even pretending that I should not appear at all, not being
able to rig up a suitable dress. Only the first officer, to whom the
names were bound to be given in, was in possession of my secret.

I think, at the last moment, I should have drawn back, if it had not
been for Chunder Singh. As it was, almost everyone was out before I
could make up my mind to be presented. In the meantime the curious
change of the morning had come over me again, and I felt not so much
acting a part as living in it. That others shared my illusion was
evident from the puzzled faces of the little motley crowd, when I
appeared among them, and was presented in my turn to pretty Britannia,
under a high-sounding Indian title.

Gravely and reverently I made my salaam, and then stood aside. Colonel
Trent was close by, looking well as an Arab sheikh. He looked at me
scrutinisingly, and addressed me in Urdu. I had studied this dialect
with Chunder Singh; but I confess I was surprised by the readiness
with which I understood and answered the Colonel. We exchanged a few
more words, and then he turned away from me, and I heard him say to one
of the officers in English: 'I thought it was young Gregory; but I see
I am wrong. Who is it?'

The answer I did not catch.

And next I saw the light figure of my friend, Mrs. Lyster, who was
dressed as a gipsy, detaching itself out of a group, whose fortunes she
had been telling. There was an expression of mingled triumph and malice
in her face, which looked extraordinarily young, under its fantastic
head-dress. I saw that she expected to find her friend, Tom Gregory,
under the Indian prince's magnificent mask, and that she was jubilant
over her own penetration in detecting him. I think I wished her to find
me; but I could not help myself. For that hour I was the Indian rajah.
When Mrs. Lyster had received my profound reverence, and gazed for a
few moments speechlessly into my impassive face, the red colour flamed
to her cheeks, and she turned away. But the first officer, who knew me,
looked more bewildered than anyone else. Two or three times during the
evening I caught him taking up convenient posts for observing me; but
he did not seem to be able to satisfy himself. I happened to be near
him when Mrs. Lyster, who was really mortified by her failure to detect
me amongst the masqueraders, begged him to give up his secret.

'I promise not to make any use of it,' she said coaxingly.

'But I am bound, Mrs. Lyster,' he pleaded; 'and then, you know'--he was
looking straight into my face--'our friend, Mr. Tom, might be nearer
than we imagine. Think of his wrath if he heard me betraying him!'

'Nonsense; look for yourself. There is no one here,' said Mrs. Lyster.

'Except the rajah,' said the first officer, in a melodramatic whisper.

She started and glanced at me. 'What a turn you gave me!' she said
pettishly. 'As it happens I know all about him. He doesn't understand a
word of English.'

'Oh! doesn't he?' said the first officer, trying to tip me a wink, but
breaking down in the process.

'Now don't you pretend to be so innocent,' said Mrs. Lyster. 'I have
it all from the Captain. We took him on at Malta, and he has been
living in his cabin ever since, and Chunder Singh persuaded him to come
out in his warpaint and mystify us all. You see!' nodding her head
triumphantly. And she added in a lower voice, 'What a handsome fellow
he is! If it were possible really to like a native----'

But here, with a pang at my heart, I turned away, for I did not wish to
hear any more.

Shortly after this the deck-lights were extinguished, and the little
crowd of masqueraders went down to the saloon, where, over a champagne
supper, the Captain was to announce his award. And now came what,
to me, was the most curious part of it all. My name was called as
the winner of the prize; but I did not respond. Thereupon there was
a little explosion of laughter and ironical cheering; and Chunder
Singh, who had been sitting beside me, pushed me forward. With the
curious sensation of one awakened from a dream, I rose to my feet, said
something, I don't remember what, and received the congratulations of
my friends.

'You are a fine actor, my young friend,' said an old fellow near me. 'I
never saw a thing carried off so well. You might have been amongst the
darkies all your life.'

'I protest, I am not sure of him yet,' said another.

'Is he sure of himself?' This was from Mrs. Lyster, who sat exactly
opposite to me at the table. I noticed, with a little pang, that her
tone was chilly, and she looked at me with a gleam of something like
anger in her eyes--I am afraid she will not forgive me for having
disappointed her----

--My trick has produced consequences which I was far from expecting
when I planned it. All of my 'Patagonia' friends, with the exception
of Chunder Singh, who is almost irritatingly affectionate, have
been giving me the cold shoulder. The Captain and the first officer
are excessively busy whenever they catch sight of me. Colonel Trent
has chosen to adopt a short, reserved manner which prevents me from
addressing him much. Mrs. Lyster is politely cold, and several ladies,
who had condescended to be gracious to me, have quietly relegated me to
a much less intimate footing.

So far as these last are concerned I do not mind; but Mrs. Lyster and
I have been too friendly for me to be able to give her up without a
struggle. I asked her this morning how soon she meant to forgive me.
She answered hurriedly, but with a spice of resentment in her manner,
that she did not know what I meant; there was nothing to forgive, and
then, to avoid more questions, she left me abruptly. In the afternoon
she approached me of her own accord, and made an effort to be cordial;
but the effort was too apparent for me to be able to feel very grateful.

What is the meaning of it all? Can she, can any of them, imagine that
I am only playing the European? Mrs. Lyster cannot, for she knows all
about me. But even allowing that it were so, not that I am an Asiatic,
for that would be impossible, but that my sympathies reach out into the
land where the ideas which have measurelessly enriched the spiritual
heritage of the nations had their birth; nay, more, that some secret
tie of blood or mental kinship does actually bind my life to that of
the east--why should they, therefore, despise me? Ah! what a puzzle it
is! What a strange, inexplicable tangle! Who, who, will ever set it
right?

--This has been a busy week, for it has included our landing at
Alexandria, our day up the Nile, our night at Cairo, and our caravan
journey across the Desert to Suez, where we took ship again. It is
night now. I have just come down from the hurricane-deck, where I have
been talking to Chunder Singh. We are steaming quietly down the Gulf of
Suez, with the shores of Arabia and Egypt looking dim and ghostly in
the moonlight rising on either side of us.

My mind is full of the strange thing Chunder Singh has been telling
me. I was right in my original suspicion. He did, and does, take a
peculiar interest in me. It was for my sake that he came over to
England, and for my sake that he is returning; but he would not seek to
know me until I had bade my home friends farewell, and was launched,
as it were, on my new life. He was the intimate friend and counsellor
of my cousin, the rajah, who himself desired that he should make my
acquaintance in this way. Other of his servants and retainers are to
meet me in Bombay, and put themselves at my disposition.

This is, of course, rather startling news. I have scarcely realised
it yet; but in the meantime my feelings are mingled. On the one hand
I am thankful; I find it pleasant to know that I have been thought of
and provided for in the great new land, which will presently open out
before me. On the other I have a sensation of something like fear. It
is as if the new life were seizing me, drawing me in, as if I should
never again return to the old life, with all its sweet, homely ways.
No doubt this is merely a sentiment. I ought to be thankful, and I am,
that there is someone to whom I can speak of the future, and who, for
the sake of those who have gone before me, as well as for my own sake,
will advise and guide me.

One of the principal events of this week is that I have made a new
friend. My friend is a little girl about seven years of age, though she
looks much younger. She has white skin, just touched here and there
with the daintiest rose-colour, tiny bewitching features, yellow hair
soft as spun silk, and grey eyes that have a curiously pathetic look
in them. In figure she is the lightest, airiest little creature; such
perfect hands and feet, and so ridiculously small. Light as she is, I
wonder sometimes that those feet can bear the weight of her. She trots
about the deck in pink shoes that are like fairy's slippers--the most
absurdly beautiful things! One of them fell off the other day, and she
came to me to have it put on, and I never had such a difficult task in
all my life.

It is only since the masquerade that Aglaia, who is quite a little
queen in her ways, has deigned to take any notice of me. Before that
she would not respond to my advances at all; now she is more friendly
to me than to anyone else.

Her languid, sickly mother, who I do believe is taking the child out
to India because she lacks energy and resolution to leave her behind,
is only too glad of what she calls, no doubt, the child's infatuation,
so that Aglaia is my constant companion. She is never in the way,
dear little soul! flashing in and out of my cabin, carrying me off to
the other end of the ship, where there is much more amusement for her
than on the quarter-deck, sitting by gravely while Chunder Singh and I
have what she calls our lessons, and falling asleep with her two dear
little hands in one of mine, and her yellow head nestling up against
my shoulder; she is always the same gentle, delightful little being.
'I love you,' she whispered to-night, just before her eyelids closed.
I had been called in 'to help her,' to use her own expression, 'to go
to sleep.' 'Don't go away ever!' I wish I could keep you, my little
darling!

--It has been very hot lately, and some of us have slept on deck. I
did so last night for the first time. Before I went to bed Chunder
Singh had been talking to me on the ancient philosophies and religions
of the East. The last subject we discussed was the old doctrine of
metempsychosis, in which he is a profound believer. As I fell asleep
under the stars I seemed to be listening to an argument respecting it.
'Why should it not be?' said a voice.

'There is no evidence,' said another.

'Is there evidence for anything spiritual?' said the first.

'For this there would be. Show me one with memory of a past!' persisted
the second.

A mocking laugh floated through the air. Then the voice I had first
heard spoke again. 'Come with me, sceptic,' it said, 'and I will show
you.'

In the next moment I found myself in Aglaia's cabin. There lay my
darling wide awake in her berth, her yellow hair tossed back upon her
pillow, and her large grey eyes looking up into mine sorrowfully.

'Are those the eyes of a child?' said the first voice.

I turned and fled.

And next I was in a large church full of gaily-dressed people. A
newly-wedded pair were moving slowly down the aisle to the music of a
triumphant march. Suddenly the bridegroom vanished, and the bride stood
alone. Wondering what this might mean I looked into her face and I knew
it. The eyes, glittering with a fierce light which held mine, were
those of Vivien Leigh.

It seemed to me then that the blood ran cold through my veins as I
heard the mocking voice say:

'Are those the eyes of a woman?'

'A woman! A tigress!' I murmured.

The shock passed. I was on the ship again, lying out upon the deck,
and a face, beautiful with tenderness, was stooping over me. 'Grace!'
I cried, but the shadowy form eluded me. Then I heard a voice--_her_
voice--'Not Grace,' it said, 'Aglaia.'

'No, no,' I cried out piteously.

'Hush!' whispered the dear voice. 'She is lost, poor little creature!
But be patient. I am coming down to help her presently.'

Here the voice died away, and while I was straining my ears to catch it
I felt myself touched.

It was a real sensation this time, for my little friend Aglaia was
at my elbow. She was in a white robe daintily trimmed with lace that
went down to her tiny bare feet, and her pretty yellow hair was all
ruffled with the wind. 'Look!' she said, pointing to the east. I obeyed
her, and oh! what a spectacle it was. For while we had slept the
rosy-fingered dawn, descending, had opened the windows of heaven.

Lost in rapture I was gazing in, when my little friend's small,
plaintive voice recalled me to the earth.

'Aglaia is cold,' it said. 'Carry her.'

I stooped, wrapped her from head to foot in my plaidie, and took her up
in my arms, whereupon she laughed out joyfully.

'That's nice,' she said. 'I'm glad you're so big. Let me look at
heaven, and then I'll go down to mammy.'



CHAPTER IX

DELHI: VIVIEN: A MALCONTENT


The part of Tom's diary which deals with the early days of his stay
in India is too elaborate and introspective to be largely used here.
But the service it has rendered to the writer of this story in
enabling him to trace its somewhat labyrinthine mazes is incalculable.
He has, however, other sources of information. The servants whom
Chunder Singh gathered round the young heir as soon as he arrived in
Bombay--intelligent men all of them, and trained to their work by that
notable man, Byrajee Pirtha Raj, the late rajah of Gumilcund--have
given him many useful details. He has also been in communication with
the friends and acquaintances whom Tom made on the road.

Chunder Singh, after making every arrangement for his comfort, left
him in Bombay and proceeded at once to Gumilcund, Tom himself having
determined not to go thither until he should have acquired a far
greater familiarity with the language, and some insight into the
manners and sentiments of the people. This knowledge he hoped to gain
by travelling.

The glorious winter of 1856-7 was just opening when, accompanied
by a retinue of servants and a string of camels and carts which
contained everything necessary for a long camping-out tour, he left
Bombay. He had been a great success amongst the little society of
that picturesque Eastern capital, and he took with him a host of
introductions to English people of the civil and military orders on
his route, any of whom would have received him with pleasure; but he
seldom took advantage of his privileges, mixing by choice with the
people of the country. Hoosanee--the bearer of the late rajah and
his own principal servant--was the medium of communication. When the
work of the day was over--the long march, or the patient quest into
the secrets of antiquity--Brahmin priests and Brahmin beggars, old
soldiers, dispossessed landowners, and native merchants both Hindu
and Mohammedan, would be introduced by him into the tent where sat
the English-bred youth in his Oriental dress, ready and anxious to
discuss the questions that separate East and West. On these occasions
Tom would sometimes surprise himself. He would sit down ignorant. He
would listen to what his visitors had to say and keep silence. Then
suddenly, and to himself most mysteriously, a flash of inspiration
would come, so that he would speak to them--not as a young man and a
foreigner--but as one who knew the land, and had authority amongst its
peoples.

It was a critical moment in the history of English dominion in India.
Lord Dalhousie's policy of annexation had added to the empire vast
provinces, the new rulers of which, impatient to see the fruit of their
labours, made, in many cases with a stroke of the pen, such changes as,
in the natural order of things, it would have taken years upon years to
effect.

But society remained what it had been. There was no relaxation of the
tyranny of caste--no attempt to educate those in whose hands lie the
influences that mould the lives of the young. The people clung to their
old customs with all the more tenacity for the change in the political
order.

Meanwhile to the eye of the ruler, satisfied with the good he had
effected, the tranquillity seemed to be absolute. The terror which
in the following year was to sweep through the land, making the
enlightened mad and the mild cruel, had not begun to work. Yet, to
those who had the courage and wit to look below the surface, signs
of agitation were not wanting. Fiery prophets rushed through the land
predicting the speedy end of the new dominion; there were curious
panics amongst the people and soldiery--curious outrages, put down at
once, of course, and repented in dust and ashes; while sullen-hearted
men, whose claims to dominion had been set aside, moved slowly through
the cities of the Punjaub and the North-West Provinces, whispering to
one and another that the measure of the stranger's tyranny was full,
and that the times were ripe for revolt.

One of these malcontents Tom Gregory met.

He had been spending two or three days in and about Delhi, his camp
being pitched under the shadow of that glorious monument of Moslem
dominion--the Kootub Minar, which is several miles distant from the
city.

The season was midwinter, and the weather had been enchanting. He spent
his days in exploring the tombs, temples, and palaces of the city, and
in the evening he rode back to camp over the desolate plain that lies
between old and new Delhi.

One evening he was later than usual. The glow of the evening had faded
and the darkness of a moonless night had fallen before he reached his
camp. Hoosanee came out to meet him.

'Is all well, my lord?' he said, in a voice that trembled with emotion.

'All is well,' said Tom, laughing, 'except that I am a prey to hunger
and thirst and fatigue.'

Hoosanee raised a silver whistle to his lips, and in a moment all the
camp was in commotion.

Smiling to find himself the centre of so much subservience, Tom went
into his tent, took off the European clothes he had been wearing,
bathed, put on an Oriental robe, and, having dined in some haste,
seated himself at the door of his tent.

Presently there fell a deep silence upon the camp. The syces were lying
down beside their tethered horses; the servants and camp-followers
were asleep; only Hoosanee, the ever-watchful, sat behind his master,
motionless as a bronze image, but with eyes and ears on the alert.

It was not so dark as it had been. The moon, an orange ball, was
swimming into sight, slowly and mysteriously, above the rim of the
silent plain, and the fields of space were strewn with the white fire
of an innumerable host of stars. By their light Tom saw dimly above
his head the tapering shafts of the Tower of Victory, and the glorious
arched gateway close by. On the other side, and but faintly discernible
in this light, was the famous mosque, once a Hindu temple, beautiful
with sculptured pillars, where the Rajpoots and their followers
worshipped before the foot of the Moslem trod down their holy places.

With a throbbing heart the English-bred youth gazed round him. What was
this that he felt--an understanding, a sympathy, a reaching out of his
spirit as if these things were not new to him, but old--nay, as if they
were a very part of his being? He tried to think it out, but he was
tired both in body and mind, and, try as he would, he could not keep
his thoughts in order. He was entering, indeed, upon that delicious
drowsiness which is the prelude of sleep earned by hard labour, when a
furtive movement aroused him. Alert in a moment, he sprang up to see
before him a tall, lean figure, wrapped in a ragged robe.

'Who are you?' said Tom, 'and whence do you come?'

'I came out of the darkness,' returned the figure, 'and I go into the
darkness again.'

'Come in and rest,' said Tom, lifting up the curtain of his tent.

The stranger hesitated. 'You are the new rajah of Gumilcund,' he said.

'I am the heir of the late rajah. Did you know him?'

Here Hoosanee stepped forward. 'Excellency,' he said, 'I know this man,
and he was known to the late rajah, my master. He is a Brahmin youth,
and the adopted son of a prince.'

'Call Ganesh,' said Tom, 'to give him food and drink.'

Ganesh, the chuprassie, or steward, a man of the highest caste, was, as
Tom knew, the only person in camp from whom the Brahmin stranger could
accept food.

He turned to him and entreated him courteously to enter.

'My brother will rest,' he said, using the picturesque form of speech
of the country, 'and food and drink shall be brought to him.'

Without a word the stranger flung himself down on a pile of cushions.
He looked round him boldly; but Tom noted with compassion the wild
hunger of his eyes. From under his vestment he drew a cup and platter
of silver, richly wrought, which contrasted strangely with his ragged
robe. These Ganesh, the stately Brahmin steward, filled, the one
with new milk and the other with rice and chupatties, whereupon the
stranger, having saluted his host, turned away and ate and drank in a
silence which Tom preserved until the meal was ended.

'Is my brother satisfied?' he said then.

'For to-day,' said the stranger. 'But the hunger will return.'

'Come again to-morrow.'

'And the following day?'

'Come the following day also.'

'How long will your tent be here?'

'Three days and nights.'

'And then?'

'I will go on to the higher country--to Nepaul--perhaps to
Cashmere--but first----'

'Go to the higher country at once,' interrupted the stranger,
'or'--he looked at his host fixedly--'become one of us.'

'What do you mean?' said Tom.

'I will answer by a question. You are an Englishman?'

'I am.'

'But you do not love your people?'

The hollow voice had risen, and the question sounded almost like a
threat.

Tom was surprised, but he answered quietly, 'Of course I love my
people. Why do you ask me such questions?'

'I ask because I seek to know; because you are a mystery. See! You
dress as we dress. You understand our language. You know our ways.
There is sympathy in your face. Twice within this hour you have called
me brother--me whom the Feringhees have cast out. Why is this?'

'I have a stake in your country,' said Tom gravely. 'The Supreme
Spirit, who is over us as He is over you, has decreed that I shall take
up the work of a great and good man, who was of you, and who has gone
out from you. I do not know all I wish to know of his ideas; but I am
convinced that he loved his people, and I am learning to know them that
I may love them too. I call you brother because I am of your kin. From
the same great Spirit we came forth.'

The stranger bowed his head. 'And unto the same Spirit we return. My
brother has spoken truly. He has spoken as a sage.'

And thereupon, without answering Tom's entreaties that he would stay or
return, he rose and took his leave.

The next day a strange thing happened. Tom was busy in camp all the
morning, having letters to write and the accounts of his chuprassie
to examine and settle. Early in the afternoon he rode into Delhi. He
rode in by the Delhi gate, and made straight for the Chandni Chowk,
the principal street of the town, where he intended making one or two
purchases. Here he dismounted and gave his horse to the syce, who
led it behind him. The Chandni Chowk was, in its way, a beautiful
thoroughfare. It was very wide, and a double avenue of trees, having
a canal of flowing water between them, ran along its centre, while on
either side of the street were the stalls and booths where jewellery
and curiosity dealers exhibited their wares. It being a Hindu holiday
the town was crowded with people dressed in all manners of colours.
As Tom walked along under the trees and basked in the golden glory
of the evening he enjoyed keenly the life and movement about him. A
little body of fat Mohammedan merchants were following him meanwhile
with anxious looks, and he was thinking that he must give himself up
as a prey to one of them when he heard loud shouting. Looking round to
find out what it meant, he saw a smart English carriage drawn by two
spirited ponies coming at a tremendous pace along the street. He had
scarcely time to see that the driver was a lady before he became aware
that a man, whose head and upper limbs were wrapped in a thick chuddah,
was right in the way of the horses. In less than a moment he had
dashed forward, seized the man, and drawn him back under the trees. In
the next moment the horses were pulled back, and he heard a high, clear
voice:

'So you are the knight-errant, Mr. Gregory?'

'Miss Leigh,' he cried. 'Vivien!'

'Excuse me,' said the lady, 'Mrs. Doncaster!'

'I beg your pardon; I had forgotten that you were married.'

She laughed. 'Are you married too?'

'No,' said Tom shortly.

'What are you doing, then?'

'I am travelling.'

Mrs. Doncaster laughed, then turned her pretty head round. 'By the by,'
she said lightly, 'where is the unhappy person I nearly ran over? I
ought to give him something to soothe his terrors.'

'Pray don't,' said Tom, who had recognised in the scowling passenger
his guest of the previous evening. 'He is not a beggar.'

'Oh! isn't he? He looks very much like one, then, and they love money,
all of them, the sordid wretches.'

'Here!' she threw out a rupee, 'take that! It's all I can spare, and it
will be wealth to you.'

She spoke the last words in halting Hindustani.

The man whom she addressed--he had been gazing at her fixedly for the
last few moments--spurned the coin with his foot, and it fell amongst
a group of misshapen, half-naked beggars, who fell upon it fiercely,
fighting one with the other for its possession. The noise drew the
people together, upon which two or three of the native police ran into
the midst of the _mêlée_, shouting and striking right and left. The
whole city seemed to be in commotion.

'You will be surrounded,' said Tom hurriedly. 'Whip up your ponies and
drive through them!'

'Not at all,' said Vivien. 'This is a piece of fun to me.'

As she spoke the man whose action had provoked the disturbance drew
himself up to his full height, gathered his chuddah about him,
and having cast a glance of mingled hatred and scorn on the fair
Englishwoman, took himself off.

Vivien looked after him, laughing. 'That's the best specimen of a
native I've seen yet,' she said. 'I wonder who he is. Doesn't he just
hate me?'

'Is it wise, do you think, to make these people hate you?' said Tom.

'Wise or not, it's amusing,' said Vivien. 'But Beauty and Prince
are impatient, and those two idiot syces of mine look half dead with
fear. Aren't they a handsome pair, by the by? I mean the ponies, of
course--not the syces. Come and see me, Tom. I live in Cantonments. Ask
for Captain Doncaster of the 3rd Foot. Anyone will tell you where it
is. You are staying some time longer?'

'Three or four days.'

'Then be sure to come. I'll introduce you to my husband, and show you
my serpents.'

'Serpents!' echoed Tom.

'Yes; serpents. Funny pets, aren't they? But they amuse me. I cow them,
and then pinch them, and watch them hiss and spit. I have a cobra; he
is grand when he's in a rage. That man reminded me of him. Wouldn't he
just sting if he had the chance?'

'The crowd is thinning. Now is your chance,' said Tom, standing away
from the carriage.

'Good-bye, then, till to-morrow, shall we say?' said Vivien; and she
drove off, leaving Tom more disgusted than he had ever felt before.

He was thinking it all over in the evening, and wondering why he could
not make up his mind never to see Vivien again, when, suddenly, the
lean figure he had seen the previous night rose before him. 'My brother
has come back, then?' said Tom kindly. 'I bid him welcome.'

The man did not answer, even by a sign. He stood erect and rigid in the
lighted space before the tent.

'Come in and rest,' said Tom, 'and I will call Ganesh, and he shall
give you to eat and drink.'

'Rest!' cried the Brahmin bitterly, 'rest is for men, and I am no
man. I am a dog, a creeping thing, to be spurned by the foot of the
passer-by. If you have any pity, kill me!'

'My brother is raving,' said Tom pitifully. 'Fatigue and want are
breaking his heart. When he has rested and eaten he will be glad of the
good gift of life.'

'Does your Excellency speak like a sage now?' said the Brahmin, with a
sombre derision in his voice. 'Does he know what he says when he calls
life good? I tell him that it is not good--it is evil.'

'Life need not be evil unless we make it so.'

'We!' shrieked the Brahmin. 'We! I see now that you know nothing.
Look at me--this ragged robe, these wasted limbs, these eyes bright
with the fever of famine, and say if I have made myself what I am. I
was brought up as a prince. My father, who had no sons of his body,
adopted me, and I lived in his palace, sharing his wealth and dominion,
which were one day to be mine. He died, and your people denied my
claim. I was not, they said, of my father's kin, and I had no right to
succeed him. They would inherit for me and fulfil my duties. The fools!
Can _they_ raise up children to the departed to keep green his memory
upon the earth? Can _they_ pay to his ashes the observance that is
due? The funeral feast, the oblation of water and rice, the garment to
clothe the shivering spirit, and the gifts to priests and teachers to
redeem it--who will give them? Will they? Can they? They know that they
cannot. While I wander homeless and ragged upon earth, my father and
my father's fathers are in the pit, herding with demons and unfriended
spirits. Never can they be redeemed; never, through all the crores of
ages that are to come, can they ascend into Swarga. By the treachery
of your people must the memory of the pious die out. And when the
Feringhees become masters of us all, as they intend, there will be no
more offerings for the dead. Childless our great ones will depart, and
the pit will be fed with the savour of their beauty, and Swarga shall
be a desert, and the gods will lament.'

He stopped, breathless, the veins standing out like knotted cords from
his temples, and tears, that burned as they fell, chasing one another
down his cheeks. As for Tom, who had been searching for something to
say, he stood silent. What comfort could there be for trouble such as
this?

But the man had a comfort of his own. All at once his demeanour
changed. His tears stopped; his lips set themselves together; his frame
seemed to dilate, and the ragged garments which he drew about him were
like the raiment of a king. 'Did I say for ever?' he cried out. 'I was
wrong. I see the imprisoned spirits rise, and my flesh is stirred,
and the hair of my head rises up. The hour of release is coming--it
is near. On the dial of eternity it is written. In blood and fire the
dominion of the stranger-race shall come to an end.'

'Hush! Hush!' cried Tom. 'You are beside yourself.'

For an instant the man glared at him fiercely, then his eyes fell.
'Take me in,' he said hoarsely, 'and give me food and drink.'

Ganesh was called, and his wants were supplied, with reverent care; he,
in the meanwhile, accepting what was done for him with the docility of
a child. The meal over, he lay for a long time with closed eyes on the
pile of cushions. At last, night having fully come, he rose. 'Sahib,'
he said to Tom, 'you saved my life to-day, and I have not thanked you.
At the moment I was angry. I had said to myself, why should I live? I
will die. The proud-hearted daughter of the Feringhees shall trample
me under foot, and my people will avenge me. But I have thought better
of it, and now I thank you. The day may come when I may give you more
than thanks. In the meantime, take this.' It was a piece of parchment,
inscribed with strange characters, and tied round with a crimson
thread. 'Do not seek to know what it contains,' went on the Brahmin,
'but keep it with you! If trouble or danger comes, and you desire help,
show it to one of our people, and ask for him to whom it belongs. And
now farewell!'

In the next instant the stranger had gone, and Tom was left alone with
his amulet.

'The man is certainly mad,' he said to himself; and it was in memory
of a curious incident rather than from any belief in the scrap of
parchment's virtue that he hung it round his neck.



CHAPTER X

MEERUT AND THE ELTONS


For reasons of his own, which he could not have explained to anyone,
Tom determined not to see Mrs. Doncaster again; so marching orders were
given to Hoosanee and Ganesh that night, and early on the following
morning the train of bullock-carts and camels that carried the tents
and baggage were on the move.

Tom followed them, taking one more ride round the town before he went.
The last place he visited--this he remembered long afterwards--was
Hoomayun's tomb. He entered within battlemented walls, mounted the
massive platform on which the palace of the dead stands, and saw
the marble tombs of the Emperor and his friends, lying each in the
frost-bound silence of its vaulted hall. Then, from the elevated
platform he looked out on the soft green fields that surround the
city, and the river flowing peacefully on its way, while the towering
minarets of the glorious Jumma Musjid, and the swelling cupolas of the
Pearl Mosque, and the red battlemented walls of Shah Jehan's palace
loomed mysteriously through the amber-coloured mist of the morning.

Silent and peaceful it lay, like a dream of past greatness; the city,
incalculable ages ago, of proud Hindu warriors and earth-spurning
priests; the capital, in later years, and the stronghold of Moslem
dominion; the city swept by wave after wave of revolution, sacked,
devastated, shifted hither and thither over the plain; but never
destroyed; to-day the city of a shadow; to-morrow, what? As he gazed
into the tranquil plain, he felt his soul shuddering within him. Grey
antiquity seemed to be throwing its arms about him and pressing out
his life. He panted for breath like one stifled. What was he, and his
people, with all their greatness, what--what were they? Time, that,
like the fabled monster devouring its own children, moves forward
irresistibly, had brought them into being, and Time, when their days
ran out, would thrust them from the path of the living. Or was Time
also an illusion--a shadow thrown by shadows on the whiteness of
eternity? Did nothing really exist? Nothing--the awful word echoed
through his brain, like the knell of a dying faith. He groaned and
pressed his hands together.

Hark! What was that?

'Is anyone there?' he said, looking round him.

He saw no one; but a voice answered, 'I am here.'

'Who are you?' said Tom.

'The same who spoke to you before. I came to you with your inheritance.
You ask if there is a reality. I tell you that there is.'

'Then, in the name of Heaven, where is it to be found?'

'Listen!' said the voice. 'You are like many others who search afar off
for the thing that is close at hand. Look within; not without. It is
there that you will find reality, for you carry it about with you. You,
not your body, but the self that animates the body, are the reality of
which you are in search. Know this and you are free, but you cannot
yet.'

'Why cannot I?'

'Because for the good of others you are bound to action. But be of good
cheer! Give yourself to the influences that are carrying you along.
Resist the solicitations of sense, and, in time to come, the knowledge
that makes free shall dawn upon you.' Whether it was a voice outside
of himself or a mere colloquy between contending trains of thought he
could not tell. Little could he have imagined meanwhile that here,
where he had stood, dreaming of the past, here, where the son of Baber
and the father of Akbar slept, the last of his race would hide as
fugitives, and that thence they would be taken to imprisonment and
death by a rough English soldier, with a few troopers at his heels.
Verily Time devoureth its offspring!

Tom's next place of rest was Meerut, a large military station about
forty miles from Delhi.

It was afternoon when the cavalcade arrived. The camp was pitched in
a little mango-tope near the native town, and in the evening--such an
evening as is common in North India in winter, when the air is crisp
and the sky cloudless--Tom, who was in European dress, mounted an Arab
pony and rode into the station.

When he entered the Mall, which intersects the cantonments, and is
the pride of every Englishman in the district, he found it full of
life. Buggies, drawn by fast-trotting ponies, were flashing past; well
turned-out English carriages, full of ladies and children in gay summer
dress, were passing more slowly up and down, officers in mufti riding
beside them; and here and there came an elephant, slowly pacing the
ground, his driver between his ears, and a gorgeously dressed Indian
gentleman in the howdah on his back.

Tom was looking out on the gay scene when suddenly he was pulled up;
for a group of smiling faces were coming to meet him along the drive.
For a moment he fancied himself in England again. There was his dear
Lady Elton, as pretty and soft as ever, lying back amongst the crimson
cushions of a phæton, and Maud was holding the reins, and Trixy and
Lucy were smiling at him from the back seat.

'Tom!' they cried in one breath, as he drew rein.

'You here!' he exclaimed.

'I don't wonder you are surprised,' said Lady Elton, whose face was
pink with excitement. 'We left home much sooner than we expected. The
General wished for the girls' sake to take another summer at home. But
he was wanted.'

'And as father wouldn't go out without mother, and mother wouldn't go
out without us, we are all here,' said Trixy, putting her charming
little face forward.

'I am afraid that is about the truth of it,' said Lady Elton. 'Where
are you staying, Tom?'

'In camp. I have been living under canvas the last month, and a
delightful life it is.'

'I should love it,' breathed Trixy.

'But you will come to us now, of course?' said Lady Elton. 'Now, do. We
are a household of women. The General is out inspecting.'

'Tom likes women far better than men,' said Trixy.

'Can't you be quiet, scatter-brain?' said Maud, who had been waiting
impatiently for the opportunity of putting in a word. 'Mr. Gregory'
(turning her dark eyes upon Tom), 'I hope you will come. It will seem
like old times.'

'When we sang and played together long, long ago,' piped Trixy.

'One of you at least hasn't changed,' said Tom, smiling at Lady Elton.
'Thank you a thousand times. If you will show me where your bungalow is
and let me give directions about my things, I shall be only too glad to
join you for a couple of days.'

'Good boy,' said Trixy, kissing the tips of her fingers to him,
and Lady Elton smiled benignantly, telling him to come at his own
time--everything should be ready for him, and Maud, who was even
more dignified than she had been at Surbiton, gave him a courteous
salutation and whipped up her ponies that Tom might see how well
she could manage them. As for gentle little Lucy, who had been dumb
throughout, she was wishing that Grace had been in her place.

And in fact that was the one drawback to an otherwise charming
fortnight. Grace was away visiting. The pleasant, haphazard people did
not quite know where she was. She had left them to visit an aunt at
Lucknow, who was feeling dull after an only daughter's marriage, and
had begged Lady Elton to spare Grace to her for a few weeks. She might
possibly have gone on to Cawnpore, or perhaps to Agra, in both of which
places the Eltons had intimate friends. They were expecting a letter
daily. It was the hope of this letter coming that caused Tom to delay
so long at Meerut. He certainly enjoyed the little break. For those
few pleasant days he was able to fling off the burden of Orientalism
that had been oppressing him, and to forget that there was such a
thing as philosophy in the world. He was his old self--the Tom who had
picnicked with the girls on the Thames, bantering Trixy, laughing at
Maud, adoring Lady Elton, and losing his heart to Grace. The General
came into Meerut two days after Tom's arrival. He had been inspecting
troops in the district, and was exceedingly jubilant over the apple-pie
order in which he had found everything. In the evening, when, the
ladies having withdrawn, he and Tom sat together over coffee and cigars
in the large cool verandah, he expressed his satisfaction freely. 'It
is becoming the fashion,' he said, 'to run down our native contingent.
Nothing more absurd! Properly trained and led, they are a splendid
force.'

'But supposing fanatics got amongst them?' said Tom. 'There are a few
of that sort about. I have met them.'

'So have the rest of us, my dear boy. You don't suppose I have served
for thirty years in India without meeting religious and political
maniacs? Why, the East is a hotbed for the species. They flourish like
a bay-tree by a river. But look at the matter reasonably! Remember, it
is to the soldiers they must appeal. Now what, in the name of Heaven,
can the poor devils offer that our men should run after them? Money?
They don't possess it. Plunder? Well, to be sure, something might be
picked up at that little game, but the fellows have sense enough to
know that it couldn't last long. No, no. They get more out of us than
they could out of anyone else. And don't tell me, sir,' went on the
General, working himself up to what Trixy called his boiling-point,
'that there is no sense of honour amongst them. For I know there is.
Yes, sir,' bringing down his fist upon the table, 'I repeat it, there
is! I am speaking from experience, mind, not hearsay. Why, I have had
jemadars under me, who have been proof against temptations that would
have corrupted half the Englishmen I know.'

It struck Tom that the General was trying as much to convince himself
as to refute anyone else; but he was careful to give no hint of his
suspicion, which, however, on the following day was curiously confirmed.

It was early in the forenoon. They had returned from their ride, and
were sitting out in the verandah, the ladies busy over fancy-work,
while Tom entertained them with a dramatic account of his travels. He
had come to his experiences at Delhi, and the singular encounter with
Mrs. Doncaster in the Chandni Chowk, when the General strode in, his
face purple with indignation.

'Read this!' he said, striking the news-sheet in his one hand with the
doubled-up fist of the other; and as Tom, at a sign from Lady Elton,
who was not much affected by these outbursts, took the sheet from
him, he muttered down in his throat, 'The fools! To make so much of a
trifle.'

The trifle was the well-known incident at Dum-Dum, near Calcutta. A
Lascar asked drink of a Sepoy. The Sepoy, being of high caste, refused
haughtily to allow his drinking-vessel to be defiled by the lips of a
low-caste man, whereupon the Lascar retorted that he would soon lose
his caste altogether, as the Government were making cartridges greased
with the fat of cows and swine.

It appeared from the article which Tom read aloud, that this story
was flying through the length and breadth of the land, and the writer
feared that, if something was not done promptly to reassure the
high-caste men in the army, serious consequences would ensue.

The General heard it through, and then burst into a torrent of wrath.
A nothing! Such a quarrel as might be seen going on any day in the
bazaars to be magnified in this way! It was absurd. It was worse than
absurd; it was criminal! If there was a panic, men like the writers
of the article in question would be responsible for it. For himself,
he knew the native army. They had their faults, but a finer body of
men never breathed. He was glad--he was proud to say--that any day he
would trust his life and honour in their hands.

Having delivered himself thus, the General calmed down, sent his bearer
for a cooling drink, swallowed it at a draught, and, looking round on
his wife and daughters, apologised for his heat, and begged them not to
be disturbed.

They were not thinking of such a thing. Saucy little Trixy, whose eyes
were twinkling merrily, pointed out that he was the only disturbed
person present, except, perhaps, Tom, who did look a little serious;
but then Tom was a 'Grif.' Tom protested with her; but she held to her
point. He might be a rajah's heir ten times over, but he was a 'Grif'
all the same. Why, the way he treated natives showed it. In the midst
of which little discussion, Maud observed, tossing her shapely head,
and with a fine expression of scorn on her face, that things would have
come to a pretty pass if _they_ could be afraid of _natives_. So far
as she was concerned, she would not mind meeting any number of them
with only her riding-whip in her hand. 'You know they are an inferior
race; one can't help feeling it,' she said. And Lady Elton said, with
her tranquil smile, that in Meerut, at least, they did not need to be
afraid, as they had soldiers from England to protect them. So the
incident passed off, and in a few hours it was forgotten; but Tom
remembered it long afterwards.

The life at Meerut, meanwhile, was a very pleasant one. There were not
many girls at the station, and the Eltons, being pretty, well-bred,
charmingly dressed, and full of life and go, were considered a great
acquisition by everybody. They were made the excuse for all sorts
of gaieties. 'We mustn't let those girls be dull,' the men would
say, and the unmarried consulted the married, and balls and picnics,
riding-parties and military sports were got up in their honour. This
was all in full swing when Tom arrived, and he, as the Eltons' guest,
was included in their invitations, so that he had never been so gay
before. Feeling bound to return the hospitality showered upon him, he
took counsel with Hoosanee and Ganesh, and one evening his camp was
decked out with flowers and bunting, and coloured lamps were hung upon
the trees, and waxed cloths were laid out upon the ground in front of
the tent, and at night, when the large full moon was rising, nearly all
the European population of Meerut flocked out to dance and gossip, and
sip champagne and coffee, and enjoy a picnic supper in the quarters of
the mysterious Englishman, who was known already through India as the
'Rajah's Heir.'

That night brought Tom's stay at Meerut to a close. Hearing, on the
following morning, that Grace was at Lucknow, and that as she had
several more visits to pay there was not the least chance of her
returning home for some considerable time, he could no longer be
persuaded to delay. Early in the forenoon his camp was struck, and he
followed it towards sundown; Maud and Trixy, with two or three young
officers, riding out with him for some little distance.

When he insisted at last upon their drawing rein, Maud, who was riding
in front with him, looked into his face with steady eyes.

'Good-bye, Tom,' she said. 'What message to Grace?'

'Will you take it if I send it?'

'Certainly,' holding out her hand.

'Thank you,' said Tom, grasping it warmly. 'Give her my dear love,
Maud.'

'I will. Anything more?'

'Tell her,' hoarsely, 'that, whatever happens, I shall not lose sight
of her.'

'Isn't that----?'

'A curious message,' broke in Tom, with a smile. 'I am afraid it is;
but I can't help it. Good-bye.'

Then Trixy and her escort, a dashing young cavalry officer, called
Bertie Liston, rode up, and the last farewells were spoken. The English
party returned to Meerut, and the Rajah's Heir, followed as usual by
his faithful servant, set his face towards the desert.



CHAPTER XI

ON THE BORDERS OF NEPAUL: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE JUNGLE


The marching for the next fortnight was delightful. Anything to equal
the climate of this Indian winter Tom had never seen. Morning after
morning there would be the same brisk, invigorating air; day after
day the same dark blue heavens, unbroken by the lightest cloud,
would overarch, like a blessing from the Almighty, the vast plains
through which they were travelling; and evening after evening the same
rose-lilac hue, wonderful beyond the power of words to describe, would
steal over the sky. Hoosanee was their guide, and his ways afforded
some amusement and occasionally a little annoyance to his master. While
humble and reverent in his manner, he kept the control in his own
hands. If Tom struck for independence hitches occurred. The meals were
half-cooked, the beasts of burden were unmanageable, the coolies had
fever. And the artful Hoosanee had adroit methods of making it appear
that these annoyances were due to the disturbed arrangement. 'As his
Excellency desires, very right indeed!' he would say when an order was
given to him; but Tom soon saw that if it was not Hoosanee's desire
also someone would suffer. So at last he gave up the struggle. At
Bareilly, which lay on their route, Tom spent a few days, the Resident
being an intimate friend of General Elton's. From him he heard that
Lord Canning's policy was disliked by Europeans, and that there were
rumours of disaffection in the magnificent army of Bengal. That this,
even if it were true, would affect the security of India, of the North
and North-West, did not seem likely, yet some were holding themselves
on the alert. Leaving Bareilly, they crossed the Goomtee, and were soon
on the borders of Nepaul proper, whence several days' quick marching
brought them near the foot of the fine mountain range, within which,
as in a basin, lies the heart of the valley kingdom. But the dangerous
Terai--a region of marsh and jungle, difficult to traverse at all
times, and in the rainy season deadly to travellers--had yet to be
crossed. The road through this jungle was not so good as it has since
become. Here and there it was so deeply encumbered with rank weeds
and the stems of giant creepers that the coolies had literally to hack
a way through for the carts, and this made the travelling slow and
difficult. They accomplished it, however, without accident, encamped
one night above the belt of miasma, and the next day, by dint of hard
climbing, came to Sisagarhi, a peak in the second and higher of the two
ranges that shut in the valley of Nepaul.

It was near sunset when they reached the camping ground. The day's
march had been long and fatiguing. The gradients were excessively
steep, and Tom had relieved his pony by walking for long stretches.
When he reached the wished-for summit, he was so tired that he could
scarcely move. But in the glory of the scene that lay before him
his fatigue was speedily forgotten. Far, far below, lying in the
deepest shadow, was the long fertile valley that forms the centre
of the mountain kingdom. From it, as from a basin, rose the nearer
mountains--range within range--green slopes running up into wild, naked
crags, that flamed like beacons in the rose-red of the evening, and
beyond these, radiant and awful, receding into unimaginable distance,
the gleaming snow-peaks of the Southern Himalayas.

Tom was, as he would have expressed it, steeping his senses in the
beauty of this marvellous spectacle, when he caught sight of Hoosanee,
who was standing close by in a reverential attitude, and looking at him
wistfully. 'Is anything wrong?' he asked.

'No, my lord,' answered Hoosanee.

'Then why do you look at me in that way?'

'His Excellency's dinner is served.'

'Dinner, when that is before me! Look out, man, and be ashamed of
yourself!'

'If my lord will not eat, he will die,' said the Indian servant humbly,
'and then what use will these mountains do him?'

'Fine logic!' said Tom, laughing. 'And, strange to say, convincing.'

Hoosanee led the way to the table, which was at the door of his young
master's tent. A dinner that would have satisfied the requirements of
an alderman was spread out; but Tom was too much excited to do it full
justice. 'A pity!' he said, as he pushed the untasted dishes away.
'But it can't be helped. Don't look so doleful, Hoosanee. I have taken
enough, I believe, to keep me from dying until to-morrow.' Hoosanee
bent his head, and was turning away. Tom called him back. 'Come here,'
he said, leading him to a little distance from the camp, 'I have
something to ask you.'

'It is time your Excellency should rest.'

'Leave that to my excellent self, Hoosanee, and do as I tell you. Now,
then, sit down! This is a quiet corner, where none of them will see or
hear us. Don't crouch, man; sit! and don't, for heaven's sake, look
at me in that pitiful way, as if you thought I was bent on committing
suicide to-morrow! I can assure you I have a thousand reasons for
wishing to live a little longer. But tell me--why do you take such an
interest in me?'

'Am I not my lord's servant?' said Hoosanee in a troubled voice.

'Of course you are; but that doesn't account for it altogether. Can
love and devotion like yours spring up in a day?' The bantering tone in
which Tom had begun to catechise his servant had gone. He was very much
in earnest.

'The faithful servant is born, not made,' said Hoosanee.

'That is no answer,' persisted Tom. 'Speak to me plainly. Is it for my
own sake or for the sake of others that you are so anxious about my
safety?'

'It is for my lord's sake.'

'But how can it be?'

'Is it possible that my lord does not know?'

'I know nothing, my good friend. Enlighten me!'

Swaying himself to and fro, and speaking in a subdued whisper, Hoosanee
said: 'When my master, the rajah, was dying he sent for me. Chunder
Singh had been with him, and received his last wishes. I was sad that
no word had been given to me, for not even his foster-brother loved my
master as I did. He looked up, and saw that I was sad. He smiled, for
he was ever glad that we should love him. "Chunder Singh," he said,
"will tell my Hoosanee everything." And with that, Excellency, he fell
back and died.'

There was a pause. The light of the evening had faded, and the glory
of colour had gone. Pale and livid, like ashes of burnt-out fires, lay
against the horizon the palaces of snow and ice; overhead, entangled in
a wreath of vapour, flitted a white ghostly moon, and the little stars
were twinkling out above the hills. Tom shivered, and drew his cloak
about him.

'And what did Chunder Singh tell you?' he said, with a poor pretence of
indifference.

'What he said, my lord, will sound strange in the ears of one of your
Excellency's people. To them there is one life upon earth, and beyond
is the infinite, and the man who misses his chance here is lost beyond
the power of even the Supreme Spirit to redeem. Is this not true?'

'It is, at least, what some of our religionists teach,' said Tom. 'But
how did you learn all this, Hoosanee?'

'From my master, Byrajee Pirtha Raj, who would often let his servant
be present when he spoke of these things with wise men from the West.
Sahib, our belief is not as theirs. We do not so limit the power of the
Supreme. It is taught by our saints and sages that the life we lead
here is but one in many--that we come and go, changing into new forms
perpetually. While we are low, so they tell us, we have no power over
these changes. Unconsciously we work out our destiny, and expiate the
offences of which we have no memory. But to those who rise in being it
is given to rise also in knowledge. These see behind them the path by
which they have come, and the road they must travel on their way to the
Supreme lies open in front of them. To this stage my master, the rajah,
had come. Once more, it was revealed to him that he should return to
the earth.'

Here Hoosanee stopped, and looked at his master in a strange, wistful
way, like one pleading for a boon.

'Well!' said Tom. 'Go on! How was your master to return?'

'Does not my lord know? Has not his own heart told him?'

'I know this--that if I listen to you much longer I shall go mad. I was
a fool to ask you anything.' So saying, Tom started up and strode off
into the darkness.

He turned after a few moments, and saw Hoosanee following him. 'Come
here,' he said, in a hoarse voice, 'and tell me who I am!'

'You are my master, Sahib.'

'Which master, Hoosanee? Him who has gone?'

'I see no difference, my lord.'

'Then I am both. Is that what you say?'

'I say nothing. Will not my lord rest?'

'You have put a maggot in my brain, Hoosanee, which will keep me from
resting, I expect,' said Tom, speaking now in English.

But he was wrong. Contrary to Hoosanee's advice, his bed was laid out
under the stars; and when, after an interval that seemed like a moment,
he opened his eyes, to see a pale white dawn, ghastly as the face of
the dead, stealing over the sky, and touching with cold fingers the
gleaming tabernacles of snow and ice in front of him, he was conscious
of having slept for many hours, and of feeling extraordinarily
strengthened and refreshed.

So that day they went down to the foot of the hills, travelling thence
by a good carriage road to Katmandu, the capital of Nepaul.



CHAPTER XII

A VISIT TO JUNG BAHADOOR


At Katmandu, the capital of Nepaul, Tom spent several days pleasantly.
He was delighted with the city, the quaintness of whose architecture
and the gay costumes and kindly ways of whose people gave him many new
and agreeable sensations; while the reception accorded to him, both at
the Residency and at the palace, which was presided over by that great
and enlightened prime minister, Jung Bahadoor, left him nothing to
desire.

Ever since he left Bareilly he had been thirsting for news; but news
travelled slowly in the days before the Mutiny, and no one in the
valleys had heard of the occurrence, which was looked upon by the
enlightened as the breaking of the storm. On February 28, when Tom,
with a light heart, was setting out to visit the English Resident at
the Court of' the King of Nepaul, the 19th Native Infantry, standing
trembling in their lines at Berhampore, were listening with dull hearts
to the harangue of their irritated colonel, and refusing point-blank to
receive the percussion-caps handed out to them.

From the wise and wily Jung Bahadoor Tom learned much concerning the
true state of Indian affairs. He was relieved to find that in spite of
the faults of the British raj--faults which this sagacious person was
not slow to criticise--he had a profound belief not only in its general
justice and beneficence, but that it was the only power which could
for the present guarantee the land against anarchy. As such he and his
people would support it.

At other times he spoke of the late rajah of Gumilcund, who had been
one of his most intimate friends, giving the young heir much valuable
information with regard to his character and aims. One evening, which
Tom remembered long afterwards, on account of the influence it was
destined to have upon his life, Jung Bahadoor invited him to a pavilion
in the palace where he often spent his evenings. To the young heir
their conversation was peculiarly interesting, although he did very
little of the talking. Over his long hookah, which induced a meditative
vein, the great minister recalled scene after scene out of the past--a
past in which the late rajah of Gumilcund's name often figured. Tom
heard of his cousin's wealth and magnificence, of his fine personality,
of the adoration felt for him by his people. 'I believe,' said Jung
Bahadoor, 'that they refuse to believe in his death.'

As he spoke he was looking at Tom absently. All at once his expression
became tense and significant. 'What is the exact relationship between
you and the late rajah?' he said.

Before that question could be answered Gambier Singh, captain of the
king's bodyguard, who was frequently the bearer of messages from
the court to the chief minister, and had the privilege of entering
unannounced, came out on the pavilion. Seeing the minister engaged in
conversation, he was about to deliver his missive and retire when,
catching a full view of Tom's face, he pulled up short.

'What ails my friend Gambier Singh?' said Jung Bahadoor.

Recovering his presence of mind in a moment the young Ghoorka captain
turned to Jung Bahadoor's guest, and saluted him reverently.

'The sahib must forgive the mistake of his servant,' he said; 'but by
my head it is a wonderful likeness. I thought the dead had come to
life.'

'My guest is the heir of our friend the good rajah of Gumilcund,' said
Jung Bahadoor. 'I was myself struck with the likeness, though, strange
to say'--turning to Tom--'I did not observe it till this moment.'

'The rajah was my friend and father. I salute his successor,' said
Gambier Singh, making another deep salaam as he withdrew.

But his curiosity and interest were too strongly aroused to be thus
easily satisfied. Late that evening, when Tom was resting in his tent,
he introduced himself, making many apologies for the intrusion. A long
conversation, of the deepest interest to them both, followed, and when
they parted, somewhere about the small hours of the morning, they shook
hands after the kindly English fashion, and exchanged promises of
undying friendship.

Tom spent a week in and about Katmandu, enjoying Gambier Singh's
friendship and the hospitality of the palace. Then he began to think
that he ought to be on the move. He was actually making arrangements
for a start, writing letters and studying maps by the light of a
lantern which swung from the pole of his tent, when one evening Gambier
Singh, whose invitation to an evening of revels he had just declined,
strode in. The flash in his eyes and the abruptness of his movements
showed that he was labouring under strong excitement. 'Have you heard
the news?' he said, before Tom could speak.

'No; I have heard nothing. What has happened?'

Gambier Singh answered with a question. 'I am told,' he said, 'that you
are leaving us?'

'Have I not told you so myself?' said Tom. 'I must go soon, or I shall
be tempted to stay with you for ever.'

The young Captain bowed himself and pressed his palms together. 'Sahib,
my friend and brother,' he said, 'if you are happy with us, as you say,
let me beseech you to remain. We are peaceful, and the Ghoorka soldier,
if savage to his foes, will be true to his salt. Over there,' and he
pointed across the mountains, 'there will be wild work soon.'

'What do you mean? What has happened?' cried Tom, springing to his feet.

'I mean, my brother, that the revolt has begun.'

'Revolt! When? Where? Speak to me plainly I entreat of you.'

He was pale to the very lips. In that instant of time, while the dim
mountain range which a few days before he had crossed so joyfully,
frowned down upon him like a fortress, a hundred torturing images
pressed upon his brain. The family-circle at Meerut, the General who
would trust his soldiers to the death, gentle Lady Elton and the girls,
Grace, wandering Heaven only knew where, reckless Vivien flinging
her defiance at the crowd of Asiatics, his friends of the voyage,
Mrs. Lyster, tender little Aglaia--what would become of them all if
this dreadful thing were true? Oh! for wings to carry him over the
mountains, that he might see with his own eyes what was going on! In
the meantime, Gambier Singh's voice, which was much calmer than it had
been, came to him as if from a great distance.

'Let my brother compose himself. It has only begun. The North and
North-West are at peace.'

'Thank God!'

'But,' went on the young Captain, 'it is a hollow peace. Of this my
master is assured. If your rulers are prompt, if they crush out the
insurrection with an iron hand, there may still be peace, for the
loyal will be strengthened, and the discontented will fear to rise. If
not, the torch of rebellion will flame out fiercely. From province to
province it will be carried, and the wild heart of the Asiatic, which
discipline has kept down but not subdued, will take fire and leap out
in rapine and murder.' Then, in a few words, he told the story of the
mutiny of Berhampore. It was ominous, but not nearly so dreadful as Tom
had imagined. He began to breathe more freely. 'Are you sure there is
nothing more?' he said. 'You are not keeping anything from me?'

'No, by my master's head! But is it not bad enough?'

'Yes, it is bad. Still it is a warning. The evil cannot have gone very
deeply yet. We have time before us.'

'Who knows?' said Gambier Singh, shaking his head; and he added, 'My
brother will stay with us till the storm blows over!'

Tom paused for a moment, then turned his face, which was as white as
death, to his companion. 'I cannot,' he said, 'a fire is consuming
me. What it is, or whence it comes, I cannot tell, but I know that it
will not let me rest. See, do not hold me back! I must recross the
mountains. I must know what is happening. I must see the terror with my
own eyes.' His voice sank, and then, in a moment, rose again, shrill
and penetrating, 'I must save my people,' he cried, and fell back
fainting into the arms of his friend.



CHAPTER XIII

LUCKNOW AND SIR HENRY LAWRENCE


It is early in the morning. The golden dawn is breaking over the
eastern hills, and the awful snow-peaks of Himâla shine like the gates
of Heaven, when, in the pathetic dream of earth's children, they rise
before the eyes that have looked upon the river of death. Here and
there some lower point, leaping up from the confused mountain-world,
has caught the glory of the morning, and stands forth, a pale herald
of the full glad day; but the valleys, with all their wealth of
corn-fields, forests, and clustering villages, are in the deepest
shadow.

They are the valleys we have just left, for we are on Sisagarhi again.
A single tent is pitched here, but coolies are already busy loosening
its cords, while the four small horses tethered close by are sniffing
the morning air and neighing loudly. This, with the grunting of the
camels as they kneel to be laden, and the harsh guttural cries of
their drivers, breaks discordantly on the stillness of the morning.

The two young men who have been occupying the tent, and who are
standing outside, watching with full hearts the preparations for
departure, walk away together to a quieter spot. For a few moments they
stand silent, gazing out upon the world of mountains. Then the taller
of the two holds out his hand, which the other grasps.

'I have much to thank you for, Gambier Singh,' he says, in the Oordoo
dialect. 'You have been a brother to me. I wonder when we shall meet
again.'

'I think we shall meet before long,' says the young soldier, whose dark
eyes gleam triumphantly in the morning light. 'My masters think that
our help may be called for down below there. If it is so, I shall be
given a command. We Ghoorkas will stand face to face with the proud
Brahmin warriors who despise us and defeat them. Then my brother will
seek me out, and we will tell over again the dreams we have dreamed in
our valley.'

'They may not always be dreams,' says the young Indian, and, after a
pause, 'You are sure my disguise is good?'

'It is no disguise. This is your true dress. This is your true
character. If my brother had heard his own words when the fever was in
his blood he would hesitate no longer. But the morning is advancing.
Let us eat together before we part.'

'You will eat with me!' says the other in surprise.

'I am not a Brahmin,' answers the soldier. 'Have I not told you,
besides, that you are one of us?'

They retrace their steps in silence, and, while the laden camels move
off, partake together of the rice and kecheri, and chupatties which
Hoosanee has been preparing for them, pledging one another, after the
English fashion, in a glass of Persian sherbet. Then Gambier Singh
rises.

'I would I could go with you,' he says, 'but I know it cannot be.
Before we part tell me plainly what you will do.'

'Yes; I will tell you,' says Tom. 'I have been thinking all night, and
it is only this morning that I have made up my mind. I intended to
spend this summer in travelling. I wished to be more fully informed
about the country before I presented myself to the people in Gumilcund
as the successor of Byrajee Pirtha Raj. Then, again, I thought I would
go to Meerut, warn my people there, and pass on the advice which
Jung Bahadoor has given to me. But it has come to me that my words
will be, in their ears, as empty tales. Beside, there are many of our
soldiers there, so that they could surely hold their own in any rising.
It would be well also, in case of the crisis you fear, that I should
be in Gumilcund and should have made the acquaintance of her people
beforehand. In this way, I shall be better able to guide her safely,
and it is just possible that her loyalty may be of service to the
State. Therefore I have decided to go to Gumilcund at once, trying by
the way to pick up what intelligence I can. Hoosanee, who knows the
road, will guide me. The people, I believe, will accept me for the sake
of him who has gone from them. If it is so, I will stay in their city
watching the course of events.'

'Should it be as we fear,' said Gambier Singh, 'what will you do?'

'I cannot tell yet. I must be guided by circumstances.'

'Promise me not to expose yourself unnecessarily.'

'Unnecessarily? No!'

'But----'

'My friend,' says Tom, holding out his hand, with a winning smile; 'it
is impossible for me to say more. Before both of us the future is
invisible. God has willed it so. Farewell! I dare not stay. Here or
there we shall meet again.'

'May the Gods grant it!' says Gambier Singh.

And then he throws himself into his friend's arms, embraces him with
tears, mounts his horse, and turns to ride down the hill.

Tom meanwhile, with many a backward look at the retreating figure, goes
off slowly in the opposite direction.

And so the Rajah's Heir entered upon his next important journey.
I find, by referring to his diary, which is my chief source of
information, that although wearisome and full of perils, it was not
without interest, and even enjoyment. He was much calmer, for he had
laid out his plans for the near future, and the conflict between the
old life and the new, that had helped to aggravate his illness, was
over. Whether the fantastic belief of his Eastern friends was true, or
whether having, as he now believed, blood of the East in his veins, the
life and doctrines of the Indian sages did really, in some strange way,
appeal to him, he did not ask himself. The result was the same. He was
actually, for the time, an Oriental amongst Orientals.

The season was advancing. When he left the hill region and entered
upon the plains he found the heat almost insupportable; but the deadly
Terai was healthier than it had been a month before, when it was still
reeking with the vaporous distilments left behind by the midwinter
rains, and they did not experience much discomfort in crossing it.

The chief object of his journey being to find out as much as possible
of the state of the country, he determined when they touched upon the
borders of Oude to turn aside from the direct route and visit Lucknow,
the capital of the province.

Oude was at that moment in a critical condition, and Lucknow was
a perfect hotbed of agitation. The lately installed Commissioner,
Sir Henry Lawrence, was indeed struggling manfully with the task
of reconcilement and reorganisation, and if a crisis could have
been averted, his was the only hand that could have done it. But
it was not to be. He had come into his duties too late. Fanatics,
suffered to flourish unchecked, had poisoned the minds of the people.
Misunderstandings that might have been explained, little grievances
that might have been removed, had given weight to their words and fuel
to the smouldering fire of disloyalty, and now not even Sir Henry
Lawrence, keen and far-seeing as he was, had any idea of the depth and
extent of the disaffection. As for Tom, when he crossed the Goomtee,
and saw the beautiful city, with its splendid palaces and mosques,
lying spread out before him, still and beautiful as a dream, in the
evening's golden glow, he could scarcely bring himself to believe that
its peace was dangerously threatened.

Mounted on one of the elephants which Hoosanee had bought for him
in Oude, and clothed in the richest Oriental dress, he rode through
the city and its environs. Through the English quarter he passed
hastily. He had been warned not to betray himself; but the sight of his
countrymen and countrywomen taking their walks and drives was almost
too much for his resolution. He had an insane longing to hasten back
to his tent, throw off his Oriental garb, and mix amongst them as an
English gentleman. In the native town he was received, much to his
surprise, with every demonstration of respect. As, mounted on his royal
beast, with two syces, dressed in gay clothes, running before him to
clear the way, he passed through the narrow crowded streets, many left
their work and bowed themselves reverently to the ground.

Gradually the crowd increased. Strange rumours flew from mouth to
mouth. The agitators had promised the people a leader--a deliverer. Was
this comely youth the leader they were to look for? It was whispered
that he was; and, before he had reached the centre of the town, it
was choked, as far as he could see, with swaying figures and eager,
expectant faces. Never in his life had Tom beheld such a scene. It was
a sea of humanity, in which he felt himself swallowed up. In terror
lest some of the crowd should be trampled by the feet of the monster he
rode, he stood up and cried out frantically to the driver to stop, and
to the syces to clear his way.

As he stood, raised high above their heads, the confused cries of the
multitude seemed to gather themselves into one cry, which echoed like
thunder through the streets of the city. 'Speak to us!' From a thousand
throats it rang out simultaneously--passionate--imploring--a herd of
helpless creatures asking to be led. 'Speak to us! Speak to us!'

Then a single voice, winged with menace as well as entreaty, rose above
the others. 'Will not my lord speak to us?' Again it rolled forth like
the growl of a wild beast whose prey is escaping him, 'Speak! speak!'

Tom's uneasiness was increasing every moment. What should he do? To
speak might have been to betray himself and to provoke a disturbance
that he would give his life to avert. Yet every moment's delay made the
danger of an accident more imminent. Hoosanee, who was riding close
behind, came forward. 'For shame,' he cried out to the people. 'Will
you presume to dictate to my lord? And what think you, that he will
break the vow which does him honour, and tell his designs to such as
you? Wait patiently, each one in his place, and you shall see what
shall be!'

There was a moment's pause, for the people of an Asiatic crowd are
easily put down; but all could not hear the words of the speaker, who,
after all, was only the prince's servant, and presently the tumult
began again.

Tom was in despair. He looked back to Hoosanee. Should he try to quiet
them with quiet words; but what could he say--he who was a stranger
amongst them? Hoosanee's agonised face gave him no help; but help came.
All in an instant, and mysteriously, the crowd thinned away. It had
flashed, like an electric current, through the city, that one known to
the people--a prophet, who, under pretence of stirring up a religious
revival, had been detected preaching sedition in the towns and cities
of Oude, and shut up, had escaped from his prison and was now making
his way in disguise to the place where the city malcontents had been
accustomed to meet him. This was a vast underground tank and gallery,
which, being approached through one of the most sacred of the Hindoo
temples, was safe from the prying eyes of Europeans. Thither flocked
the greater number of the people who had been blocking Tom's way; but
many a backward look was cast at the royal youth, as, his eyes fixed
and his brow sombre with thought, he was carried slowly through the
throng which remained.

'Your Excellency has found favour in their sight. They would make
him a leader,' said Hoosanee, when, an hour later, they were resting
thankfully in camp.

'Why did my cousin die?' cried Tom, bitterly, 'or why was I brought up
in ignorance of the people amongst whom my lot was to be cast? If I had
known a little more; if I had been sure of myself, I might have spoken
to them, and they might have heard me, and the destruction which is
coming upon my people might, perhaps, have been averted.'

'Let his Excellency have patience,' said Hoosanee, soothingly. 'He is
learning every day.'

That night Tom wrote to his mother. He had written in the same strain
before, but never so earnestly. 'I beseech you,' he wrote, 'not for my
sake alone, but for the sake of others, to lift, if you can, the veil
of secrecy which covers our past. I am certain--how I dare not tell
you--that I belong to this people, and I believe it is by birth; and,
if so, I am passionately anxious to know the nature of the tie. Pardon
me, dearest mother! I know how strongly you feel on this subject, and,
but for dire necessity, I would not vex you by alluding to it. Say to
me, once for all, that there is no kinship, by birth, between us and
the East, and I will trouble you no more. I will be content to believe
that there exists between me and this people a mysterious spiritual
affinity. If, on the other hand, there is such a tie--if, through you
or through my father, I draw my origin as I inherit my wealth from the
East, it is time that I should know it.'

The letter written, he thought he would go out again and see the city
by night. Wrapped in a long white chuddah, and attended by Hoosanee,
he left his tent, which was pitched near the Martinière palace, on the
banks of the Goomtee, and, after going through several narrow lanes,
entered a broad road lined with palaces and gardens and English
bungalows. The gates leading up to one of the palaces lay open, and
its courtyard, with the windows and balconies above, were streaming
with light from innumerable candles and oil lamps. Having sent Hoosanee
to inquire what was going on, Tom heard that it was a _tomasha_,
or entertainment, given by the English to one another. Hoosanee
intimated further that there would presently be a crowd of native men,
and entreated his young master not to run the risk of detection by
lingering amongst them. This, however, was precisely what the wilful
young fellow meant to do; so Hoosanee, seeing that resistance was
useless, stood back, while his master placed himself in the front rank
of the crowd that were gathering together to see the show.

Presently carriages began to roll up. The night being clear and
beautiful, most of them set down their loads at the gates. Tom could
in many cases not only see his compatriots, but hear their voices. All
of them seemed to be gay and light of heart. The scraps of talk which
fell upon his ear were of the dance that evening, and of a concert and
amateur theatricals that were coming off soon. Once he heard a high
shrill voice exclaim, 'Provision the Residency? What nonsense! But
Sir Henry can't be in earnest;' and another, a man's voice, answered,
'I can only say that I heard it. Preposterous, of course. If we want
a revolt, the surest way to have it is to show that we distrust the
people.'

That pair swept past him--a young English officer in uniform and a
dashing, handsome young woman. Then came a sensation in the crowd.
Many heads were bowed reverently, and a mingled cry--of adoration
from some, and of contempt and defiance from others--broke forth. The
excitement was caused by the arrival of the Chief Commissioner, Sir
Henry Lawrence, whose carriage, drawn by four handsome little horses,
preceded by outriders and followed by a native guard, was coming slowly
along the street.

There was abundance of light from lanterns swung on poles above the
road and flaming torches carried by footmen. Tom looked out and saw
a picture which he will never forget. The chief--his lean, soldierly
figure wasted with anxiety for the people whom, as he fervently
believed, God Himself had committed to his charge; his face, that face
which to see was to love, strong, yet curiously tender, deeply seared
with lines that told of such spiritual conflicts as shake the soul
to its depths; with mobile lips, round which a smile, half humorous
and half melancholy, was hovering; and deep-set eyes that looked out
steadily from under massive brows--was before him, and instinctively
he bowed his head; he knew that he was in the presence of a hero. So
far he had seen no one else in the carriage, he had eyes only for the
chief; but as it swung round to enter the gates of the courtyard he
became suddenly aware of another presence--'Grace Elton!' Wildly his
heart throbbed as, in the disguise which it would have been the height
of imprudence to throw off, he saw close in front of him the woman he
loved. She was sitting back in the carriage, her eyes, pensive as ever,
fixed meditatively on Sir Henry. She seemed to have been speaking, for
her lips were half parted, and it appeared to him as if a shadow rested
on the face which, with its divine expression of seraphic purity, was
so infinitely dear to him.

A moment, and the vision was gone, and he saw Hoosanee at his elbow,
looking grave and disconcerted. He told him that he was being noticed,
and implored him by all that was sacred to come on.

'Have I a European dress with me?' said Tom, as they moved away.

'Not one,' answered Hoosanee. 'My lord will remember that the
baggage-waggons were left behind us.'

'But you might have kept out one. I would give all I possess to be able
to go into that ballroom to-night.'

Hoosanee hesitated. 'My master might go in native dress,' he said, 'if
he would not betray himself.'

'Would it be possible?'

'It would be easy, my lord. Other Indians of rank have gone in. If
my lord gives in his name as the Rajah of Gumilcund, and presents a
largesse to the door-keeper, he will certainly be admitted.'

The result was as Hoosanee had predicted. When, an hour later, Tom
was borne in a palanquin to the gates of the palace, his embroidered
robe and gorgeous turban, with the magnificent fee he presented
to the door-keeper, gained him immediate respect. No little to
his embarrassment, he was taken straight to the daïs on which sat
the Commissioner, surrounded by English officers and grandees of
Oude. After the first shock, however, he played his part correctly.
Sir Henry, supposing him to be an accredited guest, received him
graciously, and conversed with him for a few moments. Then, feeling
glad the ordeal was over, he stepped down and set himself to watch the
dancers.

With a face like a mask--for he had learned the trick of Oriental
passivity--Tom moved about the hall. He was in search of Grace, whom he
saw presently dancing in a waltz with an elderly civilian. After they
had danced two rounds her partner led her to a seat. Tom passed them,
making a low salute, and then stood back, as near as he dared, with
his face averted lest Grace should recognise him. Her light whisper
penetrated to where he stood.

'Who is that Indian?' she asked.

'I really can't tell you,' answered her companion, 'which is a little
curious, for I know all the natives of distinction hereabouts. He was
certainly not at the last durbar. I must ask Sir Henry about him.'

'I should like to know,' said Grace. 'He has a fine face----'

'For a native,' broke in her partner.

'For a native, if you will; and do you know, it strikes me that I have
seen it before.'

Here it occurred to Tom that he was doing a mean thing, and he moved
away.

The next time he saw Grace she was taking her place in a quadrille, in
the company of a young and very handsome cavalry officer. Tom did not
feel quite so comfortable as he had done, but he held his peace. While
they waited for the other couples to come her partner was protesting
with her earnestly.

'You will break all our hearts,' he said.

'Then somebody else must mend them,' answered Grace.

'But, seriously, why are you going? Do you think it will be safer at
Meerut?'

'I am not going to Meerut.'

'Not? I thought your home was there.'

'So it is; but I have promised to pay a visit to Nowgong.'

'Really! Such an out-of-the-way station. Excuse me; but are you wise?'

'Wise or not,' said Grace, her every word falling clearly on the ears
of the tall Indian in the background who did not think it wrong to
listen now, 'I am bound to go. My poor little cousin--you will remember
her, by the bye; she married Captain Richardson----'

'Yes; I remember--a muff! I beg your pardon, Miss Elton. I mean the
gentleman, not the lady. She was an angel. I hope nothing is wrong with
her.'

'I hope not, too; but we have been receiving rather miserable letters
lately, and Uncle is going to see her, and I have promised to go with
him, and stay with poor little Lucy for a week or two.'

The quadrille had at last been got together, and Grace and her partner
were called to attention; but the Indian had heard enough. When the
dance was over he left the hall.



CHAPTER XIV

A MODEL STATE


Acting on the urgent recommendation of Hoosanee, who saw reason to
fear for his master's safety, should he continue any longer in this
dangerous locality, Tom and his servants left the neighbourhood
of Lucknow early the next morning. Two days' march of a perfectly
uneventful character brought them to the English port and station of
Futtehgur. There they crossed the Ganges and travelled on quietly
over roads shaded with acacia, pipul, and cork trees, into the wide
and fertile plains of Central India. Gumilcund was included within
the bounds of what was called the Central Indian Agency, a district
more or less under the Company's control. Like several other small
native states that lay clustered together in this region, and that
formerly had lived a life of pillage and internecine warfare, it
had acknowledged the British as the paramount power, and an English
resident had been accredited to its court. The government of the
little State had, however, been so wise, just, and beneficent, that the
position of the Resident was a mere sinecure. During the late reign his
chief function had been to supply the rajah, whom he, in common with
the rest of the world, admired and revered, with European society.

There were few amongst the English who did not enjoy a visit to
Gumilcund. The courtesy and urbanity of the rajah, in whose manners the
grace of the Asiatic and the simple dignity of the well-bred Englishman
seemed to meet, with the novelty of the life to which he introduced
his own and the Resident's guests, made the city popular. Some said
that nowhere on the face of the earth was there a place to compare
with it. Such statements, no doubt, savoured of extravagance; but
Gumilcund did certainly possess certain advantages that are not to be
met with elsewhere. For fifty years--ever since the son of Sir Anthony
Bracebridge was given the title and dignity of rajah--it may be said
to have been governed by one man, for although in that period son had
succeeded to father, the ideas of the two, with regard to government,
were practically identical.

The first rajah was a man of experience. He knew not only the
barbarities of Indian social life, but also the plague-spots of Western
civilization. He was, moreover, a strong man. When he undertook to weld
the chaos of the State that had been given to him to govern into the
ideal that lived in his imagination, every one of his measures, planned
out beforehand with deliberateness, was carried through unflinchingly.
He had wealth, which was one great factor in his success. He had
besides--and this quality his son inherited--a power over men almost
amounting to fascination. Reforms which, if introduced by any other
ruler, would have certainly induced rebellion, were accepted from him
without a murmur. When, after an unusually long reign, he left the
State to his son, it was already well started on the path of progress.

The reign of the second rajah was no less fortunate than that of
the first, while his wealth, which was drawn from other than Indian
sources, continued to increase.

His life, as we know, was cut short by an assassin, a man from a
neighbouring State, who translated into this violent deed the jealousy
felt by many of the outlying peoples of the prosperity attained by
Gumilcund under those who were spoken of far and near as her foreign
rulers.

To the immediate friends and followers of the rajah his death was a
terrible blow. They honoured him as a master: they loved him as a
friend: they had been looking forward to the wonderful things which
he would do in the future, and, in him, all their hopes were crushed;
but, so far as the State was concerned, his work was done. Any one
of the wise men he had been training could have governed it now, for
every one within its borders was aware of the exceptional advantages of
their position. And in fact, there existed at that time in Gumilcund
such a social order as was scarcely to be found elsewhere. The State
was prosperous, for all its resources had been wisely developed, and
this prosperity was felt in every corner. There was no seamy side in
Gumilcund. The back slums and dismal alleys that lie hidden in the
centre of our own great Western towns were not to be found in its
bright little capital. Idleness and beggary did not thrive in its
streets, and they had long ago departed to find a home elsewhere. There
were no intoxicants, and therefore there was little crime. Everyone
who chose to work could find work to do; so, although there were
inequalities of condition, there was no grinding poverty. Oppressive
acts of any kind being promptly discovered and punished, the people
had become tired of practising them. The women, too, were freer than
in other parts of India, for although here, as elsewhere, they were
shrouded in the graceful saree, they could move about the city at their
pleasure. Taking it altogether, the State presented a curious example
of what can be done by one-man government, when the people are pliable
and the rulers wise and enlightened.

Of course such results could never have been reached had it not been
for the tranquillity which the power of the British name, and the
authority of her rulers, had given the district. In former days the
very prosperity and quietness of the little State would have attracted
towards it the hostility of its neighbours, which, indeed, the
disastrous death of the late rajah proved. He had never been slow to
recognize his obligation to the Paramount Power and to impress it upon
his people; and this, combined it may be with the circumstance that the
English had never been their actual rulers, but often their guests, was
the cause of the love, amounting, in many cases, to reverence, with
which English men and women were regarded in the city and territory of
Gumilcund.

The sympathy was mutual. Little Gumilcund was tenderly regarded by the
English. Even Lord Dalhousie, the great annexer, when the rajah wrote
to him, that, being without heirs he had adopted a son, who, with the
permission of the Governor-General, would succeed him, could not find
it in his heart to decree the separation of Gumilcund from her native
rulers. Had he known that the heir was, to all intents and purposes,
an Englishman, the decision might have been different; but the rajah,
in his letter, had given Tom the title which he would assume were his
heirship to the estate recognised, stating that he was being trained
and educated in England, and it was allowed to remain an open question.
Under the English Resident the rajah's heir should govern the State,
and if his rule proved as beneficent as that of his predecessors, his
title would be confirmed.--If, on the other hand, he acted as so many
young rajahs had done when they came to the supreme power, the rule
would be taken from him and vested in an English Governor. So the
Governor-General decreed, and then, having weightier matters to dispose
of, he dismissed Gumilcund from his mind. Little could he have imagined
that, in days to come, it would prove a bulwark of the dominion, which
he had taken so much pains to build up, and a refuge, sorely needed
for his distressed fellow-country people, in the midst of a hostile
rebellious continent.

Returning from this digression, which was necessary if we would
understand the position of the little State, the government of which
our venturous young Englishman had come over to assume, I must briefly
follow his further movements. He marched on quietly, for there was
nothing to indicate that the convulsion which his friends had predicted
was close at hand, and though he wished to reach Gumilcund, he was not
in the least impatient.

Day after day, in this smiling tract of country, the same prospect met
him. There were fields of green paddy and rustling sugar-cane, and
sheets of feathery dal, with which the large blue-green leaves of the
castor-oil plant contrasted curiously; and, interspersed with these,
were tracts of marsh and jungle, and a few pleasant groves of mango
and neem. April had opened. The heat was terrible in the day-time; but
it was a dry heat, and Tom stood it marvellously well. For the most
part they travelled at night or very early in the morning. During the
forenoon, and in the awful noontide, their camp would be pitched either
under a huge banyan tree by the wayside--whose dry, thirsty roots were
hanging down raggedly to seek the soil, while its glorious over-canopy
of leafage made a shelter from the sweltering sunlight--or in a grove
on the outskirts of a village or town. Sometimes he slept, but oftener
he thought and listened. How silent it was in these noontide hours! Now
and then he would catch a rustle as a lizard or snake crept through the
dry grass, or there would be a flutter overhead, where the little wild
birds--parroquets and mynas--sought a precarious shelter, or a scream
when some bird of prey swooped down upon them. But for the most part,
even the vultures and the hawks, and the hideous flying-foxes, that
hung in uncouth bags from the trees, were quiet. Man, meanwhile, was
at peace, having no energy even for labour. Through the woods came no
ring of hammer or axe: the tramp of the wanderer had ceased along the
road, and long, swathed figures, motionless as the sheeted dead, lay
under the trees and in the shadow of walls and houses. The whole earth
lay weltering in a fiery bath. With the drawing on of evening there
would be movement. Flocks of parroquets would rush out of the tree-tops
screaming discordantly: birds of prey would prune their wings and set
off slowly, with harsh cries, in search of food; and the confused
murmur of a restless humanity would begin again.

Then the rajah's heir would emerge from his shelter, and, while his
tent was being taken down, and his camels laden, would stroll into the
nearest village. There he would often take his seat on the chiboutra,
under a spreading tree, where the talkers met together to discuss,
over their hookahs, such important matters as the price of grain and
cattle. They welcomed him with the grave courtesy of Indians; but
whether they spoke freely in his presence he could not tell. Except in
one or two cases, when a Hindoo priest or a Moulvie from a distance
had visited the district, he heard nothing which could lead him to
suppose that there was any widespread spirit of disaffection, while
English magistrates were often spoken of in his presence with a respect
bordering on adoration. So he went on towards Gumilcund with an easier
mind.



CHAPTER XV

THE RANEE OF JHANSI


Amongst the introductions which Tom took with him to India was one
to Dinkur Rao, Dewan or Prime Minister at the Court of the Mahratta
Prince, Sindia, Maharaja of Gwalior. The Dewan was one of those
remarkable men who, at critical times, stand out boldly from their
fellows. Subtle of mind and sagacious, and possessing to a degree
which, in a full Asiatic, is unusual, the executive talent through
which great theories can be brought out in action, he had already
steered the State, to the government of which he had been summoned
when the youthful Maharaja attained his majority, through more than
one dangerous crisis. Like Jung Bahadoor, he had fully realised the
importance to his country of British over-lordship in the peninsula;
and, unlike the Nana, Kunwer Singh, and the host of fanatic priests and
prophets, who thought that to exhaust England and to drain her of her
population would be an easy task, he held firmly to his belief in the
strength, no less than the beneficence, of the Paramount Power.

As regarded his policy, both internal and external, Dinkur Rao might
almost be said to have been the pupil of the late Rajah of Gumilcund;
and although, being hampered by obstacles from which that enlightened
ruler was free, such as an intriguing court, and a young sovereign of
unstable mind, who had on one occasion at least deliberately reversed
the wise measures of the Dewan and shut him out from his counsels, he
could not give to his own people such happiness and security as was
enjoyed by the people of Gumilcund, he was able, through the superior
position of Gwalior and her larger resources, to exercise a more
commanding influence on the policy of the nations of Central India than
Gumilcund could have done, even if her wise ruler had lived to tide
her through this dangerous crisis. The Dewan had heard of the probable
arrival at Gumilcund of the rajah's heir. A certain amount of mystery
surrounded him; but he believed him to be, like his predecessors, of
mixed blood, and was not, indeed, altogether indisposed to suspect that
he was actually the son of the late rajah by an English mother. As he
had loved the father, he was ready and anxious to make the acquaintance
of the son. When, therefore, having passed through the cantonments and
pitched his camp on an open space outside the native city and fort of
Gwalior, Tom sent in a messenger with his letter of introduction and
a note from himself requesting permission to pay his respects to the
Maharaja and the Dewan, Dinkur Rao started off, attended by a guard of
honour, to meet and welcome him. Then, having received him with Eastern
ceremony, he escorted him back to the city, and introduced him to the
Maharaja, who set apart rooms in the palace for his use.

Tom spent three days enjoying the hospitality of Gwalior. Before the
end of that time, he and the Dewan had become firm friends. In the long
nights that they spent together on one of the palace balconies, while
the Dewan smoked his hookah and looked up meditatively into the starlit
sky, Tom unburdened himself of some of the thoughts and feelings that
had possessed him since he entered upon his new life.

He was troubled by his inability to lay out the future. 'I make plans
one day,' he said, 'and I change them the next, and I find no firm
standing-ground anywhere.' He was troubled still more by the dual
impulses that governed him, and by the way in which startlingly new
thoughts and unbidden imaginations forced themselves upon his mind. 'I
thought I knew myself,' he said sadly; 'but I find that my very will is
not my own.'

The Dewan consoled him. 'It is a time of transition with you,' he said.
'The new has not yet accommodated itself with the old. Western ideas,
and, if I may venture to say so, Western prejudices, are warring in
your mind with the Orientalism which is its true element. You will
settle down in time and then you will take the best out of both. Who
knows that the Great Spirit may not have decreed that you shall be one
of the reconcilers for whom the world is waiting? Your father, the
great Byrajee Pirtha Raj, of blessed memory, believed that such would
be, and that only then, when the East learned from the West and the
West from the East, as now they interchange terrestrial products, would
the earth and her long-troubled children enter upon the holy path that
leads to spiritual freedom.'

'And do you think this time is near?' said Tom, trembling.

'Nay,' answered the Dewan, smiling. 'I am no prophet. The future is
with the gods.'

'But you think that England does well to maintain her power in India?'

'I know that in England is our only hope. They are preaching
independence to the people,' cried the Dewan, his excitement rising as
he spoke. 'Govern yourselves, they say. Be free men! Throw the invaders
from the West into the sea! The fools! Do they know what they mean?
Are we then one nation in India? Can we be governed by ourselves? They
know very well that we cannot. There is not one preacher of sedition
at this moment who is not well aware that the retreat of the English
would introduce a period of anarchy such as even our unhappy country
has never known. And how could it be otherwise? Moslems, Hindustanis,
Bengalis, Mahrattas, Sikhs, Punjaubis, Ghoorkas, hill tribes of the
north, and hill tribes of the south--we are far more foreigners to one
another than French and English, Spaniards and Germans. Which of all
these, I ask you, shall govern the others? Who are to be the free and
independent men, and who are to be the slaves?'

'The strongest would come to the front,' said Tom.

'The strongest, yes; and think of the sea of bloodshed and misery
through which we should have to wade before that was proved. They
know it very well, these preachers. I caught one, a Moulvie of great
sanctity, preaching rebellion to my soldiers. Before I sent him to
Yama I asked him this question: who is to govern us all, I said, when
the English have gone? I asked it in the presence of the poor fools he
had been trying to delude. If he could answer me I said I would spare
him. There were three different religions amongst them, and he knew
that if he pronounced for one the votaries of the other would tear
him to pieces. So he stood dumb and was led away to death. No,' said
the Dewan, 'however it may be in the future, those amongst us who are
wise know that for the present the Paramount Power is needed. We may
regret the necessity; but we should feel gratitude rather than aversion
towards the strong hand that, by compelling our mutual animosities to
be still, gives us time for such internal development as can alone make
us great and prosperous. That at least is our attitude, and my master
will maintain it--of this I am certain. Yes, even if his own soldiers
desert him.'

In after days, when Sindia and his State were put to the test, Tom
remembered those brave words well.

He paid one more important visit before going on to Gumilcund. It was
to Jhansi, a little state and town lying to the south of Gwalior, which
was one of the kingdoms, tributary now to the English, formed out of
the ruins of the Peishwa's dominion after the Mahratta War. The late
rajah was the last representative of the reigning family. His widow
survived him. She was beautiful, talented, and strong. Her energy and
ambition, held all her life long in reserve, were ready to leap forth
when the moment for their exercise should come. She would govern the
state--she a woman, and govern it as none of the voluptuaries who
preceded her had done!

Her dream was destined to disappointment. The petition which she
presented to the Paramount Power praying for the succession, first
to herself and after her to her adopted son, was rejected. But the
Government of India would not be unjust. A pension should be allotted
to the widow of the rajah, and she should be permitted to reside in her
own palace at Jhansi.

The Ranee gnashed her teeth. Had Jhansi been strong and rich she would
have flung the Governor-General's pension in his face, and dared him to
do his worst. As it was she bided her time. Yearning for vengeance with
the fierce, concentrated passion of the strong in mind and helpless
in body, she sat at home, brooding over her wrongs, but doing nothing.
Her guaranteed income, so petty to her magnificence, was, in the course
of time, reduced. The late rajah had left debts. The present governor
refused to settle them. The Ranee stated, mildly enough, her inability
to pay, and the governor of the province decreed that her pension
should be mulcted of a certain yearly sum until the amount due from the
late rajah's estate had been paid. And still the Ranee said nothing.
Being too weak to rebel, she was too proud to murmur. But the sore
in her spirit grew. Sitting with bowed head in the retirement of her
palace, she heard of the worship in Hindoo temples being stopped for
lack of funds, of priests and Brahmins wandering homeless through the
land, and of kine being slaughtered in the very heart of the stainless
city; but still she made no sign. Then, at last, the year of prophecy,
with its strange portents, dawned. Flat cakes, the sacrament of union
in life and in death, were carried from village to village. From one to
another, through the crowded bazaars and markets, and into the temples
defrauded of their gains, there flew a mysterious whisper of impending
change. It penetrated to the palace where the Ranee sat, nursing her
vengeance, and with a rapture, such as she had never hoped to know,
her darkened spirit leapt to meet it. Destruction--death--torrents of
blood--a great dominion established on strength and cemented by terror,
passing away for ever. What could it mean but that the hour for which
she had so long and so hopelessly craved had come? And now the Ranee
put on a smiling face. She welcomed the English to her palace, and
entertained them royally. 'We must bow to the will of the Supreme,' she
said, when one and another expressed surprise at her changed attitude.
She would even confer gravely with the English authorities on the
emergencies of the time, and recommend measures for their security.
But all the time she was adding to her bodyguard, and secretly drawing
the discontented about her, and exercising her magnetic power of
fascination on the troops.

Such was the state of Jhansi when the rajah's heir came knocking at the
Ranee's door.

She had heard of his probable accession, and of his progress through
Central India, and she was exceedingly anxious to see him; as soon,
therefore, as he gave in his name he was admitted.

It was evening, the Ranee's reception-hour. This the captain of
her lately enrolled bodyguard, a man of splendid stature and dull,
forbidding face, told the visitor. Following him, he wound his way
through some narrow passages, until a heavy curtain before a closed
door pulled them up. The captain threw the curtain aside and opened
the door, and a curious spectacle presented itself to Tom. He was in
a large hall, paved and lined with marble, and lighted by beautiful
perforated windows, through which streamed softly the golden light of
evening. It fell on a motley crowd, barefooted and dressed in every
variety of Eastern costume.

To Tom's eyes, dazzled by the sudden change, there seemed to be
nothing but a confusion of swaying forms and faded colours. Halting
for a moment to recover himself, he saw that the crowd which was
spread thinly over the hall concentrated at its upper end. Thither his
conductor led him, the throng parting right and left to allow him free
passage. In front of him was a marble daïs, raised a few steps above
the level of the hall. To this he lifted his eyes and found himself in
the immediate presence of a woman of queenly figure. It was the Ranee.
He thought, as he looked at her, that he had never seen a finer sight.
None, indeed, knew better than the Ranee of Jhansi the effect of the
senses upon the imagination; no one has ever been more skilful in use
of the arts by which such influence as she desired was won.

That evening she was dressed in a robe of curiously figured satin and
woven gold; a gauze veil, which softened, but did not hide her proud
and beautiful face, was thrown over her, and her seat was a finely
carved and gilded chair.

For an instant the English youth was bewildered; in the next he
remembered the part he had to play; while the Captain was recounting
his name and titles, he prostrated himself reverently. When he lifted
his head, he saw that she was standing--a noble figure in her splendid
raiment--and making signs to him to approach nearer to her. He mounted
the daïs, the lady encouraging him by a smile. An attendant, in the
meantime, brought forward a low chair, upon which, in obedience to the
Ranee's invitation, he seated himself.

What was to come next? The experience being totally novel, he thought
his most prudent course would be to wait. He sat silent, therefore,
feeling conscious in every nerve of the keen and fervent gaze which,
from under that silvery veil, was enveloping him.

'Are you one of us, my lord?' said the Ranee at length.

'I am the slave of her Excellency,' he answered, bending low.

'I have many slaves in name,' returned the Ranee, a proud and bitter
smile playing about her lips.

'Surely her Excellency is unjust to her servants,' said Tom.

'You are right, Sir Stranger,' said one who stood by--a ponderous and
unwieldy figure of a man, clad in white muslin tunic and crimson sash.

'Is he, Nawab?' said the Ranee, a flash of what looked like irony
darting from her eyes. 'Then, let me beseech you, who have repeatedly
called yourself my slave, to dismiss our friends, and to retire
yourself. I would confer with this youth alone.'

For an instant the Nawab's eyes gleamed ominously, and his fingers
played with the hilt of his sword; but the Ranee's gaze was upon him,
and he recovered himself. 'Your Excellency's orders shall be obeyed,'
he said.

He went down into the hall to make her wishes known, whereupon one
after another made their salaams; so that in a few moments the hall was
cleared. Our hero, as we shall imagine, was feeling anything but easy.
What could the Ranee wish to discuss with him secretly? Had she any
dangerous designs to communicate, and, if so, how could he--a man in
disguise--receive such confidences?

The Ranee was too keen not to read the perturbation of his mind; but
not keen enough, fortunately for him, to trace it to its true source.
He was impressed, she believed, by her beauty and dignity. This was no
new thing to a woman accustomed to homage; but the youth, fair looks,
and ingenuousness of her new acquaintance made the incense of his
adoration peculiarly sweet. She was unscrupulous, as we know; where she
had wrongs to avenge she could be cruel; yet she was not without the
generosity, which is the redeeming virtue of strong characters. Looking
at Tom she formed a hasty resolution. He should not be drawn into the
plot they were framing. She would prevent it. He had nothing to avenge.
If he threw himself into the quarrel it would be for her sake; and, in
the event of failure, he would lose not his raj only, but his life;
while the fearful rapture of gratified hatred to which she looked
forward as the sweetener of her fall would not exist for him. And so,
to Tom's surprise, for the Dewan had begged him to listen with caution
to anything the Ranee might have to say, she gave him prudent counsels.

'You have come to us at an uneasy moment,' she said. 'The hearts of the
people are hot within them, and none of us knows what may happen. Had
I been continued in the government of my state, I could have led it
safely through this difficult time. But it was not to be. The English
are wise, and they have dispossessed me.' Into her dark eyes there came
a gleam of anger, and her brows knit themselves fiercely together; but
in a moment she recovered herself. 'What is all that to you?' she said.
'You are a stranger. Take the advice of one who wishes you well, and
wait and watch. Your state is small. Nothing will be asked of you by
the English. Agitators will be afraid to trouble you. Until you know
what turn things will take, you can keep quiet; and, if you lose your
raj, you will preserve your life.'

Tom was deeply touched by the care for a stranger's safety which
these words implied; but they unloosened his tongue, so that he said
unthinkingly, 'You see danger of a rising?'

For fully a minute the Ranee looked at him. She seemed to be searching
him through and through. Then her words dropped out slowly, as if
hissed through her teeth, 'There _will_ be a rising; I am certain of
it.'

Everything--her beauty, her kindness, her solitary position, a woman
alone among all these men, and the fearful nature of the crisis to
which she looked forward--seemed to rush together to Tom's brain in
one overwhelming tempest cloud of thought. Wild with pity and terror,
he flung himself at her feet. 'Gracious lady,' he cried, 'can you do
nothing? Think, in heaven's name! Do not be angry with me, I beseech
you! It is stronger than I am. I must speak. I have seen your face; I
have listened to your voice with its words of good counsel, and I know
its power. Speak you to the madmen who are stirring up strife. They
will--they must listen to you!'

'You magnify my ability, Sir Rajah,' said the Ranee. 'I am only a poor
pensioner of the English.'

'You are a queen,' said the boy chokingly. But he rose to his feet.

'I thank you for your good words,' said the Ranee gently. 'They are
pleasant to me, and I shall not forget them. But say I did speak, and
say my people listened to me, what then? Will the English give me back
the power of which they have robbed me? Will they atone for the insults
offered in their name to our families and our faith? Will they give us
men of our own blood to be our rulers? I know they will not, and I,
who, if they had been true to me, would have thrown the whole weight of
my influence into their cause, I wipe my hands of them. If those who
were once my people revolt--they revolt--what is that to me? I would
not lift up my little finger to prevent them.'

'But,' said Tom chokingly, being moved to the heart, 'you will at
least----'

'I will listen to you no longer, lest you make me angry. I have warned
you, and that is enough. And now tell me about England. I have seen the
name of the Island written on one of our maps. It is a small place, but
the people must be restless and clever. I hear that they have dominions
in other parts of the world, in America and the islands of the sea. How
do they defend themselves when their soldiers are scattered?'

'Your Excellency,' said Tom, smiling, 'can have no idea of the power
and resources of England. I have lived there since I was a child, so I
ought to know. She has cities of vast size and overflowing with people.
She has armies to which those you see here are but a handful ready at
a moment's notice to be sent to the ends of the earth at her pleasure.
She has great Generals--men of nerve and power and endurance--in her
service. She has cities of workmen, who are forging every day the
munitions of war; and she has fleets in constant readiness to transport
her soldiers across the sea. You in India, who have never been over the
black water, can have no idea of what England is.'

'Jung Bahadoor told me something of this, but I believed that he
spoke largely for his own purposes,' said the Ranee. 'He has always
cultivated the friendship of the English. You assure me that it is
true!'

'How could I dream such wonders? It is true, every word of it,' said
Tom, 'and I could tell you more.'

'Nay,' said the Ranee with a smile, 'you have told me enough. To know
that they are strong will not make me love them more. Tell me of
yourself. You are going on at once to Gumilcund?'

'With your Excellency's permission, I will start between night and
morning.'

'Stay one more day, and look round you.'

'I thank your Excellency humbly.'

'That is well. Then I shall see you again at this hour to-morrow.'

He rose and bowed low, and having called some of the servants who were
hanging about the ante-rooms, she committed him to their care; but
Tom, acting on Hoosanee's advice, preferred sleeping in camp to sharing
the noisy hospitality of the Palace.

Had Hoosanee had his will, they would have started that night, but Tom
felt bound to visit the Ranee again. Never before had he met a woman
of her type. She fascinated his imagination, so that he could scarcely
sleep for thinking of her, and it was after a vivid dream in which the
Ranee figured as a new Joan of Arc, leading her troops to victory, that
he opened his eyes the next morning.

Hoosanee was standing over him with a cup of coffee. 'If my lord wishes
to see anything of Jhansi, this is the time,' he said.

'All right, Hoosanee. Have Snow-queen saddled,' said Tom.

Snow-queen was an Arab mare of the highest lineage, which Tom had
brought up with him from Bombay. She was full of spirit, could race
like the wind, showed no signs of flagging until she was completely
dead-beat, and was as gentle as a well-trained child in the hands
of those who used her kindly. No one but her master and the syce,
Subdul Khan, who had been with her since she was a foal, ever touched
Snow-queen. To him, as to Tom, she was more like a human being than a
beast of burden.

A few minutes after Hoosanee had given the order, Subdul Khan, who
had already groomed and fed the beautiful white mare, was leading her
gently up and down in front of their master's tent. A second syce led a
horse for Hoosanee. Dressed in the half-Oriental, half-European style,
which is the out-of-doors costume of many an Indian gentleman, Tom came
out. His face, which had been pale and sad that morning, brightened
when he saw his favourite, and he gave a low whistle, to which she
responded by arching her neck, and pawing the ground.

'The White Ranee is impatient,' he said smilingly to Subdul Khan, as he
gathered up the reins and vaulted on to her back.

'She will go like the wind, your Excellency. The day's rest has done
her good,' said the groom, looking, with pride in his dark face, at his
young master and the snow-white steed.

'Then let her go,' said Tom.

'One word, sahib,' said Subdul Khan, whose hand was still on
Snow-queen's bridle. He spoke low and mysteriously, and Tom, fearing
that he had made some uncomfortable discovery about his mare's
soundness, stooped down to listen. But all Subdul Khan said was, 'Let
me entreat my master to be careful. There are traitors in this place.'
Before Tom could ask him to explain, Snow-queen, free at last, had
set off, with her long, easy stride, tossing her mane and snorting
joyously. The rapid movement was exhilarating. Tom's spirits rose till
he felt ready to defy the universe.

'What do we care for traitors?' he said to his horse in English. 'We
could escape, you and I together, if we were put to it, old friend! I
can see you dashing through a crowd of them like a whirlwind. There!
gently! gently!' Snow-queen, excited by her master's voice, and in mere
wantonness of heart, had tossed up her heels and redoubled her pace.
'We are coming into civilised quarters, Snow-queen, and we must behave
like civilised beings.'

They had crossed the Maidan, a wilderness of burnt-up grass, where
the native troops, whose huts could be seen as a low, white line in
the distance, were drilled and trained under their European officers.
They were coming now upon a road, on either side of which the
bungalows of the English military and civil officers, with the humbler
dwelling-places of Eurasian and European clerks and mechanics, were
scattered.

Here Tom drew up and waited for Hoosanee, who was some distance behind
him. The gallop over the Maidan had satisfied Snow-queen for the
moment, and she stood perfectly still, while her master, stroking her
glossy neck caressingly, looked out before him.

It was very early indeed. The sun had not yet leapt over the rim of the
vast plain; but the eastern heavens were glowing like a furnace, and
from the dreadful zenith star after star was fading out. Beneath the
sky the plain, with its villages and groves and burnt-up fields, and
multitudes of freshly-kindled morning fires, round which, like busy
ants, the people clustered, lay outstretched mysteriously. Not the
Elysian fields themselves could have been more peaceful than this early
morning scene.

Hoosanee came up, and they cantered quietly along the pleasantly shaded
road that led through the European quarter. Early as it was there were
many stirring. Slender, pale-faced English children, dressed in white
blouses, were mounted on ponies led by dignified Indian servants.
Several ladies were riding and driving, and from the bungalow-gardens
came sounds of laughter and chattering, as little groups gathered round
spread tables under the trees to enjoy the freshness of the morning.

Tom was looking out on this absently, his heart full of the wistful
longing, which always possessed him when he saw English faces and
heard the English speech, to mix with his compatriots as one of
themselves, when a small face, which had been for some moments looking
up into his face with questioning eagerness, detached itself from
the multitude of confused impressions about him. He looked down and
saw as quaint and pretty a group as it would be possible to imagine.
The child, who had been looking up at him--a little girl dressed
like a fairy in blue and silver--formed the centre of the group. A
ridiculously small pony, decked out in gay trappings, and led by a
smart little Indian groom, carried the child, and an ayah, swathed in
spotless white, walked beside her.

'Why,' said Tom, pulling up, 'it is Aglaia!'

At the sound of his voice, the child, whose little face had been
looking troubled, clapped her hands and laughed; and Tom, feeling quite
unable to preserve his character of Oriental passivity, leapt to the
ground, and caught her in his arms.

The ayah, who had taken him for an Indian of rank, looked at him in
the utmost bewilderment; but her attention was happily diverted, for
Hoosanee, too, had leapt from his horse and he was looking at her with
a curious fixity. No sooner had she seen him fully than she broke into
a little cry of 'Hoosanee! How did you come here?'

Tom looked back. 'Your Excellency,' said the man, his dark face
glowing, 'the young woman is my sister Sumbaten!'

'Why,' said Tom, 'this is quite a romance. And where do you and
Sumbaten live, Aglaia?' The child pointed with her small forefinger to
a small building on the outskirt of the Maidan, which looked more like
a tomb than a house. She was clamorous that Tom should go home with her
at once. 'I've such lots of things to show you,' she said. '_Three_
new dollies, and a tea-set, and a sweet little bird. Then there's my
dada--you haven't seen my dada yet, have you?'

'No,' said Tom gravely. 'Is he nice?'

'He's lovely,' said the child. 'Come and see him now!'

'I am afraid I can't, Aglaia.'

'Why can't you, Tom?'

'I am going on to another place, where I have a beautiful house with
all sorts of lovely things in it. You and your mother and father must
come and stay with me there some day.'

'But you're quite close to _my_ house,' persisted Aglaia. '_Do_ come!'

Here Hoosanee stepped forward. 'His Excellency is being observed,' he
said in a low voice. 'He would do well to mount and ride on.'

Two of the Ranee's body-guard, dressed in gaudy but ragged clothes,
were strolling down the road, their swords clanking behind them.
Hoosanee had been right in his surmise. Their master, the Nawab,
had pointed Tom out to them the previous evening as a person to
be suspected, and they had come out with the object of spying his
movements. Had they heard him speak to the English child in English,
his fate would have probably been sealed, for these men, who had served
in British armies, knew the sound of an English voice. But Hoosanee's
watchfulness had, for the moment, forestalled theirs. When they came
up, Tom, who looked all the Oriental, was mounted and giving directions
in Hindustani to Aglaia's servants. With reverent salaams the men
passed on, and Hoosanee whispered to his sister that she should take
the child away.

'Sahib, it is for their sakes,' he explained hurriedly to his master.
'We should draw suspicion upon them. The _budmashes_ respect nothing.
They only wait for an opportunity to do wickedness.'

Aglaia was resisting the efforts of her ayah to draw her away. Her
sweet violet eyes were full of tears, she could not understand the
change in her friend Tom, or why he should look at her so solemnly,
when she was so glad to see him. 'Won't you come?' she sobbed. 'I want
you to see my dada.'

'Yes, yes,' said Tom low and hoarsely. 'Go home and I will come some
day. Perhaps when you want me the most.'

'I want you now,' said Aglaia.

'Missy come away; come quick!' urged the poor little ayah whom
Hoosanee's frantic signs were goading into desperation. 'The sun it is
coming and mem sahib she scold poor Sumbaten.'

'Go on dear,' said Tom, lingering and feeling half disposed to follow
her, while Hoosanee was writhing over his young master's folly and at
his own inability to make him do what was wise, and then Snow-queen,
the wisest of them all, as Subdul Khan said later, settled the
question for them. She was impatient of standing, and Tom touched
her inadvertently, and all in a moment she bounded away. She was
seen darting like a flash of light across the Maidan and into the
wilderness beyond. It was a wonderful sight, so said the few Europeans
who witnessed it, marvelling at the daring and perfect horsemanship of
a native. Later it was said that there was something uncanny in the
business, for the beautiful white horse and its rider, though looked
for diligently by one or two, were not seen again in Jhansi.

When Aglaia had finished her usual prayer that evening, she stopped.
'Mother,' she said, 'may I say something from myself?'

'Certainly you may, darling,' said Mrs. White.

Then Aglaia shut her eyes up tightly and clasped her hands. 'Oh! God!'
she said. 'Thank you for sending Tom. Please may he come back soon!'

After that she lay down contentedly. 'I was going to cry,' she said.
'But I won't now. He's sure to come, isn't he, mother?'

Before her mother could answer she was asleep, and every night, up to a
certain night that I shall have to tell of presently, she insisted upon
adding this petition to her prayers.



CHAPTER XVI

THE RAJAH'S RECEPTION


Hoosanee, who was by this time in daily communication with Chunder
Singh, was careful so to time the arrival in Gumilcund of the rajah's
heir as to make it interesting and impressive. Tom, indeed, who wished
to test the truth of the likeness to the late rajah, which so many
of his friends had observed in him, and at the same time to put to
the severest trial his own power of maintaining the character of an
Indian prince, insisted that the people should not be prepared for his
arrival, and, Chunder Singh agreeing with him, Hoosanee was obliged to
give up his dreams of garlanded houses, and throngs of expectant people
in holiday raiment. He indemnified himself by arranging that they
should enter the city on the evening of a holiday, for then all the
workers would be out of doors, and Gumilcund would look her best.

It was in the forenoon of a burning day that the little cavalcade
halted. They were now within the boundaries of the Gumilcund State.
Tom, who was looking at everything with the deepest interest, had
already seen evidences of a higher prosperity than he had met with
elsewhere. The splendidly kept roads were overshadowed with fine
trees; there were wells and tanks in every direction; the villages,
which echoed to the sounds of industry, were neater and more
comfortable-looking than any he had seen in India; and, throughout the
day's journey, he only saw one or two of the hideous vermilion-painted
shrines to Mahadeo, which, elsewhere, were to be found at every corner.

They halted in a grove of fig trees, about two miles distant from
the city. Here Tom's tent had been pitched, and, though far too much
excited to sleep, he threw himself down for a few hours' rest.

'His Excellency will sleep in his own palace to-night, if we continue
to meet with the favour of Heaven,' said Hoosanee, as he left his
master to his repose.

Hour followed hour. The sun blazed down with the most terrible
fierceness. Tom got up and went to the edge of the wood, and returned
reeling and almost blind. He could do nothing, he could not even think,
and he felt as if the day would never pass away. At last, towards
afternoon, Hoosanee came in with the pleasant news that his meal and
his bath were ready. Tom knew what was expected of him, and he was not
surprised to see the finest of his Oriental suits, with jewels that had
often caused him anxiety on the road, but that were now most carelessly
displayed, laid out for him to wear.

'We are in Gumilcund,' said Hoosanee, with a proud smile, when his
young master looked at the display. 'There are no _budmashes_ here.'

Not without some sense of amusement, and curious consideration of what
his friends at home would say if they could see him, the rajah's heir
decked himself out. He wore a crimson satin tunic, sown with pearls,
and the sash from which his sword hung was of golden tissue, and his
turban of fine muslin richly embroidered shone with the fire of rubies
and diamonds.

It was an absurd magnificence, which, Tom felt, would dwarf him, and,
with an Englishman's impatience of merely personal display, he was
about to fling aside these gaudy weeds and ask for something plainer,
when, glancing into the mirror which Hoosanee held up to him proudly,
he was aware of such a change as he had experienced on board the
'Patagonia,' on the occasion of his first putting on an Oriental robe.
It came, this time, with a force that there was no resisting. For an
instant his brain seemed to reel with the shock. Then, making a strong
effort to draw himself together, he looked again, and tried to look
calmly. For several seconds he gazed fixedly into those strange eyes
that were gazing into his. Then he drew a deep breath. It was true.
This image before him was not Thomas Gregory. There was a dignity in
the figure, a determination in the face, a mingled fire and sadness in
the dark eyes, such as he had never seen in the English youth whom he
thought he knew.

What did it mean? Was he dreaming a madman's dream, or was it, could
it be, that the awful thing which ever since he left home had been
haunting him was true? Could another personality enter into and possess
him? Would he never in all the future be certain at any moment of
being himself? Questions such as these were forcing their way through
his mind, when, all at once, the curtain at the door of the tent was
slowly lifted, and, looking round impatiently, for he was in no mood
to be intruded upon, he saw his friend Chunder Singh standing, with
bowed head, before him. At the same moment his perplexity and distress
vanished, and he knew that the curious conflict, so often renewed, was
over for the time. The English youth had gone. It was the Indian prince
and chief who addressed his follower.

'Welcome to my tent, Chunder Singh,' he said, heartily. 'What news do
you bring?'

'I bring good news, my lord,' said Chunder Singh. 'We are at peace, and
all the State is well-disposed to your Highness. It was your will that
we should not warn the people of your approach; but the wind of rumour
has been busy amongst them, and I find that they expect the return of
their rajah. When my lord enters he will be received with acclamations.'

'I will only go amongst them upon one condition,' said the young rajah.
'You know that, Chunder Singh.'

'I know it well; but let my lord have no fear! We know by whose favour
we live and prosper, and in all Gumilcund I believe there is no one who
would be traitorous to the Paramount Power.'

The eyes of the young rajah glistened as he held out his hand, over
which Chunder Singh, whose eyes were wet with tears, bent reverently,
for he knew now that his old master had come back to him.

After this they made their arrangements. Hoosanee, who was called into
their counsel, was in favour of their all entering together; but it
was decided against him. The rajah should ride in on his snow-white
horse, with only Subdul Khan, whose face was unknown to the people of
Gumilcund, behind him; and the rest of the train should follow after
about half an hour's interval.

The sun had by this time gone down; a rose-red glow of colour streaming
over the plain transfigured the burnt fields into gardens of Paradise,
and a thin white veil rising from a multitude of evening fires covered
the face of the plain.

Feeling as if everything, and most of all himself, were unreal, Tom
mounted Snow-queen, and, following the road pointed out to him by
Chunder Singh, rode on rapidly for two miles. Then he drew rein, for he
was within sight of the city. Dreamlike and wonderful in the evening
light, the broad shield of the full moon rising above its battlements,
it lay before him. It was all new; but he did not feel that it was new.
It seemed to him rather as if he were coming to a spot where everything
was familiar. He pushed on again, riding more slowly. A bridge thrown
across a deep gully lay in front of him. He crossed it at a foot-pace
and found himself under walls of red sandstone, thick and high, in
the midst of which was a massive gate, flanked with towers, which lay
hospitably open.

By this time Subdul Khan, his only attendant, was close behind him.

They rode in together, no one challenging them, and again Tom drew up
and looked round him. He was in a dazzling little world of pink and
white--pink houses that stood back from a wide white road, through
the midst of which ran a canal of fresh water overshadowed with young
trees, and white poles uplifting lanterns above the heads of the
people, who in gay garments of pink and white were streaming along the
road, and towards the centre of the city.

Keeping under the shadow of the trees so as not to attract the
attention of any one, the rajah's heir followed the crowd. It was at
once the gayest and the most orderly crowd that he had ever beheld.
As he went on it grew thicker. Beautiful white kine, with garlanded
horns, moved amongst them; flocks of white pigeons hovered overhead,
alighting wherever there was a vacant space, and taking toll from the
stores of yellow grain that were spread out on sheets at the doors of
the houses; and the lowing of the quiet beasts, and the whirr of the
doves' wings blended pleasantly with the buzz and rumour of the city.
Subdul Khan urged his master to show himself; but he kept in shadow
still. He was interested and moved as he had never been before. He felt
more strongly than ever the mysterious kinship between himself and
these people. He was tempted to prolong the dream-like sensations of
the moment, and to put off the time when it would be necessary for him
to act.

Moving on under the grateful shelter of the trees, with the unconscious
crowd about him, he was aware of coming into a finer part of the city.
Large and lofty houses, which were very much in the gingerbread style
of architecture, being decorated lavishly with balconies or pavilions
and pretty perforated stone lattices, stood back from the road, and
here and there, as, going with the stream of the people, he followed
the broad main road, he caught glimpses of quiet side streets and
little open squares, surrounded with lighted houses, all in the same
fantastic style. 'This is like a magnified toy city,' he said to
himself. And now he had traversed the full length of the broad high
road that leads from the principal gate to the market-place, and the
avenue of trees which had been sheltering him from observation came to
an end abruptly. Here for a few moments he pulled up. To plunge into
the sea of light and movement that lay before him would be to attract
the attention of the crowd, and before doing so he wished to understand
what was going on.

The market place, of wide extent and planted here and there with groups
of trees, was the centre from which the principal streets of the city
radiated. It was here that all the fun of the evening culminated.
After a little observation, Tom made out that the festival had to do
with Rama, hero of the great Indian epic. His name was to be heard on
every side. Processions of women, decked with garlands of flowers, were
making the round of the market place, chanting his praises; men in long
white robes, and elevated on small platforms above the heads of the
people, were reciting fragments of the Ramayana; and in booths, closely
surrounded with eager crowds, pictures of the hero and the companions
of his exile were being exhibited.

This much he saw himself. Subdul Khan, in the meantime, who had
alighted and tethered his horse to a tree, was, by his orders, mixing
amongst the people. In a few moments he returned, his dark face
all aglow with excitement. 'Allah is favourable to my master!' he
exclaimed. 'He has come at a good moment. It is the festival of Rama's
return to his city after his seven years of exile, twice told. There
could not be a better omen. Let my lord ride down amongst them!'

Snow-queen had been standing like a marble image under the trees. Her
master shook the bridle rein, and she moved forward. They had been in
shadow, and they were now in full light. The effect was magical. In an
instant the white horse and its rider became the centre towards which
all that multitude of swaying figures converged. They were silent for
a few moments. The suddenness of the apparition had struck them with
awe, and it was to some as if a spirit had risen from the dead. But in
the East the crowd is more attuned to marvels than in the West. The
sense of awe was followed, in a moment, by a rapture that was almost
intoxicating. Like an autumn wind that sweeps over the yellow corn
fields, bowing the ripe ears to the ground, so the wild rumour ran, and
hundreds of heads were bent, while the cry of 'Rama! Rama!' rent the
air. In less time than it takes to tell, the trees in the market-place
and the balconies of the houses that bounded it, and the platforms
from which the reciters had been declaiming, were thronged with eager
faces. Then from some one in the outskirts of the crowd there came
another cry--a cry that thrilled Tom to the heart--'Rajah jee! Rajah
jee!'

Those behind pressed upon those in front. Subdul Khan could with
difficulty keep a little space between the horse and the people, and
had not Snow-queen been as gentle as she was swift there would have
been imminent danger of accident. But she stood quiet, or moved forward
slowly as she was directed, arching her beautiful neck, and tossing her
mane; and Tom, who, for a moment, had been uneasy, looked round him
calmly and proudly. Then the acclamations were redoubled. They echoed
and re-echoed through the square; they came rolling up the streets
that opened into it; they dropped down like thunder from the roofs and
pavilions of the houses. 'Rajah jee! Rajah jee! Protector of the poor!
Cherisher of our city! Master of our lives! He has come back to us from
the grave, and we are orphans no longer. Byrajee Pirtha Raj, our prince
and deliverer, is here!' These and a hundred other cries rent the air,
so that the whole city was in an uproar.

Tom, meanwhile, was silent. He would have spoken if he could, but the
tumult was too great. He moved forward slowly across the great square,
looking to the right hand and to the left. In the centre of the square
he came to a full stop, the throng being so great that he could not
go further; and then, all of a sudden, there was a lull, and a single
voice, as of a herald, was heard to exclaim, 'Vishnugupta has come
hither from his hermitage. Give place to the priest and prophet!'

In the next instant the crowd divided reverently, and, through this
living lane, a tall supernaturally lean figure, dressed in a long white
robe, its one arm, that was bare, holding aloft a silver cage, through
which shone the glowing red of living brands, came slowly. It stopped
in front of the white horse and its rider. The sudden apparition of the
weird, white-bearded figure, with the glowing brands, and the smell of
smoke in her nostrils, were almost more than Snow-queen could bear.
To the consternation of Subdul Khan, she fell back upon her haunches,
snorting violently. But Tom kept his seat firmly, soothing her with his
hand and voice, and in a few moments she was quiet again.

Then the deep sepulchral voice of the priest came towards him. 'I have
come up from the grave,' he said, 'to see you. Who are you, and whence
have you come?'

Firmly and proudly his answer leapt out. 'I have come from the Islands
of the Sea, to be the rajah of this city and state. They who were the
rulers of this people have sent me to reign over them. Take me to the
prince's house and I will speak to them there!'

He was scarcely given time to finish, for the acclamations, which broke
forth more tumultuously than ever, mingled now with sounds of weeping,
as if, for some, the shock of gladness was too great to be borne.

'Our eyes have not deceived us. The voice is the voice of our rajah.
He said he would come back to us, and he has kept his word. Rajah jee!
Rajah jee! Come in with rejoicing!'

Tears filled the young ruler's eyes, and his heart throbbed
passionately. Oh, if he could only speak to these people as he would!
For in the pity and rapture of the moment all his own hopes and
wishes were melting away. He was ready to give up everything, even
his personality, which seemed to be slowly receding from him, for the
sake of this people--this flock without a leader--that surged round
him. Strange and solemn, as some of us dream the entry into the new
life--the life of the resurrection--may be, were the moments that
followed. The voices of the crowd seemed to be drawing him towards
them, while, far away, like a half-forgotten image in a vanished dream,
he saw the English youth with whom he had lived since his infancy. Only
an hour before he had fought passionately to retain his hold on what he
vainly called himself. Now he was conscious of no self. He belonged to
this people, and to the power that was working in him, transforming all
his impulses to its own creative will.

Slowly--the priest with the cage of living coals in his hand making a
way for him--he passed through the lane of mute figures, and silent
expectant faces, in which the rapture of his own heart was reflected,
till he reached the north side of the square. Right in front of him
towered a structure, larger and even more fantastic and brilliant than
any other he had seen in the city. In colour it was a pale yellow,
which, under the many lights, looked like gold, and the whole of the
facade was covered with balconies, pavilions, and pillared alcoves,
that, narrowing up from a broad base, had its apex in a small open
tower of glass and shining metal. Within this tower was a lamp with
powerful reflectors, which cast a beautiful moon-like radiance over
the whole building, and into the small enclosed court in front of it.

Before the arched gateway that opened into this court Vishnugupta
paused, and muttered a few words of invocation; at the same moment a
tongue of white flame issued from the cage of fire in his hand. 'It is
a good omen,' he said joyfully. 'Let my lord enter without fear! The
spirits of fire and air bid him welcome. His rule will be as spotless
as his heart is pure.'



CHAPTER XVII

HOW THE NEWS FROM MEERUT WAS RECEIVED AT GUMILCUND


Of the days that followed the young rajah's entry into his capital but
little record remains. He ceased almost altogether to write in his
diary; Chunder Singh, being always reticent with regard to this period,
there was no one about him who could supply the deficiency; and, to
the deep distress of his English friends both at home and in India, he
gave up writing to them. When, preceded by Vishnugupta, and followed by
Chunder Singh, Hoosanee, and the foremost of the citizens of Gumilcund,
he went into the palace, he entered upon a seclusion which might have
been that of the grave.

But, though unheard of outside the state, he was busy within it. I
gather from hints scattered through his later writings that, as day
followed day tranquilly, he entered more completely into the life of
the city; and that the people--many of whom believed with Chunder
Singh and Hoosanee that in this comely stranger their own rajah had
returned to them--received him as one of themselves.

It was not a happy time; no period of transition can be altogether
satisfactory to oneself. Being highly strung by temperament, he felt
the mental strain more than others, while the complete severance with
the old life affected him painfully. Up to this there had always been
something to connect him with the past. Jung Bahadoor, Gambier Singh,
Dinkur Rao, and the Ranee of Jhansi had all spoken to him of England.
Wherever he had been he had seen English faces and heard the English
tongue; here he met no one but Indians. Even the Resident was absent.
Owing to the death of the late rajah, he had been on duty for some
time; his health, he said, was suffering; so, after welcoming the new
ruler, he had started with his family to take holiday in a hill-station.

At first Tom felt disposed to congratulate himself on this isolation.
He remembered what had been said to him on board the 'Patagonia'--that
between East and West a great gulf is fixed. If, as he would sometimes
imagine, he was to lay the first stone of a bridge to unite them, he
must learn to stand firmly on both sides. Then, too, he had little time
for vain regrets. He had begun to realise the magnitude of the task
that lay before him, and all the energies of his nature were bent on
preparing himself for it. The language, the religion, the laws, and
social customs of his new country had all to be made separate subjects
of study before he could presume to say that he understood its people;
while, in addition, there was the duty--peculiarly sacred to him--of
finding out what the aims of his predecessors had been, and of looking
for and examining any records they had left behind them.

But after those first few days, filled to the brim with hard and
unremitting toil, there came a sense of want. His old feelings might
be stifled, but they were not dead. A dull craving, which he could not
formulate, haunted him perpetually. During the night, which was his
only time of relaxation from mental labour, there would come to him
vivid visions of home, from which he would awake with a sick anguish
that brought tears to his eyes and throbs of pain to his heart. Like a
nightmare the sense of his isolation would weigh upon him; dear faces
from the past would gaze at him reproachfully, and he would stretch out
his arms to them with a bitter cry. He could not--he could not let them
go.

Meanwhile, with the passion born of despair, he clung to what remained
to him of his past life. He had brought away with him a little English
New Testament, his mother's last gift to him. In the silence of his
marble chamber, when everyone in the palace was asleep but himself, he
opened and read it. How different it was from the subtle philosophies
into which he was painfully working his way! Could it be only that the
words were familiar and therefore dear to him? Or was there indeed
some sweet majestic power in them, such as is to be found nowhere else
in all the world? With a trembling heart he read them over:--'He that
loveth his life shall lose it.' 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the
Father.' 'This is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the only
true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.' 'Come unto Me, and I
will give you rest.'

They were not new to him; from his childhood up he had been instructed
in them. They were so familiar to his ears as almost to have lost their
sense to his heart. But now, coming fresh to him from these other
religions, they smote upon his mind with a new power and beauty.

From the utterances he turned to the record of the life, and his wonder
and enchantment grew. Its purity--he had never thought of this before,
for he had not seen how men build up their deities--its selfless love,
its courage, its devotion; these came upon him like a revelation. More
than once in these silent nights he asked himself if this might not be
the secret, this the reconciling element which, after these many ages
of ignorance and disunion, would blend the two continents together so
that they might move forward to a new era of blessedness. But as yet he
said nothing, even to Chunder Singh.

The sultry month of April ran its course; the heat continued to be
terrible; but the young rajah, in his large marble-lined rooms,
artificially darkened and cooled with flowing water and the spray of
fountains, suffered little inconvenience from it.

He heard daily of the outside world, and what he heard was reassuring.
In these latter days of April it seemed to the English in the
North-west Provinces--who were for the most part as ignorant of the
inner life of the people about them as the infant is of the feelings
of those who dandle it in their arms--that any danger which might once
have existed was over. The soldiers had been convinced by a variety of
telling examples that to fight against their salt would be the height
of folly; and the people, even if they were disaffected, as a few acts
of incendiarism, with a sullen demeanour towards the English, seemed to
indicate, could do nothing without the army.

May opened, and still they held on their way quietly, and the rajah's
heir began to hope that the fanatics were silenced by hard and stubborn
facts, and that the bitterness, so long foretold, had run its course.
Then, like a flash of lightning flaming across the blue of a cloudless
sky, came the news of the revolt at Meerut.

There are many still living who will remember the horror and sickening
dismay which flew from station to station as the story, discredited
at first, pressed itself home to the minds of the conquering race.
We had heard unpleasant rumours before, here and there a mutinous
regiment, bungalows set on fire, outrages committed, muttered insults
in the public highways; some of us, indeed, had been visited with vague
apprehensions. But there was always some one of experience at hand
to point out how foolish it was to be afraid either of the people or
the soldiers, and we were only too glad to be reassured. So much the
greater was the shock of this terrible intelligence. It is true that
it was nothing like so dreadful as what we were to hear later. The
mutineers were young in crime and fearful of punishment. As a fact, it
was rather a herd of frightened wild creatures that rushed madly out of
the burning station on that awful Sunday night than a victorious army
triumphing in its first success. But this we did not know. All we saw
and understood was the extraordinary audacity of this first definite
move. Through the breathless days that followed we were momentarily
expecting to hear of the mutineers being pursued and punished. Our
servants looked at us strangely. Native officers and soldiers, who, in
the first flush of surprise, had passionately sworn to be faithful,
began to lift up their heads. Old English commanders, of the type
of General Elton, who was away from home on a tour of inspection in
the outlying districts, gnashed their teeth with impotent fury, and
wondered what the people at Meerut were about. For the news we expected
never came. The next distinct intelligence was that flashed from the
telegraph station at Delhi by the young signaller, who, with the
messengers of death yelling in his ears, was working his instrument
quietly: 'The Sepoys have come in from Meerut, and are burning
everything; we must shut up.'

Not till then did the full magnitude of the disaster that had come to
us break upon our minds. Ah! what a change it was! Few of us can have
any conception of its horror. From a life that is quiet, simple, and
secure, to be plunged all in a moment into the dark, strenuous world of
tragedy, nerves strung up, senses on the alert, affection made lurid by
passion, heart-consuming anxiety the companion of our solitude. Can we
imagine it? If so, we shall have a faint picture of the experiences of
many of us in that terrible May and June.

When the Rajah of Gumilcund heard of the uprising, his brain seemed
to reel with the shock. His impulse was to go to Meerut himself, but
Chunder Singh dissuaded him. 'The English,' said this wise minister,
'have troops enough to defend themselves; and if my lord were stopped,
as he well might be, for the roads will be infested with evil
characters, of what profit will that be to his friends? My advice is
that we take time to consider, that we look to ourselves, that we
strengthen our defences and provision the city.'

'You are right. Yes, I acknowledge it. You are wiser than I am. Call
the people together! Let us have a public council!' cried the young
rajah, springing up. 'If the people side with me now, they have my
affection and gratitude for ever.'

'They will,' said Chunder Singh.

In the beautiful Dwan-i-Khas, or public hall of audience, which was
a large pillared pavilion, standing in the midst of an open court,
surrounded by an arcade or corridor, all the principal people of the
city were gathered together that evening. The court was literally
packed. Within the pavilion, on a marble platform ten feet high, stood
the young rajah, with Chunder Singh on his right hand, and Vishnugupta
on the left.

Chunder Singh, to whom, as chief minister, it fell to open the
proceedings, was deeply anxious. His voice trembled as he stood out and
announced, in a few brief words, the calamity that had happened, with
the rajah's orders that his people should attend to what he had to say
upon the subject. But, in a few moments, his anxiety was gone, and he
looked out before him with radiant confidence.

The young rajah's speech was admirable. Fortunately for himself, he had
studied not only the religion and philosophy of this people, but their
history. He stood before them, his mind stored with pictures out of the
past. Better than anyone in that crowd he knew what the life of the
peninsula had been before the strong hand of the English, guided by
their orderly, methodical minds, had undertaken to weld the great chaos
of contending states into one peaceful empire.

Of the internecine warfare that led to Mogul and Tartar invasions, of
the brief prosperity that, however, did not penetrate to the smaller
states, when the Moslem empire became consolidated under wise rulers,
of the selfish and cynical policy of Aurungzebe that broke up the
empire, of the horrors that accompanied its disintegration--piratical
incursions on peaceful coasts, sackings of wealthy cities, forced
contributions from those who, through industry and shrewdness, had
attained to comfort, languishing in a slavery worse than death of
hundreds of innocent people, fields ravaged, harvests swept away, and
monuments of antiquity destroyed by a brutal soldiery--of these the
young rajah spoke. He spoke quietly; but there was a repressed power
in his voice and manner that told upon everyone in the assembly. Then,
when their hearts were hot with passionate memories, and a tremor of
vague apprehension was running through them, he told, in a few brief
words, of the Power that, for these hundred years and more, had been
growing up amongst them.

Here he appealed to the more intelligent amongst his audience, the
wealthy merchants, and clever artificers, who had made Gumilcund what
she was, and the reasonableness of his words impressed them.

He did not, he said, seek to deny that it was the lust of gain which
had first brought the English to their shores. Other nations had come
on the same quest, come and gone so far as their influence on the
national life of India was concerned. But this nation had stayed. Why?
In answer he bade them follow him while he showed how the conscience
of a great nation had been struggling with its cupidity, and how
conscience had conquered, so that by degrees the majesty of might
became the majesty of right, till the English name was a watchword
for those who strove to live righteously, and the English power was
a refuge for the oppressed. Even the late annexations, the wisdom
of which so many called in question, had been made in the spirit of
mercy, and to stave off the anarchy which would surely have resulted
from the continuance in the peninsula of selfish and oppressive
governments. And what, he asked, were the men who had been set over the
annexed provinces? Had England sent from her superfluous population
men who desired only to enrich themselves? No: she had given India
of her best. Brave, true, strong and noble, denying themselves, and
thinking sternly and simply of their duty, were the citizens whom
she had sent to govern India. 'I speak what I know,' cried the young
rajah, 'for though I belong to you now, none of you are ignorant of
the fact that England has been the home of my childhood. I am English
and I am Indian, in a sense which it would be impossible for me to
explain, and I speak with a full knowledge of the political position
of both countries, when I say that England and India are necessary
one to the other. I need not urge this upon you, my people, who are,
I believe, deeply conscious of the benefits which have come to us
from a strong and unselfish Imperial government. It is our desire
that this power should be strengthened rather than weakened, and set
on a broader rather than a narrower basis. But I would that my voice
could resound through the land. I would that every citizen of this
great empire could, at this awful crisis which some of us believe to
be impending, see on which side his interest and safety lie. Then the
army, which is being led astray by fanatics, would swiftly return to
its allegiance, and peace and security would again reign amongst us.'
He paused for a moment, and then his voice rose, and a passion of
prophetic woe seemed to tear, him, as he cried, 'I know the English;
they are fierce when they are roused, they are dogged when their hearts
are set upon an object, and if they seem to fall back it will only be
for a moment. They will triumph, and the vengeance they will exact
will be in proportion to their consciousness of rectitude. Thousands
will die the death of felons. Thousands will lose their all. Thousands
will wander homeless through the land, cursing those who betrayed
them. But that is not all. That is not even the worst, for death and
the flight of years will dissipate the anguish upon which we may
have to look. The disturbers of our peace will pass away, and a new
generation will arise. But the sore left behind by the struggle will
remain. The new civilisation, which we so fondly hoped to establish,
will be thrown back. The seeds of a mutual distrust will be sown, and
the union between East and West, to which my predecessors looked as
enshrining the secret of the future, and holding within it the promise
of a peace and happiness greater than the world has ever known, will
be indefinitely delayed. For this,' cried the young orator, his voice
rising and his frame seeming to expand, 'that the calamity which I
foresee might be averted. I could wish that our little Gumilcund was a
million-fold stronger and greater than she is. To take the van in the
great contest which we see coming, to make for order against anarchy,
to force upon others the views which we hold ourselves, and which we
believe to be beneficial to us all, to cure the blood-fever which has
seized upon the heart of these unhappy peoples, and to lead them back
into the paths of reason and quietness--this we would do if we had
the strength. We know that we have not. By the Supreme Spirit, which,
call it by what name we will, every one of us acknowledges, our place
amongst the nations has been allotted to us. We are to this people as a
single grain in a heaped-up storehouse, as a little one in a multitude.
But we can do something, and what we can do we will. We can be faithful
to our convictions; we can make sacrifices for our faith; we can govern
ourselves; we can be wise, prudent, firm and watchful. This, which I
ask of myself, I ask of you.' His voice dropped, and there crept into
its tones a curiously soft inflection as he went on. 'I am new to you,
the tumult of your welcome is still ringing in my ears. I came to you
an unknown man, and you received me with an honour and distinction
such as are seldom accorded to a stranger. That I owe this not to my
own merits, but to the merits of those who went before me, I am well
aware; and when I say that it is in response to this welcome I venture
to come forward as your leader, you will not mistake me. I am speaking
in the name and by the power--present, as I believe, at this moment
amongst us--of your late rajah, done foully to death by the hands and
heads that are plotting this rising. Tell me then what your desire is.
Let us confer together about the measures we should take for the proper
defence of this city. Let us agree to open our gates to the fugitive
and to shut them to the oppressor; and, whatever may be in the future,
we shall have our reward, for we shall have within us what a Western
scripture would call "the answer of a good conscience towards God and
towards men," or, in the not less striking words of the Bhagavad Gita,
the sacred lore, the divine wisdom, "worshipping by the performance
of our duties Him from whom is the endeavour of men, we shall attain
perfection."'



CHAPTER XVIII

HOOSANEE'S MISSION


So ran the speech which the young rajah of Gumilcund addressed to his
people on that memorable night. The effect was tremendous. As from one
man the voices of the multitude rose in shouts of applause. 'It is the
voice of the dead. Byrajee Pirtha Raj, our father, has come back to us
from the grave. We will do his bidding.' So the tumultuous cries rang
out.

Presently a herald went down amongst them, and imposed silence. Their
rajah was pleased with their warm reception of his address; but
business and not acclamation was the purpose of their coming together.
There fell then a great silence on the assembly, in the midst of which
the rich men and elders of the city came forward and proffered their
help. The working guilds followed--manipulators of metal and precious
stones, finance agents, masons, and provision dealers, from amongst
each of which the rajah chose out one to represent the others, so
that, in addition to his official retinue, he might have about him a
council conversant not only with the wants but with the resources of
the city. Surrounded by these, he left the Dwan-i-Khas and entered the
Dwan-i-amm, Vishnugupta the priest charging himself with the task of
dismissing the greater multitude.

All night long the young rajah and his people sat up in counsel, and
when the morning of the 12th of May dawned, that day which in distant
Delhi was to witness such terrible scenes, their measures were taken.
The rich men contributed money; the mechanics promised their labour;
volunteers offered themselves to reinforce the little army, and a
special band of trustworthy soldiers were told off as the bodyguard of
the rajah. It was universally determined that, if the mutineers came to
Gumilcund, they should have a warm reception.

On the following day the rajah drew up an address, which, after being
signed by himself and the principal men of the state, was to be
forwarded to the Lieutenant Governor of the province. In it the loyalty
of the state was set forth, and a refuge within the walls of its chief
city was offered to any of the English ladies and children who might
be thought to occupy positions of peril.

The public address was accompanied by a communication from himself of
a much more urgent character. The Lieutenant-Governor, who had lately,
he said, done him the honour of congratulating him on his accession,
was well aware of the fact that, although an Indian rajah, he was more
than half an Englishman. Nevertheless, owing no doubt to his position,
he had gained an insight into native character which, he believed, was
rare amongst English-speaking people. It was his profound conviction
that what he had seen and heard was only the beginning of troubles, and
he implored the English authorities to take their precautions. Then he
reiterated his offer of refuge, mentioning several stations, amongst
which were Jhansi and Nowgong, as to his certain knowledge eminently
unsafe.

The letter was sent, and duly acknowledged. Whether it was believed or
not, he never knew. Possibly, he said to himself, with a bitter smile,
it was looked upon as a blind to hide some deep design.

As a fact, his offer was made known to those most nearly concerned,
the civil and military officers of the suspected districts, and they
smiled at it. They did not want a man more than half a native to
instruct them as to their duties. Their chief duty was to preserve
the allegiance of the troops, and if they sent away the ladies, those
susceptible beings would be justly offended--precipitated, in fact,
into the very jaws of ruin. The people at Jhansi were specially tickled
by the solicitude of a foreign ruler on their behalf. They, with such
an ally and friend as the good Ranee, whose affection for the English
was well-known, to show themselves afraid! It was ridiculous. Such
pusillanimity would meet with its proper desert in the alienation of
the faithful and the triumph of the mutineers.

So the Rajah of Gumilcund was answered, as were Sindia, Holkar, and
Dinkur Rao, with calm reserve; and if one or two poor mothers, as
they clasped their children in their arms, wished that the chiefs
could have seen it fit to send the little ones away, they bowed to the
inevitable and tried to believe that all would be well. As for our
rajah, he gnashed his teeth with impotent rage, for, with the answer to
his letter and address, came like a grim commentary the echoes of the
explosion at Delhi.

He had as yet heard no details. Sick with anxiety for his friends and
compatriots in the now hostile city, he was compelled to hold himself
in check, and attend to the business of the hour. Now and then, amidst
his many preoccupations, the vision of pretty Vivien Doncaster, as he
had seen her last, driving carelessly and proudly through a crowd whose
cringing servility filled her with contempt, would return to his mind,
making it reel with a curious, indescribable passion. Heaven knew he
did not wish to humble her; but--and there, not being able so much as
to formulate his wish, we would fling the thought of her aside.

It was with a very different feeling that he thought of others--Aglaia
and her delicate mother, in the very heart of the district which he
knew to be unsafe; and Mrs. Lyster, whom he had seen for a few moments,
but without her recognising him, in the English quarter of Futtehgarh;
above all, Grace! He had ascertained that she was at Nowgong, a small
station about equidistant from Gumilcund and Jhansi, and garrisoned
with detachments from the Jhansi regiments.

In addition to his public body of advisers, Tom had an inner
council, consisting of Chunder Singh, Hoosanee, and others of tried
faithfulness. Through these men he had organised a secret service
commission, which came and went, bringing him certain news of the
progress of affairs in the solitary English stations scattered amongst
the native dependent states of the Central Indian Agency. It was in
this way that he heard of the ardent profession of loyalty made by the
garrison at Nowgong when it was known that insurrection was stalking
abroad through the land, and of the relief and confidence amongst the
little English community there. He knew, too, that Jhansi had made no
sign, and that the Ranee was, or appeared to be, more friendly than
ever. All this blinded neither him nor his advisers.

While they made use of the breathing-space afforded to them by putting
everything in the city on a war-footing, Tom succeeded in conveying a
warning to Grace and her cousin.

It happened on this wise.

Hoosanee, who could read his young master's mind like an open book,
perceiving that this enterprise was of deep moment to him, and
wishing on his own account to be brought in contact with the young
Englishwoman, for whose sake, as the shrewd servant believed, the rajah
had resisted the blandishments of the fairest and most fascinating
women in India, determined to undertake the mission himself.

In the garb of a merchant travelling from station to station with
specimens of the pretty garnet and silver ornaments for which Gumilcund
is famous, he left the city late one night. He was alone; but, as he
dressed poorly, carried little of value with him, and travelled at
night and by the most unfrequented routes, he met with no hindrance.
Between night and morning on the third day after he left his home he
entered Nowgong. This done, it was a matter of little difficulty to
gain access to the verandah of the small bungalow where, he had found
out by careful inquiry, the little mem sahib Robertson and her big
sister lived. He was in the verandah just after dawn. The chuprassie,
believing him to be a respectable man, accepted a small fee, and the
promise of a good commission if the visit resulted in business, for the
corner of the verandah, where he allowed him to seat himself.

Here, then, Hoosanee took up his position. He squatted on his heels,
after the Indian fashion, his face a mask, his long fingers busy with
the small wares, which he had arranged against a background of azure
blue satin in the most attractive fashion possible, and his ears and
eyes on the alert.

Presently a calm, contemplative person in tunic, dhootie, gay crimson
sash and turban, crossed the verandah and spoke to the chuprassie,
who called out in authoritative tones for the Captain Sahib's horse.
It came up, and a young Englishman in military uniform crossed the
verandah. He did not look in the best of tempers. Muttering in English
that these morning parades were the very mischief, he threw an angry
word to the groom, who was trying in vain to check the fidgetiness
of the horse, asked the chuprassie how much those fools of pedlars
gave him for allowing them to hang about the compound, flung himself
on his horse, and rode off at a quick trot. Two serious persons were
busy meantime over a small table in the verandah. They laid it out
with delicate china, brought in a steaming urn, and plates of fruit
and cake, and waited with folded arms and melancholy countenances for
their sahib-log to appear. In a few moments Hoosanee, who sat like an
image in his corner, heard the sound of rippling laughter, followed by
a rush of light garments through the house. A little white dog came
bounding on to the verandah. It saw the stranger in the corner, and
ran back barking vigorously. 'What's the matter, Vick?' said a small
silvery voice. 'Ah!' as the owner of the voice, a pretty little woman
with flaxen hair and soft blue eyes, came out upon the verandah. 'It's
another of those pedlars. With garnets too! I love garnets!'

Hoosanee rose and bowed low. The little lady, who could only stammer
a few words of Hindustani, asked him where he came from, and when he
answered humbly that he was a poor man, who had no fixed home, but that
the ornaments were entrusted to him by a merchant from Gumilcund, she
nodded her pretty head.

'See about you after breakfast,' she said. 'Have you eaten this
morning? Oh! by the bye,' in English, 'these people don't like you to
know anything about their meals. I forgot that. Where did you say you
came from?' again in halting Hindustani.

'My garnets come from Gumilcund, noble lady,' said Hoosanee.

'Gumilcund! Gumilcund!' murmured the little lady, gazing at him and
thrusting forward her under lip. 'Now, where have I heard of that
place? Was it--oh, yes! I remember. Grace saw the rajah at Delhi.
Handsome fellow, like an Englishman she once met. As if a native could
ever be like an Englishman. But Grace has such funny ideas.'

All this Hoosanee, who had studied the English language in the rajah's
school at Gumilcund, understood perfectly.

The little lady ran back into the house, crying out, 'Grace! Grace!
Come quickly! There's a man with garnets here; such beauties!' And,
in the next moment, a young and very beautiful woman came out. From
his corner Hoosanee looked at her. He had seen Englishwomen before,
and some of them had been fair of countenance and of stately presence.
But he had never seen one to match her who stood gazing at him now. At
_him_--not at his wares, as her little friend had done--that was what
was strange to the Indian servant. Diplomatist as he was, and skilled
in hiding his feelings, he could not keep the curious tremor which her
questioning gaze excited in him from appearing in his face. His eyes
dropped, and when he looked up again she had turned away. 'Come to
breakfast, Lucy,' she said. 'I am sure the good man can wait. He has
patience written in his face. By the bye' (looking round), 'where is
Tikaram?'

Tikaram was the chuprassie. He had been keeping out of sight, for fear
of being called in question about the salesman in the verandah; but
hearing his name spoken in Grace's friendly tones, he stepped forward.
'Tikaram,' she said kindly, 'will you mind going into the village for
me? If it is too far to walk, you can take my pony.'

'Too far! What a little molly-coddle you are with these servants,
Grace,' interposed Lucy. 'You spoil them! Let me give the order. I know
enough Hindustani--servants' Hindustani, which is what they understand.'

'My dear Lucy, allow me! I like to speak in my own way,' said Grace.
She gave her order, which was that a certain small account should be
paid, and Tikaram, bowing low, turned away; but, before he went, he
glanced at the salesman in the corner.

'We will keep him till you come back,' said Grace, with a smile, for
she knew the customs of the country, and believed that the small
backsheesh which Tikaram might exact for his favour would not be a
heavy toll.

They sat and chatted together in low tones. Hoosanee did not catch all
they said; but he judged that they were anxious. Suddenly Grace, whom
her cousin accused of being in a fidgety humour, thought of another
errand, and the table-servant vanished. The bearer was sent after him,
so that, before they had finished their breakfast, there was no one
about but the ayah, who was squatted in the corner of the verandah,
opposite to that occupied by Hoosanee, watching him sleepily.

To see the two English ladies alone was precisely what Hoosanee wanted.
He now waited their pleasure with a lighter heart.

Breakfast over, they approached his corner, and while Lucy fingered his
trinkets, asking the price of one and another, Grace continued to look
at him earnestly. He ventured now to allow his eyes to respond. Then
he said in a low voice, 'Does my noble lady understand Bengali?' The
question was asked in the Bengali dialect.

'Yes,' said Grace, quietly. 'Are you from Bengal?'

'What gibberish are you talking now?' interposed Lucy, discontentedly.
'Do let us keep to business. Tell me the price of this?' holding up a
pretty little garnet brooch.

'_Tin rupya_,' said the man, spreading out three of his long fingers.

'Too little if they're real--too much if they're not,' said Lucy in
English. Then in Hindustani, with a little affectation of sternness,
'If you cheat me I will have you put in prison.'

'Why not take it into the house and compare it with my garnet
necklace?' said Grace. 'Ayah will show you where it is.'

'Not a bad idea,' said Lucy.

She went in, the ayah following her, and Grace said hurriedly, in the
dialect in which the salesman had just spoken, 'You have come to speak
to us. From whom?'

'From one who wishes my noble lady well,' said Hoosanee. He paused, and
then, 'Will my lady deign to look at these poor baubles instead of at
her servant? In these evil days the leaves and the flowers have eyes.'

'Not here,' said Grace. 'Our servants, I am sure, would be faithful,
for we have treated them well, and they love us; and the soldiers of
the station have professed their goodwill and devotion. We did not
ask them. They came forward of their own accord; if'--her large eyes
distending--'I were only as sure of the safety of others as I am of our
own, I should be happy. But we are strangely cut off here.'

They were continuing the little pantomime which the salesman had
originated, and their voices were low and even.

'My noble lady is wrong,' he said, holding up one of his brooches to
the light. 'Does the eagle who looks into the face of the sun behold,
far below him, the fowler with his snare? Does the king of the forest,
roaming at his will, see in the jungle the iron teeth gaping to devour
him?'

'What do you mean, and who are you?' cried Grace. 'I am sure you are no
mere salesman.'

'Such as I am, does my noble lady trust me?'

'Yes, yes. I cannot tell myself why, but I do. It seems to me that I
have seen your face before.'

'Could it have been at Lucknow? I was with my master there.'

'At the door of the Dilkoosha,' cried Grace excitedly. 'Yes, I
remember. Your master was the man in the long chuddah, who was watching
the crowd. I saw his face when he looked at Sir Henry. It was as a man
looks in prayer. He came into the reception afterwards.'

'Miss Sahib has a good memory,' said Hoosanee; 'but let me entreat her
to speak with more caution!'

'Caution! Caution!' said the poor girl. 'I shall die of caution. I wish
no ill to these people. Why should they wish ill to me?'

'Even because of your goodness--and your beauty,' said Hoosanee in a
low voice.

Grace trembled. But before she could speak again Lucy came running out.
'What an untidy girl you are, Grace!' she said. 'Ayah and I hunted
everywhere for your necklace, and found it at last in your bath-room.
You deserve to be robbed, and only that these people are ten times
better than they are painted you would be.'

'But how about the stones?' said Grace, making an effort to speak
lightly.

'Well! I think they are all right. They look very much the same.
But I am such a little idiot about these things, and so are you, my
dear--worse, I think--because you believe everybody. Oh, dear! I do
wish I could have a trustworthy opinion.'

'Mrs. Durant is considered a good judge of Indian jewellery,' said
Grace.

'Why, of course she is,' cried Lucy, clapping her hands. 'You have a
head, if you have nothing else; I will say that for you, Grace. And
I wanted to hear how Colonel Durant was received by the troops this
morning. Ayah, tell them to bring round the palki-gharry at once. Too
late!' in answer to a mild protest from Grace. 'Why the sun isn't up
yet--and I'll try to bring her back with me, shall I? She has just
arrived, and has something to talk of besides servants and mutineers.'

'Do!' said Grace; 'and bring my little lover, Kit, too, if you can. I
will keep the pedlar.'

In a few moments Lucy, accompanied by her ayah, drove off, and Grace
turned her pale face to Hoosanee. 'Go on,' she said. 'Your master has
sent you. He is the Rajah of Gumilcund.'

'You are right, most noble lady. My master, the rajah, has sent me. He
has only lately come to rule over us; but already he knows the hearts
of his people. He loves the English, and he would, if he could, avert
these troubles. But he knows it to be impossible. The storm has broken,
and it will sweep over the land and devastate it, and none can stay its
course. This he bids me tell you, beseeching you to seek a refuge while
you can.'

'That is easy to say,' said Grace faintly. 'But where are we to seek a
refuge, and to whom is it offered? Flight was spoken of before; but we
have been assured that, if we leave the station now, it will displease
the men, who have again and again promised to be loyal, and so revolt
would be hastened. God knows,' she went on passionately, 'that it is
hard to wait. When I think of them all--my poor little cousin, who will
not believe in danger, and that beautiful child, and the young men and
women--it is like a burden at my heart. I can scarcely breathe. I seem
to see all sorts of horrible things; and,' slowly, 'horrible things
have happened already. It is no dream.'

'They have happened; they will happen again. But you, most noble lady,
could escape. Could you--would you trust yourself to me?' Hoosanee
spoke breathlessly.

'Alone?' said Grace, drawing back..

'No, not alone. I could arrange for the escape of two, perhaps of
three.'

For a few moments Grace sat silent, with bended head, thinking; and the
rajah's messenger watched her with a beating heart. He was thinking a
little of himself, of the triumph it would be to enter Gumilcund as the
protector and deliverer of the first of the English fugitives, of her,
in particular, on whom his master's heart was set. But he thought of
her too. He in his own humble way had fallen in love with the beautiful
and gentle lady, whose manner to natives was so different from that
practised by the generality of her countrywomen. He knew, moreover, as
even his master could not, how cruel and shameless an Eastern mob could
be; and the idea of her falling alive into the hands of the mutineers
made him sick with horror. Hoosanee, we must remember, belonged to
Gumilcund. Except during the last few months, when he had served the
new rajah, who was much gentler in his manners to those depending upon
him than any grandee of the East, he had never been brought into direct
contact with English people. The bitter, personal hatred, compounded
partly of race and religious antagonism, and partly of spite for a long
series of small wrongs and humiliations--the hatred which made servants
betray their masters and mistresses, and peasants gloat over the misery
and degradation of Englishwomen, and villagers flog Englishmen in the
presence of jeering crowds--was strange to him. But he knew that it
existed, and the knowledge made him shudder for the fair woman his
master loved.

Presently Grace looked up. 'We are not many,' she said. 'Would it be
possible for us all to escape? The men, I believe, would be freer
without us.'

'I could return for the others,' said Hoosanee, evasively.

'I think we might persuade my cousin to go, and sweet little Kit and
his mother,' said Grace.

'Will my noble lady pardon me?' said Hoosanee, bending low. 'She must
come first, or I must return whence I came alone.'

Grace looked at him as if she did not quite understand what he said. He
repeated his words, speaking with a still deeper humility.

'Is it so?' said Grace, raising her head proudly. 'To save myself I
must desert them?'

'In saving yourself, most noble, you will save others.'

'I will save all, or I will save none,' said Grace in a low voice.

At this moment the palki-gharry drove up, and a beautiful little boy,
with long golden curls--like a girl, sprang out and leapt into Grace's
arms. 'Why, my Kit,' she said softly, 'my little Kit!'

'We're going to stay all day,' he cried, 'mother and me. Where's Vick?
Oh, there she is! Mayn't I go and play with her?'

'Yes, darling, run and play,' said Grace, releasing him.

A pale-faced lady, in a white dress and large straw hat, was in the
meantime stepping out of the gharry. Lucy followed her. Both of them,
Grace thought, looked scared.

'Well,' she said, smiling, 'have you asked Mrs. Durant about the
garnets?'

'Send the man away,' said Lucy, pettishly. 'They have all been scolding
me; Captain Durant, and Mr. Graham, and Mrs. Cockburn, and even Emily,'
turning to Mrs. Durant. 'They say I ought not to have left you alone
with a man like that. I'm sure one doesn't know what to do. If you're
frightened, that's wrong; and if you try to forget things a little, and
be cheerful, you're heartless. I wish I was dead and out of it all.'

'So would I if it were not for the child,' said Mrs. Durant. 'Grace!
Grace! do you think they would have the heart to do anything to him?'

'We won't give them the opportunity,' said Grace, firmly. 'If the worst
comes to the worst we will escape. I will find a means.'

They smiled. These were brave words; but the peril was not actually
upon them. And yet, for what reason neither of them could tell, they
felt encouraged. Grace was one of those who inspired confidence.

'Well,' said Mrs. Durant, with a stifled sob, 'if it is to be done I
hope they'll do it quickly. Only for Kit, I don't think I'd mind so
much. Charlie is so cross, and they come in with such dreadful tales,
and the servants scowl at him when he scolds them; and he won't--he
won't see that it would be so much wiser to conciliate everybody. Only
for Kit I couldn't bear it! You see,' with a rainbow-like change, 'he
has his curls still.'

'Yes,' said Grace, smiling. 'I thought you would not have the heart to
shear Kit's curls. But come! you are both tired. Leave Vick and him to
me, and go in and have a rest.'

'But how about the man?' said Lucy.

'Oh, he is a good simple soul! I will buy one or two of his trinkets
and dismiss him.'

A few minutes later the salesman left the compound. He looked all round
him carefully, and chanced upon Tikaram, pacing back slowly on his
mistress's pony. Both of them pulled up.

'I was looking for you, O brother,' said Hoosanee. 'The sale has been
good, and she of the lotus eyes has charged her servant to return. Here
is backsheesh for my brother's good will.'

Tikaram, though surprised at the generosity of the gift, took it
carelessly.

'Their raj is nearly done,' he said, jerking his thumb in the direction
of the bungalow. 'The treasures of the land will now be for its own,
and not for the sons and daughters of strangers. But the lotus-eyed
has a soft tongue and a noble presence.' He spoke meditatively, almost
sadly.

'I know nothing of your politics,' said Hoosanee, indifferently; 'I am
a poor man, and I love those who bring me gain.'

'Then come back our way,' said Tikaram, 'and I will keep the lotus-eyed
for thee--if she is not by that time food for her masters.'

'Will my brother keep her?' said Hoosanee, his face brightening as if a
new idea had struck him.

'I might,' said Tikaram.

'I have a master who is a prince. He would give a lakh of rupees for
the two women and the child.'

'A lakh!' said Tikaram, his mouth watering.

'A lakh of rupees if they were given to him unhurt.'

'But three! What can he want with three?'

'Who knows? Great men have their caprices, and if they will pay for
them, let the little keep silence! Perhaps he will keep a museum, and
show them as curiosities when the English are all swept into the sea.
But this is what he said: "Bring me three of these English--a small
woman, a large woman, and a child with golden hair. Let them be well
nourished, and of fair countenance. I will pay a lakh to thee for thy
trouble, and another lakh to the man who helps thee." What does my
brother say?'

'I would save the lotus-eyed without money,' said Tikaram, and then he
turned away. 'There is time, O brother; they have not risen yet,' he
murmured.


END OF THE FIRST VOLUME



CHAPTER XIX

GENERAL ELTON'S MARCH


Hoosanee did more good work at Nowgong. Professing to be a discontented
native official from Gumilcund, he insinuated himself into the
confidence of the two or three uneasy spirits in the station, and
made one of them promise to communicate with him when matters should
seem ripe for a revolt. He was relieved to find that the discontented
were in a minority, and that they had no present hope of increasing
their numbers, or of being able to take any decided step. As it was in
Nowgong, so it was elsewhere. Whether from fear of the vengeance that
seemed so strangely to halt, or from some remnant of right feeling, it
is impossible to say. Possibly the revolt at Meerut, hurried on by the
punishment of mutineers, and the consequent taking of Delhi, took the
native as well as the English army in India by surprise. However this
may have been, it is certain that, between the middle of May and the
beginning of June, there was a lull, during which the scattered groups
of English, who were absolutely in the power of native troops, took
heart once more. A body of Ghoorka soldiers, sent across the Nepaul
border to strengthen the hands of the English, under command of that
gallant young soldier, Gambier Singh, was recalled by the Governor's
orders, and a proclamation, promising pardon to the mutineers who had
not actually taken part in the murder of Europeans, was issued.

This last was a most disastrous step. No one understanding the nature
of Asiatics could have taken it. The mutinous troops and agitators,
staggered by their own successes, and secretly dreading the vengeance
of the White Man, whom they had insulted and defied, began now to
breathe more freely. The White Man was afraid, or he would not seek to
propitiate them. And who could wonder? They were but a little number in
the land, and England, which at best was a small country, and hemmed
in, as some of them had heard, by hosts of enemies, was hundreds of
miles away across a stormy sea. Let them but be true to their colours
for a short time, and the word of prophecy would be fulfilled. The raj
of the stranger-race would pass away for ever.

Thinking thus, they were ready to bide their time and do nothing rashly.

It was this lull which threw dust in the eyes of the English officers.

One of these was General Elton.

He had, as it happened, no distinct command. What his personal
influence might have effected if he had been at Meerut when the storm
broke it is impossible to say. He might have shamed the authorities
into action, and saved the honour of the English name. But he was
absent, in pursuance of the mission that had been entrusted to him.
As an old regimental and brigade officer, supposed to be well versed
in the native character, he had been deputed, on the first rumour of
discontent in the army, to travel through the North-West Provinces and
the Central Indian Agency, examining into grievances, and reporting on
the general condition of the troops.

On the terrible Sunday afternoon when the storm broke he was at Jhansi,
enjoying the hospitality of the Ranee, and conferring with her on the
curious portents of the time. They were actually together when the
news came, and the General, who prided himself on his knowledge of
character, was more than satisfied by her surprise and indignation.

Alarmed for his safety, she entreated him to remain at Jhansi until
he could obtain more certain news, but the General, while touched by
her solicitude, would not hear of delay. He took horse at once, and,
surrounded by the small body of English soldiers with whom he had been
travelling, set out on a forced march to Meerut.

A tremendous march it was, and fuller of peril, than any one of the
little band imagined! Their audacity served them for strength. Those
who plotted their destruction hesitated to strike, for some at least
must fall victims to these watchful and resolute men. Besides, who
could say that an army was not marching at their heels? As, in their
dress of scarlet and gold with their sabres flashing in the sun, the
General and his guard rode through the country, every one made way for
them. From the villages, hostile as many of them were, and infested
with _budmashes_ and disbanded soldiers, they had no difficulty in
obtaining supplies. To many of the workers of mischief, the gallant
old soldier, with his hard face, keen sight and short sharp words
of command, came as the first of the avengers, while those amongst
ourselves who saw him ride by were inspired with fresh confidence.

I was one of these. I was exercising the sullen-looking handful of
troops for which I was responsible, on the parade-ground outside our
station, when the General passed. He halted for a few moments and
watched us. I and my men saluted, and it seemed to me that they drew
themselves together and stepped out more briskly.

I looked at him--a small man, muscles tense, face stern, lips set
firmly together, blue eyes, full of fire and energy, looking out
steadily. He was in full-dress uniform, all his accoutrements as
spotless as if he were on court parade at home. He rode a little Arab
horse, well-fed and groomed, and as highly bred as himself. 'Game to
the very finger-tips,' so I said to myself, as I looked at him. While
England had such men as the General in reserve, our raj would not pass
away. The General rode on. In spite of the fearful anxiety which, as we
all knew, was consuming him, he did his duty gallantly. He called at
the most important stations on the route, at Gwalior, Agra, Mynpoorie
and Secunderabad, doing what he could to encourage the loyal and to
awe the discontented. But to Delhi, the most important of them all,
he was obliged to give a wide berth, for he knew that the rebels were
congregating there in force.

It was nearing the end of the month before he reached the neighbourhood
of Meerut. He had not, in the meantime, met any of the English force.
He had not so much as heard of it; and he grew more and more troubled
and perplexed. Was, then, the awful tale which he had heard true? Were
his countrymen taken so completely by surprise that not one of them was
left alive to fight for the honour of his country? A thousand soldiers,
Englishmen all of them! It was impossible. And there was one native
regiment at Meerut which he had made up his mind would be faithful. He
had commanded it himself for years. Its native officers were veterans,
men of high birth and fine breeding, who had fought by his side in many
a frontier war. One of them had saved his life at the imminent risk
of his own, and to the General he had long been as a personal friend.
He would almost as readily have believed in his own failure from duty
as in Sufder Jung's. As for the men, he had called them his children.
Big children and little children, the old men, who were recruits when
he took up the command, and who had learned under him the warrior's
art, and the young men, only lately enrolled, who were learning it
from others, he loved them all. Riding through the desolate plain,
with the fierce rays of an Indian sun beating upon him, and this awful
thing at his heart, the old man felt a curious moisture bedewing his
eyes. Only a few weeks before he had held a review of all arms at
Meerut, and his pet regiment had distinguished itself beyond all the
others. Like a picture it flashed before him, the noble stature, proud
carriage, flashing eyes and perfect accoutrement, and again, sweeter
than the incense of flattery, there fell upon his ears the shouts of
applause which broke forth on every side, as, at a double-quick march,
but moving with the precision of a machine, his children swept by the
saluting point. 'Efficiency could not be carried further,' he had said,
shaking hands warmly with the colonel of the regiment. 'I congratulate
you.' And now to hear it said that these men were disloyal, that then,
when they were responding with joyful shouts to the shouts of their
English comrades, they were actually plotting to betray them! It could
not, it should not be.

With stern face the General rode on. No one molested them; but, in the
deserted huts and silent villages, in the procession along the road of
trains of frightened peasants, men and women, with all their household
utensils about them, and in the occasional presence of bands of ragged,
fierce-looking men, armed with clubs and ancient rifles, he saw ominous
signs of disorder and panic.

They came at last to within five miles of Meerut. No one came out to
meet them, although the General had sent forward native scouts, nor
could they hear anything of the English troops. It was now the hottest
hour of the afternoon, and the men, who had been in the saddle since
early morning, were dead beat. Not knowing what they might have to meet
at Meerut, the General, desperately anxious as he was to be at his
goal, determined to call a halt. There was a little grove of mango and
neem trees a few yards from the road. He led his men thither, and while
some were set to watch, the others, exhausted by their long ride under
the burning sun, emptied their drinking-flasks and flung themselves
down for an hour's rest.

The General was amongst the watchers. He would not even unsaddle.
He stood by his horse, his left arm flung over its neck, and his
right grasping a loaded revolver, while his wide-open, sleepless
eyes were piercing the recesses of the wood. For an hour he watched.
There was no disturbance, nothing to break the deep silence of the
camping-ground. Then his men changed guard. One of them, his personal
servant, came up to him and entreated that he also would rest for an
hour. But the General refused, and again there was silence.

Evening was drawing on. His eyes had begun to smart with the long
strain of watchfulness, and it was on the tip of his tongue to give the
order to saddle and mount, when his practised ear caught the sound of
stealthy movement in the wood.

'Some one is skulking about the ground,' he said to the nearest
trooper, 'perhaps a messenger from Meerut. Beat round cautiously and
find out!'

The man disappeared amongst the withered underwood, and emerged a few
moments later with a tall figure, shrouded from head to foot in a white
chuddah, at his heels.

'Who are you?' said the General, 'and what are you doing here?'

At his word the chuddah dropped, and he saw the uniform of his own
favourite regiment, while, in the next moment, he recognised the dark
features of the officer who had saved his life in battle so many years
before.

'Sufder Jung!' he said reproachfully. 'You here! Where are your
children?'

Sobbing like a child the man prostrated himself on the ground. 'Let
not my General look at me so!' he cried. 'Is it my fault that they
rebelled?'

'They _have_ rebelled?' said the General, drawing a deep breath.

'Not all, my General. There is a detachment which is faithful yet.'

'In Meerut?'

'No, my General. They forced us away with them, and to save our lives,
we went on--escaping one by one, and banding ourselves together, for
we hoped in a few days to meet your Excellency. But before we went
we provided for the escape of those in your Excellency's house, the
mem Sahib, and the Miss Sahibs. The house was on fire and the fiends
were yelling round it, crying to the servants to throw out to them
the Sahib-log, and let them deal with them as they would. We forced
them away and put out the flames, and carried the ladies to a place of
safety within the walls. One was hurt. I know not which. I carried her
in my arms and she moaned with pain.'

A groan broke from the General. 'This is true?' he said; 'you are not
deceiving me?'

'True by the Prophet's beard, your Excellency! Why should Sufder Jung
deceive you?'

'But where were our own troops? Did they look on like frightened
children?'

'The English were taken by surprise, your Excellency.'

'Do you mean to tell me they were slain, every one of them?'

'Pardon me, my General. Some were killed; but there are still a
thousand men within the walls of the city.'

'A thousand, within the walls, doing nothing! Now I know that you are
lying, Sufder Jung.'

'Let his Excellency have patience, and he will see whether his servant
has spoken the truth. I hear, from friends of my own, that to-morrow a
detachment will set out for Delhi.'

'To-morrow!' burst out the General. 'To-morrow! and how long has Delhi
been in the hands of the rebels, Sufder Jung?'

'It was on the 11th of May that the rebels rushed out of Meerut. If his
Excellency will believe me, they were like a herd of frightened sheep.
I and my men could have taken them all, without help from the English,
if the whole of my troop had stood firm. They entered the Imperial city
on the 12th.'

'And it is now the 23rd. A fortnight lost--lost in inaction!' said the
General. 'By heaven it may cost us the raj! And we deserve it.' But
here, remembering to whom he was speaking, he pulled himself up. 'I
speak hastily,' he said. 'No doubt the General in command had reasons
of state, about which we know nothing. You, in any case, have done well
to come to me. What boon would you have, Sufder Jung? Will you join my
bodyguard, until I can find you a command?'

'If I were alone, your Excellency,' said Sufder Jung, joining the palms
of his hands together and bowing low, 'I would ask to be made your
Honour's servant, and I would follow to the ends of the earth. But I am
not alone. A little remnant of our troop has remained faithful. They
are crying out to be led against their mutinous brethren; but some of
them are fearful lest their professions of faithfulness be discredited.
They are encamped not far from here. It is their hope to re-enter the
city of Meerut under the protection of his Excellency. Will not my lord
see and comfort them?'

By this time the English soldiers constituting the body-guard, several
of whom had been near enough to the General to hear every word that had
passed between him and Sufder Jung, were closing round them, and an
angry murmur rose from their ranks. The General caught it and looked
round on them sternly. His personal servant stood near him. 'Beg your
pardon, sir,' he said, saluting. 'We didn't mean no harm like; but----'

'But what?' thundered the General. 'Go on, now you have begun!'

'Them pandies isn't to be trusted, sir--not a mother's son of them all.'

'You know so much about them, Tommy,' said the General. 'How long have
you been in India?'

'Six months, sir.'

'And you?' to another.

'Same time, General.'

'Six months' service, and you can judge the people in this sweeping
way! Bravo, my men! Now, I have spent thirty years of my life in India.
I have marched for hundreds of miles with the men whom you despise,
and they have fought by my side like gallant gentlemen. I have lived
with them in times of peace as a father lives with his sons. I have
called them my children. Again and again, I have owed my life to their
care. Here is one,' pointing to the Soubahdar, 'who interposed with his
own body between me and destruction. And yet, I confess,' his strong
voice faltered, 'I do not understand them as I thought I did, or as I
should wish to do. This that has happened is a mystery to me. I cannot
fathom it. But that all are faithless, that a man like Soubahdar Sufder
Jung should come to his general with affection on his lips and black
treachery at his heart, this I can never believe. Stand back, while I
hear what more he has to tell me.'

Reluctantly the men fell back, while the Soubahdar, who, understanding
part but not all of this discourse, had been standing aside, with bowed
head and streaming eyes, approached the General again, and spoke in a
voice so low that none of the English soldiers could catch what he said.

Presently the General addressed them. His face was radiant, and his
voice was strong and full. 'Wait for me here, my men,' he said, 'but
be ready to start at the word of command. We have friends and comrades
close by. I will join you with them in less than half-an-hour.'

This time no one, not even the General's servant, ventured on a word of
protest, for the will of the old soldier was known to be like iron; but
as, the Soubahdar riding at his right hand, he went off slowly to where
the wood was thickest, they clustered together and held a council of
war.



CHAPTER XX

THE SOUBAHDAR SUFDER JUNG


'And where are our friends?' said the General, when they had ridden
for some considerable distance, leaving, in the meanwhile, the wood in
which his men were stationed, and entering another of wider extent. 'I
thought you said it was within a stone's throw.'

'We are close upon them now,' said the Soubahdar. He gave a low
whistle, and instantly the ground seemed to tremble and there was a
rumbling as of thunder beneath their feet.

In the next instant a native officer, of a lower grade than Sufder
Jung, but as well known to the General, appeared, and saluted.

'What is the meaning of this jack-in-the-box business?' said the
General, frowning.

'We are in hiding from our mutinous brethren,' said Sufder Jung
abjectly.

'Then there are only a few of you?'

'Nay, your Excellency, there are a hundred good men under this wood,
all waiting for a word of encouragement from their General.'

'They would have understood their duty better if they had remained in
their lines till they were ordered out on duty,' said the General.
'Where is your captain?'

'Alas! your Excellency, our captain Sahib is dead. He was one of the
first to be struck down.'

'By his own men?'

'By his own men, Excellency.'

In the meantime the men were coming up one by one from the cave where
they had hidden themselves. They were the veterans of the regiment, and
the General knew them all; as in the dim light of the wood they fell
into their ranks, he called one and another by their names.

'I did not think to see _you_ hiding in caves and holes of the earth,
my ancients,' he said. And a voice from the ranks muttered, 'The
General Sahib will see stranger things than these.'

'Who spoke?' said the old soldier, his hand closing on his revolver.

'Silence!' thundered Sufder Jung; then to the General with the deepest
humility, 'Forgive them, Excellency; they have been waiting, in hunger
and darkness for your Presence, and some of them are impatient.'

'But what are they doing now? Do you see, Sufder Jung, the line is
wavering. By heaven they want to surround us! Back, you hounds, back!'
shouted the General. 'Is discipline at an end, or have you forgotten to
stand at attention? Halt, I say, this instant, and ground your muskets,
or by the beard of your Prophet, the life of some of you will be short!'

As he spoke, his revolver was raised and pointed at the men, and
they, being awed by his presence and manner, and none of them wishing
probably to be the first to bite the dust, obeyed him sullenly.
Scarcely had they done so before the General's horse, which was an old
campaigner, and accustomed to stand like a rock, gave a sudden plunge.
With the shock the revolver went off, lodging its contents in a tree.
Then Sufder Jung seized the rein of the horse, which was snorting
with pain and fear, and immediately the silence that had followed the
General's stern command was exchanged for the fiercest excitement.
Uttering yells of hatred and defiance, the men in the ranks swung
round, closing in as they moved, so as to make a circle about the two
men and the horse. In a moment the General saw what they were about,
saw that he was alone in the midst of enemies, but he lost neither
his spirit nor his presence of mind. Quick as thought, he faced round
to where the line was weakest, encountering, as he did so, the ashen
countenance of Sufder Jung. 'If you are not the son of a traitor,' he
roared, 'open a way for me!'

He had dropped his revolver, which was useless to him now, and had
drawn his sword.

'My General,' moaned the wretched man, 'it is useless. Let his
Excellency wait to hear what his children will say to him.'

'You are false!' said the General, and with a lunge which sent his
sword through the Soubahdar's arm, provoking a yell that echoed through
the wood, he set spurs to his horse.

The poor beast, which had been wounded already, was wild with terror
and pain. It gave a mad plunge right into the living wall that was
forming in front of it. The General sat as if he and his horse were
one. His face never moved from its stern composure. To some of the
guilty and unhappy men in the ranks his eyes were as the eyes of an
avenging deity. As, like a whirlwind, he plunged on, his naked sword
swinging through the air, there came from one or two a cry of 'We
repent! Come back to us.'

But while those in the front were wavering, those in the rear and not
under the immediate spell of his presence, were plucking up heart.

One of them sprang forward and levelled his musket. A bullet whizzed
through the air, the General's horse gave one bound and fell, and he,
having been prepared for some such treachery as this, sprang to his
feet.

What was he to do? To attempt to fly on foot would be useless, and
result in such humiliation as he did not intend to encounter. There was
nothing for it but to stand his ground.

Quietly he turned and faced the men. The high soul of him had risen to
meet the danger that threatened him. Death it might be, but he would
meet death, as he had met life, a soldier--a man in possession of
himself.

'Now then,' he said to the men, who were rushing up to seize him, 'what
is it that you want with me? Speak at once!'

Not a voice answered, and one or two of the foremost slunk back.

'Do you want your precious leader, Sufder Jung, to speak for you?' said
the General. 'He has spoken to good effect already. Wounded, is he?
Then let him be brought before me and we will confer together.'

No one spoke, but there was an ominous sound of clanking arms.

'Perhaps you would prefer to kill me at once,' suggested the General
ironically. 'There is nothing to prevent you. I ought to know how
excellent your aim is. You have won many a prize from me for your
efficiency. It never occurred to me then that I should one day be your
target. I am angry with myself, my men, that I did not know you better.'

'You did know us,' sobbed one or two.

'What?' said the General, 'are some of you faithful still!' A party of
about twenty men--privates all of them, rushed across the space that
separated the General from the mutineers and ranged themselves on his
side. 'Welcome!' said the old man, in a strong hearty voice. Then two
or three came up, dragging Sufder Jung between them. 'So!' said the
General, 'this is the spokesman of the loyal troops. Quick, Soubahdar!
What do you and these want of me?'

'Will his Excellency pardon me?' whined the wretched creature, who
was faint with loss of blood; 'I am the instrument of others. For
myself----'

'Do I want to hear about yourself, hound? You are a traitor. That is
enough. What do the rascals yonder want?'

'They want the promise of your Highness to stop the troops marching
from Meerut to-morrow.'

'And if I give this promise?'

'Your Excellency will be conducted back safely to his guard.'

'And if I do not, you will shoot me?'

'His Highness knows that there is no dependence to be placed upon these
men. They might do worse.'

'Well said, Sufder Jung! You are an admirable spokesman,' said the
General. 'And now listen to me! You deserve death, and it is in my
heart to kill you as you stand there. But, as you are in some sort an
envoy, I will let you live out the miserable remnant of your days.
Vengeance will overtake you. Mark my words, and call them to mind when
your hour comes! You and the miserable creatures who have sent you will
suffer the penalty of your deeds. I suffer for having trusted you, for
I can have little doubt now that, instead of saving my family----'

'No--no, by my master's head, by the beard of the Prophet!' cried
Sufder Jung. 'What I have told my lord is true. We guarded his house,
and it was only when we had put the women of his Honour's family in
safety that we left the city.'

'If you speak truly, your folly is all the greater. I would have
rewarded you. I would have treated you as friends. But that is over
now. Go back and tell the rascals out yonder that I refuse their
conditions. Yes,' said the General, 'and tell them further that I will
hold no parley with rebels. Let them kill me if they can. I defy them!'

The loyal twenty closed round him. It was time, for the ring of bullets
began to echo through the woods. One or two were wounded. The General
had them picked up by their comrades, as they moved back slowly with
their faces to the foe. 'See what it is to be a traitor!' he said to
the man nearest to him. 'The villains are shooting wild. If they had
shot so under _me_, there are a few of them who wouldn't have survived
to see this day. Come on, you hounds! Come on, if you dare!'

The foremost of the dark mass, almost indistinguishable in the gloom of
the evening, were so near that they could have touched him; but they
did not. Muttering curses of baffled rage, they fell back confusedly,
and their comrades received them with yells of derision. 'Seize him
yourselves!' they said sullenly. 'The gods fight for him. He has a
charmed life.'

The little band, meanwhile, with the General in the midst of them,
were nearing the outskirts of the wood. They had increased the distance
between them and their assailants, who, in the gathering gloom, could
scarcely catch more than the outline of their figures. 'Fools!' cried
one of them--the man who had killed the General's horse--'you are
letting him escape.' He was known as the most deadly shot in the
regiment, and he had eyes like a cat's. Over and over again the General
had boasted of his powers.

This man took aim deliberately, the scarlet coat serving him as a
guide. Almost by a miracle the General escaped; but the nearest of his
escort fell. 'That was Koolraj Sing, I know,' rang out the voice of the
indomitable old man. 'Well aimed! Another like that, my man, and--Ha!
You villain--would you? Others can see in the dark as well as you. Have
at him, Kullum Khan! Steadily, my friend! Aim low! There is the moon,
thank heaven! Now! Halt and fire!'

Ping! Ping! Sharply and clearly the detonations rang out. The smoke
cleared away. The General still stood his ground, but Koolraj Sing, the
dead shot of the regiment, the man whose eyes could pierce through a
stone wall, was writhing in the agonies of death.

'Well done, Kullum Khan! said the General. 'You shall have a medal for
this! Keep together, my little ones! We shall be out of this soon.'

'They are coming up behind,' said Kullum Khan. 'Listen, Excellency!'

For a moment the General halted. Kullum Khan had spoken truly. Close in
their rear they could hear sounds, the crackling of the dry branches
of the underwood, and the heavy breathing of men and animals. 'Who's
there?' cried the General in English. He was answered with an English
cheer. 'Courage, my men!' he cried joyfully to the little band of the
faithful, 'and keep close to me, lest they mistake you for the rebels.
Hurry up, my hearties!' to his own men, who, having missed him and
feeling certain that treachery was on foot, were searching the wood.
'These,' pointing to his escort, as one and another of his troopers
rode up, 'are comrades. I owe my life to them. They have stood by me
gallantly. Your horse, Tommy,' to his own servant, who was first to
come up. 'Never fear, you shall have your hand in the fun. Now then,
are we all ready? You see those black-hearted scoundrels out yonder.
Three times our number, boys, but cowards every mother's son of them.
Charge for old England's sake, and mow them down!'

A ringing cheer, clear and joyful, which echoed and re-echoed through
the wood, that seemed peopled by hundreds instead of tens, greeted
these gallant words. The mutineers answered it with a scream of
defiance. Then, crash, crash, thundering over the dry underwood, came
the tramp of the English horsemen. The Pandies, who were on foot, stood
their ground, firing wildly. Several horses fell, and their riders
joined the faithful Indians, who were coming up behind them at a quick
march.

'Force them into the open,' cried the General. 'See--where the light
shines in!'

At his word the little band of horsemen swung round to the left. The
mutineers, expecting a front attack, were taken by surprise, and,
instead of facing round, as the only surviving officer commanded them,
they broke into confused groups, some of which stood their ground,
while by far the greater number took to their heels. Uttering a cry of
despair and hatred, the officer drew his tulwar across his throat and
fell at the very feet of the General's horse, which started and plunged
aside. At the same moment a mutineer, who had been lying in ambush
close by, sprang forward and discharged his musket at the General. The
gallant old man's bridle arm fell helpless by his side; but he gathered
up his reins in his right hand and pressed on. As for the men, English
and Indians, they had eyes and ears for nothing but the foe. Stumbling
and plunging, now in close order, and now separately, they rode and
ran over the broken ground. Meanwhile, with the fatality that comes of
abject dread, the mutineers were rushing towards the open.

Night had fallen, but the moon, which rose early at this season, was
flooding all the plain with silver light, and when the Englishmen
emerged from the wood they saw the fugitives--grey figures in the
ghostly light--only a short distance in front of them. 'Halt!' cried
the General, 'and fire!'

They obeyed with alacrity. Every shot took effect. Some who had not
been touched fell prone with fright and weariness, and over the plain
the bodies of dead and dying lay scattered.

'Quick march!' cried the General.

It was like the loosing of an arrow from a bow. In skirmishing order,
but keeping well in line, they cantered madly across the plain.
Passionate wrath and the wild thirst for vengeance made demons of them
all. There was no quarter given. The black-hearted wretches they were
pursuing had laid a net for the feet of their open-hearted General, and
had nearly succeeded in entrapping him. For their treachery they should
die. Group after group was overtaken. Some were speared, some were
shot. Not one of them all turned to bay, or lifted up his hand against
the avengers. For, lying heavy as lead at the heart of each one and
making him a coward, was the consciousness that he had played the part
of traitor.

A short half-hour, and it was all over. Some few, who were the first
to fly, and were particularly fleet of foot, escaped into the country.
The others lay dead on the plain outside Meerut. One of them only,
Soubahdar Sufder Jung, who had been wounded, but not mortally, remained
behind in the wood. All that night and the following day he kept in
hiding. Then, having stripped off his uniform, and clothed himself in
the garments of a peasant, whom he slew in the fields, he took to the
road.

Their work done, the English soldiers halted, and discovering that the
General, who up to the moment when they emerged from the wood had been
foremost in the advance, was not with them, they rode back to seek him.
Loss of blood from his wound, with the exhaustion which followed hard
upon his excitement, had been too much for the old man, who, for the
first time in all his life, had swooned away. Fortunately his English
servant was by his side. He saw him reel in his saddle and caught him
in his arms. By this time, however, the General's senses had returned.
When his men rode back for him, he was sitting on the ground under a
tree, Kullum Khan supporting him on one side, and his soldier-servant
on the other.



CHAPTER XXI

WITHIN THE WALLS OF MEERUT


Within the walls of Meerut, meanwhile, all was confusion and despair.
Those of the English and Eurasian residents who had escaped from the
massacre of the 10th of May were gathered together, in much closer
quarters than they had ever occupied before, tremulously expecting the
worst. The British soldiers, burning to be led against the mutineers,
were kept day and night upon guard, for the rebels' return with
reinforcements, to finish the deadly work they had begun, was hourly
expected; but they did not come, and at last it dawned upon the minds
of those in authority that, seeing they were within entrenchments, a
smaller number of soldiers might serve to guard them. It took some
time for this idea to work in the official mind; but, at last, to the
intense satisfaction of the soldiers and regimental officers, five
hundred men were told off to join the English force which was supposed
to be marching on Delhi.

It was on the 23rd that the General encountered the detachment from his
mutinous regiment in the wood; and, early on the 24th, the force from
Meerut was to be in readiness to march. Hence the ambush. The rebels,
whose intelligence department was much better managed than ours--they
had spies everywhere--knowing exactly what was going to happen, had
imagined that, through the General, whom, they believed, they could
easily entrap, they might paralyse the action of the English, so far,
at least, as to delay, for some days, the march of a detachment from
Meerut.

They had, as we have seen, most grossly miscalculated. But, meanwhile,
the firing had been heard at Meerut, and a gallant young officer, well
known to the General, who had been burning to distinguish himself and
to redeem the honour of the English arms, gained permission to go out
and reconnoitre with a party of fifty horsemen.

It was late in the evening; but the moon was well up, and there was
light enough to guide them to the scene of the little skirmish. It
was over by the time they rode out upon the plain. The General and
his men had taken their own vengeance; but, exhausted as they were,
their chief wounded, their horses dead-beat, and their situation
precarious--since, for all they knew to the contrary, the woods behind
them might be full of rebels--the sight of this little band of their
countrymen coming out to meet them was, beyond expression, cheering.

'They are not all dead then, thank God!' said the General. 'Two of you
gallop out to meet them, boys, and tell them how it is with us.'

'Can you sit a horse, sir,' said Tommy, 'or shall we send for a litter?'

'Litter! Nonsense! I'm not going to give up the ghost yet,' said the
old soldier, testily. 'But,' to himself, 'I shan't mind being at home.
I believe the scoundrel spoke the truth so far. Poor little monkeys!
I wonder which of them is hurt. Oh, God, if I had only listened to
reason, and left them all at home!'

'Do you want anything, sir?' said one of his men, who saw him speaking,
but could not catch his voice.

'No, thank you,' he answered, 'except to get away from this. Ah! here
they are! Friends this time, not foes! Welcome, Bertie,' to the young
officer, who had sprung from his horse, and was looking down upon him
mournfully. 'Don't look so glum, you young rascal. They are safe?'
sharply.

'Your people escaped, General. One of the young ladies was hurt, not
seriously, I believe. Lady Elton has been in the most terrible state of
anxiety.'

'No doubt! No doubt! Well, I shall hear all about it from themselves
soon. Lift me into a saddle, Bertie. We'd better be moving.'

Kullum Khan, who was sobbing like a child, took the General under one
arm, the young officer under the other, and in a few moments they had
him mounted on the quietest and strongest of the horses, a trooper
getting up behind him, to keep him in his place. Then, carrying the
wounded Indians between them, the cavalcade set off across the plain.

The mango grove where the skirmish had begun was within three miles of
Meerut; but as, for the sake of the wounded, they were obliged to move
slowly, the transit took some time. Scouts, meanwhile, were thrown out
in every direction, to keep the coasts clear, and warn them of danger.
But there was not even an alarm. The combatants, as the General said
grimly, were on their faces, and the non-combatants kept out of their
way.

They came upon the outskirts of Meerut. The General was moaning
heavily, with pain and anguish. There was nothing now to keep up his
proud heart, and it fell.

He knew all the landmarks, and each one had some memory for him. There
was the little grove where, one glorious evening, he and his men had
picnicked when they came down upon Meerut from the Sikh war, to enjoy a
little rest after the hardships of the campaign. How splendid they had
looked, and how handy and helpful they were, living on next to nothing,
and going through fatigue and privation that would have floored half a
European regiment!

And now they were close on the cantonments. He had built several of
the bungalows here and laid out their gardens--the mess-house for
the officers of his regiment, the colonel's house, the spacious and
beautiful bungalow, finished while he was in England, to which only
a few weeks before he had brought his wife and children. This last
was outside cantonments and nearer to the native lines than any other
English house.

He remembered now, pacing slowly and sadly over the blackened ground,
with the charred ruins of what had so lately been a happy home staring
him in the face, how one or two had warned him that, in case of a
rising, the situation would be dangerous, and how proudly he had
smiled at the absurdity of the notion. 'While my family and I are in
the station,' he said, 'a rising would be impossible, and I don't ask
anyone else to occupy the house.' And now it was literally gutted.

As they were crossing what had been the garden of the General's
bungalow, an old man came out from the ruins and confronted them. The
young officer who, with drawn sword, was leading the cavalcade, would
have swept him aside, but he cried out so piteously to be heard that
the General, who was some yards behind, ordered that he should be
brought to him.

'I think I know your voice,' he said.

'The Sahib should know,' replied the man, weeping bitterly; 'for I have
served him these twenty years.'

'You are Yaseen Khan, my bearer.'

'I am Yaseen Khan, Sahib General, and my son Kullum----'

'I am here, Yaseen,' said the Sepoy from behind. 'I could not go on,
and I slew Koolraj Sing, who tried to deceive me.'

'The gods be praised!' murmured the old man. 'Sahib, by the God you
worship, I beseech you to take me on with you!'

'Why are you here, Yaseen Khan?' said the General.

'Have patience, Excellency, and I will tell you everything. They
surrounded this house and set it on fire in three places. Then I ran to
the lines and called my son, Kullum, who, with Soubahdar Sufder Jung
and others, came up, and the _budmashes_ fled. Trixy Sahib was hurt;
I know not how. They carried her in their arms--my son Kullum and the
Soubahdar--as if she had been their own child. The others walked, for
no carriage was to be found; but the men guarded them carefully, and
not a hair of their heads was touched. I thought of the General Sahib's
gold, and I went back to get it. I could not carry it away; but I
buried it in a secret place. Then the _budmashes_ came round the house
again, yelling like evil spirits. They found me, and said they would
kill me if I did not find them gold. I said I would find it, and, in
going, I escaped. I was close to them, Sahib, and I heard their cries.
They would have torn me to pieces if they had found me; but there was
an alarm. Some one said, "The Sahibs are coming!" and they ran out, and
I saw and heard them no more. But I dared not move; I kept in hiding,
waiting for your Honour's return, and living on the food I could pick
up. For two days I have not eaten. Have pity on me, Sahib, and take me
on!'

'Mount him on one of the horses, and bring him on behind me,' said the
General. 'I believe that what he tells me is the truth.'

A few moments later they came upon the vedettes, and then, the young
officer having answered the challenge, they entered the town.

Here the General insisted upon dismounting.

'I can't present myself to my wife and children in this guise,' he
said. 'Dismiss your men to their quarters, Bertie, and let them find
quarters for my men, and for the natives who were faithful. You give me
your arm and we will find Lady Elton.'

The officer gave the necessary directions, adding, on his own account,
that the surgeon of his regiment should be sent to the General's
quarters, and they set off together, the General leaning heavily on the
arm of his guide, and Yaseen Khan, the bearer, following them.

Lady Elton and her children were under canvas. They had preferred
this arrangement to accepting shelter from any of the houses thrown
open to them, and the Soubahdar and his men having succeeded in
saving many of their things, they had been able already to give their
new quarters a tolerably home-like appearance. It was only in this
way--in exerting themselves to set things straight 'for father,' who,
they felt sure, must come in soon--that the girls could keep their
mother cheerful, or that any of them could chase away the terrible
despondency and shuddering fear which would, at times, take possession
of them. For upon these unfortunate ladies, bred up in the traditions
of the old Anglo-Indian, who looked upon a native as a cross between a
machine and an animal--a creature to be treated with kindly contempt
when he behaved himself, and to be promptly licked into shape when
he did not--the mutiny fell like a bolt of fire out of a clear sky.
They had heard rumours of discontent, but nothing came of them. They
were disposed to think that the repressive measures had not been
sufficiently severe, and when on May 9 the mutineers of the 3rd
Native Cavalry, who had been condemned by their own countrymen, and
sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, were stripped of their uniform
and put in irons, while sorry for the unhappy men who had been so
miserably deluded, they believed that this one severe example would
be sufficient, and that no more would be heard of mutiny. Lady Elton
was fond of quoting her husband in those days. 'The General says all
they want is firmness. They are the best fellows in the world when
you take them the right way. He ought to know, for he has had so much
experience.' And then Maud would repeat her saucy little phrase about
the riding-whip, and the ladies, who had come to consult them, would
go away reassured. 'You may depend upon it,' they would say, 'General
Elton and his wife know more about these people than we do.'

To be awakened from this dream of security by the rattle of musketry
from the lines; and, after a few minutes of terror-stricken silence,
the tramp of armed men upon the plain, and the shock of contending
forces, was terrible beyond description. How, stirred up by Yaseen
Khan, who ran in hot haste for his son, they barricaded themselves into
the innermost room of the bungalow, piling furniture against the doors
to keep out the mutineers; how, sitting huddled together, clasped in
one another's arms, they heard the defiant shouts and yells of rage
come nearer and nearer; how Trixy, the first to recover presence of
mind, climbed up to a peep-hole under the roof, and came back with
the awful intelligence that the stables and kitchens were in flames;
how they heard the wretches, who were mad with bhang and fanaticism,
getting on to the roof; then the yell, when the thatch was torn aside,
and one of the fierce creatures looked down on them; the screams of the
girls, and brave little Trixy's pistol-shot, followed by a shriek from
the first scoundrel, and a shot from the man behind him, which brought
the poor girl to the ground,--all this lives still in these poor
women's remembrance as a dream of horror!

They were rescued as we have seen. Those surrounding the General's
house were _budmashes_ from the bazaars and the criminals who had
rushed out when the gaol doors were opened, and at the approach of the
disciplined force under Soubahdar Sufder Jung every one of them took
to their heels. The ladies, half dead with fright, and some of their
choicest possessions, were escorted safely to the English barracks,
where they lodged that night. Then began that weary waiting-time, which
to poor Lady Elton was even worse than the scene of horror through
which they had passed. Her husband was away. She had not heard from
him for some days, and did not know where he was. Her beloved eldest
daughter Grace and her niece, only lately married, were in the heart
of a district said to be unsettled before, and which now, when this
terrible news from Meerut went abroad, would be almost certain to rise.
She had friends at Cawnpore, friends at Delhi, friends at Jhansi. None
of them all were so well guarded as they of Meerut. If massacre and
destruction could run riot here, what would it be there?

Day by day she looked for her husband's arrival. She never feared for
his personal safety. She had still the firmest belief in his power over
the native soldiery; but if he came something might be done. For this
made one element in the misery of the old soldier's wife and daughters.
Nothing was being done. 'If I were in command here,' Trixy would say,
clenching her little fists, 'not one of those brutes should have
reached Delhi. Bertie Liston says the men were burning to be off. He
could scarcely keep them quiet. I think I should have let them go--gone
with them.'

'Trixy is a great warrior since she fired that pistol,' said Maud;
'but, seriously, mother, don't you think something ought to be done?'

'My dear children, be patient! We are women. We know nothing. Soldiers
must obey orders,' said Lady Elton sadly. 'If your father would only
come!'

'He will come soon, mother darling, don't be afraid,' said gentle
little Lucy.

Some such conversation as this had taken place on the afternoon of the
day when firing was heard outside the walls. The five women heard it
distinctly as they sat over their tea in the tent. Then Bertie Liston
came rushing in with a radiant face. 'Good-bye,' he said, 'I am sent
out to reconnoitre. What will you give me if I bring you back the
General?'

'Anything, everything--all we have,' cried Trixy impulsively. She was
lying on a charpoy, for she had not yet recovered from her wound.
Bertie looked at her, and her pale face flushed; but there was time for
no more words. He went out: she heard his horse's hoofs clattering over
the paving-stones in the compound of the barracks, and covering her
face with her hands she burst into tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour or more passed by. The firing outside had ceased. Nothing could
be heard but the pacing of the sentinels and the chowkedars crying
out one to the other. Darkness had fallen; but the little company in
the tent did not stir. Then Maud, crying out that she could stand it
no longer, lighted a lamp; Trixy, who was very much ashamed of her
little outburst, asked for a book, and Lady Elton fell back upon her
never-failing resource--the silk stockings she was knitting for the
General. 'Do you think, dears,' she said to the two youngest girls,
Lucy and Mildred, 'that you could sing one of your duets? If father did
come home to-night, it would please him to hear your voices.' They said
they would try, and in a few moments their sweet clear young voices
rose above the stillness. It was one of the sentimental ditties that
we used to admire in those days, neither the words of the song nor
the music to which it was set of a particularly high order; but as,
supported by his young friend, the old General approached the lighted
tent, and heard in his girls' sweet voices of wild waves whispering and
red roses fading away, his heart thrilled with a rapture such as no
artistic music could have given. 'Bless them,' he said, in a low and
heartfelt voice. 'All right, isn't it, Bertie? They couldn't sing like
that if the shock had been too much for them. There! what an old donkey
I am! I knew the children had the pluck of--Come on, Bertie. They are
stopping. They hear us. Back, Yaseen Khan, you old fool! I don't want
you to announce me.'

And now the curtain before the tent is thrown aside, and he sees
them--his sweet wife and the children, who are dearer to him than his
life, and his stern eyes fill with tears, and the voice of thunder,
which only a few moments before had roared out defiance to a hundred
foes, is as weak as that of a little child. 'Well, here I am! How are
you all?' he says, feebly.

He is in the gloom; they are in the light. They have not seen, but
they have heard. In a moment they spring up, all but poor Trixy, who
is crying quietly, and there are cries of 'Wilfrid! Thank God! Father!
Father!' And a little voice from the corner is heard to say, 'Bertie
has brought him. Don't let Bertie go away!'

All at once there is a lull. They have drawn him under the light, and
they see that his face is pale and drawn, and one of them discovers
that his arm is roughly bandaged. 'Father has been wounded. Children,
don't press round him so,' cries Lady Elton. 'Will some one run for a
doctor?'

'The Doctor Sahib is here,' says a voice outside; a quiet voice, which
contrasts strangely with the agitated tones of those within the tent.
In the next instant Yaseen Khan, the bearer, clad in snow-white tunic
and dhootie, and having on his head a voluminous turban--how he had set
himself in order no one ever knew--steps forward, and having, with his
usual dignity, saluted those in the tent, ushers in the doctor.

Then from that irrepressible little person in the corner there comes a
peal of laughter. 'Bravo, Yaseen Khan!' she cries. 'You are decidedly
master of the situation. Have you been hiding yourself in a band-box
all this time, you most unconscionable old man?'

Yaseen Khan merely salaams and smiles. He is busy attending to his
master, and has no time for banter.



CHAPTER XXII

THE RAJAH SURPRISED


It was on that very night, the night of the 23rd of May, that Hoosanee
returned to Gumilcund, after his unsuccessful effort to save Grace
Elton and her cousin. He reported himself to his master at once, and
gave an account of what he had done. It was his opinion that the rising
at Nowgong would be speedy and cruel. Many of the Sahibs, he said, were
disliked by the people and soldiers, and would not be spared. He did
not venture to repeat his conversation with the chuprassie; but he said
that he believed there was one servant in the Captain Sahib's service
who might be trusted. 'The lotus-eyed,' he averred, must be saved at
all hazards, and he offered, should his master desire it, to go to the
station again, and to linger about in disguise, watching over her,
until the danger was over, or the rising had come. In case of a rising,
he would provide for some temporary refuge in the neighbourhood,
whence, if they could not escape in any other way, his master would
fetch them at the point of the sword.

Tom agreed to the proposal, suggesting only that he should go in place
of Hoosanee; or, if that were impossible, that they should go together.
But both his servant and Chunder Singh, who was present, pointed out
to him so clearly that his presence, instead of helping, might spoil
everything, that he was obliged to give way. Hoosanee should have the
honour and joy of watching over the sweetest woman on all the earth;
Chunder Singh should hold himself in readiness to obey the first
summons to arms, and Tom had spies posted in the different villages on
the route between Nowgong and Gumilcund, so that Hoosanee's messages
might be passed on from one to another, and that help could reach him
speedily.

He was himself meditating a dangerous enterprise, nothing less than
marching into Jhansi alone, presenting himself before the Ranee,
and persuading her, under promise of his personal support, and his
influence with the Government in case of her failure--for he had now
certain knowledge that she intended soon to raise the standard of
revolt--to allow him to carry off to Gumilcund the English women and
children in the station.

But many things had to be done before he could start. June was nearly
in when, riding Snow-queen, and dressed as an Indian of rank, he left
Gumilcund. In despite of all Chunder Singh urged to the contrary, he
was unattended, it being his belief that the Ranee would be more likely
to listen to him if he entered her palace alone.

The hot season being well in, he travelled principally at night,
resting by day in a grove or peasant's hut. He was treated with
consideration everywhere. Now and then a greybeard would reprove him
for travelling so heedlessly in these unsettled times, and once or
twice he was asked his business. To this he would answer that he was
a kinsman of the Ranee of Jhansi, and that she had sent for him; but
that what her will was he knew not. Everything, in fact, went well,
so that, but for the adventure I am about to relate, he would have
been in Jhansi before the rising; and it is just possible that, by his
influence, the memory of a proud and not ungenerous woman would have
been saved from a foul blot, and many innocent people delivered from
destruction.

He came to within a few miles of the borders of Jhansi. For the last
two days he had been pressing his pace, for sinister rumours were
abroad, and he feared to be too late. But there had been terrible rain,
and the ways were miry, and Snow-queen was hanging her head dejectedly.
For her sake rather than his own he determined to rest for a few hours.
There was a village close by. He rode in slowly, and asked for the
house of the headman, where, after a little parley, he was allowed to
rest, while he watched his horse being fed and watered.

He was on the little mud platform in front of the house. Snow-queen
was tethered close by. It was mid-day and the place was silent as the
grave, so that presently, in spite of strenuous efforts to hold his
eyes open, he fell into a dog's sleep. How long it lasted he could
not tell. He was aroused by the trampling of feet and clamour of many
voices. He sprang up, and, almost at the same moment, the headman came
to him, with a strange look in his eyes.

'You must go on,' he said, 'the Ranee is here.'

'Ranee--what ranee--of Jhansi?' he asked.

'I know not,' the man answered; 'but we want this place.'

'And you shall have it. I am ready to go on,' answered Tom. 'First let
me pay you for your trouble.'

The man took the money hurriedly, and Tom turned aside to where he had
left Snow-queen, and vaulted into the saddle. He had scarcely done
so before the foremost of the troop of horsemen that were clattering
through the village came up with him and seized his bridle-rein.

'What do you want with me?' said Tom, trying to free himself.

In a trice two or three more rode up, and he found himself surrounded.

'Now, then,' he cried out, angrily. 'What is the meaning of this?'

'Our lady, the Ranee, would have speech with you, sir stranger,' said
the first of the troop.

'Where is she; and what does she mean by stopping a peaceful traveller?'

'You are alone. She has armed men at her back,' said the horseman
cynically. 'But she means you no hurt. You had better come quietly.'

'Loose my bridle-rein, then,' cried the young rajah. 'And you,' to the
two or three ragged-looking figures that were crowding about him, 'fall
back!'

They obeyed and he went forward slowly, with all the dignity he could
command. Had he seen any chance of escape, he would have given a touch
to Snow-queen, and in a few moments she would have shown them a clean
pair of heels. But he was not in open ground; he was in the long
straggling street of the village, with horsemen in front of him and
horsemen behind, and there was no possibility of getting away. Wit, he
felt, must serve him for strength, and if, as these men had said, their
leader was really a woman, he did not doubt that he would be able so
far to humour her as to be allowed to proceed.

Presently he lifted up his eyes and saw her. She was in the midst of
the cavalcade, borne in an open palanquin, and covered from head to
foot in a saree of black gauze richly spangled with gold.

As he approached, the men-at-arms who accompanied her separating to
right and left to let him pass, she ordered her bearers to stop. Tom
drew up in front of her and made a low salute. He could not discern the
features of the lady's face; but he saw enough to make him sure that
she was not the Ranee of Jhansi. A few seconds passed. He would not
speak until she addressed him; he sat with head bowed humbly, after
the Oriental fashion, while the piercing eyes behind the black and gold
saree looked him through and through.

Then came a curious and unexpected shock. She was speaking. He thought,
at least, that she was speaking; but he could not be quite sure that
his senses had not deceived him. For this high, clear voice, winged, to
his fancy, with mockery, was not, certainly, the voice of one of the
daughters of the land. Yet the language was the supple Urdu that the
educated natives use.

'Who are you, sir stranger? And what brings you to our dominions?' she
said.

He gave an involuntary start, then answered, bowing low, 'Were it not
that the whole world is under the dominion of beauty, I might ask my
gracious lady her right to stop the traveller on his journey. As it is,
I bow to her will. I am a kinsman of the Ranee of Jhansi, and I go in
hot haste to confer with her on the strange portents of the time.'

From behind the saree came a sound like the repressed gurgle of
laughter; but it was stopped instantly, and the high, disdainful voice
went on. 'I believe that you are lying, sir stranger; but the truth of
your saying shall be proved. We, too, propose to visit our sister of
Jhansi. Remain you with our escort, and we will take you in with us. If
you are really what you profess to be, the delay will be of no account
to you, and you may save your skin.'

'My skin is not of so much account to me that, for its sake, I should
neglect my duty. The business on which I have come is urgent, and I
cannot delay. Will your Highness permit me to take my leave?'

There was another suppressed gurgle. He could have sworn, moreover,
that from under the black and gold gauze there came a little English
'No'; but in the next moment he thought that his fancy must have been
playing tricks with him, for the veiled lady was speaking in stern,
slow accents.

'I will not permit you to leave us. Fall back, and take your place
amongst my men.'

'Your Highness----'

'Silence! I have listened to you long enough. Abdul, seize his
bridle-rein. If he resists, dismount him, and bring him on foot.'

Seeing that there was, for the moment, no possibility of successful
resistance, Tom fell back amongst the escort, who, so long as he walked
on with them quietly, did not seem disposed to show him any violence.

The headman of the village came out, meanwhile, to meet them, bringing
provisions, and laying himself and all he possessed at the feet of the
Ranee. She accepted his homage, but did not deign to speak to him, and,
after halting for a few moments, she ordered her bearers and escort to
proceed.

Tom had been longing to leave the village, for he thought that, on the
open ground, he might easily escape; but he found himself so closely
watched, that no such effort was practicable. Reluctantly he made up
his mind to wait until the night.

He had gone over this ground before, making himself well acquainted
with the bearings of the country, and when, soon after leaving the
village, the leaders of the cavalcade swung round to the left, he knew
perfectly well that they were going away from Jhansi, and not towards
it. This he said to Abdul, but he was vouchsafed no answer. Tired and
irritated, wondering what was to be the end of this strange adventure,
and blaming himself bitterly for having halted when he was almost
within a stone's throw of his goal, he went on the way he was led.

It was afternoon when the veiled lady met him, and they tramped on
until nightfall.

By this time, so far as Tom, who had begun to lose his bearings, could
judge, they were many miles distant from Jhansi. They encamped in open
ground, there being no village or grove of trees at hand. A tent was
pitched for the lady, who had been travelling for some time with the
curtains of her palanquin closed. Tom, who felt that she was dealing
treacherously with him, and who was haunted, moreover, by a bewildering
suspicion that she was something very different from what she gave
herself out to be, made an effort, when the cavalcade halted, to spring
forward from his place in the rear, that he might speak to her, or at
least catch a glimpse of her figure; but the fierce and burly Abdul
placed himself in front of him. The vigilance of this man had never for
one moment faltered, and it was evident to Tom that he was keeping up
the other men to their duty of watchfulness.

Thinking it well to appear submissive, he dismounted with the rest of
the horsemen, tethered and fed Snow-queen, and joined one of the groups
that were assembled round the little fires that had been lighted to
cook the men's evening meal. A place was made for him, and he was given
a supper of chupatties and dal, which, as he was simulating the manners
of a person of high rank, he received in his own bowl, retiring a few
yards distant from his attendants to eat it.

Then he returned to the spot where he had left Snow-queen, wrapped
himself up in his chuddah, and, with his back propped against the tree
to which she was tethered, fell into a deep sleep.

Tom was one of those favoured mortals who have the gift of sleep. No
matter how anxious and harassed he might have been in the day-time,
night always brought him peace and refreshment. Afterwards he thought
of it as a strange thing. Here he was alone in the midst of strangers.
What they wanted with him he did not know; but he knew full well that
he had upon his person what, if they discovered it, would tempt their
cupidity past any reasonable limit of endurance; he knew also that he
had a great stake to fight for, and a hard problem to solve, and yet he
slept--slept as peacefully as if he had been in his own little room in
the cottage that looked down upon the silver Thames.

Two hours passed away. His attendants had looked at him several times,
and, at last, being satisfied of his perfect unconsciousness, they had
followed his example, and now no one but Abdul was awake.

Abdul had received his orders. He was to watch over the prisoner,
but not to molest him in any way; he knew very well that, if he were
detected in any attempt at outrage or robbery, he would pay the forfeit
of his life for the crime; but the stillness of the moment and the
perfect unconsciousness of the sleeping man were too much for his
prudence. He would not hurt him. That would be to betray himself; but
he would cautiously feel about him to see if he had valuables concealed
in his sash or turban. If he had not, no harm was done. If he had, and
if Abdul purloined them, then Abdul would be so much the richer, and
the high-born youth, who would not venture, surrounded as he was by
hostile strangers, to make any ado about his loss, would be the poorer.
And that would be all.

Thinking thus he crept closer to Tom, and, having softly drawn his
chuddah aside began to finger his fine satin tunic. Once or twice the
sleeping youth stirred, and then the robber drew back, but supposing
himself in a dream, he settled down again, and Abdul went on with his
work. The heart of the robber was jubilant and his fingers were light,
for he was sure now that there was gold in the youth's waistband, gold
which would soon be transferred to his own. The gold was almost within
his grasp, he heard its jingle, his long fingers swept it, as they
moved to and fro. Why then did he stop suddenly and draw back? Had
he seen the youth's breast and shoulders white in the moonlight, and
did he recognise him as one of the hated race, whom, in a few short
weeks, the children of the Prophet would scatter and slay? But this
should have given him courage, for he knew very well that he had but
to say that a Feringhee spy had entered the camp, and the youth whom
he purposed to rob would have his lips sealed effectually. Surely it
was something more that stayed Abdul's hand. And, in that moment's
pause, his prey escaped him. Strong, and with all his wits about him,
Tom awoke; seeing his chuddah and tunic open, and Abdul glaring at him,
like a startled wild animal, he sprang to his feet and struck out with
the dagger which he carried in his belt.

At the same moment the robber was smitten from behind. As, with a
muttered cry, he fell to the ground, a voice broke upon the stillness
of the camp: 'So the White Ranee punishes treachery. Let all take
notice and beware!'



CHAPTER XXIII

THE SNAKE-CHARMER AND THE VEILED LADY


As for Tom, he laid himself down again, not to sleep this time, but to
watch. There was, however, no further alarm, nor, when, long before
dawn, the camp began to stir and the morning fires were lighted, was
any remark made with regard to the incident of the night. A narrow
trench was dug; the robber was laid in it, and, once more, the
cavalcade moved forward. Throughout that day they went on steadily.
The prisoner was continually on the alert, but he was given no chance
either of escaping or of speaking to the veiled lady in the litter. His
passionate irritation over the delay grew, meanwhile, to such a height,
that he was on the point once or twice of making some mad effort that
would have had the effect of either seriously jeopardising his life
or putting fetters on his limbs. That he restrained himself was due
not so much to prudence as to fatality. He could never find a moment
when his will-power and his surroundings leapt together. When he might
have acted he could not. When all his nerves were braced and the blood
coursed like fire about his heart, something would always happen to
make action impossible. So, with throbbing brain and a heart as heavy
as lead, he travelled on. Every hour was taking them further away from
Jhansi, and nearer Gumilcund, although they were not shaping their
course directly for the last-named city. The men were reticent before
him, but he gathered from a stray word here and there that they were
themselves uncertain about their movements, which would depend upon the
result of an enterprise undertaken by some of their comrades.

Towards mid-day they halted, and a man, who appeared to be a moulvie,
or priest, joined them, was admitted to the tent, and held a conference
with the lady, travelling on with the cavalcade as far as the next
village, where he took his leave. What news he brought Tom did not
hear, but he judged from the jubilant faces of the men, and the
laughter and rude jests, some of which made his blood curdle, that
there had been another triumph over the Europeans, and that these men
were expecting to share in its results.

Evening came and they halted again. It was in the neighbourhood of a
large village, to the right of which stretched a mere or shallow pond,
half covered with red pond-weed and overshadowed with some fine acacia
and fig trees. By order of the lady in the litter, her tent, which
always formed the centre of the camp, was pitched on the shores of the
mere, being separated from the village by its waters.

Immediately the men unsaddled, tethered and fed their horses, and
lighted their evening fires. The villagers, meanwhile, who were hiding
behind every tree and angle of wall, having satisfied themselves that
those in camp had no hostile intentions, poled themselves over the mere
in flat-bottomed boats, bringing with them fruit and vegetables, and
grain and milk, so that presently the camp was like a fair.

Sitting by the mere, and listening absently to the jabber and turmoil
of the camp, where buying and selling and wrangling and gossiping were
going briskly forward, Tom watched the curious scene. He was trying
to devise some scheme either of escape or of making his situation
known to Chunder Singh, when, suddenly, and in obedience to no act of
volition of his own, so at least it seemed to himself, the current of
his thought changed. It darted upon him with the force of an electric
current that the scene upon which he was gazing was not new. The livid
sky behind the mud walls of the village, the blood-red pavement at his
feet, the fierce dark faces about him, surely, in some other life, he
had seen them before. A moment more, and he remembered. He was living
again over the strange night when all the conditions of his life were
changed; his feet trod the banks of the stream that washed the gardens
of his tranquil home; the dawn, the sweet dawn of an English June, was
breaking, and the trees that he knew and loved were swaying to and fro
over his head to the delicious breeze of the morning. _Then_ he had
seen _this_! It was his dream, his very dream; but not all!

The effect upon his mind was overpowering. His strength, and the
presence of mind, upon which he had always relied, seemed to be oozing
away. Fate! Fate! and no hand of man was fighting against him! What
could he do but submit? Shuddering, he covered his face with his hands.
He must hide it away. He must forget. He must clear his mind from the
stupefaction that was stealing over it, or all would be lost. But it
was in vain, for, with his every effort, he seemed only to sink more
deeply into despondency and bewilderment.

Suddenly a sound came to him. It was as vivid to his sense as is the
light of morning to the belated traveller--a voice clear and strong.
'Why,' it said, 'should this thing startle you? If a vision was granted
to you, if you saw, beforehand, what would be in the future, and if
now the vision is followed by what is, or appears to be, a reality, is
that any reason why your strength and presence of mind should desert
you?' A pause, and then, answering the thought of his heart, the voice
went on, 'Fate! That is true. Everything is fate. But our resistances
are predicted and foreseen as well as our trials. Arise and be of good
cheer. This is no omen of evil, but rather of good. You say that the
vision is not over. Again you are right. There is more to come, and
in due time and place you will behold it; but tie not your limbs from
present use in consideration of that which they may have to do in the
future. In coming hither you have chosen rightly. She, like you, must
"dree her dread"; but the Holy Ones love her, and will have her in
Their keeping. Listen!'

At this moment--it seemed a strange and incongruous thing--there broke
in upon the eager spiritual colloquy a sound so ridiculously common
and familiar that, uneasy as he was, Tom could almost have laughed.
It was the discordant rattle with which, in India, a snake-charmer
and conjuror calls his audience together. The sounds came from behind
Tom. Turning in haste, he saw a hooded snake rearing up its ugly neck
and head within a few feet of him. Behind the snake, sitting crouched
together and eyeing him curiously, was an old man, with coal-black
face, white hair, and supernaturally bright eyes. He was wrapped in a
dirty white chuddah; a cloth, containing his implements of trade, lay
outspread before him, and he held in his hand a light wand, with which
he was directing the movements of the snake.

When Tom turned he stopped his jabber for a moment to beg him not to
be afraid, adding impressively that if he would only have patience, he
would behold such a sight as he had never seen before. 'Others kill,'
cried the old man, looking round on the soldiers who, pleased at any
sort of fun, were crouching about him. 'They bring you a mongoose.
There is a fight. The monster is killed. He lies stiff and stark
before you. You clap your hands like silly children. But what is that?
Nothing. I snap my fingers at them. No mongoose here, good sirs! No
killing! I did not say no fight. Yes, you love fighting, and a fight
you shall see! But a man will fight the monster; a man with his
naked hands, and it shall be--not killed--but tamed! That is the true
triumph, my masters--the true revenge! My enemy's blood, what is it?
For a moment it fills my nostrils with its savour, in the next it is
gone. But to tame him, to see him lie down at my feet and lick my hand,
to spurn him once, and yet again; day after day to behold him grovel
more deeply before me. This is joy! This is ecstasy! And it is this, in
little, which I call you to behold.'

He spoke in a high key, and with the most extraordinary rapidity,
holding his wand, as he spoke, over the head of the cobra, which moved
uneasily from side to side as if it were trying to escape from some
fascinating influence. His voice dropped and there was a lull. The
serpent gazed at him sleepily. He crooned a low song, which seemed to
have a stupefying effect upon it, for it dropped and lay like dead. The
soldiers, meantime, stirred to the entrails by his address, showed all
the symptoms of intoxication; some rolling about in speechless ecstasy,
others dancing, singing, and shouting, so that, in a few moments, the
camp was changed into a field of demons.

There came a cry from the snake-charmer. 'Give me room--room!' and,
in the next instant, he had flung his wand aside, thrown off his
chuddah, and leapt to his feet. At the same moment the serpent reared
itself up, shot out its forked tongue, and threw its sinuous body at
the man, who received it on his knotted arms. The hideous combat went
on for some minutes. Now the man seemed to triumph and now the serpent.
Tom was sick with loathing; but he could not turn away. An invincible
fascination, helped by a suspicion that the combat had some mysterious
importance for himself, kept his eyes fixed.

Suddenly the silence of the camp was broken. There came a cry of, 'Give
place! The Ranee is coming!'

The combat was at its height--the man almost lost in the folds of the
cobra, and the awe-stricken circle falling back--when Tom, who had kept
his position near the snake-charmer, saw her come out. She was dressed
in the brilliant robe of black and gold in which he had seen her first,
and covered from head to foot, so that he could not see her face. With
slow and dignified step she advanced towards them. She had crossed half
the space that separated her from the snake. It had loosened itself
from the man, and was turning in this new direction. Unable to restrain
himself, Tom darted forward. 'Keep back!' he cried in English. 'You
are mad!'

She spread out her arms, waved him back imperiously, and moved forward.
At the same moment Tom saw on the face of the snake-charmer a look of
such anguish and dismay that he thought his enemy had conquered and
given him a deadly wound. Yet the snake had dropped and was lying at
his feet, not dead, but spent.

Confused and troubled, Tom fell back. The lady was advancing still. She
was within a few feet of the snake. Its master warned her back, but she
took no heed of him. Then Tom, who could bear it no longer, turned away
and covered his face with his hands. There was a moment of absolute
silence. His heart beat with curious rapidity, there was a singing in
his ears that almost deprived him of the power of hearing, and though
feeling that this would be the time to get away, he seemed to lack the
power to move a step. All at once there was a shout. It was followed
by another, and then by another, 'Victory! victory! Our Ranee-jee,
daughter of the Prophet, protected of Allah, has triumphed!' The cries
rang through the camp, were taken up by those who clustered round it,
and echoed back from the village, so that in a moment all the country
seemed alive.

At the sounds Tom turned, and this was the strange sight he saw. In
the centre of the vast circle and at some little distance from the
snake-charmer, who, recognising probably a master in his craft, had
drawn back, and was now close at Tom's elbow, stood the Ranee. She
stood with her head proudly raised, so that she looked taller than
before. One little foot was planted firmly on the ground, the other
rested on the neck of the cobra, which cowered before her as if smitten
with sudden fear. But the strangest part of all was that the black and
gold saree had been thrown back and that her face was exposed. With
parted lips Tom gazed. It was the face of a little child, soft and
white, with rose-red lips, and smiling eyes, in which the golden light
of summer dawns seemed to be sleeping, and--if he was not mad--if he
was not dreaming--he had seen it before.



CHAPTER XXIV

SUBDUL


Tom's first idea was that she, like himself, was a prisoner, and he
was about to commit the terrible imprudence of flinging himself at her
feet, and begging her to accept his protection, when the snake-charmer
passing him by, brushed him as if by accident, and pausing, made a low
salaam, and breathed an apology. There was a look in his face which
arrested Tom's attention; under cover of the clamour which had not
ceased, he said in a low voice and in Marathi, which was known to his
spies, 'Are you a friend?'

'I am his Highness's servant,' said the man, 'and I will help him to
escape; but he must be prudent. The White Ranee is black of heart.' As
he muttered the last words, speaking them in so low a tone that no one
but Tom could hear, he was moving towards the Ranee. She greeted him
with a smile of childlike triumph, and he prostrated himself at her
feet. Then, resuming his wand, and singing his lullaby-song, he enticed
the monster into its basket, while the Ranee, having looked round her
proudly, threw the black and gold saree about her head, and returned to
the tent. The snake-charmer began now to circulate among the soldiers.
He was full of stories and jests, and wherever he went he was received
with acclamations. Tom, who had taken up his station under the tree to
which Snow-queen was tethered, watched him moving to and fro. Presently
he noticed a strange thing. It was only as long as the snake-charmer
was in the midst of each little group that its members were joyous
or lively. As soon as he left them they became silent, most of them
falling shortly into a heavy sleep. This must have been apparent to
others besides himself, yet there were none who did not watch for and
expect his coming. Night had fallen before he had made his round of
the camp, and then all, with the exception of two sentinels outside
the tent, were in a deep slumber. He crept now to the neighbourhood
of Tom's station, and professed to curl himself up for sleep. The
sentinels watched him drowsily. After a few minutes of perfect silence,
one of them sat down and leaned his back against a tree. His comrade
followed his example. They exchanged a few remarks to keep themselves
awake. One drank from a bottle in his girdle and offered it to the
other, whereupon their dropping remarks fell off into silence. And now
no one in all the camp was awake but Tom and the snake-charmer.

It was nearing midnight, but the moon--which was on the wane, but which
in this clear atmosphere diffuses a brilliant light--enabled them to
see their way, and they both arose.

'Now is our time,' said the snake-charmer, chuckling. He was none other
than Subdul, Snow-queen's groom.

'Are you sure they are well settled?' said his master.

'I have given them bhang, Highness. That, and the excitement of the
evening, will make them sleep like the dead; no noise will awake them.
But the nights are short; why does my master linger?'

'Are you sure _she_ is not a prisoner, Subdul? Might she not come with
us if we told her our design?'

'If my master means the Ranee, I tell him that she is black--black at
heart and false of speech. Let not my master trust her.'

'What do you know of her, Subdul?'

'I know what these have told me. Does my lord know Dost Ali Khan?'

'The adopted son of the rajah of that name?' cried Tom, with some
excitement; 'why, I entertained him once. I have now a pass from him
about me. Has he anything to do in this?'

'He has everything to do. He is the hope of thousands. They crowd
round him as their lord. If my master has won Dost Ali Khan's favour
he is lucky. This man, my lord, this so-called prince, has, as I hear,
persuaded the White Ranee to join herself to him. She was married to an
English sahib, and she saw him slain. She looked on at the slaughter
of her countrymen and women, and now, in her new lord's name, she is
taking command of the murderers. If my master wants any more proof that
she is a traitress----'

'Silence, Subdul! She is coming!'

'Master! master!' cried the man in strong excitement, 'now is the time
to fly!'

'I must let her speak to me first.'

'No, no; let my master listen to me! She is a witch; she will enslave
him.'

'Nonsense, Subdul; I know her, I tell you. Be silent!' murmured Tom,
whose heart was beating strangely.

And all this time the White Ranee, with veil thrown back, and face
looking pure and spiritual in the moonlight, was making her way quietly
through the sleepers of the camp towards the spot where Tom was
standing. They were alone now, Subdul having disappeared. Tom did not
move, for a spell seemed to be over him; so she went close to him and
laid her hand on his arm. Then a sudden trembling seized him.

'Who are you?' he said, in a low voice.

'Surely you know me,' she answered. 'I know you, Tom Gregory. Why did
you run away from Delhi without seeing me again?'

'Why are you here?' he said sternly.

'You are impolite, my dear boy. A question should be answered.'

'This is no time or place for amenities, and you know it. Answer me!
Are you a prisoner? For if so I will take you away with me and protect
you honourably until I can restore you to your own people. If you are
not a prisoner--if you have given yourself up to the enemies of your
race, then I will leave you to reap your own punishment.'

The lady laughed. 'So stern all of a sudden!' she said.

'You are playing with me. You are wasting time.'

'Time was made for slaves, Tom,' said the lady, in a sweet girlish
treble, 'and I am not a slave; neither are you. Sit down under this
tree, and let us talk together quietly. Ah! how pleasant it is to speak
to an Englishman again!'

'Vivien! are you mad?'

'Yes, I am mad, always mad, Tom; but madder than ever now. Be mad with
me; you have no idea how delightful it is to live in a dream!'

'The dream will soon be over, my poor child. Do you think that you can
tame men as you tame serpents?'

'Think? I am sure of it, Tom!'

'Then, if this is your dream, for heaven's sake awake! Good God! why do
you look at me so?' cried the young fellow, in a sudden transport.

She was standing before him in the moonlight, her golden hair blown
this way and that way with the wind, her eyes full of laughter, an
expression half-mocking, half-pitiful, playing about her lips.

'Do you know how awful this time is?' he said. 'Are you human?'

She laughed. 'No,' she said, 'I don't think I am. Take my advice, Tom,
and be inhuman too!'

'Vivien, you are playing with me!'

'Of course I am; I never do anything but play. I played with you,
and if it had not been for Grace Elton, who is a very serious young
person, I should have won you over as a playfellow. I played with
Charlie Doncaster, poor boy! But he had not my animal spirits, and
he was beginning to be grave and tiresome when--but I don't want to
talk of disagreeable things. Well! The next was his Royal or Imperial
Highness, Dost Ali Khan. I wonder, by the bye, if you remember him.
I was within an ace of running over him in the streets of Delhi. It
would have been a good thing for some people if I had succeeded. You
saved him, didn't you? Set that as a make-weight against all your good
deeds, Mr. Tom, and see what the result will be! But to return, as the
story-tellers say. I was so much amused with his Highness that I took
the trouble to cultivate him; and it was a very funny little episode, I
can assure you. Heavens! how he hated me at first! I tell him sometimes
that I am surprised he did not kill me, for I gave him heaps and heaps
of chances. He let me live, however, against his better judgment, I
believe, and now he is my slave. I can do whatever I like with him.
What do you say to that for a game?'

'I say that you are mad--that you don't know what you are saying, and
the night is passing. No more of this folly! Will you come with me or
will you not?'

'Tom, what a baby you are! Never mind, I like you so! But be a wise
baby if you can, and listen to me quietly. I am _not_ going with you.
It would be absurd to begin with, and highly dangerous, all through.
On the other hand, having found you, I don't mean to let you slip out
of my fingers. So you must come with me. I must tell you that you have
been so fortunate as to make Dost Ali Khan, his Imperial Highness of
the future, your friend. He is the great man just now, for he is the
only person in this part of the world who knows what he wants, so the
rest of them look up to him. The soldiers, banded and disbanded, the
native states, the fanatics of the towns, they are all waiting for his
signal. When he gives it--Heavens! I begin to feel sane, as I think of
it--what a conflagration there will be! However, that is beside the
present question'--she stopped to laugh. 'I think I am speaking rather
weightily,' she said; 'don't you? Now, to go on in the same strain,
this exalted personage, whose ally I am, offers you his friendship. He
doesn't wish you to fight for or with him, for he believes you would
say "No," and he has a sort of conscience about destroying you. What
he asks is that you will take me into Gumilcund--think of the
magnanimity of it!--and keep me there until the explosion is over.
Then, if the world doesn't meanwhile fall in ruins about us, we can
decide about the future.'

She paused and went a little closer to him. A cloud had veiled the
face of the moon so that, near as she was, he could only see her
indistinctly; but he felt her--felt her in every nerve of his being,
and for a moment he hesitated. Why should he not, after all, take her
back to Gumilcund first, and leave her there in safety before setting
forth on any other mission of rescue? He did not believe all she had
told him. Either she was mad--as she said of herself--and in that case
she ought to be protected from the results of her own mad actions; or
else she was playing with him. Yes, she had herself spoken the word.
But was she accountable for her own strange nature? Should she be
punished because she could not see the awful realities that lay about
her? Since, by some strange freak of fortune, she had been able so far
to gain protection, was he to deny her the asylum that would make her
safety sure?

While he reasoned with himself she stood by him. She did not speak, she
did not stir; but as the silence prolonged itself a sigh, soft as the
breath of a sleeping child, escaped her lips.

'Vivien!' he said tremulously, 'is that you?'

'Yes, it is I; I am near you. You will come with me, Tom?' she
murmured; and, in low caressing tones, 'Dearest Tom!'

'Why do you say that?' he said, hoarsely.

'Listen to him, poor child!' she cried. 'Why? Can't you tell? Can't you
imagine?'

'You are false!' he groaned; 'you have said it of yourself!'

'False to others, Tom; never to you!'

'False to one is false to all.'

'Listen to him!' she cried again. 'What an exalted standard! But, my
young king, let me tell you that you are ungrateful and unjust. If I
could only save _you_ by being false to _others_; if every subterfuge,
from the beginning, was planned for this--that I might have _you_; that
I might hold _your_ life in my hands--what then?'

'Is it so?' he said hoarsely.

'You see!' she cried; 'you were cold because you did not understand!'

At this moment, when his will was passing away from him, and his heart
was as wax in the midst of his body, there came a strange and sudden
disturbance. Subdul Khan had been crouching behind them; his ear was
to the ground, and all his senses were on the alert, for he feared
treachery. Whether he did actually hear in the distance the rumble of
gun-carriages and the sound of armed men on the march, or whether he
merely professed to hear them to arouse his master, cannot be certainly
known; but the effect was the same. Suddenly, with a cry of, 'The
rebels are upon us!' he sprang to his feet.

Snow-queen was saddled, and so was the horse of Subdul Khan. They
mounted them together, and while Vivien, with a ringing cry, to which
none of the besotted men about her paid any heed, ran frantically
through the camp, Snow-queen and her master, going like the wind,
disappeared in the distance.



CHAPTER XXV

AN AWFUL RIDE AND A RESCUE


Hurry on, brave men! let the wind be your messenger; stop neither
to eat nor drink; through the long sultry day and at nightfall,
when the awful eye of day is closed and the stars come out pale and
languid overhead, even until morning dawns and the terrible round of
sweltering heat and blinding dust begins again--hurry on! By narrow and
unfrequented ways, through villages whose favour has been bought, under
the shade of trees, and across tracts of jungle, where you are obliged
to go at a foot-pace, giving breathing time to the gallant beasts that
have carried you so bravely--on and ever on, for two dreadful days and
nights, that to one of you seem ever afterwards like an awful dream.
And yet, you are too late. And well it may be for yourselves that you
did not arrive earlier. For the storm has broken. In fire, and blood,
and fever it is spreading from city to city, and Jhansi, the home and
citadel of a woman scorned, has caught the dread contagion.

Up to June 1 they were at peace. The Ranee still sat smiling in her
palace, and still she added to her body-guard persons of proved
loyalty, and still the English believed her promises, and still the
troops within the city proclaimed their faithfulness loudly. And why
did the English need to fear? Meerut had not moved them. Delhi had
not moved them. The native states, Gwalior and Gumilcund, and Rewah
and Banda, were holding their hands. Nay, it was known that some of
them had offered help to the Paramount Power in the re-establishment
of order; and even if they had feared, what could they do? To show
mistrust at this eleventh hour would be to undo all that had gone
before, and to ruin everything.

On June 3 mysterious fires broke out; but even these did not unduly
alarm them. They were attributed to accident. It was not until the 4th
that their eyes were opened. Then the soldiers on parade, breaking away
suddenly and causelessly as it appeared to those who had not heard of
the secret messages that had been passing between the palace and the
native lines, shot down their sergeant and seized the artillery, and
with it made their way to the fort within the native city.

The Ranee still sat smiling in her palace; but when the news came to
her she ordered the palace gates to be opened, mounted her horse and
cantered over to the lines with her own faithful body-guard, who in her
name had seized upon the treasury, behind her.

Some of the English officers had been hurrying to her palace. They
were told on the way that she was in the hands of the mutineers,
and instantly the full magnitude of what had happened darted upon
them. They dashed back to the cantonments, calling as they went on
the English and Eurasians to follow them into the Star Fort, the
only building belonging to them now that was capable of defence.
It all happened in a moment. Some of them had not even heard of
the disturbance on parade. In the little house, once a tomb on the
maidan, something had been seen; but no one clearly understood what
had happened. 'Father will be in presently, and then we shall hear,'
said Mrs. White to her little Aglaia, as she tried to soothe her off
to sleep. But then the ayah rushed in like a wild creature, and with
a cry of 'They are coming; hide!' tore the child out of her arms. She
knew little more. Some one came and dragged her out of the house, and
she was mounted on a horse, to which, crying out for her child, she
clung because she could not help herself, and there was a mad, sick
flight across the blaze of the maidan, with yells at her heels, which
seemed to recede as she flew on, and then all at once she was in the
Fort amongst a circle of frightened women, and her husband, who had
not come for her himself, having work to do, was with the men, but her
child--her little darling--was nowhere to be seen. She made a wild rush
for the door. Even amongst the rebels there must be some one who would
have mercy upon her. When they held her back by force her shrieks and
cries were piteous to hear.

But all were not so helpless. In the little spell of time given them by
the rebels who were quarrelling over the booty, the men looked up the
stores of ammunition, and barricaded doors and windows, and allotted to
every combatant his post, and to every non-combatant his duty; and the
women gathered together the food which the more provident had brought
in, soothed the children, and made arrangements for the night.

No one, meanwhile, could tell poor Mrs. White anything of her child.
It was known, however, that some of the little English community had
yet to come in, and the sanguine hoped that Aglaia, who was a general
favourite, might be amongst them. Others feared that the ayah, seized
by panic, or deliberately treacherous, had given her up.

Late that afternoon, when those in the Fort had made all their
dispositions, the mutineers came clustering round, crying out that they
should surrender. They were received by a strong and well-directed
fire, which laid many of them low. This was not what they had bargained
for, so they retreated in some confusion to deliberate.

Slowly and awfully the first night in the Fort passed by. The women
slept, or tried to sleep. The men, fearing surprise, were on the watch.
Early in the morning such food as they had was distributed with a
little water and wine. Then two bold fellows--Eurasians--undertook to
go out in disguise and try to bring relief from the nearest European
station. Hopeless task! They were cut down before they were well clear
of the cantonments. Those inside, meanwhile, heard guns being dragged
into position to batter them to pieces. This attempt was soon given
up, for the defenders of the Fort, several of whom were dead shots,
peppered the artillery-men so freely, that after a score or so had
been shot down, no one could be found to undertake the duty. If only
there had been water and food in the Fort the defence might have been
heard of with that of Arah. But hunger and thirst are to besieged men
the deadliest of foes. No one could believe, moreover, that the good
Ranee, though misguided by evil counsellors, could actually permit
the slaughter of her English friends. After a little discussion it
was decided that three officers, each of whom was well known to her,
should go out as envoys, and treat with her for the surrender of the
Fort. They went out gaily, but they never returned. 'What have I to do
with English swine?' said the Ranee, when they were brought before her.
The haughty words were their sentence. At her palace gates they were
cut down; and the story of their fate was shouted derisively under the
windows of the Fort.

Another council was held. The provisions, it was found, would, with
economy, last another three days. It was hoped that, in the meantime,
their desperate situation might be heard of, and a relief attempted.
For another dreadful day and night they held out.

The morning of the third day dawned. The watchers were half dead with
fatigue and anxiety; the children were crying out piteously for water;
the women were faint, weary, and disheartened. When the sun rose the
rebels made an attack in force; but they were driven back, and there
were two or three hours of rest.

Then the Ranee sent the besieged a message. All she wanted was the
Fort. Let those within surrender it, and they would be allowed to go in
peace whither they desired.

Upon this another council was held. The boldest were for holding out.
There was, indeed, little or no hope of successful resistance; but, if
they must die, it would be better to die at their posts, fighting, like
brave men, than to fall into the hands of their cruel and treacherous
enemies. Had they been all men and combatants, this is the course they
would have taken. Unhappily the larger number of the fifty and odd
souls who were clustered together in the Fort were women and little
children and men of peace. To them, as others urged, this offer of the
Ranee gave the one and only loophole of escape that they could hope
for, and so, with heavy hearts and ominous forebodings of evil, the
brave men, who had counselled resistance, laid down their arms, the
gates of the Fort were thrown open, and the Ranee's bodyguard marched
in.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the afternoon which witnessed the surrender of the English into
the hands of the Ranee, two horsemen crossed the boundaries of the
state, and stopped at a small village where one of them had friends.
These advised them strongly to go no further, alleging that something
extraordinary had been happening in the city. The two men refreshed
themselves and their horses, and galloped on to a grove, which lay off
the road, at a little distance from the village. Here, their horses
being completely spent, they dismounted and let them rest. As they
stood, with their hands on their bridle-reins, ready to mount and
gallop at the least alarm, there came to their ears a rumbling noise
as of distant thunder, and one of them--the master--said, 'We are too
late. It has begun.'

'We are too late, Excellency. There is nothing for us to do now but to
return whence we came,' answered the man.

'Go back you, Subdul! I must enter Jhansi, and see with my own eyes
what is going on.'

'My master is not wise. He will not be able to help, and he will risk
his own life, which is dear to his people.'

'Listen, Subdul!' said the young rajah, impressively. 'I have a friend
in that city--a little child. She loves me and believes in me. All
night long, while we were riding and resting, she has been beside me. I
tell you it is no dream; it is a reality. She is calling me, and I must
go. I must save my poor little Aglaia, or perish in the attempt. But
you have no such call; and why should two of us risk our lives? Stay
here, where you are known, or go back to Gumilcund.'

'Does his Excellency think that I would desert him?' said Subdul Khan,
sorrowfully. 'He has seen what I can do. Let him give himself into my
hands, and I will take him safely into Jhansi.'

'Make your own arrangements, Subdul; but remember that life or death
may hang on the next few moments.'

'I will use every diligence,' said Subdul, and he mounted his horse and
rode off, leaving Tom alone in the wood.

For more than an hour he waited patiently, and then, just as dusk was
beginning to fall, Subdul came back. He had changed his dress and
the accoutrements of his horse, so that at first his master failed
to recognise him; but, just as he was grasping his weapon to defend
himself, he heard his servant's voice.

'Does not my master know me?'

'Scarcely. What have you done to yourself?'

'I am in the dress of the Ranee's body-guard, Excellency. I met one
of them. He was drunk with bhang, and red with the slaughter of your
Excellency's countrymen. I drew him into a solitary place, slew him,
and took his garments.'

Tom gave an involuntary shudder, for he was new to this kind of thing;
but he made no remark. Mounting his horse, he followed Subdul out of
the wood. They avoided the high road, and, the dimness of the light
favouring them, crept along under the shadow of trees and walls until
they reached the outskirts of the city. The open maidan lay now between
them and the Star Fort.

'Stop,' whispered Subdul, as his master was about to gallop across it.
'Let his Excellency stay here for a few minutes! I will go forward and
see what has happened, and come back to him. In this dress I can mix
amongst them, and they will suppose me one of themselves.'

'Go,' said Tom; 'but come back quickly, or I shall not be able to bear
it.'

They were close to a mass of ruined masonry, which rose between them
and the town. Sheltering himself behind it, Tom looked and listened.
From the city came a tumult of fierce cries and trampling feet; here
and there clouds of smoke darkened the sky, and tongues of lurid flame
darting from their midst would, for a few moments, light up the scene
of ruin.

Tom's heart sank, and his breath came and went pantingly. He knew that
Subdul was right, that for him to rush into the pandemonium before him
would be ruin to himself and useless for others, and yet it was only
with the greatest difficulty that he could preserve his patience.

Subdul, meantime, was pricking across the maidan. In the place where
the cantonments had been, but which was now a shapeless mass of ruins,
he met a body of sepoys. They had lanterns in their hands, and they
were looking about for the gold and jewels which the Feringhees had
left behind them. He pulled up, told them he had lost his way in the
darkness, and asked where his comrades--the Ranee's bodyguard--were.
'Guarding the Feringhees' treasure,' said one of the men. 'The Ranee
has taken it, but we mean to have our share.'

'Tell her so,' cried another, with a rude jest.

'What is that to me?' said Subdul. 'I obey orders. The Feringhees are
slain?'

'Every man, woman, and child,' answered the soldier, savagely.

'How was it?' said Subdul. 'I have come in from the country, where I
have been visiting my father, and I know nothing.'

The party of sepoys, most of whom were intoxicated, for they had
ransacked the officers' wine-stores, broke into a loud laugh.

'By Allah!' cried one, 'I never thought to see such a sight. The
infidels were in the Fort, pouring out blasphemies, and shooting down
the sons of the Prophet like sheep. The evil one helped them, for they
were few in number. It was hot work, brother: and who cares to die in
the moment of victory? Our mother, the Ranee, who is a true daughter
of the Prophet, saw how it was with us, and promised them their lives
if they would give her up the Fort. They believed her word, and came
out. Then we bound them and carried them to the yokan Bagh, where we
fell upon them with the sword. There were fifty in all; men, women,
and children. The women cried for mercy, and some of us delayed to
smite, that we might hear them. But the orders were to be swift, so
we finished them; and there they lie, unburied, for the vultures and
jackals to feed upon. So may all enemies of the Prophet perish!'

He was answered by a shout that rang through the ruins. Subdul's
fingers were playing with his sword; but he restrained himself, and
said mildly, 'My brother is a man of war, and his deeds will win for
him a place in Paradise! Will he tell me where this garden is? I have
an enemy amongst the slain Feringhees, and I would fain see him with my
own eyes.'

The sepoy, to whom this was a most natural request, pointed with his
finger to the opposite side of the maidan. 'There is a ruined mosque
close by,' he said. 'The fathers of the devils we have slain desecrated
it, and it has never been rebuilt since.'

'I know the place,' answered Subdul. Sweeping round, he left them to
their devices, and, after a few minutes of rapid riding, rejoined his
master.

'What news?' said Tom.

'The worst!' answered Subdul; and he repeated what he had heard, adding
that the garden where the dreadful deed had been done was close by the
spot where they were standing.

For a few moments Tom was paralysed. This was worse--far worse--than he
had dreamed.

'Women and children!' he groaned.

'Every one of them, Excellency.'

'The brutes! The devils! Subdul, if we had only a score of our
Gumilcund men at our back----'

'We could do nothing, Excellency. There are hundreds in the city.'

'Cowards! every mother's son of them. I should have come with an army;
but it is too late now. Let us look for the child.'

'Have I not told your Excellency that all were slain?'

'Aglaia is not dead! I am certain of it. Are you afraid to come into
the garden where they lie, Subdul?'

'I will lead the way!' answered the man.

It was within a stone's-throw of the ruined mosque where they had been
hiding--an enclosed space surrounded with walls, and set out with grim
old trees, plots of yellow marigold, and shrubberies where roses, Cape
jessamine, the champa, and the asoka grew. Once it had been a haunt and
favourite pleasure-ground of the Ranee, who, in the days of her power,
had built a pavilion in its centre. Now it was seldom used.

The two men found the gates open and the place deserted. Not a single
soldier was left on guard. The murderers had done their foul work, and
had gone away to their triumph and plunder, leaving the speechless
witnesses of their treachery behind them. As, putting his horse to
a foot-pace, Tom groped his way through the darkness, his heart
contracted and his limbs trembled under him. Rather a thousand times
would he have met a hundred foes in fair fight than this. Eagerly,
meanwhile, he looked and listened, hoping against hope, that some might
have escaped. Nothing was to be seen but the heavy foliage of the
trees that blotted out the moonlight. Nothing was to be heard but the
night-breeze as it played with their branches.

Suddenly a shriek, penetrating and prolonged, broke upon the silence.
Another and another followed. They came up from the distance, and swept
towards the riders, nearer and nearer, until, with a rush like a blast
of wind in a narrow place, they passed them by. Sick with horror, Tom
pulled up. Subdul struck a match, set fire to a torch of brushwood
which he had been making as they went along, and swung it round his
head, upon which there was another wild flight, and another prolonged
shriek, which went on for a few moments and then died away in the
distance.

'The wild creatures have scented the deed of blood,' said Subdul.
'These are jackals! And see, my master, see!'

As he spoke they came into an open space and Subdul waved his torch
again. On the instant there was an awful, indescribable tumult, and
in the next the heavens were darkened by the wings of gigantic birds.
For a few moments they hovered overhead, casting their dread shadows on
the moonlit earth, and then sailed slowly away to the grove which the
riders had left.

'Does my master wish to see more?' said Subdul. 'They are there.' He
pointed to a group of trees near the centre of the garden, under which
they could faintly distinguish a mass of something dark.

'Subdul! Subdul!' cried the young fellow, piteously. 'I cannot bear it.'

'There is no need. I told my master that he could do nothing. Let us
consider our own safety and go back,' said Subdul.

'But if any of them should be alive.'

'It is impossible. The fiends have done their work too well.'

'I must look for the child, Subdul. If she is there--but she cannot be;
she cannot.'

'Listen,' said Subdul. 'What is that?'

They stopped. A low piping, sweet and clear, like the voice of an
English song-bird in the fresh dawn of the summer morning, fell upon
their ears. It came from a rose thicket, which lay to the right of the
path. In a second Tom was on his feet and had thrown his reins to
Subdul Khan. He stood for a moment listening, moving softly in the
direction whence the sounds had come, and then stood again. He could
now hear a little flutter, as of frightened breathing, and could dimly
discern a white figure moving amongst the bushes.

With a beating heart he went nearer. A fugitive, probably a native
servant, who would be able to tell him what he desired to know. He was
almost afraid of moving, lest he should startle her, and was pondering
how he could make known that he was a friend, when the piping bird-like
voice, which he had first heard, began again:

    There is a happy land, Far, far away,
    Where saints in glory stand, Bright, bright as day.

Sweetly the baby-voice lisped the sweet words. He could scarcely
restrain himself. He made an involuntary movement, and the voice of
the woman, faint with terror, came towards him: 'Hushee! Hushee! Missy
Sahib. Some one is near.'

'God is near,' piped the sweet little voice. 'I saw His wings. They
were so big, so big! I want Him to carry us away. I am so tired, and I
don't like hiding all this time. Do you think He will?'

'Missy! Missy!' cried the poor creature. 'Get up; come away. They have
seen us.'

'Tom said he'd come,' murmured the child.

The poor woman seized the child in her arms, but before she could run,
a hand was laid on her garments, and a voice, which, paralysed as she
was with terror, she recognised as the voice of a friend, called her by
her name.

In the next moment, Aglaia had leapt from her arms, and was lying in
the close embrace of her friend. He could not speak. Man as he was, his
eyes were full of tears and his voice was choked with sobs. Holding
the child to his breast, he guided the frightened ayah gently over the
broken ground. Then, as he recovered, he began to murmur broken words
of thanksgiving and endearment. 'My little darling! My treasure! You
are safe! They may tear me limb from limb, but they shall not hurt you.
Oh! thank God, thank God! that I have found you.'

As for the child, she said not a word. She clung to his neck. And
so, coming back softly they found Subdul and the horses, and set
off together--the child in Tom's arms, and the ayah riding behind
Subdul--for the village where they had friends.

They went slowly, keeping close under the shelter of trees and houses.
No one molested them. Fortunately for themselves they were in the
outskirts of the city and cantonments, and throughout that dreadful
night the revolted sepoys and the Ranee's body-guard were too busy
setting fire to the Europeans' dwellings, and raking the ashes for
treasure, to pay any heed to stragglers. In a short time they were out
in the open country, and now they rode on more securely.

Aglaia was fast asleep in Tom's arms. The ayah had regained her powers
of speech, and she poured out her history of all that had happened. The
sahibs had gone into the Fort. She would not take the child in, for she
knew what the soldiers were and she did not trust them. She flew by a
secret way to the garden, and there they hid, she feeding the child on
what she could find.

Did little Missy ask for her mother? Oh! yes, again and again; but
she (ayah) told the child that the Feringhees' God had taken her away
to stay in Paradise with Him, and she was satisfied. They were in the
garden when the English were brought in, all of them bound with cords.
It had been a long and sultry day, and the little one was asleep.
Sumbaten heard, she dared not look. There were cries, but they were
soon over, and then the soldiers went away, and everything was still.
'Missy was dreaming of you, Sahib,' she said to Tom, 'to-day and the
day before. She began to sing when she awoke, and she said you were
coming. Did your God tell her?'

He did not answer, but he pressed the child closer to his heart.

Of their further journey there is no space here to tell in any detail,
nor do I know much concerning its incidents. In my friend's diary it
is only briefly mentioned, and he suffers from a curious confusion
of ideas whenever he thinks of it. It was due, doubtless, in a great
measure to the admirable arrangements which Tom and his servants had
made beforehand that they were able to carry it through successfully,
for in every village on the route there were those who knew the Rajah
of Gumilcund, and were ready to serve him. Once he was obliged to fall
back on the pass given to him by Dost Ali Khan, who, as he presently
found, was becoming a power in the land. What he most dreaded was
an encounter with the White Ranee, but, being careful to travel by
night and along the unfrequented routes, all of which were well-known
to Subdul, he succeeded in avoiding her. He heard, however, that
she continued to haunt the district, and that her armed train was
constantly recruited by the soldiers whom Dost Ali Khan seduced.

After that first night, Aglaia and the ayah travelled in a litter, as
ladies of high rank. The child's skin was stained, so that she might
pass for an Indian, and Subdul, whose resources were boundless, managed
to get a suitable dress for the ayah. As a general rule they camped
out in the open, when Aglaia would amuse them with her quaint ways and
sayings. Some days she would be as happy as if nothing had happened. At
other times she cried piteously for her mother and father, and it was
only when the ayah, who had a vivid imagination, assured her that she
had seen God carrying them away to heaven that she would be pacified.
'Why didn't He take me too?' she would sometimes ask, a question which
none of them found it easy to answer.

Happily for herself she had not, like other little ones, seen the
horror that would ever after haunt them like a nightmare; and, day
by day, as new scenes passed before her eyes, and fresh experiences
greeted her, the memory of her nurse's frenzied flight, and of the two
days in the garden, grew fainter. She still thought of her parents,
but it was reproachfully, rather than sadly. They might have taken her
with them when they went up to God. But this, after all, was ayah's
fault, rather than theirs. Ayah had taken her away and hidden her.
Tom said she had hidden her for him, which to Aglaia, who was now as
deeply devoted to him as she had been on board the 'Patagonia,' was a
sufficient explanation.

So, after several days and nights of travelling, they reached the
borders of Gumilcund.

What an entry it was! Stranger even and more memorable than the young
rajah's first arrival in the city that he was called upon to govern.

Runners had been sent out in every direction to seek for him, and
when, late in the afternoon of a sultry June day, one of these came
back with the joyful news that their rajah, bringing fugitives with
him, was actually within the boundaries of the state, the enthusiasm
of the people could no longer be suppressed. They poured out in their
hundreds, armed men accompanying them, while in front of them rode
Chunder Singh, the minister, and Vishnugupta, the priest, and when they
saw the little group--the litter and its bearers, and the two horsemen
riding beside it--joyous acclamations and shouts of welcome, and
ejaculations of praise and thanksgiving, rent the air.



CHAPTER XXVI

CAPTAIN BERTIE'S FAQUIR


In Meerut those days had been days of trouble. On the 24th of May, the
day following General Elton's arrival in the city, a strong detachment
had marched out to join the troops that were fighting their way to
Delhi. Many of the residents were of opinion that this decrease in
their defensive force would seriously affect their safety; and night
after night there were panics. But nothing happened. The rebels, who
were daily and hourly being recruited by fresh regiments, had higher
game to fly at, and it would not have suited their purpose to sit down
before a strong and well-provisioned place like Meerut and wait for its
surrender. This the principal men of the station began to realise at
last, so that there was a greater sense of security.

In the tent where the Eltons lived there was deep distress and sorrow,
for the General was dangerously ill. Fatigue, exposure, and mental
anguish, aggravated by the pain of his wound, which proved more serious
than they had at first imagined, had done their work. So long as the
strain was upon him he kept up. When it was relaxed he fell. But for
the perfection of his health and the iron strength of his will, he must
have died that night. For himself, it may have been fortunate that his
senses soon deserted him; but piteous it was to the poor women who
loved and honoured him to hear the wild ravings of those awful days
and nights. It was all about his soldiers. They were his children, his
little ones. He believed in them, as he believed in himself. Springing
up in bed, he would call the bystanders to witness how brave and true
they were. He would challenge an imaginary adversary to question their
faithfulness, asserting his own intimate knowledge of their character.
Again and again he would recite the brilliant deeds of arms to which he
had led them, and relate how they had delivered him from a cruel death.
His gentle wife, waiting patiently by his bedside, wept bitterly as she
listened. With all her dread of the future, and passionate sorrow and
pity, she feared his returning to himself. If he was to be taken away,
would it not be better for his sake that he should go now, before his
heart was pierced by the dread knowledge of the truth? And as day after
day went by, bringing little or no change in his condition, they began
to fear that so it would be.

There was another anxiety pressing upon them. Through all these days no
word had been heard of Grace. Whether the troops at Nowgong had been
faithful, or whether they had risen, no one at Meerut knew. To poor
Lady Elton, watching by her husband, and looking at the pale faces of
her girls, as they came and went sorrowfully, doing what they could to
help her, it would seem sometimes as if Grace was the dearest of all.

She was her first-born. It was her little plaintive voice, and the
touch of her baby-hands, that had awakened in her heart the rapturous
joys of motherhood. From beautiful girlhood she had blossomed under her
eyes into a womanhood that was no less lovely. Always gentle, always
good--too good, the mother said to herself now, with a contraction of
heart that almost made her swoon. And it was not only the dread of
losing her. If she had lain where her father lay, if they had known
that in a short time she would breathe her sweet life away, bitter
as the pang would have been, she might have borne it. It was this
horror worse than death--this uncertainty--that slew her. It numbed her
senses, till she wondered at her own indifference. It shattered her
faith, so that, forgetting the others--the young creatures who depended
upon her--she cried out piteously to a cruel God to slay her, and then
wept and bemoaned herself over her own wickedness and hardness of heart.

Sometimes those about her saw a wild look in her eyes, as if she would
do some desperate deed. Yaseen Khan, the faithful bearer, who could
read her face as if it were an open book, saw it, and, late one night,
when he and she were alone watching, he crept to Trixy's bedside and
awoke her. 'Mem Sahib is ill,' he said, brokenly. 'Let Missy Sahib come
and see.'

In a moment Trixy was on her feet. They all slept in those days so as
to be ready for any alarm. 'What is it, Yaseen?' she said.

He led the way to the General's bedside, and Trixy saw her mother, whom
she had left sitting beside him quietly in dressing-gown and slippers,
putting on her boots and throwing a shawl about her shoulders. She
looked up when the girl approached her. 'I am glad you have come,
dear,' she said very quietly. 'Father is asleep; I think he will do
now, so I am going to look for Grace. You will help Yaseen to take
care of him while I am away.'

'But, darling,' said Trixy, flinging her strong young arms about her
mother, and making her sit down, 'you can't now. It is the middle of
the night.'

'That is why,' whispered poor Lady Elton; 'don't you see, you little
goose, that they won't let me go in the day-time? Now, like a good
child, loose me. There will be plenty of time for kisses when Grace
comes back.'

'Mother darling, you are dreaming. Will you leave us all, father and
the rest of us? And you couldn't find her alone. Mother, listen to me.
God help us!' cried the poor child, 'she doesn't understand. Yaseen,
help me! She will die if she goes out.'

'She will die! she will die!' echoed the poor fellow. 'Missy Sahib, it
is of no use.'

'It is of use, and she shall not die. Yaseen, you are an idiot,' cried
Trixy. 'Call Maud Sahib, and run as fast as you can for the doctor.'

The interruption, meanwhile, had confused the unhappy mother, and she
was looking before her in bewilderment.

'He left the ninety-and-nine in the wilderness,' she murmured, 'and
went after the one that was lost. Why did it come into my head? I
can't remember. And lost! Who is lost? Not Grace, you silly child! She
has been sitting beside me all night. I thought she was being hurt, but
it was all imagination. No one could hurt Grace.'

'No, no one;' echoed Trixy, whose eyes were full of tears.

'There; I was sure of it. But your father has been going on so
strangely.'

'Father is asleep,' said Trixy. 'He will see things more clearly when
he awakes. You ought to sleep, too, mother, and then you will be ready
to talk to him.'

'Sleep; yes, I should like to sleep, but I can't. There is something
strange in my head and it keeps me awake. What is that? What is that?'

'Only the doctor,' said Trixy, springing to the curtain before the door
of the tent. 'And--and--Bertie.'

Maud had joined them in the meantime.

She had more power over her mother than Trixy, and between her and the
doctor Lady Elton was persuaded to take a composing draught and to lie
down. Trixy in the meantime drew her friend Bertie aside. 'Something
must be done,' she said, 'or my poor mother will go mad. Can't you help
us?'

'God knows,' he answered earnestly, 'that I would if I could. I
asked to be allowed to take out cavalry and scour the country. I
feel certain that I should have brought back news at least. But I am
forbidden. Lives, they say, are too precious to be wasted in profitless
enterprises. If I had no command I would go out alone.'

'That would be much too dangerous,' said Trixy, shuddering. 'We must
think of something else. How would it do for one of us to go out
disguised?'

'One of _you_!' said Bertie with a sad smile.

'Well, _me_, if you will have it. I could dress up as a native woman,
and I know their way of talking. Listen while I mimic ayah.'

'But, my dear girl, don't you know that the poor native servants are
as much hated as ourselves? Numbers of them have been killed already.
Besides, what would you do?'

'I might at least find out where Grace is, and then, perhaps, you would
take out soldiers to rescue her.'

'An impossible plan,' said the young fellow. 'But----'

'Well, Bertie, go on for heaven's sake! Have you thought of anything?'

'I have made no plan, if that is what you mean. I was only
thinking--have you heard, by the bye, where the young fellow is who
visited you here two months ago? You called him Tom.'

'Curiously enough I was just thinking of him,' said Trixy. 'He has
large estates somewhere in Central India, left him by a cousin or some
one of that sort, who was an Indian rajah. Maud and I felt sure that he
would become an Indian too. He was very much changed when we saw him.
In England long ago he used to be fond of Grace. What made you think of
him now?'

'I have just had rather a curious piece of news. I meant to find out
all I could about it, and tell you later. They say that a new sort of
character has sprung up in these parts--an English rajah. The story is
so romantic that I can scarcely believe it. The state he has come over
to govern is an ideal place, a kind of little Paradise, so at least
they tell me, where for the last two or three generations the most
admirable laws have been in force. The late rajah seems to have been
half a philosopher and half a saint. He bequeathed his rule to a young
man brought up in England, recommending him to his people by a curious
fiction. He said, it appears, that in the person of this young man, who
seems to be strikingly like him, he would himself return to the earth.
If it was a stroke of policy, it was clever and bold, for his people
believed him. The story goes that they received their new rajah with
acclamations.'

'It is Tom! I am sure it is Tom,' interrupted Trixy, breathlessly. 'I
heard the beginning of the story at Surbiton. Father knows it all; and
they said then that he had seen visions. Oh, how strange! how strange
everything is! Can't we send to him?'

'Wait a moment,' said Bertie. 'I have more to tell you. The young
rajah, who, of course, is on our side in this struggle, has spies
everywhere, and he has managed to send one of them into Meerut. I saw
the man just now. He looks like a faquir. They took him at the outposts
an hour or so ago, and he has been with the General ever since. I heard
from Hitchin, who was in the General's quarters, that he was from
Gumilcund. I thought of waylaying him presently, and trying to send a
message to his master.'

'You think of everything! What should we do without you?' said Trixy,
her eyes glistening.

She lifted the curtain of the tent and looked out.

'I should like to go too,' she said. 'It would be so delightful to
bring good news to dearest mother. But I suppose----'

'No, no; it would never do. You must wait patiently a few minutes. I
will come back as soon as ever I can,' said Bertie.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the silence of the tent, with only sleepers about her, Trixy
waited. She would tell no one of the great hope that had sprung up in
her heart, for fear it might be delusive; but she did not think it
would be, and rosy visions floated before her as she sat watching.
The darkness waned, and the light came pouring in, and, remembering
suddenly her dishevelled condition, she ran back to her own compartment
of the tent, and made herself trim and neat. Then she looked in upon
her father and mother, who were, both of them, asleep. The doctor had
been with them since Yaseen Khan brought him back. He smiled at the
bright little maiden, and told her that if she would have a cup of
coffee made for him he would remain with her parents until they awoke.

'They are both better,' he said; 'but I rather dread their coming to
themselves.'

'Oh!' said Trixy, with a radiant smile. 'I think I shall have good news
for them.'

By this time the three other girls were stirring, and Trixy, who wished
to be the first to hear the good news, went out into the compound.

It was scarcely day, for the sun had not leapt above the hard rim of
the horizon; but there was a bright diffused light in the sky, and
the night-breeze was sinking to rest. This was the hour when, in the
dear old days of peace and freedom, they used to return from their
morning ride, she and Bertie, as often as not, riding together, and
Maud and Lucy, each with her own attendant, laughing and talking in
front of them. They never talked seriously. That was not their way.
Grace was the only serious one of the family. Banter, and chaff, and
jokes, whose very feebleness made them laugh, formed the staple of
their talk. Then would come the gay little breakfast in their lovely
verandah, crimson and purple and azure-blue flowers peeping in at them
between the pillars, and the foliage of their glorious fig-tree making
a screen against the sun. As in a dream Trixy saw it all--her gentle
mother and Mildred, who was too timid to ride, waiting for them, and
the guests who would drop in--the gallant young colonel of General
Elton's favourite regiment, who had paid with his life for his reckless
confidence in his men, and the judge of the High Court, with his
delightful inimitable stories of Hindu and Eurasian pleaders: he had
gone too, dying at his post like a gallant gentleman: and his daughter,
pretty Ellice Meredith, whom they all loved, although she could not do
much more than quote 'papa'; Ellice, who had died of fright and anguish
when she heard the awful news--these and many others, some with them,
and some taken away; but all changed. 'I wonder,' said poor little
Trixy to herself, 'if we shall ever, ever have the heart to laugh
again.'

She did not feel much like laughing then; but, in the next moment, to
her own great surprise, she found herself laughing heartily. The figure
which provoked this explosion--it was that of a tall man wrapped in a
white garment, having his forehead streaked with red and white clay,
and carrying a staff in his hand--joined in her laugh, and then said,
with some touch of disappointment, 'I didn't think you would know me at
once.'

'Didn't you, Bertie?' cried the girl. 'Well, I'm sorry I disappointed
you; but I'm ridiculously keen-sighted everyone says, and then I know
you so well. Try some one else.'

'I have tried the General. He was quite at sea; thought I had come in
with some wicked intention.'

'But what is it for?' asked Trixy.

'I am going out with the faquir.'

'Oh!' she gasped. 'Why?'

'Didn't we agree that some one ought to go?' he said.

'Yes; but----' She paused to check down her tears.

Bertie was looking at her strangely. He would think her a coward, a
goose. And so she was, but she could not help herself.

'Go away!' she said, in a stifled voice.

'Go away, Trixy!'

'No; don't. I--I am a fool. Tell me----'

And here, to her own consternation and wrath, she broke down
completely, and began to sob and cry like a child.

Bertie went closer to her. His heart, too, was curiously soft. To see
this wild, glorious, high-spirited little creature, whose courage and
audacity he had so often admired, sobbing with childish abandonment,
was almost more than he could bear. 'You are generally so brave,' he
said, in a choked voice. 'Why----'

'Oh; don't ask me!' she sobbed. 'Everything has been so strange;
and I was thinking of the old days. What fun we used to have.
And--and--Bertie, you will take care of yourself?'

'Darling, I will try.'

The endearing word had sprung from him unwittingly; but, having
escaped, it could not stand alone. He paused for a few moments to
collect himself, and then went on gravely, 'You will say that this is
no time to speak of ourselves. I think so too; and yet, for one moment,
just for one moment--Trixy, give me that little hand; let me hold it
while I tell you what you are to me, you bright, beautiful, brave
little creature!'

'Hush, Bertie! hush!' she interrupted brokenly. 'You mustn't; you don't
know me in the least. It is you who--but I shall make you conceited if
I say any more. And,' with a rainbow-like smile, 'we always tabooed
tu-quoques in our nursery. Come back safely, and we shall see.'

'See what, Trixy?'

'That is for you to say, not me,' she said, dropping a little curtsey.
'But I am better now; and so, I hope, are you. Tell me about Tom. Does
the faquir come from him?'

'I think so. The man brought a letter for your father or mother. It is
only a scrap of paper. He carried it in a quill, which he says he could
have swallowed if he had been searched. Will you take it in?'

'They were both asleep when I came out,' said Trixy, 'so I think I may
venture to read it.'

She opened the little roll, read the words it contained, and gave a
joyful exclamation. They were as follows:--

 'I have just come back from Jhansi, with fugitives. Nowgong has risen,
 but there has been no violence; and my men are on the track of your
 daughter Grace. I hope she will be brought in to-morrow.

 'THOMAS GREGORY,

 'Rajah of Gumilcund.'

'There was another letter for our General,' said Bertie, when Trixy
had read these words to him. 'It contained an urgent request that some
trustworthy and intelligent person should be sent to him. He suggested
this disguise, and I got myself up in it with the help of the faquir.'

'When will you start?' said Trixy, who was trying to speak firmly.

'The faquir thinks we had better wait until dusk. After we are outside
it will be all right, for our supposed sacred character will ensure us
respect. But no one must see us leaving the station.'

'Then come in and breakfast with us, and we shall see if the others
recognise you.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The experiment was perfectly successful; for when, preceding Trixy, the
strange figure of the priest appeared suddenly in the compartment of
the tent where the girls were at breakfast, they flew away with stifled
cries, and Trixy had some little difficulty in persuading them that he
was a friend in disguise.

When they were all certain of one another it was decided that neither
of their invalids should hear of the dangerous experiment until it was
over.

To Trixy fell the joyful task of taking in the precious letter to her
parents. She found them better. Lady Elton had forgotten her painful
dream of the night before, and the General was returning slowly to
consciousness. In the midst of the deep depression that weighed him
down, as the reality of what had for so many days seemed like a vision
forced itself upon his heart, this news of Grace came like a single
ray of sunshine.

'If I bring you all safe out of it,' he said to his wife, 'I shall
perhaps be able to forgive myself.'

Through the melancholy days which followed Bertie's departure, this
was the burden of his cry--could he forgive himself? His wife and the
girls reasoned with him. He had not, they said, been more deceived
than others. That these Indians were inscrutable beings the curious
inconsistency of their actions showed. One and another came in from
outside to sit with him, and they spoke in a similar strain; but his
answer was always the same: 'If I didn't know, I should have known.
I am not fit for my post. I will lay it down.' Still more pitiful
were his outbursts of wrath against himself for what he called his
light-hearted folly, in taking his wife and five daughters from their
quiet home, and exposing them to the danger and horror of this terrible
time. 'I am a fool, an idiot,' he said to one of his friends one day.
'Think of it! Those six innocent creatures--so innocent and helpless,
that they don't know the full horror of their situation--suffering for
me, because I was a blind, credulous fool. God in heaven! It is almost
more than a man can bear!'

This from the stern, self-contained man who, only a few weeks before,
had ridden boldly through a hostile country, commanding the respect
of the fiercest enemies of his race, by his magnificent audacity, was
infinitely pitiful.

And meanwhile Trixy's brave little heart fell, for there came no news
from Bertie. During the latter days of June they heard little news of
any kind at Meerut. The surrounding country had fallen back into the
state of anarchy from which the strong hand of the British Government
had redeemed it. In all the towns where there had been risings, the
gates of the gaols had been thrown open, and convicts, released from
their fetters, joined themselves to men of their caste--robber tribes,
who had of late years been compelled to earn their bread by honest
toil, but who had never lost their longing for the dear old days of
rapine. These roamed through the country, committing deeds of violence
everywhere. Turbulent spirits--dispossessed landowners in many cases
and adopted sons of dead rajahs--went, with their followers, from
village to village, raising forced contributions for the Holy War. With
them came men of professed sanctity, Indian faquirs and Mohammedan
moulvies, who carried firmans from the emperor, enthroned, as they
asserted, in Delhi, and distributed, in his name, high-sounding
titles and robes of honour. There were, indeed, moments of uneasiness
amongst them. The battle of Ghazee-ood-deen-Nugger, between Delhi and
Meerut, on the 31st of May, and the still more notable victory at
Budlee-Ka-Serai, only five miles from the Imperial city, showed them
that the race they were defying had life in it still. But what they
lacked in audacity they gained in numbers. The English victories,
moreover, decisive as they were for the moment, had little permanent
effect. The army was like a swimmer in a stormy sea. As, with force
and skill, they clove one wave of humanity, others surged up behind
them innumerable, and not the wisest could say whereto this thing would
reach. The people were encouraged to think that it would have no end;
that from north to south, and from east to west, the whole of the land
would rise in insurrection.

It is difficult, however, to make any adequate picture of what the
state of India actually was in that disastrous year. We who were in
the midst of it have forgotten, our impressions have grown dim. Those
who were not lack the sense which would enable them to grasp it. For
security is the watchword of our modern life. To be robbed of this--to
live consciously, day and night, on the brink of an abyss--to see the
earth open, and the subversive forces which are for ever underlying
it, break upwards in ravage and desolating fury--to have all our
softnesses and superiorities swept away, and, in their place, terror,
nakedness and an aching sense of our own insignificance--who of us all
can fitly image it? I cannot, I know, although I took part in it all
long ago. Yet sometimes, even now, a nightmare vision will flash it
all back again. I will hide, breathless, in the jungle; I will listen
to the shouts of infuriated mobs that seem to be always at my heels; I
will plunge into a river, and strike out for dear life; I will crawl
on shore at dead of night to rest my aching limbs, and measure sadly
the distance that divides me from my friends; I will listen to tales
that make the hair of my flesh stand up with horror, and try feebly
to understand that they were our very own--the dear women and fair
children that made the rapture of our lives--who have been hacked and
hewn, and torn limb from limb, by fiends in human form. I will feel the
blood in my body like fire, and the strength of a hundred will rush
into my limbs, and I will grasp my weapon and slay--slay--till my heart
is sick and my head faint; and still there will be the same awful,
insatiable thirst that nothing can slake. And then, trembling, I will
awake, and fall down on my knees and thank the Father of Mercies that
the terror is over, and that the greater number of those who took part
in it--Indians as well as English--are at rest.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE BREAKING OF THE MONSOON


We return to Gumilcund, where Tom had been established several days.
The warmth of the welcome he had received and the calmness and wisdom
of Chunder Singh, his counsellor, had helped him to regain the balance
of mind which he had nearly lost in the late expedition. It was perhaps
fortunate for him that he had no time to brood over the terrors of the
hour. There was much stir in the city, and so soon as it was known that
the rajah had come back, nothing was done without consulting him. It
gave him a sad sort of amusement to find that he was looked upon by
many not as a sovereign alone but as a supernaturally gifted oracle.
And, in fact, he was often surprised by his own insight. Stranger as he
was, he seemed to see instinctively into the heart of difficulties that
puzzled the wisest heads in the city, and to propose solutions which
were only reached by other men after arduous and prolonged thought.
No doubt this was due, in a great measure, to the study he had given
to the politics of India, and especially to the constitution of his
own state; but it would come to him sometimes, with curious force,
that this was not all; but that another intelligence, higher and more
original than his own, was working within him and producing ideas of
which he, Tom Gregory, the English-bred youth, could never have dreamed
in the days that had gone by.

His position was a critical one, for Gumilcund lay in the very centre
of the seething mass of insurrection that was converting the fair
region of Central India into a desert. Several of the smaller native
states were looking anxiously towards her to see what she would do.
Those who had already cast off their allegiance sent haughty messages,
threatening untold horrors if she did not join in the Holy War. The
English Resident, who had courageously forced his way back to his post
on the first hint of danger, used his influence on the other side; but
this, as we have seen, was not necessary. Gumilcund had already taken
her part. In one particular Tom was more fortunate than his loyal
neighbours, his army, owing to the wise provisions of former rulers,
being recruited from the lower and not the higher castes. Although,
therefore, as a body of men, they were less magnificent to look upon,
they had in them a root of loyalty that was altogether lacking in the
haughty Brahmins and proud Mohammedan warriors, who formed the bulk of
the Company's native contingent.

It was now proposed by the Resident that a body of these faithful
troops should be sent to Delhi to help in the siege. On consulting
Chunder Singh and Vishnugupta, both of whom knew the minds of the
people, Tom found that nothing would please them more than that the
army should be employed in such service.

Being thus satisfied, he announced his wish, which was responded to
joyfully. Throughout the city there ran a glad tumult of expectation.
Hundreds of trained men offered themselves as volunteers; and, out of
these, a picked body of horsemen and foot soldiers was chosen, the
command being given to a young officer of the Kshatriya caste, who had
been brought up in the household of the late rajah.

Tom was overwhelmed, in the meantime, with sorrows of his own. He
thought of his friends--the stubborn old General, of whom he had heard
as travelling through the disturbed districts with a weak escort--sweet
Lady Elton and the girls--his companions of the tranquil voyage in the
'Patagonia,' which seemed so long ago; and all of them seemed to be
crying out to him to help them.

One effort he had made, and this, as we have already heard, had been so
far successful that his agent, the versatile Subdul Khan, who could be
groom, snake-charmer, pedlar or holy man at pleasure, had forced his
way into Meerut and delivered the two messages, for answers to which
Tom was now impatiently waiting.

He had written hopefully; but he was far from feeling easy; and, in
fact, as day after day went by, bringing no news of Hoosanee, an
anxiety for which words have no name took possession of him.

During the day-time he managed to keep up an appearance of
cheerfulness; but at night, when everyone was shut out, and that
curious double consciousness which was at once a comfort and a
bewilderment would retire into the background of his being, there
would rise from his tortured spirit a great and bitter cry. Grace--his
beautiful, tender darling--lovely as a vision, pure as a saint. Grace,
whom he would willingly have shielded, if his own life were to be the
forfeit--where was she? Then, with a groan, he would spring up and pace
the marble floor of his chamber, and fling his arms about as if he
were at war with demons, and cry out to the All Merciful to kill him,
and to let his darling live out her sweet young life in peace.

It was one of these restless nights towards the middle of June. All day
long he had been hard at work and almost unconscious of any special
pain. It had been sultry exceedingly, the skies like molten-brass, save
over the western horizon, where leaden-coloured clouds were gathering
in battalions, and the touch of the earth like a thrice-heated furnace.
Tom, who was so much exhausted that he thought he must sleep, visited
the little Aglaia, as was his nightly custom, listened for a few
moments to the prattle of her and her ayah, and then retired to his own
apartment. It was in this room that the late rajah had breathed his
last; on which account partly, and also for its space and coolness,
and the beautiful view from its low latticed windows of the fantastic
Indian garden, and the little azure blue lake, and the low green
hills behind the city, Tom had chosen it for its own. When he went
in that night he found it dimly lighted by heavy wax candles that
stood in sconces against the wall; the water in the marble canal that
intersected it and in the small fountain that sprang from a basin in
a recess at its upper end murmured dreamily, and through one of the
lattices there stole in the silver rays of a young moon. At first the
space and silence had a soothing effect upon him. He flung off the
sword which he had been carrying all day, drew his revolver out of
his belt, and threw himself down, just as he was, on one of the thick
padded mattresses that lay on the marble floor. But he could not sleep.
The moment he laid his head down upon his pillow the torturing thoughts
began again, and he was obliged at last to spring from his bed, and to
court the physical weariness which might bring sleep by pacing his room
rapidly. The heat was stifling, or was it the fever in his blood? He
could not tell; but he thought that, with all his strange experiences,
he had never felt so strange as now, and for a few moments he forgot
everything, even to the horror that was continually haunting him, in
watching his own sensations.

Flames! leaping flames! Every part of his body was enveloped in them.
They rose above his head, filling his eyes with blood; they made the
veins of his body their pathway; he saw them before him, lying in
fiery pools on the marble pavement, so that his feet were rooted to
the ground and he dared not stir. This for a few moments, during which
he fought passionately to regain his self-possession. Then shutting
his eyes, he made a dash for one of the marble lattices and laid his
forehead against the hard, cold stone. It seemed to him presently that
his senses were slipping away from him--that he was falling into a
stupor or swoon; and he must actually have lost consciousness for a
time; but how long it lasted he could not tell. A breath of cool air,
soft and tremulous as the kiss of loving lips, aroused him; and, with
a curious sense of refreshment at his heart, he looked out. At first
he saw nothing. It was the hollow blackness of a moonless Indian night
that smote upon his eyeballs. Then, gradually, he began to see dim
ghostly shapes moving in slow procession across the face of the sky. He
was aware too of a curious, subdued tumult, multitudinous whisperings,
growing, now and then, into a low shriek or wail, and with them a
rushing noise as if winged creatures innumerable were sweeping by. With
a dreamy sense of relief, which was as incomprehensible to himself
as everything else about him, he stood gazing and listening, and the
tumult grew; shriller and more piercing were the voices of air and sky;
the earth strained and groaned as if the invisible forces hidden within
her bosom were struggling for freedom; a mighty wind, that swayed the
pendent branches of the banyan-tree in the court below, and shook the
withered pods of the acacias, till they rattled like dead men's bones,
rushed through the garden.

Then, suddenly, everything went. The heavens vanished away in abysmal
depths of blackness. The ghostly shapes in the middle air--the dim
outline of the trees, the dusty whiteness of the earth--all these were
gone. The monsoon had broken, and, in all the world, there was nothing
else.

       *       *       *       *       *

How they fall--those torrents, those sheets of water, rushing through
the air, making the sun-baked earth hiss as they touch it--falling,
with dull, delicious splash into the lake!

Tom has pressed his face close to the lattice, and put out his hands to
catch the drops of water that are running from the eaves of his house.

'Now God grant there are no fugitives abroad to-night!' he says to
himself.

The words have scarcely escaped his lips before a sound, more definite
than those of the tempest, strikes upon his ear. Some one down below is
knocking for admission. In the next instant, just as he is about to go
out and see who it is, he hears a brief parley, followed by the opening
and shutting of the door that leads to his private apartment. There
follow a few moments of suspense, and then Ganesh, the chuprassie,
who is one of the most trusted of his servants, stands before him.
Ganesh carries a torch, by whose light Tom sees that there is a strange
glitter in his eyes.

'What is it?' he says. 'Who came in just now?'

'Excellency,' answers Ganesh bowing low, 'Subdul Khan, his Honour's
syce, has come back.'

'Subdul! Thank heaven! Show him in!' cries Tom, in great excitement.

'Excellency----'

'Do you hear me, Ganesh?'

'Yes, master, Ganesh hears.'

'Then why----'

'Let my master have patience! Ganesh would speak with him before he
sees the Sahib?'

'A Sahib--an English Sahib?'

'Excellency, he is in the hands of Hoossein Buksh, who will give him
all he needs. He was wet through with the rain, and stained with
travel, and he asked for water and fresh clothes before presenting
himself to your Highness.'

'Right! Quite right! You have done well, Ganesh. But where is Subdul?'

'He is close at hand, Excellency; but let him wait. Ganesh, too, has a
message for your Highness.'

'From whom?' gasped Tom. 'Hoosanee?'

'No, Excellency; and yet it has to do with the errand on which Hoosanee
was sent. Had his Highness been pleased to trust Ganesh with his
confidence, he might--but'--dropping his voice to a still humbler
tone--'I am delaying, and your Highness, I can see, is impatient.
The message of which I have the honour to be the bearer is from the
illustrious Dost Ali Khan.'

'A traitor and a rebel,' said Tom, sternly. 'Do you mean to tell me
that one of my servants has been in communication with him?'

They were still close to the marble lattice. The storm had increased in
violence, and so fearful was the tumult that they could scarcely hear
one another's voices. Tom moved to the centre of the room, and, feeling
almost too weak to stand, threw himself down on one of the mattresses.

'Explain yourself,' he said, as firmly as he could. 'I would not
condemn you unheard.'

Ganesh had followed him; he stood at the foot of his couch, looking
down upon him.

'Your Excellency,' he said, with that curious dignity which generally
characterises an Indian who respects himself, 'I knew Dost Ali Khan in
the days of his greatness. Was I to forsake him when he was poor and
deserted?'

'Certainly not, Ganesh; but, if I am to believe what I hear, he is poor
no longer.'

'If your Excellency means that Dost Ali Khan, the son of the late
rajah's friend, has raised the standard of revolt, he is right. He has
done it to recover his own. But to my master he means well. He has not
forgotten Delhi, and his food and rest in my master's tent.'

'But the message,' said Tom impatiently.

Ganesh hesitated a few moments, then he opened his vest and drew out a
small roll of paper, which he placed in his master's hand, adjusting
the light so that he could read it.

'Is this from Dost Ali Khan?' said Tom.

'Let my master read what is written,' answered the chuprassie.

Tom read the message, and re-read it. Then he looked up with blazing
eyes.

'Do you know what is in this, Ganesh?' he said.

'Would Ganesh read a letter that was written for the eyes of his
master?' answered the man.

'That is an evasion; and I do not ask if you have read. I ask if you
know.'

'Where could Ganesh have seen the illustrious Dost Ali Khan?'

'Another evasion. Will you--can you--answer me directly? Do you know,
or have you any suspicion of, the contents of this letter?'

Thus directly appealed to, Ganesh hesitated. He was a good servant,
but he shared the weakness of his countrymen, in that the answering of
a question with straightforward directness was so difficult to him as
almost to amount to a physical pain.

'If,' he murmured, 'Ganesh has his ideas, why should he speak of them?
They may be wrong, and then----'

'Wrong or right, I should like to hear them. Come, Ganesh, if you love
me, as I think you do, answer frankly. God knows that, for the dear
sake of the woman I love, I would willingly encounter any danger; but
if it were useless, if I were to thrust my feet into a cunningly laid
trap without helping her, of what good would that be to any of us?
Answer me, you who know the man who wrote this letter. Is it a trap?'

'Master,' cried Ganesh, forgetting his caution. 'I beseech you to take
the word of your servant. It is no trap. If it had been, does his
Excellency think that Ganesh would have brought the message hither?
Dost Ali Khan has not forgotten my master's kindness to him in the
hour of his need--how he saved his life, and fed him, and gave him
shelter, and comfortable words. Of this I am certain. Further, I know
not.'

'But if you know so much, you must know more.'

Still more deeply Ganesh bowed his head, but he did not speak.

'Do you mean to say more?' asked his master.

'Excellency----'

'The time is passing. I must see Subdul and the English Sahib before
the morning. Do you, or do you not?'

'If my master will deign to tell his servant----'

'No, Ganesh, I will tell you nothing. You must be frank with me before
I can be frank with you. This, besides, is sudden. I must think and
take counsel. You cannot speak, then leave me. Call Subdul, and let
Hoossein Buksh tell the Sahib that I am ready to speak with him.'

There was no disputing this command. With a lingering look of
perplexity and disappointment Ganesh left the room. A few minutes
later, while Tom was still puzzling over the strange script, and
wondering if any dependence was to be placed upon it, Subdul Khan,
dressed in his faquir's disguise, stood before him.

He sprang up. 'You have succeeded, then?' he said eagerly.

'Yes, Excellency,' said Subdul, whose dark face was glowing with
pleasure. 'I gave up your Highness's letters; and the Sahib who has
come back with me brings word from his lords. We carried no letters,
for there were two of us, and the task was so much the greater. But the
face of the Sahib will be known to his Excellency, and he will be able
to trust his word.'

'I would trust no one more than you, Subdul,' said Tom affectionately.
'My own brother--the son of my mother--could not have stood by
me more truly than you have done. What would you have to mark my
gratitude--gold, jewels, a robe of honour?'

'I would have nothing, Excellency, until these troubles are over,'
said Subdul. 'For my master to call me brother is more than sufficient
reward. And here comes the Sahib. Shall Subdul leave?'

'No. Stay where you are. You have earned a right to our fullest
confidence. Have you eaten?'

'Yes, Excellency. While my master was talking with Ganesh food was
brought to me.'

'Then sit down and rest,' said Tom, pointing to a pile of cushions
close by.

Subdul obeyed deprecatingly, though as a fact his limbs, which had been
in strong exercise for many hours, were nearly giving way under him
from fatigue. Then, once more, the purdah before the door was lifted,
and Bertie Liston, shaved and washed, and dressed in the whitest
of English linen, and the most artistically built of Tom's English
suits, which fitted him almost to perfection, came in. The contrast
between this trim English gentleman and his present surroundings was
so fantastic a thing that, excited and unstrung as he was, Tom could
scarcely help laughing. As for Bertie, he made no bones about it; he
laughed outright. Poor fellow! he was to hear in a few moments what
would make him feel, like Trixy, that he would never be able to laugh
again. He apologised, in the meantime, in his airy and graceful fashion.

'Excuse me, Mr. Gregory; but really this is--well--like a chapter out
of Haroun El Raschid, or the other fellow, don't you know. You are
Mr. Gregory, I suppose. Couldn't that good fellow, Subdul, give us a
little more light on the subject? Ah! thanks,' as a pair of heavy gold
candlesticks were placed on the table at Tom's elbow. 'Now we can see
one another, and I begin to recognise you. We met at Meerut, if you
remember, in the spring. Capital dance you gave, by-the-bye. Different
sort of meeting this.'

'But a good meeting all the same,' said Tom, wringing Bertie's hand.
'And you look just as you did then. Sit down. Have they given you
supper?'

'Enough to go on upon,' answered Bertie, laughing. 'A magnificent meal
of some kind is being prepared outside. You are a regular Monte Cristo,
old fellow.'

'Then if you can wait, and are able to talk, tell me for heaven's sake
how they all are--the dear old General and Lady Elton and the girls.'

'They are pretty well, thank you. It was hoped, when we left, that
General Elton had taken a turn for the better.'

'Has he been ill, then?' asked Tom.

'Ill? He has been at death's door. Haven't you heard of what he did?'

'I heard that he was travelling through the country with a small
escort.'

'Yes, actually, after the mutiny at Meerut, when the troops were
going off, regiment after regiment, like so many fire-rockets. I
should think such a feat was never done before--rode through the most
disturbed districts with only about fifty men, and not a soul molested
him until he was close to Meerut.'

Here Bertie gave a dramatic account of the ambush near Meerut, and of
how, by his pluck and resource, the General had extricated himself from
it.

'What a grand old fellow he is!' said Tom, who had been listening with
the deepest interest. 'And he is better?'

'We hope so, physically at least; but his mind is, for the present,
curiously astray. I am sometimes afraid that it is a case of
heart-break. He can't get over the treachery of the troops, especially
of his own pet regiment, and he can't forgive himself for bringing his
people over. If he knew for certain that his eldest daughter was safe I
think it would go far towards restoring him.'

'Ah!' groaned Tom, 'that is just it. If any of us knew!'

'I thought you wrote----'

'What I wrote was true then. I had reason to believe that I had a clue,
but I lost it again. I should tell you that I have been in constant
communication with Nowgong for some time. One of the most trusted of my
servants went there several weeks ago. We were certain the detachment
there would rise, and I offered an asylum to all the ladies. The
officers refused, and we tried to persuade Miss Elton to come away with
her cousin and another lady, but she declined. In all the station there
was the most insane confidence in the native troops. Seeing I could do
nothing personally, I sent my servant to watch, and stationed men of my
own in the neighbouring villages. I started for Jhansi, hoping to gain
the protection of the Ranee for our poor friends there. But I was taken
by a troop of Dost Ali Khan's soldiers, and kept prisoner for three
days. When I got away it was too late.'

'What?' gasped Bertie, who had not yet heard these awful news. 'You
don't mean to say that they were----?' He could not finish.

'Massacred, every one of them, except a little child whom I saved and
brought back with me,' said Tom very sadly.

Bertie groaned. 'I had friends there,' he faltered. 'Poor devils!
Well----'

'It was a swift death,' said Tom. 'They gave themselves up, as they had
no food, and they were brought out together. The horror was soon over.
I saw them lying out under the stars.'

'For the vultures and jackals to feed upon! God! God! Do you think
there is a God, for I don't. Could He--would He----?' The poor boy, for
he was little more, sank down and covered his face with his hands. When
he looked up his eyes were bloodshot, and his face was ghastly pale. 'I
had a sister there,' he whispered, 'lately married. She was--but what's
the use of talking? A baby, too, a few months old. I went to see them
in the winter, and the little rascal held out his fist for my sword. We
said he was to be a soldier. Here'--leaping up--'let me go out of this.
I can't stand it. I must punish the brutes, or----'

'You will, all in good time,' said Tom; 'but you must wait. We must all
wait. Sit down and try to be reasonable. Remember the living.'

'Have we any right to be living--we men? Great heavens! The tender,
the helpless, the innocent! No one to defend them. If I had only been
there!'

'You could have done nothing,' said Tom sadly.

'Couldn't I? Who knows? At least I could have killed some of them. Oh
God! Oh God! It will kill me.'

There was a pause. Bertie was sobbing like a child. Tom sat where he
was, gazing out before him--his eyes hot and dry. He, too, would have
wept, but he could not. The anguish of suspense, which is even more
terrible than the horror of certainty, was working within him, and the
solace of tears would not come.

After a few moments Bertie lifted his head. 'You will think me a poor
weak fool,' he said feebly, 'but, by heaven, who could help it? I
heard of them only a few weeks ago. They were pitying us, and feeling
confident about themselves. The good Ranee would take care of them. Had
she a hand in it?'

'I dare not say,' answered Tom. 'All I know is that she had herself
proclaimed as an independent ruler, so she has at least consented
to it. But why talk about what is over? We have something to do in
the present, you and I. Here in Gumilcund we are staunch, thank God!
and our object is one. We are weaving a net about the feet of these
murderers of women and children, and you must help us. That was my
reason for sending to Meerut. Now at last I hope the English Government
will find out who its true friends are. In the meantime, Captain
Liston, we must forget our private vengeance. It will be swallowed up
in the larger. Are you listening to me?'

'Yes, yes. Only tell me what to do and I will do it.'

There followed a conversation, into the details of which it is not
necessary to enter here, for the daring plans which it initiated, and
which were afterwards adopted by the English rulers in this region of
India, form part of the general history of the war.

When morning broke over the storm-swept country they left Tom's
sleeping-room and went out into the banqueting-hall, where a fine
repast had been spread out by the rajah's servants.

In the course of the morning they parted. Bertie, accompanied as before
by Subdul Khan, went back to Meerut to lay Tom's sagacious proposals
before the General in command there, while the rajah rode in state to
the principal gate of the city to bid farewell to the gallant little
army that was setting out for Delhi.



CHAPTER XXVIII

A LITTLE BAND OF FUGITIVES


We must now turn aside for a few moments to relate as nearly as we can
the experiences of a little band of fugitives who, late that evening,
crossed the boundaries of Gumilcund. It was pitifully small, consisting
of three ladies and one little child. For ten long days and nights
these had been upon the road. Through the day they had lived huddled
together in filthy huts and cattle byres, doing nothing, trembling at
every sound, and passionately wishing the long hours away. At night,
when the sun had gone down, and the brief twilight of the Indian
evening had faded, the mysterious native guide, who from the beginning
had stood by them, nobly risking his own life more than once in their
defence, would come and lead them out to where an ekka or native cart
drawn by two small bullocks would be in waiting, and while darkness
lasted they would toil on.

It was a dreary journey, full of hardships and sickening anxiety,
but, for the most part, uneventful; and as day followed day and night
night, bringing no change, some of the poor creatures began to feel as
if there was to be no end, as if they were destined so to go on for
ever. Had they known what others were going through at that very time
they might have been more reconciled to their own hard lot. For their
strange guide was curiously regardful of their comfort. Every day and
every night he brought them as good food as he could procure, with
fresh warm water to wash in, and such fruit as could be found in the
markets, neither asking nor accepting payment, while in every possible
way he consulted their convenience. What his motive could be it was
difficult to imagine. One of the ladies may have had some idea, but she
chose to be mysterious. Nevertheless her confidence, which was apparent
from the first, gave confidence to the others, all of whom had followed
her lead when they decided to trust this man. They were beginning,
in fact, to live down their fears, and to believe that he did really
mean well towards them, when their confidence was shaken by the awful
occurrence which I must relate.

They had been travelling for nine days, and they were now only one
day's journey from their place of rest. This their guide, whose face
became more radiant as they advanced, assured them one morning. A day
of confinement, a night's jolting over the rough country ways, and
their trials would be over.

On the night that followed this announcement they set forth upon their
journey with lighter hearts than usual. The guide pressed their pace.
For two days past storms had been threatening, and he was anxious to
get in before the breaking of the monsoon season. He was not, however,
very uneasy, for there were now no formidable streams between them and
their goal, and the stout covering of the cart would protect the ladies
from the worst of the rain.

The awful blackness, which precedes a storm in India, fell upon the
little party two or three hours after they had started. There were then
in the ekka four ladies and two children. The guide, who was walking
at the bullocks' heads, stopped them for a moment to draw down the
curtains of the cart, when one of the ladies said she would faint if
she were kept so close, and another begged to be allowed to get down
and walk beside the bullocks. The guide demurred; but the darkness
was so great, and the place seemed so solitary, that he was easily
persuaded to give way to her wish. She alighted, and the elder of the
two children, in spite of the earnest entreaties of his mother, not,
however, reinforced by the other ladies, who were rather glad to be rid
of him for a few moments, followed her.

This change gave a little comfort in the cart, which went on quietly
for some time, the lady outside holding the guide's girdle to help
herself along, and the little boy clinging to her skirts.

The road along which they were moving was bounded by woods that made
walls of blackness on the right hand and on the left. The sky was
entirely covered. There was not a ray of light anywhere; but the
guide, who knew the road well, had not the least fear. He was, in
fact, congratulating himself on the darkness, which made a refuge for
them, when suddenly his heart was paralysed by a sound of terrible
significance. Even the poor beasts shivered as it rang through the
woods. 'Deen! Deen!' It came from the right hand and from the left,
filling the black spaces with its echoes. 'Deen! Deen!' It was the
Mussulman battle-cry, and it was coming nearer--nearer, enveloping
them, floating towards them on the wind.

A stifled scream came from those within the ekka. 'Silence, in
heaven's name!' hissed the guide. 'The darkness is our only hope.'

Then to the lady, who stood erect by his side: 'Missy Grace, it is all
over with them. The sepoys have lights. They will see the cart. But for
you and the child there is yet a chance. Stand where you are!'

She obeyed him without a sound. He felt about on hands and knees and
then came back to her. 'There is a nullah close by,' he whispered;
'hide!'

Scarcely knowing what she did, but hoping against hope that she might
save her darling Kit, Grace, following the directions of the guide,
leapt into a shallow ditch, and drew the long grass over herself and
the child. 'If they let me live, I will come back to you,' he
whispered; 'if not, go on straight to the next village and say that
Hoosanee, the servant of the Rajah of Gumilcund, has sent you to his
father. He will guard you till you reach the city. Farewell, noble
lady!' And he returned to the cart. In the next moment Grace saw the
flashing of torches and heard the trampling of armed men in the woods.
Kit began to whimper. She breathed in his ear that, if he wished to see
his mother again, he must be brave and good, and pressed him close
against her breast to stifle his sobs. Then, with a strange composure at
her heart, a feeling that the worst--the awful thing to which they had
been looking forward so long--had come, she lifted herself up on hands
and knees and looked out over the edge of the nullah.

       *       *       *       *       *

Armed to the teeth, some of them riding, and others on foot carrying
torches, the sepoys came pouring out of the wood. The light fell on the
cart, and, with cries like those of wild creatures scenting their prey,
they gathered round it. A man taller and better dressed than the others
imposed silence by an authoritative word, and with a sweep of his naked
tulwar thrust them back, so that they made a wide circle, having the
cart in the midst of them.

The curtains were down, not a sound proceeded from within them, and the
gallant guide kept his place at the bullocks' heads.

Her heart throbbing with admiration and terror, Grace watched him
from her hiding-place. She heard his voice, clear and strong, as he
addressed the leader: 'We are peaceful travellers. What do you want
with us?'

'Draw open the curtains of that cart,' was the brutal answer. 'You have
Feringhees there.'

'_You_ may sin, for you have the power,' said the guide boldly. '_I_
dare not.'

'Do you deny that they are Feringhees?'

'They are holy women, bound under a vow to travel by night to the
sacred river. Touch them and you incur the guilt of sacrilege!'

The leader laughed out loudly. 'Tell a better tale next time, son of an
ass,' he said scornfully. 'We will run the risk and see the colour of
their faces for ourselves!'

Upon this the unhappy guide began to dance wildly round the cart. 'Let
my lord have pity!' he cried out. 'Feringhees or not, they are women
and children who have done no wrong----'

He was not allowed to finish. The leader pushed him aside, and, amid
the jeers of his men, began to feel along the sides of the cart. At his
touch the ladies screamed, sprang out, and fell on their knees.

How the poor girl in the nullah preserved her senses, how she kept back
the scream that was clutching at her throat, she never knew. Grace,
palpitating with horror, grasping with her one hand at the sides of the
nullah, and with the other pressing Kit's face to her bosom, so that he
could neither cry out nor see, she stood, yet never for one moment did
she lose her presence of mind.

Her friends rose, ran a few paces, saw by the flare of the torches that
they were surrounded, and then knelt again, and implored piteously for
mercy. For a few moments no one stirred. Then the voice of the leader
broke the silence. 'I want one of you. The rest may go on their way in
peace.'

Here the guide interposed with a shrill cry: 'What my lord wishes is
impossible. We go on together or not at all.'

'Be silent! Who spoke to you?' said the leader.

'Excellency, for the love of the Prophet--by your hopes of Paradise,
listen to me!'

'Do you hear?' roared the leader, making a dash at the poor man with
his sword. 'Silence! I have to put a question to these mem-sahibs. If
they answer it truly they are free. The daughter of that son of Satan,
who calls himself the General Elton, is here. I am sent to take her
prisoner. Let her give herself up and the rest are free!'

In the little group of trembling women there was neither sound nor
stir; but their guide sprang forward.

'She is not here,' he cried.

'You lie, infidel!'

'Nay, by the Prophet's beard. I speak the truth! To satisfy you, I will
give you the names of those here. Let them go on in peace, and----'

The leader broke in with an awful imprecation.

'That is enough,' he cried. 'If she has escaped me, all these shall
die.'

He advanced threateningly. Even as he did so there came from close at
hand a voice, so clear and still that it seemed to be ringing down from
the upper air. 'They shall not die,' it said, 'I am here.'

       *       *       *       *       *

It was like a vision. Hoosanee told his master so, when, sobbing like a
child, he gave him an account of his stewardship. Pale as death; but,
moving proudly like a queen, her head thrown back, her eyes burning
under their lids; she stood suddenly amongst them--the young English
girl who knew how to die.

'I am here,' she said firmly. 'Let me speak a word to the kind friend
who has helped me so far, and then, if you have really any pity, kill
me.'

A moment of silence followed her bold words. No one cried out. No
hand was raised to touch her. Her heroism, it would almost seem, had
touched some chord of gentleness even in these wild hearts.

She moved forward quietly towards her terror-stricken countrywomen, and
whispered in English that they should get into the cart again. 'Kit
is close by,' she said. 'You will find him when these men have gone.
I have persuaded him to keep quiet.' Then, in a lower tone, 'I will
tell you for your comfort what I was afraid to tell you before. You are
going to an Englishman--a dear friend of mine. Give him my love, and
tell him that I thank him for what he has done, and that I thought of
him even to the last. Get in, dears. Cover yourselves up. Now kiss me,
and good-bye.'

'Oh, Grace! Grace! Why did you do it?' sobbed one. 'We can't go on
without you, and we could all have died.'

'Yes,' said the girl, with strange solemnity, 'we can all die. Thank
God for that! Lucy, you know what I have here--something swift and
sudden. Tell them at home and give them my dear love.'

'But we can't leave you so,' sobbed Lucy.

'You must! Get in, Lucy. Yes, if you love me. Would you kill all of
them?'

In the meantime the unhappy Hoosanee had prostrated himself at the feet
of the leader, and was pouring out entreaties and denials. 'She lies,
Excellency. Do not listen to her. It is to save the others that she has
spoken. She is not the child of the General. She is the sister of my
master, the Rajah of Gumilcund, whose servant I am. Let her go on with
us, and we will bless you all the days of our life.'

So and with many more words he pleaded, but they took no more notice of
his entreaties than of the blowing of the wind among the trees.

Then Grace, who had bade good-bye to her people, came forward again,
and touched him on the arm.

'It is useless, my poor Hoosanee,' she said. 'They are stronger than
we are. I must go with them, and you will, for my sake, take my poor
friends on. Remember Kit.'

At this moment there was a wild shriek, which made Grace wring her
hands and weep. 'Oh, God! have pity!' she moaned. 'Is it not enough?
That is his voice; I left him insensible.'

Maddened with terror at finding himself alone, the poor child had
sprung out of the nullah, and made blindly for where the torches were
shining. A sepoy seized him. Grace cried out frantically and covered
her face with her hands. The poor women in the cart, who thought that
it was her death-cry, gave a piteous wail. Hoosanee dashed forward
and seized the barbarian's arm. 'Shame! shame!' he cried, 'it is a
girl-child; give it to me!'

The light of the torches flashed on poor little Kit's long golden
curls and delicate face, and there was a murmur of pity. The child was
released, and he dashed headlong into Grace's arms. 'Go to Hoosanee,
darling!' she whispered. 'He will take you to your mother.'

'No, no, no. I'll go with you. Take me! take me!' sobbed poor little
Kit, the strain of his arms tightening.

'No, Kit, no; I can't. Oh God! It will kill me! Hoosanee, take him.
Take him by force if you must. There! there!'

'Enough! Take them both,' cried the leader. A litter had been brought
out. It was put down, and Grace was ordered to get into it. She made
one last effort to send away Kit; but he clung to her more convulsively
than ever. They got in together; the curtains were lowered; four stout
coolies lifted the pole to their shoulders; a body of torch-bearers
ranged themselves on either side; the horsemen and foot soldiers made a
compact mass round them; and, in a few moments, they were being swung
along at a swift pace--going they knew not whither.

Then Grace burst into tears, and Kit loosened his frantic grasp of her
neck. 'Why did you come, child?' she said. 'You would have been safe
with them. To-morrow they will be in Gumilcund.'

'But I'd much rather be with you,' said Kit, 'and it would be beastly
cowardly to let you go alone. Don't cry, Grace. I'll take care of you
now.'



CHAPTER XXIX

THE WELCOME OF A SORROWFUL SPIRIT


The rajah had returned from seeing off his troops, and he and Chunder
Singh were shut up together in close conclave. For the first time
since fate had so strangely thrown them together they had been having
a serious difference of opinion. The subject that divided them was the
written message which the rajah had received from Dost Ali Khan, and
which ran as follows:

 'To-morrow the Englishwoman you seek will be in my hands. Come to me
 for her. Ganesh will show you the way.'

After serious thought, Tom had come to the conclusion that it would be
wise at once to obey this summons--a conclusion justified no doubt by
the knowledge that rest and peace of mind would be perfectly impossible
to him until he had tested its truth. Chunder Singh, on the other
hand, who suspected a trap--he knew that Dost Ali Khan was anxious to
separate Gumilcund from the English alliance--wished him not to act
precipitately, but to endeavour, before putting himself in the power
of so desperate a rebel, to find out what had actually been done by
Hoosanee for the Nowgong fugitives.

The discussion waxed warm, and both men grew irritated. Tom insisted
on starting at once. Chunder Singh used the most cogent arguments to
stop him. Tom tore the arguments to shreds and tatters. Chunder Singh
produced others, of an even more telling character, which, in their
turn, were demolished by the ardent youth. At last Chunder Singh showed
mutinous symptoms. He couched his resistance, indeed, in the most
decorous language, being as prodigal as usual of submissive words and
high-sounding titles, but beneath the velvet glove the iron hand was
hidden. The rajah was made to understand that, having accepted the
raj, he belonged to the people over whom he ruled, and that they would
protect him, even against himself, if such a step was necessary. His
late expedition had caused much murmuring. Having received him back in
safety from the very jaws of death, the people did not feel disposed
to allow him to risk his life again. He, Chunder Singh, would, in such
case, be called to account. He besought his master, for all these
reasons, to be patient, hinting pretty broadly that impatience would
serve no good purpose, since he would not be allowed to thrust his head
into any robber's den, even for the sake of a charming young lady.

This was expressed with so much deference, and brought out in such a
roundabout manner, that it was some time before its actual significance
dawned upon Tom. When he did understand his wrath was extreme.
Forgetting, for a moment, the Oriental manners, in which he had taken
such pains to perfect himself, he stormed at his Indian counsellor in
the good old English fashion. What did the fellow take him for--a fool,
or an idiot? Did he really suppose that he would allow himself to be
dictated to? He strongly advised him to keep for the future to his
own department, and to understand that, as far as his personal action
was concerned, he intended to keep a free hand. He would exercise his
own judgment with regard to his movements, and come and go at his
own pleasure, without deigning to consult any of them. To all this
Chunder Singh listened with an unmoved countenance. His face was a
mask, behind which his irritated young master tried in vain to look.
If he was surprised, if he was angry, if he was determined, it was not
possible to say. They had reached this point--an uncomfortable sort of
deadlock--when Tom heard light, flying footsteps in the corridor, and,
looking out, saw his little friend, Aglaia, running breathless towards
his room.

'What is it, darling?' he said. 'Do you want me?'

She ran into his arms. 'Ganesh says they are coming,' she cried, 'and
ayah wants me to go to bed. Mayn't I stay up to see them?'

'Who are coming, dear? What does Ganesh say?'

Ganesh was close behind her. 'Excellency,' he said, bowing low, 'a
runner has come in with news from Hoosanee, his Honour's servant.'

'Well! well! go on, for heaven's sake!'

'He has already entered the city. He brings with him some of the
English sahib-log from Nowgong.'

'From Nowgong! Thank God! Chunder Singh, do you hear? They have come
in. Now we can lie down in peace and sleep. Ganesh--why do you look at
me so? Hoosanee, you said, from Nowgong?'

'Hoosanee, Excellency. He has come back safely.'

'And where are they?'

'The mem-sahibs are in a cart which travels slowly. The runner left
them within the gate of the Princes. He came at his full speed.'

'Have Snow-queen saddled at once, and I will ride out to meet them. No,
my little Aglaia, I cannot take you. It is too late, and the air is
heavy after yesterday's storm. They must have been out in it, Chunder.
Help him to have everything ready, Aglaia. Supper and sleeping rooms,
and fresh garments. Thank heaven that I took your advice, my good
friend! You always advise me well. Is Snow-queen ready, Ganesh?'

'The syces are bringing her round, Excellency. But----'

'Then don't stop me. I will listen to what you have to say presently.'

With a light and swinging step, as of one from whose mind a heavy
burden has been taken, the young rajah walked along the corridor, and
ran down the marble steps that led to the inner court of the palace.
The night was as dark as pitch; but torch-bearers were running by the
side of the horse, which had been saddled and was now being brought at
a quick trot across the paved court.

In a moment Tom was in his saddle.

Chunder Singh, who had been speaking to Ganesh, sprang forward.
'Excellency,' he said, in English. 'Listen to one word before you go.'

'Let it be short, then, Chunder. Snow-queen is as impatient as I am.
See how she is trembling,' and, he added under his breath, '_she_ shall
ride you to-morrow, little beauty!'

Chunder Singh, meantime, was faltering out his dreary warning, begging
him not to set his hopes too high, but to prepare for disappointment.

Disappointment! He laughed out merrily. He would not even answer the
well-meant, but foolish, words. He shook his bridle-rein, and touched
Snow-queen with his heel, and in a moment she was carrying him at
a quick trot through the arched gateway and out into the beautiful
market-place, which to-night was empty of people. The runners, carrying
torches, ran before them. The night air, heavily scented with the
breath of moist foliage and faded blossoms, swept by. He was madly,
fiercely, happy. This dark night-world was as a Paradise, in which
his trembling heart was uplifted till it moved in a heaven of bliss
for which words have no name. All his fine schemes, all his lofty
aspirations, with the curious mysticism which had become almost a part
of his being--where were they? Gone, as the vapours of morning go when
the full radiance of the day has come.

Disappointment! What fool's tongue spoke that word of ill-omen?
Hoosanee had come back--Hoosanee, who knew, who had read, the secret of
his heart--and Hoosanee had brought back fugitives. That she was not
amongst them would be impossible.

So terrible, so overpowering, was his joy, that there were moments
of that frantic ride when he felt as if he could not bear it--as if
it would kill him. Once, to the great solace of his light-carriers,
who, stalwart and swift as they were, could scarcely keep up with
him, he drew rein for a moment, and pressed his hand to his heart,
whose wild, passionate throbs seemed to be choking out his life. A
few moments--a few moments--and then--ah! there they are--a little
covered cart, stealing slowly down the road--men carrying lanterns
beside it--the guide, his noble Hoosanee, walking at the bullocks'
heads! Now, what an idiot he has been not to order out carriages!
She--they--should not thus make their entry into his palace. But it
is dark now, thank heaven! and storms are threatening, and no one is
abroad. To-morrow, when they are rested and refreshed, and clothed in
fine raiment--to-morrow they will drive in state through his city.

But surely Hoosanee has seen him--why does he not hasten forward? And
he is hanging his head, like one ashamed--he who has done this great
and noble deed. What does it mean?

He spurs on. The cart stops, and Hoosanee approaches him, bowing low.

'Is all well--is all well, Hoosanee?' cries the poor fellow.

'Excellency, your servant has done what he could.'

'I know it; but--my good fellow, don't torture me. She is safe?'

'Sahib, she is in the hands of the All-Merciful.'

'Dead?'

'Excellency, in a few moments I will tell you all. There are three
English ladies and a little child in the cart. They are fainting with
hunger and weariness. Will not your Honour speak to them?'

For a moment Tom's head sank upon his breast. He could not. Then,
making a fierce effort to recover himself, he dismounted, threw his
reins to one of the syces and went up to the cart.

A wild white face, set round with an aureole of yellow hair, looked
out at him. It was Lucy's.

'Oh!' she wailed. 'Where are we, and why are we stopping? Is this the
end?'

'It will be the end of your troubles, I hope, dearest lady,' said Tom
very gently.

'An English voice,' cried another lady hysterically. 'Thank God!'

'An English voice, and an English heart,' said the young rajah. 'I
am taking you to my house, dear ladies. Command me as if I were your
brother.'

He tried to go on, but he could not. The words choked him, and his
heart was like to burst. Motioning to Hoosanee to take the cart on, he
fell back behind it. As he went he heard the ladies' voices. They were
speaking joyfully one to the other, congratulating themselves on their
escape. Hungrily he listened, hoping still against hope that he might
have misinterpreted Hoosanee. He heard two voices--then a third, much
weaker than the other two, and, now and again, piercing his heart to a
pity that almost slew him, the feeble wailing of a little child; but
that voice, for the least of whose vibrations he would have given his
life, he heard not. And so, with a dull heart that had yet to realise
the fullness of its woe, he plodded on.

The syce brought up Snow-queen, but he refused to mount her. The
mechanical movement, the contact with the dull earth, seemed fittest
for him; now and then it would be to him even as if he were walking in
a funeral procession--as if his youth, and all the hope and gladness of
his life, were being carried out to be buried under fathoms of earth.

In the palace Chunder Singh and Aglaia had been busy, and everything
was ready for the reception of the ladies. Ah! how delightful it was
to the tired wanderers--all the little luxuries to which they were
accustomed, the deep baths filled with warm scented waters, and the
daintily spread meal, and the soft couches on which presently they
would rest their weary limbs, above all, the tender, the reverential
welcome. There was a solemnity--a sadness--about it that touched them
curiously. But none of them knew what it had cost their entertainer to
step forward as he did, and to hand them out of the cart, and to speak
those kind words of sympathy and welcome.

'I am thankful to God,' he said earnestly, 'that you have found your
way to me. You are safe here, for we are prepared for any number of
enemies. Do me the favour of treating my house as if it was your own.'

'Oh, thank you! thank you!' they cried in one breath. But poor little
Lucy, when the hand of the rajah touched hers, broke into a torrent of
tears. 'Can nothing be done for Grace?' she wailed.

'Is she alive?' said the rajah.

'Yes! Yes! Oh! she was carried away, and we let her go--she, who had
done so much for us! I shall never forgive myself that I did not go
with her. Couldn't I go now--couldn't some one?'

'I will see Hoosanee. I will try,' said Tom chokingly. 'I think--but
forgive me, I can't talk now, and you must rest. My people----'

From the corridor above a child's laugh rang out. Kit's mother, who was
one of the little company, so reduced in strength now that she could
scarcely speak, gave a little stifled cry, staggered forward, and would
have fallen had not Tom caught her in time. 'How foolish I am!' she
murmured. 'I thought it was Kit.'

'Your child,' said Tom tenderly, as, thinking of his own mother, he
took her up in his strong young arms.

'Yes, my little Kit,' she moaned. 'They took him away. They were going
to kill him; but they saw his beautiful curls, and they thought he was
a girl. I beg your pardon for being so foolish. I think I can walk.'

But he saw that she was weaker than she thought, and he would not put
her down until she was in the hands of Aglaia and her ayah.

Then he left them all to rest, sent a message to the Resident to let
him know that they had arrived safely, and, at last, when he was sure
that everything which hospitality demanded had been done, he sent for
Hoosanee.



CHAPTER XXX

CHUNDER SINGH'S PRECAUTIONS


'Tell me everything,' said the rajah.

'I will try,' replied the poor fellow; 'but my master must not blame me
more than he can help. I acted for the best.'

'Yes, yes; but--oh! Hoosanee, my servant, my friend,' cried Tom,
breaking down now at last, and for a few moments giving way to his
passionate grief. 'It is too terrible,' he went on, when the strangled
sobs and the shivering of his limbs would let him speak. 'God
knows I am glad to have rescued them; but I never thought--I never
imagined--that you, knowing my heart as you do, would bring back the
others and not her. How could it have been?'

Then Hoosanee told rapidly the story that we know.

'It was herself, master,' he cried. 'As your Honour lives, she was
safe. They would not have found her, for the night was as dark as the
jaws of hell, and to save the others I could have made a story, and the
ladies would have helped me. We would have said that she was dead. I
would have taken them on to my father's village and returned, when all
was still, for her and the child. We should all--all have come in; but
she is a daughter of Allah--too fine--too noble even to be paralysed by
fear. When she heard the Soubahdar use threatening words she came out
and they carried her away. I ask my master what could I do?'

'Nothing. You have done your best, my poor Hoosanee. And now it rests
with me.'

'Not so, master. You cannot go out as I have done. You know neither the
people nor their ways. If you can think who has taken her, tell me,
and I will at least find out if she is alive and what treatment she
is receiving. Master'--piteously--'do not deny me! It is not for your
Excellency's sake alone, although to serve you is dear to me. It is for
her. Ah! master, if you had seen her through all those nights. _They_
were impatient; they would blame me sometimes, and say that I had not
done my best; and sometimes, master, knowing a little English as I do,
I could hear that they were angry with one another and the child. But
_she_ was always the same--always a kind look and a gentle word. "My
good Hoosanee, my kind Hoosanee"--master, I hear her voice in my sleep,
and I spring up and say to myself that if I do not go to her, if I do
not try to save her, I am black of heart and degraded. Let me go then,
I beseech you!'

'Hoosanee, it is neither fair nor right. Twice--three times--you have
been in peril for me. You will become known. They will call you a
spy--a spy of the Feringhees--and then what treatment can you hope for?'

'I can die, master,' said Hoosanee, nobly. 'That has been the fate of
better men than I am in these last few days. But I do not think I shall
die. I have that within me which says that I shall live to see these
cruel days at an end. And does my master think that I will show the same
face as I have done to these men? He must know little of the resources
of the Indian. I will change myself so that my own father would not know
me. Did my master know Subdul Khan when he went into the midst of the
enemy's camp?'

'So you have heard of our adventure?' said Tom. Full of anguish as he
was, he smiled faintly at the memory of that strange evening. 'Subdul
was certainly sublime,' he went on. 'But you have only just come in,
and he has left. How did you hear?'

'My master's friends are everywhere,' replied Hoosanee tranquilly. 'In
all this region there is scarcely a village where they are not to be
found. Byrajee Pirtha Raj, our revered ruler, was well known and warmly
loved. Is not my master his true son?'

'If this is so,' said Tom, his voice trembling, 'if I have many friends
amongst this people, is not that the more reason that I should go
forth? I must, Hoosanee, I will. I tell you that if I stay I shall go
mad.'

For a few moments Hoosanee paused. Then he went nearer to his master
and threw himself at his feet. 'Will my lord pardon me?' he said in a
low and humble voice, 'if I speak the thing that is in my heart.'

'Say what you will, Hoosanee. After what you have done for me it would
be strange if I could be angry with you. But get up and speak quickly,'
said Tom. 'Before the night is over I must be gone.'

'Master, that is just it!' cried Hoosanee. 'Should my master go?
Listen! My lord who has gone--the mighty and excellent Byrajee Pirtha
Raj--was once in such a difficulty as this of my lord's. Duty to his
State and the good of his people drew him one way. On the other
side----'

'Hush, Hoosanee! I will not listen to you. I know what you would say.
Chunder Singh has said it before you; but it is useless. Nay, if the
voice----! Ah! Why did you recall it? I will be myself to-night. I
will not be another.' He had been talking in Hindostanee. Suddenly he
paused. The words of the language which in these last few weeks had
become to him almost as familiar as his own fled from his lips. It was
in English--the dear language that had been his from his infancy, the
language in which he had learned, and dreamed, and loved, and suffered,
in which he had fought his childish battles and won the praise of those
who were dearer to him than his life--that the thoughts welling up
hotly from his passionate heart found utterance.

'Is it not enough?' he cried--not to his servant, for he had forgotten
his presence--'is it not enough? Am I to be tortured for ever? I have
tried this double life, and I cannot live it; I must choose to be one,
and I choose to be myself. I am Tom Gregory. I am Grace's lover.'

There was a pause, during which he seemed to be listening to voices in
the air. Hoosanee threw himself on his face and lay like one dead.
Darkness gathered about them, and the silence in the great room was
as the silence of the grave. And then the rajah's voice, deep and
passionate, broke forth again.

'What are all these to me, cruel voice? Stay! Stay! For God's sake do
not answer me yet, for I must fight this thing out with myself! She is
one--an English girl, forsaken and distressed, and in danger of her
life, a life that has little value for anyone but me. And they are
many--thousands upon thousands. And, through them, I may influence
countless myriads more. Do I not know it well? On the one side all
these holding out their hands to me. On the other the little soft
trembling hand of my love.' His voice broke. There followed another few
moments of silence, and then he cried out again: 'Great heavens! why do
I stop? Grace in danger! Is this paralysis that is stealing over me? I
will shake it off. I will show them all, visible and invisible, that I
have a will, that I can choose and act. Hoosanee!'

The piercing voice acted like an electric shock. Hoosanee sprang to his
feet.

'I thought you were asleep,' said Tom in Hindostanee; 'as you are awake
I want you to answer me two or three questions. Answer directly, for
my stock of patience is nearly at an end.'

'Let my master speak,' said Hoosanee.

'If I confide in you,' said Tom, 'will you obey me blindly? Come, yes
or no? I have had enough of arguments.'

'I am, as I have always been, his Honour's servant,' said Hoosanee with
dignity.

'I suppose I must be contented with that,' said Tom, smiling grimly.
'Will you be silent?'

'As silent as the grave, my master.'

'Come, that at least has the merit of directness. You know Ganesh? Do
you consider that you know him well?'

'I have known him for many years, Excellency.'

'You have reason to believe that he is a faithful servant?'

'Why does my lord----?'

'We may come to that presently. Answer my question before you put
questions of your own.'

'Master, I have no wish and no reason to blacken the face of my
fellow-servant before your Highness, but if my lord looks for a
companion in this adventure it is not Ganesh that he should choose.'

'Why, Hoosanee?'

'He is a proud man, and a man of high caste. He could not change his
countenance or serve my lord with subtlety, as Hoosanee or Subdul Khan
could do.'

'Is this your only reason for thinking that he is not the man to go
with me?'

'What other reason----?'

'For Heaven's sake answer me directly. Have I not told you that my
stock of patience is nearly at an end?'

'I have no other reason,' said Hoosanee with dignity.

'Then go, my good Hoosanee, go at once, without asking me a single
question, and tell Ganesh that I want him.'

Casting a look of wonder, not unmixed with reproach, on his master,
Hoosanee obeyed. He was away some two or three minutes, for Ganesh, who
had been sleeping in one of the corridors, would not appear before his
master without carefully adjusting his turban and girdle. These minutes
were spent by Tom in pacing his room rapidly, trying by the strong
physical exercise to stifle thoughts.

'What a time you have been!' he said, when Ganesh, who looked as
dignified, watchful, and correct, as if sleep were an impossible
weakness, stood before him.

'And yet I have made haste,' he said humbly. 'His Excellency is surely
more impatient than usual?'

'You are right, Ganesh, I am impatient. But what is that to you? I sent
for you because I wish you to guide me at once to Dost Ali Khan's camp.'

'Dost Ali Khan, your Highness!' Ganesh's eyes were fixed on Hoosanee.

'Are you afraid that Hoosanee should hear the name of your friend?'
said Tom.

'Why should I fear?' answered Ganesh boldly. 'My heart is white. Does
his Highness wish that Hoosanee shall accompany us?'

'If it is his desire.'

'My lord knows,' said Hoosanee, 'what my desire is.'

'You would go without me, but that is impossible. And now, without any
more loss of time, to our arrangements. Ganesh, how far is the camp
from this?'

'It is not to a camp; it is to a fort that I am desired to take your
Highness.'

'Where is it situated?'

'My lord will forgive me. I am forbidden to say. This I may tell him,
that it is only one day's journey from the boundaries of Gumilcund.'

'So near? If we press our pace we may go and return before they miss
us here,' said Tom. 'But why not tell me where the fort is? If I go
with you I must certainly find out.'

'Will my lord pardon me? I am taking my instructions from others, and
it is only in this way that I can help him. When he leaves Gumilcund he
must go in a closed litter as a high-caste woman. If Hoosanee will go
with us, his eyes must be covered till he reaches the boundaries of the
forest.'

'But it is impossible! You are dreaming, Ganesh!'

'I wish I were dreaming, my lord. I wish I could take you to the
dwelling of Dost Ali Khan by a bolder and surer way. But I have sworn
by my God to show to no one the road thither. If my lord cannot give
himself blindly into my hands he must think of it no more.'

For a second or two Tom paused. His eyes, piercing as stars, were fixed
upon the face of Ganesh, who stood before him erect and proud, not so
much as an eyelid trembling. At last he held out his hand.

'I believe you,' he said; 'make your own arrangements. If you are false
to me----'

'If I am false, my lord, let death come upon me swiftly, and let my
soul go down into hell,' said Ganesh fervently. 'Will my lord pardon
me if I leave him for an hour? When I return I shall hope to tell him
that everything is ready for a start.'

There was a knock at the door of the room.

'One moment,' whispered Ganesh, as Hoosanee went towards it, 'I must
not be seen here.'

'True; Chunder Singh wants to stop me from leaving,' said Tom. 'Hide!'

Ganesh withdrew into the shadows--seemed literally to vanish into them,
for Tom, who thought that he had his eyes upon him, could not tell the
exact moment or the manner of his disappearing. There had been three in
the room. There were now only two. The knocking was repeated. 'Go and
see who it is,' said Tom to Hoosanee; 'whoever it may be, I must not
allow him to stay with me long.'

Hoosanee drew aside the purdah before the doors and threw them open,
and in the next moment Chunder Singh, followed by the English Resident,
entered the room.

The minister cast a rapid and searching glance round the apartment,
saw no one but Hoosanee and the young rajah, and, having made his
salutation, drew back.

The Resident came forward with outstretched hand. 'You will forgive
my intrusion, I am sure,' he said; 'but, when I heard that the poor
ladies from Nowgong had arrived safely, I felt that I must thank and
congratulate you.'

'Their safety is as dear to me as it is to you, sir,' answered Tom with
some reserve. He was meditating how, without giving offence, he could
get rid of his visitor.

The visitor, meanwhile, did not seem to be in any hurry. He was an
expansive person, and he had a fine flow of language at his command,
and having come across an Indian rajah who seemed to be as familiar
with English as he was himself, he rather enjoyed the prospect of
letting out some of his imprisoned ideas, the more so that Chunder
Singh, prime minister to this mysterious young prince, and evidently a
person of some insight, had begged him to impress certain views upon
him.

'It is very kind of you to feel so,' he said, in answer to Tom's last
remark. We should observe, in passing, that he had, as yet, only seen
the rajah in such a subdued light as the present, and that he knew
nothing of him, excepting that he was the adopted son of Byrajee Pirtha
Raj, and that Lord Dalhousie, in consideration of the long and close
alliance between the rulers of Gumilcund and the English, had pledged
himself to sanction his succession.

'May I stay with you for a short time?' he went on; 'you smoke, I
smoke too. If that would help talk----'

'I have made a vow not to smoke until an object very near my heart is
fulfilled,' said Tom gravely. 'But that need not debar you from smoking
if you will.'

He had neither sat down himself nor asked his visitor to take a seat.
This was so unusual a circumstance that Chunder Singh, who, in the
belief that his young master would speak more confidentially to his
countryman if he were absent, was retreating towards the door, could
not help pausing for a moment, and looking at him inquiringly.

'Join us if you will, Chunder Singh,' said Tom. 'I have nothing secret
to say to Mr. Montgomery. In fact,' passing his hand over his eyes,
'I am afraid I should not be able either to talk or to listen very
well to-night. It has been an exciting season, sir,' to the Resident,
'anxiety, labour, early and late hours, and I, you see, am new to this
sort of thing.'

'Ah! yes, yes. So I believe. The late rajah might have done more
wisely, perhaps, if he had accustomed you a little to the position.
I said so to him more than once. "Your heir," I said, "ought to be
with you. An English education is all very well in its way, and, up
to a certain point, nothing could be more advantageous. But there is
a limit." Well, that is all over. No doubt he expected to live much
longer. Ah! his death was a sad blow to us all. I look upon it now as
the beginning of all this misery. What do you think?'

'I am afraid I am not capable of any serious thoughts to-night,' said
Tom; 'my eyes are nearly closed.'

'Dear, dear! I am very sorry, and I had so much to say to you;
however, it will keep, no doubt. I will come to-morrow, with your kind
permission, and pay my respects to the ladies, who may be glad to see
the face of a fellow countryman, and you will allow me, then, perhaps,
to express my deep sense----'

'Thank you,' interrupted the rajah, 'there is no need. As I have before
had the honour of telling you, I look upon these English ladies as my
sisters and personal friends.'

It was a little, just a little, audacious, the Resident thought.
His sisters, indeed! Englishwomen! But those were not days when one
could afford to slight friends, and he made the ordinary polite
acknowledgments.

'As for to-morrow,' went on the young rajah, 'I am afraid that I shall
be engaged all day. I am under a vow, as I have told you. No business
connected with the State will require my presence, and I very much
doubt whether I shall leave these rooms. In a few days, however, I will
do myself the pleasure of calling upon you.'

It was a dismissal. The Resident bowed and withdrew, wondering over the
dignity and reasonableness of the young rajah. 'Only shows what English
education can do,' he said to himself.

Chunder Singh, in the meantime, lingered for a few moments. 'Your
Excellency will really try to rest?' he said anxiously.

'Of course I will, Chunder. Don't you see that my eyes are half shut
already?' answered Tom. 'Now pray leave me.'

'Will you promise me----'

'How dare you speak to me so?' cried the young fellow, lashing himself
into a rage which he was far from feeling. 'Promise you, indeed! I
will promise you nothing. Do you suppose that because I have accepted
you as my counsellor, and listened to your advice, I intend to give
myself up to you entirely? If you do, let me tell you that you are
extraordinarily mistaken. I will do what I think right.'

'Yes, yes; so long as my lord does not run into danger!' cried Chunder
Singh piteously.

'My dear friend,' said Tom, in his most English fashion, 'let me
entreat you not to be a fool. When I say that I decline to be dictated
to, that does not mean that I intend to assert myself by deliberately
thrusting my head into a lion's mouth, or doing anything else of the
same ridiculous nature. And now, for heaven's sake, go away! I like you
too well, and I respect you too much, to wish to quarrel with you; but
I tell you plainly that I am not quite answerable to myself to-night.
If you continue to stand there looking at me in that absurdly piteous
way I shall say or do something foolish.' Sighing deeply and making
a respectful salutation, Chunder Singh, to whom this new attitude of
his young master was deeply bewildering, not to say alarming, took his
leave.

In the corridor he paused. Hoosanee was still with the rajah. There
was no one else. The rest of the servants were scattered. Several of
them had been told off to attend upon the new inmates of the palace.
The corridor was empty and very silent. Between the entrance to the
rajah's apartment and the staircase lay the mattress which Hoosanee
had been formerly in the habit of using at night, and which on his
return had been spread for him again. Chunder Singh sat down upon it,
determining to remain where he was until the exit of Hoosanee, when
he would confer with him on the new danger that seemed to threaten the
State. He sat where he was for a long time, and at last, vigilant as
he had determined to be, his eyes grew dim. Again and again he tried
to arouse himself, and again and again he dropped off into a doze. He
felt persuaded, however, as he asserted later, that, if the door of
the rajah's apartment had opened once, he must have heard it. So in
ineffectual attempts to keep on the alert the hours of the night passed
by.

Towards morning, being now fully persuaded that, contrary to his usual
custom, the rajah had kept his servant in his room, he fell into a
deep sleep from which he was aroused finally by sounds of movement in
the palace. Then, a little ashamed of his want of dignity, sleeping at
his master's door--he, an old minister of the State, like a personal
servant--he crept off to his own house.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE ENGLISH LADIES IN THE RAJAH'S PALACE


Chunder Singh had been about an hour in his house, which was situated
only a few yards distant from the palace, whither, not feeling
perfectly easy about his master, he was thinking of returning, when he
heard a murmur as of many people running together in the market-square.
He went out and saw a large crowd round his house. As soon as he
appeared, its foremost members called out to him. 'Chunder Singh will
tell us the truth,' they said. 'Yes, yes,' cried others; 'Chunder Singh
has never deceived us.'

Wondering what this might mean, the minister closed the door of his
house and set his back against it. He saw now that the throng of people
were being reinforced every moment by streams from the avenues that
converged towards the market-place, which was already one unbroken sea
of turbaned heads and fluttering garments. 'Why is this?' he said.
'What has made you come together?'

There stepped out of the crowd one well known in the palace. He was
the chief of the merchant-caste--a man of large wealth and larger
patriotism, who had given with a free hand towards the defence of the
city and the equipment of the force that had just started for Delhi.

'Give them a word of comfort and assurance, Chunder Singh,' he said.
'Some foolish person has spread about the rumour that our young rajah
has left the city and joined Dost Ali Khan, who, they say, will win him
to his side by giving up into his hands an English captive. I have told
them that the rumour is false; but they will not believe me, and it is
true that I have spent the night in my own house. You, as they have
heard, were in the palace. You will know if anyone left it.'

'This is a strange story,' said Chunder Singh, gravely.

'Is it true?' asked the merchant.

'No; no. It is false. It is impossible.'

Chunder Singh drew back, and, mounting the little platform before his
house, looked the crowd proudly in the face. 'I wonder,' he said,
'that the citizens of Gumilcund should allow themselves to be moved
by so foolish a rumour. I spent the night in the rajah's palace. Being
too weary to move, I rested on a bed outside the door of his room. If
anyone had passed out, I should certainly have known it. Go to your
homes in peace. I will ask the rajah to ride through his city to-day.'

With loyal shouts, the easily satisfied crowd dispersed, and in a few
minutes the market-square resumed its ordinary aspect. Then Chunder
Singh, whose face was curiously contracted, turned to the merchant.
'There is a grain of truth in this, Lutfullah,' he said, in a subdued
voice. 'Dost Ali Khan has sent a tempting message to our rajah. He
would not betray us--I am too sure of him to fear that. But my dread
is that he will perversely run into danger, and that we shall lose the
succession promised to us.'

'You are certain that he did not leave last night,' said Lutfullah, who
looked serious.

'To that I would pledge my life,' answered the minister. 'And he cannot
have gone this morning. There were too many people about him.'

'We must set a watch on the palace,' said Lutfullah.

'Yes; we must set a watch. You will help me. We must save him, even
from himself if it must be,' said Chunder Singh.

They went to the palace together. Everything seemed as usual in the
outer and inner courts. Passing through an arched passage, they went
into the garden at the back of the palace. Since Aglaia had come, the
rajah was often to be found there in the early morning, either pacing
one of the shaded alleys, with the child beside him, or sharing a
breakfast of fruit and milk with her in the darkened and artificially
cooled summer-house. And, indeed, they had scarcely entered the rajah's
favourite walk before they saw the little figure of Aglaia, quaint
and lovely in a gauzy Indian dress. She was walking more sedately
than usual, for a creature still smaller than herself--a wizened,
white-faced baby, dressed in strange nondescript garments--was toddling
by her side.

'Isn't he a darling?' she said to Chunder Singh, whom she always
addressed in English. 'He's just had his breakfast, and I've brought
him out to see Daddy Tom.'

'And have you seen him yet, Missy?' said Chunder Singh, gravely.

'Why,' said Aglaia, looking up at her Indian friend, 'what a funny face
you have this morning, Mr. Chunder! Aren't you glad to see little
Dick? That's his name. He mustn't walk far, for his mother says his
legs have got cramped. Just think! He was ten days in a cart. Is 'oo
tired, little pet?' she said lispingly to the baby. 'Shall Aglaia----'

'No, no, Missy-sahib,' cried the ayah, running up. 'Too small, you!
Ayah, give poor baba.'

But the poor baba, who was a person, in an ordinary way, of
irrepressible activity, refused to be taken up. He seated himself on
the grass, struck out with his little fists, and looked up at them
with a delicious smile of baby contentment. Then Aglaia assailed him
with kisses, and Chunder Singh and Lutfullah, who, for all their grave
looks, were men of most tender disposition, smiled at one another and
passed on. It was quite evident that Aglaia had no thoughts even for
Daddy Tom that morning. She was wholly absorbed in little Dick.

The rajah was not in his summer-house, and the attendant in that
charming retreat, who was the daily purveyor of his Highness's little
breakfast, had not as yet received any orders from him.

Retracing their steps to the palace, which the rajah did not seem to
have quitted that morning, the two elderly men looked a little blue.

They made their way straight to Tom's sleeping apartment. Chunder
Singh knocked, but he received no answer. He knocked again, and, after
waiting for about a quarter of an hour, tried the handle cautiously. He
found that it was bolted on the inside, and turned a relieved face to
Lutfullah.

'He must be within,' he said. 'No one else would presume to draw the
bolt. No doubt he was awake all night, and fell asleep towards the
morning. We must have patience.'

They left Hussein Buksh, the second bearer, one of Chunder Singh's
own nominees, at the door, desiring him to let them know the moment
the rajah stirred, and went down themselves into the garden. There
they found the three English ladies who had arrived the night before
gathered together in a little group round the children. They wore,
with a curious awkwardness, lovely Indian dresses, some of which, as
being the best he could procure, Tom had laid in store to meet such an
emergency as this. Their faces were very pale, and the haggard anxiety,
the horror, remembered or expected, which gave so piteous an expression
to our countrywomen in these dreadful days, had not left their faces;
but the quiet night and the peaceful awakening had refreshed them, and
they were already very different from the wretched, bedraggled-looking
creatures who had driven through Gumilcund on the previous evening.

Chunder Singh and Lutfullah saluted the ladies reverently. Lucy, who
was talking to Aglaia, a little apart from the others, eyed them with
some curiosity. 'The major-domo of the palace,' she whispered, 'and
one of the chief citizens. How funny it all is! Something like the
middle ages.' The mother of the white-faced baby was, in the meantime,
answering Chunder Singh's inquiries, and expressing her satisfaction in
having reached so pleasant a haven of rest.

'Does the major-domo understand English?' asked Lucy.

Aglaia nodded. 'Oh! yes. He's a nice man. I like him,' said the child.

'Then I must speak to him,' said Lucy. With her white face and golden
hair, and large, childish-looking eyes, Lucy looked quaint and very
pretty that morning. She had been given her choice amongst a number
of dresses, and she had picked out a tunic of cherry-coloured silk
and a snow-white saree of the finest muslin, deeply trimmed with
gold embroideries. To put on these pretty fresh garments after her
copious bath of warm scented water had given poor Lucy a sense of
satisfaction, which, when she came to think of it seriously, seemed
curiously inappropriate, if not wicked. But she could not help herself;
she was happier than she had been, and the pretty dress, which suited
her to perfection, had something to say to her happiness. Pressing
forward she addressed Chunder Singh:

'Oh!' she cried, 'where is the rajah, the person, I mean, who received
us last night? He is the rajah, isn't he?'

'Yes, madam. It was our rajah--the ruler of Gumilcund--who had the
honour of welcoming you to his palace last night,' said Chunder Singh,
nearly paralysing the childish little creature with his dignity. She
fixed her limpid eyes upon him doubtingly; then recovering herself with
an effort:

'Oh, yes,' she said, 'I was told so. Could you tell him please--the
rajah, I mean--his Excellency--is that the way to speak to the great
people here, Aglaia--?'

Chunder Singh was waiting respectfully for the conclusion of her
sentence.

'I want particularly to speak to him,' went on Lucy more fluently.
'Perhaps you wouldn't mind saying that I have a message for him--I
suppose,' looking round at the other ladies with some bewilderment,
'that it is for him. You know he told us he was an Englishman; but
this isn't much like an English house. And how does he come to be a
rajah? Oh! dear, if Grace could only have come herself!'

'His Excellency was educated in England,' broke in the mellifluous
voice of Chunder Singh.

'And some of us think him more English than Indian,' added Lutfullah
pleasantly.

'You can speak English too, chief citizen!' cried Lucy. 'This is most
extraordinary. Really I begin to think that we must have died last
night, and that we are in a sort of half-English, half-Indian paradise.
But,' with a deep sigh, 'that can't be, for Grace would certainly have
been here before us. Oh, my poor Grace! my dear Grace! Can't anyone
tell me where you are?'

'Hush! Lucy. Hush! We shall never know how they went. She and my lovely
Kit,' cried Mrs. Durant, weeping bitterly. 'Little could I have thought
to what his love for her would have brought him----'

'Do you give them up?' cried Lucy, flashing round upon her friend
fiercely. '_I_ don't, and just because they are together! Oh! Mr.
Major-domo, if you have a heart--and you look as if you had--find this
mysterious prince, who is an Englishman and not an Englishman, and ask
him, for pity's sake, to speak to us.'

'No doubt his Highness will request the honour of speech with you
later,' said Chunder Singh. 'At present he must not be disturbed.'

'Did he say so? Oh! where is he?' sobbed Lucy. 'He can't know how
dreadful the danger is! I was ashamed of myself for being able to
sleep last night. If Grace dies'--clutching at her muslin robe after
a fashion that, to the grave Indian, was scarcely decorous. 'If Grace
dies, I shall never forgive myself.'

'I will see if his Highness is awake,' said Chunder Singh retreating,
while Lucy, now in a perfect paroxysm of grief, was led to the
summer-house by her companions.

There they waited for a long time. The sun rose high in the heavens,
and, outside the summer-house, the air was like that of a heated oven;
but here there were punkahs swinging slowly, and darkened windows,
and splashing water, so that they scarcely felt the heat. Meantime
attendants came and went, bringing them books and music and food and
drink, and toys and pictures for the children; but, ask as they would,
there came no message from the rajah.

'I cannot stand it,' cried Lucy at last. 'I had rather not be so
comfortable. I will go out and see what it all means.'

'Go out into that sun! Don't behave like a mad girl! Do you wish to
bring more trouble upon us? You think only of yourself,' said Kit's
mother reproachfully.

And so, being, as I have said, a childish little creature, and
accustomed to rebuke, Lucy sat on with red eyes and trembling fingers,
trying to amuse herself and feel comfortable; but possessed, all the
time, with a sense of sorrow and remorse that nearly crushed her.

At last, when the heat of the day was over, and the sky behind the
trees that sheltered their retreat was all ablaze with gold and
crimson, she saw Chunder Singh coming slowly towards them. His face
was covered, and his head had dropped upon his breast, and in the dark
eyes that looked out from the folds of his chuddah there was a strange
glitter. Lucy had been running out to meet him; but when she saw those
blazing eyes she withdrew.

'Something has happened,' she whispered to Aglaia. 'You know him better
than we do, child. Ask him what it is!'

Then Aglaia ran out, and Lucy, who was trembling from head to foot,
heard her little baby voice.

'Do bring Daddy-Tom,' she said. 'He hasn't been to see us all the day.'

'Missy,' said Chunder Singh, in grave, sad tones, 'ask Miss Sahib and
the Mem Sahibs where his Excellency is.'

He was at the door of the summer-house, and as he spoke these ominous
words, he looked round upon them searchingly.

'Ask _us_!' cried Lucy hysterically. 'What does the strange man mean?'

'Madam,' said Chunder Singh, bowing low, 'you must have the goodness to
come with me.'

'I?' shrieked Lucy. 'Why? What do you want with me? Oh!' falling on her
knees, 'have pity! If he has gone, I know nothing about it. I may have
meant to ask him; but I hadn't the chance. Ask the others. We saw him
for a few little moments last evening, and to-day we have been alone.
Indeed! indeed! no one has come to us. Oh! don't you believe me?'

'Let me assure you, before those here, who will remember my words,'
said Chunder Singh, 'that we mean you no harm. If you fear, let Missy
Sahib and her ayah come with you. Our rajah has gone. How he has gone,
or why, we cannot as yet find out; and as Hoosanee, the servant who
brought you to Gumilcund, has gone also, we would ask you the questions
which we would have asked him had he been here. Miss Sahib I ask to
come because she is most interested in what has happened. But if one
of the Mem Sahibs----'

'No, no, no. Take me! I will tell you all I can,' sobbed Lucy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Terribly solemn and staggering beyond the power of language to
express were Lucy's next experiences. There was first a brief journey
in a litter, with Aglaia, to whom she had clung as her only hope
and consolation, for a companion. The litter was put down, and,
upon drawing its curtains aside, they found themselves in a small,
dimly-lighted hall, in the presence of four men, all of them as grave
and mysterious of aspect as Chunder Singh. They were seated on cushions
at the upper end of the hall; but when Lucy drew the curtains of her
litter aside, one of them rose to his feet and greeted her reverently.
There followed a few moments of silence, during which the poor little
creature, who could not imagine what all this solemnity meant, felt her
heart beating as if it would burst.

Aglaia had made the acquaintance of all these grave persons, and she
was not in the least awed. Yet they constituted the inner council
of the Gumilcund State. One was Chunder Singh, the prime minister,
and another--he who had risen--was Lutfullah, the representative
of the merchant class, and the third was Vishnugupta the priest, and
the fourth was the exalted citizen who headed the warrior caste and
directed the organisation of the rajah's little army.

These good persons wore their dresses of state, and the dignity of
their manners was fully equal to the grandeur of their appearance. When
Aglaia, who, as I have said, had no fear, ran up to the magnificent
Lutfullah, and began chattering to him in her baby Hindoostanee,
nodding gravely meanwhile to her other friends, Lucy felt half afraid
that the roof of the hall would drop down upon them.

But nothing happened, and she began presently to feel a little more
composed. Then Lutfullah, who, having a bland manner and reassuring
aspect, and being, moreover, well versed in the English tongue, had
been commissioned to ask the questions which the council had decided to
be necessary, said, in a soft voice, that he trusted she would not feel
the least alarm. It was true that a calamity had fallen upon the State,
and it was true also that they, into whose hands the direction of its
fortunes had come, were for the moment embarrassed and disheartened;
but that was no reason why the guests of the State should suffer. As
far as she was concerned, all they wished was an account of the events
that had intervened between the moment of their leaving the station
of Nowgong and the present, with special reference to the unfortunate
occurrence that, as he understood, had preceded their arrival.

It was a most stately preamble. Lucy, who was not without a sense of
the fitness of things, tried to still her beating heart and to answer
it with becoming dignity. And, in fact, she made a pretty fair start.
But, as she went on, as she tried to draw a picture of what Grace was
to her and to them all, as she entered upon a narration of the events
that led to their separation, her dignity evaporated in gasping,
spasmodic phrases; and tears, that not even the august presence of
these stately citizens could repress, poured from her eyes.

They listened in perfect silence. Aglaia, who did not fully understand
what was happening, crept up close to her, and whispered to her not
to cry. The poor little ayah sat in the background sobbing--like a
child. Lucy felt as if she could not go through with it. But at last
it was over. Now they would let her go, and she could cry her heart
out. Not yet, poor little Lucy! It is Chunder Singh who stands up, and
he has thrown back the chuddah from his face, which looks curiously
determined.

'We thank you, Miss Sahib,' he says in his grave and sonorous English.
'But there is yet one thing more that we would know. You spoke to me
this morning of a message.'

'Oh! yes. I had a message; but it was not for any of you,' cries Lucy,
starting up. 'It was for him.'

'If he is not here----'

'Then I must keep it for him until he comes back.'

'Will Miss Sahib pardon her servant----?'

'No, no, no. Oh! I cannot tell you. How can I? They were her last
words. I should be a traitor.'

'We thought that if we heard the message sent to his Excellency it
would help us to find him. That is all,' says Lutfullah gently.
'Chunder Singh, my good friend, it is enough,' he adds in a lower
voice. 'Let her go!'

'Yes, yes; let her go!' say the others. And Lucy--oh! so thankful to be
released--draws round her the silken curtains of the litter, and Aglaia
gives her hand to the ayah, and, while they go back to the palace, the
four ancients of Gumilcund hold a council as to what is to be done for
the State.



CHAPTER XXXII

NO NEWS


That was Lucy's last piece of excitement for some considerable time.
When, having been carried back to the palace, she fell weeping into
the arms of her friends, there began for her and the others a life of
the most bewildering monotony. A part of the palace, consisting of a
small pillared hall, and two or three sleeping apartments, with the
shaded alley in which Chunder Singh and Lutfullah had met them first,
and the rajah's summer-house were allotted to them. Day after day, with
clock-like regularity, a liberal provision of meats and drinks, water
to their hearts' desire, fresh garments, sweetmeats, and books were
brought to them. They had everything, in fact, but that for which they
craved the most--news.

Chunder Singh and Lutfullah went to see them occasionally, and sent
morning and night to inquire after their health. Mr. Montgomery, the
Resident, paid them periodical visits, but there was no word of the
rajah.

Mysterious to the ladies, to Aglaia, to whom her deliverer was
everything, this sudden disappearance was a shock as cruel as it was
inexplicable. Where had her Daddy-Tom gone? she would ask piteously.
Why hadn't he said good-bye to her? Couldn't he send her a letter if
he liked? Questions which no one, not even the wise Chunder Singh,
could answer. Had it not been for baby Dick, who was one of the most
restless of little persons, she would have suffered even more severely.
In the new healthy atmosphere that surrounded him, Dick had recovered
his vigour. The wizened little face was filling up. Roses and dimples
were asserting their rights. The long pent-up limbs were expanding
luxuriously in all sorts of joyous activities, which Aglaia, who had
begun by being his slave, was bound to share. Never was a merrier or a
more irrepressible little man than Dick.

Sometimes, worn out by games and laughter, he would fall asleep, and
then Aglaia would steal quietly to the lattice, and, the tears dropping
from her eyes, would watch and watch. 'Oh! if he would only come--if he
would only come!'

'Everyone goes away,' she said to Lucy one day. 'I wonder why?'

'I don't know, dear,' said Lucy, who was becoming more and more
melancholy. 'I suppose they must.'

'He needn't,' said Aglaia proudly. 'He is the master of everyone here.'

'Your Daddy-Tom, as you call him, is like the Good Shepherd in the
parable,' said Lucy. 'Do you remember?'

'Yes,' said Aglaia, in a low voice, her little face becoming strangely
set. 'He left all the others.'

'And he went after the one that was lost,' filled in Lucy with
a sigh. 'I always thought it was uninteresting to be one of the
ninety-and-nine. I am sure of it now.'

'I don't understand,' said Aglaia wearily.

'Of course you don't, and I am a goose--an ungrateful goose, too,' said
Lucy, her eyes filling with tears. 'If he only brings back Grace----'

'Is that her name?' said Aglaia.

'Yes; isn't it pretty? And it's just like herself. Dearest Grace! We
should never be dull or miserable if she were here.'

'Tell me what she is like,' said Aglaia.

'What Grace is like? Ah! that's not so easy,' said Lucy
enthusiastically. 'She is perfectly lovely to begin with, tall and
very slender--oh! my darling'--breaking into tears and sobs--'if
you are alive, you must be more than slender now. All these days
and nights! I can't bear to think of it. She was so gentle, too. I
never heard her complain once. And her temper was that of an angel.
Everyone--even the servants--adored her. It was through Tikaram's love
for her that we got away at all. As for the man who brought us here, he
simply worshipped her. Don't you hope she may come back safely, Aglaia?'

'Yes,' answered the child, briefly and sadly.

'But you don't seem a bit sorry for her, you funny little thing.'

Aglaia lifted her limpid eyes and fixed them on Lucy's face. 'I'm not,'
she said.

'Now why, you little barbarian?'

'Because----' began Aglaia, and then she turned away. 'I don't like to
talk of it,' she said, and went off to Dick, leaving Lucy to wonder
over her curious precocity.

       *       *       *       *       *

But although the ladies heard nothing of what went on in the city,
there was considerable uneasiness and excitement abroad. When the
elders in the State found out as a certain fact that their young rajah
had given them the slip they tried to keep the uncomfortable knowledge
to themselves. In his room they found a slip of paper, written in
his hand, and addressed to Chunder Singh. It was his hope, he said,
that his friends would not discover his absence until his return,
when he would give them every explanation; but, in case of delay or
obstruction, he begged that the elders of Gumilcund would carry on the
business of the State as they had been accustomed to do. He did not
himself anticipate any inconvenience from his own enforced absence.
When he had accomplished the purpose upon which, as Chunder Singh knew,
his heart was set, he would return, and then it would rest with them
whether they would again accept him as their rajah, or choose rather to
be governed by one of themselves. In the meantime he begged to assure
them of his faithfulness to the principles which had been laid down by
his predecessors for his guidance.

This, to the elders of Gumilcund, while reassuring from one point of
view, was disappointing in another. Most, if not all, had given full
credence to the assurance of their late rajah that, in the person of
the successor he had chosen, he would himself return to them. To us
of the West such a belief may appear childish. But we must remember
the difference between our standpoint and that of the Asiatic. The
doctrine of the transmigration of souls from body to body, which to us
seems unreal and fantastic, has, from the earliest ages, formed a part
of the Eastern creeds. And, this granted, there could not surely be
anything extraordinarily unlikely in one of high spiritual rank being
permitted, if not to choose, at least to foresee, his next incarnation.
In any case this was their belief, a belief which the singular likeness
between their late rajah and his successor, with rumours which had
come to one and another of mysterious voices holding communion with
him, had served to confirm. But his departure at this critical moment,
an action at variance with what they knew would have been the will of
their late ruler, and his apparent readiness to sacrifice his State so
long as he could save a single English captive, somewhat shook them in
this view. Nevertheless they tried their hardest to hide the rajah's
flight from the people. Do what they would, however, it leaked out,
and with it came other distressing and alarming news. The surrender of
the Cawnpore entrenchments, and the awful massacres that followed: the
general rebellion in Oude, followed swiftly by the siege of the Lucknow
Residency, and the death of Sir Henry Lawrence: uneasy rumours from the
Punjaub, where the disaffected Poorbeahs were being held at bay like
savage animals, and the delay at Delhi--these and many other rumours
came pouring in as the month of July ran its course. It says much for
the loyalty and strength of Chunder Singh, who was now the ruling
spirit in the councils of the Gumilcund elders, that the terror and
despair which were beginning to be felt amongst the populace never once
touched them.

And yet there was much cause for uneasiness. Chunder Singh, indeed,
who had visited England twice, the first time with Byrajee Pirtha
Raj, his late master, and the second in obedience to his dying wish
to further the interests of his successor, believed profoundly in
the power of England; but he knew also how apt she is to try the
effect of small measures, little outbursts which, to the uninitiated,
seem nothing more than ebullitions of temper, before, armed with her
full strength, she stands out wrathfully to assert her will. Such
delay practised now would mean, if not the total subversion of the
English power in India, at least the temporary ruin of those who had
accepted her as the Paramount Power. It did not need the threatening
letters which, in spite of all their efforts, were continually poured
into Gumilcund to advertise them of what their fate would be if the
English forces--coming down from the Punjaub and up from Calcutta and
Bombay--met with any serious defeat. Chunder Singh and his friends
knew very well what assault and sack meant when a baffled Asiatic army
were inside the gates of a wealthy city. But with all this no thought
of compromise ever entered their minds. To the terror-stricken people,
merchants and handicraftsmen, who came flocking to them for advice they
had always the same answer: 'We have gone too far to retreat now. If
the worst comes to the worst we must defend our city to the last.'

The inquiries about the rajah were more difficult to answer. His
absence had considerably increased the alarm of the people. For the
belief held by the men of education and culture in Gumilcund, as
it filtered down to the lower strata of the populace, had lost its
vagueness, and had gained in strength. The curiously dramatic entry of
the young rajah into his city, and the effectiveness of his various
appearances, gave colour to the general superstition. He seemed to
many of them not a man at all, but a divine being whose presence was
a guarantee of the city's continuance in safety and prosperity. That
this God-given ruler should leave them at such a crisis as the present
was inexplicable save in one way--that the spiritual beings, who were
said to direct him, had warned him of the coming evil and helped him to
escape--a theory confirmed by the circumstance that no one could tell
them how their prince went. In spite of all Chunder Singh and Lutfullah
and Vishnugupta could say, the hearts of the people were heavy within
them, and their minds presaged evil.



CHAPTER XXXIII

CONTAINING EXTRACTS FROM THE RAJAH'S DIARY, WITH HOOSANEE'S
RECOLLECTIONS


The rajah, as it will have already been guessed, had discovered a
secret way of leaving his palace. Starting from a well, or small
chamber underneath his sleeping room, it led out through a long
subterranean gallery to another well, most secretly contrived beyond
the principal gate of the city. Ganesh, who had discovered it by
accident, had made use of it to open communications with Dost Ah Khan.
Believing that the rajah would accept the rebel chief's invitation
to a conference, he had set everything in readiness for a departure
this way. With regard to Tom's adventures on the perilous journey thus
initiated I have been fortunate in securing narratives both by himself
and his attendants. I have said that, in Gumilcund, he had given up
recording the events of his daily life in his diary. No sooner had he
left the State, regaining, as it seemed to him then, his old identity,
than the necessity, which in some natures is so strong, of completing
his life by throwing its incidents into a mental picture, reasserted
itself. He wrote hurriedly day after day, on the tablets he carried
with him, and as they, with the rest of his diary, have been confided
to my keeping, I am able to give some extracts from them here.

       *       *       *       *       *

'_July_ 1857.--The die is cast. For better or for worse, and I cannot
now decide which it is. I have cast off the shackles which, for these
many days, have bound me. I am thinking, acting, living, in my own
person. And the strange part of it is that, with everything to make me
uneasy and miserable, I am happier far and more tranquil than I have
been for weeks. That is why I am writing now.

'It is deep night, and we are halting--Hoosanee and I--in the midst of
a forest, while Ganesh, our guide, goes on to make arrangements for our
admission into the fort, which is held, as I hear, by Dost Ali Khan. I
have his safe-conduct, presented to me at Delhi, on my person. Ganesh
tells me that it has already saved me from death once, that had I not
had it about me, the soldier Abdul--my gaoler on the White Ranee's
march--would certainly have killed me. Possibly it may save me again.
In any case I can do no other than I have done. Whatever the issue may
be, I must await it with fortitude. Grace, I believe, is in that fort.
I will leave it with her, or I vow before God that I will not leave it
at all. If she is dead, which I cannot and will not believe, then I
will return to Gumilcund, and give myself up to my people, letting them
do what they will with me.

'The night passes slowly. Ganesh is long away. I wonder if he really
means well by us, or if this is merely a trap laid out for our
destruction. It may be. Chunder Singh was sure of it. And he knows
the native character much better than I do; but as I cannot draw back
now, and would not if I could, I must not dream of failure. There are
other things to think of. In these quiet moments, solitary except
for Hoosanee, who crouches at my feet--the litter in which I have
been travelling at rest, and my little reading-lamp making a tent of
light in the dark forest--I have time and opportunity for thought.
In Gumilcund I could not think. That sense, half oppressive, half
exultant--ah! has it not been a great illusion? I feel so free, so
natural now: my life has become so simple--one thought in my mind--one
will animating me--one object at my heart--that I cannot but believe I
have been tormenting myself in vain. And, indeed, can it not be easily
explained? This idea of a double personality was the clever stroke of
policy of a clever and subtle brain that sought to project itself into
the future. And no doubt, having allowed myself to fall into it, I have
been able to do more for the people of Gumilcund and for my own people
also than would otherwise have been possible. So far it has been well.
But it cannot surely last for ever. It began--stay--did it begin here?
Did it even begin on board the "Patagonia"? Before ever I met Chunder
Singh--the very night after I received news of my inheritance, I had
my first vision. The next was when I opened the papers that were so
mysteriously lost. If then the others resulted from my intercourse
with Chunder Singh, what was the origin of them? Some solution of the
mystery may come to me by-and-by; it seems to me now as if there was
only one way in which that question could be answered.

'But I hear footsteps in the wood; I must put my pen down.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The following entries are undated; but I know that they belong to this
period.

       *       *       *       *       *

'What a terrible--what a bewildering day this has been! I have been
thinking--I have been talking--I have been pleading--I have been
protesting--till I scarcely know where I am or what I am doing, and--I
tremble as I write the words--I am no nearer the accomplishment of my
object than I was when I arrived.

'One thing, however, seems certain. Dost Ali Khan, though he would
give worlds to detach me and my State from the English alliance, has
no wish or intention of injuring me personally. I confess, after all I
have heard of the perfidy of Asiatics, I am a little astonished at the
gratitude I have met with for very small favours.

'But I must try to put it all down in detail. It may be useful for
future reference.

'Early this morning I was carried into the fort. Refreshments were
placed before me; I was allowed to adjust my dress, and then I was
led by Ganesh into the presence of the chief, in whom, although his
appearance was much changed, I at once recognised the high-caste youth
I had fed and sheltered in my tent at Delhi.

'He was alone, having dismissed his captains. The place in which he
received me was a court, open to the sky and surrounded by galleries,
in one of which I distinctly saw a veiled lady sitting. My heart leapt
into my mouth, for I thought it might be Grace; but I came to the
conclusion presently that it was not Grace but Vivien, who had, as I
knew, completely thrown in her lot with the rebels.

'The chief greeted me with perfect courtesy, saying that this was an
honour to which he had long been looking forward. I, feeling myself in
his power, answered after the same courteous fashion, and after this
little preliminary fencing he began to speak about the curious and
critical state of affairs in the country. I would not interrupt him,
being anxious to know precisely what his views were, and I confess it
was a little strange to me to hear views, set forth ably, and urged
with no little eloquence, diametrically opposed to those I have been
accustomed to hear and to support since I came to India. For, according
to him, the English overlordship has been a mistake from beginning to
end. It has failed in strength, in sympathy, in suitability to the
people of the land. That, sooner or later, it would be swept away, to
be replaced by a more congenial rule, he did not for one single moment
doubt; and he strongly advised me either to go back quietly to my own
country, or if, being an Englishman, I desired still to rule Asiatics,
to make up my mind frankly to throw in my lot with them. A countrywoman
of mine, and he smiled in a very strange way, had come prudently to
this latter determination; and he did not think she repented what she
had done.

'To all this I listened as quietly as I could, not attempting a word of
contradiction.

'He asked me straightly if I would join them. I answered that I could
do nothing without the consent of the elders of my people. Did I wish
them well? he went on to say. I said that I was not sufficiently
acquainted with their principles and aims to be able to answer such
a question. I was, as he very well knew, the faithful servant of the
Government to which I owed my advancement. Dost Ali Khan smiled at
this, and said my boldness pleased him. He said, further, contradicting
some of his previous assertions, that if the English had behaved to him
as they had behaved to me, he would never have taken part against them.
He then asked me if I had heard that the British army, on their way to
relieve Lucknow, had met with a serious defeat, and been forced to fall
back upon Cawnpore. I said boldly that no such rumour had come to me,
and that even if it had I should not have believed it. I knew indeed
that General Havelock was retreating; but his reason was insufficiency
of troops, and not defeat in battle.

'So, for a full hour, we fenced with one another, for I knew the
Oriental character, and while burning to speak of my beloved Grace, I
would not court defeat by rushing upon her name.

'Dost Ali Khan spoke of her first. As this is important, I am trying to
put down in my own language a perfect transcript of his words, and of
my own answers.

'"I am to understand, then," he said suddenly, "that my brother has
come hither in obedience to my message?"

'I answered briefly in the affirmative.

'He looked at me searchingly. "I gave you to understand," he went on,
"that the Englishwoman of whom you are in search was in my hands."

'I answered quietly, fighting down, as best I could, my fiery
impatience, "I trusted in Dost Ali Khan's honour. Have I done wrongly?"

'"Let us wait a moment," said the wily fellow, laughing after a fashion
that made my blood run cold. "I do not say that she is in my hands, and
into such a war as ours honour does not enter. Have your friends and
allies acted honourably with me?"

'"_I_ have sought to do so," I said.

'"You? That is true, and, if you stood alone, I would do what I could
to gratify your desires. But you belong to the cause for which you are
fighting. I must therefore use you as I would this weapon if I had it
in my hand and saw a deadly foe in front of me. Enough of preamble! Say
this fair Englishwoman is in my hands, what price would you give me for
her?"

'"My life," I cried passionately.

'He smiled grimly. "Well spoken!" he said; "but wide of the mark. My
brother's life is of no value to me. I prefer his friendship."

'I paused for a moment. It was difficult to think--difficult to
speak--with this terrible excitement at my heart. At last I said slowly:

'"My personal friendship is yours. Give her up--let us go away together
safely, or, if you prefer it, send her to Gumilcund under, a fitting
escort, and I give you my word that so long as I live I will be
grateful to you."

'"Those are fine words," said Dost Ali Khan, and the eyes that he fixed
upon my face seemed to glitter strangely. "But I care little for words.
How will my brother show his gratitude? Will he be on my side?"

'"You know I cannot," I answered. "But this I will promise. When this
mad attempt of yours ends, as end it must, in ruin to yourself, and the
dispersion of those who now call themselves your friends, I will stand
by you as a friend may, and plead your cause with our Government."

'Scarcely suffering me to finish, he sprang to his feet. "You are
bold," he said with a harsh laugh. "Failure? Ruin? Who dares to speak
of them here? Remember that you are not in your own encampment at
Delhi, sheltered by the English power. You are in my dominions."

'I looked him full in the face. "That," I said, "gives me courage to
speak what I believe to be the truth. Would my brother have me lie to
him because he is strong and I am weak?"

'The dull red which had overspread Dost Ali Khan's dark face died down,
and his fierce eyes fell. "My brother has spoken well," he said, "and I
apologise to him for my heat. But it is dangerous, let me tell him, to
browbeat a man in his own house."

'"I should prefer it," I answered, "to browbeating him in mine."

'"Come," he said, with a smile, "that is a good reproof. I have not
forgotten Delhi. Give me your hand and say what you will."

'Thus encouraged, I thanked him for his goodwill and kindly
remembrance, set forth my errand in a few simple words, and besought
him not to delay me any longer. By obeying his summons, I said, I had
risked everything with my friends at Gumilcund. Nothing but a swift
return would save my credit. If he had really any regard for me, let
him accept my assurances of personal friendship, bring me to where my
countrywoman was, and permit us to go.

'But it was not to be so easily done, for though courteous, even to
deference, in his manner, Dost Ali Khan had no intention of foregoing
the purpose with which he has brought me to this place. Instead of
answering my question, he begged my permission to relate a little
incident. I agreed, of course, though my heart was like to burst with
impatience, and he proceeded to tell me the following story.

'"A man came to me the other day, asking to join my force. He was
dressed as a peasant, but I knew at once that he was a soldier. He was
enrolled with two or three others whom he brought, all stalwart men.
I found soon that he had been Soubahdar in one of the finest of the
Company's regiments, and that he had a private vengeance to serve. His
colonel--one Sahib Elton--had insulted and wounded him, and he wished
to deal him a blow that he would feel. I do not encourage private
spites; but I am obliged to make the most of the only material that
comes to me, and before I heard this Soubahdar's story, I had judged
that he was a clever soldier, and that I would do well to keep him.
Let my brother listen well," said the rebel chieftain impressively,
"for the strange part of my story comes in here. The Soubahdar knew
that his enemy had a daughter in the European station of Nowgong. I had
heard, no matter how"--I thought that here he glanced up towards the
gallery, and my heart beat angrily--"that you had sent in search of
her. So I allowed my Soubahdar to take out a few horsemen and waylay
the Nowgong fugitives."

'He paused. It was with difficulty that I repressed a movement of
indignation; but remembering that I was entirely in his hands, I was
able to muster sufficient self-control to beg him to go on with his
story. "Did the Soubahdar succeed in his base attempt?" I asked.

'He would not answer me directly. Here, indeed, our conversation became
so swift and complicated that I cannot undertake to write it down
accurately. I remember that he pressed his alliance upon me, and I know
that I strenuously refused to pledge myself to anything more than the
personal friendship and exercise of influence in case of disaster which
I had already promised him.

'Again and again I tried to surprise him into making some admission as
to the safety of Grace and Kit, and again and again he evaded me. At
last, having travelled all night, and lived for some days previously in
a state of nerve-tension, which made rest impossible, I became so much
exhausted that I could scarcely raise my voice above a whisper.

'By this time the full day had come. It was a day of storms. As I was
led across the court to the mud-paved room on the ground-storey, which
I am to occupy, the rain beat upon us pitilessly and the wind howled
and tore about the corners of the fort, till one might have thought it
in danger of destruction.

'I felt that I must sleep if I was to preserve my senses: there seemed,
moreover, to be no imminent danger to anyone, so I flung myself on the
charpoy which was the only piece of furniture in the room and closed my
eyes.

'The next thing I knew--and it seemed to me as if only a moment had
gone by since I lay down--I was starting up, wide-awake and full of
energy, and Hoosanee was standing beside me with a strong cup of
coffee in one hand and a dish of chupatties in the other. I took the
little meal gladly. He watched me, looking sad and reproachful; but
when I begged him to give his opinion of the state of affairs, he put
his finger on his lip and shook his head. It was then late in the
afternoon. I sought and obtained another interview with Dost Ali Khan;
but with no better result, and now, night having come, I have returned
to my room, and, with Hoosanee watching beside me, am waiting for
those in the fort to go to rest, as we intend then to look round us
cautiously.

'Ganesh has kept away all day. This, I am afraid, augurs ill for his
faithfulness.'

       *       *       *       *       *

A few words must be added here. I have them from Hoosanee, who was
faithful to his master throughout this adventure.

Everything was still that night, he said. He was dozing. His
master was keeping himself awake by writing in his book. They had
determined, towards the small hours of the morning, to go round the
fort themselves. He had made friends with one of the watchmen, whose
faithfulness had been corrupted by the present of a valuable trinket,
and the promise of still richer gifts, if he helped them to their will.
What they wished to do was to find out for certain if Grace and Kit
were in the fort, and, if so, putting off their deliverance until some
good plan could be devised, to encourage them by letting them know that
friends were at hand.

He, as I have said, had been dozing. Feeling sure that they ought to
be on the move, he aroused himself. His master put down his book, and
asked him in a whisper to go out and see if his friend was ready. He
crept to the door, which was ajar, and opened it. In the next moment he
had fallen back upon his master, dazed and trembling.

The doorway was blocked up by a slender figure in shining raiment with
the face covered, and naturally his first thought was that Dost Ali
Khan, repenting of his treachery, had sent them his captive. But Tom
knew better. The moment he saw the figure he sprang to his feet with
a wrathful expression. Hoosanee, thinking from the emotion in his
voice and manner that some new danger assailed them, looked to him for
directions; but Tom motioned him away. 'This is an Englishwoman, but
not the one we seek,' he said in Marathi. 'Remain in the room, but keep
at a little distance from us.'

Of the interview that followed no record remains. Tom could not be
prevailed upon to speak of it. It is not so much as mentioned in
his diary. Hoosanee, whose confidence in his master was perfect,
neither understood nor sought to understand what was going on.
Fearing treachery, however, he held himself on the alert, and when,
after having poured herself out in a torrent of impassioned words,
Vivien, for the figure could have been none other, rushed out into
the darkness, he was by his master's side in a moment. To his dismay
he found him weak and trembling. Twice, it seemed to him, that he was
trying to speak, but he said nothing.

Then Hoosanee told him that the night was passing, and urged him to
lose no time in setting forth upon their task. The friendly Watchman
was outside. He had won over all those who were watching with him. If
they did not at once seize their opportunity, it would pass out of
their hands for ever.

But if his master's manner had dismayed him, he was still more alarmed
by the way in which his advice was taken. For an instant Tom made as if
he would follow him, and then he sat down and burst into a passion of
tears.

Hoosanee was in an agony. What had happened? 'Is Missy Grace dead?' he
whispered, going quite close to his master.

'No, no; I hope to God she is alive still,' said Tom. 'And if I knew
that the Jezebel who has just gone was speaking the truth, I should not
be like this. I should know, at least, what to attempt. But how am I
to tell? She may be lying to me as she lied to her husband, as she is
lying every day to Dost Ali Khan.'

'What has she told my master?' asked Hoosanee.

'She says that they were here, and that they have gone. She heard I was
coming and she put them out. She had made up her mind that we should
not meet. Curses--a thousand curses--on her head!'

'Why did she tell my master this?' said Hoosanee.

'She did not tell me at first. It came out. That is why I think it may
be true. She was enraged that I would not do what she wished, and then
she threw it in my teeth. If I believed her, and escaped as I might do,
and if I found out afterwards that she had lied to me--or if, on the
other hand, I remained here while they were going through danger and
hardship outside--oh! Hoosanee--my brother, advise me! What shall I do?'

'Listen, my master,' said the good fellow, who, while his master
had been speaking, had taken his own measure of the situation. 'You
will stay here for an hour. Yes. I beseech you, do as I say! It will
be best. Alone no one will suspect me. I will join my friend, the
chowkedar, and go with him on his rounds. I will hear the last news of
the place. If the prisoners are still here, or if they have been put
out, as the White Ranee says, will soon be known to me. When I know, I
will return to my master, and he will decide what we had best do.'

It seemed the most feasible plan. In any case, so Hoosanee has told
me, it was adopted. He left his master, hoping that he would compose
himself in his absence, and went out into the court. The first
person he met was Ganesh. Ganesh looked wild and unnatural. Hoosanee
stopped for a moment to tax him with treachery. The Brahmin threw
back the word in his teeth, and they parted. Ganesh went to the door
of their master's room. Hoosanee joined the friendly chowkedar. They
were smoking a pipe together, and the bearer was gradually drawing
out the information he required, when in the courtyard there was a
sudden clamour. One of the sentinels, posted outside, came rushing in
breathless with the news that the Gora-log or European-folk were upon
them. The chowkedar sprang up and ran headlong to the quarter of the
fort where Dost Ali Khan and his captains were sleeping, and Hoosanee
made at full speed for his master's room. Ganesh was there before him,
so the young rajah had already heard of the panic. He was standing up
fully dressed, with a revolver in one hand and a sword in the other,
and Ganesh was beseeching him to remain where he was. 'We may escape,'
he said, 'if we remain where we are. If we go out amongst them we are
doomed.'

'But the prisoners!' cried Tom, who must have been nearly beside
himself.

'If they are in the fort--' began Ganesh.

'They are not--they are not,' shrieked Hoosanee.

'The chief thinks so, but he is mistaken. The Soubahdar Sufder Jung was
ordered yesterday by the White Ranee to take them away.'

'The Soubahdar Sufder Jung!' echoed Tom, and his arms dropped from his
hands, and his limbs seemed to fail under him. 'The Soubahdar Sufder
Jung!'

'Courage, Excellency!' said Ganesh. 'He has done it in the hope of
reward.'

'Reward? Vengeance!' cried the unfortunate young fellow. 'Here! For
God's sake let me out! I will kill that fiend with my own hands; I will
force her to tell me the truth. Ganesh--Hoosanee, wretches! what do
you mean? Have you turned against me too? Loose me, or I will slay you
both!'

'Let my lord have patience!' murmured Hoosanee.

'Patience?' echoed Tom, with a hoarse laugh. 'There! This is my
patience!'

With one mighty effort he had thrown them off. They lay on the
ground--stunned by the force with which they had fallen. Tom picked up
his weapons and bounded, like a wild creature escaped from captivity,
across the room. For a few moments they lost him.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Hoosanee came to himself, the room was empty. He had fallen with
more force than Ganesh, who had already followed his master, and he had
not the least idea how long he had been insensible. It would have been
natural for the good fellow, who was conscious of nothing but devotion
and rectitude, to be indignant at the treatment he had received; but
it was not so. Sorrow and compassion for his master, with shame that
he could not hold him back from what, enlightened by a few awful words
from Ganesh, would, he believed, be his destruction, made up the whole
of his feeling. His head had struck violently against a corner of the
charpoy as he fell, and, with recovered consciousness, came violent
pain. He raised himself with difficulty to a sitting posture, crept to
the door and looked out.

The confusion had not ceased. From every hole and corner armed men
were hurrying out to man the walls, and there came, from a little
distance, the rattle of musketry. There was another sound--more awful
in its significance--the dull boom of cannon, and the crash of falling
masonry. But it was not for this that the unarmed, terror-stricken
man was listening. It was not to hear this that he laid his ear upon
the ground. Ha! what is that? He springs to his feet, gazes into the
lurid, torch-lit enclosure, and then, putting his hands to his mouth,
trumpet-wise, shrieks out, 'Fly! fly! The magazine is undermined.'
The words act like magic. In less than a moment the court is full of
flying figures. There is a subterranean exit. The Europeans will not
discover it in the darkness. Hundreds fling themselves into it, casting
away their weapons, and hundreds are crushed out of all similitude of
men. But, amongst the flying figures, Hoosanee does not see those whom
he seeks. There comes to his ear a low rumble, and he flings himself
down with his face to the ground. In the next instant the earth seems
to rock like a drunken man, and there is a sound mightier far than
the roll of artillery or the thunder of a storm. Crash! crash! A wild
shriek! a low, piteous wailing! Another crash as the masonry gives way,
hurling down those who had been defending it into the trenches, men no
longer now. A splinter strikes Hoosanee as he lies, and his lips part
in a groan. If he is not in safety here, what must _their_ fate be? And
is this--is this--to be the end of all his hopes? Has he been deceived
all along? Was the master he served as the true representative of him
who had gone but a simulacrum and no true man? Surely, if what he had
so fondly believed was true, _they_ would not have suffered him to
perish thus! Such were the ideas that were thronging his troubled brain
in those dreadful moments. How many they were he could never tell. He
plucked up courage to look up presently. The court was deserted. Where
the rebel chief's vast magazine and treasure-house of arms and gold
had been, a column of flame and smoke was rising into the air. The
buildings adjacent to it--one of which, as he knew, was Dost Ali Khan's
house--were beginning to burn. The boom of artillery had ceased--there
was no need for it now; but from outside he could hear the clatter of
arms, and he knew that, in a short time, the fort would be taken by
assault. In such case what would their fate be--his own--Ganesh's--his
master's--if he was still alive? Might they not be killed by the angry
English soldiers, before they could make themselves known?

Deeper and deeper grew the silence about him. Those who were not dead
or wounded had crowded into the subterranean exit. It would be strange,
thought Hoosanee, if the English soldiers were to come in presently and
find only him.

The torches that had lit the courtyard had died down. There was nothing
now to illuminate it but the fiery column. By its light he saw dimly
three figures, that seemed to come out miraculously from the very heart
of the burning mass. He ran forward with a cry. If this was his master,
then everything was true, for not Rama himself could boast such an
adventure! The Divine Ones had cared for their own.

'Hoosanee!' That was the rajah's voice.

'Master,' he cried piteously. 'Are you safe?'

'I am safe. Take this burden from me!'

It was the form, to all appearance lifeless, of a woman. Hoosanee
received it into his arms and, followed by Tom and Ganesh, who were
nearly exhausted, carried it into the hut and laid it down on the
charpoy.

'Light my lamp!' said Tom. 'Now,' he went on, 'go out, both of you, and
wait for me.'

They obeyed, and he was left alone with the lifeless form. The face
was covered with a veil. He lifted it and gazed down. Yes, it was
Vivien Doncaster. Vivien herself--the soft brow--the smiling lips--the
merry dimples! The horror of death, which had been swift and sudden,
had changed her no more than the horror of guilt in which she had
steeped herself. Fair, sweet, innocent, like a sleeping child, she lay
before him on the pillow.

With a shudder he dropped the veil. 'Farewell, beautiful witch,' he
murmured: 'we meet for the last time. That it was not left to me to
kill you, I thank God; but I would not, if I could, bring you back to
the life which you have so miserably abused. Farewell! As you lived, so
you die--a torment and a mystery.'

As he spoke, he took a letter from his pocket, twisted it into a match,
and, having kindled it at the lamp, deliberately set fire to the
charpoy in two or three places.

Looking up then, he saw Hoosanee beside him. 'What is it?' he said
angrily. 'I thought I told you to remain outside.'

'Master,' answered Hoosanee, 'the English soldiers are coming in
through the breach. If we do not wish to die, we must stand aside until
you can see the General.'

'You are right, as usual, my good Hoosanee,' said Tom, with his usual
mildness. 'Ganesh knows the place, he will hide us.'

As they left the hut the flames ran up, consuming the charpoy and the
dead body, and no one knew till much later that a human body had been
within the charred and ruined hut.

To the servants, who had been witnesses of the deed, it was a deed of
charity. Whatever the dead woman had been, the flames that made her
sepulchre were less cruel far than the hands of men would be.



CHAPTER XXXIV

GOING THROUGH THE LAND--FROM NORTH TO SOUTH, FROM EAST TO WEST


Morning dawned upon the ruin of the fort. Where Dost Ali Khan's
magazine, the storehouse from which he drew his supplies, had been,
there was a wide breach. Outside, English and Sikh soldiers--a
detachment from the main army, which was on its way to Cawnpore--were
under arms, waiting to rush in with the first rays of daylight. They
were exultant, for this stronghold of the rebel chieftain, which was so
cleverly hidden away that they had only discovered it by accident, was
a refuge and a tower of strength to the mutineers, and without it the
cleverest and most influential of their opponents, if he had escaped,
would be completely paralysed. It was more than probable, however, that
he would himself share in the destruction of the fort, in which case a
blow would have been struck whose effects were incalculable.

In the night, and before they were discovered, they had thrown a
cordon round the building, to cut off the escape of the garrison,
which they had reason to believe was numerous. Hundreds fell with the
magazine, while the guns, plied as they had been in the dark, had
doubtless done some execution; but they could not suppose that everyone
within the walls had been slain, and the complete silence puzzled them.

Fearing an ambush, they set to work cautiously. The officers were to
the front as usual, and Bertie Liston was one of the first to leap over
the mounds of rubbish that blocked up the breach and to alight within
the boundaries of the fort.

His presence at this critical moment must be explained.

When we saw him last he was leaving Gumilcund under the convoy of
Subdul Khan, to make the best of his way to Meerut, which, however,
he did not reach, having been met at a few leagues distance from the
station by a runner in disguise, carrying despatches from the General
at Meerut to the General of the army of relief, with a peremptory order
to himself to use his utmost diligence to find the army, and to offer
his services to the chiefs who, it was rumoured, had lost some of their
officers by fever and other casualties.

Nothing, as we shall imagine, could have been more congenial to
Bertie, who, ever since he heard the terrible news from Jhansi, had
been longing ardently for a brush with the rebels. Helped by Subdul
Khan, whose ability and devotion were beyond praise, he succeeded in
finding the head quarters of the army. On his way, through a series
of accidents, which there is not space to record here, he discovered
the whereabouts of Dost Ali Khan's fort, and when a body of troops of
all arms were detached to capture it, he was given the command of the
cavalry. And so it came about strangely that the first face Tom saw
that day was the face of a friend.

All need for disguise being, for the moment, over, he had thrown aside
the turban which he habitually wore, and washed the dye from his face,
which was fearfully haggard and as pale as death.

With his two servants behind him, he was standing in one of the covered
enclosures that still remained intact, when Bertie, walking in advance
of his soldiers, with his drawn sword in his right hand, and his left
grasping his revolver, marched by. He saw him, recognised him in an
instant, and, breaking into an exclamation of surprise, called upon his
men to halt.

Tom joined him, smiling sadly. 'I am afraid you will find nothing but
ruins here,' he said. 'The few who were left of the garrison escaped.'
Then he pointed to his two men. 'They are my servants. They will be
safe?'

'Perfectly. I will leave two or three men to guard them in case of
mistakes. We are fearfully savage.'

'God knows I can understand that. Come on! I will lead you,' said Tom.

'But how do you come to be here?'

'I came to find Miss Elton. She was taken prisoner.'

'Good God!' cried Bertie. 'You don't mean to tell me--Heavens,
man!--what a fright you gave me! A prisoner? Not here, surely?'

'I hope not. I hope not. And yet--good heavens! what am I saying? I
know for certain that she came here. I was told, only just before the
alarm, that she was sent away--sent away with a soubahdar, who had a
grudge against her father. It may be false--God in heaven grant that it
is.'

'His name?' said Bertie, his brow darkening.

'Sufder Jung. Do you know anything about him?'

'Only that he was one of General Elton's pets.'

'The General wounded him,' said Tom, 'and he came here, vowing
vengeance. I have it from Dost Ali Khan, who allowed him to seize Miss
Elton and bring her here. She was one of my Nowgong fugitives--my
servant had rescued them. They were within a day's march of Gumilcund.
The others came in----' His voice broke.

'Hold up, old man!' said Bertie huskily. 'Do you mean to tell me that
Dost Ali Khan gave her up?'

'No; I believe he meant well. He had sent for me. He was making her a
bait for my alliance. I could not have given in to that, of course; but
I don't think for a moment that he would have hurt her. I can't tell
you everything now. It was one of their fiendish intrigues.' As they
talked they were going round the fort, where not a soul was to be found
but these three men--the Rajah of Gumilcund and his two servants.

'Can the brutes have got away?' said Bertie.

Tom sent for Ganesh, who, he said, knew more of the events of the night
than either he or Hoosanee, and, after a little delay, the Brahmin led
them to a small inner courtyard, in the centre of which was a dry well.
Several of the men who were following them leapt down. They found
nothing but dead bodies. The entrance to the subterranean passage,
which made a secret exit from the fort, was here, and hundreds had
been smothered in their efforts to reach it. That some had escaped was
most probable; but whether the chief was amongst them or not could not
be determined. Search was made for his body, but it was not found.
This was the only damper on an enterprise which had been perfectly
successful, and accomplished without the loss of a single life.

The soldiers were now allowed to rest, cook their morning meal,
and ransack the ruins for such treasures as might have escaped the
destruction that had fallen upon the fort, and Tom, whose story had
run through the camp, was invited to the officers' mess. Ganesh and
Hoosanee, meanwhile, were taking what rest and refreshment they could,
and making arrangements for another start. It was well that they had
their wits about them, for Tom, for the moment, was like one dazed. The
colonel of the detachment, when he had benevolently tried to enter into
conversation with him, congratulating him on his escape, and asking
what measures he meant to take to ensure his safe return to Gumilcund,
and had received nothing but vague replies, took Bertie aside, and
said that something ought to be done for the poor fellow. His mind
was evidently a little astray. Bertie had the same fear; had his duty
permitted--I have this part of the story from him--he would willingly
have joined his unfortunate friend, giving him the benefit of what he
considered his own clearer judgment. But this he knew was impossible.

He led him away from the mess table. 'My dear fellow,' he said as
firmly as he could, 'you must really tell me what your plans are. Where
do you mean to go when you leave this place? To Gumilcund?'

'To Gumilcund! When Grace is wandering Heaven alone knows where!'

'Do you love her?' asked Bertie, hoping to rouse him.

'Love!' burst out the poor fellow, 'that is too poor a word! I--oh,
God! there is no word--no word I have ever heard that can tell what I
feel. She is everything to me--life, love, hope. I would give myself--I
would die in slow tortures in the presence of my enemies, to save
her--my darling--one moment's uneasiness. And to think--but I can't
think. Thinking kills. I must act, or I must die!'

'But have you any clue?' said Bertie. He was full of the most
passionate sympathy, and he dared not give it vent. His unhappy friend
must be brought to take a practical view of his position if he was to
be saved. 'Couldn't you tell me how you mean to set about the search?'
he went on.

'I don't know. Don't ask me. Light will come. My servants are looking
for horses. Give me money, like a good fellow--all the money you
have. I will return it to you when we meet in Gumilcund. We shall
meet'--with a strange smile. 'Yes; don't look at me in that incredulous
way. And she will be there, too; and, look here, Captain Liston: if
you see the others--the General, and Lady Elton, and Trixy--tell them
that I am going through the land--from east to west, from north to
south--deserts, jungles, forests. I will leave no stone of it all
untrodden, and, sooner or later, with God's good help, I will come upon
her--or'--in a terrible whisper--'her murderers!'

'Yes, yes,' said Bertie chokingly. 'But, my dear boy, you mustn't be
so vague--you mustn't, really. You won't find her by riding over the
country, and most likely you will get killed yourself, which wouldn't
suit the book of any of us just now. I have been putting your scheme
before the General, you know, and he quite falls in with it--says you
are a military genius. We shall want you to help us to work it. Take
my advice, and----' He paused. 'The poor fellow doesn't so much as hear
me,' he said to himself. 'I wonder----'

But at this moment Hoosanee interrupted them. 'May I have a word with
my master?' he said.

At the sound of his voice Tom started up, all his lethargy gone. 'Yes,
Hoosanee, I have done with the Sahib,' he said. 'Captain Liston,
good-bye. I trust we may meet in Gumilcund.'

And before Bertie could speak another word he had gone.



CHAPTER XXXV

A BRUSH WITH MUTINEERS AND A CLUE TO THE FUGITIVES


Again we must let the Rajah's Heir tell his story in his own words. The
exact date of the following extracts is not given; but, from internal
evidence, I judge that they were written in the month of August.

It was a critical time for the country, for rebellion was still at
large, and no decisive step had been taken to check it; but the
gathering of enormous masses of rebels in and about the great centres
of mutiny, such as Delhi, which was still in the hands of the disloyal
troops, and Lucknow, where the gallant little band of Europeans
were holding at bay untold hosts of enemies, and the marching down
into Central India of a Goorkha army from Nepaul, kept the country
districts, over most of which the wave of insurrection had swept,
comparatively free from disorder. In many places English magistrates
had actually resumed their ordinary jurisdiction, and, although the
mails were subject to interruptions, and had to travel by a more
circuitous route than formerly, while the robber tribes and vagrants
were more troublesome and insolent to travellers, it was still
possible, even for a European, with pluck and readiness of wit, to
pass safely through the land. The villagers, moreover, and scattered
peasantry, having seen what the rule of a disorderly army meant,
showed less animosity against the English. In some few cases they were
actually friendly, while there can be no doubt that in others they
magnified the difficulties of the road to fugitives to magnify the
reward which they hoped to earn by hiding them.

Tom travelled, as he had done before, in an Eastern disguise, and he
did not, therefore, undergo the same perils as his compatriots. But
that his journey was not without its perils this record will show.

       *       *       *       *       *

'How many days and nights have gone by since I left the fort? I cannot
tell, and, in fact, it seems to me sometimes that I have lost the
power of recording time. One day is much the same as another. But this
morning something happened, and we have decided, in the little council
which we hold daily--Ganesh and Hoosanee and I--that it will be wise
to halt in this village for a few hours. So, to still my impatience,
and to regain, if I can, the balance of mind which deserted me so
strangely after my awful experiences at the fort, I am trying to put
down upon paper the things that have happened to us, and the things
that we expect. I do not despair yet. That seems strange, even to my
two devoted servants, who, I can see, though they do all they can to
help me, have themselves given up hope of anything but disaster. Ganesh
desires me to return to Gumilcund. The days at the fort have caused
him to change his politics, and he is very sorry now that he carried
Dost Ali Khan's message to me at all. If he only knew how fervently I
thank him in my heart! for, sad and dispiriting as this life is, I know
very well that at Gumilcund it would have been worse. Now I have hope,
at least. Every night, as we start on our journeys, I say to myself,
to-morrow morning we shall hear of them! And I feel that I am doing
something.

'It has come to our ears, through one of Hoosanee's many spies, that
a party of rebels, carrying with them English prisoners, will pass
through this village to-day, and we have reasons for thinking that
Grace and Kit may be amongst them. If they are--but I dare scarcely
think of it. The thought unnerves me.

'It has gone round that I am a great man--not a rajah--I dare not
give myself that title lest I should be detained--but an Ameer of
great wealth. How Hoosanee manages Heaven only knows: his resource and
readiness are marvellous: but he always keeps me provided with good
mounts, fine trappings for the horses, and fresh garments. I second
his efforts as well as I can by preserving, in my face and manner, the
dignity of a king's envoy, and we meet with respect everywhere. In this
large and populous village, I have been given the whole of the serai
to myself, and the chief men amongst the villagers have brought beds
and padded quilts, and water and food for my entertainment. We arrived
between night and morning. It is full noon now--the awful, burning noon
of this terrible season. I occupy a pavilion lifted high above the
court of the serai. Ever since early morning the people of the village
have been crowding in to see me; but, thank Heaven, the heat has driven
them away at last. While my good Hoosanee prowls about, picking up what
information he can, and Ganesh is making arrangements for our further
supplies, I can draw down my blinds and rest.

'I have slept--actually slept. I dreamt that we were together again
in England, Grace and I. Is this a good omen? God grant it. Hoosanee,
who has just been in, tells me that he has gained over the villagers.
They will not attempt to fight the rebel escort, but if the sepoys halt
here for a few hours, as it is supposed they will do, it is proposed to
take the prisoners from them by subtlety. He asked what I would promise
them, and I left him free to make any conditions he pleased. I think he
has been obliged to tell more than he intended, for I hear a great buzz
as of many voices in the serai, and I can see through my blinds that
the people are gathering together in their multitudes. If they will
have me as a leader I am ready to put myself at their head. Ah! how my
heart bounds as I think of it! Once--once to see myself face to face
with these villains! But we must be prudent. We must remember Cawnpore.
Subtlety first, till the captives are in our hands, and then force!'

       *       *       *       *       *

'It is all over! Not for me, for my task is not done; yet, sad and
hopeless as I feel, there is in my soul a certain wild springing up of
exultation which prevents me from being utterly cast down. It is for
them--for the torturers of women and the slaughterers of unarmed men
and helpless children--that the end has come. Fifty rebel sepoys with
their leader lie slain in the narrow streets of this quiet village.
Their prisoners--two young English officers, fearfully attenuated, who
had been walking under the sun of this August day with chains on their
limbs, and a lady in a cart whose face I have not seen, though I know
to my sorrow that she is not Grace--are under the care of my excellent
Hoosanee in the house of the headman of the village.

'How did it all come about? This I must try to remember and put down.
That we--the assailants of this valiant fifty--were only about twelve
men all told I know, for Hoosanee counted them out before me. It was
a fortunate circumstance for us that we had anyone at all to help us,
for the villagers, though sympathetic and willing to earn the large
reward I offered, had no wish to put their skins in jeopardy by trying
conclusions with armed and disciplined soldiers. But, as it happened, a
little band of Bheels, on their way to fill up the gaps made daily by
sword and pestilence in one of the newly formed native regiments, were
halting in the village, and some of these were ready to flesh their
swords on the persons of the hated Poorbeahs to whom, as Hoosanee had
represented, the English prisoners' escort belonged.

'They marched in early in the evening. The village was complaisant,
and an enormous quantity of food, with good liquor to wash it down,
was brought to them, while the serai which I had vacated was allotted
to them for the long rest that would be sure to follow their heavy
meal. They entered and disposed themselves for sleep, sentinels being
posted at every entrance to give notice of danger. Night fell. My few
men and I were close by, watching. The sentinels, who had feasted as
luxuriously as their comrades, kept on the alert for a short time,
and then, seeing that everything was quiet, addressed themselves to
sleep. Some of our friends amongst the villagers slipped in softly,
set the prisoners free and brought them out, whereupon our little
body of sturdy hill-men ran into the serai with shouts and the fierce
clattering of arms. From outside these shouts were echoed by the
villagers, and the unhappy wretches in the serai, thinking, no doubt,
that an army was upon them, were completely paralysed. Numbers were
slain. The remainder rushed out. It was deep night now, and they
could not see the number of their assailants. I stood at the entrance
alone, and I cut them down one after the other. God forgive me if I
sinned, not in killing, but in the awful spirit of exultation which
possessed me as I plied my fearful task. Ten men must have fallen to
my sword. Some who had caught up their weapons in their abject flight
tried to resist me, but I was too swift for them. I was not a man, I
was an avenging fate. Those who escaped me fell into the hands of the
villagers, and they, with yells of derision, drove them back into the
serai, so that in a brief hour it was all over. Every one of the rebel
escort was slain, and their prisoners--who, we hear, were to have been
taken to Lucknow and there most foully put to death--are safe in our
hands.'

       *       *       *       *       *

'The exultation which followed my easy victory did not last long. What
does the slaughter of one or two matter in this great saturnalia of
blood and wretchedness? Grace has not been found, and till my hair
turns grey, and my limbs wither from age and disappointment, I will
search for her. So we--Hoosanee, Ganesh, and I--are on the march again.
The little party of prisoners is left in the village. I was surprised
and deeply touched to find that the lady in the cart was Mrs. Lyster,
my travelling friend of the "Patagonia." She and her companions,
supposing me to be a native potentate who had interfered in their
behalf, sent as soon as the struggle was over to thank me for their
rescue, and to beg for the favour of an interview. I sent back word by
Hoosanee, who was their messenger, that I would wait upon them, and,
dressed as usual in my Indian disguise, I entered the inner court of
the headman's house where they were resting.

'I had resolved not to make myself known as an Englishman, but the
sight of Mrs. Lyster's sorrowful face and neglected dress--she who had
always been so gay and trim!--was almost too much for my resolution. It
gave me a little pang to find that she had not the least suspicion of
my being anything but what I gave myself out to be; and how strange it
was to me to receive her humble thanks! Evidently she had been chosen
to speak, for the young fellows with her were too much exhausted to
be capable of carrying on a conversation. Sad as it all was, I could
have smiled at her careful speech. She had never been very strong in
Hindostani, and she was fearful of not speaking to the great Indian
lord in a sufficiently respectful manner. Over and over again I longed
to turn everyone out, and to speak to her in our own English tongue.
But this I knew would have been the height of imprudence.

'I hope I replied becomingly to her thanks.

'And now came the question of what they were to do next. They wished to
reach, as soon as possible, a place where they could feel themselves
secure, and I was anxious to have them in Gumilcund with my other
fugitives; but I could not, even for their sakes, give up my search,
and I was afraid of allowing them to travel alone. The two young men,
moreover, who as I presently found out were subalterns in the army, and
mere boys, were so much prostrated by the hardships they had undergone
that to take them on at once might have endangered their lives. Mrs.
Lyster told with tears that one of them had been tied to a tree in a
village through which they had passed, and flogged in the presence of a
hooting crowd of villagers, and that both of them had been put in irons
and forced to walk for miles under the burning sun. Taking all these
things into consideration, we thought it best that they should run the
risk of staying where they were for a few days. I, in the meantime,
would send messengers to Gumilcund, which was within three days' march
of the village, and an escort strong enough to take them there safely
would be sent out.

'Mrs. Lyster showed some animation when Gumilcund was mentioned.

'"I have heard of the little State as one of the happiest and quite the
most wisely governed in India. Are you," looking at me doubtfully, "the
Rajah?"

'I drew back from the light and put on all my dignity. "Madam," I said,
bowing low, "I have at least great influence in Gumilcund, and that,
with everything else I possess, is at your service."

'"Everything, except your Excellency's time," said Mrs. Lyster, with a
touch of her old spirit which enchanted me.

'Keeping myself well in hand, I made another ceremonious reverence. "My
gracious lady must know," I said, "that my time is not my own. If it
were, she would be welcome to it."

'"To whom does your Highness's time belong?" she asked.

'"To the God whom I have worshipped from my birth," I answered. "I will
speak to you frankly, for you are of those who can understand. I have
bound myself under a solemn vow to find and rescue an English lady from
whom I have received many kindnesses."

'"Is she in danger?" asked Mrs. Lyster.

'"I have reason to believe so," I answered.

'"A prisoner? English?" she asked eagerly.

'For an instant I forgot everything, and if Hoosanee, who was always
on the watch for these mistakes, had not interposed, I should certainly
have betrayed myself by dashing into English. Bowing himself almost to
the ground, he stepped forward.

'"Will my master pardon me?" he said. "I have a question to ask the Mem
Sahib."

'"Say on, Hoosanee," I said, withdrawing into the shadow, and letting
him continue the conversation. I did not, in fact, speak again--a
circumstance which annoyed Mrs. Lyster, for when, Hoosanee having
obtained all the information she could give us, we retreated to the
courtyard, I heard her say, in English, "He is the nicest native I ever
met. But what a pity to see him so completely in the power of that
deceitful-looking servant!" I thought, as I crossed the court, how, if
God spares us to see some of this dreadful tangle straight, Mrs. Lyster
and I will laugh over it by-and-by.

'We saw our host, who was perfectly agreeable, vowing, by all he held
sacred, that the fugitives whom the courage of his lords had rescued
should be well treated while they were in the village.

'Ganesh now came in, and informed us before him that my letters had
been sent to Gumilcund. These were to Chunder Singh and Lutfullah,
requesting that men and money should be sent to the village at once.
The money was to reward those who had stood by us. The men were to
escort Mrs. Lyster and her companions to Gumilcund. When he heard of
soldiers and treasure, the headman became more and more abject. I
believe he will be loyal. Fortunately, no one of the prisoners' escort
is left to tell the tale of their destruction to the rebel army.

'This over, we retired to the hut that had been allotted to me, and
discussed our further proceedings, which were to be moulded on the
information given to Hoosanee by Mrs. Lyster, and which, with the
object of seeing things more clearly, for I am still like one wandering
in a maze, I shall write down here.

'It was by the merest chance that it all happened. For the latter
part of their miserable journey--it had lasted a week when we rescued
them--she had been given a small covered bullock-cart, such as native
women travel in. At the last stage, when a halt was called, the cart
was drawn into what seemed to her to be a large market-place. It was
mid-day, she said, and their escort and the people of the village
where they were halting appeared to be asleep, for there was no noise.
She tried to sleep too. She thinks she did drop into a doze; but she
always slept with one ear open, and the sound of low whispering close
under the cart aroused her. One of the side curtains was lifted, and a
face peered in. It was not an angry face. It was an inquisitive face.
The face withdrew, and another took its place. This one gazed at her
with considerably more attention. But it, too, withdrew. She was now
thoroughly awake, and a little startled. She crept to the side of
the cart where she had seen the faces, and laid her ear against the
curtain. An altercation was going on. Words that might be rendered in
English as, "She is!" "She is not!" "I'm certain," "So am I;" "You are
a fool!" "I'm not: you are!" were being bandied from mouth to mouth.
All she could gather at first was that both of the men had thought
they recognised her, and that they did not take her to be the same
person. But why this interest? She continued to listen, and it seemed
to her presently that the man who spoke in negatives had convinced his
companion. His name was Tikaram. When they settled down to confidential
talk, she heard him say distinctly that he was in search of an English
girl and a fair-haired boy, who, he was led to believe, had been
taken prisoners by Dost Ali Khan. A third man joined the conference,
who, from the way in which he spoke, she judged to be a disarmed and
fugitive sepoy. He was working his way into Nepaul, and appeared to
be in great dread of the swamps that have to be crossed before the
mountain kingdom is reached. In the course of conversation he mentioned
having heard of English fugitives going that way.

'I can write of it calmly now--too calmly--for I am becoming
accustomed to cruel shocks, and my heart, I think, is growing callous;
but, when I heard it first, when I tried to realise that my tender and
delicate Grace might be entangled in the meshes of the pestilential,
tiger-haunted district which I had crossed in the winter, my heart, I
confess, nearly failed me.

'But to return. On hearing of fugitives, Tikaram roused himself and
asked for particulars. The conversation became very swift now, so that
Mrs. Lyster could not quite follow it; but she is certain that the
sepoy convinced Tikaram of the identity of the fugitives of whom he had
heard with those he was seeking. He went off presently in search of
an ekka with a swift pony, and returned to bid his friends good-bye.
Mrs. Lyster thinks that the sepoy joined him, but of this she cannot be
quite sure. She believes, however, that their designs were friendly.

'Now this, it will be said, was not much to go upon, but we have to
make the best we can of it, for we have no other clue. Hoosanee builds
much, I find, on Tikaram's name. This Tikaram, if he is the same man,
was a servant in the house where Grace was staying at Nowgong, and
seems to have been deeply attached to her. There was besides some
whisper of a reward if he could bring her safely out of Nowgong. The
mystery lies in his knowing that she is not with the other fugitives
at Gumilcund. Hoosanee says that he advised him not to follow them out
of Nowgong, but it is quite possible that he may have been upon their
heels and have witnessed the capture of Grace and Kit. Conjecture,
however, is of little use. We have determined in any case to follow
Tikaram, and early in the morning of the day after the rescue we made
a forced march to the village where Mrs. Lyster and her friends halted
last. There, Hoosanee being as clever as usual in picking up news,
we heard that Tikaram had been heard of at Ghazeapore. That district
is comparatively quiet, as my good friends the Ghoorkas, under their
gallant captain, Gambier Singh, are holding Azimgurh in force. It would
be curious if Grace could have wandered so far, but Hoosanee says it is
not at all impossible. Since the day when she was said to have been put
out of the fort held by Dost Ali Khan more than three weeks have gone
by. I tremble as I write the words. I scarcely dare to credit them.
Three weeks! She may have died long since. If she is alive still--Ah! I
cannot write! I cannot think! God help me! Let me preserve my reason,
at least until I know! Then do with me as Thou wilt. I will be dumb!'

       *       *       *       *       *

'Three more days of rapid travelling have gone by. We are going night
and day. When our horses are knocked up Hoosanee, by some miraculous
means only known to himself, gets us fresh ones. He tells me that he is
drawing largely upon the future. Let him! So long as we are moving--so
long as I have still this little ray of hope to carry me on--I care for
nothing else.

'We are resting in a small dak bungalow on the banks of a canal, which
was occupied I suppose formerly by an English engineer, and which is
within a few hours' ride of Azimgurh. I wished to ride on without
drawing rein, but our horses gave in altogether, and we find that we
must let them rest for a few hours. I write because I dare not think.
Every day my love and agony seem to increase, and I feel sometimes as
if I could not bear it much longer. In spite of the fatigue we are
undergoing, I am afraid to sleep, for the dreams that haunt me are
worse than my waking thoughts. Oh, what horror! What misery! Talk of
the hideous visions of a maniac! They can be nothing to mine. Time
after time my good Hoosanee has come with tears and cried out to me to
awake, for he could not bear to hear my sobs.

'We have heard of Tikaram again. I trust indeed that we are almost on
his heels. He seems to have visited Azimgurh. Some one heard that he
was given a little band of Ghoorka soldiers to help him in his search.
If that is so, he must have made Gambier Singh very sure of his good
will. I shall hear all about it presently from himself.'

       *       *       *       *       *

'I feel as if I ought to have been far from this hours ago. It is
Gambier Singh's fault that I am not. He has beguiled me to remain by
the promise of such help as it would not be prudent of me to refuse. I
have slept for two good hours: such a sleep as I have not known since
I left Gumilcund: and now, while the last preparations for our march
are being made, I will write down in my book the strange events of
yesterday.

'I had no difficulty in finding the head-quarters of the fine little
Ghoorka army; my difficulty was in having speech of their captain.
Fortunately, however, while I was standing at one of the outposts
begging that a note from me might be taken in to him, there passed
by a man who had often seen me during my visit to Jung Bahadour at
Katmandoo. He ran in with my note, and in ten minutes' time Gambier
Singh himself appeared upon the scene. I shall never forget the warmth
of his welcome, or the passionate sympathy and interest with which he
threw himself into the history of my misfortunes. I really think he
almost regretted for a moment the responsible position he occupied,
which prevented him from joining me in my search.

'We held a long and earnest consultation. I find that the rumour
concerning Tikaram is true. He came to the camp with his story, which
was that he was in search of a young Englishwoman and a child with long
fair hair, travelling as it was supposed alone, who had been heard
of last in these districts, and were said to be making for Nepaul.
He wished to follow and help her; but his resources were completely
exhausted, he had no arms, and he feared to penetrate the jungle alone.
So Gambier Singh gave him a body of trusty men to accompany him. This
happened yesterday only, so we shall soon be on their track.'



CHAPTER XXXVI

IN THE DEADLY TERAI


This part of my friend's diary ends abruptly. During the next few
days it was impossible for him to write a line, and afterwards he
only mentioned briefly the incidents of his further adventures. But
Hoosanee, Gambier Singh and others, with whom I have spoken since, have
given me the details so fully that I can almost see the story passing
before my eyes.

I take it up from the point where the diary breaks off. The writing was
interrupted by Gambier Singh, who came in to tell him that everything
was ready for a start. The Ghoorka captain had not much hope himself of
a happy issue to the enterprise. He had lost too many men in the deadly
Terai not to know its perils, and he did not for one moment imagine
that a tender woman and delicate child would have been able to cross
it safely. But he was too chivalrous and kind of nature to be able to
quench his friend's hopes by expressing his own conviction. He expended
his sympathy in taking care that nothing which he could supply should
be wanting to the success of the enterprise.

Tom was attended now as befitted a person of rank. He rode in front on
a splendid little Arab horse--the gift of Gambier Singh--a small body
of Ghoorka soldiers, armed to the teeth, followed him, and close in the
rear came camels and bullock-carts, laden with camp equipage.

For two days and nights they plodded on. As the jungle closed round
them, and the air grew dark and pestilential, the despondency of
the young rajah increased. Day after day, to the imminent peril of
his life, he left the beaten tracks and made great circuits in the
bush. Now and then, at such times, he came upon sights that would
make his blood run cold--human bones bleaching in the sun, the bodies
of men, who seemed to be sepoys, half gnawed away by wild beasts,
and arms and utensils flung down in the bush. Once, emerging from a
close thicket, he came upon a huge tiger, mumbling over its horrid
feast. His blood was up, and, while the restless fire of the brute's
fierce eyes was upon him, it fell, mortally wounded, over the corpse
it had been devouring. His men, several of whom were close by, were
triumphant, and the beautiful monster was carried off to camp. As for
the conqueror, he turned away groaning--penetrated to the heart by a
sickness for which earth holds no remedy.

It was a sickness of the soul, for his bodily health did not suffer.
While one after another of his attendants sickened, and had to be sent
back, he held on. Even Ganesh, desperately anxious as he was to keep
up, was compelled to give in at last. Hoosanee, although his superb
devotion prevented him from acknowledging it, showed, by the wild look
in his eyes, that he was suffering from fever. Tom saw it all; but he
would not give in. 'Let us at least find Tikaram!' he said to Hoosanee.
'We know that he has gone into this place. Sooner or later we must come
upon his track. He is not alone as they are.'

One day, as they were plodding slowly on, a little cavalcade of men
and camels and Ghoorka soldiers, coming from the opposite direction,
met them. On both sides a halt was immediately called. Tom, who was in
front, saw, as the party opened out, that a litter was being carried
between them. His pulses had begun to beat so furiously that he could
scarcely breathe or speak, and he motioned that Hoosanee should speak
for him. A few words were exchanged. He could not hear them for the
tumult of his senses. Then Hoosanee came up. 'Well!' he said fiercely.

'My master, it is Tikaram. He is dying.'

'If he is _dead_, he must speak to me,' cried Tom.

In the next instant he had sprung from his horse, and was standing
beside the litter. He set aside the curtains and looked in. At the
sight of him, the fever-stricken wretch within, who had been lying in a
kind of trance, seemed to be galvanised into new life.

'Are you the rajah?' he said feebly. 'You--promised--a lakh of rupees.'

'A lakh!' echoed Tom. 'I tell you that if you have found them--if you
can guide us to where they are--I will make you rich beyond the dreams
of avarice.'

The man gave a deep sigh. 'A lakh!' he said slowly.

'But tell me! tell me!' said Tom.

'A lakh!' he repeated. 'I could win it yet. But I am dying.'

'You shall not die. I have medicines with me and nourishing food. Good
God!' He broke into English in his agitation. 'The man is going, and
he knows something. I read it in his eyes. Hoosanee, bring me wine or
spirits.'

A strong restorative was brought in a cup, which Hoosanee put to the
lips of the stricken man. He swallowed a few drops, and his eyes, which
had been closing, opened once more. Tom was going to speak again; but
Hoosanee stopped him.

'Let me speak, my master,' he said. 'The life is nearly gone, and
flutters like a spent flame. A breath may put it out.'

'Right!' said Tom. 'Take my place!'

Then, in the silence of both cavalcades, Hoosanee stooped over the
litter. 'Do you know me, O brother?' he whispered.

'You are the seller of garnets,' answered Tikaram. 'You came to
Nowgong, and the lotus-eyed trusted you, and you carried her away.'

'She was taken from me, Tikaram.'

'She was taken from you. I saw it all. I followed her to the fort, and
when the evil-hearted Soubahdar took her out of the gates----'

He paused. 'Let my brother go on,' said Hoosanee gently. 'There is no
enemy here. Why did the Soubahdar take the lotus-eyed forth?'

'The White Ranee commanded him. She was black of heart and evil. I saw
her at the gate, and she saw me, and her servants, whom she commanded,
caught me by the girdle and would have slain me, only that the God
whom I serve was my friend. For a night and a day I lay like one dead,
suffering grievously. My strength came back and I set out in search of
her.'

Again his breath failed him; but a few drops of Hoosanee's potion made
him strong enough to go on with his tale.

'There were two--the Miss Sahib and the child. What the Soubahdar would
have with them I knew not. He was known in the villages about, and I
tracked him from place to place; but was never swift enough to come up
with him. Then I lost him. He had gone out of a village in the morning,
and his prisoners, who were still alive, were with him. It was thought
that he was taking them to the hill-countries of the north. But of
this I know nothing, save that they were going north, and that they
travelled by unfrequented ways. After that village, O brother, I lost
him. Some said he was dead; but his body was not found. Miss Sahib and
the child I lost too; but I went on, seeking everywhere.'

'Courage!' whispered Hoosanee. 'My master will make your family rich.'

'I thought I heard of them at last,' he went on. 'But they were alone,
and how could that be? Where was the Soubahdar who had taken them from
the fort?'

'Could he have deserted them?' said Hoosanee--'left them in some jungly
place to be fallen upon by the wild beasts.'

'Why should he do so, O brother, when he could take them out himself
and kill them with the sword? He is not of my religion. He is a Moslem.
This I said to myself, and my trouble was great. But the lakh of
rupees and the eyes of the Miss Sahib, who, as my brother knows, will
sometimes smile graciously on her servants, kept me from going back. I
travelled on till I reached the camp of the Ghoorkas, where I told my
story, and where I was given men and food to take me on.'

'Is that all?' said Hoosanee, very sadly. 'Has my brother come back
unsuccessful?'

'Am I going back?' cried the poor creature, starting up and locking
round with a fierce glitter in his bloodshot eyes. Pain conquered
him, and he lay back groaning. 'I could stand and walk no longer,' he
moaned, 'and they put me in this. But they said, "We are going on, we
camp in new ground every day," and I believed them--I believed them.'

'Perhaps you _are_ going on,' said Hoosanee soothingly. 'This country
is strange to me. But tell me, if you can, why you think that Missy
Grace is here.'

'Have you ever seen Miss Sahib's writing?' said Tikaram.

'My master knows it well. If you have found anything, show it to me,'
cried Hoosanee eagerly.

Tikaram was too weak to move. 'My right hand,' he murmured. 'Open it!'

Pulling aside the light covering that was over him, Hoosanee saw one
of his hands rigid, as it seemed, and firmly closed. He forced it open
as gently as he could, the man's eager eyes following him wistfully.
Tom was close by. He had heard the last words, and he was trembling
from head to foot with impatience. But he had to wait while the
fingers, cramped with the awful sickness of the jungle, were slowly
and painfully unclenched. The hand was nearly open at last. They saw
a scrap of paper, and Tom made a dash to seize it; but, with the
onslaught, the hand, as if moved by a will of its own, closed again.
Then a convulsive shudder ran through the man's wasted frame, and a
long, long sigh broke from his heart.

'He dies,' said one of the Ghoorka soldiers, falling back. 'Give room
for his spirit to pass out of him!'

Space was made round the litter; but Tom stood there still, with
blazing eyes looking down upon the clenched hand, which might, for all
he knew, hold a message for him.

'A moment, master--a little moment,' whispered Hoosanee.

'Try him with your drink!' said Tom.

It was put to his lips; but he could not swallow. Stooping over him,
Hoosanee heard him murmuring the name of his God. 'It is very near,' he
said.

In the next instant the poor creature started up. 'Missy Grace!' he
cried out. 'Missy Grace!'

Tom groaned. 'He knows something. Make him speak. The secret will die
with him!' he sobbed.

'Master,' said Hoosanee solemnly, 'the secret is at your feet.'

For, with the sudden movement, the clenched hand had relaxed, the
fingers had fallen open, and the paper they contained had rolled out
upon the ground.



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE ADVICE OF BÂL NARÎN


Tikaram was dead. His was an instance, and not a solitary one, of
the devotion of which the sons of the soil were capable, both to the
children under their charge, and to the men and women who in the days
of their power had treated them with consistent kindness. While his
co-religionists covered his face and built hastily a pyre of dead wood
to consume his body, Tom went apart and, with a beating heart, undid
the many foldings of the paper.

The writing within was in Grace's hand. He saw this at a glance, but
the words were so faintly traced that he had great difficulty in
deciphering them. He did not, in fact, make it all out at once. But
for us it has been transcribed, and we are able to give it as it was
written down.

'This is for Tom. I know he is looking for me. When I have an
opportunity I shall throw it down, addressed to him in his Indian
name, and some one, perhaps hoping for reward, will take it to him----'
A break, and then, 'I cannot write. I am watched day and night. What
will the end be? I dare not even imagine. But I must not die while Kit
is living.' Another short break, and then in tremulous, very minute
characters, 'I am afraid of this man. There is a wicked look in his
face. I think he is vindictive; but what can I have done to offend him?
To-day he threatened to separate me from Kit. If he does I know what I
will do. Don't fear for me, my beloved ones. My peace-bringer is still
at my heart. When the occasion comes I know how to use it----' After
this last entry a considerable interval must have elapsed. To those
who read it afterwards it seemed as if some mental shock had passed
over the poor girl, shattering her nerves. When she wrote again it
was with a sort of surprise. 'I forgot about my plan--' so the next
entry runs--'but did I have a plan? My mind goes from me. Everything
is confused. I feel as if I had been dead, and had come to life again.
Perhaps I have. But here is my darling Kit sleeping sweetly beside me
in the hut where we have been resting all day. Is he dead too? Or who
is dead? Everything is confused, and I cannot understand. But I think
he and I are alive. What we are doing here I don't know in the least.
Some one somewhere, who seemed kind, dressed us in native dresses and
stained our faces, and some one else gave us a cart and a bullock, and
so we go on, day after day, day after day. Kit says we are going into
Nepaul, for the people there are kind to the English. The poor English!
I wonder how many of them have been killed! Kit says we are English,
too. I wonder if that is true. I thought I was English once. I thought
I was a woman and a lady, but that must have been in another life----'
Ah! how strange and pitiful it was! Spelling it out with pain and
difficulty, Tom felt now and then as if his heart would break. If he
could only weep as Bertie Liston had done! But he could not. His eyes
were dry and hot, and a fire seemed to be burning within him, and his
breath came and went in panting sobs like one in the agonies of death.

The last words were more clearly written, and the collected way in
which they were put together, contrasting vividly with the incoherence
of what went before, gave him a little glimmer of hope.

'I have slept, and I am better, and I remember now what I intended
to do when I first began to write this. There is a good man here--a
hermit or holy man, who has penetrated our disguise, and who pities us.
He has heard from those who have heard it from others that fugitives
have been inquired for in the villages hereabouts. He advises us,
however, not to linger here. The Ghoorka army are on their march
southwards, and the people are excited. But he will try that my scroll
may reach those who are trying to find me. I think Tom is one. If he
finds me--but I remember that he may see this. I thank him with all my
heart for what he has done, for what, as I believe, he is still doing
for us. To-morrow we go into the jungle. The good hermit will guide us.
We go towards the mountains, and we hope to succeed in crossing them.
If this is found let those who find it look for us in the jungle or on
the hills. There may yet be time to save Kit. He is the noblest and
bravest little fellow that ever lived.'

That was all. The suspicion which had led Tikaram first, and later
the young rajah, to search for them in the jungle was confirmed,
but there was no further clue. These might be the last words of the
heroic girl before darkness swallowed her up. And yet it was with
a strange rapture--a sense of exultation such as he had not known
since he fleshed his maiden sword on the slaughterers of women and
children--that Tom pressed the dear missive to his heart. She was
hoping for his help, counting on him as her defender. And since she had
lived through so much, was it not possible that still, even at this
eleventh hour, he might find her? He dared not think of it. It was too
good, too joyful. Yet for a few instants the warm blood welled to his
heart, and his pulses beat a triumphant measure, and it seemed as if
all--all he had suffered, his toil, his depression, his despair, his
horror, was as nothing. Found! Brought back in safety; cared for with
so deep a tenderness that the terrors of the way she had gone, and the
misery and humiliation of her capture, would be forgotten. His heart
swelled. The love it contained made it fit to break. 'It is too much,
too much,' he said to himself. 'I cannot bear it.'

And then he remembered suddenly that his task was not done, nay, that
the hardest part of it was to come, and he tried to be stern, and to
brace up his energies to do what lay before him.

They had halted in a small open glade. The pyre on which the body of
Tikaram had been placed was already kindled, and the smoke was rising
into the still air and floating away in tremulous waves, like heat
made visible. The birds of prey that had been hovering over the litter
were sailing away sullenly, uttering harsh cries. The men of both
cavalcades, taking advantage of the rest, had tethered their horses
and, gathered together in little groups, were lighting small fires
to cook their evening meal. On all sides they were hemmed in by the
jungle, and, as the shades of evening gathered, strange noises as of
shrieks and sobbings echoed and re-echoed through the dense and matted
underwood.

Tom had gone apart to read the paper. When the strong determination to
act at once came upon him, he called up the chief of his little escort
and Hoosanee. The latter, at his request, fetched two or three of those
who had been with Tikaram. When they were all together Tom addressed
them in Hindoostani. He told them as much as he could of the paper that
had fallen into his hands, expressed it as his conviction that those he
sought were still wandering in the jungle, and asked their advice.

Not one of them, not even Hoosanee, but gave it as his opinion that the
fugitives were long since dead. If they had crossed the Terai, which
was unlikely, they could never have crossed the mountains. The Ghoorkas
were for giving up the search in despair. Hoosanee said nothing; his
eyes followed those of his master. Tom asked temperately if, in their
opinion, there was any fear to be entertained of their encountering
detachments of the rebels here. They believed not. Later there would,
no doubt, be many fugitives from the revolted troops, but there had not
as yet been any English victory of sufficient importance to cause the
rebels to despair. If they fled from one place they would join their
comrades in another. But jungle-fever was a worse enemy than revolted
sepoys.

Tom said he knew this, and he therefore proposed that the greater
number of those who had come with him and Tikaram as escorts should
return to their respective regiments. Two or three of the strongest he
would like to retain in case of accident. But even as regarded this he
would wish them to judge for themselves. The coolies must go with him
to take on the carts with provision for the way and camp equipage, and
if his Ghoorka friends would do him a kindness they would take back
with them his friend and servant Hoosanee, recommending him to the
kindness of the Captain Sahib, Gambier Singh, until such time as he
could himself return.

He was interrupted by the sound of sobbing, and, looking down, saw
Hoosanee at his feet. 'Have I offended my master?' said the poor
fellow. 'Have I been indifferent in this search, or does he reproach
me with failing in my service to him? If I have, let him speak to me!
Nay, let him strike me! I will take punishment from his hands. But let
him not send me away from him!'

'My good Hoosanee,' said Tom very gently. 'Do you not see that it is of
you I am thinking? You are ill. You cannot deny it.'

'If that is all,' said Hoosanee rising, 'I will venture to disobey your
Excellency's command.'

'How? you will be rebellious!' said Tom smiling.

'I will do what I know is for the best. Does my master think that he
could go on without me?'

'But consider, Hoosanee--if you were really ill----!

'Master, if I die, I die. I will never be burdensome to you. Let me go
on!'

'If you must, there is no more to be said. But the responsibility is
your own,' said Tom gravely.

The Ghoorkas meanwhile had been discussing their plans. When, looking
radiant, Hoosanee stood aside, one of them stepped forward, and spoke.
The rajah, he said, had spoken well. If some of them must die, there
was no reason why all should meet with the same fate, and, in the
province whence they had come, good men were wanted. They proposed that
six of the strongest from the two escorts should be chosen to attend
the rajah on his farther journey, and that the rest should return to
their captain.

Tom thanked them, and gave orders that all arrangements should be made
for the breaking up of the party.

When they had withdrawn he held a further consultation with Hoosanee
and the cleverest of his Ghoorka guides. This man had felt the curious
magnetic power which Tom generally exercised over Orientals, and had
become almost as much devoted to him as his own servants. Uninvited, he
had joined the conference, and he now threw himself at his feet and,
having begged that he might be one of those whose services he would
retain, answered, with readiness and perfect knowledge, his questions
about the country. No one, as it happened, could have been better
acquainted with the low country that lies at the foot of the hills
which separate the Nepaul valley from the plains of North-West India.
The jungle-fever had no power over him. He breathed more freely on this
pestilential plain than in the high mountain valleys. Moreover, the
wild tribes, or Aswalias, as they are generally called, who inhabited
the jungle of the Terai, knew and respected him. Had he not again and
again brought down great Shikaris, or hunters from the hills, who slew
the tigers that devastated their fields and carried off their little
ones? The great reptiles themselves that, like malignant spirits,
shuddered through the long grass of the jungle, had no terror for Bâl
Narîn, and he carried with him potions and unguents that could steal
the poison from the deadliest snake-bites. Though a Ghoorka, therefore,
and, as such, a natural enemy of the wild Aswalias, he had long been
counted their friend. Bâl Narîn shared his countrymen's admiration for
Europeans, of whom he had been frequently the companion and guide. It
was to fit himself for their service that he had practised Hindoostani,
which he spoke with quite sufficient ease to carry on a conversation,
and, as this was a rare art amongst the Ghoorkas, it made him all the
more valuable. His European friends called him Billy--a trick into
which Tom fell with a readiness that betrayed him at once to the keen
perception of Bâl Narîn, who had made up his mind long since that he
was far more English than Indian. The discovery, however, had rather
increased than diminished his reverence for his new lord, to whom he
was now almost as much devoted as Hoosanee himself.

These three, then, set themselves to discuss their plans.

Bâl Narîn stated that they were one day's direct march from the foot
of the hills. The road was not, at that time, nearly so good as it has
since become; but he was able to speak of it as comparatively safe
and easy. With the ascent of the hills, the difficulties would begin.
Exceedingly precipitous, choked with low underwood and haunted with
wild beasts, the belt of country which lay between the pestilential
swamp they were now crossing and the middle slopes of Sisagarhi was
almost as dangerous as the Terai, and far more exhausting to the
traveller. The question was, could a woman and child have crossed it
alone? Bâl Narîn thought not. He inclined to the opinion that if they
were living--a point concerning which Tom would admit no doubt--they
were still on the plain. Hoosanee, on the other hand, who had witnessed
the heroism of which Grace was capable when she had others than herself
to defend, was loud in his belief that she had set herself to face the
perils of Sisagarhi, and that she had succeeded in her attempt.

Above the lower belt of which I have spoken, and on the middle slopes
of the first range of mountains, there are glorious forests and
delicious pastures. In this favoured region, where the temperature is
that of southern Europe at its best, the oak and the chestnut, the ash
and the elm, the laurel and the magnolia, are to be found in company
with the pipul, the banyan and the acacia. In the midst of this wealth
of vegetation there are pretty little villages inhabited by quiet
cultivators of the Magar and Newar tribes--Buddhist for the most part,
and people of gentle life, over whom the Ghoorka warriors exercise
lordship, in return for a protectorate that is gratefully welcomed.
There are posts here and there, along the road over the pass, in which
soldiers are stationed, to drive back the savage and predatory tribes
from the south, who, since the settlement of the country early in the
century, have been able to do little mischief besides such as might
arise from an occasional cattle raid. It was the fear that these wild
tribes, held in check on one side by the British and on the other by
his own stout little soldiers, might become powerful and overrun the
country that had induced Jung Bahadoor to originate the policy, which
he carried through with such consistency and success throughout the
year of the rebellion. Hoosanee, then, gave it as his opinion that
the fugitives had reached this middle region, and found a temporary
resting-place in one of the villages. He proposed that they should
press forward without an hour's delay, make for the foot of the hills,
and set themselves to climb them. As for Tom, he wished to go both
ways. If they had reached the further side of the jungle, he could not
bear that they should remain without help one moment longer than was
absolutely necessary, while, on the other hand, if they were here on
the plain hiding, it might be, in some miserable hut, how terrible it
would be to leave them to their fate!

'Hoosanee,' he said at last. 'Do you really wish to please me?'

'Do I wish to please my master?' cried Hoosanee. 'How can he ask me?'

'I ask you, Hoosanee, because I must put your affection to the severest
test. It has come to this. We must divide our party. You must go one
way and I another. Listen, and do not speak until I tell you! I would
divide myself if I could. I would climb Sisagarhi to search for Miss
Grace there, and I would hunt this jungle through and through, in case
she should be hiding here still. How can I do it? In one way only. You
are my second self, my good friend, and you must take part of my duty
from me.'

'I will stay then. My master shall climb Sisagarhi.'

'No, Hoosanee. It is you who shall go on. Be silent! I cannot allow you
to decide this. I have my reasons for what I am doing. Listen again!
You shall take three of the Ghoorkas, and a runner to send back with
intelligence as soon as you have gained it. I will take the others,
and Billy who knows the people shall go with me. Come at once! I will
divide provisions and send you on.'

And so it was settled to Hoosanee's distress, for, although he saw at
once that it was necessary to the success of his enterprise that he
and his master should separate, he would have preferred to reserve to
himself the more dangerous part. As for Tom, while he felt that the
arrangement he had proposed was the only one which offered any hope
of a good issue to their task, he was thankful to have succeeded in
sending off Hoosanee to the higher latitudes. In the meantime, Bâl
Narîn was far more useful to himself than even his own servant could
have been.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE SHIKARI'S DISCOVERIES


Very early the next morning the cavalcade divided. The released Ghoorka
escorts returned to their regiments. Hoosanee, with good store of
provisions and three mounted soldiers, went off in the direction of the
pass, and Tom, accompanied by Bâl Narîn, turned off the main road to
seek a byway through the jungle, which was known to his guide as having
been used by criminals and fugitives, but which was little frequented
by travellers.

It is the fortunes of this last detachment that I propose to follow, my
chief authority being Bâl Narîn, whom I met a few years ago--an old man
then, but wonderfully clear as to intellect and memory--in his native
city, Katmandoo.

That it was a forlorn hope he had felt from the beginning, and nothing
but his extraordinary regard for the young rajah, who, as he expressed
it, 'held him by his eye,' would have induced him to go on with it.

I find that he and others looked upon Tom as perfectly mad at the
time. Many Orientals, however, and Bâl Narîn was fortunately amongst
their number, look upon madness as men of a later time have looked
upon inspiration. The man himself, they think, is helpless, and the
Divine speaks and acts through him. This, no doubt, in addition to his
peculiar fascinating power, was the cause of the faithfulness with
which Tom was followed more than once in his desperate enterprises.
Having been prevailed upon to go forward, Bâl Narîn acted as Subdul
Khan and Hoosanee and Ganesh, and even Gambier Singh, so far as
possible, had done. He gave himself heart and soul to the task before
him.

He spent the night before they started, not in resting, but in drawing
out a plan of the Terai, as it was known to him, and making various
imaginary routes to and fro, so that, in the future, he might be able
to say that every spot within a certain area--the limits of which he
did not think any fugitives from the Doab could have crossed--had been
thoroughly explored. These he proposed to traverse, penetrating by
the way into the solitary haunts of the half-savage Aswalias, whose
language he knew, and of whose friendship he was sure. For if such
travellers as the English girl and boy had passed through the more
unfrequented ways, they would most certainly have been heard of. Even
in the jungle and amongst half-naked savages, extraordinary pieces of
news, as Bâl Narîn knew from experience, are apt to spread.

The following morning he detailed his plan to Tom, who listened with
hope, and said that he would be guided by him entirely. That was a
terrible day's march. To cross from the main road to the bypath that
Bâl Narîn knew, it was necessary to plunge into the jungle, and the
coolies had here and there literally to hack a way through it for the
horses and camels. Comparatively open spaces, which Tom would have set
himself to canter over gaily, were carefully avoided by the Ghoorkas,
and Bâl Narîn told him that they were dangerous morasses, into which
he might have disappeared without hope of rescue. It was still worse
when they reached tracts where the vegetation was larger, for now giant
creepers flung down from the trees sinuous arms, with thorny leaves
that cut into the flesh of the coolies who hacked them away, and that,
when they touched the flanks of the horses, made the poor creatures
plunge and snort with pain. The closeness of the atmosphere, the dank
vegetable smells, and the effluvium from decaying growths, were almost
unendurable. There was danger, too, from the dwellers in the jungle.
A man-eating tiger, had one been abroad that evening, would have made
short work of these weary men. So, when the darkness began to gather,
they set torches flaring to frighten all evil things away, and far off
in the cavernous recesses of the jungle-kingdom they could hear the
dull roaring of the disappointed beasts of prey. That night they rested
as best they could, for Bâl Narîn refused to accept the responsibility
of going on. With the first break of day, Tom, who was quivering
through every nerve with fierce impatience, stirred them up. He found
the Ghoorka soldiers, who believed themselves lost beyond hope of
redemption, deeply depressed; but Bâl Narîn was in excellent spirits.
He informed Tom that he had discovered some of his own traces--the
marks he had set upon certain trees in one of his latest hunting-frays;
and he knew that his instinct, by which alone he had been moving on
the previous day, had not deceived him. He was making straight for the
point he wished to reach. This was encouraging, even to the soldiers.

They set forward again, and went on for many hours at a rate of
progress terribly slow to the young rajah's excited nerves. He was
on the strain of expectation. Over and over again he would pull Bâl
Narîn up short and make him listen to the mysterious whisperings and
flutterings that he had heard himself. But the experienced guide could
explain them all. He said, moreover, that it was impossible they could
be found here. Not even an Aswalia could have his dwelling in the midst
of such a region. And Tom tried to control himself. It was immeasurably
hard. All day long--and never so much as now--he was haunted by a
sick dread of that failure at the very moment of what might, with a
little foresight, have been transcendent success which makes uncertain
enterprises so nerve-harrowing. If she were near him and he passed her
by--if, from her hiding-place, she could hear the very tramp of their
horses, and, thinking they were enemies, plunge more deeply into the
jungle!

For so it might be. There was no argument of Bâl Narîn, to whom he
poured out his fears, which could persuade him that he was cherishing a
phantom fear. Then sometimes, as I have heard, it would come over him
with sharp throbbing of pain that he was wrong, and that these were
right. It was madness--nay, it was the very insanity of folly--to
imagine that, wandering in this haphazard way without chart or compass,
he would ever succeed in finding her. She was dead! dead! dead! And
if he were near her, or if he were far away, what could it matter?
The dead hold no commune with the living. By day and by night the
awful word rang in his ears. Bâl Narîn heard him repeating it. Dead!
Grace was dead--all her loveliness and sweetness--all her heroism and
patience--with the love and passion and tenderness unutterable that
she had inspired in the hearts of others--gone!--lost to the earth for
ever and ever and ever! There were moments in those awful days when his
soul went out beyond the limits of its own despair, and when abysses of
sorrow--fathomless as the graves in which our beloved be buried--would
seem to open out before his feet. Mad! Was he mad? No, he would say to
himself: it was the world--dull of eye and ear--insensible--suffering
itself to be shrouded with the veil of spiritual blindness which nature
throws round her human children, as she woos them softly to fulfil her
behests--the world was mad--he was sane. To him, in his anguish, the
anguish of the universe had been revealed--a pandemonium of woe that
made him sicken and tremble and cry out for Death, even the Death of
eternity, to release him from the torturing memory.

But, miserable as his thoughts were, they did not delay his steps.
Guided by Bâl Narîn he plodded on quietly hour after hour.

On the evening of the second day, they emerged from the jungle, and,
to the great contentment of the whole party, came to opener ground. On
the banks of a sluggish stream, whose course they had been following
for some time, the weeds and shrub had been cleared away to give place
to scanty herbage and lush green paddy-fields. An Aswalia village--a
melancholy little group of tiny bark huts--had been planted in the
clearing. It was a landmark for which Bâl Narîn had been looking. As
soon as he caught sight of it, he made his party halt, and cantered on
to make inquiries, and to prepare the villagers, who were exceedingly
jealous of their rights, for the passage of strangers.

He was away long enough to make Tom impatient; but when he returned,
his radiant face showed that he brought good news with him.

'Are they in the village?' cried Tom, leaping at once to the conclusion
which, a moment before, had seemed too rapturous, even for a vision.

'No,' said Bâl Narîn, drawing rein. 'But they have been heard of.'

'Where? where? Let us set off at once! You are our saviour, our good
genius,' cried Tom.

'The Sahib must be pleased to have patience still,' said Bâl Narîn,
with dignity. 'I will tell him what I have heard, and then he shall
decide what we are to do. Two days ago----'

'Two days--only two days--you are sure----'

'I am telling my tale to the Sahib as it was told to me. Two days ago
a woman and a little girl, who said that they were servants of the
English, came into the village. A holy man was with them. He was from
the Doab, he said. He had met the woman flying from murderers, and he
had vowed to carry her safely across the mountains with her child. They
were afraid to go by the main road, and they were seeking the pass
known as the "robbers' road." The headman is quiet and good when he
sees no chance of plunder. I know him well. There was nothing about the
travellers to tempt him, and perhaps he would have been afraid to hurt
the holy man. They were given shelter and provisions, for which the
woman and child gave the bangles of silver that they still wore. The
headman pitied them, and he would not take all. He directed them to the
next village, let them rest for a night, and sent them on. I asked how
they were travelling, and he said they had a bullock-cart.'

'But how do you know----' began Tom.

'Patience, Sahib! I am coming to that. The child, they tell me, wore a
little embroidered cap under her muslin veil. The cap was of a pretty
red colour, and one of the women in the village took a fancy to it. She
came behind the child and lifted it off. Then, Sahib, all who stood
round were speechless with surprise, for the child gave a cry, and the
woman caught it to her arms, and long yellow curls fell down about its
shoulders. What does the Sahib say to that?'

'It was Kit,' said Tom. 'But go on, for heaven's sake. Did the
villagers show them any unkindness?'

'No, Sahib, none. I think, from what I hear, that they were more
friendly than before. Perhaps they thought they would gain a reward
by-and-by. The headman begged them to remain, offering to keep them
till the war was over. But the woman would not hear of it. She said,
for the child's sake, she must go on to the mountains. But, Sahib, they
could not travel fast, and I know the way they have gone----'

'You think it a miracle that they should have lived so long, Bâl Narîn?'

'Sahib, it is the strangest thing I have ever heard. The gods have
cared for their own.'

'And since they have got so far, am I mad in thinking they may go
farther?'

'Who said that his Excellency was mad?'

'No one said so. I have read it in your eyes, Billy. But we are both
sane now. Yes--it is no question of madness. Two days. What could they
have done in that time? They could not travel day and night as we will.'

'If we travel at night we may miss them, Sahib.'

'True; I had not thought of that. But, come on now. There are two good
hours of light before us. Then you shall rest, and I will watch. Have
you been able to get any fresh provisions?'

'They are bringing in bags of dal and rice, which will last us for six
more days. By that time we shall have reached the further boundaries of
the Terai.'

And so they went on once more.

I try to imagine it all sometimes, but I confess I find it hard,
although Bâl Narîn and the rajah himself, in the moments of confidence
that come to him on rare occasions, have again and again given me
narratives of their experiences.

They went on for two more days. This part of the jungle was haunted by
tigers. At night, when they made up their camp-fires, they could hear
them howling about the sluggish streams that crept through the jungle.
There were serpents, too. Tom slew one monster that reared itself up in
his path by striking its head with the butt-end of his musket. But to
him the most appalling feature of all this march was the swooping down
of the foul birds of prey that came from their eyrie in the hills in
search of such meat as the jungle would always yield. The creatures had
not the least fear; they came so near, sometimes, that he could have
struck at them with his cane. It seemed as if they were waiting for the
death that might presently fall upon their victims.

He shot down two of these mighty birds in one day, glorying over them
as he had gloried over the sepoys whom he had destroyed.

His mind, in the meantime, was oscillating between hope and despair.
Every hour increased his impatience, and added to his horror and
uncertainty. It was true that, only a few days before, they had been
seen living, and still, so far as he could gather, in good health;
but would not the difficulties and dangers of this further journey,
which taxed their own resources to the utmost, break these tender
wanderers down? And to fail at the last moment, when help was actually
within reach--how infinitely pitiful it would be! He had one comfort,
meanwhile--Bâl Narîn was with him. The news heard at the Aswalia
village had completely won over the wily Ghoorka guide. Hitherto he had
gone on with the enterprise to indulge his employer, and humour the mad
caprice of an Englishman who had cast his spell over him. While the
European rajah 'held him with his eye,' he could not refuse to follow
him. Now, first, he began to believe in a happy issue. He would not say
much about it, for he was fearful, if he gave an encouragement which
turned out to be unfounded, the young rajah would sicken and die of
despair; but Tom, who could read the minds of his people, knew that he
was going forward with renewed energy.

It was on the second day after they left the village behind them that
Bâl Narîn's experienced eye began to detect marks which led him to
believe that they were actually, at last, on the fugitives' track.

They were in the path known in this region as the robbers' road--a
path which, though distinct enough to the experienced, was difficult
to pass over, being much choked with vegetation. Kutcha-grass, growing
to an immense height, made dense walls on either side of the road.
They were in their usual marching order--the coolies in front beating
down obstructions, Tom riding behind them, and peering anxiously into
the recesses of the jungle, behind him the Ghoorka soldiers mounted on
camels, and Bâl Narîn bringing up the rear.

The guide was on foot, and studying the ground. He saw something
shining, and, stooping to pick it up, found that it was a silver
bead such as the women of these parts often wear in their bangles.
He has told me that the excitement caused by this apparently simple
discovery was so great that he could scarcely refrain from shouting
it aloud. But, in the next moment, he realised that it might not
mean anything--that, in any case, it would be unwise to place too
much reliance upon it. This was the robbers' road, and it was more
than possible that the bit of silver might have dropped from one of
their bags of spoil. He went on examining the ground, and carefully
scrutinising the walls of kutcha-grass. Presently he made another
discovery; but it was so small a thing that no eyes save those of
an experienced hunter of beasts and men, like Bâl Narîn, could have
discerned it. Low down, where a weed, whose fleshy leaves are armed
with spiked thorns, grew among the grass, he thought he saw a single
white thread. Eagerly he swooped upon it, and picked it up, and now he
could scarcely restrain his excitement, for the thread told the same
tale as the bead. A muslin saree, such as those worn by women of the
plains, had certainly swept those thorny weeds. It was probable that
the bead had been dropped by the woman who wore the muslin veil. Taking
them together, there could be little doubt that women dressed in the
Indian fashion had passed this way. But, if so, there would be other
signs that he could read--signs that might, perhaps, lead him straight
to their hiding-place.

So, with bent head and beating heart, he proceeded on his search.

About a hundred yards further on he picked up another bead, which
matched the first. He judged from its position--it was poised, as it
were, on a little blade of grass, and the least agitation of the air
would have dislodged it--that it had been only recently dropped.

Meanwhile, these narrow investigations had seriously delayed his
progress. When he made this last discovery, he looked up and found
himself alone. Those he was leading had gone on in front of him. The
sound of the whistle, with which the rajah was accustomed to keep his
little party together, came ringing down the lane at this moment. Bâl
Narîn answered it with a peculiar call of his own, and a few instants
later he heard the hoofs of his chief's horse, as Tom cantered back to
find him.

'Rajah Sahib!' he cried out, waving him back. 'I cannot come on yet.
You must have patience with me, and I may bring you news.'

'News here! You are dreaming, Billy,' answered Tom very sadly. 'Who
could bring us news in this wilderness?'

'That is my concern, master. Leave me, I entreat of you, and, as you
cannot go forward alone, let the men rest and eat! I will join you
by-and-by.'

Mournfully the rajah turned his horse's head. This, of course, was one
of Bâl Narîn's whims; but it would have to be indulged, for he was
completely in his hands.

It was now late in the afternoon, and the men, who had been riding hard
all day, were glad of rest and food. Languidly, for the air of these
pestilential regions has a numbing effect upon the energies of men, the
soldiers unsaddled and lighted a fire, round which they crouched, while
one of their number cooked the dal and chupatties that served them for
their meal. Tom dismounted, tethered his horse to a stake which his men
had driven into the ground, and, feeling it unwise to join Bâl Narîn,
who never liked to be disturbed when he was working out a fresh idea,
strolled about aimlessly. The camels and bullock-carts, carrying their
larger supplies, were coming up behind them, so he could not take his
own meal; but, in fact, he did not want to eat. The excitement that had
been working within him since Bâl Narîn sent him away made him feel
that food would choke him.

His restlessness, meanwhile, was terrible. He was possessed with those
miserable, impossible longings which come to most of us at the great
crises of our lives--when our senses and the faculties bestowed upon us
by Heaven seem too little for our need; when we crave madly for some
indefinite power--some loosening of the bonds of our humanity--some
super-sensuous divine knowledge and strength to carry us, at one leap,
to the bourne where our restless hearts would be. Secrets, deep as
the grave, and high as the infinite azure, are weighing down upon
our little lives. In the level light of every-day life we forget
them. They circle about us, and we see them not. It is when the light
departs--when the little life with its little interests becomes
tragic, that they come--this grey host of shadows--and mock us with
our impotence. Sometimes we strike out blindly, as children strike at
tables. We must know; we will know. It cannot be that we have reached
thus far, and that never, through all the infinite ages that must be,
we can reach any farther. That would be hideous--revolting to our moral
sense. 'Give us light, give us light!' we cry out to the Power which,
as God, or Nature, or blind Force, holds our destinies in its hand.
'Give us light, or kill us!' And only the awful silence answers us,
'Neither light nor death, poor soul; only a blind going forward to an
unknown goal!'

Such was Tom's condition that evening. As he looked round on this
desolate land, given up to monstrous growths and fierce animals,
with his hopes dwindling every moment, he felt a terror of his own
littleness that almost maddened him. Devoured by impatience, he could
do nothing. If he moved a few yards from his party he would be lost,
and without Bâl Narîn he would be more helpless and hopeless than ever.
The necessities of his humanity; the grossness and opacity of his
senses; his weakness and his ignorance, were such that, if the dear
prize for which he would willingly have laid down his life were in
his grasp, he might not be able to seize it. Many men in his position
would have cried out to their God. He could not. What he did actually
believe was not very clear, even to himself, at that time. The strange
mysticism, so fascinating to a high intelligence, that animates some
of the older Oriental philosophies had become curiously blended in his
mind with the cut-and-dried orthodoxy in which he had been brought up.
But he knew what he did not believe, and special providences, miracles
worked benevolently for favoured mortals, were amongst the things that
he had renounced long ago.

So, with neither hope nor help, only a vague determination to go on
until he died, he went to and fro, like a restless wild creature. When
he was out of his men's sight he would clench his fists and strike out
at an imaginary foe, and mutter fiercely; when he returned to them he
would be as they had always seen him--quiet and stern.

An hour passed by. A sickly evening dimness was creeping over the
desolate land; he fancied he could hear the animal-world of the jungle
rising up to meet the night, and his impatience grew to such a pitch
that he could scarcely restrain himself. Presently the camels and
bullock-carts came up. He asked the coolies if they had met Bâl Narîn.
They shook their heads. He had not certainly been seen on the road.
This made the young rajah exceedingly uneasy; but the Ghoorkas, whom
he consulted, did not share in his fear. Bâl Narîn, they said, knew
what he was about. Most likely he did not care to go any farther that
night, and he had laid down where he was, so as not to be ordered on.
If he did not join them in the evening, they would certainly see him at
daybreak. With this Tom tried to be satisfied, for it was quite evident
that he could do nothing. The men would not stir without Bâl Narîn, and
for him to do so alone would be as useless as it was dangerous.

They made him up his usual evening meal, a mess of rice and fried
vegetables; but he could not eat a morsel. Mounting his horse, he rode
slowly back to the point where he had seen Bâl Narîn last. Here he
whistled, cried out, tried to ride through the kutcha-grass; but was
driven back by the venomous tribes of insects that had come out with
the dying down of the day; then realising that these spasmodic efforts
were perfectly useless, he returned to the road, and paced back sadly
and slowly, seeing no signs of Bâl Narîn anywhere.

The camp was illuminated by gleaming brands set high on poles, and the
little cooking-fires were smouldering in its midst. It made a spot
of glowing red in the spectral darkness; where everything but it was
being slowly obliterated. Tom would have preferred the darkness; but
he knew very well that in the jungle he was surrounded with nameless
dangers. If he did not wish to give his body for a meal to the beasts
of prey that were ranging it, he must keep in the neighbourhood of his
companions. So, trying to still his fiery impatience, he lay down where
they had spread his canvas sheets, drew a gauze net over his face, and
lighted a pastile to keep the cloud of insects at a distance.

I have spoken of Tom's gift of sleeping at will. Even in this terrible
emergency it did not desert him. He had learned a few lessons, however,
in his life of adventure, and it would not have been so easy now as on
his first expedition to steal a march upon him.

The sleep, light and brief as it was, refreshed and invigorated him.
When, having indulged in it for about two hours, he sprang up and
looked round, he found that the feverish madness of excitement which,
if given place to, would have unfitted him for work that needed
decision and readiness, had gone. His brain was clear, and his limbs
had lost their languor.

In the encampment everything was as it had been. The fires were
smouldering and the torches flamed. Two Ghoorkas were on guard. The
rest slept, while the camel-drivers, syces, and coolies sat doubled up
together, their knees touching their noses, near the beasts of burden
which were tethered in the centre of the encampment.

It was dead night; but the darkness was not such as it had been
earlier, for a three-quarter moon had come up from her bed of snows
behind awful Himâla and was shedding over the desolate land a pale
light, which, defective as it was, Tom hailed with pleasure.

'You have often been my friend, Lady Moon,' he said, as he gazed up
into the vapour-veiled sky, 'and though you don't shine as you do in
the plains, I think you will give me light enough to see what I am
doing.'

One of the Ghoorka sentinels, in the meantime, seeing him on his feet,
had approached him. 'Does the Rajah Sahib require anything?' he asked.

'I want to know if Bâl Narîn has been seen,' said Tom.

'Bâl Narîn has not come back to camp,' answered the man.

'Then, of course, he has not been seen,' said Tom impatiently. 'Have
you heard anything?'

'We have heard nothing but the beasts of the jungle. Purtab killed a
serpent. It would have stung him. The gods grant that it may not bring
misfortune!'

'The gods have brought Purtab good fortune, my friend. His life is
better than a snake's--to himself at least.'

'That is as it may be, Sahib,' said the man enigmatically.

'Settle it your own way, but, in the meantime, listen to me! I don't
like this lengthened absence of Bâl Narîn's, and I fear some evil has
come to him. I will go and look round.'

'If you go far, Sahib, you will never return. This is the devil's
hunting-ground. Men in company they spare. Solitary men they destroy.'

'Then how about Bâl Narîn?'

'Even the devil will not slay his own offspring,' said the man with a
chuckle. 'Bâl Narîn is safe, wherever he goes.'

'Is he?' said Tom laughing. 'I wish I had such distinguished ancestry;
however, I am not afraid. I have my revolver and my sword. If I
whistle, try and find me.'

'Right, Sahib!' said the man, falling back.


END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.



CHAPTER XXXIX

WHAT BÂL NARÎN HAD BEEN DOING


We return to Bâl Narîn, whom we left pondering deeply on the
significance that might belong to a muslin thread and two little silver
beads.

To make this part of my narrative clear, I must explain, having
received the information from this cleverest of Ghoorka guides, that
besides the robbers' path, as it was called, there were other narrow
tracks running in every direction through the jungle. These were due
to the animals that at this season make the kutcha-grass their haunt.
Wild beasts, like civilised men, are the creatures of habit. They love
their old lairs and their daily walks, and are given to ranging certain
circumscribed areas, which, no doubt, are to them what our village,
city, or club is to us. These animal highways, then, had, through
repeated use, become widened and trodden down, so that it would have
been easy for the inexperienced to mistake them for paths frequented by
men. When Bâl Narîn so impetuously waved Tom away, the notion that thus
it might have happened to the fugitives of whom he was in search had
suddenly come to him. It was a terrible thought, for in such case they
would probably have walked right into a wild beast's lair, and nothing
could save them from destruction. The idea, however, having occurred to
Bâl Narîn, he could not cast it off.

His mind was of that dogged type which often distinguishes men of his
profession. From his boyhood it had been his meat and drink to struggle
with difficulties and overcome them. The more arduous the task the
better it pleased him, and the mere fact of his having entertained the
possibility of undertaking it was stimulus sufficient to make him carry
it through. By sympathy in the first place and severe personal effort
crowned by partial success in the second, he had worked himself up to
strong interest in this work of rescue, and passionate determination
that nothing should be wanting on his part to bring it to a successful
issue. All the force, all the dogged resolution of his nature was
aroused. Working for the master whose kindliness and grace had won his
attachment, he was also working for himself, that no man in the future
might relate how Bâl Narîn had failed in the task he took in hand.

It was in this mood that the new idea met him, and he set himself
immediately to work it out. On the robbers' road, where he had been
told he might find the fugitives, he had seen indications which led him
to believe that he was on their track. If these indications continued
he would know, as far as it was possible to know anything, that the
fugitives were on ahead of him. If, on the other hand, they stopped
at any particular point, there would be every reason to suppose that
the road had been abandoned, in which case he saw that there would be
nothing for him to do but to try the likeliest of the jungle paths.

Quietly he stole on. A few yards ahead of the spot where he had
paused to take his bearings the road was crossed by a path wider than
itself, and of such character and appearance as to be almost certain
to mislead any but the dwellers in the jungle, or those who, like Bâl
Narîn, had traversed it so often as to be fully acquainted with all its
peculiarities.

He happened to know it, for it led to a little marsh surrounded lake
where the tigers went down at night to quench their thirst, and near
which he had waited for them more than once with European sportsmen.

He had lighted his lamp meanwhile, for he always carried one in his
belt, and with its help he was examining the ground. Close to the
opening of this jungle-road, where it turned off the road to the right,
he found a third bead. He went on for some distance and saw nothing,
then he retraced his steps. A conviction amounting almost to certainty
had come to him that it was down this pathway those poor souls had
gone. If so he must follow them. Having looked well to the priming of
his revolver, and taken from its sheath the short, murderous-looking
knife, which he had used several times with effect in close encounters
with his fierce jungle-foes, Bâl Narîn adventured himself into the wild
beasts' highway.

At first he found nothing to confirm his conjecture. The character
of his surroundings had changed. Instead of the tall kutcha-grass
there were about him low, thorny bushes, with here and there a
ghostly-looking tree; and nullahs, in which hideous forms of vegetable
life were growing, stretched along the sides of the beast-trodden path.
A strange way it was, and devious, going straight for a few yards,
and then shooting from right to left, as, like the fire-flash from
lightning-charged clouds, it followed the track of least resistance. A
dangerous region, and Bâl Narîn, being too old a hunter to be caught
napping, trod warily. Once, however, he almost lost his caution. It was
when the light of his lamp fell on a shred of coloured stuff that clung
to one of the spiked leaves of a sickly, stunted aloe. That moment, he
has told me, was one of the strangest, the most triumphant of his whole
fife. He knew now that the sagacity upon which he prided himself had
not failed him in his need. Whether the fugitives were found or not, he
had positive proof that they had passed this way.

Meanwhile the darkness that had made Tom curse his helplessness began
to assail Bâl Narîn's more subtly tempered senses. He did not mind it.
All his greatest enterprises had been carried out in the night time,
for it was then that the foes with whom he waged war were at large,
and the blackness of the heavens rather quickened than deadened his
energies. He drew aside quietly from the beasts' highway, let his lamp,
which was burning steadily, shine in front of him, and having twisted
some of the gigantic stems of the kutcha-grass into a torch as he came
along, he set light to it, and held it flaming over his shoulder. Thus
equipped he was far too terrible an object for even the man-eating
tiger to tackle. So he went on towards the marsh-surrounded lake.

But what was his distinct object? He could not, I think, have explained
it to himself. I found, in fact, when I tried to pin him to this point
of his narrative, that a peculiar confusion reigned in his mind.
Up to it and beyond it he was perfectly clear. He could tell about
everything, even the working of his own mind. Here he faltered and
stumbled in his speech. 'Why did I go on?' he exclaimed to me one day.
'Sahib, I must confess to you that I cannot tell. I should have been
mad to think that they were alive. I should have been mad to suppose
that, if they were alive, I should find them in that darkness. I knew
I was going into danger. Think, Sahib, of where I should have been if
my lamp had gone out. I thought of that myself. "Billy," I said, "you
are a fool. You are running into danger like an ass that has no wit to
keep out of it. Go back! Tell them at the camp what you have found,
and bring the rajah and his men with you to search this place in the
daylight." That would have been the wisest plan, Sahib. Why did I not
take it? As I live I cannot tell you. Sometimes,' his voice dropped
mysteriously, 'I have thought that it was not of my own will I went
forward. The Sahib, being a wise man, will understand. There are things
of which it is not well to speak too plainly. The jealousy of the gods
is easy to rouse, and difficult to stay.'

I knew what Bâl Narîn meant, and I nodded my approval, whereupon he
proceeded with his story. Though, as he had confessed, he was going
forward without any distinct aim, his vigilance did not sleep for
a moment. His ear, trained to a subtlety of perception such as we,
dwellers in towns, and inheritors of the grossness born of luxurious
living, can scarcely imagine, was alive to every sound. His eyes
searched the darkness. His sense of touch, which was not, as with
us, confined to the effects that arise from actual contact, sent out
feelers in every direction. Through his delicate nostrils--the subtlest
of the nine gates of the body--he interrogated the humid atmosphere,
finding separate odours where we should have distinguished nothing but
the vaporous distilments of the jungle.

Presently he came to a full stop, lowered his torch, and drew a long
breath. Something strange, subtle, impalpable, was floating towards
him. He could not for a moment determine what it was or even through
which of the sense-avenues it had come; but he knew, he was penetrated
with a conviction as strong as death, that presences, either spiritual
or corporeal, but other than the beasts of the jungle, were near him.

He paused for fully five seconds, making an effort to define his
sensations, and in the meantime he made another observation.

Overhead the darkness grew darker, there was a curious agitation of the
air, and he knew that the vast birds of the mountains--the eagle and
the vulture--were flying round him in ever-narrowing circles. The dead
or the dying, then, were near, and they had scented them from their
eyrie in the hills. At this moment, when he had recognised the birds
as blots on the blackness, and was straining his eyes to follow their
flight, there was a faint glimmer of light in the east from the rising
moon. Faint as it was it gave the shikari all the light he needed to
enable him to see plainly. He looked up and saw a gigantic bird sailing
slowly down the wind. His heart beat, and his blood seemed to bound in
his veins as he watched it, for it was taking the direction whence his
own sense-perception had come. A second followed, and then a third. By
the help of the silver light in the east he was able to keep them in
sight. Leaping nullahs, tearing through thick jungle, uttering fierce
cries to frighten away the wild creatures that might be crouching in
cover, he followed in their track. If he had stopped to think, as he
has told me, he could not have done it. Nor would it ever have occurred
to him to follow the birds, had it not been for that impression,
inexplicable even to this day to himself, that unseen presences were
near him. But once started he staggered on. Insects stung him, thorns
cut into his flesh, his torch was extinguished, his lamp burned dim.
Through all his excitement he realised that if he was left in darkness
he was lost beyond hope of redemption. His life-foes would have him as
their prey. No one would ever hear of Bâl Narîn again. Once he fell,
but he sprang to his feet again and flourished his lamp, and a tiger,
disturbed in his lair, rushed by with angry growling that would have
chilled the blood of a man of ordinary courage.

But still he held on. The vulture sailed on, swooped down, rose into
the air with a harsh cry--was it of disappointment?--swooped down
again, and was lost in the jungle. But Bâl Narîn was triumphant, for
he had marked the very spot of his disappearance. The second bird and
the third sailed up. They helped him to mark the spot. He could not
mistake it now, for a tall cotton-tree, whose candelabra-like branches
stood out boldly from the silver grey of the eastern sky, was in its
immediate neighbourhood. There were few of these trees in the Terai,
and they indicated places where the soil was comparatively wholesome.
So far as he could judge he was not now very far from the tree which
made his landing mark, but there was still a wide nullah to be crossed.
Torn and exhausted as he was he experienced some difficulty in getting
to the other side, and he considered himself happy in meeting no tiger.
He had scarcely force left to grapple with one.

And now, to his measureless surprise, he saw the jungle open out before
him. A small clearing, such as those in which the Aswalia villages are
planted, only of much more limited extent, lay under his eyes. A low
fig-tree, a stunted bamboo, and the cotton-tree which he had already
seen, could be dimly discerned through the darkness. Nothing else at
first except the three vast birds. They sat side by side under the
cotton-tree, as if in hideous expectation of a feast. Bâl Narîn stamped
his foot and cried out, and they rose slowly, but they did not go far.
They hovered overhead, and it seemed to him that they were watching his
movements.

And now, pausing, he could hear distinctly sounds as of fluttered
stirring to and fro, and breath drawn labouringly. He trimmed his lamp
and went on cautiously, carrying it before him. In a few instants its
light fell on a rude shed, made of branches of trees and dried leaves.
On the side by which he had approached it there was no opening; but he
could see, through the interstices between the branches, that figures
were moving about within. Giving it rather a wide berth so as to see
before he was seen, he came round to the front, and pulled up for a few
moments to observe what was going on.

Within the small enclosure, which was such a hut as hermits dwell
in, he saw three figures. Two were on the ground, whether dead or
asleep he could not tell, and the third--a slender figure in woman's
garments--was going from one to the other, stooping over them, and, as
it seemed to Bâl Narîn, weeping bitterly. While he was considering how
he should reveal himself without increasing her distress and alarm,
she came out to the front of the hut, and, his lamp being turned that
way, he saw her plainly. That was a moment which Bâl Narîn will never
forget. For an instant he shut his eyes. He was seized with a tremor
that seemed to be drawing away his power, and the presence of mind on
which he prided himself. Wild as she was, with that haunting terror
in her sweet eyes that was never, so long as she lived, to leave them
again, there was a beauty and majesty in this face that awed him, he
could not have told why. It was like the face of a spirit, he said--of
one who had done with the earth for ever. Thus for a moment he saw it;
in the next it was suffused with a horror and anguish, such as he had
never beheld before. Looking up, he saw the heavens darkened with the
wings of the birds of prey that were swooping nearer and nearer to the
entrance of the hut, as if they would defy this weak living woman to
keep them any longer from the dead.

A cry of unspeakable despair broke from the woman's lips, and she
agitated her arms wildly above her head. They retired, settled,
approached again, the girl still gesticulating wildly. Then the ping of
the shikari's revolver rang through the jungle. Again it sounded, and
again, the girl retreated trembling, and two of the birds fell to the
ground mortally wounded, while their mate sailed away sullenly to his
eyrie in the hills.

Before the echo of his last shot had died away, Bâl Narîn was standing
with bowed head before the girl in the hut, and addressing her in his
choicest Hindoostani. 'Let me entreat my gracious lady not to fear
me,' he said. 'I am a poor hunter from the hills--a man of the Ghoorka
nation, to whom the white races are honourable. I saw my gracious
lady's distress, and I slew the birds that caused her fear. Can I help
her further?'

'Could you help me--would you?' said the poor girl.

'Let my gracious lady try me?' said Bâl Narîn.

At this moment there rang another sound through the jungle--a low
whistle, prolonged and flute-like, but curiously tremulous, that seemed
to be floating down from above them. The girl pressed her finger to her
lips, and a colour, soft as the crimson of the morning, flooded her
pale face.

The tremulous, sweet sounds go on--they form themselves into a melody.
Ah! What is this? What is this? In a moment--in less than a moment--the
poor girl is back again in the past. Under her feet is a carpet of
soft, green grass; above, swayed gently to and fro by the breath
of a June morning in England, wave the light branches of a weeping
willow-tree--the waters of a river lie before her--a boat is cutting
through them--it has one rower. Oh! the fair, boyish face--the dreamy
eyes--the rapture of adoring love!

'Come where my love lies dreaming,' he sings.

'Yes; I am dreaming. I must awake,' sobs poor Grace.

The sounds go on--distant but clear. 'Dreaming the happy hours
away--Come--Come--Come where my love----' Groaning, she covers her face
with her hands.

Bâl Narîn, in the meantime, is showing the most extraordinary
excitement--shouting, dancing, tossing his hands about in exultation.
Returning from her dream, the girl gazes at him in speechless surprise.

'Pardon your servant, gracious lady,' he says, 'if his pleasure lifts
him off his feet! My master and I have waited for this moment. As the
sick unto death long for the morning, so have we longed for it, and how
can I help being triumphant?'

'Your--master?' says the girl, fixing her large, fever-bright eyes upon
his face.

'My master--the Rajah of Gumilcund. He is on his way. He will be here
soon, if--now the demons of the jungle guide him! Here! here!' he
cries, lapsing into his native Ghoorka in his overpowering excitement.
'Look for the cotton-tree! Ah! what a fool I am! He does not know my
tongue. Lady, you have a light within?'

Trembling with excitement, Grace ran inside and caught up a little
rush-candle--their last!

'One moment, dearest Kit!' she cried, for a little moan had come up
from the ground. 'They have found us. Tom--our Tom--will soon be here.
He will frighten the dreadful birds away.'

She ran out to Bâl Narîn, who had torn off a dried stick from the
cotton-tree and twisted a bunch of withered grass to its extremity.
Anointed with the drop of oil left in his lamp and lighted from the
rush-candle, it flamed out brilliantly in a moment. He waved it over
his head and rushed forward with shouts into the jungle, 'This way,
master; this way!'

But in a few instants he returned to the space before the hut, fed his
torch with wisps of straw, and caught up the rush-candle. The whistling
had ceased, and there was no answer to his frenzied cries. Grace looked
up into his face and saw its hazard look.

'Is he not there?' she moaned.

'It is a dangerous road,' he answered, 'and my master is not a shikari
like Bâl Narîn. Listen, Miss Sahib! Do you hear that?'

'Thunder. I have heard it several times to-night.'

'Not thunder--the tramp of a herd of wild elephants. Miss Sahib, I must
go----'

But Grace did not hear. She had rushed back into the hut. With hands
cramped together and beating heart she was crouched on the ground, near
the couch of dried grass where she had laid her little Kit, praying
that the Father in heaven, in Whom through all these dreadful days she
had trusted, would, at this last moment, be gracious to them.

'Save him, oh! Father,' she sobbed. 'Let him take my darling Kit from
this awful place, and then my work will be done, and I will go to Thee.'

Over and over again, while Kit's little arms were about her neck and
his burning cheek rested on her shoulder, she whispered the same words,
'Save him! Save him!'

Moments passed into minutes. The hold of Kit's arms relaxed, as, lulled
by the sound of her voice, he fell back upon the pillow. Her own head
drooped. The long and awful watch by the dead that lay in the hut with
them--the sudden shock of terror and joy--the suspense--the strain of
expectation seemed to be more than her enfeebled frame could bear. Her
mind wandered. 'Kit! keep me awake,' she whispered. 'Those awful birds
will come again.' But Kit did not hear her. He was dropping off into a
doze. Her eyelids fell. Oh! if she could only sleep! If somebody was
here--a friend--some one who would watch for her, and keep the birds
and beasts away! Ah!--she started up suddenly, wide awake and trembling
in every limb. The light that was diffused through the tent--that shone
on the rigid form of the old man who had protected them so far, giving
at the last his life for theirs, and on the yellow matted curls of
poor little Kit--was the light of the moon. There was nothing to keep
the wild things out. A convulsive shudder agitated her frame, and she
tried to rise but could not. Then she put her face down near Kit's. 'My
poor darling,' she whispered. 'It is all over. I had a dream. It has
gone--and I have no more strength to fight.'



CHAPTER XL

THE ELEPHANTS' CHACE


This, in the meantime, was what had been happening to Tom. When,
having provided himself with tinned meats and a bottle of the powerful
restorative which he had always on hand, he left the camp, he had
turned, by what he spoke of afterwards as a happy instinct, into the
track which Bâl Narîn had been following, before the strong impression
of human neighbourhood and the eccentric movements of the three birds
of prey had started him on his perilous journey across the belt of
jungle that lay between the wild beasts' track and the hermit's hut.

He, too, was well-armed with light and weapons, and he went cautiously
lest he should be taken by surprise. Suddenly the ping of Bâl Narîn's
bullet aroused him. He waited until the echoes died away to make sure
of the direction whence the sound had come, and then dashed into
another track. He was in great doubt as to whether he was right, for
there is nothing more confusing than the sound of firing in a wood. The
detonations repeated again and again, and dashed, as it were, from one
opposing substance to another, seem to come from a hundred points at
once. Instead of approaching Bâl Narîn he might be putting immeasurable
distance between them, while, on the other hand, it was quite possible
that one of a company of robbers or fugitive sepoys had fired, in which
case a deadly conflict would be before him.

The prudent course would have been to retreat while he could, to rouse
his little camp, and to take the advice of those who knew more than
he did about this dangerous region. Tom, however, never once thought
of retreating, for he was launched--launched, as he felt even at that
moment of doubt and difficulty--on the last stage of his enterprise;
and, if hell and all its legions had yawned at his feet, he was bound
to go on.

The path into which he had struck, as being that which seemed to lead
in the direction where he had heard the firing, was comparatively easy.
As he went on cautiously, throwing the light of his lamp in front of
him, he felt surprised that he met with so few difficulties. For a
space several yards in width the tall kutcha-grass was so completely
trodden down, and the low trees and bushes, with their rank wealth of
undergrowth, were so uniformly levelled to the ground, that he could
have imagined an army with artillery and baggage-waggons had passed
this way. That such a thing was impossible he knew very well, for
he had studied the map of Terai again and again with Bâl Narîn. The
maharajah's road, which was the only one used for military purposes,
was many miles distant from the point they had reached. But what he
did not know was that he was in the very track of the monarch of the
jungle. Eight months before, when the plains of the north-west were
at peace, and the Terai was unhaunted by the deadly fever that, for
three-quarters of the year, makes it uninhabitable to all but the
savage Aswalias, Jung Bahadoor, who was at that time one of the keenest
sportsmen of his generation, brought down from the high Nepaul valley a
gallant company of hunters, mounted on tame elephants of proved skill
and sagacity, to chase and capture some of the wild elephants that
have their dwelling in the morass and jungle, and it was along this
road that the hunters had come. A terrible chase it was to any but
men mounted and caparisoned as they were, for the wild herd had made
it their drive. Hither they came, from the mud in which they had been
wallowing--night after night in awful phalanx serried--to drink from
a pool in the morass, and to tear down the tall grasses and trees on
their passage, for the succulent young shoots that made their food. Had
Tom met the dark army, he was lost. Not even the flaming torch, which
was a protection from serpents and tigers, would have saved him. They
would have rushed over him--crushed him into a grave, where even the
birds of prey would scarcely have found him.

Of this danger--the worst that had ever threatened him yet--Tom had no
more idea than a child. He trusted for his protection to his torch,
his lamp, and his weapons, and all the energies he had to spare from
picking out his way were bent on watching for anything that might
indicate human neighbourhood. That, at a moment so critical, his mind
should have strayed even for an instant from the scenes in which he
found himself, seems so strange as to be almost incredible. He was
alone; he was surrounded with unknown perils; an object dearer far to
him than the preservation of his own life was--or seemed to be--within
his grasp; everything might depend upon the way in which he met the
next few moments; and yet--I have it on an authority which there is no
disputing--at this point his mind began to wander.

He could not help it, any more than he could have helped the curious
transfusion of his own thoughts and ideas with those of another, which
had come to him now and then since the night when he wandered unbidden
into Grace's rose-garden, and dreamed his dream of fear. It came
suddenly too, and without, as it seemed, anything to lead up to it.
When, thinking to make a signal to Bâl Narîn, he lifted to his lips the
flute-like reed which he always carried, and felt his breath quiver
through it, he stepped all at once into another world. Instead of the
long shrill whistle he had intended to send forth, it was the notes of
a melody, which he had sung a year ago, floating with oars suspended,
on the reach of the silver Thames by the lawn of the General's little
garden, that stole out on the pestilential air of the wild beasts'
haunt--'Come where my love lies dreaming--dreaming the happy hours
away.' Was it his own voice--or was it the voice of another? He paused
and looked round him trying to collect his thoughts. Ah! to him too the
scene is changed. What are these--what are these--that come towards him
out of the darkness? Old hopes--old memories, old dreams. He is the
Indian rajah no longer--he is the English boy, into whose heart the
honeyed sweetness of a new land of promise is stealing. 'My love! my
love!' under his breath he whispers the magic words. And then again he
lifts the reed to his lips, and again the melody that he dared to sing
long ago, close--close to his darling's rose-bower--floats out upon the
air. 'Come! Come! Come where my love lies dreaming!'

Unconsciously--blindly--he was rushing on. He did not hear the thunder
behind him, and the mad cries of Bâl Narîn made no impression whatever
upon his senses. Why he swerved aside--how it came about that he
should have dashed into the jungle and precipitated himself into the
deep nullah that yawned close by, he never knew. He thought he saw the
flashing of silver water through trees--this is the only explanation he
could ever give. But, meanwhile, as bruised and shaken, he lay in the
slime, wondering what had come to him, and bitterly cursing himself for
his folly in not being able, at a crisis so momentous, to keep his wits
about him, the black army that had been marching in his rear, dashed
over the spot where, but a few moments before, he had been tranquilly
walking.

       *       *       *       *       *

It took Tom some little time to recover his breath, climb to the edge
of the nullah, and shake off the mud from his clothes. That time, as we
know, had been spent by Grace in frenzied prayers to Heaven, and by Bâl
Narîn in no less frenzied ejaculations and gestures. When silence fell
upon the hut and silence upon the jungle--a silence fearfully broken by
the earth-shaking tread of the herd of elephants--when he whistled and
shouted, and fired wildly over his head, and no one answered, he made
up his mind that all was lost. The young lord whom he had accompanied
for gain, and clung to in despite of his own better judgment for love,
had met with a sudden and fearful death at the very moment when his end
was won.

Overcome for a few instants by pity and sorrow, Bâl Narîn covered his
face and wept.

A desire came over him then to see what was left of his unfortunate
young master, and leaving the little clearing he plunged into the
jungle. His senses being far better trained than Tom's, he had no doubt
whatever about the direction he should take. The last articulate sound
the rajah had made, before darkness and silence swallowed him up, came
from a point known to Bâl Narîn, who had been one of the mahouts in
Jung Bahadoor's famous hunt, as a sharp curve in the elephants' drive.
For this point he was making as speedily and cautiously as he could,
when a tall figure--bareheaded, and covered from head to foot in a
coating of mud--stood suddenly before him.

Grasping his weapon, Bâl Narîn challenged the man. He was answered by
a voice that made his heart leap into his mouth. 'Don't you know me in
this disguise, Billy?' it asked.

'Rajah Sahib'--cried the poor fellow passionately. 'Forgive me. I would
have searched for you amongst the dead. Now thank the gods and the
demons of the jungle, who have been favourable to his Excellency!' And
he fell down before him and held him by the feet.

'Get up, you foolish fellow!' said Tom, who was touched, although he
would not show it, by his devotion. 'I have fallen into a mud-bath, and
got myself into a pretty mess; but why you should have thought me dead,
I confess I don't see. You must have come this way yourself, since I
find you here.'

'This way, that is true, Rajah Sahib, and why I came only the gods
know. But I kept clear of the Elephants' Chace. I would no more have
adventured myself there than I would have slipped my neck into an
enemy's noose.'

'The Elephants' Chace,' stammered Tom, 'was that road----?'

'It is the deadliest road in all this region for a man not furnished
as a hunter,' said Bâl Narîn. 'And the herd has just gone by. How his
Excellency escaped is a mystery.'

'The herd--of what, Billy----?'

'Does not my lord know----?'

'I understand,' said Tom, a shiver, which he could not control, running
through him. 'Wild elephants! My life must be valuable to some one,
Billy. Yes; I heard them. I thought it was thunder. I must have only
jumped into the nullah in time. And I wasn't trying to escape. Well! it
is over now, so there's no use thinking about it. I will stick to you
for the future, my good friend! Why did you separate yourself from us
last evening?'

'If I tell my master, he will scarcely believe me,' said Bâl Narîn.

'Billy! Billy!' Tom was trembling from head to foot. 'You have found
something.'

'I have found those his Excellency is seeking.'

'What? The English lady and the child. And in life? Billy, you are
torturing me. Speak plainly. No; no; I cannot bear it. Don't speak
at all. I shall see. And yet--where has my manhood gone? If they are
dead----'

'Master, they are not dead.'

'Not? Now Heaven be praised!'

'Yes; but my master must be careful. See! there are pits here! If his
Excellency goes in so headlong a fashion, he will break his limbs, and
how will that profit his friends? Let him follow me, and I will take
him where they are.'

'Yes; yes; I will follow you--my good guide--my noble guide! If all I
have can recompense you, it is yours. But it cannot.'

'That my master gives me his confidence still is all I ask,' said Bâl
Narîn.

'My confidence! I am bound to you for ever and ever. From this day I
look upon you as the nearest and dearest of my friends. But how, in the
name of heaven, could you have found them in this thicket?'

'That is a long story. Some day I will tell my master. But truly those
he loves are favoured by the gods, for the birds and the beasts that
are their children have helped me in my search----'

And there he broke off, for they had leapt over the last nullah that
separated them from the clearing and the hermit's hut; and the moon
having risen and floating freely overhead, Tom saw, as Bâl Narîn had
seen before him, the little enclosure of dried twigs and leaves; but
within there was darkness, and no one was moving to and fro.



CHAPTER XLI

WHAT THE MORNING BROUGHT


How Tom lived through the next few moments he never knew. The next
thing of which he was distinctly conscious was standing in front of
the hut and looking within and seeing nothing but blackness. As he
groped forward with arms extended blindly, Bâl Narîn, who had been busy
kindling another torch, came up behind him, and the flashing light
flamed suddenly upon a spectacle that made Tom's heart stand still, and
brought a wild cry to his lips.

There were three figures in the small enclosure. On one side, rigid
in death, lay the fearfully emaciated body of an old man. A couch of
dried grass was his bier, and his limbs were covered with the long robe
that he had worn in his lifetime. On the other side, the little heap
of grass on which he lay pressed close against the opposite side of
the hut, and as far as possible from that sight of fear, was a child
with golden hair, whose tiny face, thin and pinched with suffering,
bore upon its lips the tranquil smile of sleep, or her twin-sister
death. This in the flashing of an instant Tom saw. But it was not this,
for all its pitifulness, that brought the sick chill to his heart,
and that wrung from his lips that tortured cry. For he saw something
else. _She_ was lying there--his love--his darling! On the damp floor,
but close beside the couch, and with arms outspread, as if her last
conscious effort had been spent in defending the child, she lay before
him motionless. She did not stir when Bâl Narîn's light fell upon her.
The cry of irrepressible anguish that had broken from Tom brought
from her pale lips no answering note of recognition. It was as he had
so often dreamed it would be. He had found her, indeed; but she was
dead--dead--dead!

For the space of an instant he paused. Love and a reverence that almost
slew him were waging war in his heart. He was sick with the longing to
raise her in his arms, and press her against his breast, and breathe
into her lips of his own life and energy, and he dared not.

In that instant Bâl Narîn looked over his shoulder. 'Quick, master,
quick!' he cried. 'They are not dead. This is the shock of a great
joy. A few moments ago the gracious lady was speaking to me. Bring her
out under the moonlight. And here are my chuddah and girdle to make her
a bed. You have the cordial?'

'Yes, Billy; I have the cordial. Thank God that I remembered it. So!'
as he lifted up the light form in his arms; 'gently! gently! Take
away the torch, Billy. Let there be nothing to frighten her when she
awakes! And the child, poor little Kit! bring him out--let him be near
her! God! how light she is! My sweet one! my love! how you must have
suffered! But it is all over now!' He laid her down reverently on the
couch that Bâl Narîn had prepared, and wet her lips with the cordial.
Then her eyelids fluttered, and a tremor ran through her limbs, and
her lips parted in a long, shuddering sigh that went straight to Tom's
heart. He was chafing one of her hands softly. 'My poor love!' he
whispered. 'Is it cruel to bring you back? Have you suffered enough?
But you shall never suffer again--never, so long as I have life and
strength to protect you. Will you not open your eyes and look at me?'

Her lips parted, though her eyes were still sealed. He stooped over her
and caught one word--'Kit.'

'Kit is safe, darling. My good friend Billy is with him. Ah! I hear his
voice.'

Not his voice only. It was a little feeble laugh that came at that
moment from the door of the hut, for Kit, who was a proficient in
children's and bearers' Hindoostani, and Bâl Narîn were already on the
best of terms.

'Do you hear?' said Tom. 'Do you hear him, Grace?'

'Thank you,' she whispered.

Then her eyelids lifted, and her sweet eyes, deep with the passion of
pain and horror that, so long as she lived, would haunt her, rested
upon his. 'You are our Tom,' she said.

'I am Tom. Your Tom----'

'I have something to tell you. It is very strange--very horrible. I
don't quite understand it myself. Sometimes I think it is a dream; but,
if it were----'

'Dearest, you must tell me nothing now. See! You are exhausted. You
have suffered so much. And we are here now, Billy and I, to look after
your little Kit and you. Let me give you some of this cordial--it is
better than food--and then go to sleep and I will watch over you, and
in the morning, which is very near, dearest Grace, Billy and I will
carry you through the jungle to our camp.'

She did as he begged her. She was as weak as a little child, and the
feeling of security, absent from her for so many long days and nights,
was of itself enough to make her drowsy. But before she settled herself
to sleep, she opened her eyes once more.

'Rungya is in there,' she whispered. 'He died for Kit and me. You won't
let the wild birds have him?'

'No; Bâl Narîn shall watch.'

'He killed two of the birds,' said Grace. 'They were watching for us. I
could not keep them away.'

And then her eyelids fell, and she slept peacefully until the morning.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kit slept, too. He was in Bâl Narîn's arms, just as he had thrown
himself when he had eaten biscuit and tinned meat and drunk a glass of
cordial. The guide had, in the meantime, lighted a large fire, which
blazed and crackled, keeping effectually all the wild things away. As
he held the little one, and fed the fire with dried grass and sticks,
he and Tom were holding a council of war. Which would be the best
plan--to carry Grace and Kit between them to the spot where they had
left the men and waggons, or for Bâl Narîn to rush thither at once and
bring assistance?

Billy was for the latter alternative. He would take an hour to go, and
an hour to come back. By the time the sun was well up they could start
together.

But Tom, who, since the adventure of the previous evening, which might
have had so terrible a termination for himself, clung to his Ghoorka
guide as to a sheet-anchor of strength and hope, was of a contrary
opinion. 'Let us keep together, Billy,' he said. 'To-night we have both
escaped from almost certain death, and how can we expect to escape a
third time?'

'But, Sahib, consider----'

'I have considered. If there were ten bearers I should carry her
myself. And you, if you will, shall help me. How if we contrived a
litter----?'

'Out of our garments and those of the holy man,' said Bâl Narîn.

'He will not want them any more----'

'We must burn him, Sahib. That is the burial for the Hindu-Saint.
Before we leave this place we will fire the hut.'

'Could we do it now, while they are sleeping?'

'I am afraid of the flame spreading, Sahib. With the first break of
day, I will set my torch to it, and we shall be far on our road before
it blazes high.'

Giving Kit over into Tom's arms. Bâl Narîn proceeded to make his
arrangements. Out of the hermit's robe and the rajah's upper garment,
and a long straight branch from the cotton-tree, he devised such a
litter as could be carried on the shoulders of two men: then he took
a parcel of dried twigs and grass into the hut, scattered them over
the old hermit's body, and anointed them with oil. This done, he went
outside again, cleared from the neighbourhood of the hut everything
of an inflammable nature, cut two or three stout stakes from the
cotton-tree, and hammered them into the ground at a sufficient distance
from the hut to allow of their escaping from the fire that was
presently to consume it.

'Rungya was a holy man,' he said, in explanation, 'and the time may
come when his friends and disciples will wish to do honour to his
ashes. We leave these stakes as a signal.' By the time all this was
done the light of the morning was beginning to peep in the east, and
the wild world of the jungle was sinking to rest.

'It is time for us to move,' said Bâl Narîn.

Tom looked down regretfully at Grace's sleeping face. 'Couldn't we wait
a little?' he said. 'It seems such a pity to disturb her.'

'We will not awake her,' said Bâl Narîn. 'Will his Excellency allow me?'

Tom moved aside while, with a dexterous gentleness which he envied but
could not emulate, the clever Ghoorka, who in his youth had served an
enforced apprenticeship to a robber tribe in the plains, transferred
the sleeping girl from her bed on the ground to her bed on the litter.

Kit, in the meantime, had awoke. He was much stronger, he said, though
to Tom his poor little legs looked piteously weak and slender. It was
possible for him, however, to walk, and when he was tired Bâl Narîn
said he would carry him on his shoulder. Then a match was applied to
the touchwood under the hut; Grace, who had only stirred once, was
lifted slowly and carefully to the shoulders of her bearers, and, with
light hearts, they set out to rejoin the rest of their party on the
robbers' road.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sleep which had fallen upon Grace when she knew that her task was
done, lasted for many hours. Passing through the air, resting for
brief spells when the shoulder of the rajah, which was unaccustomed to
weight-carrying, threatened to give way, taken up again with reverent
care, and lifted skilfully over the various obstructions of the way,
she neither moved nor spoke. Tom would, now and then, look at her with
alarm; but Bâl Narîn smiled.

'The gracious lady is a child of the Supreme Spirit,' he said, 'and
this is His sleep which has fallen upon her. When she awakes, Sahib,
her trouble will be gone.'

'Grace never slept,' said Kit, who was perched now on Bâl Narîn's
unoccupied shoulder, and holding on by his head, 'after Rungya died.'

'How long was that, my little Sahib?' said Bâl Narîn.

'I don't remember,' said Kit wearily. 'A long time, I think. The big
birds came and frightened us. Grace had some candles and she lighted
them. I tried to keep awake; but I couldn't. She kept awake always.'

'She is making up for it now,' said Tom from the other side of the
litter.

'Yes, she is sleeping beautifully,' said Kit. 'She'll be all right
when she awakes, won't she?'

'All right? What do you mean, Kit?'

'She used to look so funny--just as if she were somewhere else.
She didn't look so at first, when that dreadful man was with
us--but'--pulling himself up, 'I mustn't say anything about that. I
promised.'

'No,' said Tom. 'Grace will tell us everything herself when she awakes.'

What the sleep was to her--how delicious it had been to close her eyes,
and to let herself drift away on the sea of unconsciousness that, for
these many days, had been wooing her; to half open her eyelids just
to be sure that she had not dreamed this strange and sudden bliss,
and then to close them again; to hear, without understanding, Kit's
bird-like voice throbbing through the air, and Tom's grave, kind
answers; to know that there was no need for her to rouse herself, that
she might sleep--sleep till the death-like languor had gone from her
limbs and the pain about her heart was stilled--of the rapture of all
this what tongue can tell? Only those who have passed suddenly, as I
did once, from peril and anguish, and the mad terror of the hunted, to
perfect rest and security, can have the faintest idea of what it means.

It was impossible, meanwhile, that their progress could be swift, for
they could not tear straight through the jungle as they had done the
night before; and Bâl Narîn had to make many a detour to avoid the wild
beasts' haunts.

When the sun rose, he rigged up a leafy umbrella, which he fixed at the
head of the litter, and under it Grace lay like a sylvan queen being
borne in a trance to her woodland home. At last, after three hours'
steady tramp, they came out into the robbers' road, and sighted their
waggons and horses in the distance.

There had been much excitement in the camp. When they arose in the
morning, and Abiman, one of the Ghoorka soldiers, reported that the
rajah had left them shortly after moon-rise in search of Bâl Narîn, and
that neither of them had returned, it was felt that some calamity must
have happened.

'This is what comes of killing a serpent,' said Abiman to Purtab; and,
indeed, Purtab's conscience had already been reproaching him.

But when a swift-footed coolie, who had run back to see if anyone
was coming, rushed into camp with the joyful news that the rajah and
Bâl Narîn were on the road, and that they carried a litter between
them--then Purtab and Abiman changed places.

'The gods have won the day,' said Purtab seriously, 'and the demons of
the jungle may mourn.'

Everyone knew what to do, for the rajah had often prepared his
followers for this moment. In a trice the coolies dragged out and
rigged up the tent which was held in readiness, and the water-carriers
brought water from a neighbouring stream and heated it in jars over
the camp-fires, and the bearers unpacked the soft cushions and fresh
garments with which Gambier Singh had supplied Tom, and laid them out
temptingly, and toilet-appliances were hunted out from their cases and
set in order, so that before Grace, who had been brought in and set
down amongst them, had found strength to open her eyes, her tent in the
jungle was as well-served with all that was needful for her refreshment
and comfort as the room from which she had fled when insurrection broke
out in Nowgong. So wonderful are Indian servants.

As for Tom, when he came in and looked round, he was so glad and
thankful that he would fain have scattered, then and there, rich
largesse amongst his people; and it was fortunate, perhaps, both for
himself and his guests, that he had nothing at that moment to dispense
but promises.

It was Kit who took Grace by the hand and led her into the tent, and
it was Kit who served her with the tea and biscuits which had been
prepared for her. They were together for a few minutes, and then he
came out, and dropped the curtain, and they saw that there was an awed
look on his little face.

'She is somewhere else still,' he said to Tom; 'but I think if we don't
make any noise she will come back to us.'

'You are sure, Kit?' said Tom, in a broken voice.

'She always came back when she could sleep a little,' said Kit. 'Poor
old Rungya used to watch sometimes. Then he died. I will look, in and
see how she is presently,' he added, with an encouraging nod, and then
he went on to play the hero, and to be petted and tenderly cared for by
the Indian servants.

They happened to be in a comparatively wholesome region when they
halted, and it was decided, in the brief consultation which Tom held
with his followers, that they should remain where they were for that
day and part of the next night, starting for the Maharajah's Road with
the rising of the moon. Grace and Kit would have a cart to travel in,
so, although their progress would be slow, the fatigue would not be
great, and as there would be no need now for any of those tentative
flights into the open spots amongst the jungle that made their former
journey tedious, they would get over the ground more quickly. Bâl Narîn
calculated that in two or three days, at the outside, they would
reach the Maharajah's Road, at the point where they left it. Here Tom
hoped to pick up Hoosanee. It had been arranged that if he found no
trace of the fugitives on the lower slopes of Sisagarhi, he should
return to the point where the cavalcade had divided, and wait there
a certain specified time for his master, after which time, should no
news come, he would hasten back to Gambier Singh, acquaint him with
what had happened, and ask his advice. It was almost certain now that
the rajah and his party would reach the meeting-point before the time
agreed upon, and Tom's only fear was that Hoosanee, who was so much
of his friend that he longed to let him know speedily his success and
happiness, would not be there so soon. But, in such case, a plan for
communicating with him could soon be devised.

After all this, having heard through Kit that Grace wanted nothing, the
rajah and Bâl Narîn gave themselves up to the rest which they needed
so sorely. The hours of the day rolled on. The sun rose high in the
heavens, and a deep noontide silence, unbroken by the noises that at
dead of night and early morning make the jungle terrible, brooded over
the camp. Everyone slept but the two or three who remained on watch to
keep the camp-fires burning.

It was in the midst of this silence that the English girl came slowly
to herself. Up to this she had been in a dream. All she had distinctly
realised was that she might rest--that the strain, which had tried
her to the utmost limit of endurance, was over. Now, as she opened
her eyes and, by the light that stole in through the canvas walls and
closed chicks, saw the curtains of rose and amber, and the pretty
camp-furniture, and the fresh garments, and the bowls of clear water,
she began dimly to understand that this was not a dream, such as those
that had visited her in her wanderings, but a reality. The gates of
the dear old life--the life of safety, and love, and reverence--were
opening to her once more. It was the horror she and Kit had lived
through that was the dream. This was true.

For the first few moments her mind was too weak to be able to take
in anything more than this: she was with her own people: she was
travelling back into the past: some day, if God was gracious to her,
she might see her mother and her sisters again: she might give up her
darling Kit to his friends. Then, gradually, as her mind grew stronger,
the events of the night, and of the days that had preceded it, shaped
themselves before her.

They had been on their way to Nepaul. The good Rungya, who had rescued
them one night from a horde of brutal villagers, had promised to take
them thither, and place them under the protection of the minister, Jung
Bahadoor. They had crossed the plains and entered one of the great
sâal-forests of the Terai together. Then their cart broke down, and
the animals sickened, and word came to them that a party of fugitive
sepoys, who had taken up robbery as a profession, were haunting the
great highway. So they turned aside, walking painfully on foot through
the jungle, till they reached the Aswalia village. They had scarcely
left it before Kit sickened with the fever. They carried him on between
them, hoping to reach opener ground, where they might rest, when Rungya
bethought him of the clearing into which they turned. A holy man, a
Brahmin, who had passed through his life's different stages, and who
was preparing himself in solitude and meditation for his eternal rest,
lived there once. Rungya had visited him when his own life was lusty
within him, and had kissed his feet reverently as a spiritual teacher.
It could not be that the holy man was alive still; but his hut, which
even the savage tribes of the jungle would respect, might be standing,
and it, for a few days, would afford them shelter. Before they reached
it Kit began to mend; but Rungya was stricken down. For two days Grace
tended him as if she had been his daughter. On the third day he died;
and then began that awful struggle between the heroic girl and the wild
things of the wilderness, which had nearly reached its limit when Bâl
Narîn found her. How long it lasted she could not tell--neither could
Kit. When it began they had water and rice, and faggots for firing;
when it ended their little stock was exhausted. She dared not leave the
hut so much as to cut a stick of wood or fill her brass lota with water
at the pool. It was like a horrible siege. The wild things without; she
and her dead and dying within.

Slowly and painfully her mind travelled on. She remembered the
determined attitude of the three great birds, and her own wild tempest
of passion. She remembered vividly the ping of the shikari's bullet,
and the fall of her enemies, and his friendly address. After that came
a terror which she only dimly recalled, and which was followed by a
blank--a peaceful falling away into forgetfulness.

That she had been taken from her dangerous position, and that she had
heard Kit laughing and talking beside her was all she knew for certain.

The effort of thinking was great, and she fell into another brief
sleep. When she awoke the day had begun to decline, and the camp was
astir. Grace was stronger. Her mind worked fitfully. She was like one
who is in search of something, and who has a clue which makes him
believe that he will not be long in ignorance.

Suddenly, like a flash of light in midwinter darkness, there rose
before her a scene out of the past--a little room, with bare mud walls
and costly furniture: in its midst an Englishwoman, dressed in Oriental
robes, and lovely as a vision, with soft eyes and dimpled cheeks, and
a little voice like rippling waves on a pebbly shore. She--Grace--is
standing before her. Her hands are bound; her face is stained; her
garments are dirty and ragged. How vividly she feels the contrast
between them! The lady in Oriental robes feels it too. She laughs--not
brutally, as one who exults over a fallen enemy; but with gushing
gladness like a child. 'Dearest Grace!' she says, 'this is shocking!
What has come to you; and where, in the name of Heaven, is your rajah?'
There is no answer. Grace cannot speak. The little rippling voice
goes on: 'I think he is here, dear; but we cannot let him see you.
You are so beautiful. You would turn his brain.' Silence again, and
then: '_Won't_ you speak to me, you serious young person? Am I too
frivolous for your taste? Well! but never mind. I mean to give you your
liberty, now at once! Such fun! While Tom is in the fort expecting to
see you! A friend of your father's, one of his favourite Soubahdars,
will take care of you, and no doubt you will reach the English lines in
safety'--and then there rises before her suddenly the wicked face with
its sinister smile----

In a moment--in less than a moment--it sprang before her. She had
no force to go further. There was something to be remembered still;
something horrible; something that she would have to think out and tell
before she had peace. But this for the moment was enough. It was the
cry of her heart, the strong rapture of conviction, which, through all
the shame and agony of those awful moments, had been present with her,
that she remembered now.

'Tom is looking for us! Tom will find us!'

Tom, then, had traced them into the jungle. Tom had sent the shikari
to slay the birds. Tom had taken them into his keeping and was
transporting them to a place of safety. There had been war between him
and the White Ranee and he had conquered.

Weary and spent with this strange flight of memory, she sank back and
closed her eyes. But she could not rest any longer. An impulse, dead
for all these terrible days, but so much a part of herself that even
now she could not imagine how it had ever slept, was rising up within
her.

Once more she opened her eyes, and this time they fell on a mirror
which an officious servant had placed near her. She propped it up in
front of her, and gazed at herself, and a blush of maidenly shame
tinged her pale face. Was she Grace--Grace who had been so proud and
dainty? Ah! but she had forgotten Grace. Grace must have lived long ago
in some other world. Grace was a memory--a dream--it was this haggard
woman, with the ragged robe and tangled hair, who was the reality. But
could not Grace come back again?

With a swelling heart she looked round her. Some one had thought of
this too. Everything she could want, clear water and English soap,
and fresh and lovely garments were in the tent. If only she had the
strength, she could, in a few minutes, make herself fit to be seen.
Slowly and painfully she rose from her couch. How weak she was! Could
it be she, her very self, who only yesterday had withstood the wild
beasts and birds of the jungle? When she was on her feet she staggered
and nearly fell; but she would not give up till she had washed the
stains of travel away and put on the robe of pale blue and snowy white,
which was lying ready for her. Then, once more, she looked into the
mirror. Very white and haggard was the face that gazed upon her, and
the eyes--oh! what was it? What was it? She dared not look into them.
There was some awful tale; some picture of horror that would not fade,
behind their half-dropped lids; something that was not Grace--that
never would be. And yet she was happier, more tranquil, than she had
been. The fresh water and the fair garments had helped her to dream
that she was herself once more. She was ready to meet her deliverer.



CHAPTER XLII

'DOES PEACE RETURN?'


She saw Kit's face first. He had been sleeping too--close to Bâl Narîn,
whose large, kind presence had, from the first, inspired him with
confidence, and now he had awoke, and his new friend, who was one of
the most versatile of men, being as well able to nurse a child as to
snare an elephant or to kill a tiger, had taken pleasure in washing
from his face and hands the stains of travel, and combing out his long
golden curls, and dressing him in smart new garments. So when Kit stole
in softly to see if his dearest Grace was awake, he almost startled
her by his beauty. It was the little fine gentleman of Nowgong,
before the revolt, the adored of English _burra sahib-log_ and native
servants--who had come back. Kit was surprised too. He stopped short
just inside the tent and broke into a little laugh. 'Who made you so
pretty, dearest Grace?' he said. 'Was it Tom? Billy dressed me.'

'And who is Billy?' asked Grace.

'Oh! don't you know Billy. He's the shikari that killed the birds. He's
told me all about it, and how he found us. But I must go and find Tom.'

'No, no--come here first!' said Grace softly. 'Is it
quite--quite--true, Kit? Isn't it a dream?'

'You can pinch me if you like,' said the little fellow. 'I don't mind.
Do you think I look nice?'

'You look lovely, darling. I never saw anything so strange. Somebody we
know has thought of everything, Kit. To think that we should find new
dresses in the jungle!'

'It's Tom, I know,' said Kit with conviction. 'He's a big man here,
like Dost Ali Khan, only bigger. The fellows call him the rajah. But, I
say, you mustn't keep me, dearest Grace. I promised to let him know the
very minute you were awake. I looked in twice and you were asleep.'

He gave her a hug, and ran out; but looked back to say, with a little
nod, 'They're getting dinner ready, _such_ a jolly one! Can't you smell
the cooking? Tom knows how to do it, I can tell you.'

Yes: Tom certainly knew how to do it; this Grace said to herself with
a smile. But there was a tremor at her heart all the same. What was
she to say to him? How could she make him understand her passionate
gratitude? While she was thinking he stood at the door, for Kit had
found him close by. 'May I come in?' he said, raising the chick.

'Oh yes--yes; come in,' said Grace, half rising from her couch. 'I
wanted to see you; I wanted to thank you.'

'And that is just what I can't let you do,' said Tom, as quietly as he
could for the furious beating of his heart. 'Are you comfortable?' he
went on, looking round. 'Have my people done all they can for you? If
you will deign to come with me to Gumilcund, we can do much better; but
here----'

'Oh,' cried Grace, with a little agitated laugh; 'but it is just this
that is the wonder. It is like a miracle. How _did_ you--how _could_
you have done it?'

'It is my best--I think it is my best,' stammered Tom. 'I wish I could
have brought some one who knew you better--your mother, or one of your
sisters; but the way was so rough. I was afraid of their breaking down.
Is there anything else? Am I tiring you? Had you rather not see me
until you are stronger? I would--would _die_ to give you comfort or
relief.'

'I know you would,' said Grace simply.

'Oh! thank you,' said the poor fellow in a broken voice. 'It is
infinitely good of you to say so; and indeed--indeed it is the simple
truth. But'--trying to smile--'dying isn't of much use, is it? If you
had died, you couldn't have saved Kit, and, if I had died, I should
never have found you. You are sure you have everything you want?'
he added, looking round with a sort of piteousness in his face. 'I
know very little, you know, about what ladies want; but if there is
anything--these Indians are wonderful people----'

'No, no; there is nothing,' said Grace. 'Wonderful! They are
_marvellous_; they can almost create. I shall never forget what
Hoosanee was to us--' she was speaking rapidly and in little broken
sentences--she wanted to put him at his ease; but she felt so strange
herself. 'Where is he?' she went on. 'In Gumilcund, I suppose?'

'Ah! poor Hoosanee!' said Tom, smiling freely now. 'He wouldn't be
left, Grace. He fell in love with you, like everyone else; wanted to
start off at once and find you alone; but of course, I couldn't allow
that, so he came with me. I owe it to his love and devotion that I am
here now.'

'Then he is in the camp. Poor brave Hoosanee! I should like to see him.'

'But I am sorry to say he is not in the camp. I sent him off to the
mountains three days ago, to search for you there. I hope he will join
us presently.'

'And have you been looking for me ever since I was taken away?' said
Grace.

'I should have looked for you till my hair was grey and my limbs were
withered, Grace. I have found you much sooner than I thought.'

'It may not be so long as I think,' she murmured. 'To-day it seems to
me that ages--eternities--have gone over my head since the night I was
carried away. This morning I was trying to think back and--I could
not--'

There came a pitiful agonised consciousness into her face that
frightened Tom. 'Don't,' he said beseechingly. 'There is no need. Put
all those dreadful memories away! Let us go back, both of us, to the
dear old days. Do you remember, Grace, our gardens that nearly touched,
and the little wicket-gate, and the river? What a plague I must have
been to you sometimes!'

'I think you were pretty tiresome,' said Grace, smiling.

'Ah! but the girls were tiresome too. Trixy and Maud--how they used to
tease me! And the General was just as bad. I can feel the grip of his
hand on my shoulder now--that night he found me, what he would have
called philandering in his compound.'

'Father was very downright,' said Grace. 'But he liked you, Tom.
I don't think there was anyone he liked better. Dearest father! I
am afraid he must have been dreadfully miserable about me. Ah! how
often--how often--I have wished for him--his stern look and his strong
voice--I believe he could have frightened away any number of them.'

'He fought fifty--single handed,' said Tom. 'Bertie Liston came to
Gumilcund and told me about it. They had laid an ambush for him--his
own regiment--they nearly had him; but his audacity and resource
carried the day. Some came over to his side----

'He came out of it safely?' cried Grace.

'With only a slight wound, and he is better. When Bertie came to me he
was nearly well. I sent word that I hoped to find you. They are all
safe at Meerut. Our little Trixy is quite a heroine, at least Bertie
thinks so. She got hold of a revolver and fired at one of the wretches
who were trying to get in----'

'And mother?' broke in Grace. 'Is she well? Ah! what would I not give
just to see her for a moment! Mother's dear, kind face! It is the
sweetest face in all the world.' She broke down and covered her face
with her hands, and tears, that seemed to heal her pain, came stealing
down her pale cheeks.

Then Tom stole away, for he felt that she would prefer to be alone.

In a few moments he sent in Kit and Bâl Narîn. Billy was radiant in
fresh white linen, and Kit had so happy a face that Grace could not
help smiling at him.

'Billy won't let anyone wait upon you but himself, dearest Grace,' he
said, 'and Tom says dinner is ready, and the sun's gone down, and it's
very nice by the camp fire. Will you come out, or shall they bring
yours here?'

'I will come out, Kit,' said Grace.

And then came the joyful buzz of the camp, and the glowing evening
light on the jungle, and the spread table, to which the rajah led
her, his servants and camp followers bending down humbly, with their
faces to the ground, and again she felt as if she were moving in a
dream. Though she was only able to take a very little of what had been
provided for her, Grace felt stronger when she had eaten. Leaning on
Tom's arm, and with Kit clinging to her hand, she was able to move
about the camp. She made the acquaintance of Purtab, who had slain
the serpent, and, using Bâl Narîn as an interpreter, he and Abiman
congratulated her upon her escape, and expressed their conviction that
she was favoured of the gods. So long as she was talking and moving
she was at peace. But when she was alone the horror came again. They
were not to start until moon-rise. Tom left her in her tent to rest.
Kit went to sleep on a cushion by her side. Silence fell upon the
camp, and in the darkness and solitude her nameless dread took form.
There she lay, with hands cramped together and staring eyeballs, while
vision after vision, full of horror, swept by. Was it she, her very
self--this Grace who was not of heroic mould, to whom all these things
had happened? Was she dreaming hideously, or were they true? Oh! God,
were they true? She had suffered, but it was not that alone. She had
heard what curdled her blood in her veins, and made her feel that
the gentle, innocent gaiety of the past was a sin. Women and little
children tortured to death, men blown away from guns, inhuman crimes,
inhuman vengeance, hell gaping its mouth to devour, and heaven, the
dear heaven, of which, in the days of her childhood, she had dreamed,
passing away as visions pass in the lurid light of a world in flames.

She shuddered as she lay. This was terrible. She ought to be so
thankful. Ah! and she was thankful; but it was to man, not God. Once
she opened her lips, and the cry, old as humanity, the 'Our Father,'
that will instinctively break from the heart of Earth's children when
they realise their weakness and the strength of the forces set in
array against them, rose on a wave of anguish from her soul. But in
the next instant the cry was withdrawn. Father! There was no Father,
only a blind power that hurled the world-atoms, which for once in the
measureless ages have shaped themselves into sentient lives, from steep
to steep of a dead eternity. Awful, unutterable, sorrow piercing her
heart, like barbed arrows, each of which leaves its sting in the wound,
looking out pitifully from a myriad of eyes, making life impossible and
death the only refuge to be hoped for!

In the darkness Kit awoke and heard her laboured breathing. He groped
for her hand, and, finding it cold, was frightened and stole out to
awake Tom.

He came in, lighted the lamps, and knelt down beside her. 'You are with
friends,' he whispered, when he had made her drink a few drops of Bâl
Narîn's cordial. 'You must have courage for a little while.'

'I will try,' she said plaintively. 'I should like to see them once
more.'

'You will see them once more, and many times. When all this tangle is
over, we must go back to England.'

'England!' murmured Grace. 'Ah! they are good there. One can believe,
but,' shuddering, 'one cannot forget. I suppose we have to go out of
life for that.'

'Grace, if you love us, if you love them, do not, for heaven's sake,
speak so!'

She raised her heavy eyes and looked at him.

'Poor boy!' she said softly. 'I am troubling him. And when he has done
so much for me--all that way through the thicket! But the others, ah!
Tom, the others!--there was no God to save them.'

'My dearest, in heaven's name, I beseech you, put these thoughts
away! There was a God. There _is_ a God. Death opens the way into His
kingdom.'

'I used to think so,' said Grace dreamily. 'That was long ago, before I
knew, when I thought the world was good.'

'And so it is, Grace; so it is! Give yourself time, dearest, and you
will come back to the old thoughts. You will know that the horror which
it has pleased God to let you look upon is the exception, not the rule.
It is like the tempest which comes and goes, and does its awful work.
Peace returns afterwards.'

'Does peace return?' cried the girl, fixing her agonised eyes upon
her companion's face; 'and if it does, is it a true peace? This is no
dead storm, like a storm of winds and waves. It is a storm of human
souls. The passion, the cruelty, the restlessness, the awful, awful,
unquenchable thirst, are alive. Oh! I have seen them again and again.
It is like the look in the eyes of the wild creatures, _misery and
pain--misery and pain_.' Her voice dropped. Into her face came a look
of horror as if some vision long driven back were forcing itself upon
her. 'How did it come?' she whispered. 'Where does it go? It must be
somewhere, even when there is peace. Is it below us, ready, like the
wild beasts, to spring at our throats, or does it go away? When we open
our eyes _there_, shall we see it, _misery and pain--misery and pain_?'

'Grace, for pity's sake, for _my_ sake,' said Tom hoarsely, 'try to
forget. For you the horror is over.'

'For me, but for the others, for the world! Did He make it? Did He give
it gentle and good things to triumph over? And what will He do with it
by-and-by? Is it to go on for ever and ever and ever?'

'Don't think of it; don't think of it, Grace.'

'I can't help myself,' she sobbed. 'It _is_--now, at this very
moment while we are speaking--the misery, and the cruelty, and the
restlessness, and the despair. Hark!' starting up. 'Do you hear?'

'I hear the wild beasts howling, nothing else. Abiman and Purtab are
keeping the camp-fires alight. Everything is safe. Oh! my dear! don't
look so! you frighten me!'

She tried to smile! 'I am so sorry,' she said gently. 'I _will_
try--yes--I _will_ try to put it all away. But I think you must let
me go, Tom. You are looking for the Grace you once knew. You will
not find her; she has gone. The horror has touched her, and she can
never--never--be the same again.'

'Grace, you will break my heart. As you are, love, as you are, with the
sorrow in your eyes and the anguish in your soul, you are more, ten
thousand times more, to me than even then in all your dainty pride and
sweetness. I loved you, God knows I loved you--now--' he threw himself
down on his knees by her side, 'now--I adore you.'

'My poor boy! My poor boy!' she murmured, touching his face tenderly,
with her long white fingers.

'Grace,' he whispered. 'Do you care for me a little?'

'I care for you more than a little, Tom. I love you. I have loved you
from the first day we met.'

'Loved me! Oh! Grace; oh! my darling! is it true?'

'Hush, dear!' she said softly. 'You must keep quiet. If we speak too
loud we shall awake Kit. Poor little Kit! He has suffered so much. And
this sleep is restoring him.' Her voice was so quiet that it sent a
chill to his heart. There was no passion in it, no trouble, not even
the agitation, the sweet tremulous consciousness of a woman happy in
loving.

There surged up in his throat a sob of uncontrollable anguish. 'I
can't even think of Kit,' he said. 'I can only think of you--you. Say
it again, Grace--it is the dearest, sweetest sound in all the world.
Whisper it as low as you like and I shall hear it. If I were on earth
and you were in heaven, above the stars, myriads and myriads of miles
away, still I should hear it. Are you smiling, darling? I can smile too
now. But even you don't know everything. I will tell you some day. Say,
I love you.'

'I love you, Tom; I love you.' She was still touching his face and
hair, still gazing into his face with a tenderness that almost slew
him, it was so strangely quiet. 'I did not mean to tell you,' she went
on, 'but the time is so short. To-morrow perhaps I shall be somewhere
else.'

'Grace,' he cried passionately. 'Do you wish to kill me?'

'No dear, I wish to live, and I think I shall live a little while
longer. I have seen you, I must see mother and father and the girls,
and poor little Lucy, and Kit's mother, and the others. I didn't mean
that I should die, but I may not be here. Didn't Kit tell you? I wander
away sometimes. He used to tell me about it when I came back. "You have
been somewhere else, dearest Grace." I can hear his little voice now.
That was before Rungya left us. Afterwards, I remembered everything
till I fell asleep and you found me.'

'Ah! but it was natural then. You were in such trouble. It is a wonder
to me that you lived through it at all. But that is over!'

'Yes,' said Grace, closing her eyes, 'all over! all over!'

He watched her, his heart beating painfully. She lay quite still, and,
hoping she was asleep, he stole to the door and lifted the chick, for
in another hour they would have to start. He looked out, with a dazed
feeling in his mind, at the sleeping camp and the fires that were
burning brightly. He listened to the monotonous jabber of the watchmen,
and saw how the solemn, silvery light, that would presently change the
dark jungle world into an enchanted region, was beginning to dawn in
the sky. Then he returned to Grace, whom he found with wide-open eyes
and smiling lips. 'Is that you, Dad?' she said.

'Yes, dear,' he answered.

'Call the girls,' she cried. 'They said they would start early. The
river is so lovely in the morning. Is the boat ready, Dad?'

'Yes, dear. It is moored under the willows. I will come for you
directly.'

He took up Kit in his arms, and carried him out to Bâl Narîn. Tears
were in his eyes, and the beating of his heart nearly choked him. Grace
did not know him. She was 'somewhere else.'



CHAPTER XLIII

A STRANGE JOURNEY


Afterwards Tom Gregory looked back upon this journey as one of the
strangest experiences of his strange and chequered life. As regards
outward events there is little to record. Bâl Narîn knew every step
of the way. The soldiers, servants, camp-followers, and coolies, of
whom the cavalcade consisted, were so well up in their duties, and so
hopeful of large reward from the rajah, that they worked with all the
regularity and much more than the intelligence of machines. Even the
heavens seemed to smile upon the intrepid travellers, for there could
be no doubt that the air was less pestilential than is usual at this
season, while there were none of those sweeping storms of rain that,
in late summer and early autumn, will sometimes make the roads of the
Terai impassable.

They travelled quietly, so as not to fatigue Grace and Kit, and it took
them three days to work across the jungle from the robbers' path,
where Bâl Narîn had found the first traces of the fugitives, to the
Maharajah's Road.

This, of course, was the most difficult and dangerous part of the
journey, but they accomplished it safely. There was no talk of fever
now, no grumbling about the denseness of the jungle and the fatigue of
the way. Bâl Narîn issued the orders for each day, and they were obeyed
with joyful alacrity. It would almost seem as if the gladness that had
taken possession of the camp since Grace and Kit were found had given
it strength and tone. But for all this, and in spite of the kind and
gracious face he showed to his followers, the young rajah carried about
with him an aching heart. His hope and dream had not been fulfilled. He
had saved his love from the last extremity; but for what had he saved
her? Sometimes when he saw the wandering horror in her eyes, when he
listened to the broken words of pain, which for his sake she tried to
repress, when, with a trouble which almost unmanned him, he realised
that so it must be as long as she lived, he would say to himself
ruefully, that for her it would have been better if in the trance in
which he found her in the hut, her gentle spirit had winged its flight
from earth.

But these were his worst moments. The best times were when, as Kit
expressed it, Grace was 'somewhere else.' Then, but for the curious
expression of her eyes, the haunting pain that seemed always to be
lying in wait for her, she was so quiet and peaceful, so much the Grace
of the dear old days, that he could venture to hope for her restoration
to health of body and peace of mind.

He would lengthen out these times of mental aberration. When she called
to him by some name out of the past, he would answer to it. Patiently
he would work himself into the spirit of her dream, so that he might
live and act in it. With an ingenuity born of love, he would keep out
of her sight, as much as possible, everything that would remind her
of the present. Kit was not allowed to come near her while the dream
lasted. The servants were kept in the background. Of everything strange
that she saw about her, there would be some ingenious explanation. Thus
the meal under the shadow of a tree was a picnic; and the jungle was
an English wood, and the tent was a cottage in which they had taken
shelter from heat or storm, he and she together, and the others--Lady
Elton and Mrs. Gregory, and Lady Winter and the fine Sir Reginald, and
the girls--these were all behind them and would presently come up. So
in the hours of tranquillity, which his love made for her, she gained
marvellously in health and strength; but Tom had an uneasy feeling that
the spectre of pain and horror which she carried about with her was not
destroyed, and that some day it would assert its presence dangerously.
The fact was, that Grace lacked the robust individualism which enables
the majority of people, and especially of women, to exult over their
own exceptional good fortune. She could not feel herself a favourite of
heaven; she could not, as she would say pathetically, be grateful. That
thought of the others, the ill-doers as well as those who had suffered
wrong, haunted her perpetually. She saw them in her dreams. They seemed
to be holding out their hands to her. Whenever she was not wandering in
the past, her heart was full of a new and incomprehensible anguish.

A little diversion, which had a beneficial effect upon her mind, was
created by their meeting with Hoosanee. It was in a great sâal-forest,
when they were travelling pleasantly along an easy road, under a fine
canopy made by overarching trees, that the rajah's faithful servant,
who had made up his mind that no such fugitives as those he was seeking
could have crossed Sisagarhi, came up with them.

He came in late in the evening, when the cavalcade had halted as it
did habitually between sunset and moonrise. The blow on the hillside
had done for him what his master had hoped from it. The fever that
had begun to work in his blood had gone, and his power and energy
had returned. The meeting between him and the rajah was rather that
of intimate friends than of master and servant. When Hoosanee heard
that the object of the expedition had been fulfilled, that the fair
and gracious maiden whom they had travelled so far, and on his part
so hopelessly, to seek was actually in camp, he cried like a child.
'Master! Master!' he sobbed, the tears rolling down his face. 'Who
will dare to tell me now that the gods do not fight on our side? Ah!
if some miracle would take us straight to the gates of our own town!
How proudly we shall enter! It will be better even than the night when
first the Rajah Sahib passed through our streets and the people saluted
him as Rama, their prince and hero----'

'That remains to be proved, Hoosanee,' said Tom, smiling. 'Remember
that I have offended the people of Gumilcund grievously. I doubt
whether they will accept me as their rajah now. But I am sure that,
for the love of those who have gone, they will admit me for a time.
And I have been mindful of their interests while I was away. Is it not
strange, Hoosanee,' he went on dreamily, 'now I have fulfilled my task
the love of my people and my work has come back to me? The voice that
was silent so long spoke to me again last night. I am one of you, my
friend, as I was before. You are so near to me that you will understand
this. But we must not be surprised if the others do not.'

'They will: they will. Chunder Singh knows. Chunder Singh is the friend
of his Excellency. There is no fear,' said Hoosanee joyfully.

Then he left his master and presented himself at the door of the tent
where Grace was resting. Kit was just outside. He saw him and gave a
joyful cry of recognition. Grace heard it and started up. 'Who has
come? What has happened?' she cried.

'Oh!' said Kit, rushing in, 'it's Tom's bearer. It's Hoosanee. They did
not kill him after all. Hooray! Hooray! Three cheers! Grace! Grace!
mayn't he come in?'

'Yes! Yes; bring him in,' said Grace joyfully. So Kit set the curtain
aside, and Hoosanee, whose dark face was glowing with happiness, came
in, and stood with bowed head and hands crossed reverently before the
lady of his dreams. As for Grace, she held out both her hands and burst
into tears.

'My gracious lady should laugh: she should not weep,' he said, bending
low over her hands.

'But it is for joy not for sadness. My brave Hoosanee, I never thought
to see you alive again. How splendidly you stood your ground that awful
night, and how nobly you pleaded for me! And did you take care of the
others? Did you carry them to Gumilcund safely?'

'Missy Sahib,' said Hoosanee, a smile breaking over his face, 'it was
not so easy when you had gone. The ladies cried and sometimes they were
unreasonable and doubted me, thinking that, as I had given you up, so
I would give them up; and the storm beat upon us angrily, and it was
with difficulty we dragged ourselves along. But on the second night we
entered the gates of our city and one ran to tell our rajah and he met
us.'

'And they were safe and well--Lucy and Kit's mother, and the baby and
the other Mem Sahib?'

'They were safe. The rajah gave them lodging in his palace. But we did
not see them again, for that very night we departed for the fort.'

'The fort? Dost Ali Khan's fort?' said Grace shuddering. 'That was
where the wicked Soubahdar took me. But how did you know, Hoosanee?'

'It had been told to one of my lord's servants that we should find
Missy Sahib there. Dost Ali Khan thought to buy the favour of my master
by giving her up.'

'But I was not there, Hoosanee.'

'Let us give thanks to the Supreme Spirit!' said the Indian, bowing low.

Grace gazed at him, speechless with wonder.

'The fort has gone,' he went on solemnly. 'Like a wild beast in its
lair Dost Ali Khan was destroyed. The day after Missy Sahib was put out
the English came up, and they made a mine secretly and the fort was
blown to pieces.'

'With everyone within,' said Grace, whose eyes were distended with
horror.

'My master and my master's servants escaped. Some few of the defenders
may have left by the secret passage. All the others perished.'

'There was an English woman there,' said Grace.

'The woman who called herself the White Ranee, and to whom Dost Ali
Khan the pretended ruler of the country did homage, was within the
fort. She was slain,' said Hoosanee quietly.

'Slain!' echoed Grace.

'It is true, Missy Sahib. The rajah himself brought her dead out of the
ruins. I saw her in his arms. He made a fire in the room where they had
imprisoned him, and her body was consumed. Then he and I went out to
meet the English.'

While Hoosanee was speaking, Grace had covered her face with her hands.
When she looked up she was as pale as death. 'Dead!' she murmured,
'Vivien dead! Is it true? Then God have mercy upon her!'

She paused. Hoosanee did not speak, and after a few moments she went
on, in a stifled voice, as if she were speaking to herself: 'I had been
thinking of her, wondering how it would end. But it is best so--much
best! Hoosanee,' suddenly, 'you must tell no one. Remember! It is a
secret between you and me and the rajah.'

'I will remember, Missy Sahib.'

'Let them think that she was taken prisoner,' went on Grace. 'It
may have been so. Yes: that is the true explanation. I wonder I did
not think of it before--and the terror and horror shook her reason.
Poor Vivien! I am sorry I had hard thoughts of her. She was much too
beautiful to be wicked. It was madness, Hoosanee. If she had not been
mad she would never have treated me so. I might have known it at once.
And you say she is dead?'

'She is dead, Missy Sahib.'

'It was best. To have come to herself here would have been terrible.
But I cannot think of it any more. Thank you for telling me, my good
Hoosanee. You have just come in?'

'I rode into camp an hour ago, Missy Sahib.'

'You must want rest. I am selfish to keep you up so long. Good-night! I
will see you again to-morrow.'

'May the sleep of my gracious lady be sweet, and may the gods preserve
her from evil!' said Hoosanee fervently.

He went out, to find the rajah waiting for him with eager questions.
Then Bâl Narîn joined them. A runner had come out in search of the
rajah. He brought intelligence of a great and notable Ghoorka victory,
which had resulted in the complete pacification of the district
between the Nepaul frontier and the Kingdom of Oude. Gambier Singh was
triumphant. He sent word that the rajah must join him in his camp near
Janhpore, and that he would tell off a detachment to escort him to
Gumilcund, as a part of the Doab, which he would have to cross on his
journey, was said to be still in an unsettled condition.

When questioned about the state of the country generally, the runner
reported that Delhi was supposed to have been taken by assault a few
days since; but that Lucknow was still in the hands of the mutineers.

This was joyful news to the rajah. 'If Delhi is taken the worst is
over,' he said to his servants. 'And our Gumilcund men will be in it.
If we reach our city safely, I will put myself at the head of another
little army and join the forces that will be marching to Lucknow. What
do you say, Billy? Will you join me?'

'I will go to the ends of the earth with his Excellency,' said Bâl
Narîn. 'But let him have a care!'

'Of what, Billy?'

'Of the jealousy of the gods, Excellency.'

'You think I am too prosperous, Billy? Don't alarm yourself. I shall
have my knock-down presently.'

'It is useless to speak of such things,' said Hoosanee. 'The Rajah
Sahib, as we know, has risked his life in two dangerous enterprises.
It is fitting now that he remains with his people in Gumilcund.'

'Time enough to discuss our further movements when we have reached that
haven of rest,' said Tom, dismissing them with a wave of his hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so, when the moon rose that night, they went on together joyfully.
One more halt in the Terai, and a short day's march through the forest
brought them to the borders of the dominions of the Maharajah of
Nepaul, when they entered upon the vast agricultural plains of Upper
India, held then by the British and Ghoorka armies.

Concerning this part of the journey, which, under any other
circumstances, would have been monotonous, there is very little to
record. The rajah's diary, to which he returned about this time, deals
more with feelings and states of mind than with events. I gather
from it that, as the days went by, his deep interest in the social
and political condition of the people amongst whom his lot had been
cast revived. He was impatient, for his own sake as well as for that
of his friends, to be in Gumilcund again. He took a more wholesome
and a larger view of life. Away from the pestilential swamps of the
fever-haunted jungle, and under the wide benignant sky, he could
forget the wild agony of despair that for so many days had bound him
in prison; he could believe that it was not madness, but a sound
philosophy, which caused men everywhere to expect and to work for the
redemption of humanity.

Here and there he speaks of Grace, but only briefly. 'My darling is
better,' he writes on one occasion. 'I think Hoosanee is doing her
good. He understands how to make her comfortable. I really think she
is at home in her tent.' And again, 'There is something on her mind
still. If she could tell it, the look of haunting terror, which goes
to my very soul, might leave her eyes. But I dare not urge her.' And
yet again, 'A woman should be with her; one she has known and loved.
Thank God she will find friends at Gumilcund! Perhaps her mother would
come if I sent for her. She will not be happy until she has told what
is on her mind. Will she then? God help my darling and send her rest
and peace!' From Bâl Narîn, who would not go back to his native valley
until he had seen his friends at the end of their journey, I learn
that the young rajah, who travelled in semi-Oriental dress, but who
did not now disguise from anyone that he was of European origin, won
hearts wherever he went by his grace and dignity. To this day most
of these people believe that there was something supernatural about
him. At the villages, when there was difficulty about the supplies of
food and firing, he had only to come forward and speak and his orders
were obeyed without delay. To himself his power over the native mind,
which he could not help seeing and acknowledging, was a mystery. I,
who look at this part of his history in the light not only of what
went before but of what followed, can find an explanation. In him the
indomitable pluck, the perseverance, the rectitude, and stern sense
of justice, which have enabled a Western people to conquer and hold
dominion in the East, were combined with the softer, more graceful and
endearing qualities of the race with which he was allied, although at
that time he did not know it, no less by birth than by circumstances.
Gracious as well as great, sympathetic as well as strong, feeling
at every point the people with whom he came in contact, tolerant in
them of the weaknesses, whose germs, covered but not destroyed by his
Western training, he found in himself, yet, rising above them by his
proud indifference to selfish considerations, his quickness to execute
what his brain had devised; and, more than all, by his keen spiritual
insight, Thomas Gregory has always seemed to me to be in himself a
living parable. So in my fanciful moments I have imagined may society
be, when the two great branches of humanity's noblest family, which
have been separated so long, will consent not only to meet, but to meet
on the same ground; when they will take one from the other as brothers
should; when they will sit down together at the rich feast of stored-up
experience wrought out painfully on the opposite sides of dividing
oceans; when they will realise that one requires the other, and that
only from sympathy and mutual concession can spring the union, out of
which, as some of us hope, a perfectness such as the world has never
known will grow.

But this is in the future still; and our present business is with
the rajah on his march to Gumilcund. They made a slight detour to
visit Gambier Singh in his camp near Janhpore; and I am told that the
greeting they received from that magnificent young officer was of the
warmest. He was highly elated with his own success, concerning which he
had much to say to his friend, while his delight and admiring sympathy
over the happy accomplishment of the feat, which when they met before
he had judged to be impossible, were inexhaustible. During the few
hours they spent together in the young Captain's tent Tom had to give
over and over again his account of the various incidents of their
journey. Then Bâl Narîn was called in to receive his meed of praise and
substantial reward, which he did modestly, asserting that he was but
an instrument in the hands of the gods and demons, who were bent upon
honouring the Rajah Sahib. Finally, having hinted at his wish to be
thus distinguished, Gambier Singh was introduced to Grace, who thanked
him in graceful and touching words for the assistance he had rendered
to her friends in their search. It happened to be one of her best days.
She was conscious of everything that went on around her, and the hope
of being in Gumilcund soon, of seeing her friends, and gladdening their
hearts with the news of her deliverance, although it could not lift
from her face the shadow that rested there continually, gave to her
an expression of tremulous anticipation that was curiously pathetic.
This, with her delicacy of form, her low voice and gentle manner, and
the white purity of her perfect face, made an undying impression on the
mind of the chivalrous young soldier. When, accompanied by his friend
the rajah, he left the English girl's tent, his dark face was glowing
with a new enthusiasm. 'A few days ago, my brother,' he said, grasping
Tom's hand, 'I could not understand you. Now it is clear to me. She is
a fair and noble woman--one for whom a true man would willingly lay
down his life. That I have been able to help you to save her will be a
joyful memory to me as long as I live.'

Later he said, meditatively, 'Is she a type? Are there many like her in
England?'

'There are many as beautiful, and true, and courageous,' answered Tom.
'Although to me, naturally, she stands alone.'

'Then I can understand your greatness,' said Gambier Singh.

'You must visit us and see our women at home,' answered Tom with a
smile.



CHAPTER XLIV

MORE FUGITIVES IN GUMILCUND


They could not spend more than a day and a night in Gambier Singh's
hospitable camp. Moreover, the gallant little Ghoorka army had work to
do. It had been reinforced by English officers and troops, and it was
bound on an expedition south to cut off the retreat of a body of rebels
who, having escaped the swords and guns of Havelock's Highlanders, were
rushing up to hide themselves in the mountains. But Gambier Singh, with
the full consent of his fellow officers, both British and Nepaulese,
would not let his friends depart unattended. An escort, sufficiently
strong to make them respected both by insurgent villagers and fugitive
sepoys, was told off to protect them on their further journey, and he
added to their travelling stores such comforts as he could command.

Both parties, the English rajah, with his Nepaulese escort, and the
Ghoorka army, started with light hearts, for there could be no doubt
now that the tide of affairs in the peninsula had changed for the
better. Delhi was taken by assault; the news was in every mouth. The
King of Delhi was a captive; his army was scattered and destroyed; and
although, while Oude was in insurrection, and Lucknow was in the hands
of the rebels, and a vast army reinforced by the mutinous contingent
from Gwalior still held the field, the mutiny could not be said to be
crushed, there was good hope now of a successful issue to the efforts
which had been made to extinguish it.

With the intelligence from Delhi, which was brought by swift runners to
the Ghoorka camp, Tom had the satisfaction of receiving a good account
of his Gumilcund levies. They were specially mentioned as having
distinguished themselves in the assault. What he did not know then,
but what he heard later, was that these men of Gumilcund had earned
the praise even of the heroic Nicholson. On the day after the assault,
when the gallant English soldiers, who had fought like lions and shed
their blood like heroes, fell prone to the temptation thrown in their
way by their enemies, and lay about, stupid as sheep, in the streets
and courts of the city they had so brilliantly won, it was a band of
Gumilcund men, who, by their steadfastness and intrepidity, prevented
the day of dishonour from being, to many of them, a day of disaster.

This the rajah heard at Gumilcund, whither, as there is nothing in his
further journey to deserve a special record, we must now return.

The English ladies in the palace had settled down, as we shall
remember, into a peaceful and well-cared-for, if somewhat monotonous,
life. They never went out into the streets of the city. This was by
the advice of Chunder Singh and Lutfullah, who feared that the people,
looking upon them as, in some sort, responsible for the loss of their
rajah, might show signs of hostility if they appeared amongst them. As
for those grave personages themselves, they had overcome their first
feelings of doubt and suspicion.

By the time of which I am speaking the rajah's message from the village
in the Doab, where he halted to rescue the English prisoners, and
received the intelligence which sent him to Azimgurh and Nepaul, had
arrived. It had been immediately obeyed. Before Grace and Kit were
found Mrs. Lyster shared the hospitality of the English rajah's palace,
and the two young officers, who had so narrowly escaped an ignominious
death, were resting and recruiting their strength in the Resident's
comfortable house.

This message had brought hope back to the city. Their rajah had not
completely deserted them. He sent word that he would return, that
wherever he went he was mindful chiefly of their interests, that he
would die rather than betray them; and they believed him. Over the
common people, in fact, to whom the contents of this letter was made
known, his influence was rather strengthened than weakened by what had
taken place. His mysterious departure, his extraordinary escape out
of the hands of Dost Ali Khan the deadly enemy of Gumilcund, with the
destruction of the fort, from which the city and State had so often
been threatened, confirmed their belief that the gods were in league
with their rajah, and that, while he continued to rule over them, peace
and prosperity were assured to the State.

And in fact this small principality was, at the time of which I am
writing, like one of those islands in the Southern Seas which awful
coral reefs guard from the onslaught of stormy waves. To her very
doors the tempest raged. From east and west, from north and south, the
posts, which had again begun to run, brought news of mutinous armies
in possession of the country, of burning villages and sacked cities,
of robber-tribes pursuing unchecked their career of violence, and of
peasants fleeing from their unreaped fields. She remained untouched--a
fortress and a refuge.

In the palace things were not so dull as they had been. Chunder Singh
and Lutfullah paid daily visits to the ladies, to assure themselves
that they wanted for nothing. The message from the rajah and the
arrival of Mrs. Lyster raised their drooping spirits. Mrs. Durant began
to hope that she might one day see her darling Kit again, and Lucy was
better able to excuse herself for what she still looked upon as her own
cowardly desertion of her cousin and friend.

As for Mrs. Lyster, I am afraid it would take more space than I have at
my command to do anything like justice to her feelings. When, after her
long and toilsome journey, she was carried within the precincts of the
palace, and her litter being set down in the cool marble court of the
quarter allotted to the European ladies, she found herself surrounded
with gentle and sympathetic faces, she was as one in a dream. Long
after, as she has told me since, it abode in her mind like a picture in
a vision. There were little Lucy, with her pure white skin and golden
hair and pathetic eyes, from which the dream of horror had not yet
passed away; and the pale-faced mother eager--so eager--for news, yet
not venturing to ask a question until the haggard, wild-eyed visitor
had been refreshed and comforted; and Aglaia, like a child-angel
with love and wonder in her face, and close to her the dusky-faced
Sumbaten, pouring out broken words of welcome and offers of assistance;
and little Dick, rosy and sweet, at sight of whom the poor fugitive
covered her face with her hands and wept. Her baby had been shot--her
soft innocent little darling--shot, in the arms of its father, who had
torn it from the ayah to protect it with his own body. And then he had
fallen too, and when, cold and still as lifeless stone, she leant over
them to staunch their life-blood, he whispered to her hoarsely, 'For
the sake of our children in England, escape!'

She had escaped--oh, God! she had escaped! But was not life far
bitterer than death?

They knew how it was with her. Everyone of them had gone through her
hour of worse than martyrdom, so they waited silently till she looked
up again and made a pathetic effort to smile and thank them; and then
Aglaia, who, having been the first comer, continued to do the honours
of the palace, took her by the hand, and Aglaia's ayah followed, and
she was given clear water and fresh garments, and when she was ready
she was brought out again to the rajah's summer-house, where an English
tea, with tinned meats and wheaten bread, and luscious Eastern fruits,
was spread out.

It was then, as she has told me, that her perplexity began. She was
asked a number of questions which she could not answer. Aglaia stood up
before her, and besought earnestly to be told where Daddy Tom was, and
why he did not come back, and when, thinking naturally the poor child
was asking for one of the dead, she said that she had not seen him,
Lucy interposed quickly: 'Oh! she means the rajah; don't you know? He
sent you here.'

'The rajah! Daddy Tom!' echoed Mrs. Lyster.

'Of course you know he is an Englishman,' said Lucy.

'It was no Englishman saved us,' said Mrs. Lyster, shaking her head.
'Ask the others!'

'Oh! but it was; it was Tom. I think his second English name is
Gregory. It's a funny story. Grace told me part of it,' said Lucy, 'and
I heard the rest here. Surely he told you about Grace----'

'And about Kit, my sweet Kit, my little hero!' said Mrs. Durant,
weeping.

'Grace! Kit! I don't understand. I think indeed we must be playing at
cross-purposes. God knows it would give me the truest happiness to
relieve your anxieties: you who have received me so kindly. But what
can I tell you but the truth? We were saved by an Indian prince, a
young man. He came to see us in the headman's hut, late at night, after
he had killed twenty of our captors with his own hand. He told us he
was the rajah of this place, and he would send us here with soldiers
of his own. But, Tom--Thomas Gregory! what do you mean?' cried Mrs.
Lyster, in great agitation. 'I knew an Englishman of that name once.'

'But you don't, you _can't_, mean to say that you know nothing more!'
said Lucy. 'Think, for heaven's sake! Try your hardest to remember.'

'Try to remember? Do you think I could forget? In the depths of our
despair, I and those two poor boys, who were dying under my eyes; not
knowing what fresh horrors each fresh day might have in store for us;
living on and praying to a God who, we still believed, was a God of
Mercy, to let us die swiftly, and our pains and troubles end; all at
once, in a moment, at dead of night, dragged out to what we thought
must be the swift and sudden death we had prayed for; and then to find
ourselves safe, our bonds loosened, our enemies gone, kind and gracious
friends about us, with words of hope which have been fully--fully
redeemed upon their lips! Forget! we should be monsters of ingratitude
if we forgot. If I could ever return it, ever show--but that would be
impossible,' cried Mrs. Lyster wildly.

'Yes, impossible,' said the ladies together. And Lucy added softly,
'Tom has been our good angel. But it was for Grace's sake. We must not
forget that. He sent for us because of her. Do you know, all of you,
she might have escaped alone, long before, and we, God only knows where
we should have been! He was searching for Grace when he rescued you,
Mrs. Lyster; he is searching for her still. Most likely she is dead,
and then he will die too!'

'Oh! Lucy! Lucy! Don't talk so wildly!' said Mrs. Durant. 'Look at
Aglaia and think of me! You are frightening Mrs. Lyster.'

'I am not frightened,' said the poor lady, 'only bewildered. My Thomas
Gregory was such an interesting boy. At least, we thought him so at
first. Then some one said he was more than half a native. There was
a curious story about him,' she went on gropingly. 'He was going
out, they said, to inherit the wealth of an Indian rajah. Dear! how
strangely things come round. If'--with a little laugh--'I had only
known he was Thomas Gregory----'

'Was he going on with his search?' said Lucy.

'Yes; and now I think of it, I must have given him a clue. His servant
questioned me!'

'Hoosanee, our good Hoosanee!' cried Lucy, clapping her hands.

'He struck me as being rather artful,' said Mrs. Lyster.

'So he is, but it is in his master's service,' said Lucy joyously.
'Hoosanee is a man of resource. I am sure they are safe now.'

'God grant it!' said poor Mrs. Durant, breaking into tears and sobs.
'If he were not such a darling--much too good for this world--I might
hope too! Oh! Kit, my poor Kit, my pretty Kit, I can see your brave
little face now as you went away! How I kept still I don't know. I was
paralysed.'

'If Grace had been paralysed, we should none of us have been here to
tell the tale,' said Lucy, with a sort of disdain, which was as much
for herself as for these others, on her pale face.

'How she found strength to do it I can't imagine,' said little Dick's
mother. 'But for baby----'

'Oh!' interposed Lucy, 'we all had our own reasons, of course. As a
fact, I believe we couldn't have done any differently!'

'It is all very mysterious,' said Dick's mother; 'but I don't see why
you should be so sardonic about it, Lucy. We ought to be thankful that
our lives are spared. I am sure I am, both for myself and dear little
baby.'

'Don't! Don't!' cried Lucy passionately. 'You hurt me! Thankful! How
can I be thankful? Till Grace and Kit are here beside me, I shall not
be thankful. I know I am wicked; but I can't help myself. It's in me.'
And then she turned away, and gripped Aglaia by the arm. 'Come!' she
said, '_you_ won't reason with me or try to make me good. Let us find
Sumbaten, and see what she is doing for Mrs. Lyster!'

They looked after her, as with a defiant step she went away along the
avenue, and Mrs. Durant sighed deeply, while Dick's mother shook her
head, and said that Lucy's temper did not improve. It was a pity they
could not see her more subdued and humbled. As for Mrs. Lyster, she
sat very silent. She was gazing out into the soft rose lilac of the
narrowing heavens, and thinking of the young fellow who had been her
companion on that delightful voyage, that seemed now so long ago--the
young fellow whom she had liked and admired until a certain strange
day, when he mystified her and others by putting on an Oriental robe,
and assuming, with such marvellous perfection, the speech and manners
of an Oriental grandee.



CHAPTER XLV

NEWS OF MEERUT--GENERAL ELTON FINDS A NEW SPHERE


The message from the rajah and Mrs. Lyster's arrival did, as I have
said, revive the drooping spirits of the ladies in Gumilcund; but many
weary days and nights were destined to go by before they could receive
certain news of their friends. In the meantime the posts, which ran now
with tolerable regularity, brought them a variety of intelligence--some
of it depressing; but, for the most part, tending to hope. That, though
the North-West had failed in preparedness for the crisis, the gallant
rulers of the Punjaub had not only held their own, but were pouring
down reinforcements to the army before Delhi, while from Bombay,
Calcutta and Allahabad men and munitions of war were being marched up
country, Chunder Singh told them with exultation. Delhi, he was sure,
would not long hold out, and then, as he too sanguinely believed, the
insurrection would be at an end.

They received private intelligence too. Strange and pathetic, as some
of us will remember very well, were the letters exchanged between
friends and relatives in those strange days. You would mourn a dear
friend as dead, and then, all of a sudden, one wonderful morning you
would see a letter in his well-known handwriting; and when, with
beating heart, feeling as if a missive had come to you from the grave,
you would tear it open, you would find that your friend had given up
you as lost, and was writing to you joyfully as one brought back from
the jaws of death. These were the bright spots--the red-letter days--in
that time of anguish. Of those other letters which brought no joy, only
a fearful confirmation of our worst fears--the letters which told us of
the tender hunted to death--of the fair and fragile giving way under
the awful strain of horror, and sleeping, as we fondly believed, in the
bosom of their God--of the beautiful, the strong, the noble cut off
in the flower of their youth and the plenitude of their service--yes,
of these, too, we carry about with us memories, and the bitterness of
those memories will never fade until we meet our beloved on the further
shore. Of news such as these there is happily no question here. Mrs.
Durant heard of her husband. He had escaped from Nowgong by the skin of
his teeth, having been surrounded and actually imprisoned for a season
by a body of his own men who, though pledged to the mutineers, were
unwilling to injure him personally. Mrs. Lyster knew of her own the
very worst. Little Dick's father had been summoned to Allahabad shortly
before the outbreak at Nowgong, and joyful news it was to him that
his wife and son were safe at loyal Gumilcund. Lucy was encouraged by
letters from Meerut, and she sent back such encouragement as she could.
Tom--_they_ would know who Tom was--had left everything and run the
risk of rebellion in his wonderful little State, which Lucy remarked
parenthetically was like the Garden of Eden before the Fall, just to
search for Grace and Kit. He had not come back; but he had been heard
of, and it was the belief of everyone that he would succeed, so she
begged her uncle, and aunt, and cousins to keep up their spirits and to
hope for the best.

They smiled when they read the fly-away letter. It was like herself;
but it was not very satisfactory to them. And indeed the family were
in miserable case just then. General Elton, who had barely recovered
from the effects of his wound, was about again; and it may be that the
bolder counsels which began from this time to prevail in Meerut were
due in large measure to his advice and assistance. But he himself was,
if that were possible, a greater anxiety to his friends than when he
had been lying at the point of death, for then they at least knew the
worst. Now his restlessness and irritability were such that they could
never for a single instant be sure of him.

Accustomed as he had been to take a large share in the conduct of
affairs, his personal inactivity galled him. He had no civil authority,
and the collapse of the magnificent army with which for so many years
it had been his pride to be connected, had deprived him, at a stroke,
of his military occupation. Meanwhile the state of anarchy, into which
the province was falling, cut him to the soul, the more so that he felt
convinced something might be done to check it.

With the Asiatic nothing goes so far as audacity, a quality which he
cannot understand, and, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, does
not believe in. Where he sees unflinching boldness, he suspects hidden
strength, and as often as not he will throw down his arms rather
than have them forced from him. So the General was never tired of
preaching, but for some time no one would listen to him.

Then there came a change. From the hills, where, when the storm broke,
he had been enjoying his well-earned holiday, the gallant collector,
Dunlop, came down. He was armed with the authority of a magistrate over
the districts surrounding Meerut, and, to the surprise of everyone, he
asserted his determination of exercising it without delay. He would
march out alone if no one cared to join him, and it was his belief
that the terror of the English name, reinforced by the outcries of the
unfortunate people, whose lands had been ravaged by a brutal soldiery,
would carry him along.

Dunlop was one of those Englishmen who believed in audacity.

But if a few volunteers amongst those whom the breaking up of the old
order had deprived of occupation would put themselves under his orders,
there could be no doubt that the pacification of the country would be
more easily and swiftly accomplished.

We may imagine, but it would be very difficult to describe, the effect
of this announcement on the fiery soul of the old General. As a
war-horse that scents the battle-field afar off; as a Moslem soldier,
who sees the pearly gates of his Paradise slowly opening like a flower
across the clouds and thunder of tumultuous war, so he felt when, to
the deep dismay of his family, he went up to Dunlop and offered him
his sword. Numbers followed his example, but of the brilliant and
successful campaign in which they took part there is no need to write
here. It has its place in history.

Twice the seasoned old soldier rode out with the gallant little corps,
called the _Khakee Ressalah_, on account of its dust-coloured uniform,
and twice he returned to his trembling wife and children, safe, but
triumphant. As for Trixy, though no less anxious than her sisters, she
did not once bid her father stay. I rather think she would have liked
to march with them. 'One of us ought to have been a boy,' she said to
her mother one day. 'Women have far the worst of it--sitting at home
and watching and weeping--it is very hard work and rather humiliating.'

'Hush! Trixy; you don't know what you are saying,' said Lady Elton. And
then the wild look that they all dreaded to see came over her face,
and she cried out piteously, 'Yes, child, you are right. I have too
many daughters, and the world is cruel to women. If a man dies, he dies
fighting. If a woman dies----'

'Darling, you must not,' broke in Trixy vehemently. 'I am a little
idiot. Forgive me! And do you know--listen, dearest, and don't look
so--do you know that I have been having the strangest dreams about our
Grace? When she comes back----'

'When, oh! Trixy, when----'

'Listen, dear, hear me to the end! When she comes back, I believe we
shall find that she has the spirit of a heroine, if not of a hero.'

It was curious that this conversation, in which, for the first time
for many days, Grace's name was mentioned before her mother, preceded
by only a few hours the arrival of the letter from Lucy. It brought a
slender ray of comfort to Lady Elton, and now her one idea was to reach
Gumilcund herself. She dared not speak of it to anyone; but, all the
more for her silence, it haunted her mind day and night. If she could
only go! If she could only go! Now that her husband was well and she
could feel that Meerut was a safe refuge for the girls, the spirit of
passionate restlessness, which had once nearly shaken her reason, took
possession of her with increased violence.

Sometimes it was like a madness. She would watch her girls and the
servants furtively, and plan how she could evade them and slip away
silently. One evening she got up in her sleep and reached as far as
the door; but Yaseen Khan, the faithful bearer, was stretched across
the threshold, and the noise he made, when she tried to step over him,
awoke her and aroused the tent. After that they took fright and watched
her more closely.

When her reason was nearly giving way under the strain, and she had
begun to beg piteously, not knowing what she said, to be taken to
Gumilcund, where it was now her possessing idea that Grace was kept in
prison, a strange thing happened. A messenger from Gumilcund found his
way into Meerut. Trixy saw him come in, and she recognised in him, as
she believed, the faquir who had brought the first letter from Tom,
and under whose convoy Bertie Liston had left the station. Supposing
his message to be addressed to the General in command, she ran back to
their tent with the information. She had scarcely time to give her news
before Yaseen Khan rushed in, crying out, 'A letter! a letter! Missy
Sahib is safe.'

The General was in his tent, furbishing up his arms, which had seen
hard service lately. 'Silence, you foolish fellow,' he cried out, 'do
you wish to kill the Mem Sahib? Give the letter to me.'

'No, no; to me,' cried a piercing voice from the further side of the
tent. 'Children, let me alone! I shall not faint. And, General, don't
you call the poor fellow names! What did you say, Yaseen Khan? Safe?
Say it again! Safe! Safe!' She had rushed forward to meet him. The
letter was in her hand, but her fingers trembled so that she could not
open it. 'I am afraid,' she said, looking round, with a pathetic smile,
'that I shall have to ask some one to help me after all. My hands have
no power to-day. No, General, not you. Trixy, come here! Open it, but
don't take it out of my hands!'

Trixy obeyed, the tears rolling down her face. 'Why, your fingers are
trembling too,' said Lady Elton. 'Thank you, dear. Now read it for me.
My eyes are dim.' Trixy passed her eyes over the paper and broke into a
joyful cry. 'Well! well!' said her mother impatiently. 'Read it, every
word!'

 'My dear Lady Elton,' began the girl, her voice shaking, 'I am sending
 my faithful Subdul to tell you and the General that we have found
 your Grace. She has been ill, but she is better. I am taking her to
 Gumilcund, where her cousin and several other English ladies, whom I
 and my men have been so happy as to rescue from positions of peril,
 are living. We are accompanied by an escort of Ghoorka soldiers. The
 Captain, Gambier Singh, has most generously put them at my disposal. I
 would willingly come down to Meerut, but I fear to add to the fatigues
 and hardships which your heroic child has already undergone, and I
 may not keep the escort longer than is absolutely necessary. I detach
 Subdul, who is a skilful traveller, and I believe that he will reach
 Meerut before we reach Gumilcund. If it could possibly be arranged for
 Lady Elton to join us there, I think it would be well. Grace will be
 happier and more at rest when she has seen one of her own people. But,
 in a very short time, I hope and believe, the country will settle down
 again, and then we shall be able to meet. In the meantime, with love
 and best remembrances,

 'I remain, my dear Lady Elton,

 'Your attached and always devoted friend,

 'THOMAS GREGORY.'

So Trixy read. When her voice dropped there was, for a few moments,
silence in the tent. Then a great babble began. The girls clustered
round their father. 'Oh! couldn't you take us to Gumilcund?' they
cried. 'Do, Dad! Surely it could be managed.' Lady Elton's voice only
was missing. When the General, setting his girls aside, looked round
for her, he saw that she was busy, with the help of Yaseen Khan,
putting a few necessaries together for her travelling bag. 'You see,
Wilfrid,' she said, answering his look, 'I must go. My child wants me.'

'We all want you, Grace.'

'Ah! but she wants me most. You will arrange for me to go, will you
not? Where is this good Subdul? I might put on some sort of disguise,
as Bertie did.'

'Nonsense, my dear,' said the General hoarsely. 'If anyone goes, I
will.'

'No, Wilfrid. Your place is here. These other children want looking
after. No; no; no,' as they crowded round her. 'I cannot take you. You
are safe at Meerut. And Grace is safe! Oh! yes, Grace is safe; but she
wants me. Tom would not have written so if she did not. And I, oh!
my dear,' turning to her husband; 'forgive me if I am adding to your
trouble; but I cannot help it. I shall go mad if you do not let me go.'

'Gently, Grace, gently!' said the General brokenly.

'Say yes, and I will be as gentle as you please,' she answered.

He stood for a few moments looking down at her earnestly. Then he
said, 'Promise me to do nothing rash, and I will see what can be done.'

'Thank you, dear,' she said humbly. 'Yes, I will promise. But you must
make haste.'



CHAPTER XLVI

HOW GUMILCUND RECEIVED HER PRINCE


The month of October was in, and the great heats of the plains were
over. Events had been marching. At Agra, which was still in a state
of siege, the large European population gathered together in the
fort and palace of the magnificent Shah Jehan began to breathe more
freely. In Lucknow, where Sir Colin Campbell and his veterans had not
yet arrived, Havelock and the gallant Outram held their own, and the
flagging spirits of the Europeans had been cheered by several brilliant
successes. Cawnpore was in the hands of the English; but Tantia Topee,
the last general of note amongst the mutineers, was gathering his
forces together for a final effort; and Jhansi, the home and citadel
of a woman scorned, bade proud defiance to the English conquerors.
These were the news which met the Rajah of Gumilcund when, journeying
warily, he drew near to the gates of his own city.

Things had been going well with him since he parted from Gambier
Singh. The country was much quieter than he had expected; the villages
received them well; they had no difficulty about supplies; their force
was large enough to frighten away the hordes of robbers that haunted
the highways; and Hoosanee, who was their guide, took very good care
that there should be no chance encounters with mutineers.

The rest and good food, with the comparative coolness of the
atmosphere, had completely restored little Kit. The colour came back
into his cheeks, and the sparkle into his eyes. It was a delight to
see him going about the camp speaking in his little lordly way to the
coolies and servants, and picking up phrases of Nepaulese with which
to make friends with the Ghoorka soldiers. There was not a soul in the
camp who did not adore him.

In one of the villages they had bought a little hill pony for the
child, and day after day he trotted gravely by Tom's side, looking as
picturesque as a prince of fairyland, with his brightly-coloured Indian
garments, his blue and white muslin turban, and his flowing golden
curls.

Grace, too, was better; but she did not speak much, and Tom would not
urge her. He believed in the power of healing nature. In the meantime
he had despatched Subdul with the letter, of whose arrival we have
heard.

So, as I have said, they came on to Gumilcund. The rajah had sent on
swift runners to apprise the people of his coming, and all the city was
in a ferment. It was afternoon when he crossed the boundaries of the
State. Most of the peasantry had gone up to the town, so the country
had a somewhat deserted appearance; but it gave him pleasure to see
that the forts stationed here and there for their protection were
occupied strongly, and that there had been no break in the agricultural
operations. The people went about their usual work in the day-time, and
took refuge in the city at night.

He halted, as he had done before, just as dusk began to fall, about a
mile from the principal gate of the city. Chunder Singh and Lutfullah,
with several other distinguished citizens, and a gorgeously-attired
retinue of Indian cavalry, were drawn up here to do him honour, and
escort him to the city in state.

Bidding his Ghoorkas halt, Tom rode in amongst them. He had scarcely
done so before he caught sight of his beautiful little Arab mare
Snow-queen. She had been ridden by no one since the night when he rode
her out to meet the English fugitives, and, finding that two were
missing, went to Dost Ali Khan's fort to find them. Now, hearing his
voice, she whinnied, and pawed the ground impatiently. In a moment Tom
had dismounted from the horse he was riding, and vaulted on to her
back. He had much ado then to keep her quiet, but he succeeded at last,
after which he turned to Chunder Singh. 'Thank you,' he said, holding
out his hand. 'This is a pledge to me of your forgiveness.'

'There is no question of forgiveness, Rajah Sahib,' said the grave
Indian. 'I could have wished for the sake of the people, who were
clamorous for tidings when they heard the rajah had gone, that his
Excellency had treated me with more confidence. But is not that amongst
the things that have passed? We have escaped from the fiery trial. The
people of Gumilcund and his Excellency, their rajah----'

'The people will receive me, then?'

'The loyalty of the people of Gumilcund to Byrajee Pirtha Raj, their
ruler, has never wavered.'

'That is well,' said Tom gravely. 'But you must understand, Chunder
Singh, and you, Lutfullah; on some points I have changed since last I
dwelt amongst you. In the wilderness where, for many days, I have been
wandering seeking for my kindred, I have come to this determination
chiefly,' he spoke in their own language, which all of them could
understand. 'I will not,' he went on, 'go amongst you any more upon
false pretences. I am an Englishman. How and to what degree I am
related to your former rulers, or whether the mysterious tie which
seems to unite us is merely spiritual, I do not know myself. I have
written for information, and as soon as I receive it I will pass it on
to you. In the meantime, I have determined to go amongst you without
disguise. Such as I am, you and your people must receive me, and if the
idea of serving a foreign ruler is repugnant to you I will retire and
allow you to choose your own ruler, on whose behalf I will promise to
interest myself with the British Government. But, however this may be,
I know'--he smiled, and Chunder Singh, who had been listening with a
falling countenance, plucked up heart--'I know,' he repeated, laying
his hand on the closed litter, which had been brought to the spot where
he had reined up Snow-queen, 'that for the sake of those who have gone
before me--ay, and because they love the English name, which has been
a tower of strength to their city, the good and loyal citizens of
Gumilcund will receive me with respect and affection and will shelter
and nourish the fugitives whom I have brought with me until they can
return in peace to their own people.'

He paused, and a buzz of applause, not loud, for these were grave
citizens and Asiatics, but deep and heartfelt, followed his words. 'Our
rajah has spoken well. Hah! Hah! He has spoken words of wisdom. He has
proved himself the true son of Byrajee Pirtha Raj. Let him come amongst
us freely. The people are waiting to receive him with honour.' So from
mouth to mouth the joyful answers ran.

Up to this everything was quiet, decorous, and stately; Tom playing
the part of an Oriental potentate to perfection; the citizens of
Gumilcund reverential in manner and dignified in speech and bearing;
the two guards--the Ghoorka escort on the one hand, and the gorgeously
caparisoned cavalry from Gumilcund on the other--sitting their horses
like bronze images on either side of the space of ground where the
rajah and the chief men of the city had met. And so it might have
continued but for that upsetting element, subversive of all dignity, an
English boy.

Kit had been riding in the rear of the cavalcade with Bâl Narîn. He had
seen one or two things that interested him--a score or so of flying
foxes, hanging like black bags from the trees, which he insisted upon
disturbing, so that he might see them fly--a huge cobra, which they
followed and killed, and a herd of screaming jackals that he galloped
after until Bâl Narîn caught his pony by the rein and made him come
back. They were thus considerably in the rear when the cavalcade halted.

Now, as soon as Kit saw that something was going on, he set spurs to
his pony, gained upon the Ghoorka guard, passed it like a flash of
lightning at imminent risk of setting the whole of it in motion, and
drew rein by Tom's side just as the citizens of Gumilcund were assuring
him of the continued homage of their city.

For a moment the child paused, looking out at them. It was light enough
to see him well--the slender, shapely figure, the proud little head,
the shower of golden curls. Every one of the grave men smiled. He
answered their kind looks with a ringing laugh. 'Are you the people
from Gumilcund?' he cried out, his childish treble ringing shrill and
clear through the still air of the evening. 'And have you come to meet
us?'

'Hah! Hah!' answered the grave elders. 'Gumilcund people, little Sahib,'

'Oh! I say,' whispered Kit, in his own tongue to Tom. '_Don't_ they
look jolly? Let's give them an English cheer. Where are Bâl Narîn and
Hoosanee and the others? I've been teaching them. They can cheer pretty
well. Come up, you men! Now then,' lifting his small turban from his
head, and holding it in one hand, while he shook his reins with the
other. 'Hip! Hip! Don't be frightened, you men! Sing out! Hip! Hip!
Hooray! That's better! Again! Hip, Hip, Hooray! for Gumilcund. And for
the rajah--a good one this time!'

The men had begun to cheer with might and main--the soldiers joined.
It was a joyful tumult, the like of which had never been heard in
Gumilcund before. The grave citizens were bewildered. The horses,
unaccustomed to the noise, grew restive. It was all Tom could do to
hold Snow-queen in. 'That's enough, Kit,' he cried. '_Bus! Bus,_ we
shall be at the gates in another moment, if you go on like this!'

'All right!' said Kit, 'I'll be as mum as a mouse directly. Just
one more, Hip! Hip! Hooray! for Grace Sahib. Three times three! and
three times more for luck!' And thereupon, the mischievous little
urchin threw up his turban, caught it in his right hand, and rattled
his reins over the pony's neck. Off it started at a hand-gallop;
Snow-queen, who had been chafing under her master's detaining hand,
went off in pursuit; the grave men of Gumilcund mounted their carriages
as speedily as they could, and the two escorts found their horses
unmanageable. For the level mile that lay between them and Gumilcund,
it was a stampede, rather than a trot. But Kit, on his fiery mountain
pony, headed them the whole way.

At the bridge which spans the ravine between the walls of the city
and the open country, he drew the pony up and looked round. Tom and
Snow-queen were close behind him. 'Isn't it a lark?' he cried out.
'Teazer would go, you know; I couldn't help him.'

'How much did you try, you young monkey?' said Tom. 'But since you are
still, keep still for a few moments! We must let these good gentlemen
come up. And Grace----'

'I say--what wonderful chaps those bearers are!' cried the
irrepressible child. 'They've been running with her. She'll be inside
almost as soon as we shall. Good-bye, Tom. I must trot back and get her
to open the palki. She looks lovely, I know, and they'd all like to
see her.'

Back he went, shouting out greetings to his Ghoorka friends. The two
escorts, in the meantime, had fallen into double lines on the bridge.
The elders of Gumilcund descended from their carriages and formed
themselves into a procession. Tom, on Snow-queen, stood in front of
them. Their faces were turned away from Gumilcund and towards the road
by which they had come in. The palki and its eight bearers came on at a
rapid run. The curtains were open. Grace had given in to the request of
Kit, which he had been artful enough to represent as coming from Tom.
And truly she was glad to see the light of this wonderful evening; for
her heart was beating with a host of new feelings, and she had much
trouble to keep herself quiet. Nearer and nearer drew the open palki.
The light of the heavens had departed; but, as if by magic, a host of
fairy lamps had sprung into being. They ran along the parapets of the
bridge, up and down, throwing a weird radiance on the dark faces and
showy accoutrements of the Ghoorka and Gumilcund soldiers. From the
causeway, which led from the bridge to the gates of the city, thrown
hospitably open, they shone out in myriads. Held on long poles they
came flashing along--a glittering line of light. At the bridge the line
divides, and while some of the light-carriers group themselves round
the procession of citizens and their rajah, others run on to meet the
palki. They form round it, and the light of their flaming torches falls
full on the pale face, the snowy raiment, the golden hair, and deep
steadfast eyes of the English girl.

Wonderingly the people gaze upon her, for they think that they see a
vision. As for the rajah, his heart gives a great bound. Even he, who
knows her so well, has never seen her look so lovely. But what is the
meaning of that strangeness in her face; the fixed gaze; the aloofness?
To him she is like one who is moving in two worlds, whose body is
present, and whose spirit is far away.

The palki stops. It is uplifted still on the shoulders of the bearers,
so that all who are within the radius of the torchlight can see it
plainly. Tom had meant himself to step forward and bid her welcome, but
he cannot speak for the rush of tears that are blinding and choking
him. He bends himself low over his saddle-bow in the graceful Oriental
fashion, and makes a signal to Chunder Singh, who steps forward.

'Madam,' he says, in excellent English, 'his Excellency permits me the
honour of being the first to welcome you to Gumilcund. My friends and I
have heard your story, and know what your sufferings and your heroism
have been. Accept our assurances that your troubles are over. In the
rajah's city the gracious lady will be as safe as in her own country
and amongst those who have served her from her childhood.'

'I am sure of it, Chunder Sahib,' says Grace, bowing and smiling, 'and
I thank you from my heart.'

That is all she can say, for the irrepressible little Kit has drowned
her voice in another wild cheer, and from the bridge, and the causeway
leading up to the gates, and from within the gates whence the light of
a myriad lamps and the tumult of a great multitude gathered together is
pouring, the shout comes back in deep waves of sound that rise and fall
on the still air like joyful music.

Then the rajah gives the word, and the palki with its bearers, and
the merry company of light carriers advance, Snow-queen, who has been
reduced to order, stepping proudly in front of them, while the elders
of Gumilcund, some of whom are 'fat and scant of breath,' mount their
carriages and bring up the rear.

Then what a joyful tumult of welcome! All through the great avenue,
with its double rows of trees, it is one sea of turbaned heads and
waving garments and banners carried proudly aloft. Here and there the
procession has barely room to pass, but the good temper of everyone in
the crowd is perfect, and whenever the rajah, who takes the lead, draws
rein, the multitudes separate of their own accord, and leave them a
living lane to pass through.

So, moving slowly, they come on to the market-place.

Vishnugupta, the priest, is waiting for them here. It is an encounter
which Tom would fain have delayed until a quieter moment, for the
Brahmin devotee, who had doubtless believed in his pure caste and
high lineage, may not, he thinks, be so ready to receive him as the
simple citizens. But he is mistaken. To Vishnugupta, in his sacerdotal
capacity, Byrajee Pirtha Raj was no less of an alien than his
successor. But, like many another priest both of the East and of the
West, he was something more than a person of approved sanctity. He was
a patriot and a citizen. He knew what the present regimen had done for
Gumilcund, where he had lived before the days of Byrajee Pirtha Raj and
his father, and he recognised the advantages the whole country derived
from the overlordship of the British. It was in the speech that Tom
had made to the people, when rumours of mutiny were first rife in the
country, that he had conquered Vishnugupta, the Brahmin devotee and
astute politician. That he was of a different country and religion went
for nothing with the priest. Nor, strange as it may seem, and although
he belonged professedly to one of the most mystical faiths the world
has ever known, did the legend current amongst the people of their late
so passionately loved ruler having returned to them in the form of this
young and comely stranger, affect him in the least. It might be so and
it might not. Vishnugupta would not express an opinion. What he did
feel and say was that the rule of the stranger was good for the city.

And so, to the surprise of Tom and to the measureless delight of the
people who thronged round him, Vishnugupta received him with honour
such as he had not granted even to his predecessors. Standing head and
shoulders above the crowd, his hands, in one of which he held a cage of
living brands, uplifted, and his white hair streaming in the wind, he
called upon the procession to halt while, in a flood of words, all the
more impressive to those who stood by for its mystical strangeness, he
called down blessings upon the chosen of the gods.

He ceased, and making a low obeisance, the rajah passed on silently.
Behind him were the golden-haired child and the English girl in her
open palki. Vishnugupta stood in front of it, and the bearers stopped.
So piercing was his gaze that even Kit was silenced. But Grace looked
back at him calmly.

For the space of an instant they looked at one another across the
shadows, and then the girl's lips parted in a slow and sorrowful smile.
'We will speak together another time,' she said quietly in English.
'You are a good man. I could trust you.'

'So be it,' said Vishnugupta, bending his proud head. He stood aside,
and the procession, which was on its way to the palace, swept by him.

He had meant to follow, but he stood like one abashed, and his hands
dropped, and the cage of fire which he had been lifting over the heads
of the people, swung idly by his side, and those who had flocked round
him, fearing accident, fell away, so that in a few moments he stood
alone. Plunged deeply in thought, he did not observe the absence of
bystanders. One, however, fascinated by his strange appearance,
lingered and heard him whisper: 'That look! And on the face of a woman!
I would fain see it again. But I fear! I fear! Ram! Ram! My heart flows
from me like rivers that seek the sea.'

For a few moments his head sank on his breast. Then he raised it,
and the fascinated observer watched him move forward slowly, till he
reached the palace gate, which had closed behind the rajah and his
party, but which, as he knew, would have opened at a word from him.
There, for an instant, he paused in indecision. His hand touched the
bell, but he withdrew it. 'Though I am a Guru and twice-born,' he
murmured, 'I am old, and my eyes have not the precision of youth.
To-night I will not see her again.'



CHAPTER XLVII

IN THE PALACE


In the general excitement no one had remembered to tell the English
ladies of the missive that had been received from the rajah. Through
Sumbaten, however, who loved gossip as much as those of her order at
home, some rumour of what was going on had filtered into their quarters
of the palace. Lingering in one of the outer halls, and wondering at
the stir in the house, she was told that the rajah's apartments were
being made ready for him, and that he was coming home that night.

Armed with this joyful news she ran back to her ladies. This was early
in the afternoon. They did not believe her in the least, so they said;
yet, as the time went on, they too became aware that something unusual
was going forward. At the instance of Sumbaten, reinforced by Lucy,
they put on gala attire. Then they wandered up and down the shaded
alley that led from the inner marble court to the summer-house, longing
for this day of many hours to come to an end.

When at last the dusk began to fall, Sumbaten, who had been sent into
the outer court to watch, came running in to say that there was an
extraordinary stir in the market-place; but that she could get no one
to tell her what it meant, for all the palace was empty.

Then they gathered together and looked into one another's faces with
wonder and hope and terror. Mrs. Lyster was as pale as death. Mrs.
Durant, who could not stand, clutched at her arm. Little Dick's mother
seized her child, who was playing about on the grass, and clasped him
in her arms, whispering that perhaps it was a rising and couldn't they
get away or hide? Lucy was trembling too, but she would show no lack
of courage. 'Nonsense,' she said a little scornfully. She looked down
and saw Aglaia standing close beside her, her clear eyes shining like
globes of light and her cheeks as red as a newly opened rose. 'What do
you think, little Miss Wisdom?' she said.

'I'm not wise, I'm foolish,' said Aglaia, 'but I know he is coming, and
the people are making a noise because they are glad. Hadn't we better
go into the hall to meet them?'

'Yes; yes; come along! Aglaia has more sense than all of us put
together,' said Lucy.

'Oh! but is all right? How shall I bear it? How shall I bear it?' cried
Mrs. Durant.

'It will soon be over. Have courage for a few more moments! Ah! if I
had only your hope!' said Mrs. Lyster.

'I beg your pardon, dear,' murmured Mrs. Durant. 'I had forgotten.'

They went together into the hall, where they found everything in
readiness for them. Beautifully-shaded lamps, which diffused a warm
glow over the apartment, were lighted; the water in the fountain
in the midst of the hall, and in the channels that ran through it,
was stirring briskly; and on the daïs at the upper end, which was
decorated with Persian rugs and embroidered curtains from famous
Indian looms, their usual evening meal was spread out. With its
delicately-wrought pavement, its sculptured pillars, its flowers and
ferns and gaily-plumaged birds, it was a room to make the mouth of the
modern æsthete water. But the English ladies were accustomed to its
beauty, and to-night they had no thoughts for it. They were given up
to listening, to watching for that which was to come. Moments passed
into minutes, and never surely were minutes so tardy in their flight.
Louder, meanwhile, and louder grew the tumult below. Lucy threatened
to veil herself and run outside, but the others held her back.
Sumbaten would rush out, stay away a few moments, and come back with
a sensational piece of news. They listened with white faces, all but
Aglaia, whose eyes were dancing, and whose face was bright with colour.

At last, when their patience was nearly at an end, they heard the gates
of the palace open. Then the sound of many voices came floating through
the courts and passages and staircases that separated their apartments
from the outer enclosure, and Sumbaten came rushing in to cry out that
the rajah had come in.

And now little Lucy set her teeth together, and Mrs. Durant gave a low
moan. 'Look out,' she whispered to Mrs. Lyster. 'I dare not.' But in
the next instant she was flying across the hall, with a wild cry of
joy, 'Kit! Kit! I hear him!'

She had heard him--the little silver voice that she had thought never
upon earth to hear again had rung out clearly above all those others.
'Kit! Kit!' It was all over then--the anguish, the suspense, the
horror of great darkness. Kit, her own golden-haired Kit, was safe.
But another cry, a cry shrill and joyous, echoes through the palace
court. He is in front, of course--the enterprising little hero; all
these people are so slow and so stately that he cannot wait for them.
He has penetrated to the foot of the great staircase that leads up to
the ladies' court and hall. There he catches a glimpse of his mother's
pale face irradiated with joy. 'Mother!' he cries.

'Kit, my little Kit, my darling!' She has him in her arms. She is
kissing him, fondling him, breathing sweet nothings over him as if he
were a baby. It is all very pleasant, of course, but to a hero of Kit's
standing just a little humiliating.

'Thank you, mother dear,' he says. 'I'm awfully glad too! But look
here!' drawing himself gently away. 'Couldn't you kiss me presently? I
don't mind it, you know. I like it. But there are such a lot of people
here just now, and we're blocking up the way.' Put down upon his feet,
he smoothed his ruffled plumes, and looked round him with dignity.
'Ah!' seeing Lucy close by, 'here's some one else I know. How do you
do, Lucy?'

'Very well, thank you, Kit,' said Lucy, with corresponding gravity.

'You look all right,' said Kit. 'I've brought back Grace, you know. But
I say,' catching sight of Aglaia, 'who's this?'

'Do you want to be introduced to her formally, you ridiculous child?'
said Lucy. 'Mrs. Durant, for heaven's sake take him away! He will make
me laugh, and I feel more inclined to cry. Ah! Here they come! Grace!
Grace!'

'Daddy Tom!' said Aglaia, pressing forward.

'Tom! Tom Gregory! How could I ever have mistaken him?' cried Mrs.
Lyster; but she kept in the background, and her cheeks, which had been
so pale, were flushed with colour. They were mounting the marble steps
together, Grace leaning on the rajah's arm, and he with no eyes for
anyone but her. She was very pale, as if she were weary, and there was
a curious steadfast look in her eyes, which rested nowhere; but seemed
always to be looking on to something beyond.

'Grace!' repeated Lucy, and could say no more, for the words seemed
frozen on her lips. Then, in a rapid whisper to Tom, 'Does she know us?
Why does she look so?'

'Yes, yes. She is tired. I am afraid the coming in and the welcome of
the people have been too much for her,' said Tom hoarsely. 'Let her
rest, and she will be better to-morrow!'

He did not ask for Mrs. Lyster, who kept still in the background
watching him with one of her old smiles upon her lips. To Mrs. Durant,
who had caught his hands and was pouring out her gratitude, he could
scarcely pay even the attention necessary for politeness. As for
Aglaia, her whispered greeting had been quite unheeded. He had not so
much as seen her. The child turned away with a pale face and clouded
eyes. 'He saved me too,' she whispered; 'but he has forgotten.'

They had reached the top of the stairs. Grace was smiling, but there
was still that strange fixed look in her eyes. Lucy, divided between
tears and laughter, threw her arms about her cousin's neck, and covered
her face with kisses. Then she led her in to the others, chattering
wildly. 'I can scarcely believe you have really come back!' she cried.
'I think I shall awake to-morrow and find it a dream. If you only
knew what I have gone through, darling. I felt myself such a dreadful
coward. I should have gone away with you as Kit did, brave little Kit!
And oh! aren't you glad to be amongst us again? To-morrow you must tell
us your adventures. Grace! why do you look so? Laugh! cry! say you
are happy or sorry! Do anything! Perhaps it would be a relief to your
feelings to scream. I know it would be to mine,' said Lucy, gazing at
her cousin earnestly. But Grace only smiled that placid smile, looking
out still as if she saw something beyond them. They brought her to a
softly-cushioned divan on the daïs. Tom had given her up to Lucy. He
was stumbling back across the hall when his glance fell upon Aglaia,
and he stopped. She was standing by herself, and her eyes were full of
tears.

'Aglaia!' he said, stooping over her kindly. 'Are you crying because we
have come back?'

The child did not speak. 'But what is it, then? I thought I should have
seen you dancing with joy.'

'I was a few minutes ago,' said Aglaia vaguely.

'And has something happened since then, little friend? Come! Tell me!
They are all busy up there, so no one else will hear.'

'No; no; no; it's nothing,' said Aglaia, choking back her sobs. 'I _am_
your little friend still.'

'Of course you are, dear. Did you think I was so fickle as to have
forgotten you?'

The pink flush mounted to Aglaia's face.

'Please forgive me,' she said softly. 'And'--hesitating--

'Yes, dear--go on!'

'She is lovely. I think I shall love her, even though you do like her
best.'

'Best!' echoed Tom, smiling. 'Now you are a little goose! Don't you
know, Aglaia, that there are different kinds of loving! I love you as
my child--my little friend.'

'And Grace?' said Aglaia. 'Isn't she your friend too?'

'She is my friend, and something more. At least, I hope so. You know we
may have more friends than one.'

'Yes,' said Aglaia doubtfully. But she added under her breath, 'There
is only one best.'



CHAPTER XLVIII

A LETTER FROM ENGLAND


Leaving Grace to come to herself in the hands of her friends, we will
follow the young rajah to his rooms, where several people were waiting
to have audience of him. He despatched the business which they brought
to him with his usual clear-sightedness and rapidity, received the
congratulations of the Resident, who had come up to see him, and of the
two young officers whom he had so happily rescued, appointed a session
for the following day, in open court, to try the cases, and read the
petitions which had been accumulating during his absence, promised to
attend later a supper which the Resident had prepared in his honour,
and then, being left at last to the ministrations of Hoosanee and
Ganesh, he turned to the letters and papers heaped high upon his
table. Before turning them over he stopped to think. Up to this he had
been too busy to reflect. All day long, ever since he touched the
boundaries of the State, a vague sense of wonder had been present in
his mind. He was trying now to puzzle it out. When, two months ago, he
left Gumilcund secretly, when he camped out in the forest waiting for
news from Dost Ali Khan, he had felt like an escaped prisoner. Now,
having fulfilled his mission, and returned to the bondage which he
had remembered as so galling, he found, to his surprise, that it was
bondage no longer. He had left Gumilcund as a prison; he returned to it
as a home. And it was not that he had lost his love for England. On the
contrary, he had never loved England more: he had never felt prouder of
his connection with her. Some day, if his life was spared, he hoped to
revisit his early home, and to see his mother and the friends of his
youth. But he belonged to India, not to England. A few weeks ago, it
would have given him keen pain to say this even to himself. It would
have been a renunciation such as he could scarcely have had strength to
face. Now he did not find that any effort was needed. The wonder to him
was that he had not recognised it before.

Hoosanee and Ganesh were chattering busily, as they made preparations
for his toilet and his tea. Their voices came to him like the distant
buzzing of bees; but the sounds warned him that he must not give much
more time to thought. He was turning over the papers mechanically. They
were spread out on a beautiful table of marble inlaid with precious
stones. Above it swung a gold lamp of delicate workmanship. He wondered
a little at the familiarity of these things, at the sense of coming
back to his own--he who had only enjoyed them for so short a time! The
papers did not seem to be of the first importance. There were belated
news-sheets--circulars--petitions; answers sent to inquiries of his own
by Indian civil and military officers, some of which he put by for more
careful perusal on the following day, and two or three letters from
private friends. He was about to turn away from his hasty inspection,
and to give himself over into the hands of Hoosanee, when at the very
bottom of the pile, a bulky letter, different in appearance from any
of the others, drew his notice. As he took it up his heart began to
beat strangely. He held it up to the light. It was addressed in his
mother's handwriting--the delicate, flowing penmanship he knew so well;
what made it so peculiarly remarkable to him was not only its size and
weight; but that, for the first time since he took up his position, his
mother had addressed him by his Indian name and title.

He looked at the date, went through a brief calculation, and then sank
down upon his seat, feeling, for the moment, sick and faint. The letter
was an answer to that written at Lucknow, in which he had begged so
earnestly to be told his true position. Trembling from head to foot,
he put it within his vest. How he passed through that evening with all
its formalities--how, carrying about with him the consciousness of
this letter which he had not yet dared to open, he talked and laughed
and jested, and told the tale of his adventures, and independently of
_it--it_, that might change his whole life--entered into engagements
and appointments, and made plans for the future--how, when the long
evening of festivities was over, he found strength to go quietly to his
room, and, dismissing Hoosanee, to sit down under the swinging lamp and
open it, he never quite knew. But it was done at last, and that was
his last moment of weakness. The four closely written sheets, in which
his poor mother told the secret that had made the joy and the torment
of her life, he read to the end without wavering. When he got up from
their perusal, his face was perfectly pale, but his eyes glistened
strangely.

For a few moments he paced the room. He went to the marble lattice,
and, leaning his head against it, let the soft and fragrant air
blow in upon his closed eyelids and burning forehead. He looked back
upon his room--the room where Byrajee Pirtha Raj had breathed his
last--the sculptured pillars, the inlaid pavement, and the fretted
roof. He turned to the window again, and looked out upon the solemn
Indian night--the still earth--the dark trees with their ink-black
shadows--the piercing radiance of silver stars winning its way through
the finely-wrought marble. His mind was strangely upset. It was as if a
revolution, in the conduct of which his own will had neither place nor
power, were being wrought within him. And for this moment, at least,
emotion was as passive as will. If he had any feeling, it was a sense
of satisfaction that the mystery of the past was solved. He knew now to
whom he belonged--knew that it was through no caprice of an eccentric
stranger, but by the will of the Divine, which, from the beginning, had
shaped his course for this end, that he had been called to his present
position. Whether he was sorry or glad, uplifted or humiliated, would
be for to-morrow to determine. To-night he had no more force left, even
to feel.

And so he threw off his festive garments, extinguished the lamps,
stretched himself out on the couch which for the first time since he
had occupied it seemed to belong to him; and Sleep, the nursing-mother
of wearied human souls, received him presently into her keeping.

       *       *       *       *       *

While the rajah sleeps, I must tell very briefly the story that his
letter contained. To do so, it will be necessary to go far back into
the past. Not only those early years which were so much of a puzzle
to Mrs. Gregory's friends, but the years that preceded them, must be
touched upon if we wish to understand how she and her son stood, and
of what nature was the confession which his passionate entreaties
had drawn from her. I have already said that she belonged to an
honourable and distinguished family, well-known in early Anglo-Indian
records. General Sir Anthony Bracebridge, her grandfather, who began
as a subaltern in one of the Company's regiments and worked his way
up to a high command and the honour of knighthood, went to India in
the days when home-leave was an almost unknown privilege, and when
English ladies had not yet begun to make India a field for the display
of their talents and accomplishments. Yet upon him, as upon others,
came the season when a 'young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts
of love.' He was more fortunate than most of his comrades, in that,
through a romantic adventure, he won the favour of an Indian family
of power, wealth, and high lineage. It happened that the daughter of
a rajah, concerning whose beauty and magnificence the wildest rumours
were afloat, was on her way to the sacred bathing-ghat, where she
was accustomed to offer up her morning prayers, when her escort was
attacked by a body of men belonging to a neighbouring rajah. This
person had asked her hand in marriage, and been refused. Burning with
fury at the insult offered to him, he had determined to seize her by
force. So he might have done, for, after a fierce conflict, the escort
of the maiden was nearly overpowered; but, as fate would have it,
Captain Bracebridge and a few English troopers were passing through
the town. These, as was natural, threw themselves into the mêlée,
the maiden was rescued, and the Englishmen, being full of chivalrous
ardour, refused to leave her until they had seen her safely within the
gates of her father's palace.

That Captain Bracebridge should have won for himself the everlasting
gratitude of the maiden's father for this gallant deed of arms was not
wonderful. But what did seem strange to those who knew the manners of
the times was that he was presently adopted by the whole household as a
friend. After a decent interval, during which he gained an influence,
so extraordinary as to be attributed by many of their own people to
magic, over the minds of the rajah and his brothers, he married with
her father's consent, and according to English rites, the beautiful
girl whom he had so gallantly defended from peril and outrage.

The marriage, so the story goes, proved perfectly happy; but the bliss
was of brief duration. After little more than two years of wedlock,
Captain Bracebridge's Indian wife died, leaving a son behind her. On
this son the father poured out the most devoted affection. He is said
to have been a rarely beautiful creature; but all his affinities were
with his mother's race. Notwithstanding this, it was his father's wish
to bring him up as an English gentleman. I think one of his favourite
schemes was through this boy, on whom a large fortune had been
settled by his Indian relatives, to re-establish the fortunes of the
Bracebridge family, and restore the ancient glories of their ancestral
seat. But it was not to be. For although the boy was intellectually
gifted, drinking in learning and science with an eagerness that
surprised his teachers, he was not the stuff of which the ordinary
English gentleman is made. He was too dreamy, too sensitive and far too
strange a being to make any sort of a success in society. Recalled to
India, where General Bracebridge had, by this time, made both money
and renown, he found that in the proud little official world, of which
he was expected to form a part, he was even more of an alien than in
England, and at last, stung by slights, some of them fancied and some
of them real, he announced his determination of giving up his English
citizenship altogether, and knitting himself to his mother's race and
family.

It may almost be said that Gumilcund owed its birth to this
determination. The estate on which that flourishing little city
now stands was, about this time, bequeathed to him by one of his
grand-uncles, and he was in the enjoyment of the vast fortune settled
upon him by his grandfather. Part of this money he spent in building
Gumilcund, while the energy and political talent that had found
no scope amongst his father's people, were devoted to the task of
organising it.

General Bracebridge, in the meantime, indemnified himself for his
disappointment by entering into a second marriage, which, the world
said, was far more satisfactory than the first. In course of time a
second son was born to him; but he never lost his deep love for the
first, and as long as he lived, the Rajah of Gumilcund, who had, in
course of time, married and, in his turn, become a father, was a
frequent and welcome visitor at his house.

There Mrs. Gregory, his grandchild, then a lovely little girl six or
seven years old, met her Indian cousin, who was just verging upon
manhood. He was handsome, gracious, and noble, and she loved him
as little children love their first hero. She was sent to England
to school, and returned, after ten long years of absence, with her
cousin's image fresh in her mind. Her grandfather was dead then, and
the intimacy between the English and Indian branches of the house of
Bracebridge was not so close as it had been. Nevertheless the cousins,
who had thought of one another kindly all these years, met and loved.

Colonel Bracebridge was absent on a frontier war. His wife was dead.
The simple, inexperienced English girl was left very much to her
own devices. After a ball, at which the Indian rajah had been the
stateliest figure, she was persuaded to enter into a clandestine
marriage. But, though feeling had carried her away for a time, her
instincts of prudence and propriety were too strong to be altogether
fought down, even by love. She left her husband, who would fain have
persuaded her to give up all for him, and travelled under the escort
of faithful servants to the station where her father was in command.
To him she confessed what she had done, entreating his consent to
celebrate publicly the marriage into which she had entered in secret.
A terrible scene followed, for Colonel Bracebridge was of those who
considered the admixture of alien blood in a family a disgrace and a
sin. He told his daughter harshly that her marriage was no marriage,
and threatened her with the loss not only of his protection, but of the
good word of every friend she possessed, if she would not promise him
never to see her so-called husband again.

For many days she held out; but the strong will and passionate,
overbearing temper of her father, reinforced by depressing tales from
him and others of how, if she persisted in her folly, she would be
shut up in a zenana, and as much cut off from the world as a nun in a
convent, prevailed at last. She was only sixteen, too young to take a
line of her own, or to do battle with those she was trained to obey;
and, doubtless, she was not capable then, nor ever would have been, of
that strong and perfect love which holds firm and faithful through all
the storms of destiny and shocks of change. Moved by her father, she
wrote a letter to the rajah, reproaching him for the advantage he had
taken of her inexperience, and a few weeks later she was prevailed
upon to marry Captain Gregory, having first told him the whole story
and assured him that she could never love him. As a fact she came to
love him dearly, both on account of the sacrifices he had made for her,
and for his own sake. As for her little son, whom in the vain hope that
he would be a Bracebridge and nothing else, she called 'Tom,' he was
born in wedlock, and only a very few knew that he was not the true son
of Captain Gregory.



CHAPTER XLIX

SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF MORNING


When the rajah awoke the following morning he was conscious of a
curious novelty, not only in the world about him, but in his own
relations towards it. Deep down in his heart was a tremulous feeling
of anxiety and incertitude that might presently become pain; but, for
the moment, and floating buoyantly on the surface of his being, there
was a sense of completeness and satisfaction such as he had never known
before.

The first thought--rapturous as the saint's vision of Paradise--which
leapt to his heart was that Grace was under his roof. His roof--he
repeated the words with a pleasant emphasis on the pronoun, for it had
brought him back to the revelation of the previous night.

_His_--yes, his--in a new sense. The State--the city--the palace--the
servants who had attended upon him with such marvellous fidelity--the
councillors, by whom he had been inducted into the duties of his
position, and to whose wisdom and disinterestedness he owed it that he
had been able to leave the task of government, which had become irksome
to him, and to rescue and bring back in triumph the English girl, so
much dearer to him than life--all these were his! His father--how
warmly his heart thrilled to the name!--the great man, who up to this
had been an enigma to him--a mysterious and disturbing element in his
life--had given them to him: had prepared many of them for him most
likely, with a view to the difficulties and dangers that he foresaw
would beset him. This was the entrancing thought which glorified that
strange awakening. The sensation was as that of one who steps out of a
wilderness into a well-ordered home.

True the story was somewhat of a tangle to him still. There had been a
moment--an awful moment--during its perusal when the blood had rushed
like fire to his brain, and he had held back his breath in terror of
what he might have to know. But it had passed. Byrajee Pirtha Raj was
no stranger to him. Through his works; through the strange yet always
noble inspirations that had surged to his soul when he was, as he still
firmly believed, holding commune with him; through the impression of
himself he had left upon his friends and contemporaries, all of whom
looked upon him as something more than a man, the young rajah had
learned to know his father; and his mother's story, which, through
all its penitence and self-accusation, hinted dimly at a great wrong
done to her, did not stagger him, as it might otherwise have done.
Wrong there had been, and grievous mistake and misconception; but he
was passionately convinced that his father had meant no evil. To him
the marriage-rite, whatever it had been, through which he had knit the
fortunes of the woman he loved to his own, had been true and holy and
perfect.

So Tom said to himself, and it may be as well to say here that his
instincts were true. His mother had not told, and, indeed, being young
then to the ways of the world, she did not herself understand all
the circumstances that had led up to the step which she afterwards
so bitterly deplored. As a fact, partly through her own folly and
inexperience, and partly through the mischievous devices of one of
her friends, she had been thrown, after that memorable ball, into an
extremely compromising situation, and it was no less to shield her
honour than to gratify his own ardent love that her chivalrous cousin
had proposed the hasty marriage and carried it through. He honestly
believed then that her father, when he came to know everything, would
give to their union joyfully the seal of his approval.

He was, as we know, undeceived; and it was to save her from the pain of
a final breach with her race and nation that he had bowed silently to
her decision to leave him. It was for her sake that he had not disputed
the validity of her marriage with Captain Gregory. For her sake--ah!
was it for her sake, or was it for the sake of Gumilcund, of India, of
the high policy which he so consistently and courageously pursued--that
he had allowed his son and successor to grow up away from him and in
a distant land? This, with many another secret which Tom would have
given everything he possessed to know, had died with the dead rajah.
But his son knew enough to give to his life a new spring of gladness--a
new soul of order. For now the war of contending impulses that had
bewildered him was over. His present grew naturally out of his past,
and formed, in its turn, a fitting prelude to the deeper harmonies of
the future.

It was very early. The dawn was just breaking in the eastern heavens.
Through the pierced marble lattices came the golden light, tracing,
with its airy pencil, soft patterns of light and shade on the roof
and wall. The morning air, burdened with delicate odours of tropical
lilies and Cape jessamine and heliotrope and late-flowering roses,
stole in rejoicingly. Then came sounds of awakening in the palace. The
chowkedars, or night-watchmen, cried out to one another, and gave up
their posts to the bearers and chuprassies. The royal peacock, perched
on the garden wall, shook out his jewelled fan to the sun and screamed
in discordant tones his welcome to the morning. Innumerable doves, of
old time pensioners of the palace, swept past the marble lattices,
with a whirr and flutter of soft grey wings, to take toll from the
heaps of yellow grain piled up in the outer court. The stir of the
city, the lowing of kine, the rumble of wheels, the cries of those who
bought and sold, the ring of metal, wrought painfully into forms of use
and beauty, the monotonous beat of hammers--these, with the thousand
indistinguishable sounds of a multitude in busy movement, fell,
softened by distance, on the young rajah's ears. His heart swelled as
he listened, and his eyes were dim with a sudden rush of tears. All
the strangeness, all the wonder, all the curious tangle of conflicting
passions and fates had brought him hither--he, in his weakness and
inexperience--to be the ruler of this people. Yes; and the strangest
part of it was that he felt in himself a fitness for the work he was
called upon to do.

He remembered his boyish choice of a profession. If he could not be
amongst those who, by their thought and genius, build up the destinies
of men and nations, he would, he said, build houses for them to dwell
in, and temples where they could worship. He had entered upon the lower
task; suddenly and unexpectedly he had been called to the higher. What
did it mean? Had he really the constructive power, of which, in his
boyish ignorance, he had boasted? And if so--ah! if so--how was he to
use it?

As these thoughts succeeded one another through his mind, they took
gradually a wider range. Beyond his own narrow individuality, beyond
the little city and the busy crowd, they wandered, till, as in a
vision, he seemed to see the truth at which as yet he had but dimly
guessed. He did not stand alone. He was one in a chain. Purposes,
strongly linked together, had been passed on from hand to hand, each
in turn strengthening them with its own formative will, till at last
in their cumulative force they should be powerful enough to move the
world. He saw now that it was not for her own sake, nor even for the
sakes of those who dwelt within her walls, that Gumilcund had grown
up from the desert and taken a place amongst the cities of the world.
She was to be an example--a living type of what might be, on a large
scale and everywhere, when wealth and science and the white heat of
enthusiasm--that heat in which self perishes--are brought together
and allowed unchecked to exercise their influence upon the life and
destiny of nations. They--his predecessors--had been able to do no
more than give the sign. The prejudices of their friends of the West,
and the circumstances of their own lives, narrowed down to the small
issues of an Asiatic society, had tied their hands. To him--a child of
the West in a truer sense than they could ever have been--belonged the
larger life. Had he the strength and wisdom to use it as he should?
He would at least try. And then his thoughts flew to Grace--his white
dove--his darling. She had the wisdom that he lacked. She had more
than wisdom. She had heroism, and the passion of self-renunciation and
deep spiritual insight, which, however we may imagine of ourselves,
are better understood and more widely appreciated in the East than in
the West. Grace! But would she--could she--help him? His mind strayed
back over the past few days, blissful for all their suffering, and his
lips parted in a smile of hope. She had said she loved him. The sweet
confession, true, he knew, as she was true, was still ringing in his
ears. Would she, then, do what his mother could not? Would she give up
country and race and come to him? Would she live here in Gumilcund,
letting the beautiful radiance of her woman's life shine through and
overcome the mists of custom, and the harsh and cruel caste-prejudices,
which have separated Hinduism from the rest of the world and made of
its votaries a people apart? That was the question which the next few
days must decide.

There rose a vision before him, as he thought. He seemed to see in
imagination how his hand, in passing on the sacred trust, might impress
a new form upon it. His predecessors had founded a State and built
a city. He might mould a society. His thoughts, having reached this
stage, were becoming incoherent and wild, when Hoosanee, who had heard
him stirring, came in with his morning meal. Hoosanee looked superb.
He was dressed in snowy white, while a turban of pale gold, in the
front of which glittered a small diamond star, given to him long ago by
Byrajee Pirtha Raj, surrounded his dusky brows and fell in voluminous
folds to his waist.

'Why, Hoosanee,' said Tom, raising himself on his elbow, 'how gorgeous
you are this morning! You look much more of a prince than I do.'

'My master must remember that he is not in the jungle,' said Hoosanee,
his dark face flushing with pleasure.

'And the gay dress is the sign of the joyful heart,' said Tom. 'Well! I
think you are right. Have you any news for me?'

'Yes, Excellency. I have seen my sister, Sumbaten, and the little baba,
Aglaia. Grace Sahib slept well last night, and she is sleeping still.'

'Thank heaven!' said Tom fervently. 'I hope they will not awake her.
And the other ladies, Hoosanee----'

'There is one who would have speech of your Excellency. I met her
in the house in the garden, where the mem sahibs take choto hasari.
She asked me many questions. The last time we saw her, Sahib,' said
Hoosanee, a smile overspreading his face, 'it was the work of the
rajah's servant to put questions to her.'

'Ah! poor Mrs. Lyster! And admirably you did it!' said Tom, laughing.
'I wonder, by the bye, if she thinks you artful still.'

'She spoke to me with kindness, Sahib.'

'They have told her what a hero you are, Hoosanee. Well! get my bath
ready, and give me my things! No one from outside will come in yet. I
will meet the ladies in the summer-house.'

All of them but Grace were there--Lucy, looking a little pale after the
excitement of the night before, and Mrs. Durant, with Kit pressed close
by her side, and Mrs. Lyster, who wore her Indian dress with a strange
shyness, and Aglaia, all smiles and gladness, and little Dick and his
mother.

When they saw the rajah, who was dressed as an Indian of rank, coming
along the path that led to their retreat, they rose from the table and
went out to meet him. Aglaia and little Dick were first. They ran into
his arms, and he caught them both up joyfully, glad, perhaps, to hide
his slight embarrassment in the warmth of the children's boisterous
welcome. 'Oh! how lovely everything is!' said Aglaia rapturously. 'You
won't go away again, Daddy Tom?'

'Not till I take you back to England with me, Aglaia.' And then he
turned to the other ladies, a boyish flush on his face, which exercise
and exposure to the sun had bronzed almost to the native hue.

'It is too bad of you to disturb yourselves,' he said. 'I should not
have come so early, only I thought that, as you were taking breakfast
out-of-doors, you would give me a corner at the table.'

'Of course we will,' cried Lucy. 'It's such a rapture to see any one.
Mrs. Lyster was just wishing----'

'Never mind what I wished. Let me speak for myself, Lucy,' said Mrs.
Lyster, advancing and looking at the rajah shyly. 'Mr. Gregory----'

Tom smiled. 'So you have found me out at last, my dear old friend,' he
said, shaking her cordially by the hand. 'I am cleverer than you. Dark
as it was the other night, I found you out at once----

'And yet you said nothing?'

'Ah! I was burning to speak, but I dared not. Our safety and yours
depended on the fidelity with which I was able to play my part. I had
to be the Indian rajah, and nothing else. A word in English might have
lost us. But my happiness in knowing that it was you whom we had helped
was none the less, I can assure you. And your companions--how are they?'

'So well, poor boys, that they are burning to be on the move! The
Resident can scarcely keep them quiet. It was a happy Providence that
brought you our way.'

'Happy for me,' said Tom feelingly. 'Do you know that you gave us the
clue we wanted? My artful servant,' he smiled----

'Now,' broke in Mrs. Lyster, with Irish impetuosity, 'that is really
too bad of you. You heard what I said.'

'I said to myself then that I would make you laugh about it later,'
said Tom. 'But come into the summer-house. Oh!' as she continued to
look at him questioningly, 'I will tell you all about it presently. I
am not so much of an imposition as you imagine.'

He turned to the others, and gave them a cheerful good-morning. It
was such a meal as he had often shared in the verandahs of English
bungalows. A silver urn, over which Mrs. Durant presided, steamed at
one end of the table, where tea and coffee were being made in the most
approved English fashion, and white bread, cakes hot from the oven,
platters of snowy rice, scrambled eggs and curried fowl were being laid
out daintily by the well-trained attendants.

'How delightful this is!' said Tom. 'It seems like coming home. No, no,
Mrs. Durant,' as she handed him a cup of tea. 'I am not so much of a
prince as all that. Help the others first! It is too much happiness to
have my friends here to wait upon. What!' looking back at the face of
one of the attendants.

The man grinned from ear to ear, showing a row of perfect teeth.
'Excellency, the little Sahib would have it so!' he said in broken
Hindoostani.

'So you and Bâl Narîn are inseparables, are you?' said Tom to Kit.
'What will you do when he goes back to Nepaul?'

'He mustn't go,' said Kit stoutly. 'You want a shikari here.'

'To hunt the jackal. We have no other wild animals in Gumilcund, Kit.'

'Then we must import some,' said the child gravely. 'Two or three
elephants, and a tiger or so, and a few head of sambre. That would be
enough. In a few years there'd be a lot, and we'd have no end of fun.'

Tom laughed, and turned to Mrs. Durant.

'What do you say to your son?' he said. 'Haven't his travels made quite
a man of him?'

'I don't know about that,' said Mrs. Durant, who was watching her
little boy with fascinated eyes. 'But I know he is more of a darling
than ever.'

Here Kit, not wishing to be seized and kissed in the presence of Bâl
Narîn, edged away from his mother and made a remark in a low voice
to Aglaia about the general jolliness of things. He wanted to know
furthermore what she generally did after breakfast, and proposed a
little turn in the town, offering to take the greatest care of her.

Lucy overheard him, and burst into a fit of laughter. Then she sprang
up and said she would see whether Grace was awake, and might she take
any message from his Excellency the rajah?

His Excellency's colour rose after a very boyish fashion, which made
the ladies feel friendly towards him, when Lucy asked him this question.

'No, no,' he blurted out--'that is, I daresay I shall see her myself
presently. But if I may, I will wait to hear your report.'

Lucy went off, smiling to herself over the pretty little romance, which
gave life a fillip that had been sadly lacking to it of late.

After a few moments, during which Tom, who was extraordinarily
agitated, had left the little company at the breakfast-table and
strolled to meet her, she came tripping back. He watched her face,
which was a very mobile one. It was serious, not sad; and this, he
thought, augured well.

'How is your cousin?' he said, as quietly as he could.

'I can't quite tell yet,' answered Lucy. 'But she knows where she is,
and she knows me, which I don't think she did last night.'

'You will keep her quiet?' said Tom wistfully. He was half regretting
the days of travel, when she depended upon him for everything.

'Yes; I think so. Sumbaten will take in her breakfast. She asked if we
had seen you,' said Lucy, with an enchanting smile.

'And you told her I was here?'

'Oh, yes! I told her, and she just smiled, as if she was glad to hear
we were so much honoured, and said that she hoped she would see you a
little later. She was very eager about news from Meerut.'

'You have heard lately?'

'Yes; I had a long letter from Trixy--do you know Trixy, by the bye?'

'Do I know Trixy?' said Tom, his face lighting up. 'I should rather
think so! She is one of my best friends and dearest enemies, if you can
understand the anomaly. Would it be indiscreet to ask what she wrote to
you?'

'Not in the least, Sir Paladin,' said Lucy, laughing, while, for the
third time that morning, Tom felt the dark flush mounting to his face.
'She writes that Meerut is waking up. But I dare say you will have
heard that already. The private news is that General Elton--my uncle,
you know--is in his element, helping to restore order in the district,
and that my poor dear aunt is distracted with anxiety to come on here
at once.'

'I wish she could come,' said Tom. 'I have written to ask if it could
be managed.'

'Oh, have you?' cried Lucy, the slightly artificial tone that had been
apparent in her manner giving place to the most genuine eagerness. 'And
do you think she will be able to come?'

'It will depend very much upon herself and General Elton. Personally, I
don't think there would be any risk if she was properly attended. You
would be glad to see her?'

'Glad!' cried Lucy, clasping her hands. 'I should be simply wild!
And Grace--dearest Grace!--I believe it would do her more good than
anything else. I sat beside her bed half the night, poor darling!
Not that I was afraid of anything, you know; but that it was so
delightful--such a rest and happiness--just to feast my eyes upon her.
She spoke in her sleep once, and I bent over her to catch her words.
"Take it away, mother," she said, "take it away! I can't bear it!" I
moved her pillow and she half-opened her eyes and smiled. But a little
later she cried out again, and there was fear in her voice--fear and
horror--"Mother is dead!" she said. "Mother is dead, or she would
come." I whispered to her that she was not dead--that she was coming;
and then my poor darling smiled again, and lay quite still, looking as
beautiful as an angel.'

Lucy's eyes were full of tears, and her voice was husky long before she
came to the end of her little story. As for Tom, he could not so much
as answer her. And so they stood silent for a few moments, he looking
down absently into the basin of water, by whose marble brim they had
stopped to have their little talk.

It was embarrassing to Lucy, and she began again presently, moving
as she spoke towards the door of the pavilion in the garden. 'We get
such longings out here for the home faces,' she said, with a plaintive
little smile. 'And in England we don't care. Sometimes we are stupid
enough to think we would as soon be without them. At Nowgong, you
know, I was getting perfectly ill with my longing to see some of them.
And mother and father, who are at Lucknow, heard of it, and Grace was
staying with them, having a first-rate time of it too! and she left
everything and came to me. She is an angel! an angel!' said little Lucy
tremulously. 'If anything happened to her it would break my heart. But
it will be all right as soon as Aunt Grace comes.'

'Yes, yes, all right! Thank you for saying so,' said Tom hoarsely. He
held out his hand. 'You will take care of her meanwhile, Lucy?'

She pressed it warmly. 'Take care of her! Of course I will, as much as
I can.'

'And if there is anything she wants--anything you think would be better
changed, you will let me know. You see'--blushing and fidgeting--'I am
a novice about all these things. I don't really know what ladies want.'

'Then your imagination is better than most people's knowledge,' said
Lucy, laughing. 'I have never seen anything like the arrangements of
this place----'

But here Tom was called away. It was the hour when he had arranged to
meet the chief men of the city in his private hall of audience, and
Hoosanee had come, at his request, to remind him of the promise.

       *       *       *       *       *

The rajah went away with his heart vibrating sorrowfully; but in the
business of the day, which claimed his full attention, he regained the
serenity and even, in some degree, the exaltation of the morning.

There was much to be done. From the hour of the forenoon, when he left
the ladies in the garden-pavilion, until the sun was sinking behind
the low hills that shut in the city to the west, he had not an hour to
spare.

He carried out literally the programme which he had laid down for
himself when he received his mother's letter. In the inner council and
in the open court he proclaimed to the people that his instincts and
theirs had not deceived them. He was the true son of Byrajee Pirtha
Raj, and their ruler by right of succession.

The elders received the intelligence quietly. They were glad to hear
him acknowledge that he belonged to them, and his explanation of the
reasons that had led him to leave the city, with his well-balanced
relation of the measures he had taken in his absence to strengthen
the hands of the English and to secure peace to Gumilcund, gave them
perfect satisfaction. But they showed no surprise and very little
emotion.

Outside it was different. Here the people--the craftsmen and
mechanics--the small merchants and aged householders--were gathered
together; and it may be that an electric current of pent-up feeling
streamed outward from them to the comely youth who stood above them
with his nerves and brain on fire. Certain it is that he told his
tale after a different fashion to them. In the pose of the fine
figure, drawn to its full height--in the flashing eyes and dilated
nostrils--above all, in the noble words, wherein he expressed his
reverence for those who had gone before him, and his desire to follow
in their footsteps--pride of his lineage could be plainly read. He was
proud to be the son of Byrajee Pirtha Raj; he was glad at heart of
the destiny that bound him, for his life, to this people. So at least
they read him, and the Asiatic crowd, which is sensitive and subtle in
its perception of feeling, and as responsive to sympathy as a woman
or child, received his tale with demonstrations of a joy so deep and
passionate that it thrilled him to the heart.

He would not allow too much time to the ebullition of feeling. His
speech over, the court opened, and, for more than two hours, he
sat patiently in his alcove above the pillared and porticoed court
investigating the cases that were brought before him.

And next, after a hasty lunch, he ordered out Snow-queen and rode
through the city, showing himself to those who had not been able
to come up to the court, and inspecting the works that had been in
progress since his departure.

In the course of his wanderings, he was amused to meet Aglaia and Kit
walking together through the town, with Sumbaten, who looked much
puzzled and a little distressed by the innovation, walking behind them.

Kit, of course, hailed him joyfully. 'We're having no end of fun,' he
said. 'Isn't everything jolly?'

'Particularly jolly, I think,' answered Tom, laughing. 'But don't keep
Aglaia out too late, Kit.'

Then a voice from the near distance hailed him reassuringly, and he saw
that the devoted Bâl Narîn was not far from his little Sahib. Billy,
in his shikari's dress, looked very much like a fish out of water. The
streets of Gumilcund, which to-day were freshly swept and garlanded,
were not so congenial to him as the jungle and the mountains; and the
bourgeois life of ease and comfort was already beginning to pall upon
his fiery soul. But, for the moment, he had constituted himself Kit's
guardian, and Tom was perfectly easy about the child.



CHAPTER L

VISHNUGUPTA, THE PRIEST


The sun had set, and that lovely rose-lilac glow, which, for a few
moments of the evening, makes the skies of the East so entrancingly
beautiful, was wrapping heaven and earth in its mystical radiance,
when Tom, having finished his day's work, returned to the palace. A
syce took Snow-queen, and he went in thoughtfully to his own rooms,
wondering if he ought to ask to see Grace, or if it would be better to
wait until the following day.

It may be as well to say here that, in the intervals for quiet thought
which the business of the day had permitted him, he had made up his
mind fully as to his course of action. There should be no repetition
of the mistakes of the past. That one outpouring of heart, drawn from
him by Grace's anguish of spirit, he could forgive himself. Until he
had heard from General or Lady Elton, there should be nothing more of
the same kind. He owed it to her, and to their mutual relations--she,
a fugitive in his city, a guest in his house: he, the one to whom the
honour and happiness of saving her had been granted--to set a seal on
the door of his lips, for the present. He owed it to the future--to the
position which it was his dearest hope and desire she might one day
occupy--to do nothing in a corner, or without the consent and approval
of her friends.

But none the less for his prudent resolve to hold himself in check, was
his desire to see her and hear her voice.

As he was thinking about these things, Hoosanee came to meet him
with a message from the English ladies. They had sent to know if his
Excellency the rajah would do them the honour of joining them at their
evening meal. He smiled at the punctiliousness of the invitation,
answered it with a ready assent, and, about half-an-hour later, found
himself on the marble staircase that led up to the pillared hall of the
zenana.

A little to his surprise, he saw that the hall was empty, and he was
about to throw himself down on one of the settees and wait, when a
murmur of voices from the daïs, which was hidden by a screen of palms
and lilies from the body of the hall, attracted his attention. He
went on to the foot of the steps that led up to it, and there stopped
for a moment, half paralysed with surprise. As a picture nothing could
have been more beautiful and striking than the scene upon which his
eyes rested. The ladies were to dine on the daïs, and the centre of
its space was occupied by a table, where flowers and rich tropical
fruits and sweetmeats, with sparkling glass and silver, were laid out
on snowy linen. At the head of the table, on a low couch, draped with
embroidered stuffs, a figure that seemed to concentrate upon itself all
the light in the room was reclining. It was that of a woman, dressed
in a loose robe of white and gold. Her head, from which the veil had
fallen back, was propped up on a little hand, so delicate in its
blue-veined transparency that the burden seemed to be too heavy for it;
her pale face, overspread at this moment by a faint tinge of colour,
looked out from its halo of golden hair, with the purity and stillness
of a saint in a mediæval altar-piece, and her lips were moving in low,
impassioned words that throbbed through the silence like a prayer.
Meanwhile, at a little distance from the couch, his large hands with
their curiously knotted joints clasped round his knees, and his dark,
strongly-marked face lit by deep eyes which shone with a dreamy light
turned meditatively towards hers, sat a figure so different that it
might have been placed there for a foil.

But it was not this that made the half-unconscious watcher start and
pause, and feel, for a moment, as if his senses had been playing
him a trick. It was that in the difference there was a likeness.
In the solemn fire that seemed to kindle these two faces, in their
meditativeness, in their dreamy enthusiasm, there was something which
brought them together. Vishnugupta, the proud Indian mystic, and the
simple English girl who had looked the King of Terrors in the face,
and, for the sake of another, had vanquished him, met that night on a
common ground of sympathy.

    "Then by strange art she kneaded fire and snow
      Together, tempering the repugnant mass
    With liquid love----"

The words sprang to his mind as he gazed. He went forward, and the
spell was broken. Grace looked up, gave a little start, as if she had
just awoke from a dream, and held out her hand with a radiant smile of
welcome.

Vishnugupta rose, bent his head with the proud humility of the Brahmin,
drew his robe about his head, and, making answer neither by word nor
sign to the rajah's entreaty that he would stay for a little while,
passed slowly out of the apartment.

       *       *       *       *       *

The priest had scarcely gone before there came a flutter of garments
and a gay noise of laughter and voices in eager conversation from
behind the screen that separated the hall and the sleeping-rooms. Then
Lucy's little saucy face appeared above the palisade that bordered the
daïs.

'Has he gone?' she whispered.

'Do you mean Vishnugupta?' said Tom, laughing at her mysterious
expression.

'Is that his name? What a name! And oh! what a person!' cried Lucy. She
ran up the steps and brought her charming little person, bewitchingly
dressed in a long Indian cashmere robe, drawn in at the waist with a
golden girdle, into full view. 'I was with Grace when he came in,' she
said. 'I have been arranging the table, and I was arranging her. He
looked at me and I withered up to nothing. But as Grace seemed to take
to him and his talk like a duck to water, I just ran away and left them
alone. Darling,' turning to Grace, 'what, in the name of heaven, were
you talking about? He has been with you more than half an hour.'

Then the others came in, all of them looking curious. But Grace lay
back with a smile on her lips, and a strange, inscrutable expression in
her eyes.

'It was very good of you,' said Tom gently. 'But you must not let these
people tire you. I wonder who admitted Vishnugupta.'

'Please let him come again if he likes,' said Grace. 'He does not tire
me in the least. I think, do you know, he has done me good.' She smiled
more naturally than Tom had seen her smile since the day when he found
her in the jungle.

'Oh! if he does you good, he shall come every day, and I will thank
and bless him to the end of my life,' said Tom gaily. 'But now, may we
draw you up to the table? We are to have a merry evening, you know,
Grace.' His voice shook a little, and, in spite of the brave effort to
be cheerful, the muscles of his face contracted painfully. He could not
help seeing how fragile she was.

But she took up his words at once. 'Yes, yes,' she said; 'a merry
evening. Let us fancy ourselves in England, on the banks of the
Thames. Thank you,' as they drew in her couch. 'I am sorry to be so
troublesome. Kit, will you sit near me, and Aglaia next? No, no, Rajah
Sahib; you must take the place of honour. So! We can all see you now!
Has he really changed so much, Mrs. Lyster?'

'Changed! He hasn't changed at all,' cried the enthusiastic little
Irishwoman. 'It's I that was the idiot not to know him. But I'll never
be so silly again. I promise you that.'

'I'm not quite so sure that it was your fault, Mrs. Lyster,' said Tom
aside. Mrs. Durant and Lucy were exchanging a little war of words about
some disputed point of the arrangements of the evening, and Grace was
talking merrily to Kit and Aglaia.

'Do you believe,' he asked abruptly, 'in the possibility of people
living in two individualities?'

She paused for a moment, and then looked meditatively at Grace.
'Until just lately,' she said, 'I should have called the question an
absurdity. But----'

'Please go on,' said Tom breathlessly.

'I have watched her,' whispered Mrs. Lyster. 'She is leading two lives.
The priest saw it. That is what brought him to-day. Don't look at her;
don't let her think you are watching her. She is very sensitive. It
would be the easiest thing in the world to frighten that pretty gaiety
away. Yes; she is living two lives, and----'

'Well! Don't stop----'

'It should be encouraged. It is her only chance.'

'Of what, Mrs. Lyster?'

'Of sanity and life.'

'What do you mean?' (sharply).

'Don't ask me just now. I will tell you by-and-by. But watch her.
Yes--and talk--be gay! I will help you as well as I can. She is a
noble creature--a heroine all impact--' said the warm-hearted little
Irishwoman, 'and you are _almost_ worthy of her, although--' and here
she pulled up and blushed violently.

'Although I'm not almost, but altogether a native,' filled in the
rajah, a humorous expression crossing his face. 'Thank you for the
compliment. It is no small one, Mrs. Lyster.'

'Go along with you,' she said, trying to laugh, though her face and
neck were one burning red. 'I shall be speaking to you presently in
my native Celtic, and telling you that you are nothing better than a
gossoon.'

'Which would enchant me,' said Tom, laughing. 'Anyway'--seriously--'we
sign to-night a truce and an alliance.'

'To be sure! though I don't know that I was ever at war with you,' said
Mrs. Lyster.

And thereupon they threw themselves into the conversation that was
going on around them.

Forgetting her own sorrows, the vivacious little Irishwoman pulled
herself together, brought out her best jokes and most amusing stories,
and became the life of the party. Lucy followed her lead. Mrs. Durant,
the desire of whose heart had been fulfilled, had no difficulty in
being lively. They drew out Kit, who made them all laugh with his funny
little sayings. Even the mother of little Dick condescended to forget
her own dignity and the imminence of the crisis through which she had
been brought, and to enjoy herself. But long before it was over, Tom
saw, to his distress, that the sudden springing up of vitality which
had enabled Grace to take part in the gaiety of the others was over.
She lay back on her couch white and still, turning her large blue-grey
eyes from one to another as the sallies of wit and merry anecdotes
flew by, and smiling now and then vaguely, as though she was making an
effort to follow them, but could not quite succeed.

The poor fellow was watching her, as a mother watches a sick child.
While he made a feint of listening to the talk at the table, laughing
when the others laughed to give himself countenance, and occasionally
launching out feebly a witticism of his own, he never lost a single
expression of the face that was so unutterably dear to him. Dinner
over, he crossed to where she was lying. 'Grace,' he said, in a low
voice, under cover of the talk, 'what is it? You are looking worse
to-day. Is all this too much for you?'

'No, no,' she answered, with a smile so gentle and patient that it
thrilled him to the heart. 'And do you know, I really feel better. You
must forgive me for not talking. You know' (pressing her hand to her
head) 'there is something here still. It won't let me. I get confused.'

'My darling,' he began passionately, and then checked himself. 'I
mustn't be too impulsive yet,' he said under his breath. 'Afterwards,
Grace, afterwards----'

'Ah!' she said, with a beautiful indescribable expression. 'Lucy has
written. They will know in a very short time that I am here. Perhaps
some of them will come. In the meantime--' dreamily.

'In the meantime, talk or be silent, as you please. Do anything! Only
get well and strong, Grace. Only get well and strong!'

'I will try,' she said plaintively. 'Sometimes--still--life seems very
sweet.'

'It will not be sometimes--it will be always, when you get better,'
said Tom earnestly.

But there was a pang at his heart, for all his cheerful words. For the
first time, since he saw her lying insensible in the hermit's hut in
the jungle, a feeling of despair swept over his young soul.

He would not--he could not--give place to it. Turning away, lest she
should read it in his eyes, he met a look of sympathy from Mrs. Lyster.
She was far too wise to put it into words, and he found, somewhat to
his relief, that he must arouse himself, for there was more to be done.

The Resident had sent word that, with his visitors, he would call upon
the ladies that evening, and Chunder Singh and Lutfullah, and several
other distinguished Indians, who in the rajah's absence had been
diligent in inquiries and offers of assistance, had asked permission to
wait upon them also.

It had been decided that the reception should be held in the little
pillared hall, which had been hung with garlands and banners for the
occasion. Lucy and Mrs. Durant thought it was about time to go down.
Grace was asked what she would do. Seeing Tom's wistful eyes fixed
upon her, she said that she would like to be present, if she might
be quiet. She had a curious dread of being alone in those days. But
when she tried to rise, she found that she was too weak. Tears of
vexation filled her eyes, but before they had time to fall, the rajah
and Bâl Narîn, and Hoosanee and Ganesh had sprung to her couch, and
it was lifted up with all its flowing draperies, as if it had been a
featherweight, and carried down the steps; Grace smiling through her
tears and begging them not to hurt themselves--to be sure to put her
down if she was too heavy--an entreaty that made the stout Indians
laugh.

'Put me a little out of everyone's way,' she had said to Tom. So he
found an arbour-like corner for her, beautifully shaded with palms
and tree-ferns, whence she could see everything that went on in the
brilliantly-lighted hall, without being much seen herself. There he put
the couch down. The Indians retired, and he stooped over her. 'Is that
right, Grace?'

'Perfectly right. I shall enjoy myself looking and listening. And
now, Tom, you must leave me. The Resident and the others will be here
directly.'

'I suppose I must,' he said regretfully. 'I will come back again in a
few moments, to see how you are.'

And so Grace lay quietly in her corner, and the anguish in her
heart--the phantom that was continually rising up to mock her--was at
rest for a few moments, while, like images in a dream, the busy little
crowd that soon filled the hall, came and went.

The Resident and the two English officers, and Chunder Singh and
Lutfullah, were brought up to speak to her. They spoke feelingly,
congratulating her on her escape. She found a few simple words with
which to answer them; but she could not say much, and the rajah took
care that she should not be made to talk more than she liked.

How deep her gratitude was for his watchful tenderness it would be
impossible to express. Once or twice, when he passed, she looked up at
him with a wistful smile, and once she touched his arm lightly with her
thin fingers, whispering, 'You are so good to me!'

'Good!' he echoed. 'Oh! Grace, if you only knew!'

And then, for an instant, the warm colour flooded his face, and his
eyes shone with a wonderful light; but, not daring to trust himself to
speak, he turned away, leaving Mrs. Lyster on guard.

Meanwhile, in the hall, which had surely never seen so strange a
gathering before, there was plenty of fun and good fellowship. The
party at the Residency had just been reinforced by Mr. Montgomery's
wife, a handsome and accomplished woman, her sister, a pretty, timid
girl fresh from England, and several other ladies, who had come to
Gumilcund on the Resident's invitation, leaving, in more cases than
one, desolated homes behind them. There were besides the two young
officers--Irish, by the bye, both of them--who had come in with Mrs.
Lyster, quite well now and up to all sorts of fun. And so the evening
glided on merrily. To an onlooker there might have seemed to be
something pathetic about their mirth. Scarcely one of the Europeans
but had some deep present anxiety to endure, or some recent loss to
mourn; but they were English ladies and gentlemen, and they knew how to
control themselves. For the sake of one another and their entertainer,
they would not be gloomy or morose. The two young officers sang comic
songs, and Mr. Montgomery, the Resident, brought out his violin and
played dance-tunes which made the feet of the younger ladies twitch
to be off, and brave Mrs. Lyster, who was fighting all night with a
desperate longing to run away and have a good cry, talked and laughed
and told travellers' tales, charming them all with her wit and
vivacity. The grave Indians, who knew through what deep waters many of
these poor women had passed, were surprised at their spirits. Happily
for some of them, it was not kept up late. The Resident and his party,
with hearty expressions of thanks and goodwill, took leave of them
long before midnight, and the Indian visitors followed their example
immediately. Then poor Mrs. Lyster sat down and covered her face with
her hands. 'I couldn't have stood it another five minutes. Oh! do all
of you think me a brute?' she cried, lifting up her haggard face.

'Don't! Don't!' cried Lucy piteously. 'You will make me cry.'

'I think you one of the bravest of women. I always did,' said Tom. 'Do
you remember the storm? No one was so plucky as you.'

'Do I remember it?' said Mrs. Lyster, with a queer little smile. 'Why,
it was nothing--child's play. But come, my son of Anak, pick up the
couch and carry our invalid inside. Be quiet, my dear!' to Grace.
'You're not to be allowed to stir a step to-night. Carry her in, Mr.
Rajah, and then take your retinue away and say good-night. We will face
the terrors of the silent hours together.'

After that the days glided quietly one into the other. Every morning
the rajah met his family, as he used to call the ladies and children
who had found a refuge in the palace, at breakfast, in the pretty
garden-pavilion. And pleasant breakfasts they were, although Grace
was never present: for some one--Kit, or Aglaia, or Mrs. Lyster, or
Lucy--had always something encouraging to say about her. During the day
he gave himself without reserve to business and study, and cultivating
useful and kindly relations with the people about him, making meanwhile
such progress in the knowledge of Indian affairs, and gaining such
insight into hidden depths of life and character, and into the scope
and meaning of the philosophies and religions of the country, as would
sometimes surprise even himself. After sunset, when the work of the
day was over, he met his friends again, and they would all take their
evening meal together, talking over past and present, discussing
hopefully the state of affairs in the country, and exchanging the news
which the mails of the day had brought in.

Sometimes Grace would join them at these dinners in the hall, and
sometimes not; but she always sent him affectionate messages, of
which Aglaia was generally the bearer, and he seldom spent a day
without seeing her once. Later he looked back upon those early days at
Gumilcund, full to the brim of joyful interests, and flooded with the
light of hope, as some of the happiest in his life.

Gradually a dull pain--a terror to which he could not give a
name--began to encroach upon their sweetness. Why did not Grace pick
up her strength? At first her weakness was easily to be accounted for.
But surely the time had come when they might look for improvement. The
rest, the freedom from anxiety, and the daily companionship of her
friends ought, by this time, to be taking some effect. Sometimes, when
they met, he would try to cheat himself into the belief that she was
better and brighter; but the absence of vital strength was a fact that,
in spite of himself, pressed home to his heart. Day after day he saw
the same white face, the same patient smile, the same sorrow-haunted
eyes. Day after day he was the witness of efforts so pathetic that he
would entreat her sometimes not to make them. 'Be patient, my beloved!'
he would whisper; and all the time, in his own heart there would be
a tumult of fierce impatience, a gnawing of angry pain that almost
unnerved him.

But this was not all. He was conscious--they were all conscious--of a
mental cloud--a veil that seemed at times to wrap her away from them.

'Grace is changed. I don't know what to make of her. But I wish--oh! I
do wish--that her mother would come,' Lucy cried out one morning when
Tom asked her the usual question. Mrs. Lyster gave her a warning look,
but she went on. 'Yes; I can't help it. I must speak. Something ought
to be done.'

'What can be done, Lucy?' said Tom, whose face had turned perfectly
grey.

'Don't mind Lucy. She is speaking wildly,' said Mrs. Lyster. 'She
forgets--we all forget--that there are experiences which nothing but
the healing hand of time--the slow passage of the years----'

She broke down, for her voice was choked with sobs.

'I know,' said Lucy penitently. 'But, dear Mrs. Lyster, you have
suffered more than any of us, and you are not so strange, so reserved.'

'My dear child, I am much older than Grace, and I have the Irish
elasticity of temper, I suppose. We can laugh with the tears on our
faces; and I thank God for it. And now, like a darling, run off and
look after the children, and leave the rajah to me.'

Lucy hesitated for a moment, looked at them with a curious
half-mutinous expression in her face, and then turned away.

The other ladies had already left the summer-house, so that Mrs. Lyster
and Tom were alone.

'Thank you,' he said, looking at her with strained, eager eyes.

She shook her head sadly.

'Tell me what to do?' he cried out passionately. 'I love her. You know
this already. I would give my life--my blood drawn from me painfully
drop by drop--to save her a single pang. The thought of her trouble is
agony to me--torture. What are we to do? Shall I send to Agra for an
English doctor? I might.'

'I am afraid, my poor friend, that no doctor would do her any good. The
disease lies deeper than medicine can cure.'

'What would, then? Tell me, for heaven's sake!'

'She has something on her mind,' said Mrs. Lyster doubtfully.

'I know it--I know it. A fancied trouble. If some one reasonable and
wise, like you, were to talk it over with her, she might be persuaded
to put it from her. Won't you try?'

'I dare not,' said Mrs. Lyster, in a broken voice.

Tom started. 'I don't understand,' he said confusedly.

'And I am afraid I can't explain,' she said. 'There is something about
her--a whiteness of soul, a majesty. There, I am stumbling about as
usual. In plain English, I can't get near her, and I am afraid to
attempt it.'

'And yet----' began Tom.

'And yet,' filled in his companion, 'she can be bright enough
sometimes. Yes; that is just what I told you before, she has her hours.
And' (mysteriously) 'I will tell you a curious thing. That Brahmin,
with the wild face and unpronounceable name, does her more good than
anyone else. He came in yesterday, just before dinner. I was in the
hall with her, and I stayed because I was curious; but of course I was
not quick enough at Hindoostani to pick up all they said. You remember
how calm she looked in the evening. We all remarked it. But it was so
before. She is easier, brighter altogether, when she has been having
one of her long wild talks with that wild man.'

'Why wild, Mrs. Lyster?'

'Why, because, so far as I can make out, they seem to be scaling
heights and plunging into depths of which we poor mortals have no
idea. But I will tell you one thing that struck me, his manner to her.
We--well! he doesn't take any notice of us. I don't believe he sees
us. He treats _her_ with a reverence that, coming from a man like him,
is one of the most touching things I have ever met with in all my
experience. It is just as if' (in an awed tone) 'he was talking to one
_on the other side_.'

'Don't, don't!' cried Tom piteously. He was trembling even to the lips,
which were ashy pale; but he made a feeble effort to smile. 'You come
of an imaginative race, Mrs. Lyster,' he said. 'I understand that, of
course. But for heaven's sake, let us have prose, not poetry! It would
be too dreadful to let her slip through our fingers now! Can _nothing_
be done?'

'We shall know more when her mother comes,' said Mrs. Lyster. And that
was all.

The young rajah went to his work that morning with a heart so full that
it seemed to him as if bands of steel, growing harder and tighter every
moment, were winding themselves about him, and pressing out his life.
Like a mournful voice--an echo of something he had heard before, Mrs.
Lyster's words repeated themselves in his brain. 'On the other side.'
What if there was some strange, mystical truth in them? What if in that
trance the pure, strong spirit had winged its flight to the heavenly
sphere--had found its home there--and now was only kept to its earthly
tabernacle by their love, and tears, and prayers? It was a terrible
thought. Again and again he tried to put it away from him, but it
returned unceasingly, through that long and miserable day, taking the
strangest forms, as it swept through his mind. In the evening, when he
went up to the hall, he half expected to hear that Grace was worse. But
she was in her place, and though she was as pale and fragile as usual,
she greeted him with a smile of unusual brightness.

Dinner over, he sat down by her couch. 'Grace, dearest,' he said, 'I
wish you would tell me what you and Vishnugupta talk about when you are
together. I am, in some sort, a protégé of his, and yet, do you know, I
have never been able to draw him out, as you do?'

Grace looked up at him, an expression of childlike wonder in her eyes.
'Draw him out!' she echoed. 'I don't think I quite understand.'

'Well, then, make him talk.'

'Ah!' she said, smiling. 'But, indeed, it is quite the contrary. He has
made me talk.'

'How, Grace?'

'I don't know. I think there is a power about him--a fascination. Do
you remember what I told you one day when we were travelling? How I
looked round me--above--below--on every side, and saw nothing but
misery and pain--how I could not believe in God--could not even thank
Him for saving me?'

'Yes, I remember,' said Tom.

'And after that,' she went on, 'I felt, but I couldn't speak. It was
all in here--burning--burning--but no words--an awful indescribable
loneliness. You were all about me, loving me, helping me, caring for
me so kindly, and I was like one apart--a spirit in prison. Then I
saw this Brahmin-prophet. It was the evening we came in.' She spoke
rapidly, and with a curious exultation, which had the strangest effect
upon her listeners--for there were two now, Mrs. Lyster having joined
them. 'I saw him standing in the road--such a strange figure! It
frightened poor little Kit; but I--ah! I can't tell you what it was--he
looked at me, and it seemed to me as if he were looking straight down
into my soul, as if he knew how I felt. And yet I did not tremble. I
asked him to come and see me, and he came. He sat down there. He said
nothing, not a single word; but I spoke; it was as if an angel had come
down and loosened my tongue, letting the burning thoughts free.'

'Did Vishnugupta understand you?' said Tom.

'He did more than understand. He explained me to myself. Listen,
my beloved, and see how overpowering--how beautiful it is. We are
stretching out our hands in the darkness--looking for God--weeping
because He does not answer our prayers, and He is here within us.
We shall part, or we shall think that we part, but it is not so.
We cannot part, we meet eternally in the bosom of the Divine. But
before we can know this, and enter into His peace, the self must be
slain--will--desire--love of the things that are not He. Listen again!
I wondered, you know, where the evil came from--pain, misery, cruelty.
I know now. These are the things to which the self will grow in its
darkness. But there is hope, for in the sting is the cure. Through
the evil--through the bitter pain and misery--the vision is born. The
poison has a heart of healing. If there were none of this misery that
revolts our ignorance, the self would go on, building its palaces about
it till the Divine was shut out. As it is, we grow weary at last, and
we lay ourselves down at His feet. I thought it was a dream at first;
but he spoke to me again, and each time he spoke the vision became
clearer. He says they have known it here for thousands of years. It has
been growing and fading--growing and fading; but there were always some
who held it fast, and when faith was weak, and many had gone astray,
and the clue to the labyrinth was in danger of being lost, then a
revealer--a God-sent teacher came.'

There was a pause. Neither of her companions spoke. Mrs. Lyster was
looking out before her with bewildered eyes. If this was love-making,
it was the strangest she had ever heard of. Tom had covered his face
with his hands. It seemed to him that she was moving further and
further away from them, and he could not speak for the sorrowful aching
at his heart. Then she put out her hand, and, with a smile of the most
divine compassion and love, touched his arm. 'Dearest,' she said, 'I
must tell you something more. They are expecting another revealer. He
will be different from any who have gone before him, for the sphere
will be larger. New lights have been dawning upon the nations, and new
truths, forced painfully from the silence by the higher minds, are
waiting to be shown to the people. He will know all these. He will be
of the West by his training, of the East by his nature. He will have
the science and learning of the New World, and the self-forgetting
passion of the Old. For years he will be content to learn--watching
and waiting for the happy moment. Then, when he is sure of himself and
sure of them, he will speak--here, in this wonderful country, which
has given so many wonderful things to the world, and thousands upon
thousands will follow him. This is what Vishnugupta told me, and do
you know what I thought? "Our prophet is here," I thought to myself.
Years upon years to come, when all this dreadful strife and sore is
healed, and when I, with so many, many others, who had a part in it,
are laid to rest and forgotten, he will speak the words of life, and
then, perhaps,' her lips parted in a yearning smile, 'he will remember
his love of old time, and these few days of love and happiness, that
his love made for her, before----'

'Hush! Grace! Hush!' cried the poor boy passionately. 'It is you I
want----' Mrs. Lyster turned away weeping, and he broke into a piteous
entreaty that Grace would unsay her cruel words. But in a moment the
words died away upon his lips, and he was gazing at her with ashy face
and horror-stricken eyes. For the expression they so much dreaded--the
look of fear and piteous distress--had come back into her face. In the
next moment he had recovered his presence of mind, and was stooping
over her to ask if she wanted anything. 'No,' she said, trying to
smile. 'I am tired;' and then with white lips and eyes, whose sorrowful
yearning will haunt him to the end of his days, she besought him to
leave her alone.



CHAPTER LI

THE RAJAH WELCOMES A GUEST AND HEARS A STRANGE STORY


The next day was full of business, and Tom gave himself to it with
stern self-repression.

He had offered a body of guides and pioneers, picked men, as skilful
with the shovel and the scaling-ladder as with the sword, to the
British army, which was marching northwards to the relief of Lucknow.
His offer had been accepted, and to-day they were to set off for
Allahabad, where the troops were congregating. In the early morning
he inspected them, and then, having given orders that they should
be feasted royally at his expense in the market-place, he harangued
them in the presence of a great concourse of people, and, mounted on
Snow-queen, marched with them as far as the boundaries of the State.

Following as it did on an exciting evening and a heavy sleepless night,
the day exhausted him, and on his return he would not press his pace.
He rode back slowly, his mind, to his own comfort and relief, almost a
blank, so that it was late in the evening before he reached the palace.

He had left word that he would probably be late, begging the ladies to
dine without him, and as he passed into his own quarters he felt glad
that he had done so, for he was able for little else but rest. Here,
however, an exciting piece of news awaited him. Lady Elton had arrived.
He asked how long she had been in the palace, and found that she
must have entered the city by one gate as he and his men had left by
another. Hoosanee, who was his informant, told him that she had arrived
in a well-equipped travelling-carriage, and attended by an escort of
European soldiers. These, however, had left her at the gate.

A young lady--the sister, as Hoosanee had been told, of Grace
Sahib--came in with her in the carriage, and an English officer whom
Ganesh had recognised as the Captain Sahib Liston, had ridden into the
city in their company. At the gate of the palace they had inquired for
his Excellency the rajah. When Hoosanee informed them of the business
on which he was bound, adding that he might not return till late, the
ladies had left their names with him and gone on to the zenana, and the
Captain Sahib had proceeded to the Residency, where he would probably
spend the night.

While Hoosanee was giving his master this news a servant came in
with a letter for the rajah. It was from Lady Elton--a rapturous,
affectionate, incoherent little note, saying she had seen Grace, and
thanking and blessing him for all he had done for them. 'My good Trixy
is with me,' she wrote. 'The General would not let me come without
one of the girls, and I think she will be a comfort to her sister. I
will not see you to-night. When I feel my child's hand in mine my love
and gratitude overcome me. I could only weep. I could not speak. But
to-morrow morning, as early as you like, we must meet.' And she added,
after a few more fervent, incoherent words. 'Both the General and I
feel that you belong to us.' Pressing the letter to his lips, Tom wrote
an answer hastily.

 'My dearest Lady Elton,--I thank God from a full heart that you have
 come in safely. Command me as if I were your son. It will be my
 happiness to serve you. To-morrow, since it may not be to-night, I
 will bid you welcome in person. I am always in the garden early. You
 are an early riser, I know. If the journey has not tired you too much,
 perhaps you will meet me there. I must see you _alone_, if possible.
 Brotherly greetings and a warm welcome to Trixy. Yours always,

 'THOMAS GREGORY.'

A long night, haunted by the strangest dreams, passed over the young
rajah's head. Now he would be chasing Lady Elton about the garden,
trying to speak to her, and seeing her elude him, and waking up with
a start just as his hand was on her arm. Then he would come suddenly
face to face with her, and she would begin an incoherent story, which
he could not understand. Again and again he leapt up thinking it was
day, and again and again he composed himself to sleep; but, do what
he would, he could not rest for the fever of his heart and brain, and
before the sun was up he dressed and went out into the garden.

Ever afterwards he remembered vividly the impressions of that morning.
He went out into a still and wonderful world. The green things of
the earth, the flowering shrubs, the palms, the dark cypresses that
lifted their column-like heads above the lower and lovelier foliage,
the water that flowed in deep channels by the grass--all these seemed
to be asleep. But a soft wind was stirring; far away there was a low
confused murmur as of dawning consciousness, and over all stretched a
cloudless heaven, pale and mysterious, in the zenith, where the little
stars that had shone all night were passing, one by one, tremulously
behind the radiant veil of the morning, and, on the eastern horizon,
tinged with a dull red, quickening gradually, as if a hand were fanning
it, into flame-colour and saffron. The beauty and tranquillity seemed
for a few moments to soothe the fever of his heart. He felt a Presence
in the garden. The strange words of the night before came back to him.
_We are stretching out our hands in the darkness--looking for God--and
He is here within us._ For an instant--a wonderful instant, which he
remembered years afterwards with a passionate thrill of gratitude--a
wild throb of expectation, the Divine was as near to him as his own
quivering flesh and blood.

It was far too early yet for him to expect to see anyone out; but
instinctively his feet turned in the direction they had so often taken
lately, and, in a few moments, he found himself in the avenue that led
from the English ladies' apartments to the pavilion where they were
accustomed to meet in the morning.

He had scarcely entered it before he saw at its farther end, walking
away from him into the open, the figure of a woman in a long grey
cloak. He hastened to overtake it, then stopped, then went on again.
Lady Elton? But could it be? The slow pace, the uncertain steps, the
bent head, were strangely unlike her. The doubt was soon laid to rest.
In the stillness she had heard his footsteps behind her, and she
turned and came to meet him. That, too, was a moment which Tom will
remember all his life. It was not only the pallor of the once comely
face and the attenuation of the form that, when last he saw it, had
been so pleasant to look upon in its full matronly beauty; it was
the expression of the face, the looking out upon him suddenly like a
spectre in the noontide, of that despair which, slowly, slowly, but, as
he now knew, surely, had been stealing into his own heart and killing
its joy. He sprang forward impulsively and threw his strong young arms
about her. 'This is dreadful,' he said; 'I had no idea you were so
weak. Why didn't you tell me in your letter?'

'I didn't feel quite so weak then,' she said, drawing herself away with
a little smile that seemed to bring the Lady Elton of Surbiton and
Meerut back again. 'No, no, you impulsive boy; I am not so feeble as
all that. Give me your arm to steady me. There! I am better now.'

'Have they taken care of you? Did they bring you a cup of tea before
you came out? Shall I have one made for you now?'

'No, thank you, dear. The little girl's ayah, Sumbaten, took every care
of me. I don't think the poor little thing slept at all for fear Grace
and I might want anything. Then, you know, I have Trixy to look after
me. She is a very good child,' said Lady Elton. She was trying to speak
lightly; but he knew very well that the effort was almost too great for
her.

He followed her lead, saying he was so glad Trixy had come. They had a
little English society in Gumilcund now, and he did not think she would
find it dull; and was it true that Captain Liston had come in with them?

'Yes, by the bye,' said Lady Elton. 'It happened rather conveniently.
He had been sent to Meerut from Delhi; did you hear how he
distinguished himself there? No? Well, I must leave it to Trixy. The
foolish children are engaged, you know. The General was obliged to give
his consent, though we don't quite see how they are to live. In the
meantime they are very proud of one another; and of course Bertie took
an additional interest. So he came with us. I believe he is to join the
army for Lucknow somewhere near this. But he was to see you and the
Resident first.'

'I shall be glad of the opportunity of congratulating him,' said Tom;
'he is a first-rate young fellow, and Trixy was always a great friend
of mine.'

As they talked they were walking on quickly, Lady Elton leaning on his
arm. There was a secluded spot--a little ferny hollow--at no great
distance from the pavilion. The blue waters of the miniature lake
lay in front of it, and a little semi-circle of rocks and boulders,
down which mimic cascades rushed continually, filling the basins of
water in the hollow and keeping moist and cool the delicate mosses and
rare grasses and ferns that had made it their home, formed a complete
barrier between it and the rest of the garden.

Hither Tom, who could not speak freely until he was sure of perfect
seclusion, guided Lady Elton's steps. She broke into an exclamation
of surprise and pleasure when he led her in. 'I've brought you here
because it is quiet,' he said. 'We can talk.'

He placed her in a low chair, under a fairy-leaved mimosa, drew up a
cushion to her feet, and flung himself down beside her. 'Now, dearest
Lady Elton,' he said, 'have pity upon me! Tell me about her.'

She was silent for a few moments, looking down upon him, her pale lips
parted in a quivering smile, and her eyes dim with tears. 'I was just
thinking,' she said, 'that I have not thanked you yet.'

'Would you thank a man for saving himself?' he said reproachfully.

She stretched out her hands with a little plaintive cry. 'Oh, Tom!' she
whispered, 'Tom, my son!'

The words were like a spell. All in a moment his simulated calmness
fled. He sprang to his feet, and, throwing himself on his knees, seized
the pale, worn hands held out to him, and pressed them to his lips.
'God bless you!' he murmured; 'God bless you!'

'But, my dear, you must be quiet,' said the poor lady. 'There, get up,
and let me have my hands again. Poor boy! poor boy! Do you care so
much?'

'I care more than I can express--more than even you can understand. I
thought I loved her then, but now----' and then he pulled up and looked
at her strangely. 'Do you know everything?' he said. 'Does the General
know? I must explain'--hurriedly. 'I did not know myself until the
other day. But circumstances have come to light----'

'Dear child,' she said softly, 'we have always known----'

'My parentage?'

'We know more about you, I expect, than you know about yourself.'

'And still----'

'Sit down here beside me, Tom.' She pushed back the hair from his
forehead and looked tenderly into his dark eyes. She was thinking
of the past. For the moment the last few dreadful weeks--that chasm
between the old life and the new--were blotted out. He was the boy he
had been then, and she was his mother, understanding him as no one else
did, and thinking of his friendship with a little motherly glow of
satisfaction and pride.

'I will tell you the whole truth,' she went on. 'We were on your
side--Grace and I. We believed we understood you better than the
others; and--it seems a strange thing to say, but it is really true--if
you had spoken a little earlier, you might have won our dear girl
then. The news of your wealth made the General afraid. You see it was
a wonderful change, and these changes of condition will sometimes show
the character in such different lights. That is what the General said,
at least. Then our dear girl, who, you know, is sensitive, heard some
unkind and stupid gossip. It was rather about us than her; but it
annoyed her all the more. It is an old story now,' said Lady Elton,
the pink colour mantling her face, 'and I only tell you because Grace
wished you to know everything. The silly people said we had known all
about it long ago--that you would be rich, I mean--and that was why
we had taken the cottage, and brought the dear girls next door to you
and your mother. It was absurd, of course; but Grace took fire, and
the General, who, you know, was against it then, went with her. I
argued that he should find out what our dear girl's own feeling was
before he gave her his advice, for I had my suspicions, and God knows
I would have braved the backbiting of malicious tongues, if it would
have secured her happiness and yours; but--well! you know the General.
He would not be the man he is--one of the finest soldiers that ever
lived--if he was not pretty firm in his own opinion. But what he has
seen and heard of you in this dreadful year, what he knows of you, Tom,
has changed all that. If our dear child----'

'Why do you hesitate?' said Tom hoarsely.

She paused for a few seconds, as if a wave of feeling too strong to
be controlled had swept over her, and then she laid her hand gently
on his. 'Will you tell me how it all happened--exactly?' she said
pleadingly.

'How we found them, do you mean?'

'Yes.'

He gave the story clearly and rapidly, from the moment when he left
Gumilcund for Dost Ali Khan's fort, to that when he saw Grace and Kit
in the hermit's hut, and was assured by Bâl Narîn that they were alive.
He said as little about himself as he could, and nothing whatever
about his feelings. It was a plain record of facts. The story over, he
stopped. 'Mother,' he said earnestly, 'I have told you all I can. It
is your turn now. You have seen my darling'--his voice broke--'you who
know her so much better than any of us--tell me what you think.'

She turned a little away, and looked up into the quivering branches
of mimosa. A little striped squirrel was leaping gaily from branch
to branch. Above, in the blue sunlit air, black and white mynas were
darting. Tiny feathered creatures, bright as living gems, were flashing
hither and thither through the light foliage. Ah! how peaceful: how
happy, they all were! For a moment she could not speak. Nature, with
her thousand joyous voices, seemed to be mocking at her pain. In the
next moment she became conscious of those strained-looking, agonised
eyes, and said faintly, 'I hope.'

'Is that _all_ you can say?' asked Tom.

'No!' she cried; 'I have more to tell you, but give me time!'

He got up, walked to the margin of the lake, looked down into its
waters with eyes that saw nothing, and then came back and stood beside
her. 'Perhaps,' he said, 'you had rather say no more just now.'

'No,' she said, 'I must. I promised her. Sit down again, dear, close
beside me, and give me your hand to hold. I am so foolish, do you know,
that it seems to me sometimes as if all these dreadful things that have
been happening were a dream, and then I must hold something not to
drift away into confusion. But you are impatient. I will begin.

'She was not so much surprised to see me as they thought she would have
been. They prepared her; then we went in together, Trixy and I, and
there was such a beautiful colour in her face, such a lovely light in
her eyes, that I could scarcely believe what they had told me about her
weakness. All the evening they were busy looking after us and showing
us the palace, and talking about Gumilcund and you. I thought my dear
child was quieter than the others; but you know, she had never the
same vivacity as her sisters, so this did not trouble me much. We all
went to rest early. She had begged as a boon that she and I should be
alone together. I thought she looked at me wistfully before she laid
herself down to rest, but I would not let her talk, for I was afraid
of exciting her. I was so tired myself and so happy that I fell into a
deep sleep at once. What awoke me I can't tell. It was as if a spirit
had taken me by the hand and told me to arise. There was a strange pain
at my heart, just as if something was suffering near me, and I wondered
what it meant. But I opened my eyes and looked round me, and saw the
room flooded with moonlight, and smiled at myself for my foolish idea.
Then I looked across to where my dear child was lying. She was awake,
her eyes wide open, and--and--but I can't tell you. Oh, God! oh, God!
I see it still--I shall see it to the end of my days--that look in my
darling's innocent eyes!'

There was a pause. Tom, who was nearly beside himself with suspense,
pressed her hand convulsively, tried to speak but could not, and sat
staring out before him into vacancy.

Presently she went on:

'I was at her side in a moment, but at first she did not know me. I
called her by her name, softly, for fear I should be heard, and began
humming one of the little Indian songs that I used to lull her with
when she was a baby. How I did it I can't tell, for my heart was like
to break. Little Sumbaten heard us stirring and crept into the room,
and I sent her away to make tea for us. Gradually the stony look left
my darling's eyes; she recognised me, and we cried together, and I gave
her the tea. Then, when we were alone again, she crept in beside me,
and hiding her head in my arms, just as she used to do when she was an
infant, told me what I have promised to tell you.'

She stopped again. It was as if the task she had undertaken was too
hard for her.

Tom looked up at her pitifully. 'You are torturing yourself without
cause,' he said. 'Why should you tell me? All I wished was that the
burden should be taken from _her_. She has spoken to you. It is enough.'

'But I promised; she will ask me,' said poor Lady Elton. 'Don't look
at me so, dear. I must find a little more strength, and then--then--we
shall rest, my dear child and I.

'You know how she left the fort; but you may not know that the wicked
Soubahdar who took her away had a grudge against her father. I must try
to tell you about him. He was a man I had always disliked, he was so
smooth in his manners--not a common man at all. He had been educated
well, and he had lived for many years with Englishmen, so that he knew
what our ideas and feelings are. The General had treated him not only
as a comrade but as a friend. They had shared the same tent; he knew
that honour was dearer to him than life; and he meant--I can see it all
now--to humiliate and punish him through her, our darling. When I think
of it, Tom, when I think of it, I feel the blood curdling about my
heart. But I must not----They left the fort together, this man, Grace,
and the child. Grace soon found out that he was her enemy. But for Kit
I think she would have killed herself, for she carried poison about
with her; but she dared not take him with her and she could not leave
him behind. Day after day they went on, travelling by unfrequented
ways. In the villages through which they passed they were often subject
to insult. He would bring crowds to stare at them, and they would tell
her, exulting like fiends, about the massacres and outrages in the
English stations. But here and there her gentleness won for them kind
looks and words of pity. So they went on till a certain day when poor
little Kit, who was nearly worn out, stumbled in the way and said he
could go no further. The brute struck him with a whip; Grace caught him
in her arms with indignant words. Then the Soubahdar looked at her; it
was only a look, but she knew very well what it meant--for Kit murder,
for herself worse. What power held his hand it is impossible to say.
There was nothing to keep him from striking, but he did not. They went
on until late, Grace half-leading, half-carrying Kit. She says that
with that look a new spirit and strength seemed to have entered into
her. They came to a little village by a river. She and Kit were given
a mud hut to spend the night in. She put the child to sleep, but she
would not sleep herself. Towards nightfall the Soubahdar came in; he
had been drinking heavily. She feigned to be asleep, and he leant over
her, muttering awful words of what he would do the next day. She kept
her presence of mind; she says she never felt in the least danger of
losing it. Then he threw off his weapons, the long knife and revolver
he always wore, fell down like a log, and was fast asleep in two
instants. I tell you all as she told it to me,' said poor Lady Elton,
'and indeed, indeed, I seem to see it now. It is passing before me like
a nightmare.'

'God help you to forget,' said Tom fervently.

'Yes; but I must tell it first--all--all!

'My dear child made sure that he was asleep. Can't you see her--I
can--listening, staring out into that dark place. If he had stirred
she was lost. But he did not. She was not afraid, she says. All her
womanly timidity had gone. Whatever was to be done--and I don't think
even then she knew--she was ready. She got up and took careful note of
everything. The hut had two doors: one looked towards the river, which
was very deep and dark, and flowed close by. It was open, and partly
blocked up by the Soubahdar, who had fallen half in and half out of
the hut, with his feet towards the river. The other door looked out
on the village. She opened it, and saw that the hut they occupied was
at a little distance from the others, which were all perfectly still
and dark. Then she closed it, fastening the latch with a piece of wire
which she found on the floor. Kit was in his first sweet sleep. She
crouched down beside him for a few moments to think. They might run
away, but he would be sure to find them, and then their death--Kit's
death--would be certain. There was only one way to be rid of him.
As she was thinking, his wicked words came back to her, and she saw
the awful look again. At the same moment Kit gave a little sobbing
cry, and called out to her through his sleep. It was that, I verily
believe, that gave my darling strength. Softly, as I can well imagine,
she soothed him off to sleep again. Then she rose from her knees and
went to where the Soubahdar lay, stupid and senseless in his drunken
sleep. His long knife was beside him. She drew it out of its sheath,
and--and----'

'She killed him!' hissed Tom from between his closed teeth. 'My brave
little girl! My heroine!'

'She killed him!' echoed Lady Elton. 'Think of it, with those little
slender hands! She did more; she dragged him across the little space
of ground that divided them from the river. How she found strength for
it God only knows. But before she knew, before she had recovered from
the state of frenzy into which his threats had thrown her, she heard a
heavy plunge, saw the dark waters part, and knew that her terror slept.
All this time Kit was asleep. When it was over she awoke him, whispered
that they had a chance of escape, tore him out of the hut so that he
should see no traces of what had happened, and before the dawn of the
next day had broken they two were far away from the village. You know
the rest,' said Lady Elton wearily.

'Yes,' said Tom, 'I know the rest. My poor darling! My poor darling! Is
it this that has been troubling her?'

'I am afraid it will never cease to trouble her,' said Lady Elton very
sadly. 'If it had happened to anyone else! But Grace! Oh, can't you
see--I can--how the gentleness, the tender womanhood, that are her very
self, have been wounded--how everything in her, her whole nature, has
suffered outrage?'

'Yes, yes! I see--I see too well! But, dearest Lady Elton, those are
the wounds that time heals,' cried Tom. 'She has spoken: that is the
great point. Don't ask me to despond; I can't. You will comfort her.
Troubled! why she should rejoice--exult! The man she destroyed was a
scourge to humanity. He was no man: he was a monster. Who knows how
many murders he had committed, how many more were being planned by his
evil mind? She was an instrument in the hands of God for dealing out
to him the punishment he so richly deserved. My only sorrow is that
no man was near to save her little hand--' For a moment his voice was
choked with sobs; then he looked up, and there was a light, soft and
wonderful, in his dark eyes. 'But you will tell her all this,' he said.
'You will tell her that there is no true man living who would not weep
as I do that she should have had to deal the blow herself--who would
not honour her from his inmost soul for her courage and devotion.
Yes'--smiling--'I have no fear now. You will heal her; you will bring
her back to us!'

'I will at least try,' said Lady Elton sadly. 'Our darling is in the
hands of God.'

There was a depression, a weariness, in her voice which could not be
mistaken, and, in fact, the telling of the story had been almost more
than she could bear. In a moment Tom was on his feet.

'What a selfish idiot I am!' he cried, 'allowing you to exhaust
yourself after this fashion. Come; I can't let you speak another word.
Trixy will be looking for you, too. She will think we have spirited you
away.'

'Ah, poor Trixy!' said Lady Elton, smiling through her tears. 'She is a
little bit of a heroine, too. But she is differently constituted from
Grace. She exults over her share in our little skirmish.'

And so, speaking lightly to hide the deep feeling that had almost
overpowered them, they left the ferny hollow where the strange story
had been told, and made their way slowly through the beautiful garden,
radiant now with morning sunlight, to the ladies' pavilion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Touching and tender beyond expression was the first meeting between
Grace and Tom after he had seen her mother and heard the wild tale she
had to tell.

It did not come about until the evening of that day. 'We must let her
rest,' Lady Elton had said, and he agreed. But, when the daylight had
fallen, he found his way to the door of the pretty little room that had
been allotted to them. Aglaia saw him, ran in to tell Lady Elton, and
then ran away again.

Grace was lying on the sofa, her pale gold hair spread about her like a
cloud, white and weak, but with a look of dawning hope on her face that
made her poor mother's heart tremble with joy.

'Tom is here,' she whispered, bending over her. 'May he come in?'

Her eyes gave the consent that her voice had scarcely strength to
frame. Lady Elton went out and told Tom that he might go in, warning
him, at the same time, that she was weak and that he must not stay too
long.

In the next instant these two were looking one at the other silently, a
strange, new consciousness between them. It was only an instant; but in
that instant he took in all the details of the scene: the long, slender
figure, in its white draperies, brought out into almost startling
relief by the gorgeously embroidered cushions and shawls that lay about
it: the pale, beautiful face, pure as an angel's, looking out wistfully
from its shadowy cloud of hair: the sweet eyes, into which, for all
these days, he had scarcely dared to look, for fear of seeing in them
the horror, the spiritual fear, that, when he met it, almost maddened
him--eyes, so gentle, now, with half dropped lids that veiled their
childlike joy and wonder.

While he paused, spellbound, she smiled and tried to rise, a movement
that at once awoke him from his trance.

'Don't! don't!' he cried. 'You mustn't.'

He rushed forward, flung himself on his knees beside the couch, and,
with a look of infinite yearning, held out his arms. For a moment she
drew back; in the next his love had conquered. He held her in his arms,
her head upon his breast, her heart beating against his. It is a moment
that will live with him as long as his pulses beat, and his eyes behold
the sun. He was so happy that he scarcely knew what he did. All his
young love and pity and devotion, all the pent-up torrent of agonised
tenderness that, for these many days, had been surging about his
heart, seemed suddenly to leap to the surface. Murmuring passionate,
indistinguishable words, he rained kisses on her cheeks and lips and
brow. She was his--his; and he vowed, by all that was sacred, that
neither men nor demons should part them again. He would hold her--he
would hold her--against the world! So, for a few moments, he raved.

Suddenly he stopped. She had drawn herself gently away from him, and
he saw that her face was pale, and that her lips were quivering like a
tired child's. Then, with a swift remorse, he entreated her pardon for
his impulsiveness, and laid her head back tenderly against the pillows.

'Forgive me, dearest,' he said. 'It was the first delight. I have been
so patient all these days; and you know'--bending over her with a
radiant smile--'our feelings will not always keep within bounds. But I
promise to be very quiet now, if I may stay a few moments. May I?'

'Yes; but you must sit down and be reasonable,' said Grace.

'Darling, I have never been anything but reasonable. And to-day above
all days! Till I had seen your mother, till I knew what she and your
father wished, I had made up my mind to say nothing. And you know,
dearest, how well I have kept my resolution. Oh! don't you think it
has been torture to see you, day by day, as I have done, to know what
I know, and not to throw myself before you, and tell you plainly of my
love and reverence?'

'Hush, Tom, hush!' said Grace, tears filling her eyes. 'You make too
much of me. I am only a poor weak girl.'

'You are my queen, Grace, my angel, my wife!'

She opened her lips as if to answer; but he would not listen. 'No,'
he said, 'not a word. A little "Yes," if you like. If you try to say
anything else, Grace, I will seal your lips with kisses.'

He drew a chair beside her, and sat down.

'See how reasonable I am,' he said. 'Give me your hand to hold, so that
I may know it is no dream, and we will talk about the future.'

'My beloved,' she said softly, looking at him with wistful tenderness,
'let the future care for itself! We have the present--the moment that
is passing now. God in His mercy has given us that.'

'Yes,' said Tom, 'the loveliest moment that earth will ever give us,
Grace----'

At this moment Lady Elton, who had been feeling a little uneasy, looked
in.

'Haven't you talked long enough, children?' she said.

'I don't know about Grace; but I don't think I could talk long enough,'
said Tom. And then he jumped up, like the boy he was, and threw his
arms round Lady Elton's neck.

'Wish us joy, little mother!' he whispered. 'I have proposed, and she
hasn't said "No."'

'Oh! Tom,' she cried, divided between tears and laughter, 'what a baby
you are!'

'Am I? Then I am afraid I shall be a baby to the end of the chapter. I
have never been so happy in my life.'

'God send you happiness always, dear,' she whispered. 'But your mother,
have you thought of her?'

'Mother! it was the dearest desire of her heart that Grace and I should
come together,' cried Tom. 'This will be the most delightful news to
her. We must all go home together when the troubles here are over, and
I can leave my post. Then, perhaps, you and I will persuade mother to
come out with us for a cold season.'

'Ah! you are running far ahead,' said Lady Elton, sighing. 'However----'

'There is no reason why I shouldn't--isn't that what you meant to say?'
interrupted Tom.

'What I meant to say and what I must say is, that they are waiting for
you in the hall.'

'Very polite of them; but quite useless,' said Tom with a little laugh.
'I'm not cowardly as a general rule; but I really couldn't face them
to-night. I shall have something to eat in my own quarters. Goodnight,
little mother.' Then to Grace: 'Darling, you will _promise_ me to sleep
well.'

'I will do my very best,' she answered, smiling.

He left the room by a door that opened on to one of the passages, for
he did not wish to pass through the hall. Grace listened silently,
until the echo of his footsteps had died away, and then, to her
mother's distress, she turned her face to the wall and wept.



CHAPTER LII

GIFTS AND CONGRATULATIONS


When it became known in the palace that Grace and the rajah were
formally betrothed, there was a joyful little tumult of excitement
and delight. Lady Elton, who gave her piece of news in the hall after
dinner, was surrounded and congratulated, and laughed at, and cried
over in turns; and it was only with the greatest difficulty that she
could prevent the little society from rushing in a body into Grace's
room, and overwhelming her with the congratulations, which she was
scarcely strong enough to receive.

The next morning all sorts of delightful rumours were afloat. Hoosanee
had been met in one of the corridors carrying a basket of the loveliest
white flowers that ever were seen, the rajah's morning greeting to
his bride-that-was-to-be. Sumbaten, who was as much excited as anyone
else, brought in word of having seen the rajah riding Snow-queen at
break-neck speed--an outlet, the ladies said, to his excited feeling.
They smiled one to another as they remarked that he was charmingly
young, and would make a most amusing lover. But, in fact--it was
Lucy, I think, who made this observation--they were all in love with
him themselves; and if Grace hadn't been such a darling as well as a
heroine, they could not have allowed her to appropriate him. It was
true, indeed, that she was the only unappropriated lady in the palace;
but this was a minor detail, and not worthy of being mentioned.

Some one had heard, heaven alone knows how, that the ceremony was to
be performed according to the rites of the Church of England, and
that a clergyman had been already sent for from Agra or Meerut, upon
whose arrival it would immediately take place. Mrs. Lyster suggested
that they should find out how Grace was before they disposed of her so
summarily; but she found everyone firmly convinced that, being engaged,
she would very soon be quite well. In confirmation of this benignant
prophecy, cases without number were quoted. 'Ah!' said Mrs. Durant
fervently, 'happiness is a great tonic! Think of how miserably ill I
was before my darling Kit came.'

'We were all ill,' said Lucy. 'I was afraid to go to sleep at night
for the dreadful dreams I had. Now I sleep like a top.'

There was another little person present who had pronounced views as to
the tonic quality of happiness; but she was too much preoccupied at
the moment to be able to enter into the discussion. Certain sounds,
indistinguishable probably to the other members of the talkative
little group, had fallen upon her ears. With a vague remark about
seeing how Grace was, she left the summer-house. When in the avenue
she stood, for a few moments, shading her eyes with her hand; then,
smiling to herself, and looking very pretty in the process, she put on
the broad-brimmed hat she was swinging in her hand, and turned down a
narrow walk fringed with grassy borders and light-leaved acacias.

The sounds, which proceeded from a rich baritone voice singing in a
subdued key one of the sentimental English love ditties, that were
in vogue at the time, drew nearer. The girl in the straw hat stopped
to listen, and there was a mischievous expression in her brown eyes.
Then, quick as thought, she darted behind one of the trees. Presently
a form followed the voice. It was that of an English cavalry officer
in full uniform, with clanking sword and spurs--a tall spare young
fellow, whose comely face, burnt brown and red by the sun, and lit by
a pair of merry blue eyes, was about as pleasant a sight as it would
be possible to look upon. This girl at least found it so, for her face
was as red as summer roses, and her eyes were dancing with laughter.
He, meanwhile, was looking out before him doubtfully. Seeing no one, he
drew out his watch.

'I am sure of the path,' he said half-aloud, 'for I counted the
turnings. Can I be early? No, I'm late.'

After another long and fruitless look, which penetrated to the very end
of the path, he was turning away with a disappointed sigh, when the
wild little creature behind the trees darted out upon him. 'Now Trixy!'
he said reproachfully, but he caught both of her hands and held them
fast.

She looked up at him audaciously, mimicking him. 'I counted the
turnings. Can I be late?'

'Trixy, do you know that it is very naughty to play the eavesdropper?
And what if I told you that I knew you were there the whole time?'

'You didn't, Bertie,' she said, blushing. 'I certainly shouldn't
believe you did if you assured me of it till to-morrow morning. But
don't; it would be monotonous. Besides, I have something to tell you--a
great piece of news, a delightful piece of news.' She had linked her
arm in his, and he was looking down upon her with an expression of love
and admiration that made his frank face and blue eyes beautiful. As for
Trixy, she would not for worlds have given utterance to her thoughts,
which were irresistibly detained now and then by the vision of her own
extraordinary good fortune.

'Can you guess?' she said, looking down that he might not see how her
eyes were dancing.

'More arrivals?' he hazarded.

'No, no, guess again.'

'Has the rajah had news from the front?' he cried breathlessly.

'I haven't seen his Excellency yet,' said Trixy drily; 'but I believe
he is to honour us with his company at breakfast, which is served in a
place like a Greek temple. No, Mr. Bertie, my news is much, much more
exciting. Do you give it up? Then I must tell you. Tom and our darling
Grace are engaged.'

'Weren't they long ago?' said Bertie, looking puzzled.

'Weren't they long ago?' echoed Trixy. 'Do you know, Bertie, you can
be a most uninteresting companion. I thought you would at least be
pleased.'

'Why, so I am, Trixy. _If_ they only made up their minds yesterday----'

'But don't you see? Can't you understand? They are formally engaged.
Tom acted like a gallant gentleman. He wouldn't say a word till mother
came.'

'Oh! that's it, is it?' said Bertie, smiling indulgently. 'And now I
suppose you are all in a delightful ferment. Love and lovers, wedding
frocks and wedding favours----'

'We are not cynics,' said Trixy loftily. 'I know somebody who used to
take a little interest in such things himself. Now, I suppose, when he
has convoys, and important matters of that description to look after,
he disdains frivolities.'

'If he could disdain them as delightfully as a little friend of his,
Trixy, he might have some chance of earning a reputation for solidity.'

'Bravo, Bertie! I call that a well-balanced sentence. But, seriously,
are you not glad?'

'I am very glad, Trixy, especially as his Excellency and I will be
brothers. Perhaps he may show his fraternal feelings by giving us a
lift up. I believe he could do anything he liked with our Government
just now. Do you know, little Miss Mocker, that he is one of the most
distinguished persons in India at the present moment?'

'I have heard other people say so,' said Trixy with some dignity.
'However, that doesn't matter much. The interesting part of it is that
he is engaged to Grace.'

'And Grace is better?' asked Bertie.

'Ah! that is just it,' said Trixy, her eyes filling with tears. 'I may
be a little goose--they all tell me I am; but there is something in
Grace's face that troubles me.'

'She has had some terrible experiences,' said Bertie, shuddering, as he
remembered his day and night at Dost Ali Khan's fort.

'I think they must have been worse than any of us imagine,' whispered
Trixy. 'She told mother something the night before last. I asked mother
to tell me; but she wouldn't, and there has been a scared look in her
face ever since.'

'The rajah has a wonderful story to tell,' said Bertie. 'I was with him
yesterday evening, you know. I believe he couldn't face the ladies.'

'And he told you he was engaged?'

'No: he didn't. He left me to infer it. I suppose, from what you say,
that it was too near a bliss to be talked about,' said Bertie, smiling.
'And I think he was anxious and troubled. But I drew him on to tell
me of his adventures and your sister's, and I think it did him good. I
met him, you know, when he was in the depths, clue lost, and almost in
despair, but pushing on with a plucky disregard of consequences that
made us put him down as mad.'

'God bless him! He is a noble fellow, though he _is_ a rajah and an
Excellency!' burst out Trixy. 'Grace ought to get better. She _must_.'

'If she can, Trixy.'

'Oh! she can! she can! I felt like that after my wound. I was so weak
and miserable, and everything was so wretched that I thought it would
be better to die and be done with it all. Then you came in, my poor
boy! and there was such a troubled look in your face. I couldn't bear
it. You seemed to be asking me all the time not to give way. And so,
one day I set my teeth together, and clenched my fists, and said to
myself, "You are a selfish little fool! You shall get better, you
_shall_." In two days I was on my feet, Bertie, and then--' in a lower
voice, and looking up at him with dewy eyes--'Happiness came and cured
me!'

The next words, which were chiefly of protest, were inaudible. Bertie
had caught her in his arms and was covering her face with kisses.

'If you behave like that,' she said severely, when he had released her,
'I shall never tell you my experiences again. Look at my hair! And when
I am just going to take breakfast with his Excellency. No sir! keep
your distance, if you please; I can set it right myself.'

'God grant,' said Bertie fervently, 'that your experience may be your
sister's!'

'She will have a much better-behaved lover,' said Trixy; '_Tom_ has
some spirit of reverence and romance. He will fall on one knee and kiss
the tips of her fingers.'

'Will he?' said Bertie, with fine scorn. 'I should just like to lay a
wager with you----'

'So should I; but there would be certain difficulties,' said Trixy
demurely. 'Who would hold the stakes, and who would be umpire?' This
last mocking question brought them in full view of the garden pavilion.

The rajah, looking a little shame-faced, it must be confessed, but
otherwise very much his ordinary self, had joined the party of ladies,
who were all congratulating him, each in her own characteristic way.
Lucy dropped a deep curtsey and said that she had never supposed she
would live to be a ranee's first cousin. She felt at least two inches
taller. Mrs. Lyster, whose kind eyes shone brightly through quick
tears, caught him by both hands and wished him all the happiness that
even heaven itself could send. Kit came forward with a little manly
stride that set them all laughing; said he was very glad; hoped they
would make haste; but he and 'Billy' weren't at all surprised, they had
known it all the time. Mrs. Durant shook her head, and begged the rajah
to excuse him. The fact was everyone was spoiling Kit. Then the little
Aglaia, her face flushed to a beautiful red, stood up before him, and
kissed his hand.

'I love Grace almost as much as I love you now,' she said, in her sweet
girlish treble, 'and, oh! may I stay with her?'

'Of course you shall, darling,' said Tom, stooping to kiss the little
shining face. Was it a dream--a strange illusion? He looked up, smiling
at himself for his folly; but it was with him still. He had seen, or
fancied he had seen, Grace's expression in the pretty child's eyes.

At this moment, to the surprise and delight of everyone, Grace herself
came in. She was leaning on her mother's arm, and Bertie Liston,
who, standing at the door of the pavilion, and debating with himself
whether he should go in, had caught sight of them and rushed to their
assistance, was helping to support her. Grace looked pale and weak; but
they thought there was a new brightness in her eyes, a new vigour in
her voice.

As for Tom, no human being could have been happier or more brilliantly
triumphant than he was that morning. Bertie had, of course, at once
given up to him his place by Grace's side, and he led her to the table
with a gentleness and reverence that amused and touched them all. He
was quite as enchanting a lover as they had expected to find him; while
the beauty and dignity of his appearance had never been so marked as
now.

After breakfast he insisted that Grace should rest, impressing upon
Lady Elton that they must not let her do too much. Then he went to his
own business, which consisted principally in letting his intentions be
known in the city, and consulting Chunder Singh and others as to the
arrangements he should make to celebrate his marriage, and assure his
wife a fitting position. He wrote also to his mother, and Mr. Cherry,
and General Elton. This over, there came the usual work in court,
after which one or two of the principal citizens waited upon him and
begged his permission to present themselves at the palace with their
congratulations and offerings.

He thanked them heartily, assured them that the palace would be open,
and went off to consult Lady Elton about whether Grace could be present
at a reception in the early evening.

Grace, who had been resting all the morning, sent back word that
nothing would please her better than to see all who cared to come. So
they carried her down into the hall, and while the daylight was fading,
and the lovely golden hues of evening were winning their way through
the marble lattices, she lay in the midst of her friends, receiving
the visits of Indians of every degree, and thanking them, in gracious,
gentle words, for the welcome they had given her.

None came without his gift--small gifts of fruit and flowers and
sweetmeats, and larger gifts of jewels and rich caskets, and costly
robes and embroidered stuffs and perfumes; and as she lay amongst them,
her pale thin fingers straying from one to another, she looked, Trixy
said laughingly, like a fairy-princess in a rainbow bower.

This day was a sample of several others. Those who could not be
admitted the first day came the second and the third. Everyone was
anxious to see for himself the gracious, beautiful lady, of whom
such wonderful tales were told. Everyone desired to give some token,
however small, of his reverence and affection for Byrajee Pirtha Raj,
their ruler, who had returned to them in the person of his son. Grace
received presents enough those three days to constitute in themselves a
rich dower.

There was one, however, whom she expected daily, but who did not
appear--Vishnugupta, the priest. At last she made inquiries about him.
'Is it because so many people are coming and going that Vishnugupta
keeps away?' she said to Tom one day.

'I expect so; but I will ask about him,' he answered.

There were several Indians in the hall. He turned to one, who stood
close by, and asked him if the priest had been seen lately about the
city.

The man bowed his head low and covered his face.

'The holy man has gone,' he said.

'To his hermitage in the hills, I suppose?' said the rajah.

'No, Excellency, beyond.'

'What! has Vishnugupta other haunts?'

But here Grace touched his arm; and, turning, he saw a strange,
indescribable yearning in her face.

'He is dead,' she said. 'I thought so.'

The man of whom they had been inquiring bent his head silently. He had
not wished that his should be the voice to speak the word of ill omen;
but it had been spoken and he could not deny it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Grace said nothing more about Vishnugupta that night, but the next day
she asked Tom to find out for her how he had died. There was little or
nothing to know. After his last conversation with Grace he had started,
as it was supposed, for his hermitage in the hills. Some had seen, or
imagined, a change in his face--a rapt expression that had awed and
solemnised them; but no one had spoken to him. The morning after the
day he left the city he was found in a mango-tope at a short distance
from the gates, his back against a tree--dead! His face, which, those
who found him said, was turned towards the sun rising, had lost the
tense and feverish look which it had worn so often in his lifetime. It
was irradiated with the morning light, and a stillness--an expression
of satisfied longing--seemed to rest upon it. This was what Tom heard
and what he told Grace. She listened with a wistful smile. 'A beautiful
death,' she said softly; 'I am glad for him.'

'He was an aged man. His death was natural,' said Tom with unusual
eagerness.

'Death is always natural,' answered Grace, and she added after a
moment's pause: 'What we call death. Isn't it wonderful, Tom, the power
words have to mislead us? We think of death with horror; it is the
word, the associations. If we were to look at it calmly, as it is----'

'Death means separation, Grace,' interrupted her lover hoarsely. 'To
those who go it may mean everything you imagine. To those who are
left----'

He broke down, for his own words seemed to choke him. With a force that
had in it indescribable pain, Mrs. Lyster's phrase, spoken after his
darling's first talk with Vishnugupta, came back to him: 'On the other
side.' He rose hastily and looked down upon her with a piteous effort
to smile. 'But why should we discuss these dismal topics, darling?' he
said. 'Try to look a little less like an angel and I will tell you what
I have been doing about our marriage.'

Thereupon he plunged into a long and not altogether new recapitulation
of the arrangements that were being made for that glorious event,
of the congratulations that were pouring in, and of his own plans,
which grew more golden every day, for the wonderful life, radiating
happiness upon all who came within the sphere of its influence, that
they were to lead together. Generally these talks with Grace gave him
fresh hope and courage, but to-day he left her, he knew not why, with a
heavy heart.



CHAPTER LIII

NEWS FROM LUCKNOW: TRIXY'S DETERMINATION


For the next few weeks, however, there was little change. The household
in the palace dropped once more into a regular mode of living. Lady
Elton fell into her place at once. Anxious as she continued to be
about Grace, her sympathy and gentleness made her the friend and
adviser of everyone else. They called her smilingly 'the mother of
the zenana.' From Trixy, who would persist in looking upon the bright
side of everything, there emanated a spirit of courage and joyous
animation that was as refreshing as the morning breeze in the desert.
Captain Liston, who was presently to lead out a convoy of provisions
and ammunition to meet Sir Colin Campbell on his march up country,
became exceedingly popular both in the palace and in the city. Kit,
whose smart figure in its semi-oriental dress was, by this time, a
familiar sight in the streets and market-places of Gumilcund, followed
Bertie about like his shadow, and proved a most efficient guide. The
readiness, aplomb, and curious air of distinction that characterised
the child, made him particularly attractive to the Asiatic multitude,
so that he knew every nook and corner of the city, and was on the best
of terms with everyone. To display his knowledge before so fine and
complaisant a person as Bertie Liston was thoroughly agreeable to Kit,
while the defection of Aglaia, who could scarcely ever be persuaded now
to leave Grace, made the new companionship all the more delightful to
him.

Lucy's parents being shut up in the Lucknow Residency, with the heroic
survivors of that unparalleled defence, while her husband and Colonel
Durant were with Sir Colin Campbell, much anxiety was felt as to the
progress of the army and their efficiency to carry to a successful
issue the great work committed to them. But though often troubled and
depressed about their own individual friends, not one of this little
company entertained any doubts as to the final result. England was
bound to triumph. The slaughterers of women and children must bite the
dust.

The first great event after Lady Elton's arrival was the departure of
Bertie for the front. He went off in the highest spirits, promising
all sorts of glorious performances, with letters and messages as often
as he could find hands to carry them.

Trixy, of whom he used to say sometimes that she was game to the
very finger-tips, saw him go away as if he were going to a party of
pleasure. From the horse, on which she had ridden out, by the rajah's
side, to see the convoy start, she waved her young hero a gallant
farewell; and then, turning away, put her horse into a mad canter
to deaden the pain at her heart. Yet the next day she seemed almost
as joyous as ever. And indeed she was not unhappy. Awful qualms of
heart would come over her at moments, and a spirit of mad rebellion
against the world and things in general for such horrors as were being
allowed in their economy, would seize and shake her. But actually her
profound belief in her own and Bertie's good star prevented her from
being orthodoxly miserable. Bertie gone, her attention was more fully
concentrated upon Grace, with whom, as the days wore on, she began to
feel a little impatient. When they were together she managed to control
herself; but, now and then, she would let herself out to her mother.
'Grace ought to get better,' she would say. 'What is there to prevent
her? It is too bad. That poor fellow looks gloomier and gloomier every
day!'

It was useless for Lady Elton to argue that health and sickness are
not in our own hands, or to point out that Grace was making every
possible effort; Trixy would still insist: 'If there is nothing really
wrong, she ought to begin to be more like other people. If there is,
she should see a doctor. I could never give up without a fight,' said
Trixy, setting her teeth together.

Then, with tears in her eyes, Lady Elton would turn away. It was true,
too true! Grace was slipping away from them. It was not her own fault.
Her mother knew this well. Honestly, loyally, she strove to shake off
her invalid ways, to be amongst them, to belong to them. But, alas!
with every day the failure became more apparent. She was like a broken
flower that not even the sunshine can revive. Something within her had
snapped. The spirit of vitality that conquers pain and weakness, that
God-implanted love of the dear Earth and all her homely ways, which
will so often bring a sick soul back from the brink of the grave, had
gone never to return, even at the bidding of human love, with all its
passionate sweetness.

Now and then, after a sleepless night, the strain which she put on
herself would, for a moment, be relaxed, and then those who loved her
best would see a strange hunger in her eyes. It was as if she was
holding out her hands to them and imploring them to let her go.

One morning Tom saw, or fancied he saw, this in her eyes. They were
alone, for Aglaia, Grace's constant companion, after looking up
pleadingly into the rajah's face and receiving no responsive smile, had
slipped away. He flung himself on his knees by the couch, and catching
her hands, which were as soft as snow, and only a little warmer, gazed
speechlessly into her eyes. 'What is it, dear?' she said faintly.

'Grace,' he cried, 'what do you want? where are you going? what do you
see? oh, God! what do you see--that you should wish to leave us?'

An expression of pain and perplexity crossed her face. 'Wish?' she
echoed as if she had not understood the word.

He laid his burning face on her hands. 'Darling,' he said humbly, 'is
there anything we can do--anything we can give you? I would give my
life, Grace, all I have and am, for you.'

But still she looked at him dreamily; and then all at once the futility
of his prayers came home to him, and with a sob, which he could not
repress, he rose slowly to his feet. Fool! Will even a child be drawn
from its home by bribes and kisses? It was her _home_, the vision sweet
and awful of the Divine, that was beckoning to her, and he was trying,
by his poor love, to hold her to the little joys and sorrows of life.

But reason as he would with himself, his heart was sore. Like Trixy, he
could not give up without a fight, and, on the evening of that day, he
sent for a doctor. His messengers travelled night and day. The doctor,
a civilian of some experience, who had come out a year or two before,
to make his fortune, lost no time. A week after the message had been
despatched he was lodged in the palace.

He saw Grace, and was puzzled as men of his profession generally are
by what seem like abnormal ailments. Who has any right to be ill,
except by rule of thumb? Pushed into a corner, he spoke vaguely of
mental shock, recommended quiet, which she had been having, Tom said
despairingly, for weeks, and set himself to watch and take notes. Alas!
the notes did not help him much. When he had been in close attendance
upon her for a week he was further from that full understanding of
her case, which, he had said, would enable him to deal with it
satisfactorily, than he had been at the beginning.

And yet she was patient and perfectly submissive, taking everything he
prescribed and never refusing to answer his questions.

So the days wore on. October passed away and November opened. It was
such a November as has scarcely ever been seen even in Gumilcund. The
burning heat of the summer and early autumn were over, and the glory
and brightness of the Indian winter, the deep skies, the sunny days,
the entrancing mornings and evenings had begun to be felt. The garden,
with its overspreading foliage, its wildernesses of flowers, crimson
and purple and orange; its arbours, covered with azure-blue convolvulus
and lilac Bougainvillea, and its long avenues bordered with channels
of flowing water, was in perfection. It was a happiness to explore it,
a bliss to breathe its air. If anything could heal Grace, so they said
to one another, it would surely be the beauty of this Indian winter.
By the doctor's advice she spent her life in the open air. A wonderful
couch and carriage in one had been designed, for her by the rajah,
and skilfully executed by some of the clever Gumilcund mechanics. In
this she was wheeled from place to place, making new and delightful
discoveries every day. To those who watched her it would seem that, for
days, her life was nothing more than a dream. But there were moments
still when she was stirred up to a strong interest in life.

Such a moment was that when news came to Gumilcund of the final relief
of the Lucknow Residency.

It arrived late in the evening. None of the ladies in the palace will
ever forget that day. They were together in a little grove by the lake.
They had been having tea out of the jewelled cups, which with other
lovely things Tom had hunted out of his father's treasury to tempt
Grace to eat and drink. After tea, Trixy, who, expecting news, had been
in a state of irrepressible excitement for several days, seized upon
the tiny boat, rocking in front of them, spun it out into the lake,
and tried to quiet herself by pouring out some of her favourite songs.
Those in the grove listened silently. They had been talking, trying to
amuse one another and forget the intolerable ache of suspense. When
Trixy's clear young voice came thrilling out on the evening air they
all felt thankful for an excuse to be quiet.

A pretty group they made under the quivering light and shade of
the acacias; Grace, on her long couch, her hands and face almost
transparent now, but beautiful still, with a seraphic unearthly
loveliness that can scarcely be put into words; and near her sweet Lady
Elton, with Aglaia at her feet; then Kit, who had been a little sombre
since Bertie left, leaning against his mother, half asleep, she with
her arm round him, an expression of peace on her thin, worn face; in
the centre of the group Lucy, robed in the white cashmere that was now
her favourite wear, lying at full length on a tiger's skin, her pretty
head supported on her folded arms, as she gazed with wide-open eyes
into the waning glories of the evening sky; and at a little distance
from Lucy, holding on her knee, in a state of complete eclipse, rosy
baby Dick, whose mother had gone inside to prepare for the high
ceremony of his evening toilet, the slight figure of Mrs. Lyster, her
fingers playing absently with the baby's silken curls, as she looked
out before her with gloomy eyes. It was Kit who brought life into the
picture. He saw the rajah coming towards them, flourishing a letter in
his hand. 'Post! Post!' he cried, rushing to meet him. 'Post!' echoed
one and another; and in a moment all but Grace were on their feet.

Trixy heard the cry. For a second her brave heart almost failed her;
then, calling all her resolution to her aid, she threw herself upon
the oars, drew them through the water with the vigour of ten, and, in
less time than it takes to tell, was on shore and racing Kit down the
avenue. In the next instant she had seen Bertie's handwriting, had torn
the letter open, had understood at a glance that the news was good, and
was rushing back at full speed to the group by the lake.

When she reached them she was much too breathless to speak, but her
face spoke for her. Lady Elton got up, and put her arms round her, for
this brave, healthy young creature was swaying to and fro as if she
would fall. That was enough for her. 'Don't, mother,' she whispered
hoarsely, 'you will make me cry; and there's nothing to cry about.'
Then Grace, who had seemed to be asleep a moment before, held out her
arms, and Trixy fell into them with something like a sob. 'Let me go,
my sweet little Grace,' she murmured. 'I don't even know what the silly
boy has said yet.'

But by this time the rajah, who looked particularly young and handsome,
was amongst them.

'I don't know what Captain Liston says, of course,' he said, looking
round on them with a triumphant smile, 'but I have a message from Sir
Colin himself. It was a hard fight; but they have done their work, and
our Gumilcund guide-corps, as well as the men with the convoy, have
done splendidly. It will be good news in the city. I expect we shall
illuminate, and have all sorts of festivities to-morrow.'

'What fun!' said Lucy faintly; but she was looking towards Trixy with
anxious eyes. That young person, who was once more the mistress of
herself and the situation, had taken a seat under the swinging lamp,
which Hoosanee had been considerate enough to hang up among the trees,
and was unfolding Bertie's letter, parts of which she read aloud for
the benefit of everyone.

It had been begun on the evening of the day when Sir Henry Havelock and
the gallant Outram had shaken hands with Sir Colin Campbell. He had not
been able, however, to despatch it at once, and he added a few lines
on the following day. Several more important points had been gained;
the rebels were completely demoralised, and flying in every direction;
the line of retreat for the besieged had been organised, and the women
and children and invalids were then being carried out to the Dilkoosha,
where they were to rest for a night. Cawnpore, he believed, was to
be their next halt. Lucy's father and mother were safe. He had seen
her husband meeting them; they looked haggard and wasted; but already
they were on the fair way to revival. Colonel Durant had won honour in
the assault. He had himself had one glorious moment, about which he
would entertain Trixy later. Sir Colin Campbell was one of the best men
and finest soldiers it had ever been his lot to serve under. He would
willingly lay down his life for him. In the meantime, though smarting
in every joint from the exertions of the preceding day, he was thankful
to say that he was sound in mind and limb. The Gumilcund men were
trumps, every one of them. But of their gallant conduct the rajah would
no doubt hear from other sources. To him, and the rest of the English
society in the palace and Residency, he sent warmest greetings. The
messages to herself, whose perusal occupied a few moments, Trixy did
not think it necessary to give.

'That dear fellow gets more considerate every day,' she said, looking
round her with a glowing face, as she folded up her letter. 'He
doesn't forget anybody. I should like to answer his letter as soon as
possible'--to the rajah. 'When are you sending?'

'I shall send off my congratulations to-night,' said Tom, smiling.

'Oh! then, excuse me everybody. I must write at once,' said Trixy.

To what vagaries she committed herself in the solitary recesses of her
room, it would be unfair to relate here. All I can venture to say is
that the letter which resulted, and which arrived in camp on the eve of
the gallant fight that scattered Tantia Topee's army, broke the spirit
of the rebels in the North-West, and gave back Cawnpore to the English,
was received and read with a transport of admiring love and gratitude
that its recipient would always maintain carried him scatheless and
triumphant through the dangers of that tremendous day.

'I verily believe,' he said to Trixy later, when, after his own light
fashion, he was narrating the exploit that had won for him the English
soldier's dearest reward for gallantry--the Victoria Cross, 'I verily
believe that I was too happy and proud a creature to die that day.
There was no killing me.'

'The dark angel hovered over you, and had not the heart to strike,'
said Trixy, whose bright eyes were dim with tears.

But this belongs to the future, for before she met Bertie again Trixy
had some dark and bitter days to live through.

She was passionately attached to her mother, and while, without
understanding Grace in the least, she had always had a sisterly regard
for her, she had never loved her as she did now, when admiration,
tenderness, pride in her as a heroine, and some little sense of
exultation in the part she might play in the future had reinforced her
sisterly feeling. And now, since the brief revival which followed on
the news from Lucknow, inspired partly, as Trixy felt with a curious
throb of tenderness, by sympathy for herself and Bertie, there was
added to her love a devotion strong enough, the poor child believed, to
fight with and overcome the invisible forces that were preying upon her
sister's life. 'Grace shall not die, she shall not!' Trixy would say.
'I will prevent her.' For two or three days she would let no one but
herself do anything for Grace, scarcely speak to her. With the energy
and strong will that belonged to her, she would sweep them all away.
'She wants life--life, do you hear?' she would cry. 'You people are
sad. You let her brood and dream.'

Even Tom was only allowed to see her at Trixy's time and in Trixy's
presence. 'You will thank me some day,' she said to him one day,
pressing his hand with sisterly cordiality, and for the moment he
almost believed in her. 'If you bring her back to us, Trixy,' he said,
with a sob in his throat, 'there is nothing I will not do for you.'

'Ah, I shall remember that,' she said, nodding to him gaily, and then
she took her measures. Kit, the gayest and naturally the most effusive
of the party, was taken into her counsels. He was told that it was his
mission to be amusing, and he showed his sense of the honour conferred
upon him by being so delightfully important that Trixy would almost
forget her own mission in the amusement of watching him. Aglaia, on
whose little life the shadow which was enfolding those dearest to her
seemed to have fallen, was warned privately not to look solemn, and
she, too, began to be amusing in pretty prim ways that were charming to
behold. 'It is a perpetual little comedy with those children,' Trixy
said to her mother one day.

She herself was perfectly radiant. For hours she sat beside Grace,
chatting of the present and the future. She gave quiet humorous little
pictures of incidents at Meerut, Yaseen Khan's importance, and their
father's youthful vigour. She would even relate stories of scenes
between herself and Bertie, blushing in the prettiest way as she
repeated some of his silly speeches. She went back over the far past
when they were all children together, raking up funny old stories of
their nursery and schoolgirl days. She organised excursions to the
city, Grace in a palki, and she and Kit riding beside her. For more
than a week she was her sister's only physician, and even the doctor,
who had looked grave at first, began at last to think that the new
treatment was more successful than the old.

All sorts of rumours were in the meantime pouring in, and mostly of
the vengeance that was overtaking the rebels. From the neighbourhood
of Gumilcund, from Cawnpore, and, above all, from Delhi, came tales
of wholesale executions, of indiscriminate slaughter, of men blown
from guns in battalions, of dispossessed peasants and citizens dying
in their multitudes from famine. The ladies heard all these things at
the Residency, where there was stern exultation. The rajah--who was a
little sombre in these days, fearing that the reconcilement to which
he looked as a new and glorious era in the life of the nations might
be indefinitely delayed if the conquerors could not see the wisdom of
tempering justice with mercy--was urgent that from Grace all these dark
tales should be kept, and her friends, knowing how sensitive she was,
would not have been likely to disappoint his wish, even though Trixy,
who kept a fierce and friendly watch, had been absent.

As it was, no change was made, and yet, with the onward sweep of the
winter days, lovely beyond description, but burdened each one with its
ghastly tale of horror, a cloud of depression, for which there was
no accounting, dropped down upon her. Sleepless nights followed the
sad days. The doctor, saying she was too weak to stand the continued
strain, gave her anodynes that helped her through part of the night,
but left her more exhausted than before. Then her mother, who had let
herself be lulled by Trixy's determined hopefulness, grew alarmed. She
could sleep but little herself, and one night she sat up and watched.

Grace had been given a strong opiate. Through the early part of the
night she slept, with occasional starts. Then suddenly she opened her
eyes, and cried out like one in deadly pain. Her mother stooped over
her. 'It is a bad dream,' she said. 'Awake! I am here beside you.'

The girl looked at her. 'They are binding my eyes,' she cried with a
strange bitterness. 'They think I can't see, but I can--I can! Oh,
will no one do anything? Look! Do you see, do you see the horror in
those eyes?'

'Whose? Whose? What do you mean, darling? There is nothing here,' said
poor Lady Elton weeping.

'Nothing!' echoed the girl, 'nothing!' And she sank down on the bed
sobbing. But the next instant she had sprung up again. 'They are
going,' she cried--'a pillar of flame. It is killing the sweet blue of
the sky--and the stars--the stars--are fading. Oh! Where do they go?
What becomes of them? Some one told me once; but I have forgotten.'
Then, after a pause, during which her eyes seemed to be searching. 'It
is real,' she cried, 'the pain--the restlessness--the misery--it goes
on. They cannot destroy it--for ever and ever and ever.' Her voice
sank away to a sobbing sigh, and she sank back exhausted. Her mother
took advantage of her quietness to whisper words of Christian hope and
comfort.

'You forget, my darling,' she murmured. 'There _is_ a refuge--a refuge
for us all. He took the misery--He bore the pain. Look to Him--the
Crucified--our Saviour.'

The girl looked up. The familiar words had penetrated the cloud of her
delirium; but they brought with them no peace, rather a strange fierce
anger of impatience that pierced her gentle mother to the heart.

'Our Saviour! but who is theirs?' she cried piteously, and then again
came that awful heart-rending cry--inarticulate--the wail of a hurt and
bewildered child. Lady Elton was on her knees by the bedside, tears
raining from her eyes. 'It is breaking my heart,' she sobbed. 'Oh!
Grace, don't you know me?'

Slowly the girl seemed to come back to herself. 'Mother,' she said, 'is
it you?' Then with a strange smile: 'I was foolish to wish to see. Bind
my eyes! Hide me! I dare not look.'

'My child! there is nothing. But come to me. Hide your dear head. My
little darling! My baby! Oh! if I might hide you so always,' said the
poor woman, 'as I did when you were really a baby!'

Grace lay perfectly still, her head on her mother's arm.

'You are better, love?' she whispered, stroking her hair with trembling
fingers.

'Yes,' answered the girl. 'But it will come back again. Dear, you must
let me go.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day she was too weak to rise. Everyone was distressed, and
Trixy's anguish was terrible. But after the first shock she persisted
that it was nothing.

'Sick people are subject to these fluctuations,' she said fiercely;
'Grace will be better to-morrow.'

But Lady Elton knew that the summons had come. She told Tom of the
scene of the night. As he listened a ghastly pallor overspread his
face, and he staggered like one who has received a blow.

'Some one has told her these hideous stories,' he cried with sudden
anger. 'The horror of them is killing her.'

Lady Elton put her tender, motherly hand on his shoulder. 'No, dear,'
she said sadly; 'I have watched; and Trixy, and the child, Aglaia, have
been with her from morning till night. _It is impossible!_'

For an instant he stood silent. Every particle of colour had fled
from his face, and his eyes had a strained, unnatural expression that
alarmed her.

'I will watch with you to-night,' he said.

'If she will let you.'

'She shall not see me. I will keep out of her way, while she is awake.
Mother, you must let me. It is my right, and,' he added in a choked
voice, as he turned from her,'perhaps I know more about these visions
than you do.'

Lady Elton went back sadly to her children. She found Aglaia curled up
on the cushions at Grace's feet, reading the New Testament to her, and
Trixy sitting beside them with swollen eyes.

With an unuttered prayer Lady Elton sat down and listened. It was one
of the beautiful, mystical chapters of St. John. The child read it
through, in her sweet tremulous voice, and then stopped.

'Grace is asleep,' she whispered.

They sat silent, watching her. Her face was almost transparent. The
blue-veined eyelids, fringed with long silken lashes, lay against her
cheeks. The breathing was soft and regular, like a child's. But she was
not asleep, and presently she opened her eyes, and looked round on them.

'How good everyone is to me!' she murmured. 'What have I done that you
should love me so?' Then in a lower tone, 'Mother, love is real.'

Her mother trembled, for she knew that the vision of the night before
was with her.

'Love is real; love will conquer,' said Trixy.

Grace turned to her, and for a moment there seemed to be on the dying
face some faint reflection of the fire and enthusiasm that shone from
that of the living. 'Thank you, Trixy,' she murmured, 'say that again.
It does me good.'

'But it is true--it is true--how could anything else be?' cried the
young girl. 'Love is real--it is strong--it is the strongest--it
conquers everything--we know it--we who have felt.' And then sudden
tears dimmed the lustre of her eyes, and she bent her head. 'Grace,
dearest,' she whispered. 'Our love is calling you. Won't you--won't
you--stay?' For an instant the large grey eyes, that were fixed on
Trixy's face, seemed to lose their steadfastness.

'Life is very sweet,' murmured Grace, 'to go on--to know--to love--to
see the world opening out----'

'Life is beautiful,' said Trixy. 'Life is divine. You shall not die. It
would be cruel.'

'Hush! Hush!' said Lady Elton. 'Do you see?'

A faint colour had tinged the white face on the pillow, and the large
eyes had filled with tears. Trixy turned away with a sob in her throat.

       *       *       *       *       *

A little later they brought her food. She tried her hardest to eat, but
she could not. Presently her mother saw her lips moving and bent over
her. 'I have been thinking about it,' she said faintly. 'I am afraid my
heart and brain are weak. I can't bear things as others do. If I stayed
I should be a trouble to you. Tell Trixy,' and then again, in a still
lower voice, 'somewhere else I may understand better.'

They noticed that, throughout that day, she watched Aglaia with a
curious wistful expression in her eyes. Once when Tom, who was coming
in and going out helplessly all day long, sat down beside her bed, she
drew the child towards her, and put her little hand in his. But she
said very little, and none of them spoke to her much. All but Trixy
were abandoning hope; she hoped on still.

In the evening Grace seemed better and stronger; she asked for fruit,
and they brought her the richest and rarest that could be procured.
There were baskets of fragrant white flowers in the room. She asked
for one to be placed on her bed, and, for a few minutes, her thin pale
fingers strayed lovingly over the cool petals. One little white rose
she pressed to her lips.

'It is such a pleasant sensation to touch them,' she said; 'they are so
pure, so sweet.'

Late in the evening the doctor paid her a visit, gave her an anodyne
and spoke with doubtful cheerfulness. Kit, and Mrs. Lyster, and Mrs.
Durant, and baby Dick and his mother, and poor little Lucy came in, one
by one, to bid her good-night. They had been sternly drilled by Trixy,
and none of them wept or sighed. Trixy herself and Aglaia, who had
begged hard not to be sent away, sat with her until ten o'clock; then
Lady Elton insisted that they should rest, and they went into the inner
room where they slept together.

Tom had by this time crept in. By one of the marble lattices there
was a deep recess, shut off from the rest of the room by a screen.
In this recess he took up his station. The early hours of the night
passed quickly by. Grace seemed to be asleep. There was no movement,
not the least sound of life in all the palace. Even the chattering of
the chowkedars was silent, in obedience to the orders he had sent out
by Hoosanee. That faithful servant was keeping his watch in the hall of
the zenana; but he did not so much as move. Outside Tom could hear a
soft wind stirring in the heavy foliage of the trees, and silver arrows
of light, shot earthwards from shining worlds, myriads of miles away,
stole in through the lattice. Years afterwards he remembered, with a
throb of pain, how wide and how desolate the universe seemed to him
that night. Tired as he was when he began his watch, he did not feel
the least disposition to sleep; his mind was too busy, too poignantly
alive, his heart was too full. As the night wore on, dark and terrible
thoughts assailed him. Once he could have cried out like a hurt child.
The cruelty of life smote him, the piteous waste of force--hearts large
with love, souls aching with passionate pity, and able to do nothing!

Down the sheltered river the little boat might be brought, furthered
tenderly by guardian hands. Upon the sea, wide, fathomless,
undiscovered, the awful sea of eternity, it must launch out alone. This
was the mystery that oppressed him. Later he might think of himself,
his own sorrow and loss and disappointment. Now all his heart and
mind were with the sweet soul that was going out from them into the
invisible.

A sense of defeat and powerlessness, almost intolerable in its anguish,
came over him. He got up and struck his forehead against the marble
lattice, and the sharp pain of the blow seemed to bring him back to
himself.

Now and then he would rise from his seat behind the screen and look
back into the room. By the light of the shaded lamp he could see the
mother's bent form as she turned over the pages of her book, and the
white, white face upon the pillow, as still now as if death had frozen
it into the everlasting silence. Twice he saw Lady Elton rise swiftly
and lean over her, and then his heart beat so tumultuously that he
thought she must have heard it. But she returned to her seat, and he
knew that there was still breath.

So on for hours that seemed like a lifetime. At last the darkness began
to lift. Through the lattice by which he was standing he saw the stars
grow high and pale, and the grey light of early morning stealing over
the earth. The air came in with the chill of the morning in it, and
he drew the screen further round the lattice lest it should touch the
white face on the pillow.

Ah! what was that? A cry! In an instant he was by the bedside; Grace
was sitting up. Her eyes were wide open, her arms were extended, her
voice was clear and strong. 'Keep me awake, Kit,' she cried, 'keep me
awake!' Then in a voice lower, but thrilled through and through with
ecstasy, 'Tom! Tom!'

A mist was before his eyes. He did not see Lady Elton, who was chafing
the poor little feet that were deadly cold. The room, the bed, the
flowers, the rich and costly things that were scattered about her, had
vanished away. He was in the hermit's hut once more, and his darling,
torn from the jaws of death, was at his feet. With an inarticulate cry,
he threw himself on his knees and held out his arms. She sank into them
like a tired child, a smile of ineffable peace on her lips. But the
touch of her cold cheek recalled him to the present. 'She is worse,'
he said, looking at her with eyes full of anguish. 'Mother, for God's
sake, can nothing be done?'

Sorrowfully the poor mother shook her head. She had looked on death too
often not to know it.

At that moment there was another voice--a cry stifled but full of pain.
It was Trixy. With white gown and bare feet, her hair flying wildly
about her shoulders, she stood in the doorway between the two rooms. In
an instant she had taken it all in, and was rushing madly across the
room. 'You are dreaming, all of you,' she cried. 'She is in a swoon;
I know it is nothing else. Where is that cordial? She was nearly off
yesterday, and I brought her back with it. And the doctor. Aglaia, fly
for him! Tell him Grace is in a faint. Tom, give her this; she must
take it, she must. Heavens! how helpless men are! let me try! Grace,
sweetest, it is Trixy, your sister. For her sake! see love!'--her tears
were raining over the white hands--'Grace, I shall never be happy
again if you leave us! Try this once, and no one shall torture you
again as long as you live. One little drop if you love me!' The spoon
was between her lips, but it was in vain, she could not swallow. Yet
the sister's passionate agony had done what the lover's voice could
not. For an instant the heavy eyelids were lifted. Ah! what a look!
dumb pain! speechless entreaty! To the day of her death it will haunt
the sister's heart; she will see it in her dreams. The rest was like a
trance, a vision. She seemed to hear a voice whispering to her to be
still, and then a great chill struck her, and she smiled to think that
she was going away with Grace, and there was a confusion of many hands
and voices about her, and she thought with a vague pity of Bertie; and
the next thing she knew she was starting out of what seemed like a deep
sleep and seeing her mother sitting beside her; but when she tried to
get up, and said that she would go to Grace, her mother laid her hand
upon her. 'Grace died last night,' she said.

'Last night!' echoed Trixy, falling back.

'And you have slept all day, my poor little one,' said Lady Elton,
stooping to kiss her.

Trixy lay like one bewildered.

'And Tom?' she said presently.

'I have not seen him since. I hope he has been sleeping too.'

'Poor Tom!' said Trixy, her eyes filling with tears. 'His trouble is
greater than ours.'

'Yes; and think of all he has done for us. I shall thank God to the day
of my death that we had this quiet happy time together,' said poor Lady
Elton, with a little stifled sob.

'You are better than I am, mother. I can't feel anything but angry yet.
But not with Tom. Oh! not with Tom! He is a hero,' cried poor little
Trixy.



CHAPTER LIV

COMING BACK TO LIFE


Of the days that followed immediately I have neither space nor
inclination to write many words. It was a time of deep anxiety
in Gumilcund, where it soon became evident that the young rajah,
who had battled so stoutly with hardship, difficulty, danger, and
disappointment, was seriously ill. His spirit was high, but his bodily
powers were not equal to the task of sustaining it. Though he kept
about and did, to the best of his ability, the tasks that fell in his
way, those in the palace, and indeed many beyond it, saw that his
strength was failing daily. At last, and, as some of them said later,
providentially, the crisis came. A chill caught in a night ride through
the city brought on fever. For several days he lay hovering between
life and death. Lady Elton used to say that this illness of Tom's saved
both her and him from madness. He was compelled to obey the voice of
nature, and keep quiet for a time. She, having to put her own poignant
grief aside and to assume a cheerfulness which she was far from
feeling, found life, with its homely joys and sorrows, take hold of her
once more. Grace had gone away into the invisible, but these others
remained; Tom, who had to be wooed back with the tenderest care to the
paths of the living; Trixy, who had to be persuaded--poor, impulsive
child!--that it was not wicked to be happy; Kit and Aglaia, who watched
her to and fro with the most pitiful, beseeching eyes; Lucy, 'a very
Niobe for tears'; and her dear old General, who sent urgent messages
that she would take care of herself, and not add to his sorrow and
remorse by leaving them when they wanted her the most.

Her first really joyful moment after Grace's death was when, with
finger on lip but eyes dancing with pleasure, she looked in, after
a long absence, on the little melancholy party in the pillared hall
of the zenana and whispered, 'The rajah is better; he is sleeping
naturally; the doctor gives hope.'

It was delightful to see the sad faces relax, and to hear the fervent
congratulations. Up to this Lady Elton had allowed no one to take
her place. She and Hoosanee, whose devotion was unlimited, took the
severer part of the nursing between them. But now, when all crowded
round her, entreating to be allowed to take their share, she chose out
Mrs. Lyster to join her. She knew, by the instincts of her own sad
heart, that the service would be a comfort and relief to her who had
suffered more than any of them, and, indeed, the clever, resourceful
little Irishwoman, with her bright ways, her ready smiles, and her
unconquerable and delicious sense of humour, proved a most valuable
assistant.

Never was man or woman more tenderly nursed than our young rajah.
Later he used to tell his friends that they forced him back to life.
It would have been the basest ingratitude on his part not to try to
get better when they were all so anxious and careful for him. The
vigorous constitution which he had inherited, and which no excess had
ever spoiled, stood him in even better stead than the nursing. Life
in him was far too strong to be fatally worsted in this first serious
encounter with its foes. But it was a changed life. This, when he came
amongst them again, they all recognised. It was a graver man--one
not so prone to the exhibition of feeling--who rose from that bed of
sickness. The boy, with his raptures, his poetic transports, and his
passionate enthusiasms, had gone. The man, quiet, reserved, courteous,
but withal stern and decided, had taken his place. The people, to whom
he presented himself as soon as his doctor would permit the exertion,
said that his resemblance to his predecessor, Byrajee Pirtha Raj, was
more striking than ever.

Grace died in December. Before January had run its course the little
party of ladies in the zenana had begun to break up. Travelling being
once more possible, their relatives felt that it was not fair to tax
the hospitality of the Rajah of Gumilcund any further.

Little Dick and his mother were the first to go; a haven in the hills
had been provided for them until the spring, when they were to return
to England.

Then came the turn of Mrs. Durant and the gallant Kit. Colonel Durant
had been able to provide an escort for his wife and son to Calcutta,
whence he wished them to proceed directly to England. He wrote to Tom
as to an Eastern prince, thanking him earnestly for his protection and
help, and asking if he could be of any use to him with the Government.
Tom wrote that the consciousness of having been of service to English
people was a more than sufficient reward for all he had done. If,
however, he might be allowed not to lose sight of Kit, who was a
charming little fellow, and his particular friend, he would take it as
a kindness.

Kit was exceedingly reluctant to go. He did not see, he said, why they
could not stay with the rajah. Gumilcund, he was sure, was quite as
good as London, and Bâl Narîn taught him all he wanted to know. But Kit
had to leave, his protest notwithstanding.

The Nepaulese shikari, who had continued to be Kit's devoted attendant,
left Gumilcund at the same time as his _chota Sahib_, with whom he
meant to travel as far as Calcutta. Bâl Narîn, so far as means were
concerned, was now a gentleman at large, Tom having settled upon him
a sufficient income to enable him to live in comfort and without toil
for the rest of his days. It was his intention now to see the world.
Besides Lady Elton, whom the General was urging to return to Meerut,
preparatorily to a start for England, which he meditated shortly, there
were now in the palace only Lucy, Mrs. Lyster, and Aglaia.

Lucy's husband, who was on active service, could easily have made
arrangements for her to go to the hills; but she begged to remain at
Gumilcund, and, as there was no particular reason why she should move,
Captain Robertson accepted with gratitude the rajah's proposal that
she should make her home in his city until his own active service was
over. Being Bertie Liston's comrade, he knew more about the Rajah of
Gumilcund than Colonel Durant.

Mrs. Lyster, whose husband and baby were gone, had no ties in India.
The dear ones at home were drawing her; but they were provided for, and
there was no need for hurry. When plans were talked over, she agreed
gladly to remain in Gumilcund, looking after the little Aglaia until
they could both be sent home. Of Aglaia's present departure there was
no question. Her mother and father had gone. Her friends in England
believed doubtless that she had died with them. In time to come, Tom
promised himself to look them up; but, for the moment, she belonged to
her deliverer.

As for Lady Elton, she simply declined to leave Gumilcund until Tom
could be said to be in his usual health. She owed this, she wrote to
his mother, to himself, to Grace. The General might come to her and
Trixy. They could not go to him.

The wild work in the neighbourhood of Meerut, which had earned the
_Khakee Ressalah_ their laurels, was by this time over. The courts were
open; the country was comparatively quiet; the robber-tribes having
taken warning by one or two notable executions, had taken what was left
of them elsewhere, and the peasants were coming back slowly to rebuild
their little villages of mud huts, and to cultivate their fields. The
General, who had nothing to do in this work of organisation, finding
for the second time his occupation gone, gathered a few volunteers
round him and set off for Gumilcund, which he reached, without the
least difficulty, one evening in February.

The young rajah was convalescent, but not off the invalid list. The
visitor, recognised at once as an Englishman of distinction, was shown
into the ante-room of Tom's sleeping apartment, where, having been
left by his kind nurses for the night, he was reclining in a nest of
cushions. He sprang up, and held out both his hands.

'General!' he cried. 'You!'

'Yes, my boy,' said the old man brokenly. 'I have come to look you up,
you see, as I couldn't persuade you to come to Meerut. Sit down! Sit
down! You have been ill?'

'Nothing to speak of; though my dear nurse, Lady Elton, insists on
coddling me still. Shall I send for her?'

'Presently. I should like to have a little talk with you first, if it
won't be too much for you.'

'My dear sir, I am well, perfectly well.'

Very strange and sad was the conversation that followed. When Tom,
who knew the high soul, the resolute nature, and the grand audacity
of his old friend, found him stammering and faltering, pouring out
thanks and blessings, and stopping in the midst of broken words to
reproach himself bitterly for the blind and credulous folly which had
precipitated them all into danger, he was too much moved to answer.

But, meanwhile, the rumour of the arrival had spread in the palace, and
Lady Elton, yearning to see her dear old General, and fearful of the
exciting effects of his conversation upon her patient, wrapped herself
in her veil, and went hastily through the corridors that separated
their apartments from those of the rajah.

When the emotion of the two men was at its highest point, she stood
between them, a hand on both. 'It is enough, Wilfrid,' she said. 'He is
our son; you must not thank him too much.'

'Thank you,' murmured Tom.

As for the General, he took up his gentle wife in his arms and asked
her, with a plaintiveness that came strangely from him, if she meant
to desert him and the girls for ever. Tom smiled and left them together.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course the General was irresistible. When Lady Elton met Tom the
following day, she told him that she must leave him. 'I really believe
you have turned the corner, dear,' she said, 'and they are so devoted
to you; besides, there is Mrs. Lyster. She promises faithfully not to
go until you are quite well. My dear old General doesn't seem to be
able to get on without me. It is very foolish----'

'Dearest Lady Elton, I would not keep you for the world. It has been
too good and kind of you to stay so long,' said Tom.

'Hush! Hush!' said Lady Elton reproachfully. 'Is that the way sons
speak to their mothers? But, seriously, the General says that if things
go on as they are doing now, he will take us home in April or May. You
ought to come with us.'

'And leave Gumilcund?'

'Oh! not for always of course. Spend the summer at home, and go back in
the winter. The change will do you good, both in your body and mind.'

'I don't think I care much to go to England now,' said Tom. He was
gazing out at the garden, the azure-blue lake, and the purple outline
of the hills behind them, and thinking sorrowfully of his old dreams.

'But that is just it,' pleaded Lady Elton. 'You should make yourself
care. I know how people slip into not-caring, dear. It is the worst of
complaints. It takes all the hope and heart out of you. Think of us--of
your mother--of England----'

'Yes: I will think,' he answered gently, and that was all she could
persuade him to say then.

General Elton spoke to him more strongly. He had not seen him since
his visit to Meerut, in the bright and joyous days that preceded the
mutiny, and he was shocked by the change in his appearance. 'My dear
boy,' he said, 'if you value your health--if you value your reason--if
you wish to continue the useful career which you have begun so nobly,
you must give yourself rest and change. Tell me frankly, is there
anything to prevent your taking a holiday?'

'I don't think so,' answered Tom. 'The crisis is over, and things
have been set going. They will work very well without me. It is not a
question of being spared.'

'No; it is want of will. Now, my dear fellow, in your mother's name, as
well as in that of others, I must scold you.'

'Poor mother!' he murmured.

'She has been eating her heart out with anxiety this dreadful year;
you may be sure of it. You owe her a little comfort--a little
consideration.'

'I owe her everything,' said Tom impulsively. 'Don't urge me too much,
General. You would be the first to tell me to consider my duty.'

'Of course I should. But your duty, it seems to me, is as plain as a
pikestaff. You have to look to the re-establishment of your health.
If you think that is to come about in a summer in the plains--over a
hundred in the shade and other things to follow suit--why, all I can
say is that you are hugely mistaken.'

Having delivered himself thus, the old General stalked off, for he
believed that his words would take more effect if he did not bolster
them up with too many arguments. Tom consulted Chunder Singh. He
said plainly that he belonged to Gumilcund. Since the recent events
which had endeared to him unspeakably both the city and those who
dwelt in it, he had felt that no other place in the world could
ever be his home. It was not his intention, however, to give up his
English citizenship altogether. Chunder Singh, who was a wise man,
knew very well that the maintenance of those cordial relations--that
sympathy--with the Paramount Power which had enabled them to steer,
not only safely but triumphantly, through the late dangerous crisis,
was a matter of importance to Gumilcund. These, he believed, would be
strengthened by personal intercourse with England, which he had always
proposed to visit from time to time. His friends wished him to go over
that summer. The question was, would the people and the elders of the
State consider the time suitable? Would there be any fear--any panic?

Taken by surprise, Chunder Singh asked for a few hours' delay to
consider and consult his colleagues. The consideration proved
favourable to General Elton's scheme. The people of Gumilcund thought
that there could be no better time than the present for their rajah's
visit to England. The country in the immediate neighbourhood of the
city was quiet. The rebellion, though not completely quenched, had
received its death-blow in the defeat of Tantia Topee outside Cawnpore.
The mutineers still on foot had far too much to do battling with
the strong forces set in array against them to think of attacking
Gumilcund. The business of the State itself was moving with the
regularity of clockwork. Moreover, it was well-known that in the
council chambers of the English Parliament momentous questions
regarding the future government of India were being mooted. Under such
circumstances, it would be advisable that their rajah, whose influence
these good people naturally overrated, should be at hand. Let him then
depart; let him think for them and scheme for them in England as he had
done here; and when the fiery summer had run its course, let him return
to the city, as to a home!

So said Chunder Singh, as the mouthpiece of Gumilcund.

When the General and his wife, and brave little Trixy departed, they
took with them a promise, that if nothing came about in the meantime
to prevent him, Tom would start with them for England in the month of
April.



CHAPTER LV

IN ENGLAND AGAIN: CONCLUSION


Let us take a leap in time and space! Leaving behind us the crowded
cities, the dusky tribes, the deep skies and burning plains of India,
let us cross the Black Water, and return to the little island of the
West, whence the hands that have subdued these strange regions and the
minds--many of the greatest of them, alas! gone forth from earth and
her concerns for ever--that have governed them, took their origin. We
are in England once more, and the month is the sweetest month of all
the year--leaf-clad, rose-embowered June.

Just two years have gone by since the day when Thomas Gregory, the
widow's