The Warden of the Marches

By Sydney C. Grier

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Title: The Warden of the Marches

Author: Sydney C. Grier

Illustrator: Alfred Pearse

Release Date: September 6, 2021 [eBook #66229]

Language: English

Produced by: an anonymous Project Gutenberg volunteer


 [image: images/img_000.jpg

 The Warden of the Marches


 (_Sixth in the Modern East series_)




 _Copyright, 1902_
 By L. C. Page & Company

 Published June, 1902












“Then the mail’s in, Georgie?”

“Yes, Dick; it came in about half-an-hour after you started. Here are
your letters.”

Major North threw himself luxuriously into a long cane chair, and held
out his hand for the bundle of envelopes and papers which his wife
gave him. “Anything from Mab?” he asked.

“Just a little scrap. Dick, I am getting dreadfully worried about
her--her letters have been so strange for such a long time, and now
the writing is so queer. She always seems as if she hadn’t a moment to
spare, and yet she really has nothing particular to do now. Do you
know, I am beginning to be afraid that the strain of your uncle’s
illness, and the shock of his death, have been too much for her. I am
sure she oughtn’t to be living all alone in that big house. I asked
Cecil Egerton to look after her, and I hoped to hear from her to-day,
but there is no letter. Aren’t you getting anxious yourself?” Major
North, deep in his correspondence, grunted assent. “What do you think
we had better do? Dick!--why, Dick!”

The letters went flying as Dick sprang up from his chair. His wife was
staring incredulously at a young lady in a grey riding-habit who was
cantering up the rough track, called by courtesy a drive, leading to
the house from the gateway of the compound. Catching sight of the two
figures on the verandah the new-comer pulled up her horse suddenly,
flung the bridle to the magnificent elderly servant who ran out from
the hall-door to meet her, and slipping from her saddle, mounted the
steps with a run.

“Oh, Dick! oh, Georgie! oh, my dear people, it is so good to see you
again! Don’t tear me in pieces between you.” Her brother and his wife,
dumb with astonishment, were both kissing her at once. “It is my real
self, you know, and not my astral body. Now do say you are surprised
to see me on the Khemistan frontier when you imagined I was in London!
Don’t rob me of the gratification I have come so far to enjoy.”

“Surprise is no word for it. We are utterly amazed, completely
flabbergasted,” said Dick slowly. His sister heaved a satisfied sigh.

“Thanks, Dick; I’m so glad. I did want to surprise you.”

“But, Mab, are you really only just off your journey?” cried Georgia.
“You must have a bath and a rest before you talk any more.”

“I come untold thousands of miles to see my only remaining relatives,
and they don’t think me fit to speak to until I have had a bath and a
rest!” cried Mabel. “No, Georgie, we only did a very short stage
to-day, so that we might arrive clean and comfortable. You don’t think
Mr Burgrave would omit anything that would enable him to make a more
dignified entrance into Alibad?”

“You don’t mean to say that you came up with the Commissioner?” cried
Dick and Georgia together.

“Rather!” A glance passed between husband and wife, and Mabel caught
it. “Now, why this thusness? I had a chaperon, I assure you. I’ll tell
you all about it. And the Commissioner has been most kind--and

“Probably,” said Dick dryly. “And was it Burgrave who escorted you to
the gate here?”

“Oh no; it was that nice boy who went to Kubbet-ul-Haj with you eight
years ago.”

“Boy!” cried Georgia. “My dear Mab, Fitz Anstruther is one of the most
rising young civilians in the province.”

“And he said,” went on Mabel, unheeding, “that he would look in again
after dinner. Well, Georgie, he is three years younger than I am, at
any rate. Now, Dick, don’t be rude and say that that wouldn’t make him
so very young after all. I know I’m in the sere and yellow leaf. The
fact was borne in upon me when I heard an angry woman on the voyage
informing her cabin-mates that I was ‘no chicken.’”

“What!” cried Dick. “Then the celebrated smile has been doing its
deadly work as usual? How many scalps this time, Mab?”

Mabel smiled gently. It might be perfectly true, as other women were
never tired of saying, that she had no claim to be called beautiful.
The most that could be said of her was that she was nice-looking, and
the effect of that (it was often added spitefully) was spoilt by the
singular and most unpleasing combination of fair hair with dark brown
eyes. But when the ladies had said their say, Mabel knew that she had
but to smile to bring every man in the neighbourhood to her feet.
There was a peculiar fascination about her smile which made a slave of
the man upon whom it shone. It called forth all that was best in him,
roused all the chivalry of his nature, and compelled him to devote
himself to Mabel’s service. Various irate London cabmen, an elderly
guard on the Caledonian Railway, and the magistrate who found himself
obliged to fine Mabel for allowing her fox-terrier to go about
unmuzzled, were among the victims. The magistrate was currently
reported to have apologised privately for doing his duty, and to have
been abjectly desirous of paying the fine out of his own pocket if
Mabel would have allowed it. It was commonly understood that General
North, Mabel’s late guardian, had found his life a burden to him owing
to the multitude of her suitors, and that he would scarcely allow her
to go out alone lest any unwary stranger, thanked with a smile for
some slight service, should be impelled to propose to her on the spot.

“Well, Mab,” said Dick again, as his sister did not answer, “the
voyage was the usual triumphal progress, I suppose? Any casualties?”

“No duels or suicides, Dick. The days of chivalry are gone, you know.
But every one was very nice. I don’t count the officers--it’s their
business to make themselves pleasant--but the captain took me into his
cabin and showed me the pictures of Mrs Captain and the little
Captains, and I was told he didn’t do that for everybody. The ladies
were not quite as friendly as--well, as I should have liked them to
be. They talked me over a good deal, too. Once they asked a rather
nice boy why he and all the rest thought such a lot of me. He couldn’t
think of anything to say but that I was ‘so awfully feminine, don’t
you know?’ When he thought of it afterwards he was rather pleased with
himself, and came and told me. It wasn’t bad, was it?”

“Oh, Mab!” said Georgia reproachfully.

“But, Georgie, you wouldn’t have me unfeminine, would you?”

“Ha, ha!” laughed Dick. “Well, Mab, as you have got here safely, I
suppose your friends were as helpful as your friends generally are?”

“They were perfectly delightful. When we got to Bombay they helped me
about my luggage, and told me the right hotel, and where to get an
ayah and a servant, and how to go to Bab-us-Sahel. To crown all, they
found me the chaperon I told you about--who turned out to be the
elderly lady who had disapproved of me most frankly of all on the
voyage. Her name is Hardy, and she was coming to join her husband
here. She is devoted to you, Georgie.”

“Dear old Mrs Hardy? I should think she was. It’s mutual.”

“Well, tastes differ. She is quite certain that I shall come to a bad
end. We didn’t speak very much on the way to Bab-us-Sahel, and when we
got there I was horrified to find what a journey we had still before
us. I knew the railway hadn’t got to you yet, but I thought it would
only mean perhaps a day in a palanquin, with tigers and interesting
things like that jumping out of the jungle every few minutes, and
brave rescuers turning up in the very nick of time to save one. I
never imagined there would be days and days of riding through a
desert, with no jungle and no tigers at all. Happily we fell in with
Mr Burgrave when we left the railway, and as he was coming here he
invited us to travel with his party in royal state, which we did. Mrs
Hardy quarrelled with him most days on some pretext or other for your
sakes, which I didn’t think nice of her when she was enjoying his
hospitality. She seemed to be convinced that everything he did was
bound to bring the province to destruction.” Again Dick and Georgia
exchanged glances. “Dick, what is wrong between you and Mr Burgrave? I
insist on knowing.”

“It’s unusual to find two men absolutely agreed on questions of
policy,” said Dick shortly.

“Well, just at present he has a grudge against you on my account. He
considers you guilty of culpable negligence in leaving such a delicate
and valuable piece of goods to find its way to Alibad unassisted. I
tried to point out that the blame was entirely due to the wicked
wilfulness of the piece of goods in question, but he still thinks you
sadly callous.”

“We haven’t heard yet what has brought her Majesty Queen Mab to Alibad
at all.”

“No, that’s another story. (Don’t you admire my local colour?) Here
followeth the confession of Mabel Louisa North. I had a great idea,
Georgie, a splendid idea, when uncle died and I was left alone. I
thought I would become a Medical, so as to come out in time and help
you. I knew you would jeer, Dick, and try to dissuade me, so I decided
not to say a word until I was fairly embarked on my triumphal career.
I was going to take the London Matric. in January, and when I was
entered at the School of Medicine I meant to burst out into sudden
blaze and wire you the astonishing news. But the whole thing missed
fire horribly. You may laugh, Georgie, for I dare say you have kept
your mind supple, like that old man who said he was always learning;
but you don’t know how frightfully difficult it is to bring your
mighty intellect down again to lessons when you haven’t done any for
years and years. Would you believe it?--I broke down under the stress
of the preparation--for the _Matric._, mind--and my eyes gave out. No,
it is nothing really bad”--as Georgia uttered a horrified
exclamation--“Sir William Thornycroft pledged himself that they would
soon be all right again if I gave up work and took to frivolling.”

“But if there’s nothing the matter with them, I can’t think why he
didn’t tell you to rest for a month or so, and let you go on again
with glasses,” said Georgia.

Mabel looked a little ashamed.

“Well, the fact is, I made rather a baby of myself. I couldn’t wear
glasses, Georgie--think what a guy I should look! And you can’t
imagine how disappointed I was. I knew that the loss of a month’s work
would mean that I should fail, and I was feeling very miserable
altogether, after weeks of awful headaches, and my eyes hurt so,
and--and--I wailed a little. Sir William was most sweet, and asked me
all about it; and then he said that he really didn’t think the Medical
was what I was best fitted for, and he advised me to travel for a
little while and forget all about it.”

“And not give up to medicine what was meant for mankind,” murmured
Dick softly.

“And she comes out here, where we have an eye-destroying glare all the
year round, and dust-storms two or three times a week, to cure her
eyes!” cried Georgia.

“My beloved Georgiana, I came here that you might minister to a mind
diseased. When once the thought had flashed upon me, I simply couldn’t
stay in England. I just flew round to the shops and bought whatever
they showed me, and started as soon as I could settle matters at home
and take my passage. I went on writing to you up to the very last
minute. I shouldn’t wonder if the letter I posted on my way to the
docks travelled in the steamer with me. Is that it there? Well, have I
explained matters?”

“It was an awful risk, Mab,” said Dick in an elder-brotherly tone. “We
might have been both ill, or out in the district, or touring in
Nalapur, or anything.”

“But you weren’t, you see, so it’s all right. I had an inspiration
that you’d be in your own house for Christmas. What time is dinner?
Lend me a warm tea-gown, Georgie. How cold it gets here when the sun
sets, and yet we were nearly roasted this morning! My belongings were
to follow in a bullock-cart or two, but I haven’t heard them arrive.
Oh, it is sweet to see you two again, and looking so thoroughly happy
and fit, too.”

She bestowed a kiss on the top of Dick’s head, remarking as she did so
that he was getting disgracefully bald, and rushed away to lavish a
series of hugs on Georgia in the privacy of her own room. Her toilet
did not take long when she was left alone, and she threw over her head
the white shawl Georgia had left with her, and stepped out on the
verandah. There was only a faint gleam of moonlight, and a sense of
the vastness and dreariness of the desert around crept over her as she
tried to distinguish in the blackness the lights of the Alibad
cantonments, through which she had passed in the afternoon. The wind
was chill, and gathering her wrap more closely round her, she turned
to find her way back to the drawing-room. As she did so, the sound of
a horse’s footsteps struck upon her ear. Some one was riding past the
house at no great distance, riding at a smart pace, which caused a
clatter of accoutrements and an occasional sharp metallic ring when
the horse’s hoofs came in contact with a rock.

“How horrid it must be riding in the dark!” said Mabel to herself.
“Dick,” she cried, meeting her brother in the hall, “are you expecting
any one to dinner? Some one is coming here on horseback.”

“Oh no, it’s no one for us,” he answered shortly.

“But where can he be going, then? I thought this was the last English
house on the frontier? It’s a soldier, I’m sure, for I heard his sword
knocking against the stirrup, or whatever it is that makes the
clinkety-clanking noise.”

“I can’t tell you who it is, for I don’t know, but the natives will
tell you, if you are particularly anxious to hear. They say it’s
General Keeling.”

“Georgia’s father? But he’s dead!”


“But do you mean that it’s his ghost?”

“Don’t talk so loud. I don’t want Georgia worried just now, and she
may not have noticed the sound. The natives say that whenever there is
going to be trouble on the frontier St George Keeling gallops from
point to point to see that things are all right, just as he would have
done in his lifetime.”

“Oh, but they don’t believe it really?”

“You shall see. Ismail Bakhsh!” The old _chaprasi_ who had met Mabel
at the door came forward, gorgeous in his scarlet coat and gold badge,
and saluted. “Tell the Miss Sahib who it is she hears, out beyond the
far corner of the compound.”

The old man drew himself up and saluted again. “Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib
Bahadar rides to-night, Miss Sahib.”

“Oh, how dreadful!” said Mabel, turning to her brother with a blanched
face. Ismail Bakhsh understood her words.

“Nay, Miss Sahib, it is well, rather. When the day comes that there is
trouble on the border, and Kīlin Sahib does not ride, then the reign
of the Sarkar will be ended in Khemistan, and it may be in all
Hindustan also.”

“That will do, Ismail Bakhsh,” said Dick, when he had interpreted the
old man’s words. “Come into the drawing-room, Mab.”

“But, Dick, it can’t be true? Isn’t some one playing a trick?”

“We have never been able to bring it home to any one if it is a trick.
Anstruther and I have watched in vain, and most of the fellows from
the cantonments have had a try too. We heard just what you hear, but
we could never see anything.”

“Dick, I think you are most awfully brave.” Mabel shuddered as she
pictured Dick and his friend approaching the sound, locating it
exactly, perhaps--oh, horror!--hearing it pass between them, while
still there was nothing to be seen. “Does it--he--ever come any
nearer? How fearful if he should ride up to the door!”

“Why, Mab, you don’t mean to say you believe in it?” Dick looked at
her curiously. “It’s quite true that the sound is heard when there’s
going to be trouble, for I have noticed it time after time; but I have
a very simple theory to account for that. When the tribes living
beyond this stretch of desert intend to make themselves disagreeable,
they send mounted messengers to one another. The desert air carries
sound well, and I’m not prepared to say that these rocks here may not
have some peculiar property which makes them carry sound well too, but
at any rate we hear, as if it was quite close, what is actually
happening miles and miles away.”

“Oh, do you really think so?” Mabel was much cheered. “But then, why
should Georgia be frightened if she heard it?”

“Because of the trouble it foreshadows, which is a sad and sober
reality, not on account of the supernatural story the natives have
taken it into their heads to get up.”

Georgia’s entrance and the announcement of dinner banished the
disquieting topic, and Mabel’s creepy sensations vanished speedily
under the influence of the light and warmth and brightness
encompassing the meal, so eminently Western and ordinary in its
appointments save for the presence of the noiseless Hindu servants.
Old times and scenes were discussed by the three, and family jokes
recalled with infinite zest, in momentary entire forgetfulness of the
turbulent frontier and the haunted desert outside. Shortly after a
move had been made into the drawing-room, however, the flow of
reminiscences was interrupted by the entrance of Dick’s subordinate,
the handsome young civilian who had escorted Mabel to her brother’s
door. He walked in unannounced, as one very much at home.

“With Dr Tighe’s compliments to the rival practitioner,” he said,
handing a copy of the _Lancet_ to Georgia. “I shall pass the Doctor’s
quarters going home, Mrs North, so I can leave your _British Medical_
for him if you have done with it.”

“I will put it out for you,” said Georgia. “You have seen Miss North
already, I think?”

“Yes, indeed. It was this afternoon that I had the astonishment and
delight of learning that the Kumpsioner Sahib had atoned for all his
sins against this frontier.”

“What, does Burgrave climb down?” cried Dick.

“Not a bit of it, Major. He’s on the war-path, and seeing red. But he
has escorted Miss North safely here.”

“Oh, is Mr Burgrave anxious for war?” asked Mabel. “I suppose that’s
the trouble which is coming on the frontier, then?” She stopped
suddenly, with a guilty glance at Georgia.

“Never mind, Mab; I heard it,” said her sister-in-law quietly.

“I should think so!” cried Fitzgerald Anstruther. “The old joker--beg
your pardon, Mrs North--the old ch--General--was riding like mad. No,
Miss North, war is the last thing that our most peaceful-minded
Commissioner desires. He is coming to bring this benighted province up
to date, and assimilate it to the well-governed districts he has known

“After all, we can’t be sure of his intentions,” said Georgia. “What
we have heard may be only rumour.”

“No; he is on the war-path, Mrs North, as I said. Young Timson, of the
Telegraphs, who came up with him, was in with me just now, and says
that he talked quite openly of his plans.”

“I don’t mind the man’s intentions,” cried Dick hotly, “if they are
founded on an honest opinion. What I do mind is his talking of them to
outsiders as if they were accomplished facts, before he has said a
word to the men on the spot.”

“Oh, but you forget that the Commissioner’s intentions are as good as
accomplished facts, Major,” said Fitz. “‘Is it not already done,
Sahib?’ as my old villain of a bearer says when I tell him to do
something he has no idea of doing.

  “‘For the Khans must come down and Amirs they must frown
    When the Kumpsioner Sahib says “Stop”!
      (Poor beggars!--we’re here to say “Stop”!)’

aren’t we?” he added dolefully. “Timson says that Burgrave is
particularly strong on cutting loose from Nalapur.”

“Oh, do explain these technicalities a little!” pleaded Mabel. Her
brother took up the task promptly, seeming to find in it some sort of
relief to his feelings.

“I suppose you know that Khemistan has always been governed on a plan
of its own? When it was first annexed Georgia’s father was put in
charge of this frontier, which was then the wildest, thievingest, most
lawless place in creation. He raised the Khemistan Horse, and used
them indiscriminately as troops and police. Small parties were
stationed all along the frontier, and they were ready to march in any
direction, day or night, at the news of a raid or a scrimmage. Within
a few years the frontier was quiet, and General Keeling kept it so. He
had his own methods of doing it, and the Government didn’t always
agree with them, wherefore he ragged the Government, and the
Government snubbed him, horribly. However, he held on to his post, and
died at it, and then the bad old days began again. That was just
before I came up here, and I found that the people looked back to
Sinjāj Kīlin’s days as a kind of Golden Age----”

“Oh, Dick, they do still,” cried Mabel. “It makes poor Mr Burgrave so
vexed. He told me that whenever an old chief comes to pay his
respects, the first thing he asks is always whether the Commissioner
Sahib knew Sinjāj Kīlin. He got so tired of it at last that he said
he would have given worlds to shout, ‘Thank goodness, _no_!’”

“Don’t doubt it for a moment. Well, they tried to govern Khemistan on
the lines of the province next door, which has always been in the
hands of the opposition school. Result--confusion, and all but civil
war. Most of St George Keeling’s young men gave up in disgust, and the
Amir of Nalapur, just across the frontier, who had been the General’s
firm ally, was goaded into enmity. That was the state of things five
years ago.”

“And then,” said Georgia, “dear old Sir Magnus Pater, who was
Commissioner for Khemistan in my father’s time, used all his influence
to get Dick appointed Frontier Superintendent. It was the last thing
he did before he retired, and we were thankful to leave Iskandarbagh,
and to get back to our very own country.”

“And in less than no time,” put in Fitz, “the frontier was quiet,
thanks to a judicious revival of General Keeling’s methods, and the
Amir of Nalapur was assuring Major North that he was his father and
his mother. Mrs North’s fame as a physician of supernatural powers,
and the Major’s military discipline, have worked wonders in crushing
the proud and extorting the respectful admiration of the submissive.”

“Oh, that reminds me!” cried Mabel. “Georgie, do you write Dick’s
reports for him? Mr Burgrave really believes you do.”

(“Oh, Miss North, what an injudicious question!” murmured Fitz, _sotto

“Certainly not,” returned Georgia briskly. “Do you think I would
encourage Dick in such idleness? We write them together.”

“But,” objected Mabel, “I can’t see why Mr Burgrave should come to
disturb all you have done if you have got on so well.”

“O wise young judge!” said Dick. “That’s exactly what we can’t see

“Because he is tired of hearing General Keeling alluded to as the best
feared, and loved, and hated man in Anglo-Indian history,” said Fitz.
“Because to see your next-door neighbour succeeding where you have
failed, by dint of methods which you regard with holy horror, is
distasteful to the natural man. But let me tell you a little story,
Miss North--an Oriental apologue, full of local colour. The ruler of
many millions was glancing over the map of his dominions one morning,
when his symmetry-loving eye lit upon one province governed
differently from all the rest. To him, imperiously demanding an
explanation, there enters Eustace Burgrave, Esq., of the Secretariat,
C.S.I. and other desirable things, armed with a beautifully written
minute on the subject, and points out that the province is not only a
scandal and an eyesore, but a happy hunting-ground for firebrand
soldier-politicals who know better than viceroys--a class of persons
that obviously ought to be stamped out in the interests of good
government. Any remedies for this atrocious state of things?
Naturally, Mr Burgrave is prepared with measures that will make
Khemistan the garden of India and a lasting memorial of the ruler’s
happy reign. No time is wasted. ‘Take the province, Burgrave,’ says
the Great Great One, with tears of emotion, ‘and my blessing with it,’
and Burgrave accepts both. Hitherto he has been reforming the course
of nature down by the river, now he comes up here to teach us a lesson
in our turn.”

“And do you mean to let him do what he likes?” cried Mabel.

“Nonsense, Mab! He is supreme here,” said Dick.

“Besides, Miss North,” Fitz went on, “the Commissioner’s imposing
personality puts opposition out of the question. You must have noticed
the condescending loftiness of his manner, springing from the
assurance that his career will be in the future, as in the past, a
succession of triumphs. Failure is not in his vocabulary. He is born
for greatness. Who could see that cold blue eye, that monumental nose,
and doubt it? Nothing short of a general convulsion of nature could
disturb the even tenor of his way.”

“Well, I am not quite sure of that,” said Mabel musingly.

“Oh, I’m afraid there’s no hope of him as a lady’s man, if that’s what
you mean, Miss North. It is understood that he’s by no means a
hardened misogynist, but neither is he looking for a wife. He is
simply waiting quite dispassionately to see whether the feminine
counterpart of his perfections will ever present herself. Year after
year at Calcutta and Simla he has surveyed the newest young ladies out
from home and found them wanting, and their mothers go away into
corners and call him names, which is unjust. His fitting mate would
scarcely appear once in a lifetime, perhaps not in an age.”

“I think Mr Burgrave needs a lesson,” said Mabel.

“But consider, Miss North. It is no obscure future that the favoured
damsel will be called upon to share. In time she will clothe her
_jampanis_ at Simla in scarlet, and by-and-by, if she does what he
tells her, she will sport the Crown of India on a neat coloured

“I think it will be well for me to take him in hand,” Mabel persisted.

“For goodness’ sake, Mab, don’t make matters worse by importing the
celebrated smile into the affair!” cried Dick.

“Worse? Dick, you are ungrateful. When Mr Burgrave has found himself
mistaken in one matter of importance, he will be less cocksure in

“I don’t know about that,” said Georgia. “And take care, Mab. It’s
dangerous playing with edged tools.”

“Then I will take the risk. Reverence your heroic sister, Dick,
willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of your career.”

“And if the worst come to the worst, the prospective glories of the
viceregal throne will gild the pill,” said Fitz.


“Oh, Georgie, I do so want a good long talk.”

It was the morning after Mabel’s arrival, and she had settled herself
on the verandah with her work, a laudable pretence in which no one had
ever seen her set a stitch. After Dick had ridden away, she yawned a
good deal, and looked out more than once disconsolately over the
desert in search of entertainment, which failed to present itself, and
Georgia had her household duties to perform before she could devote
herself to amusing her sister-in-law. Mabel had several distant
glimpses of her laying down the law to submissive servants, and paying
surprise visits in the compound, but at last she mounted the steps,
threw aside her sun-hat, and bringing out a work-basket, spread a
little pile of delicate cambric upon the table before her.

“Talk, then,” she said, with a pin in her mouth.

“But you are sure we shan’t be interrupted? Have you quite done?”

“I think we are safe. I have visited the cook-house and the dairy,
interviewed the gardener, arranged about the horses’ and cow’s food as
well as our own, and physicked all the invalids in the neighbourhood.
So begin, Mab.”

“Well, don’t you want to know my real reasons for coming out?”

“I thought we heard them last night--such as they are.”

“How nasty you are, Georgie! Didn’t you guess that there were other
reasons behind, reserved for your private ear, and not to be exposed
to Dick’s ribaldry? The truth is, I was hungering and thirsting for
reality, and that’s why I came.”

“My beloved Mab, is England a world of shadows?”

“It is exactly that--to women in our class of life, at any rate--and I
am sick of shadows. Our life has become so smooth, and polished, and
refined, that it is not life at all. We are all Tomlinsons more or
less--getting our emotions second-hand from books and plays. Some of
us go into the slums or the hospitals in search of experiences (you’ll
say that was what I tried to do), but even then we only see things, we
don’t feel them. I wanted to get to a place where things still
happened, where there were real people and real passions.”

“Do you know, Mab”--Georgia fixed a critical eye on her--“if you had
been a little younger, I should have suspected you of a yearning to
enter the Army Nursing Service? I can’t tell you how many girls have
lamented to me at different times the unreality of their lives, and
proposed to set them right by means of that particular act of
self-sacrifice. But as things are, I suppose, to use plain English,
you were bored?”

“Bored to exasperation, then, you unsympathetic creature! But I am
serious, Georgie. There’s something you quoted in one of your letters
from Kubbet-ul-Haj that has haunted me ever since, and expresses what
I mean. It was something like: ‘When the world grows too refined and
too cultured, God sends great judgments to beat us back to the
beginning of history again, to toils and pain and peril, and the old
first heroic lessons--how to fight and how to endure.’ It would be
absurd for me, in England, to take to living in a slum, making my own
things, and teaching people who are much better than I am, but I
thought out here----”

“And you find Dick and me dressing for dinner every evening, and
getting the magazines monthly! You had better cross the border into
Ethiopia, Mab. We are just as artificial here as at home.”

“Georgie! as if I wanted to make a savage of myself, like the youth in
‘Locksley Hall’! Surely life can be simple and primitive without being

“You haven’t asked my advice, and I don’t know whether you want it,
but it’s dreadfully commonplace. Get married.”

“You mean that I should know then what reality is? What an indictment
to bring against Dick! What in the world does he do to you, Georgie?”

Georgia smiled superior. “You don’t expect me to begin to defend Dick
to you?” she asked, then laughed aloud. “No, Mab, you needn’t try to
tease me about him at this hour of the day. But what I mean is, that
you get into the way of looking at things in quite a different light
when you are married. You don’t hold a brief for your own sex any
longer, but for men as well. That makes the difference, I think. You
are in the middle instead of on one side, and that is at any rate a
help towards seeing life whole.”

“But do you always look at things now through Dick’s spectacles? How
painfully monotonous!”

“We don’t always agree, of course. But we talk things over together,
and generally one convinces the other. If not, we agree to differ.”

Mabel shook her head. “Then I’m perfectly certain that you and Dick
have never differed on a really vital matter,” she said. “In that case
I know quite well that neither of you would ever convince the other,
and you could not conscientiously agree to differ, so what is to

Georgia did not seem to hear her. She rose and went into the
drawing-room, and unlocking a little carved cabinet that stood on her
writing-table, took something out of a secret drawer. “Look at this,
Mab,” she said, handing Mabel a piece of paper. It was a photograph,
obviously the work of an amateur, of a little grave surrounded by
lofty trees.

“Oh, Georgie!” the tears sprang to Mabel’s eyes; “this is baby’s

Georgia nodded. “Dick doesn’t know that I have it,” she said, speaking
quickly. “Mr Anstruther took the photograph for me, and I had one
framed, and it always hung in my room. I used to sit and look at it
when Dick was out. Sometimes I cried a little, of course, but I never
thought he would notice. But he took it into his head that I was
fretting, and when we left Iskandarbagh he gave the servants a hint to
lose the picture in moving. Wasn’t it just like him, dear fellow? But
he never bargained for the servants’ letting out the truth to me. I
had this one as well; but when I saw how Dick felt about it I took
care to keep it hidden away, and he thinks his plan has succeeded, and
that I have forgotten. It makes him so much happier.”

“I see,” said Mabel, in a low voice. “You wouldn’t have done that
once, Georgie. I see the difference. But surely there is a name on the
stone?” She was examining the photograph closely. “She was baptized,
then? I never heard----”

“Yes, Dick baptized her; there was no one else. Georgia Mabel, he
would have it so. Oh, Mab, it was awful, that time! We were the only
English people at Iskandarbagh just then, and the tribes were out on
the frontier. Miss Jenkins, the Bab-us-Sahel missionary, was coming to
me. Since I knew her first, she has been home to take the medical
course, and is fully qualified. Well, she could not get to me, and I
couldn’t get to Khemistan, and I had to stay where I was and be doctor
and patient both. Of course I had my dear good Rahah, and Dick was as
gentle as any woman; but oh, it was terrible! But I shouldn’t have
minded afterwards if only baby had lived. She was such a darling, Mab,
with fair hair and dark eyes, like yours. Dick tried to cheer me
up--chaffed me about her being so small and weak--but she died in my
arms a few minutes after she was baptized. Miss Jenkins got through to
us the next day at the risk of her life, but she was only in time for
the--the funeral in the Residency garden.”

“And you lived through that? Oh, Georgie, it would have killed me.”

“Oh no; there was Dick, you know. Poor dear Dick! he was disappointed
about baby, of course; but a man doesn’t feel that sort of thing as a
woman does. Besides, he was so glad I didn’t die too, that he really
could not think of anything else.”

“And you, Georgie?”

“I can’t talk of it, Mab, even to you--how I longed to die. But he
never knew it. And when I was better, I saw how wicked I had been. I
would have lost anything rather than leave him alone.”

“Well,” said Mabel, trying to speak lightly, “you have made
acquaintance with realities, Georgie, at any rate; but I don’t know
that I am very keen on following in your footsteps. I believe you have
made me afraid of taking your advice. Marriage seems to involve
experiences out here which one doesn’t get at home.”

“It does,” agreed Georgia, “and I suppose they would be too much for
some women. But when you love the country and the people as I do--and
love your husband, of course--you would scarcely come out here with
him if you didn’t--I think the life brings you nearer to each other
than anything else could. It is such an absolute _solitude à deux_,
you see, and you are so completely shut up to one another, that you
seem really to become one, not just figuratively. It’s rather a
terrible experiment to make, as you say, but if it succeeds--why, then
it’s the very best thing in the world.”

“I can’t quite fancy myself thinking of Mr Burgrave like that,”
murmured Mabel reflectively.

“Mab, I didn’t think----”

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Georgie. If I didn’t laugh I should cry. And
there’s Dick coming back, and he’ll see we have been crying. Talk
about something else, quick!”

“I was wondering whether you would like to pay a call or two,” said
Georgia, thrusting a wet handkerchief hastily into her pocket. “I
don’t want to drag you out if you are still tired after your journey,
but it would be nice for you to get to know people before all the
Christmas festivities begin next week.”

“Of course!” Mabel’s sudden animation was not wholly assumed for
Dick’s benefit as he rode past the verandah. “Who is there to call

“Only your friend Mrs Hardy, whose husband is the missionary here, and
acts as chaplain, and Flora Graham, the Colonel’s daughter, I am
afraid. Nearly all the men are bachelors or grass-widowers at this
station. Two or three ladies will come in from Rahmat-Ullah and the
other outlying stations next week, but we are still scarce enough to
be valuable.”

“That’s a state of things of which I highly approve,” said Mabel.

“Never knew a woman that didn’t,” said Dick, entering. “Ask Georgia if
she doesn’t like to see the men round her chair, though she pretends
to think they’re attracted by her professional reputation. But Miss
Graham is coming to call on you, Mab. She’s dying to see you, but
feared you would be too tired to pay visits this week. In gratitude
for this honour, don’t you think you ought to refrain from exercising
your fascinations on her young man?”

“Really, Dick, I don’t know what you can think of me. Is Miss Graham

“Rather; to young Haycraft, of the Regiment.”

“Ah, I fly at higher game,” said Mabel austerely.

“So I should have guessed.”

“Oh, Dick, have you seen the Commissioner?” cried Georgia.

“Been closeted with him nearly all morning.”

“And was he very horrid?”

“By no means. He didn’t make any secret of his reforming intentions,
but he gave me no hint as to his plan for carrying them out. He only
tells that sort of thing to casual fellow-travellers, I suppose. But I
think he wished to make himself agreeable, and I attribute that to my
having the honour of being Miss Mabel North’s brother.”

“Ah!” said Mabel wisely.

Late that afternoon she and Georgia set forth to visit Mrs Hardy, much
against Mabel’s will. She represented that she had only parted from
the good lady the day before, and had not the slightest desire to
renew the acquaintance, but Georgia was firm.

“We will only go in for a minute or two, for we must be back early to
meet the Grahams, but I could not bear her to think herself slighted.”

When they reached the missionary’s bungalow they found it in the
throes of a general turn-out. The verandah was piled with furniture,
and here Mrs Hardy, a worn-looking little woman with a lined face, and
thin grey hair screwed into an unbecoming knob, received them in the
lowest possible spirits. She had always prophesied that the house
would go to rack and ruin during her absence in England, and now she
perceived that it had. Only that morning she had discovered the
fragments of her very best damask table-cloth doing duty as dusters,
and three silver spoons were missing. Moreover, she believed she was
on the verge of further discoveries that would compel her to dismiss
at least half the servants. Georgia’s inquiry after Mr Hardy elicited
the fact that he had contracted the bad habit of having his meals
served in his study and reading while he partook of them, which was
bound to have a prejudicial effect on his digestion in the future,
while Mrs Hardy felt morally certain that he had gone to church in
rags for many Sundays past. Yes, he had spoken very cheerfully of
several interesting inquirers who had come to him of late, but Mrs
Hardy had, and would continue to have, grave doubts as to the
genuineness of their motives. Georgia sighed, and turned the
conversation to the subject of the journey from the coast, but this
only opened the way for a fresh flood of forebodings. The new
Commissioner was bent on mischief, and the natives were perceptibly
uneasy. Where they were not defiant they were sullen, and Mrs Hardy’s
eagle eye foresaw trouble ahead. Perceiving that Georgia was not
entirely at one with her, she descended suddenly to details.

“Ah, dear Mrs North, I know you think I am a pessimist, but when you
hear what I have to tell you----! Is--is Miss North in your
confidence--politically speaking?” with a meaning glance at Mabel.

“In our confidence!” cried Georgia, in astonishment. “Of course she
is. Why not?”

Mrs Hardy bridled. “I am relieved to hear that Miss North is not so
entirely taken up with the Commissioner as to have no thought for her
dear brother’s interests,” she said acidly. “Well, I must tell you
that I hear on good authority that Mr Burgrave intends to allow Bahram
Khan to return to Nalapur. In the course of our journey he gave a
private audience to a Hindu whom I recognised as Narayan Singh, the
brother of the Nalapur Vizier Ram Singh, and I now hear that he has
been closeted with him again to-day. Ram Singh has always been
suspected of intriguing for Bahram Khan’s return, and Narayan Singh
has divided his time between Nalapur and Ethiopia for years.”

“Oh, but it’s quite impossible!” cried Georgia. “The Commissioner
would never take such a step without consulting my husband, and Dick
would never countenance it. Bahram Khan has sinned beyond

“I wish I could think so!” said Mrs Hardy oracularly. “We shall soon
see, my dear Mrs North. What, must you go? I wonder Major North likes
you to drive that high dog-cart. You will certainly have an accident
some day.”

“Odious woman!” cried Mabel, as the dog-cart dashed down the road.
“How can you endure her, Georgie? She is the very incarnation of

“No, no--of hopelessness,” said Georgia. “The climate tries her, and
her children are all being educated at home, and she thinks Mr Hardy
is not appreciated here. Dear old man! I wish you could have seen him,
Mab. He is all patience and cheerfulness, and indeed, it is a good
thing that he has Mrs Hardy to keep him within bounds. All our people
and the native Christians love him, and even the mullahs who come to
argue with him can’t succeed in hating him. His learning is really
wasted up here, and I don’t think he has had more than six baptisms of
converts in the five years we have known him. We always say that the
natives who become Christians here must be very much in earnest, for
Mrs Hardy discourages them so conscientiously beforehand.”

“Horrid old thing, spoiling her husband’s work!” cried Mabel.

“No, not at all. He has been taken in more than once. And really, Mab,
it is hard for us to urge these people to be baptized. The persecution
is awful.”

“Here--under English rule?”

“Not from us, of course, but from their own people. Two men have been
lured across the frontier and murdered, and another had a false charge
trumped up against him, and only just escaped hanging. It seems
scarcely fair on our part unless we can get them away to another part
of India.”

“Well, Mrs Hardy isn’t exactly a good example of the effects of
Christianity. She is enough to frighten away any number of intending

“And yet she is the staunchest friend possible at a pinch. I had
rather have her with me in an emergency than any other woman I know.”

“That’s because she likes you. She hates me, and would rejoice to make
my life a burden to me. The idea of hinting that I would betray Dick’s
secrets to Mr Burgrave! Wasn’t it infamous? But who is Bahram Khan?”

“He is the Amir of Nalapur’s nephew, and was intended to succeed to
the throne, but in order to expedite matters he tried to poison both
his uncle and Dick’s predecessor here, who had been obliged to scold
him for some of his doings. The matter could not be absolutely proved
against him, but he thought it well to take refuge in Ethiopia, and
has stayed there ever since. To guard against his returning, Dick
advised the Amir to adopt another nephew, Bahadar Shah, as his
successor, and he did. Bahram Khan is only about twenty-three now, but
he married an Ethiopian lady of rank four years ago. His poor old
mother, who is one of my Nalapur patients, was very sore at his
arranging it without consulting her. She remained at her brother’s
court when her son escaped, for it was she who saved the lives of the
Amir and Sir Henry Gaunt. She suspected her son’s intentions, and
tasted the food prepared for the banquet he was going to give. It made
her very ill, but she gave the warning, and I was sent for post-haste
from Iskandarbagh in time to save her life. She is a dear, grateful
old thing.”

“But do you think Mr Burgrave will let Bahram Khan come back?”

“Oh no, it’s impossible. But I wish,” added Georgia thoughtfully,
“that I hadn’t been so emphatic in denying it to Mrs Hardy. If
anything happens now, she will know that Dick and the Commissioner are
not in accord.”

“But why shouldn’t she know?”

“Because out here we learn to stick together. Quarrel in private as
much as you like, but present a united front to the foe,” said Georgia
sententiously, as she pulled up before her own verandah. Two horses,
in charge of native grooms, were waiting at the door.

“Our visitors have arrived before us,” said Mabel, and they hurried
into the drawing-room, to find an elderly man of soldierly appearance
and a tall yellow-haired girl waiting patiently for them.

“I’m afraid you will think us very rude for thrusting ourselves upon
you so soon, and at this time of day,” said Miss Graham, addressing
herself to Mabel, after Georgia had apologised for their absence, “but
my father happened to have time to come with me just now, and I was so
very anxious to see you----”

“How sweet of you!” murmured Mabel softly, as the visitor stopped

“Because I want to ask you a favour,” finished Miss Graham. Her father
laughed, and Mabel looked politely interested. “I want you to be Queen
of the Tournament next week instead of me.”

“Oh, Georgie!” cried Mabel; “and you said that life out here was
modern and unromantic! Why, here we are plunged into the Middle Ages
at once.”

“It’s only my daughter’s poetical way of speaking of our annual
gymkhana,” explained Colonel Graham. “She has officiated so often that
she feels shy. The real fact is,” he turned confidentially to Georgia,
“Haycraft has loafed about here so much that he’s wretchedly stale
this year, and Flora can’t bear to give a prize to any one else.”

“No, no, papa; what a shame!” cried Miss Graham, blushing. “You see,
Miss North, I have really done it a good many times, and I’m sure
everybody would like to see some one new. Besides, I am engaged, you
know, and--and----”

“And it would make it more realistic if the opposing heroes felt they
were really struggling for the Queen’s favour?” said her father.
“Well, that’s easily managed. Intimate to Haycraft that unless he wins
he’ll have to resign you to the successful competitor.”

“But why ask me?” said Mabel.

“Because there’s no one else,” replied Miss Graham quickly. “No, I
don’t mean that; but my father says I ought to ask the Commissioner to
give the prizes, and I don’t like him well enough. But he couldn’t
possibly be offended if I asked you. It’s so obviously the proper

“Now, why?” asked Mabel again, and the other girl blushed once more.

“I saw you yesterday when you rode past our house,” she said shyly,
“and I knew at once that you were the right person.”

Mabel smiled graciously. Such open admiration from one of her own sex
was rare enough to be grateful to her. “I am wondering what I should
wear,” she said. “I have a little muslin frock----”

“Oh!” said Miss Graham, evidently disappointed. “But perhaps--do you
think I might see it?”

“If Georgie and Colonel Graham will excuse us for a moment,” said
Mabel rising, and she led the way to her own room, and summoned the
smiling brown-faced ayah whom she had brought from Bombay.

“Oh!” cried Flora Graham again, when the “little muslin frock” was
displayed to her, but her tone was not now one of disappointment. The
frock might be little, whatever that term might mean as applied to a
gown, but it was not therefore to be despised. It was undoubtedly made
of muslin, but it had a slip of softest primrose silk, and the glories
of frills and lace and primrose ribbon which decked it bewildered her
eyes. “It is lovely!” she said slowly; “and look how your ayah
appreciates it. I wish mine ever had the chance of regarding one of my
gowns with such reverential admiration! And what hat will you wear
with it?”

“They tried to make me have one swathed in white and primrose
chiffon,” said Mabel indifferently, “but I knew I could never stand
that. I shall wear this one with it.” She indicated a large black
picture hat.

“That will be perfect,” said Miss Graham. “It’s the finishing touch.
Oh, you will--you must--give the prizes. That gown would be wasted
otherwise. You will do it, won’t you?”

Yielding sweetly to the eager entreaties showered upon her, Mabel
consented, and in the talk which followed set herself to gain an
acquaintance with all the gaieties that were to be expected during the
following week. When Georgia came to say that Colonel Graham was
obliged to leave, the two girls were discussing ball dresses with the
keenest interest.

“I can’t make Mabel out,” Georgia said to her husband that night.
“Sometimes she seems in such deadly earnest, and yet she is as anxious
as possible to take part in everything that is going on.”

“But why in the world shouldn’t she be?”

“It’s not that; but I can’t think why she should care for it.”

“No, I suppose not. You never felt that you must play the fool for a
bit now and then or die, did you, Georgie? But Mab does--has
periodical fits of it, alternating with the deadly earnest. Let her
alone to have her fling. She’ll settle down some day, and it’s not as
if it did any harm.”

But Georgia was not convinced.


“The Major not back from the durbar yet, I suppose, Mrs North? Have
you heard this extraordinary report about Bahram Khan?”

“No, I didn’t know there was any report going about,” answered
Georgia. She was driving Mabel to the club, and had stopped to speak
to the station surgeon, a cheerful little stout man, riding a frisky
pony which danced merrily about the road, while its master tried in
vain to induce it to stand still.

“It’s all over the bazaar, and one of the hospital assistants told me.
They say that the Commissioner means to insist on Bahram Khan’s being
restored to his lands and honours, and to advise poor old Ashraf Ali
strongly to accept him again as his heir.”

“Oh, that gives the whole thing away,” said Georgia, more cheerfully,
“for the Amir’s adoption of Bahadar Shah was recognised by the
Government of India. Was all this to happen to-day, Dr Tighe?”

“Yes, at this durbar. Quite thrilling, isn’t it? Well, I must be off
on my rounds. When am I to have that game of tennis you promised me,
Miss North?” and the doctor rode away, while Georgia drove on, with
brows drawn into an anxious frown.

“It’s quite impossible,” she said at last, rousing herself. “He
couldn’t spring such a mine upon us. Look, Mab! this is my father’s
old house.”

“But why don’t you live in it?” asked Mabel, looking with much
interest at the flat-roofed building with its massive stone walls and
narrow windows. Georgia laughed.

“Because the accommodation is a little too Spartan for a family,” she
said. “My father prided himself on his powers of roughing it, and all
his young men had to follow his example. Mr Anstruther inhabits the
house at present, in company with the official records, for the office
is large and airy, and Dick uses it still.”

“I should have thought General Keeling would have lived in the fort,”
said Mabel, as a sharp turn in the road brought them in sight of the
dust-coloured walls and mouldering battlements, crowned with withered
grass, of the old border stronghold.

“Never!” cried Georgia. “The first thing he did on coming here was to
dismantle it. He would never allow either the Khemistan Horse or his
British officers to hide behind walls. Their safety had to depend on
their own watchfulness.”

“He had the courage of his convictions, at any rate.”

“Of course. He never told any one to do what he would not do himself.
He wanted to blow up the fort and destroy it altogether; but the
Government objected in the interests of archæology, so he gave it to
the station for a club-house. There has never been too much money to
spare in Alibad, and people have used it gratefully ever since.”

“What a delicious old place!” sighed Mabel, as they drove in through
the hospitable gateway, on either side of which the ancient doors,
warped and worm-eaten and paintless, leaned useless against the wall.
The block of buildings which had comprised the chief apartments of the
fort in the wild days before the coming of the British was now
utilised as the club-house, and an inner courtyard had been
ingeniously converted into a tennis-ground. As she passed, Mabel
caught a glimpse through the archway of Flora Graham and her
_fiancé_, young Haycraft, playing vigorously, but she also noticed
something else.

“Georgie, there’s Mrs Hardy looking out for you.”

“Oh dear!” cried Georgia in a panic, “I can’t meet her just now, until
I know the truth about Bahram Khan. She is waiting to gloat over me
about this horrible rumour, and I can’t stand it. I am going to take
you up to the ramparts, Mab, to see the view.”

She gave the reins to the groom, and, avoiding the reading-room, in
the verandah of which could be discerned Mrs Hardy’s depressed-looking
bonnet, hurried Mabel across the wide courtyard and up a flight of
steps which led to the summit of the western wall. From this, at some
risk to life and limb, they were able to reach one of the half-ruined
towers, which commanded a bird’s-eye view of the town. The native
quarter, with its narrow, crooked alleys and carefully guarded flat
roofs, the lines, painfully neat in the mathematical symmetry of their
rows of white huts, the houses in the cantonments, embowered in
pleasant gardens, were all spread before them. Beyond the belt of
green which marked the limits of the irrigated land round the town,
the desert stretched on the east and south as far as the eye could
see. To the west was a range of rugged hills, their nearer spurs
within rifle-shot of the fort, and to the north, at a much greater
distance, the peaks, at this season covered with snow, of a
considerable mass of mountains.

“That is Nalapur,” said Georgia, pointing to the mountains, “and
beyond it to the eastward is Ethiopia. Our house is the last on
British soil. The corner of the compound exactly touches the frontier

“Then that’s why your father rides past just there?” said Mabel

“So the natives say. I rather like to think of him as still guarding
the frontier which he spent his life in defending. It’s a nice idea, I
mean--that’s all. But, Mab, the men are coming back from the durbar.
Look at that dust-cloud, and you will see the light strike on
something shining every now and then. That’s the bravery of their
durbar get-up. We will wait here until they get into the town, and
capture the first that comes this way. I must find out what has

They watched the cavalcade enter the town and separate into its
component parts, and presently saw Fitz Anstruther riding up to the
fort. He caught sight of their parasols and waved his hand, but
Georgia dragged Mabel down the steps, and they met him in the

“You’ve heard, then?” he cried, as his eyes fell on Georgia’s face.

“Only a bazar rumour. Is it true that Bahram Khan----?”

“He is restored to his estates and rank, and recommended by the
Commissioner to the particular favour of his uncle. Burgrave had him
all ready outside the tent, it appears, and after enlarging to the
Amir and the luckless Bahadar Shah on the blessings of family unity,
and the advisability of forgiving and forgetting youthful
peccadilloes, brought him in as a practical embodiment of his words.
It was dramatic--very--but it was playing it awfully low down on us,
especially the Major.”

“Then he knew nothing of it?”

“No more than I did.”

“And Ashraf Ali was willing to take the Commissioner’s advice?”

“He hadn’t much choice. A glance from Major North would have turned
the scale, but you know what the Major is, Mrs North--he will play
fair by his own side, however badly they may have treated him. He gave
him no encouragement to show fight, and Ashraf Ali took a back seat.
It _is_ rather tough to have to receive again into the bosom of your
family an affectionate nephew who has tried to murder you, isn’t it?”

“But how does the Commissioner get over that little difficulty?”

“Airily ignores it. ‘Not guilty, and won’t do it again,’ is his view.
Every prospect of domestic happiness in the Amir’s family circle in

“Where is Dick now?” asked Georgia suddenly.

“I rather think he has gone to have it out with the Kumpsioner Sahib.
He was horribly sick, and who can wonder?”

“I really think,” said Mabel, quite inconsequently, “that if I
couldn’t pick up my own balls I wouldn’t play tennis.”

They were sitting in the verandah overlooking the tennis-court, and it
was the sight of the squad of small boys in uniform who were being
kept hard at work by the three men now playing that had called forth
the remark.

“We get so slack with the climate,” pleaded Fitz.

“Well, I don’t intend to let those boys pick up my balls when I play.”

“They won’t have the chance, Miss North. We should simply massacre
them if they attempted it. Oh, here’s the Major--and the

Dick was still in uniform, and the man who emerged with him from under
the archway was quite thrown into the shade by his magnificence, but
the contrast did not appear to afflict Mr Burgrave, even if he noticed
it. He crossed the shadowed court with slow, deliberate steps,
apparently unaware that he was interrupting the game, talking all the
time to Dick, who listened courteously, but without conviction.

“What a curious face it is!” muttered Georgia involuntarily, as the
Commissioner stepped into the line of light cast by a lamp in one of
the rooms.

“Yes, doesn’t he look the pig-headed brute he is?” was the joyful
response of Fitz, who had overheard her.

“No, that’s not it. He looks obstinate enough, but there is something
benevolent about the face--nothing cruel or mean. It’s the face of a

“Oh no, Mrs North! There’s bound to be something good about even a
fanatic at bottom, I suppose. Won’t you say a doctrinaire?”

“If you prefer it. I mean a man who has formed certain opinions, and
allows neither facts nor arguments to prevent his forcing them upon
other people.”

“Ah, Mrs North!” The Commissioner was bowing before Georgia with the
somewhat exaggerated courtesy which, combined with his paternal
manner, caused impatient young people to brand his demeanour as
patronising. “And are you very much incensed against me for keeping
your husband so busy all day?”

He sat down beside her as he spoke, taking little notice of Mabel, and
devoted himself to her for ten minutes or more, while Dick went into
the club-house to speak to some one. To Mabel, as to Georgia, it
appeared as if Mr Burgrave’s condescension towards Dick’s wife was
intended to disarm any resentment that might have been aroused in her
mind by his treatment of Dick that day, although it was not easy to
see why he should take so much trouble. It was Fitz on whom the true
comedy of the situation dawned at last, rendering him speechless with
secret delight. The Commissioner was an adept in the mental exercise
known as reading between the lines, and he had formulated his own
explanation of the unconventional manner in which Mabel had made her
appearance upon the stage of Khemistan. Jealous of her sister-in-law’s
good looks, and the attention she attracted, Georgia had refused to
invite her to pay a visit to Alibad, and the poor girl’s only chance
had been to take matters into her own hands. Too considerate to expose
Mabel to the risk of incurring the reproaches of her family circle, Mr
Burgrave would talk to Georgia long enough to put her into a good
temper before he gratified his own inclinations. His reward came when
Georgia rose and remarked that it was time to go home, for guessing
that Dick would be driving his wife, he lost no time in offering Mabel
a seat in his dog-cart. As for Mabel, she accepted the offer joyfully.
Her hasty determination to give Mr Burgrave a lesson had deepened by
this time into the deliberate intention of fascinating him into laying
aside his distrust of Dick.

“What an interesting day you must have had!” she began guilefully, as
soon as they started. “I wish ladies were admitted to durbars.”

“They are, sometimes, but I fancy”--the Commissioner smiled down at
her--“that there is not very much business done on those occasions.”

“Oh, then to-day’s was really a serious affair? Do tell me what you

“I am afraid it would hardly interest you.”

“Indeed it would. I am interested in everything that interests my

Mr Burgrave’s smile became positively grandfatherly. “I thought so!”
he said. “No, Miss North, I won’t allow you to sacrifice yourself by
talking shop to me. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t interest me--out
of office-hours--and therefore I am the last person in the world to
inflict it upon you. I am sure you hear so much of it all day that you
are as tired of the subject as I am of the revered name of General

“What, have you been hearing more about him?”

Mr Burgrave groaned. “Have I not! Michael Angelo was nothing to him. I
always knew that he founded Alibad and dug its wells, planted the
trees and constructed the canals--made Khemistan, in short. But now I
am the unhappy recipient of endless personal anecdotes about him. One
man tells me that he used to go about in the sun without a
head-covering of any kind, trusting to the thickness of his hair--if
it was not rude, I should say of his skull. Then comes one of his old
troopers, and assures me solemnly that after a battle he has seen
Sinjāj Kīlin unbutton his tunic and shake out the bullets which had
passed through it without hurting him. Another remembers that he has
seen him reading a letter from his wife while under fire--rather a
pretty touch that--and another recalls for my admiration the fact that
the General reserved an hour every morning for his private devotions,
and has been known to keep the Commander-in-Chief waiting rather than
allow it to be broken in upon.”

“But he was a splendid man,” said Mabel, ashamed of herself for

“Who doubts it? Only too splendid;--I understand the feelings of the
gentleman who banished Aristides. But forgive me for lamenting my
private woes to you, Miss North. Let us turn to more interesting
themes. We are to see you in an appropriate rôle on Saturday, Miss
Graham tells me.”

“I believe I am to give away the prizes at the Gymkhana--unless you
would prefer to do it,” said Mabel, with sudden primness.

“I should not think of such a thing unless it would be a relief to

“To me? I shall enjoy the prize-giving above all things. But why?”

“I imagined you might feel shy.” Mr Burgrave looked at her as kindly
as ever, but Mabel fancied that he was disappointed in her in some

“He seems to think I am about sixteen,” she said to herself, and awoke
to the fact that they had reached home, and that her companion had
skilfully prevented her from saying a word about the question of the

“Dick,” said Georgia to her husband, when she was alone with him that
evening, “did you get any explanation out of Mr Burgrave?”

“I did--without asking for it. He told me quite calmly that the
reinstatement of Bahram Khan was part of his programme, and that as I
had taken such a strong line with regard to the youth’s banishment, he
considered it better to relieve me of all responsibility about it. It
would be pleasanter for both of us, he thought.”

“Pleasanter for you and him in your social relations, perhaps; but
your prestige with the natives, Dick! What do they think?”

“Why, they gloat, most of ’em,” said Dick grimly.

“But the Amir and Bahadar Shah?”

“Oh, poor old Ashraf Ali sent his pet mullah to interview me while the
Commissioner was taking an affectionate leave of his _protégé_. The
old man really thought, or pretended to think, that I had a hand in
the matter. Why hadn’t I told him that I desired Bahram Khan’s return
instead of springing it upon him in that way? he wanted to know. Had
he ever refused to take my advice? I had to assure him that I knew no
more about it than he did, for if he once loses confidence in me, it
means that we may as well retire from the frontier. Neither he nor the
Sardars will stand a second spell of snubbing and suspicion.”

“But what did you advise him to do?”

“To choose the lesser of two evils. Bahram Khan will plot wherever he
is, and Burgrave has pledged himself to see his father’s fortress of
Dera Gul restored to him, but I advised the Amir strongly to keep him
under his own eye at the capital. In any case we shall have one friend
in the enemy’s camp, for the good old Moti-ul-Nissa sent a message by
the mullah, ‘Tell the doctor lady’s husband that where my son goes I
go from henceforth, and that no harm shall be devised against the
Sarkar if I can prevent it.’”

“Dear old thing!” cried Georgia.

“But it’s not so much a rising that I’m afraid of at present. Bahram
Khan will get the smaller obstacles out of his way first. Poor Bahadar
Shah, who is no hero, sent to ask me by the mullah whether I would
advise him to throw up his pretensions and retire into British
territory. Of course I told him to sit tight, but no insurance office
that respected itself would look at his life after to-day. And,
Georgie, I am very much mistaken if Burgrave has not got worse in
store for us.”

“Dick! what could there be worse?” Georgia’s face was blanched.

“I have a presentiment--call it a conviction, if you like--that they
mean to withdraw the subsidy, and Ashraf Ali has got hold of the idea

“But, Dick, that would be a direct breach of faith! They couldn’t do
it--they couldn’t! The treaty that really cost my father his life, he
had such trouble to get it ratified! Why, it has kept the frontier
safe all these years----”

“My dear Georgie, that’s not what Burgrave and his school think about.
You know as well as I do that this province is an anomaly, and has got
to be reduced to the level of next-door. When Ashraf Ali received the
subsidy, he accepted our suzerainty over Nalapur, and according to his
lights he has acted up to his obligations. But our present rulers
don’t care to keep the suzerainty, don’t care for a vassal state
outside our boundaries, and do care for economising rupees.”

“But surely they must know----”

“That they will throw Ashraf Ali into the arms of Ethiopia, and extend
Scythian influence down to our very borders, thanks to the way in
which Fath-ud-Din has been allowed practically to repudiate Sir Dugald
Haigh’s treaty? Why, Georgie, that’s just the sort of thing these
fellows never see until it comes to pass. Then they lament that the
world is so dreadfully out of joint, and say it all springs from our
ingrained suspiciousness.”

“But, Dick, you wouldn’t countenance such a breach of faith?”

“No, I told Ashraf Ali so--told him he would hear of my resignation
first. Funny thing, isn’t it, to take a man who knows the frontier as
I do, and let him give five of the best years of his life to working
for it night and day, and then to send a jack-in-office who has never
seen it to reverse all he’s done? It’s a queer world, Georgie. But
we’ll retire with clean hands, at any rate, you and I, and taste the
modest joys of the pensioned in a suburban flat, with a five-pound
note at Christmas-time from Mab and her Commissioner to help us

Georgia could not trust herself to speak. She was holding Dick’s hand
in hers, and smoothing his coat-cuff industriously.

“Well, never say die!” he went on. “I may get a berth in some Colonial
defence force yet, and from that giddy height we’ll smile superior
upon a jeering world, serenely conscious that we can do without the
five-pound note.”

At one time Georgia would not have lost a moment in reminding him that
she could in any case return to the active practice of her profession,
but now she would not even suggest to Dick that last humiliation of
living upon his wife’s earnings. Instead, she lifted his hand to her

“We shan’t mind poverty, dear. We shall have been true to our people,
and besides, your resignation may save the frontier. It will come out
why you retired, and when once the reason is known, public opinion
will be roused, and the Government will have to return to the old
policy, even though we may not be here to carry it out. But oh, Dick,
how can you speak civilly to Mr Burgrave after this?”

“Why, Georgie, the difficulty would be to speak uncivilly to him. The
man is so wrapt up in his own greatness that he can’t imagine any
one’s venturing to differ from him. He sweeps on like a glacier,
removing all obstacles by his mere passage. The stones and rocks and
things get carried along too, you know, whether they like it or not,
and when the glacier has done with them it dumps them down in a neat
heap, that’s all. Besides, we have to give Mab her chance.”

“If Mab marries him, I have done with her,” said Georgia, with

During the next fortnight the house was overrun by a horde of
Christmas guests, who came from outlying forts and irrigation and
telegraph stations to taste the joys of civilisation for three or four
days, hurrying back like conscientious Cinderellas at a given moment,
that the other man might have his turn. Mabel was immensely interested
in these lads, who looked up to Dick with frank veneration, and sought
for quiet talks with Georgia that they might tell her all their home
news, and kept the house lively from early morning until their host
reluctantly suggested that it was time for them to repair to their
improvised bedrooms at night. Her interest did not go unrequited, for
she had them all at her feet, regulating her favours so discreetly
that none of them could complain that he was worse treated than his
neighbour, and at the same time no one had undue cause for

“I know you think I shall lose my head, Georgie,” she said, on the
evening of Christmas Day, when she and Georgia had left the men to
their nightly smoke; “and I really believe I should if it lasted.
These boys are all so splendid. Each of them is a hero in the ordinary
course of his day’s work, but he never thinks of it, and no one out
here thinks of it, and at home no one even knows their names. How is
it that all the men out here are so nice? The women, as far as I have
seen, are distinctly inferior.”

“So sorry,” said Georgia humbly. “Perhaps we were born so.”

“Goose! I didn’t mean you. I meant the ordinary Anglo-Indian woman.
With so many delightful men about, she ought to be proportionately
better than at home.”

“Perhaps it’s just possible that the delightful men spoil her, Mab.
What do you think?”

Mabel laughed consciously, as she reclined in a long chair, with her
arms behind her head. “You mean that I have deteriorated perceptibly
already, I suppose? But that must be the men’s fault. If their
admiration is the right kind, it ought to elevate me, surely? Now
don’t say that I trade on their honest admiration to flatter my
self-love. I’m sick of that sort of thing. Besides, it’s a pleasure to
them to admire me, and I consider that it does them good. I am a
liberal education for them.”

“How nice it must be to feel that!”

“Yes, and I really am awfully fond of them, every one. I should like
them all to win to-morrow. I can’t bear the thought that only one or
two of them can get prizes; I shall feel so unfair. Georgie, what are
you going to wear? Oh--” she sat up suddenly, with eyes wide with
horror, “what a wretch I am! Georgie, I never remembered your dresses
when I was so busy getting my own. I haven’t brought you a single

“I guessed that some days ago,” said Georgia.

“Oh, how wicked of me! Take one of mine, Georgie--any of them--even
the muslin. I deserve it.”

“I should look like a death’s head at a feast, indeed! Nonsense, Mab!
I shall wear my red and white foulard.”

“The one I sent you out two years ago? Oh, it will be too dreadful!
Sleeves and everything have altered since then. Besides, every one
will know it.”

“What does that signify? It is quite fresh, and suits me very well. No
one will remember it--not even Dick.”

But in this Georgia was mistaken. When she appeared the next morning,
her husband looked suspiciously from her to Mabel.

“Didn’t you wear that dress last year, Georgie? I thought you were
going to get a new one. Why don’t you have something floppy and
frilly, like Mab?”

“Mab is a perfect dream,” said Georgia. “No amount of trains or fichus
could make me look like her. You are very ungrateful, Dick. Who ever
heard of a man’s quarrelling with his wife before for saving him a
dressmaker’s bill?”

“I’ve a good mind to telegraph home at once,” grumbled Dick.

“But what good would that be for to-day? Never mind. I’ll get
something terribly elaborate for next Christmas.”

“Oh, Georgie, how good of you not to give me away!” murmured Mabel, as
Dick went out, grumbling, to see whether the dog-cart was ready. “But
I can’t help being glad you didn’t take this gown. I don’t think I
could have given it up.”


“Have you heard the latest, Miss North?” asked Fitz Anstruther, as
he escorted Mabel to the scene of action. The five men who were
staying in the house had nearly come to blows in deciding who ought to
enjoy this privilege, but Fitz had stepped in and disappointed them
all equally by the calm announcement that it was his by right.
Officially he was Major North’s deputy, and it was only fair that the
pleasures as well as the duties of the post should devolve upon him.
The justice of the contention was grudgingly admitted, and Fitz was
the proudest man in Alibad when he drove to the ground that morning in
his smart new buggy, with Mabel, the glories of her gown hidden by a
tussore dust-cloak, seated beside him.

“No. What has the Commissioner done now?” she asked.

“Bahram Khan has entered his name for the Keeling Cup!”

“And that is equivalent to saying that the sky has fallen?”

Fitz regarded her pityingly. “You don’t see it as we do,” he said.
“Wait until you have been out a little longer. It seems that in order
to cement the reconciliation he has brought about, the Commissioner
saw fit to invite the Nalapur Princes to honour us with their presence
to-day. The Amir and Bahadar Shah didn’t quite see themselves figuring
in the triumphal procession, and both discovered that they had urgent
business at home. But Bahram Khan duly turned up last night with his
train of attendants, and is condescending enough to join us in our
sports to-day. The Commissioner has a theory that in such mimic
warfare as this the fusion of the English and native races proceeds
apace, and Bahram Khan is doing his best to gratify him by poking
himself into the race for the Keeling Cup--our very tiptop, crack,
_pucca_ event!”

“But did General Keeling patronise races? I shouldn’t have thought
they were at all in his line.”

“They were not; but then, this isn’t a race in the ordinary sense of
the word. It was first run just at the time when everything in
Khemistan was named after him, and besides, it recalls one of his own
pet dodges. They say that he used to subject the men that wanted to
serve under him to pretty severe tests, and this was one of them. He
used to rouse them up in the middle of the night, and they had to turn
out without boots, catch a strange horse, and ride him round the town
without a saddle, and with only a halter for a bridle.”

“It’s to be hoped that the town was smaller in those days than now?”

“Of course it was, but we don’t exact such a test as that. The ponies
are all turned loose on the course without saddles, and the men, in
slippers, have to catch them and mount. Any man who catches his own is
disqualified. Then they have to get them round the course without
bridle or whip of any kind. I have noticed that the spectators are
always pretty nearly dead with laughing before the end, while the
competitors get black in the face with restrained emotion.”

“But you don’t mean that General Keeling really treated his officers
in that way?”

“I do, indeed. He had to weed them out, you see, or he would have been
overrun with volunteers. Oh, you may have full confidence in my
veracity, Miss North, even though I once had a report returned me by a
jealous Secretary with the remark that I should do well to quit the
Civil Service for the path of romantic fiction. The pains I took over
that report! You see, I had an inkling that it would be seen by a very
exalted person, who is great on us juniors’ cultivating a literary
style in our official writings. I can truly say that there has never
been such a literary gem sent in since Macaulay left India. It was
written in the most beautiful English--though I say it--full of tender
touches and delicate conceits, and as to quotations, and Oriental
imagery, and wealth of imaginative detail----! Ah well, it’s better
not to think of it,” and Fitz sighed deeply.

“Why? Did it bring down upon you a rebuke from the Great Great One?”

“No, alas! for it never reached him. The Secretary intercepted it,
naturally enough. Who would ever have looked at his minutes again
after it? But at least it furnished him with an ideal to strive after.
I have reason to believe he is in a lunatic asylum at this moment. The
effort was too great, you see.”

“That was rather close,” said Mabel irrelevantly, as the wheel shaved
the basketwork tray of an itinerant sweetseller by the roadside.

“He shouldn’t be so intent on his prospective gains. Look how many of
the fellows there are about! That shows we are near the ground. They
flock to this place from all quarters when they know there’s a
_tamasha_ on.”

They had reached the enclosure by this time, and Mabel found herself
surrounded by an admiring throng. Pale-faced ladies from other
stations glanced at her dress casually, and continued to gaze long and
fixedly, her Alibad admirers brought up friends to be introduced, and
both the old slaves and the new displayed a keen anxiety to post
themselves for the day in the neighbourhood of her chair. With the
exception of the race for the Keeling Cup, the sports were wholly
military in character, and the programme was a lengthy one, but Mabel
did not find the hours pass slowly. Everything was new and
interesting, from the splendid native officers, with fierce eyes
gleaming under enormous turbans, who dashed up on fiery steeds and
bore away triumphantly an unresisting tent-peg, to the latest recruit
who exhibited his coolness by holding out his bare hand, with what
Mabel considered privately an excess of confidence, for his _daffadar_
to cut a lemon upon it. There was the inner circle of troopers of the
Khemistan Horse, reinforced to-day by such veterans as old Ismail
Bakhsh and his fellow-_chaprasis_, keenly critical, but above all
things solicitous for the honour of the regiment. There were the
notables of the district, grave and bearded men in flowing robes, who
looked as though they might have sat for a gallery of Scriptural
portraits, but who exhibited an anxious deference when Dick glanced
their way, which suggested that their relation with him in the past
had occasionally been that of criminals and judge. At the farther side
of the course was the motley throng of dwellers in the native town,
and hangers-on of the cantonments, with faces of every shade of brown,
and clothes and turbans of every variety of colour. And lastly, close
at hand, there was the little group of English, not taking their
pleasure sadly, for once, but making the most of the rare opportunity
for the exchange of news and opinions. The Commissioner was the centre
of attraction here, naturally enough, or at least, he shared the
general attention with Mabel; but she was quite aware, as she met his
benevolent smile, that he was making her a graceful present of a
portion of the homage due to himself.

The last event but one upon the programme was the tug-of-war between
six men of the Khemistan Horse and six of the Sikhs who formed the
Commissioner’s escort--a contest which was fought out with the
greatest obstinacy, but in which the visiting team finally secured the
victory, to the unconcealed lamentation and resentment of the local
representatives and their friends. The triumphant Sikhs found no
sympathisers except among the _sahib-log_, and the English applause
was cut short by the necessity of preparing for the last race, in
which it was a point of honour for every man to take part who could
possibly do so.

“A solemn sacrifice to the memory of the adored General Keeling!” said
Mr Burgrave in a low voice to Mabel, as they watched their late
companions assembling upon the course.

“Oh, but what is that native doing?” cried Mabel, forgetting what she
had heard only that morning, as a tall lithe man, wearing the green
turban of a descendant of the Prophet, stepped out from the group of
notables and joined the competitors.

“That,” was the bland answer, “is Bahram Khan, hitherto the bugbear of
the frontier; henceforth, I hope, our friend and ally.”

“I don’t like to see him there. He spoils the look of it,” she said

“Bahram Khan offends your eye? Ah, Miss North, you must pardon a poor
statesman the dulness of his perceptions! I am no authority upon
æsthetic questions, I must confess, whereas you--well, you could
scarcely not be one.”

A smile emphasised the compliment, and Mabel turned away rather
hastily, and addressed a casual remark to Flora Graham. Compliments
were all very well, but she did not approve of the adroit way in which
Mr Burgrave repressed her whenever she touched on political subjects.
Flora had no eyes for any one but Fred Haycraft at the moment,
however, and Mabel was obliged to turn her attention to the course.
The signal for starting was given just then, and there ensued a wild
_mêlée_ of men and horses, the men as eager to mount as the horses
were determined not to be mounted by any one but their own masters.
Presently one or two successful athletes forced their way out of the
scrimmage, and by degrees most of the competitors secured a mount of
some kind, but some were still vainly struggling when the foremost
appeared round the curve of the course.

“Oh dear, he has no chance!” wailed Flora, referring to her _fiancé_,
who was one of these unfortunates. “That’s Bahram Khan’s pony he has
got, and of course it won’t let a white man mount it. Well, every one
must see that it isn’t his fault. Oh, he’s up at last!”

But this tardy triumph was of little avail, for just as Fred Haycraft
urged his unwilling steed on its way, Bahram Khan, mounted on the bay
pony which was the especial pride of Fitz Anstruther’s heart, trotted
gently past the winning-post. The absence of hurry, as the luckless
Fitz remarked afterwards, was at once the finest and the most
irritating part of the performance.

“The nigger’s won!” remarked a grizzled old officer who had served
under General Keeling, in blank amazement, and as the truth of his
words broke upon those around him, they were received with a low
whistle of dismay. The Commissioner, who had himself led the applause
in which the rest were too much stunned to join, glanced round
sharply, and at the same moment Mabel found Dick at her side.

“Look here, Mab. You’d better ask the Commissioner to give the prizes.
I never thought of this. These fellows are not like us--they don’t
understand things. Get into a back seat quickly, without any fuss.”

Mabel stared at him blankly. She was to relinquish her part in the
events of the day, the glorious hour to which she had been looking
forward for more than a week, to disappoint all her admirers, and hide
herself and her gown where no one could see them! But Dick’s face was
adamant, and he repeated his order peremptorily, until she rose and
moved reluctantly towards the Commissioner, touching him on the arm.

“My brother says I had better ask you to distribute the prizes,” she
said, with disappointment in every tone. Mr Burgrave looked at her in
astonishment, then his face took a harder set as his eyes fell on
Georgia, who was endeavouring to console Flora for her lover’s ill
success. Of course it was her doing! A faded woman in a gown that
might have been new two seasons ago--how could she be otherwise than
jealous of the radiant vision at his side? “And no wonder, poor
thing!” said Mr Burgrave to himself, with contemptuous pity, but she
must learn that it would not do to make mischief where her beautiful
young sister-in-law was concerned.

“My dear Miss North,” the Commissioner’s voice took on its most
fatherly tone, “don’t be afraid. Nothing would induce me to rob you of
your pleasure.”

The words were loud enough for Dick to hear, and Mabel saw him frown
angrily as she returned to her place, half-proud and half-afraid of
her triumph. He said nothing, however, but took his stand immediately
behind her, the very embodiment of silent displeasure. The sense of
his disapproval served to irritate her further, and she heartily
wished him away. His rigid face would quite spoil the effect of the
picture she had intended to present, and he was taking up the room of
other people whose attendance she would have preferred. But she was
determined not to give in, even when the Commissioner’s encouraging
smile smote her with a feeling of treachery, in that she had appealed
to him against Dick.

The regimental prize-winners came up in their order, the natives, now
that the momentary excitement was over, wearing a look of stately
boredom, which seemed to declare that sports and prizes alike were a
species of child’s play, in which they took part merely to humour the
unaccountable whims of their officers. With the officers it was
different, for Mabel read in their faces that although sports were
good, and to earn a prize was better, both these faded into
insignificance compared with the joy of receiving that prize from her
hand. This was the very feeling that it most pleased her to inspire,
and she loved the “boys,” as she called them in her thoughts, better
than before, if that were possible.

But this glow of pleasure was shortlived. A brief pause followed the
appearance of the Sikh head-man to receive the tug-of-war prize, and
Mabel felt, without turning her head, that Dick’s silent disapproval
had infected all the Englishmen around. Once more she hardened her
heart. It was detestable to see this wretched racial snobbishness in
the men she had admired so much. They would have liked to spoil the
whole affair, and deprive her of the one piece of romance which had
come to brighten the humdrum proceedings, rather than allow a native
not belonging to the regiment to carry off a prize. She, at least, was
above such petty considerations, and Bahram Khan should receive as
gracious a smile as any of his fellow-competitors. One other person
was of her mind, she saw, for the Commissioner clapped his hands
lightly, and with infinite condescension, as Bahram Khan swaggered up.
Mabel stepped forward, and met the glance of the bold eyes under the
green turban. As she did so, she understood suddenly the secret of
Dick’s displeasure. The smile faded from her lips, and the hand in
which she held the Keeling Cup trembled. She stopped and faltered, and
her pause of distress was evident to the men behind her. How they
responded to her mute appeal she could not tell, but the look of
insolent admiration disappeared from Bahram Khan’s eyes, into which
she was still gazing spell-bound, and was, as it were, veiled under
his former expression of contemptuous indifference towards his
surroundings. A few words from the Commissioner, and the Nalapur
Prince retired, leaving behind him a general feeling of awkwardness.
If it had been arranged that anything else was to be done at this
point, no one remembered it. People stood about in little groups, and
talked somewhat constrainedly. Something had happened, or rather,
there had been an electrical instant, and something might have
happened, but it was not quite easy to see what it was. The crudest
conception of the facts was voiced by Mrs Hardy, who had torn herself
from her school-work to be present at the prize-giving, and now seized
upon Georgia.

 [image: images/img_042.jpg

“Oh, dear Mrs North, how unspeakably painful all this must be to you
and your husband! You must feel the charge of Miss North a dreadful
responsibility. I would never have said a word while she flirted
merely with our own officers, or even with Mr Burgrave--though really
the lengths to which she goes--! But to set herself deliberately to
dazzle a native----”

“Mrs Hardy,” cried Georgia, flushing angrily, “please remember that
you are speaking of my sister. I am certain that Mabel has never
dreamt of such a thing. She may be thoughtless, but that is all.”

“It is very sweet and good of you to say it, but I am afraid your eyes
will soon be disagreeably opened. No rational being could doubt that
Miss North is setting her cap at the Commissioner, and that would
hardly be a match you could welcome, would it? Look at her dress--so
absurdly unsuitable at her age. Oh, I know to a day how old she is,
Mrs North, and I will say that eight years between you don’t warrant
your dressing as if you were mother and daughter. But I grant that
Miss North is one of the people who always look younger than they are,
while you invariably look older.”

The expression of Mrs Hardy’s sympathy rarely corresponded with the
good-will which prompted it, but Georgia received the stab in heroic
silence, and cast about for some means of changing the subject.

“I suppose we may as well go home now,” she said at last in despair,
rising as she spoke. “Where is my husband, I wonder?”

“Over there, talking to the Commissioner and Bahram Khan,” responded
Mrs Hardy. “Dear me! something must have happened. There is a
messenger who seems to have brought some news. How grave they all
look! What can it be?”

Watching eagerly, they saw Bahram Khan take his leave of Mr Burgrave
and Dick and rejoin his friends. As the two gentlemen returned to the
rest of the company the Commissioner said, slightly raising his tones
in a way that attracted general attention, “Well, except for the sake
of the poor fellow himself, I can’t pretend to be sorry. The way is
now clear for important developments.”

Dick’s reply was inaudible, but the Commissioner rejoined sharply, “Of
course you put this down to Bahram Khan’s account?”

“I make no accusations,” said Dick, unmoved. “You can’t perceive more
clearly than I do that it’s impossible to connect him with it.”

“You deal in ambiguities, I see.” Mr Burgrave’s temper was evidently

“There is no ambiguity in my mind,” was the reply, as Dick beckoned to
a servant to fetch up his dog-cart. “Are you coming with me, Georgie,
or shall I take Mabel?”

“Oh no, Mr Anstruther will drive her home,” said Georgia, aghast at
the thought of an encounter between Dick in his present mood and Mabel
at her prickliest. “Dick,” as the Commissioner turned to speak to Mrs
Hardy, “what has happened?”

“Hush! speak lower. Bahadar Shah is dead.”

“What! poisoned?”

“No, shot. He was out hunting, and one of his most trusted servants
was carrying his spare gun loaded. As he handed it to him it went off,
and Bahadar Shah was shot through the heart.”

“And what happened to the servant?”

“The rest fell upon him and clubbed him to death immediately.”

“But of course it was Bahram Khan’s doing?”

“’Sh! He has established a satisfactory alibi, at any rate.” Dick
helped Georgia into the cart and took the reins, and they were well on
the road home before he spoke again. “It is the killing of the servant
that’s the most suspicious feature to me. It would be just like Bahram
Khan to bribe him to murder his master on the understanding that his
escape should be secured, and then to make matters safe by bribing the
rest to put him out of the way.”

“But surely that would only involve admitting more into the secret?”

“What secret? Bahram Khan is anxious for his cousin’s safety, and
charges the servants to show no mercy to any one that attacks him. The
utmost you could prove against him would be an idea that an attempt on
his life might be made--not even a guilty knowledge, far less

“How did he receive the news?”

“In the most orthodox way, deep but restrained grief. He must go to
Nalapur to be present at the funeral and comfort his bereaved uncle,
he told Burgrave, just as if his uncle would not sooner see a
man-eater come to comfort him. How Burgrave received the news, you

“Yes. His manner was indecently callous, I thought.”

“Oh no. His saying what he did was one of his calculated
indiscretions, like unveiling his policy to Timson coming up. No
papers here, you see, so he must make his revelations by word of
mouth. Ugh! the man turns me sick. Did you notice his bit of by-play
with Mab?”

“She didn’t realise what you meant, Dick. Things here are so new to
her, you know.”

“Oh, why should a man be doomed to have a fool for a sister? If I had
said to you what I said to her you would have understood.”

“Perhaps Mab hasn’t studied you as closely as I have.”

“No, the Commissioner is her object of study at present. Nice cheerful
prospect, isn’t it--to have that chap for a brother-in-law?”

“Ye-es,” said Georgia hesitatingly, “but I’m not quite sure it will be
that, Dick. I think there’s some one else.”

“And the Commissioner is only making the pace for him? No, no,
Georgie; that’s a little too thick. Of course I know there are dozens
of others, but who is there that has a chance against Burgrave?”

“If I tell you, you’ll only laugh. It is a very little thing, but it’s
the straw to show which way the wind is blowing. You didn’t notice,
when Bahram Khan had had his prize, how Mab was left sitting alone for
a minute. I knew just how she felt, ashamed and miserable and
_wounded_, and I wanted to go to her, but Mrs Hardy had got hold of
me, and I didn’t think she would improve matters. The Commissioner
didn’t see--he never does see what other people are feeling, unless he
happens to be feeling the same himself--but Fitz Anstruther did. He
was by her side in a moment, saying just the kind of things that would
lead her to forget her mortification. If he had seemed to intend to
help her, she would have been angry, but it looked quite accidental,
as if it was simply that he took pleasure in her society, and jumped
at the chance of enjoying it when he found her alone for a minute. She
will be grateful to him ever after, and that may be the beginning of
even better things.”

“Oh, you match-makers! The idea of coupling Mab and Anstruther, of all
people! And you back him against the Commissioner?”

“I do; unless Mab is deliberately playing for a high official future.”


“Awfully sorry, Mab, but I really can’t ride with you this morning.
It’s bad enough when one of our wandering tribes comes in for a
palaver, but to-day there are two of them, at daggers drawn with one
another. They have both sent deputations to inform me that I am their
father and their mother, and will I be good enough to pulverise the
other lot? That means that I have a nice long day’s work cut out for

“Oh, what a bother!” grumbled Mabel. “And Georgia has got a lot of
dreadful women in the surgery, and is doctoring them all round. How
can she bear to have them about? Do you like having an M.D. for a
wife, Dick?”

“Personally,” said Dick solemnly, “I rather do; since Georgia is that
M.D. Politically, it’s the making of me.”

“No; really?”

“Rather! Every woman of all these nomadic tribes has a stake in the
country, so to speak--a personal interest in the maintenance of the
system of government which has stuck Georgie and me down here. No
Sarkar, no doctor; that’s the way they look at it.”

“Well,” said Mabel, somewhat ashamed, “if it wasn’t that I have my
habit on, I would stay and help her. But we were going to try Laili,
Dick, and you promised faithfully to come.”

“I know; it’s horribly rough on you. But I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll
spare Anstruther to you for the morning, and he must ride out to me
after lunch. Don’t break his neck first, mind.”

“But will it be safe for you to go alone? Aren’t you afraid?”

“Shade of my mighty father-in-law! afraid of what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It sounds the sort of thing----”

“That one would naturally be afraid of? No, I would rather face any
number of excited tribesmen than Burgrave at his blandest. I’ll send a
_chit_ down to Anstruther, and he’ll be here in a few minutes.”

Mabel had not long to wait. She was still standing on the verandah,
flicking her dainty riding-boot with her whip, and feasting her eyes
on the satin skin of the beautiful little black mare which was being
led up and down by the groom, when Fitz came trotting up the drive.

“Awfully good of the Major to lend me out this morning, Miss North! Is
that the new pony? She ought to be a flier.”

“Yes, isn’t she a little beauty? I want to test her paces to-day. I
have had enough of riding her about the roads. She’s all right there,
but I should like to try her in a good gallop out in the desert.”

“Out in the desert?” repeated Fitz, as he gathered up the reins and
handed them to Mabel after mounting her. “Well, I don’t suppose
there’s any reason why we shouldn’t. If you don’t mind stopping a
second at my place I’ll put a revolver in my pocket, and then we shall
be all right.”

“Why, what could there be to hurt us?”

“We might happen upon a leopard, or something of the sort. It’s not
likely, but there’s no harm in being prepared. We have a sort of
fashion here of not going much beyond our own bounds unarmed.”

Mabel made no further objection, and after calling at Fitz’s quarters
they rode out into the desert. Laili’s paces were perfect, and as
often as Mabel raced her against Fitz’s pony she won easily. It was a
clear, cold morning, really cold, as is often the case early on a
winter’s day in Khemistan, and horses and riders alike seemed to be
possessed of tireless energy. The two grooms, to whom the cold was a
highly disagreeable experience, were left behind again and again, and
remembered only when they had become mere dots on the horizon, so that
it involved some waiting before they could come up.

“Now let us race again!” cried Mabel, when she and Fitz had
reluctantly walked their horses for some distance to allow the men to
approach them.

“All right. I say, there’s a jerboa! Let’s chase him!”

“Oh, do. I should so like to have one for a pet,” cried Mabel.

It seemed, however, that the jerboa preferred freedom to captivity,
even with Mabel as jailer, for it was gone in a moment, getting over
the ground in tremendous leaps, at a pace which taxed the horses
sorely to keep up with it.

“Oh, it’s getting away!” lamented Mabel.

“Perhaps I can manage to wing him from here,” said Fitz, bringing out
his revolver. “We could easily patch up a broken leg. Steady, Sheikh,
old boy!”

The pace was fast and the ground rough, and it was scarcely surprising
that the jerboa escaped unscathed, but Fitz’s shot had an effect that
he had not anticipated. At the sound Mabel’s little mare stopped dead
with a suddenness which jerked the rider’s foot from the stirrup and
nearly threw her out of the saddle, then took the bit in her teeth and
dashed away in a frenzy of terror. Pull as she might, Mabel could not
stop her, nor could she get her foot again into the stirrup. The
horror of that wild rush through the whirling sand-clouds, with the
wind shrieking in her ears, was such as she could never have imagined.
Certain destruction seemed to be before her, for Laili was heading
straight for the rocky ground at the foot of the mountains, where
there was no hope that she would be able to keep her footing. Mabel
was dimly conscious that she ought to come to some decision, or at
least to select a moment at which to throw herself off, but all her
powers seemed to be concentrated in the effort to pull up, or at any
rate to turn the pony’s head towards the open desert. As it was, Laili
made the decision for her. An isolated rock, revealed unexpectedly by
a lull in the wind, which caused the drifting sand to settle for a
moment, stood on the left hand of the course she was taking, and
catching sight of it, she swerved away so violently that Mabel found
herself all at once in a sitting position upon the sand. There she
remained, too much dazed to make any attempt to rise, until Fitz
dashed up, and flung himself recklessly from his horse, which promptly
continued the chase of the runaway on its own account.

“Oh, thank God you are not killed!” he cried brokenly to Mabel, his
sunburnt face ghastly pale. “But you are frightfully hurt! What is
it--your back? Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Miss North, try to move! Is your
leg broken? Don’t say it’s your back!”

Mabel repressed a weak desire to laugh. “I--I think I’m sitting here
because you haven’t offered to help me up,” she replied, as well as
her chattering teeth would let her.

He helped her up in silence, and began mechanically to brush the dust
from her habit with shaking hands. When at last he looked up at her,
Mabel saw that his lips were still trembling, and his eyes full of

“Oh, don’t look like that about me!” she cried impulsively. “I’m not
worth it.”

“Not worth it?” he cried violently, then, controlling himself with an
effort, he made a fair attempt at a laugh. “If anything had happened
to you, I should never have dared to face the Major and Mrs North
again,” he said. “Or rather, I could not have faced my own thoughts.”

“But why?” asked Mabel, mystified.

“Because it was all my fault for firing that shot--wretched
thoughtless _beast_ that I am! I would have blown my brains out.”

“Now that is wicked,” said Mabel with decision, “and foolish too. But
if you are going to talk in this agitating way, I think I should like
to sit down in the shade over there. I feel rather shaky still.”

“I’m an unfeeling idiot! Lean on me, please.”

He supported her gently across the intervening space, and found a seat
for her on a fragment of rock, in a nook which furnished a partial
shelter from the sun and the whirling sand. She made room for him
beside her, but he persisted in tramping up and down, his face
twitching painfully.

“I can’t stay quiet!” he cried, in answer to her remonstrance. “When I
think it’s just a chance--a mercy, Mrs North would say--that you’re
not--not--” he skipped the word--“at this moment, it knocks me over.
And all my fault!”

Mabel’s renewed protest was cut short by the appearance of the two
grooms, who ran up with scared faces, and inquired dolefully which way
the horses had gone, and whether the Presences would wait where they
were until the missing steeds had been captured and brought back.

“Why, what else should we do?” asked Fitz, calm enough now in the
presence of the alien race. His own groom hastened to reply that Dera
Gul, the ancestral stronghold of Bahram Khan, was only a bow-shot off,
and that there the Presences might find rest and refreshment.

“Not if I know it!” was Fitz’s mental comment. “It’s a blessing that
the principal villain himself is away at Nalapur, but we won’t
trespass on the hospitality of his vassals in his absence. We will
wait here,” he added to the servant, who replied sullenly that his
honour’s words were law, and departed with his companion in search of
the horses.

“What was he saying?” asked Mabel curiously.

“Oh, only gassing a little about the neighbourhood,” replied Fitz, who
had had time to decide that he would not alarm his charge by telling
her exactly where they were. It did not occur to him that the
uneasiness with which Bahram Khan’s glance had inspired Mabel three
days before had resolved itself into a sense of offended pride at what
she took to be a premeditated insult, and that no idea of any danger
to herself personally had ever entered her mind. He did his best,
therefore, to divert her thoughts from the question of the locality,
and was congratulating himself upon his success when a little
procession appeared round the corner of the cliff in whose shadow they
were sitting. The principal figure was a sleek and shining Hindu,
swathed in voluminous draperies of white muslin, with occasional
glimpses of red brocade, who advanced with profound obeisances, and
entreated the exalted personages before him to honour his master’s
roof by deigning to rest under it until their horses were found. This
time Fitz could not but refer the suggestion to Mabel, and he found to
his surprise that she was inclined to accept it.

“I shouldn’t care to meet Bahram Khan,” she said; “but he is away, you

“When did the Prince start for Nalapur?” asked Fitz of the Hindu.

“Three days past, sahib--the same evening that he was present at the
_tamasha_ at Alibad.”

“There!” said Mabel, “you see it’s all right. My hair is full of sand,
and it is so hot here. One never knows what to wear in this climate. I
don’t believe I shall be able to ride all that way back unless I can
rest in a cool place for a little first.”

“I am pretty sure Major North wouldn’t like it,” said Fitz doubtfully.

The Hindu caught the purport of the words, and his countenance assumed
an expression of the deepest woe. “It is the sad misfortune of the
illustrious prince that Nāth Sahib has ever looked upon him with
disfavour,” he lamented.

“Oh dear!” remarked Mabel, when the words were translated to her; “it
will be dreadful if these people get the idea that Dick has a
causeless prejudice against Bahram Khan. We had much better show
confidence in him by going to his house. Who knows? It may be the
beginning of better things.”

“I shouldn’t like to take the responsibility,” began Fitz, but she cut
him short.

“Very well; I will take it, then. I am sure Dick will be glad if we
can bring about a better understanding; and I think it’s very
inconsiderate of you to raise so many objections, when I have told you
how hot and tired I am, and how I want a rest. It wasn’t my fault that
we were stranded here, you know.”

This ungenerous use of the weapon forged by himself conquered Fitz,
and he consented, reluctantly, to accept the invitation brought by the
Hindu. Mabel’s smile of approval ought to have been a sufficient
reward for his complaisance, but it was not, for he felt an
uncomfortable certainty that Dick would object very strongly to the
visit when he came to hear of it. The Hindu led the way with much
bowing, and Fitz and Mabel followed him a short distance to the
gateway of the fortress, which was situated on the farther side of the
projecting cliff that had sheltered them. Two or three wild-looking
men, apparently half asleep, were lounging about, but otherwise the
place seemed to be deserted. The Hindu led them across the courtyard
and up a flight of steps into a large cool hall, furnished solely with
a carpeted divan and many cushions. Saying that sherbet and sweetmeats
should be brought to them immediately, he left them alone, ostensibly
to hasten the appearance of the refreshments. As he crossed the court,
however, Fitz, watching him idly, saw him glance up to the ramparts.
Here, to his astonishment, the young man perceived Bahram Khan himself
beginning to descend the steps which led down into the yard. Mabel had
also caught sight of the apparition, and Fitz’s eyes met hers.

“The great thing is not to show any sign of fear,” he said hastily.

“I’m not frightened,” retorted Mabel; “but I’m not going to sit here
to be stared at by that man. You must tell him that I have come to see
the ladies of the house, whoever they may be.”

“I daren’t let you go into the zenana. Anything might happen there,
and an army couldn’t rescue you.”

“But what could happen? You would keep Bahram Khan under your eye, of
course. And you forget that his mother is one of Georgia’s patients.
She will be delighted to see me.”

“Oh, that’s better, naturally. I will take up a strategic position in
this corner of the divan, so that I can cover my host comfortably,
without the risk of being seized from behind. But look here, won’t you
take my revolver? I should hear if you fired a shot.”

“No, thanks. I did learn to shoot once, but if I fired now I’m afraid
the result would be disastrous to myself alone. Besides, how could you
rescue me without a weapon of any sort? I shall feel much safer with
the revolver in your possession, for I am pretty sure you won’t leave
the place without me.”

The last words were spoken as Bahram Khan entered the hall, and Fitz
had no opportunity to reply. There was a suppressed excitement in the
Prince’s manner which made him uneasy, and he begged at once that
Mabel might bear the salutations of the doctor lady to the dwellers
behind the curtain. Bahram Khan’s face fell, and although he protested
that the honour shown to his household was overwhelming, it was fairly
clear that no honour could well have been more unwelcome. The ladies
had only just arrived, and had not yet settled down properly in their
new quarters; they had had no opportunity of making fit preparation
for so distinguished a visitor, and it was contrary to all the rules
of etiquette that the doctor lady should despatch a messenger to visit
them before they had sent their respects to her.

“Oh, very well, I won’t make my call to-day,” said Mabel, rising, when
Fitz had translated the long string of apologies that fell from the
lips of the embarrassed host. “Then we may as well come, Mr

But this was not what Bahram Khan desired, and after vainly
endeavouring to persuade Mabel to sit down on the cushions again, he
summoned a slave-boy, and ordered him to fetch Jehanara.

“There must be some one to interpret between the Miss Sahib and the
women,” he explained, and Mabel wondered why Fitz looked so stern and
so uncomfortable. Presently the curtain at the end of the room was
shaken a little, and Bahram Khan rose and spoke in a low voice through
it to the person behind. Then he beckoned to Mabel, the curtain was
raised slightly, and she passed through, to find herself in a small
dark antechamber. A stout woman in native dress stood there, with a
great key in her hand, and unlocking a door, motioned her into a dim
passage. It was so gloomy and mysterious that she was conscious of a
moment’s hesitation, but as soon as the door was shut the woman began
to speak in English, as rapidly as if she was reciting a history she
had learnt by heart. She spoke mincingly, and with a peculiar clipping
accent which struck Mabel as disagreeable.

“Yes, Miss North, and I don’t wonder you’re surprised, I’m sure, to
find me here, and as English as yourself. My poor papa was
riding-master in a European regiment--none of your Black Horse--and my
mamma was pure-blood Portuguese, and yet here I am.”

Even to the inexperienced eye the woman’s own face, though seen only
in the half-light, gave the lie to her claim of pure European descent,
but Mabel had not yet acquired the Anglo-Indian’s skill in
distinguishing shades of colour, and did not care to dispute the
assertion. Having taken breath, Jehanara went on--

“Yes, and I was educated at a real _pucca_ boarding-school in the
hills, Miss North--quite genteel, I assure you; one of the young
ladies was the daughter of the Collector of Krishnaganj. And
everything done so handsome--china-painting and making wax flowers,
and all the extras--no expense spared. I wish I could lay my hands on
some of the rupees that were poured out like water on my education, I
do. I should commence to astonish the people about here, I assure you,
Miss North.”

“You must have found this life very trying at first,” murmured Mabel.

“Trying’s no word for it, Miss North; it was just simply slavery. And
I, that thought to be a princess, reduced to be treated like a common
coolie woman, and thankful for that! Oh, I’ve been deceived
shamefully, Miss North, and there is that makes allowances for me, and
there is that doesn’t; but submit to be downtrodden I won’t be, not by
any old black woman that calls herself a begum, nor yet by any fine
gentleman officer that don’t think me good enough to talk to his lady

Some instinct told Mabel that it would not be well to inquire too
minutely into the means by which this waif of “gentility” had been
stranded on such an inhospitable shore; and to cut short the
complaints, which threatened to become incoherent, she asked whether
Jehanara knew her sister-in-law.

“Yes, Miss North, I do, and a real lady she is--no thanks to her high
and mighty sahib of a husband. Spoke to me polite, she did, the only
time I’ve seen her, and gave me some English books and papers to pass
the time away. Not like Mrs Hardy--there’s a sanctimonious old cat for
you, Miss North, and no mistake, drawing her dress away from me, and
talking at me as if I was the very scum of the earth!”

Mabel began to feel uncomfortable. Mrs Hardy’s judgments had not much
weight with her, but it was evident that Dick had directed Georgia to
hold no more intercourse with this person than civility required, and
she thought it well to hint that her time was limited.

“Oh, well, if you’re in such a hurry, Miss North, I’m sure I’m
agreeable. A little talk with any one that’s English like myself is a
treat I don’t often get, but I don’t desire to detain anybody to talk
to me that doesn’t want to. The Begum will be ready to see you, I dare

She led the way down the passage and into a low dull room looking into
a small paved courtyard, from which similar rooms opened on the other
three sides. Here were assembled some fifteen or twenty women and
girls, who had evidently made use of the time since Jehanara had been
summoned to the visitor in flinging on their best clothes over their
ordinary garb. Robes of fine cloth, silk, or brocade showed
treacherous glimpses here and there of coarse cotton or woollen
garments underneath, while the hair of the wearers was unplaited, and
their eyelids innocent of colouring. They were not at all embarrassed,
however, and crowded round Mabel with friendly interest; all but one,
who lay huddled up upon a bedstead in the farthest corner, with her
face to the wall, and refused even to look round. The chief person
present was Bahram Khan’s mother, who was known officially, from the
name of her late husband, as the Hasrat Ali Begum, but whose personal
title was the Moti-ul-Nissa, or Pearl of Women. She was an elderly
woman, with a shrewd face showing considerable power, and she greeted
Mabel with the kindness due to one who came from her friend the doctor
lady, but also with a constraint which the visitor could not but

Presently a privileged attendant of the Moti-ul-Nissa’s drew attention
to the dusty state of Mabel’s habit, and in explaining, with the aid
of Jehanara, what had happened to her, she was able to awaken the
sympathies of her audience. Ready hands brushed off the dust, a bowl
of perfumed water was brought that she might bathe her sun-scorched
face, and she was eagerly entreated to take down her hair and shake
the sand out of it. Not quite liking the look of the comb held out to
her, however, she contented herself with coiling her hair afresh,
while an eager girl held a cracked hand-mirror, with a battered wooden
back, at an angle that made it absolutely useless. The women were loud
in their exclamations of wonder and delight at the sight of the soft
fair hair, and presently Mabel became aware that the girl in the
corner had raised herself on her elbow, revealing a face beautiful in
its outline, but now haggard and stained with tears, and was scowling
at her with a look of unmistakable hatred.

“Is there some one ill in that corner?” she asked of Jehanara.

“No, Miss North, not ill--angry and sullen, that’s all.”

“Poor thing! in trouble, do you mean?” asked Mabel, rising and
approaching the bed. The girl had turned away again when she saw that
her glance was observed, and Mabel laid a hand upon her shoulder. “Can
I do anything to help you?” she asked.

To her astonishment the girl shook off her hand as if it had been a
snake, and springing up from the couch, burst into a torrent of
vituperation. Her lithe young form shook with passion, her delicate
hands were clenched, and her voice rose into a shrill scream. The
other women strove in vain to quiet her, and Mabel’s efforts to disarm
her anger were fruitless, but the storm ceased as suddenly as it had
arisen. Breaking off in the midst of a furious sentence, the girl
threw up her arms in a gesture of utter despair, then dashed herself
down again upon the bed, sobbing as though her heart would break.

“What is the matter with her?” asked Mabel, astounded and somewhat
offended by this reception of her friendly overtures. “What does she

Jehanara looked inquiringly at the Moti-ul-Nissa. A nod gave her
permission to interpret, and she replied glibly--

“Why, Miss North, she says she hates you, that you’ve stolen away her
husband with your airs and graces, and then come to gloat over her.
You mustn’t mind what she says. It’s the way with these native women;
they’re so sadly uncontrolled, you see.”

“But I haven’t stolen away her husband. Tell her so. What can she
mean? Who is she?”

The other women, breathlessly interested, gathered round while
Jehanara interpreted the answer to the girl, who sat up with streaming
eyes, and poured forth a succession of fierce, abrupt sentences.

“She says, Miss North, ‘I am Zeynab, called Rose of the World,
daughter of Fath-ud-Din, the King of Ethiopia’s Grand Vizier, and the
fair-haired woman’--that’s you, Miss North--‘has stolen from me the
heart of Bahram Khan, my lord. She has beguiled him to cast me
off--me, Fath-ud-Din’s daughter--that she may have his house to
herself, and now she comes to mock me. But let her beware. The witch
Khadija was not my nurse for nothing, and if poison can disfigure, or
steel kill, or fire burn, she shall pay every _anna_ that she owes
me.’ Don’t you go and take it to heart, Miss North; she’s a poor,
wild, uneducated creature, not brought up like us.”

“But she must be mad!” cried Mabel. “Tell her she is making some
extraordinary mistake; that I wouldn’t touch her husband with a pair
of tongs--that I hate the very sight of him. Tell her that nothing
would make me marry him if he was free, that my religion would forbid
it; and as he is married already, our law forbids it. Tell her that
even if I wanted to marry him, my brother would see me dead
first--that I would beg him to kill me before I stooped to such

Even Jehanara cringed before Mabel in her crimson indignation, and
translated her words without comment. The women looked at one another
doubtfully, and the Moti-ul-Nissa frowned. The forsaken wife spoke
again in bitter disdain--

“It is a fine thing to talk thus, when the fair-haired woman has
robbed me of my lord’s heart for ever. Since she cares so little for
it, why did she not leave it with Zeynab?”

“For anything that I have done, it is hers still,” said Mabel
desperately. “Ask my sister, the doctor lady, if it is not so. You
know her, all of you.”

“Ah, woe is me!” cried Zeynab. “Why did not the doctor lady leave me
to die as a little child, rather than save me by her art that misery
might come upon me through one of her own house?”

“Peace, girl!” said the Moti-ul-Nissa. “The doctor lady knows not yet
that thou art my son’s wife. It is not through her that this trouble
has come. I will send a message to her, that she may tell us what to
do. If the words of her sister here are true words--” she broke off
and looked keenly at Mabel--“it may be that she is one of those that
ensnare men even without their own will; but such women ought not to
place themselves where men are forced to behold them.”

Mabel digested the rebuke, translated with startling plainness by
Jehanara, as well as she might. “I am very sorry,” she said in a low
voice. “My brother said just the same to me, but I have only been here
a short time, and I didn’t understand things. Please forgive me,” she
added, looking first at Zeynab and then at her mother-in-law. “I never
dreamed that such a thing could happen, and I will take care that it
never does again.”

“Never again is too late for me,” said Zeynab bitterly.

“Peace!” said the old lady again. “Is it nothing to thee that the
doctor lady’s sister has humbled herself before thee? Now it is for
thee to win back thy lord as best thou mayest. And as for thee, Miss
Sahib,” added the Moti-ul-Nissa severely, “choose thee a husband
quickly, since that is the custom of thy people, and see that he is
such a man as will slay any other that casts his eyes upon thee.”

“The Sahib desires the Miss Sahib to be told that the horses have been
found, and all is ready,” said the little slave-boy, pushing himself
unbidden into the group, and Mabel wasted no time over her farewells.

“I really think I have never been so uncomfortable before!” she said
to herself, as she got out of the room.

“Now you see, Miss North, what a trial it is to me to live among such
coarse, ungenteel creatures as these,” said Jehanara.


“Poor dear Laili!” sighed Mabel, patting the dust-begrimed neck of
the little mare. There was no fear of Laili’s running away now,
although she had spirit enough left to struggle gamely through the
sand, miles of which still stretched between her and home.

“I don’t think she’ll be any the worse when she’s had a good rest and
feed,” said Fitz consolingly.

“Oh no, I hope not! But I know Dick will never let me ride her again.”

“Of course; it really wouldn’t be safe. The regiment are so often at
carbine practice, you know, and the tribesmen can’t come near the town
without letting off their jezails to show their friends they have
arrived. It’s quite an exception when a day passes without our hearing
shots of some kind.”

“I know. But she is such a beauty, I can’t bear to give her up.”

“Look here, Miss North; a bright idea! Will you let me try to break
her of this frivolous habit of hers? I’m generally considered rather
good with horses, and there’s nothing I should like better than to
train her properly for you.”

“Oh, could you really? Of course I have still got Majnûn, but he is
so uninteresting to ride compared with her. But won’t it give you a
great deal of trouble?”

“Trouble? Not a bit! I wish it would. Then you might set it down as
some sort of atonement for my carelessness in nearly getting you
killed to-day. But anyhow, I’ll do my best with her, honour bright! If
the Major will give her stable-room to-night, I’ll have a box cleared
out for her at my place. My stables are crammed with ridiculous old
rubbish that has come down to me from General Keeling’s time, and my
horses camp in the middle of it. By-the-bye, do you know I can’t feel
as I did about Sheikh here”--he looked askance at his own handsome
pony--“since Bahram Khan won the Cup on him? It seems as if he must be
an awful traitor to sell his master in that style, you see. I
distinctly saw the fellow whisper in his ear before he mounted him,
and he was like a lamb at once, instead of flinging his heels all over
the shop, as he had been doing the moment before. Now suppose he’s
been hypnotised once and for all, what’s to happen if he chooses to
trot off and attach himself to Bahram Khan any day we may chance to
meet him? I shall look a nice sort of fool.”

“Have Bahram Khan arrested for horse-stealing, I should think,” said
Mabel, with a rather forced laugh. “But how is it that that dreadful
man is here at all? I hope you had a word or two with the Hindu who
told us he was away?”

“Ah, but he had us there, unfortunately. Narayan Singh told us that
his master had started for Nalapur, but we didn’t ask whether he had
come back, so he wasn’t obliged to say anything, and he didn’t. Bahram
Khan told me himself how it happens that he’s here. It seems that when
he got to Nalapur his uncle intimated that he could run the funeral
without his assistance, and more than hinted, as I understand, that he
had had too much to do with it already. Hence he thinks it well to
hide his cousinly grief in his ancestral fortress, until he can get
the Commissioner to tackle Ashraf Ali for him again, I suppose.”

“More trouble!” sighed Mabel.

“I’m afraid so. The Kumpsioner Sahib is scarcely likely to take such a
slap in the face quietly. His _protégé_ has been snubbed, and I
rather think he will want to know the reason why.”

Mabel sighed again, and they spoke little after that, except to
encourage the horses as they toiled through the loose sand. Arrived at
the gate of the compound, she asked Fitz to come in and have some
lunch, but he laughed.

“No lunch for me to-day, Miss North. I must tear home and get a fresh
horse and ride out to the Major. You don’t realise that I have taken a
good bit of the afternoon off as well as the morning that he granted
me, and that the wigging I shall get is thoroughly well earned.”

“I’ll intercede for you the minute Dick comes in.”

“Ah, it will have happened before that. But never mind; it’s in a fair
and honest cause--couldn’t be in a fairer,” added Fitz audaciously, as
he rode off.

“I’m afraid that boy is going to be silly,” said Mabel solemnly to
herself as she mounted the verandah steps; but on catching sight of
Georgia, all thought of Fitz and his foolishness faded from her mind.

“Oh, Georgie, such a day of adventures! I’ve been thrown, and I’ve
paid a morning call on Bahram Khan and found him at home, and I’ve
penetrated into the recesses of an Eastern harem, and I’ve been talked
to more disagreeably than I ever was in my life.”

“Mab!” was Georgia’s horrified exclamation, “how could you? How could
Mr Anstruther let you? Was the harem Bahram Khan’s?”

“Yes, of course, and Mr Anstruther had no voice in the matter. I
preferred to sit with the ladies rather than with their lord and
master, naturally. And oh, Georgie! Bahram Khan’s Ethiopian wife is
your little Zeynab, Fath-ud-Din’s daughter, and she thinks--she
thinks--I don’t know how to say it--she has got it into her head that
I aspire to the honour of being the second Mrs Bahram Khan.”

“Mab!” cried Georgia again, helplessly.

“Yes, and there was a fearful yellow woman there who says she’s

“I know, that dreadful person Jehanara. Oh, Mab, Dick will be terribly
angry when he knows you have been talking to her! She is Bahram Khan’s
evil genius--inspires all his plots first, and then helps him to carry
them out. She came here once as his ambassadress, but Dick would have
nothing to do with her, and forbade me to let her come into the house.
You see, politicals have to be very jealous of any Europeans or
Eurasians’ gaining influence with native princes. And now she will
make capital out of your having spoken to her.”

“My dear Georgie, will you kindly tell me how I could help speaking to
her when she was the only possible interpreter between the ladies and
me? Really one might think I had arranged that all these horrid things
should happen, when you know they were pure accidents. And you won’t
sympathise a bit, though I’m almost out of my mind with worry. These
women will believe you; tell them, assure them, swear to them, that I
have no designs on Bahram Khan, for if they go on thinking I have, I
don’t know what I shall do.”

“I can put that right, at any rate, but Dick will be so vexed----”

“Dick!” Mabel almost screamed. “Dick is to know nothing of this.
Georgie, I absolutely forbid you to say a word to him about it. Isn’t
it enough for him to be always casting up against me what happened the
other day, without having this to bother me about as well?”

“You must have a horribly guilty conscience, Mab. I’m sure Dick has
never said a word to you about the other day.”

“No, but he has looked it, again and again. And I will _not_ have him
told about this absurd fancy of poor jealous Zeynab’s. You couldn’t be
so dishonourable, Georgie, as to tell your husband another person’s
secret against her will.”

“I can’t tell him if you forbid it, but I wish you would let me. Very
likely it is some plot of Jehanara’s to make the poor little wife
miserable, but it may have some political bearing, and I think he
ought to know. Do let me tell him, Mab.”

“No, you’re not to. I shall never have the smallest confidence in you
again if you do. It can’t concern Dick or anybody but myself, and the
only reason I told you was that you might use your influence with the
women to make them see how silly the idea was. If you tell any one
else about it, we shan’t be friends any more.”

Some four days later Georgia was returning home from afternoon tea at
the Grahams’. She had left Mabel behind her to comfort Flora, whose
_fiancé_ had returned to his duties at Fort Shah Nawaz, and Dick had
ridden across the frontier to settle a tribal dispute, and would not
be back till late. Georgia felt tired and depressed, and visions of
the couch in her own room, and the latest magazines that had reached
Alibad, floated enticingly before her. As she drove up to the house,
however, she caught a glimpse of a camel kneeling down to its meal, a
heap of fodder piled on a piece of rough cloth, in the stable-yard.
One of the high hooded saddles used by native women of distinction lay
near it, and two or three strange men were gossiping with the
servants. The inference was obvious, and Georgia felt no surprise when
her maid Rahah met her with the announcement that the Eye-of-the-Begum
was waiting to see her. Mysterious as the words sounded, they referred
only to the confidential attendant of the Moti-ul-Nissa, and the old
woman was very soon established on the floor of Georgia’s room. The
curtain over the door, which served as a danger-signal on these
occasions, was drawn, and Rahah stationed outside it to warn Dick not
to intrude when he returned, and the visitor was therefore able to lay
aside her veil and make herself at home. As for Georgia, she had
learnt by experience that however little a native might have to tell,
he or she invariably displayed a misdirected ingenuity in lengthening
out the telling of it, and she resigned herself to the loss of the
quiet time she had anticipated, and made the customary polite
inquiries with every sign of cordial interest. When these had been
answered, and the Eye-of-the-Begum had duly asked after Mabel’s
health, and (in modest periphrases), after that of Dick, and delivered
her mistress’s _salaams_ and good wishes to Georgia, paying a
compliment in passing to her hostess’s coffee and sweets, she prepared
at last to approach the subject of business, but strictly in her own

“Many years ago, O doctor lady,” she began, “a troop of robbers met a
man leading a fine horse richly caparisoned. ‘O brother, who art
thou?’ asked they. ‘I am So-and-so, the servant of Such-an-one, and I
am taking this horse to my master’s son as a gift from his uncle,’ he
replied. Then they seized and carried off the horse, and beat the man,
but let him go. But verily it was his fate to be unfortunate that day,
for he fell in with a second troop of robbers, who also asked him who
he was. ‘Truly,’ said he, ‘I am So-and-so, the servant of Such-an-one,
and I carry to my master’s son as a gift from his father a gold chain
which is concealed in my turban.’ Now before this they had intended to
kill him, but finding the chain, they took it and his clothes, and
bade him make haste to depart. Hiding by day and travelling by night,
he accomplished the rest of his journey, and presented himself before
his master’s son, who, seeing a footsore man wearing only a ragged
loincloth, asked him in astonishment who he was. ‘Verily,’ he said, ‘I
am So-and-so, the servant of Such-an-one, and I bring to my master’s
son the gift that his mother has sent him.’ And thus saying, he took
from his armpit the great pearl which is nowadays called the Mountain
of Milk, which is among the treasures of the Amirs of Nalapur, having
carried it safely through the country of the robbers. Then his
master’s son commanded that a robe of honour should be put upon him,
and gave him a horse and arms.”

“He thoroughly deserved them,” said Georgia.

“True, O doctor lady. But thy servant is now as that messenger was.
Here is my horse with the rich trappings,” she held out an empty
liniment bottle. “The pains which were banished by the medicine from
my mistress’s limbs have now returned, and she desires more of it. But
of the gold chain concealed in the turban there is much to say, and
even more of the great pearl hidden in the armpit, wherefore, O doctor
lady, be wary lest there be any that can hear us.”

Georgia rose obediently, and looked outside the windows, under the
bed, and into the wardrobe. Having made it clear that there were no
eavesdroppers about, she returned to her visitor.

“First, then, O doctor lady, thy servant will reveal the chain of
gold. My mistress’s son has looked upon the face of the Miss Sahib,
thy lord’s sister, and his heart is hot with love of her. He has said
to his mother, ‘Get her for me to wife, for I cannot sleep by night
nor eat by day for thinking of her.’”

“I am astonished that the Hasrat Ali Begum should venture to send such
a message to me,” said Georgia coldly, rising as she spoke, but the
old woman caught at her dress.

“Nay, hear me out, O doctor lady. My mistress strove her utmost to
dissuade her son, for truly it is not well for East to mate with West,
nor Moslem with Christian, neither is it pleasant for her to think of
a daughter-in-law who will desire to change everything in the zenana,
and rule the whole house, because she is English. It is out of love
for thee, O doctor lady, and for thy lord, who is just and fears no
man, that my mistress speaks. For these were the words of Syad Bahram
Khan, my mistress’s son: ‘Tell Nāth Sahib that if he will give me his
sister, I desire no dowry with her, but only his friendship. Let him
speak with my uncle to acknowledge me as his heir, and grant me the
honours and dignities which by right belong to the Amir that is to be,
and I will live in peace with them both, and strengthen them against
all their enemies. Fath-ud-Din’s daughter shall go back to her
father’s house, so that all men may see that I look no longer to
Ethiopia for support, and that Nāth Sahib’s sister shall have no
rival in the zenana. And moreover, have I not found favour in the
sight of Barkaraf Sahib, whose eye is evil against Nāth Sahib? If
Nāth Sahib will make friends with me, I will speak for him to the
Kumpsioner Sahib, so that he shall look favourably upon him also, and
the border will be at peace, and Nāth Sahib’s praise in all men’s

“Surely you must see for yourself that the idea is absurd?” said
Georgia, trying to speak gently. “I can’t be too thankful that Bahram
Khan did not send a message direct to my husband. His wrath would have

“That was Jehanara’s advice, O doctor lady. She bade his Highness
gather his followers and ride boldly with them to demand the Miss
Sahib from thy lord. But my mistress, knowing that Nāth Sahib’s hand
is always ready, feared for her son, and spoke prudently to him: ‘Nay,
my son, do not so, or Nāth Sahib will think thee ignorant of the
customs of thine own people, and intending an insult to his house.
Rather let thy mother speak for thee, that all things may be done
according to custom, and the maiden’s relations not angered.’”

“And what about my poor little Zeynab?” asked Georgia. “What does she
think of all these negotiations?”

“She is a fool,” returned the old woman shortly. “When the Miss Sahib
came into the zenana the other day, she was angry and reviled her, and
the Miss Sahib was angry also, and bade Jehanara tell her that she
would not so much as touch her lord with the staff of a lance. Now at
this the foolish girl was comforted, but her jealousy was only laid to
rest for a moment, and because her lord would not suffer her to come
near him, and drove her away with bitter mockings, she taunted him in
her rage with the Miss Sahib’s words, so that he fell into a terrible
fury, and beat her, and tore off her jewels, hoping that she would
return of her own will to her father’s house.”

“Brute!” murmured Georgia, with white lips. “But why didn’t he divorce
the poor child?”

“He would have done so, O doctor lady, had not Jehanara reminded him
that if Nāth Sahib rejected his proffer of friendship, it would not
be prudent for him to make himself enemies in Ethiopia. She desires to
see thy lord humbled, O doctor lady, and she knows that the Vizier
Fath-ud-Din hates him also. But the Lady Zeynab offered no resistance
to her lord’s treatment of her, dreading only lest he should send her
from him.”

“Upon my word!” cried Georgia. “I wish Bahram Khan had made his
request to my husband in person. He would have deserved whatever he

The visitor sighed patiently. “Strange are thy ways, O doctor lady,
after the manner of thy people! Why should it trouble thee that an
Ethiopian woman is beaten by her husband, when thine own lord’s fate
is trembling in the balance? Think rather of him and of thyself than
of this foolish girl. And now to come to the great pearl, even my
message of messages, which is from the mouth of my mistress’s brother,
the Amir Ashraf Ali Khan. It is known to no one but his Highness’s
self and the wise and learned mullah Aziz-ud-Din, whom he sent on an
errand to my mistress’s son, but with this secret message for my
mistress’s own ear. These are the words of the Amir Sahib: ‘Say to my
friend Nāth Sahib, What is to be the end of these things? Since thy
first coming hither I have obeyed thy voice, as I did that of thy
father-in-law, Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib, and all has gone well with me. I
saw at my side my nephew Bahadar Shah, who was to me as a son, my
Sardars brought their tribute at the due seasons, and the Ethiopians
durst not cross my borders, while thy wisdom and justice settled all
boundary disputes to the admiration of my wisest men. Now all this is
changed. Bahadar Shah is gone from me, and Barkaraf Sahib orders me to
receive in his stead the unnatural wretch who sought to slay me, his
benefactor. Even now he rebukes me with great words because I would
not suffer the mockery of his presence at the grave of him he slew.
Speak then, O my friend, and let me know thy mind. Who is Barkaraf
Sahib that he should thrust himself into the affairs of this border of
mine and thine? He cannot speak our tongue nor judge according to our
customs, and he never beheld the face of Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib Bahadar.
Can it be that his presumption and the evil of his doings are known to
the Sarkar? Wilt thou obtain leave for me to make a journey to the
Court of the great Lord Sahib, or of the Empress herself, that there I
may lay the truth before them? Or if the Kumpsioner Sahib stands in
the way of this, then let me present a petition truthfully drawn up.’”

The ambassadress paused, but Georgia shook her head. “No, it would be
no use,” she said. “The Kumpsioner Sahib has the ear of the Sarkar,
and he is given a free hand here.”

“Is it so, O doctor lady? Then listen to the remaining words of Ashraf
Ali Khan: ‘Let Nāth Sahib but say the word, and this border shall be
no place for the Kumpsioner Sahib. Already my Sardars are murmuring
against his doings, and the tribesmen’s faces are black towards him
because of his treatment of their friend. At a signal from me they
will rise all along the border, and force the Kumpsioner Sahib to flee
for his life, so that the Empress shall say, “Verily Barkaraf Sahib is
no fit ruler for the men of Khemistan.” But when he is gone, Nāth
Sahib shall quell the rising without drawing a single sword, so that
the Empress will send him a robe of honour and a state elephant, and
name him ruler of Khemistan and the border for ever. Send back but one
word through the mullah Aziz-ud-Din, whom I have despatched to quiet
the complaints of my nephew with empty words and grudging gifts, in
obedience to the Kumpsioner Sahib, and the thing is done.’”

“Oh no, no!” cried Georgia, “that must never be. A rising now would
only work the ruin of my husband, and the Kumpsioner Sahib would be
stronger than ever before. More than this, O Eye-of-the-Begum, such
are not the ways of the English. Because the Kumpsioner Sahib is set
over my husband, he is to be obeyed, and to conspire against him or
plot for his disgrace would be in our eyes a deadly wrong. The matter
is ended.”

“So be it, O doctor lady. The hands of Ashraf Ali Khan are clean, and
he has done what he could for his friend and for himself, but it was
written that matters are not to be set right thus. And one word more;
see that thy lord seek a husband quickly for the Miss Sahib. Why does
he not give her to the Dipty Sahib?” This was Fitz Anstruther, in his
capacity of Dick’s assistant or deputy. “He is young and well spoken,
and such a man as women love.”

“I should like nothing better,” said Georgia, with a sigh, “but I
rather think the Miss Sahib will choose a husband for herself. And
hark! I hear the Major Sahib returning. You will rest this night in
the guest-house in the compound with your attendants?”

“Even so, O doctor lady, and in the morning I will return to Dera Gul
with the medicine for my mistress, and with such words as the wisdom
of the night may dispose thee and thy lord to send in answer to the
Amir Sahib’s message.”

Georgia shook her head again sadly as she delivered the old woman into
Rahah’s charge, and having seen her safely out of the way, went to
find Dick. He had just thrown off his heavy boots, and was lounging
luxuriously in a long chair in his den.

“That you at last, Georgie? Come in, old girl. How has the world gone
with you all day? I’m just comfortably tired, and at peace with all
mankind. What’s up? Some obstinate patient who _will_ die, eh?”

“No, nothing of that kind. I have been interviewing a messenger from
Dera Gul.”

“Not that awful East Indian woman, I hope?” Dick raised himself

“No; the Eye-of-the-Begum, with a very secret message from the Amir.
He wants you to join with him to get rid of the Commissioner.”

“He does, does he? I thought Burgrave’s last reprimand would wake him
up a bit. He made it pretty clear that Bahram Khan was to be
recognised as heir, and admitted to all the privileges of the post.
It’s funny, isn’t it, that our respected superior doesn’t seem to see
what a creepy sort of thing it is to welcome into your bosom a snake
that’s tried to bite you already? Oh, Georgie, it is calculated to
make a man swear when he sees a fellow like Burgrave, who has far less
knowledge of district work than young Anstruther, and that so long ago
that he’s forgotten all about it, sent to upset a province where he
doesn’t even know the languages, simply because he can write nice
reports and is a favourite at Simla. I can’t make pretty speeches to
exalted personages, but I can keep this frontier quiet, and they won’t
let me do it.”

“I know; it’s perfectly shameful. But, Dick, I have something else to
tell you that will make you laugh, though you won’t like it. Bahram
Khan is anxious to marry Mab.”

Dick bounced out of his chair. “The dirty hound! It’s like his
impudence to dare to dream of such a thing. He had better look out for
the next time he comes across me. Why hadn’t he the pluck to bring his
precious message himself?”

“I think his mother fancied he would be safer at a distance. He is
good enough to offer his friendship as a bait.”

“Thanks, I’d rather be without it. The whole thing is a plot,
Georgie--a palpable plot to try and get me into trouble with Burgrave.
There was no hint of this atrocious idea when Mab was at Dera Gul the
other day, or we should have heard of it.” Georgia felt uncomfortable,
but her promise to Mabel kept her silent. “It’s a clumsy trick devised
on the spur of the moment. If I pretended to nibble at it, the next
thing would be that Burgrave would be informed I was intriguing
against him, and had offered my sister to Bahram Khan to attract him
to my side. We are on the down-grade, Georgie. I didn’t know they had
got so far as inventing false accusations against me yet. Bah! it
makes a man sick of the whole thing.”

“I fancy Bahram Khan has had the idea in his mind longer than you
imagine,” Georgia ventured to say.

“Oh, you’re a match-maker, as I’ve told you before. Please keep your
planning to pleasanter subjects in future. But I say, it’s rather fine
that the Commissioner should have Bahram Khan for a rival! I should
really like to tell him so.”

“Then you still think Mr Burgrave is in love with Mab?”

“If he isn’t, why does he stick on here so long without bringing off
his great splash? He says it’s because of the Christmas holidays, but
a trifle like that wouldn’t keep him quiet generally. My idea is that
he means to make sure of her before breaking with me.”

“But she would have nothing to do with him in any case if he broke
with you.”

“You think so? Well, we shall see.”


“Really, Mab,” said Dick irritably, “your horses are more bother
than they are worth. Why don’t you set up a motor-car?”

“How horrid you are, Dick! Any one would think it was my fault that
all these things happen. How could I help one of the other horses’
kicking Majnûn as they were coming back from watering? I am sure it
was that wretched Bayard of yours--cross old thing! At any rate, the
syce declares it’s impossible for Majnûn to go out to-day, and I can
see it myself. You can go round and look at the state his leg is in.”

“Oh, all right; I’ll take your word for it. But what are you going to

“The syce’s sole idea is to send down to Mr Anstruther’s for Laili,
but I don’t care to ride her again just yet.”

“No, I certainly won’t have you mount her until Anstruther can give a
better report of her proceedings. Well, you had better take Georgie’s
old Simorgh, as she and I are to do Darby and Joan in the dog-cart.”

“He’s so horribly and aggressively meek. I don’t want a horse whose
sole title to distinction is that in prehistoric days he carried his
mistress to Kubbet-ul-Haj and back without once running away. I am
going to ride Roy, Dick.”

“My dear Mabel, pray have some regard for appearances. Will nothing
but a mighty war-horse satisfy your aspiring mind?”

“That’s just it. He’s so big that it must feel like riding on an
elephant. I should love to ride him, and you know it’s perfectly safe.
A child could manage him--you said so yourself.”

“No, really, Mab. An appreciative country doesn’t provide me with
chargers merely to furnish a mount for you.”

“Then I shall borrow a horse from somebody. Mr Burgrave would lend me
anything he possesses in the way of horseflesh--he said so,” declared
Mabel vindictively.

“I daresay, and rejoice when it came to grief, so that he might nobly
refuse any compensation. Oh, take Roy, and Bayard too, if you like,
and make the whole show into a circus, but don’t put me under an
obligation to Burgrave.”

Mabel retired triumphant, as she had intended to do. It was the last
day of the Christmas holidays, and the Alibad festivities were to
close, as usual, with a picnic organised by Major and Mrs North.
Georgia had been up long before dawn, superintending the packing of
provisions in the carts, which must set out as soon as it was light,
and she was now resting in her own room. Without troubling to ask
herself why, Mabel felt relieved by her absence. She would not have
cared to employ the argument with which she had vanquished Dick, had
his wife been at hand, but she had no fear of his bearing malice or
alluding to the matter afterwards. Perhaps he thought she was
sufficiently punished already, for when she was perched upon the back
of the great roan charger, she found that her victory was its own sole
reward. Roy was almost as uncomfortable to ride as a camel, and to
Mabel, accustomed to her docile ponies, he seemed to have no mouth at
all. She was thankful to receive a hint or two on managing him from
his forgiving master, and thus forearmed, she would not own herself
defeated. Her mount excited a good deal of surprise among her
fellow-guests, and Mr Hardy asked her benevolently if she would not
have preferred an elephant, while Mr Burgrave reminded her in
reproachful tones of his offer of the loan of any of his horses. To
this she replied promptly that she preferred a military mount as more
trustworthy, an answer which bred great, if somewhat causeless elation
in the minds of several young officers who heard it.

The scene of the picnic was a spur of the mountains about a dozen
miles to the north-east, where there were curious caves to be seen,
and also the ruins of an ancient fortress, among which fragments, or
even whole specimens, of old glazed tiles, very highly prized by those
learned in such things, were sometimes found. On this occasion
everything was done in the orthodox way. The caves were duly explored
and the ruins examined, with suitable precautions against finding
scorpions instead of tiles, and a few rather disappointing sherds were
discovered, and entrusted to the servants to take home. Mabel and
Flora Graham chose to climb to the highest point of the ruins,
escorted and assisted by all the younger men of the party, but when
there they confessed that, but for being able to say they had achieved
the ascent, they had gained nothing that was not equally obtainable
down below. However, the provisions were excellent, and nothing
material to their consumption had been forgotten, so that the guests
all agreed that it had been a most successful picnic, and Georgia
heaved a sigh of satisfaction as she watched the servants piling the
last of the empty baskets on the carts.

These carts, with the three or four carriages which had conveyed the
elder members of the party, were obliged to return home by the track
across the plain, but it was possible for the riders to take a short
cut through the hills for the first part of the way. While a
discussion was going on as to the path to be chosen, Flora Graham
moved close to Mabel.

“Oh, Mab,” she murmured hastily, “do you think you could get Mr
Brendon to ride with you? He persists in sticking to me, and I know
Fred won’t like it when he hears. He’s a little inclined to be
jealous, you know, because once, before we were engaged, he thought I
liked Mr Brendon. Besides, I want to ride with Mr Milton, and talk to
him about Fred.”

Milton, the youth who was Fred Haycraft’s comrade at Fort Shah Nawaz,
had cheerfully put up with the fag-end of the holidays that his senior
might enjoy as much of Miss Graham’s society as possible. He was
delighted with the proposed arrangement, and Mabel had little
difficulty in attaching Mr Brendon to herself when he found that the
post he coveted was already bespoken. It was obvious, however, to
keen-eyed observers that Mr Burgrave and Fitz Anstruther had both been
promising themselves the pleasure of riding with Mabel, and the sudden
blankness of their faces when they found themselves forestalled by
this outsider was much appreciated. Finally, either moved by a certain
vague fellow-feeling, or each impelled by the determination to see
that the other played fair, they fell in together behind Mabel and her
cavalier, riding rather in advance of the rest.

As for Mabel, she felt it distinctly hard to be obliged to sacrifice
herself in this way for Flora’s benefit. Mr Brendon, of the Public
Works Department, was a most estimable young man, but he suffered from
a plethora of useful knowledge. To ask him a question was like pulling
the string of a shower-bath, which let loose a flood of information on
the head of the unwary questioner. Mabel had intended to let him prose
as he liked, while she thought about other things, and jerked the
string, so to speak, at the requisite intervals, but he was far too
polite to monopolise the conversation. He paused for her replies or
invited her opinion so often, while clearly ready to supply the needed
answer himself, that she had not a moment for meditation, and found
the ride almost unendurable. She had just succeeded in hiding an
irrepressible yawn when a happy idea came to her as she was
approaching a state of desperation.

“Oh, here is quite a nice level piece of ground! Let us race, Mr

He could not well refuse, and for all too short a time Roy pounded
gallantly through the sand. Brendon’s lighter steed won easily, and
when Mabel reached the end of the course, she found him waiting for
her. At this point their road entered a narrow ravine, leading down to
the open desert, and the high rocks on either side looked black and
threatening against the glowing sunset sky, a glimpse of which at the
farther end of the gorge dazzled the eyes.

“I think you had better let me pilot you here, Miss North,” said
Brendon. “The ground is strewn with loose boulders, and it is
difficult to distinguish them in this light. You might get a nasty

It was desirable that Brendon should ride anywhere rather than beside
her, and Mabel accepted the position he assigned to her with something
more than resignation. He took the lead as they entered the ravine,
his pony picking its way with infinite caution, and Roy followed
securely enough.

“What a delightful Dürer engraving we should make!” exclaimed Mabel
suddenly, “creeping along between these dark cliffs under such a
gorgeous red sky. But it’s contrary to all symbolism that you should
be riding first.”

“The colour of the sky would scarcely tell in an engraving,” answered
Brendon, with a perceptible accent of reproof. “But the idea would
work out well in black and white.”

“Oh dear, no!” persisted Mabel. “The sky is everything. It gives such
a threatening touch. I feel quite weird myself, don’t----”

“Don’t you?” she was going to say, but the words were cut short, for a
shot was fired among the rocks on the left, close beside her. Roy,
accustomed to such sounds, merely started slightly and pricked up his
ears, but the pony shied violently, and received a cut from its rider.

“Abominable carelessness!” shouted Brendon to Mabel, looking round as
the animal dashed forward. “I’m coming back to hunt that fellow out.
He might have shot one of us.”

The words were scarcely out of his mouth before the pony reared
suddenly and then fell forward, throwing him over its head. At the
same moment Mabel heard the sound of another horse’s feet behind her,
and before she could look round some one dealt Roy a smart blow on the
flank. She felt him rise for a leap, and was conscious that his heels
touched something as he went over. It seemed a miracle that he did not
land upon his head, but as it was, the shock, when his hoofs clattered
down amongst the stones, nearly unseated Mabel, and before she could
collect her scattered senses three mounted men appeared, as if by
magic, from among the rocks on either hand. Before she had time to do
more than realise that they wore turbans, a fourth man pushed up from
behind, and seizing her bridle, forced Roy into a canter. She had a
momentary vision of Brendon, his face streaming with blood, flinging
himself between her horse and her captor’s, and trying to wrest the
bridle from him; she saw the sweep of steel in the red light as one of
the other men turned round; saw Brendon cut down by a murderous blow
from a tulwar. It was all over in a moment, and before she could even
scream, she and her captors were out of the gorge and riding swiftly
to the right, away from Alibad and safety. From the fatal spot they
had left there came faintly to her ears the sound of several shots.

The sound reached other ears as well as Mabel’s. Mr Burgrave and Fitz,
riding leisurely, as they had been when Mabel and her cavalier left
them behind in their race, started when they heard it, and put spurs
to their horses. Entering the gorge they could see nothing but dark
rocks and lurid sky. No! what was that?--a bright flash, followed by
another report, coming from a spot close to the ground at the farther
end. Riding headlong down the ravine, regardless of the shifting
boulders, they distinguished at last the form of Brendon, his light
clothes dyed with blood. He was dragging himself painfully towards
them, holding his discharged revolver in his left hand.

“They’ve got Miss North!” he gasped, as they neared him.

With a sharp exclamation Mr Burgrave dug his spurs deeper and dashed
on, but Fitz, catching the look of agony on Brendon’s face, drew rein
for a moment.

 [image: images/img_078.jpg

“She’s riding--a troop-horse. Yell to him--to ‘Halt!’” came in broken
sentences. “And look out. There’s a--rope.”

Even as he sank down exhausted from loss of blood, there was a crash
in front. The Commissioner and his horse had gone down in a heap,
marking only too accurately the position of the rope. Fitz galloped
forward, his pony taking the obstacle like a bird.

“Ride on, for Heaven’s sake! Never mind me!” came in a despairing
shout from the man who lay helpless under the struggling horse, and
Fitz obeyed. He was out of the gorge now, and could see far away to
the right the dark moving mass which represented the object of his
pursuit. Ramming in his spurs, he followed at breakneck speed, his
whole soul absorbed in the savage determination to catch up the
robbers and their prey. Whether he and Sheikh lived or died, they must
reach that goal. Thundering on, his eyes fixed upon his quarry, he
perceived presently, with a fierce joy, that it was becoming clearer
to his view. He was gaining! Now he could distinguish the forms of the
men and their horses, and presently he was able to assure himself that
the wiry little native steeds were undoubtedly handicapped by the
necessity of accommodating their pace to that of the heavier Roy. That
the robbers he was pursuing were four to one did not occur to Fitz,
even in face of the ominous fact that they made no attempt to
interfere with him, too confident in their superior numbers to take
the trouble to separate and cut him off. The moment that he felt sure
of his advantage, his plan was ready, formed complete in his mind, and
without any volition of his own, his revolver was in his hand, cocked,
the moment after. As he diminished the distance between himself and
the robbers, he saw that they were no longer in a compact body. The
three unencumbered riders were leading, and Mabel and the man who held
her bridle came after. Mabel had recovered her presence of mind by
this time. She was striking furiously with her whip at the hand which
gripped her rein, in the hope of forcing the robber to loose his hold,
but in vain. He could not spare a hand to snatch away the whip, but
his grasp upon the bridle never relaxed. Suddenly a voice sounded in
her ears. Standing in his stirrups, Fitz put all the power of his
lungs into the one word, “Halt!” and at the well-known shout Roy
stopped dead, his feet firmly planted together. The shock dragged the
robber from his saddle, and his own horse, terrified, continued its
headlong career. Still grasping Mabel’s bridle with his left hand, he
drew his tulwar and sprang at Fitz. A bullet from the ready revolver
met him as he came, and he fell forward, the tulwar dropping harmless
from his fingers, which gripped for a moment convulsively at the sand
under Sheikh’s hoofs.

“Quick! Get behind me! Crouch between the horses!” cried Fitz to
Mabel, urging the panting Sheikh in front of Roy. The three men in
front had faced round, and seemed to be meditating a charge, but they
were without firearms, and Fitz, standing behind his pony, had them
covered if they should approach. Left to themselves, they might have
distracted his attention by coming at him from different directions,
and taken him in the rear, but the other members of the party had now
emerged from the gorge, and were riding down on them with shouts.
Prudent counsels prevailed, and they turned their horses’ heads again,
and rode off into the gathering darkness, leaving the victorious Fitz
with two trembling, sweating horses, and Mabel, crouched on the sand,
clutching wildly at his feet. She tried to speak as she looked up at
him, but no words would come, and only a hoarse scream issued from her
lips. The sight of her utter prostration almost unmanned him.

“Don’t, don’t, Miss North!” he entreated, trying to lift her up.
“You’re safe now, and the others will be here in a minute. Don’t let
them see you like this.”

She swayed to and fro as he raised her, and staggering to Roy’s side
buried her face in his mane. Fitz turned away. It would be taking an
unfair advantage, he felt, to speak to her in this forlorn state, and
he began to pat Sheikh, and praise his gallant efforts in a low tone.
Many a time afterwards did he curse himself as a fool for this
backwardness of his, but at the moment it was impossible to him to
take her in his arms and comfort her, as his heart urged him to do.
She had been saved from death or worse by his means, and he could not
presume upon the service he had rendered her.

The moment’s constraint was quickly ended by the eager questions of
the men who came galloping up. Fitz stepped forward to meet them.

“Look out!” he said hastily, jerking his head in Mabel’s direction,
“Miss North is awfully knocked up. Leave her to herself for a moment.
Is Tighe here?”

“He stopped at the nullah. It’s a bad job there. Brendon’s gone, poor
old chap! and the Commissioner’s pretty extensively damaged. Jolly
good job the doctor was able to ride out this afternoon.”

“I say, look here,” said Fitz, “we mustn’t let her know about this.
Can’t we get her straight home?”

“Must go back to the nullah. The Colonel and one or two more whose
horses were no good stayed with Tighe to help him dig out the
Commissioner. He had managed to shoot his horse, lest it should kick
his brains out, but it was lying right across him. They’ll want help
in getting him home, and poor Brendon too.”

“Well, say nothing to Miss North, and we’ll try to keep it dark.
There, she’s coming. Can’t you say something ordinary?”

Milton, to whom the request--or rather command--was addressed, gasped
helplessly. The circumstances seemed to preclude him from saying
anything at all, but as Mabel came towards them, her face still white
and her lips trembling, a happy thought seized two of the other men

“We’ve never even looked at the rascal you potted!” they cried to
Fitz. “Here, come along. Who’s got a match?”

Mabel shuddered, and caught at Fitz’s arm, but a dreadful fascination
seemed to draw her to the place where the dead robber lay. Some one
produced a box of matches, and kneeling down, struck a light close to
the face of the corpse. Fitz knew as well as Mabel what face she
expected to see, and he could hardly keep himself from echoing her cry
of surprise and relief when they realised that a stranger lay before

“Wait a minute, though,” said one of the officers, pressing forward.
“Lend us another match, old man. Yes, I thought so! It’s Mumtaz
Mohammed, the sowar who deserted five or six weeks ago. See, he has
his carbine on his back.”

“Then it was only a common or garden raid, and not a planned thing,”
said another. “I know it was said he had got away to those fellows who
broke out of prison at Kharrakpur.”

“No,” said Mabel suddenly; “it was a plot.”

“Why, Miss North--how do you know?” they asked, astonished.

“Because my syce was in it. He told me this morning my pony could not
be ridden, and wanted me to send for Laili, whom Mr Anstruther is
training for me. She bolts at the sound of a shot. It was a shot fired
in the nullah that began this--this----”

“And you didn’t ride Laili after all?”

“No, I would ride Roy. I asked for him just to see what Dick would
say, and when he didn’t want me to have him, I persisted, simply to
tease him. And it has saved my life!” she cried hysterically.

“Not much doubt who stood to benefit by the plot!” muttered one of the
men who had stood behind Mabel at the Gymkhana, but Fitz nudged the
speaker fiercely.

“I don’t know what we’re all standing here for--in case our deceased
friend’s sorrowing relations like to come back and wipe us out, I
suppose. Let me mount you, Miss North. Are you fellows going to stop
out all night? Had we better bring _that_ along, do you think?”

This was added in a lower tone, as he pointed to the robber’s corpse.
After some demur it was decided to lay it across the saddle of
Brendon’s pony, which had found its way back to the rest with a pair
of broken knees, and they rode back towards the gorge, the last man
leading the laden pony, so that it might be kept out of Mabel’s sight.
As they approached the entrance to the ravine Dr Tighe came forward
hastily to meet them.

“Look here,” he said, “I want some one to ride on to Alibad at once.
The Commissioner has broken his knee-cap and a few other things, and
Major North’s is the nearest house, but Mrs North mustn’t be
frightened. Milton, your pony’s a good one, I know, so just take it
out of him. Say nothing about Miss North or Brendon or anything, but
tell Mrs North the Commissioner has had a nasty fall, and I am
bringing him to her house with a fractured patella and a pair of
smashed ribs. She can get things ready, and send on to my house for
anything she doesn’t happen to have.”

“Surely the ladies had better go back with me, Doctor?” asked Milton,
pausing as he was about to start.

“No, we don’t want any more kidnapping to-night. We must travel
slowly, all of us, but they’ll be safer than with you. Feel shaky,
Miss North? Drink this,” and he handed her a flask-cup. “Miss Graham
is waiting to weep tears of joy over you. What, aren’t you gone yet,

“Tell Major North to arrest the syce,” Fitz shouted after the
messenger as he disappeared in the darkness.

“Off with your coats, you young fellows!” cried Dr Tighe, as the thud
of the pony’s steps upon the sand died away. “The Commissioner has to
be carried home somehow, and there’s not so much as a stick to make a
stretcher of. We must tie the coats together by the sleeves, and
manufacture a litter in that way.”

No one dared to scoff, although no one could understand what the
doctor meant to do; but working energetically under his directions,
they succeeded in framing a sufficiently practicable litter. Six of
the party were chosen as bearers, and the others were to relieve them,
their duty in the meantime being to lead the riderless horses and keep
watch against a surprise. Mabel and Flora, who had been enjoying the
luxury of shedding a few tears together in private, were placed at the
head of the procession, and the march began. At first the litter
containing the wounded man followed close after the two girls; but
presently Fitz, who was one of the bearers, felt his arm grasped.

“Let the ladies get ahead of us, please. I--I can’t stand this very

Fitz understood. Mr Burgrave was suffering acutely in being carried
over the rough ground, and he feared lest some sound extorted from him
by the pain should acquaint Mabel with the fact. The litter and its
bearers dropped behind, and if now and then a groan was forced from
the Commissioner’s lips, his rival, at any rate, felt no contempt for
the involuntary weakness. Before half of the journey had been
accomplished, a relief party, headed by Dick, met them, and Mr
Burgrave was transferred to a charpoy carried by natives, after Dr
Tighe had made rough and ready use of the splints and strapping
Georgia had sent. A little later a detachment of the Khemistan Horse
passed at a smart trot in the direction of the gorge. It was not now
the rule, as in the early days of General Keeling’s reign, for the
regiment to sleep in its boots, but it was still supposed to be ready
day and night to trace the perpetrators of any outrage and bring them
to justice--rough justice, sometimes, but none the less impressive for
that. The sight gave Mabel a sense of safety and comfort, and she
scouted Flora’s proposal that she should come home with her for the

“As if I would leave Georgie alone, with all this extra work on her
hands!” she said, as they turned in at the gate.

“Oh, Mab, is it true about the Commissioner?” cried Georgia, coming
out to meet them on the verandah.

“Yes; I am afraid he’s dreadfully hurt, poor man!”

“Was he riding with you when he fell?”

“He--he was riding after me,” said Mabel cautiously.

Georgia threw up her hands. “Oh, if you could only have hurt any other
man, or taken him to any house but this!” she cried; and Mabel thought
it both unkind and unfair, considering the circumstances.


Hark! what was that? Mabel sprang up in bed, her heart beating
furiously, her hands clammy with fear. There was the sound of horses’
feet, the rattling of bridles, on every side. A wild impulse seized
her to creep under the dressing-table--to hide herself anywhere, but a
moment later she laughed aloud. The very last thing before going to
bed, Dick had told her for her comfort that not only would the usual
Sikh sentry keep guard over the Commissioner’s slumbers, but the
compound would be patrolled all night by the Khemistan Horse. She
crept to the window and peered out between the slats of the venetians.
Yes; there they were--splendid men with huge turbans, and
accoutrements glittering in the moonlight--pacing slowly to and fro
upon their stout little horses. But how was it that there were two of
them at that far corner of the compound, where she could scarcely
distinguish their figures, and why had they paused as though to listen
for something? Mabel listened too, and presently, above the nearer
noises of trampling hoofs and jingling bits, she heard the approach of
a galloping horse. Was it a scout coming in to give warning of a
threatened attack? But no; the two men at the corner sat motionless on
their horses, and as the sound came nearer and nearer she saw the
flash of their tulwars. They were saluting--whom or what? Mabel
strained her eyes to see, but could distinguish nothing. Then she
remembered. It was General Keeling to whom they were doing honour, as
he rode his periodical rounds, watchful for the safety of his old
province. A cold sweat broke out all over her, and in a panic of which
she was heartily ashamed even at the moment, she scurried back to bed
and gave herself up to more and more violent paroxysms of horror. Of
what use were sentinels against such a visitant as this? Suppose it
was his will to come closer, to come up to the house, to enter? What
could be more likely? She lifted her head for a moment and listened
again. Surely that was a horse’s tread upon the drive, approaching the
door? In reality, the intruder was only one of the patrols, but in the
state of ungovernable terror in which Mabel was plunged this did not
occur to her, and she buried her head under the bed-clothes and

The ayah, roused from her heavy slumbers by her mistress’s shrieks,
came shivering to her side and tried to quiet her, but finding her
entreaties of no avail, ran for help. Presently Georgia glided in,
looking like a reproachful ghost herself, in a white dressing-gown,
and proffered Mabel three tabloids and a glass of water, as sternly as
if she had been Queen Eleanor handing Rosamund the poison.

“I’ll sit by you till you are asleep,” she whispered; “but you mustn’t
make such a noise. You’ll wake the Commissioner, and he has only just
dropped off to sleep, poor man!”

“I know I’m a fearful baby,” confessed Mabel, restored to calmness by
the eminently practical nature of Georgia’s benevolence, “but I was so
horribly frightened. Is poor Mr Burgrave very bad?”

“It was a nasty accident,” replied Georgia, with professional caution.

“What have you done to him?”

“Strapped up the broken ribs, and applied ice to the leg and slung it

“Ugh, cruel creature! ice this cold night? I suppose it’s because you
hate him so much?”

“Hate him? What nonsense! How could we hate a man who has got hurt in
trying to save you? He’s so brave about it, too.”

“And he didn’t mind having you for a doctor?”

“Of course I was only helping Dr Tighe. But even if Mr Burgrave
disliked my being there, he wouldn’t show it. When Dr Tighe told him
he had better stay in this house until the splint is taken off, and
not run the risk of jarring the limb, he looked at me, and said, ‘If
my presence is not too troublesome to my kind surgeon here.’”

“And smiled at you like a father. _I_ know,” said Mabel, with sleepy
sarcasm. “Georgie,” she roused herself suddenly, “I want to know--how

“Now, I will not answer another question to-night,” said Georgia
resolutely. “I am going to read to you till you fall asleep.”

When Mabel awoke in the morning she felt oppressed by an intolerable
burden. Body and mind seemed to be alike tired out, and it was an
effort even to open her eyes. Georgia and Dr Tighe were in the room
looking at her, and the sight of them reminded her that there was some
question she wanted to ask, but she could not remember what it was.

“Well, Miss North,” said Dr Tighe, “nerves a bit jumpy this morning,
eh? We’ll allow you a day in bed to settle them a little, but after
that you must get up and help Mrs North to look after her patient.”

“Oh, I’ll get up to-day,” said Mabel faintly.

“No, no; don’t be in too great a hurry. Your brother will come in to
ask you a question or two in a few minutes, and afterwards you shall
try what a little more sleep and a little more slumber will do for
you. It’s quite evident that nature never meant you for a

“Oh, Doctor,” expostulated Georgia, “think what she has gone through
since she came here, and only out from home such a short time!
Besides, nothing so bad as this has ever happened in our neighbourhood

“At any rate, it’s the sort of thing you want to take to young if
you’re to shine in it,” said the doctor. “Life in these parts is not
exactly pretty, but it has its exciting moments. Nothing like what it
had once, though. A predecessor of mine under General Keeling used to
head cavalry charges and take forts in the intervals of his medical
duties. I have no pleasant little recreations of that sort for my
leisure hours. Now, Miss North, don’t let me see you dare to smile at
the thought of my heading a cavalry charge. There was some object in
training in those days, but naturally a man puts on weight when
there’s nothing to do but potter about an hospital.”

“You see you’re not the only person in the world who hankers after
thrilling experiences, Mab,” said Georgia, as she left the room with
the doctor, and the words recalled to Mabel their conversation of
three weeks since. Stretching out her hand, she took a mirror from the
toilet-table and glanced at herself in it, only to drop the glass in
horror. What a hollow-eyed wreck she looked! Was it possible that one
night could work such a change? She had had her wish and tried
experiments in reality, and she recoiled from the result.

“On the whole, I think I prefer the pleasing fictions of ordinary
English life,” she said to herself.

“Good-morning, Mab,” said Dick’s voice, following a knock at the door.
“I’m not going to disturb you long, but I want you to tell Tighe and
me what you can remember about last night’s business. It’s necessary
for me to know, or I wouldn’t bother you.”

With a shudder Mabel let her thoughts return to that homeward ride for
a moment, then looked up suddenly. “Oh, now I remember!” she said. “My
head is so stupid, I couldn’t think of it before. How is Mr Brendon?”

Both men had expected her to ask after the Commissioner, and Brendon’s
name took them by surprise. “Brendon? Oh, he’s--he’s as well as he can
be,” said Dr Tighe hastily, recovering himself first.

“But how can he possibly be well? His arm must have been nearly cut
off. He fell down under the horses’ feet. Oh, you don’t mean--he can’t

The silence was a sufficient answer, and she turned her face to the
wall with a moan. Brendon dead--for whom her kindliest feeling the
evening before had been a more or less good-natured contempt--and he
had practically given his life for her!

“Look here, Mab,” said Dick earnestly; “it won’t do the poor fellow
any good to cry about him just now. What we want is evidence to
convict the villains who did it.”

“Have you caught them?” came in a muffled voice from the bed.

“I hope so. Winlock, who went out to track them last night, had his
own ideas on the subject, and posted part of his detachment in hiding
among the rocks round Dera Gul. A little before dawn three men rode
up, coming from Nalapur way--not from our direction--but they and
their horses were all dead-beat. Winlock arrested them, feeling pretty
certain they were the men he wanted, and had made a long round to
avert suspicion before going home. They were Bahram Khan’s servants,
sure enough, but he said they had been to Nalapur for him, and he
offered no objection to their being arrested. When you are better we
must see if you can identify any of them, but now all I want is to
know roughly what happened, on account of the--inquiry, which must
take place to-day.”

Thus stimulated, Mabel told her tale, helped out by questions from
Dick, but breaking down more than once. He took down what she said,
and the doctor signed it as a witness, and then they left her to
Georgia’s ministrations. Georgia found her patient excited and
tearful, and sent Rahah at once to the surgery to make up a composing

“Now, Mab, lie down and try to be quiet,” she said.

“No, I won’t lie down. I can’t sleep,” cried Mabel. “Isn’t it
dreadful, my having to identify those men? I can’t bear to think of
it. And it brings it all back so vividly--the horrible helplessness--I
could do nothing--_nothing_--to save myself. I think I should have
gone mad in another moment if Mr Anstruther had not come up. And now
to have to go and look at them in cold blood, and say that I recognise
them! Isn’t there any way out of it? Oh, Georgie, can’t Dick make my
syce turn Queen’s evidence?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Georgia reluctantly. “The fact is, Mab, your
syce didn’t wait to be caught. He went off while we were at the

“Oh, well,” said Mabel despairingly, “then I must do it, I suppose. It
seems a kind of duty, as poor Mr Brendon was killed in trying to save
me, to have the men who killed him punished. But it’s awful to think
that three men will be hanged just because I saw their faces! They
will be hanged, won’t they?”

“I don’t know, really. It is very dreadful, Mab, but there is one good
thing about the whole affair. It may put things right on the frontier.
Both Dick and I think Bahram Khan was so confident of Mr Burgrave’s
support that he ventured on this outrage feeling sure that he would
see him through. If these three men are proved to be his agents, it
must open the Commissioner’s eyes. He’s an Englishman and an
honourable man, though dreadfully mistaken, and he can’t go on backing
him up after that. In fact, I’m sure he wouldn’t want to.”

“No, I don’t think he would. And I suppose there is no question about
it really? What do other people think?”

“None of the men here have a doubt that it was Bahram Khan’s doing. As
for the regiment, they are so indignant over the insult offered to
Dick in attempting to carry off his sister, that they would like to
raze Dera Gul to the ground forthwith.”

“Oh, that’s the light in which they look at it? They don’t think of my
feelings in the matter at all?”

“I’m afraid not. You and I are merely Dick’s chattels in their eyes,
you see.”

“I may be, but you are not. My ayah Tara tells me all sorts of
wonderful things about you, Georgie, which she picks up from the other
servants. Do you know that when you kiss Dick before he starts in the
morning, they think you are putting a spell upon him to keep him safe
all day, and bring him back to you all right at night?”

Georgia blushed like a girl. “That is really rather sweet,” she said.
“Rahah despises the people round here too much to tell me anything
they say about us.”

“Oh, Georgie,” cried Mabel, with sudden envy, “I would give anything
to care for any one as you do for Dick! You look quite different when
you talk about him. If only I wasn’t such a cold-hearted wretch! I
wish I had cared for poor Mr Brendon, even; that would be better than
caring for no one but myself.”

She broke into a storm of tearless sobs, and Georgia hailed the
appearance of Rahah with the sleeping-draught, which she was obliged
to administer almost by force. It was some time in taking effect, but
at last the sobs died away, and she was able to leave the patient in
charge of her own ayah, while she went about her other duties. Not
until the morning of the next day did Mabel wake again, very much
ashamed of her behaviour, which she was conscious had not been exactly
in accordance with the high aspirations she had formerly confided to
Georgia. Resolved to redeem her character, she sprang out of bed at
once, and when Georgia came into her room on tiptoe, expecting to find
her asleep, she was already dressed.

“Let me do something to help you,” she said eagerly. “You must have
had a fearful amount of extra work thrown on you yesterday. What can I

“Well, if you are so benevolently inclined, you might sit with the
Commissioner a little,” said Georgia. “He was asking for you all day,
and rather suspected us of concealing something dreadful from him.”

“Very well,” said Mabel readily. The proposal exactly fell in with her
wishes, for she had conceived a magnificent idea while dressing. By
her diplomacy she would induce the Commissioner to reverse his
frontier policy.

“Miss North!” Mr Burgrave started up from his pillows as Mabel entered
the sickroom, but becoming suddenly conscious of his injuries, he sank
back again stiffly. “Excuse my left hand,” he added. “The other is off
work just now. And how are you? Really not much the worse?”

“I had no business to be any the worse,” returned Mabel. “Nothing
happened to me, thanks to you and--the others.”

“Ah, but the shock to the nerves must have been exceedingly severe,”
said Mr Burgrave soothingly. “As I remarked to Tighe yesterday, Mrs
North would have got over anything of the kind in an hour or two, but
you are much more highly strung.”

Mabel was vaguely aware that the comparison was intended to be in her
own favour, but she could not agree that the advantage was on her
side, and she changed the subject hastily. “I don’t know how to thank
you for what you did. Every time I think of that evening I feel more
and more how grateful I ought to be. And I am, indeed, but I can’t say
what I should like.”

Mr Burgrave raised his hand. “Please don’t, Miss North, or you will
make me more miserable than I am already. How can I forget that I did
nothing to help you? Mr Anstruther had that happiness, while I was
lying on the ground under my horse.”

“But you tried--you did all you could--you are so terribly hurt!”
protested Mabel.

“Yes, and that is my only comfort. I was hurt, and therefore I am
here. No, on second thoughts, I don’t even envy Anstruther. He did the
work, but I have basely annexed the reward. To have rescued you was
happiness enough for him. I, who was unsuccessful, am consoled by
finding myself under the same roof with you for a fortnight. That is
enough for me.”

“How nice of you to say so!” Mabel rose. “Then I can leave you alone
quite happily, and go and help Georgia?”

“Miss North, you are not going already? What have I said to drive you
out of the room? Do you want me to pine away in melancholy solitude?
After all, I did try to rescue you, as you were kind enough to say
just now; but it will need your constant society and conversation to
keep me from brooding over my failure.”

“I’m afraid my society won’t be very cheerful,” said Mabel, resuming
her seat with a sigh. “You see, I can’t help feeling that what
happened was a good deal my fault. If I had only told what I knew----”

“Well?” asked Mr Burgrave anxiously, as she paused.

“Ah, but if I had, you would not have believed it,” was the unexpected
response, “any more than you would now.”

“Do you think I should be so rude as to question your word?”

“You will when I tell you that I know the men who tried to carry me
off were agents of Bahram Khan’s.”

“You have evidence to support this very serious charge, I presume? Are
you able to identify the men?”

“I suppose so; I haven’t tried yet. But, Mr Burgrave, I’m going to
tell you something that only my sister-in-law knows--not even my
brother, for I wouldn’t let her say anything to him. Bahram Khan did
want to--to marry me.”

“What?” cried the Commissioner, starting up again. “You don’t mean to
say that he has ever ventured to--to suggest such a thing to you?”
Rage and disgust strove for the mastery in his voice.

“Oh no, he has never said anything to me; but the day I was at Dera
Gul the women talked of nothing else.”

“Oh, the women!” Mr Burgrave spoke quite calmly again, and with
evident relief. “You must remember that Bahram Khan is a good deal
more advanced in his notions than the other Sardars of the province,
and would like to imitate our ways with regard to ladies--English
ladies, I mean. That is just the sort of thing that native women can’t
understand. Any polite attention he might offer you would be
misconstrued by them into a cause for violent jealousy. Their mistake
made things extremely unpleasant for you at the moment, no doubt; but
you need not torment yourself with thinking that he had any such
preposterous idea in his head.”

Mr Burgrave did not actually say that a lady accustomed to universal
admiration was liable to perceive it even where it did not exist, but
this was what Mabel understood his slightly repressive tone to imply.
Ignorant of the Eye-of-the-Begum’s secret mission to Georgia, she
could not defend herself against the suggestion, and she grew crimson.

“Why don’t you say that I imagined the whole thing?” she demanded.
“It’s not an experience I am proud of, I assure you. I told it you
purely in the hope that it might open your eyes a little, but since
you prefer to regard Bahram Khan as an interesting martyr----”

“Pray don’t mistake me, Miss North. If I believed that Bahram Khan had
really devised this dastardly plot against you, I would hunt him down
like a bloodhound until he was delivered up to justice, though that
would mean the death of all my hopes for this frontier. In one way, of
course, it would simplify matters a good deal. I am not in the habit
of bothering ladies with politics, but there can be no harm in saying
that it gives me great pain to differ from a man I respect as I do
your brother. He has done so much for the frontier that it seems
almost presumption in me, a new-comer, to set my opinion above his.
However, I have formed that opinion after long and careful study of
the Khemistan problem, and only the very strongest proof that I had
been mistaken could induce me to alter it. But if you should be able
to identify Bahram Khan’s servants as your assailants, it would be
conclusive evidence that he is not the man I take him to be.”

“And then you would see that Dick was right, and leave him to manage
things in his own way?”

“My dear Miss North, we are now soaring into the domain of
improbabilities. If my opinion were once modified, it is possible that
your brother’s view might prevail, or again, it might not.”

“I am certain he would not be sorry if Bahram Khan was proved to be
untrustworthy,” was Mabel’s mental comment. “It would show him a way
out of his difficulty. And now I shall be able to do it.”

Mabel was particularly cheerful all the rest of the day, as indeed she
had a right to be, for was she not about to secure the safety of the
frontier? Warned by her experience of the morning, she made no further
attempt to entrap Mr Burgrave into a political discussion, but
contented herself with showing in numberless little ways her gratitude
for the concession he was prepared to make. She even welcomed his
offer to introduce her to the beauties of Robert Browning, a poet
whose works she had been wont to regard with the mingled alarm and
dislike which, in the case of a modern young lady, can only spring
from ignorance of them. He sent a servant back to the bungalow he had
occupied to fetch the two portly volumes which, as he told her, always
formed a part of his travelling library, and she read aloud to him
without a murmur a considerable portion of “Paracelsus.” Under the
combined influence of his favourite poet and the reader’s voice, the
Commissioner forgot alike his injuries and the difficulties which
beset his policy, and the household fairly basked in his smiles. This,
at least, was what Fitz Anstruther said, but he had happened to
intrude upon the reading as the bearer of an important message from
Dick, and was adversely affected by the peaceful scene.

The next morning, as Dick was going to his office, Mabel intercepted
him in the verandah. “I am ready to identify those men as soon as you
like, Dick,” she said.

He looked at her in surprise. “Wouldn’t you rather wait until you have
recovered a little from the shock?” he asked.

“Oh no, I’m all right now. I should like to get it over, Dick.”

“Well, you certainly seem to have picked up wonderfully. I suppose
there’s no doubt of your knowing them again?”

Mabel shuddered. “How could I help recognising them? The red light,
and those awful faces--it seems as if the whole thing was photographed
on my mind. I should know them anywhere.”

“Oh, all right. It would be far worse, you know, to try to identify
them and fail than to let the thing go altogether.”

“You needn’t be afraid. Only I should be glad not to have to look
forward to it much longer.”

“Very well. No doubt it’s better to do it before the impression has a
chance of fading from your mind. It’s a bother about the Commissioner,
though. He insists on being present, and Georgie and Tighe say he
mustn’t on any account be allowed to move until they have wired his
knee. We shall have to carry his bed out on the verandah, I suppose.
Just like him to think the show can’t go on without him. Of course
he’s afraid we shall contrive to bring his precious _protégé_ in
guilty in some underhand way.”

Mabel smiled as Dick went down the steps, for she knew better. Mr
Burgrave’s anxiety was not so much for Bahram Khan personally as for
his own schemes, and not so much for them as for the continuance of
his friendship with the North family. This knowledge, and the pleasing
conviction that she alone possessed it, sustained her when she was
summoned in the afternoon to identify her three surviving assailants.

“Come along,” said Dick, entering the drawing-room; “they’re all here,
and Tighe has superintended the removal of the distinguished patient.
They’re in the verandah outside his room. Don’t be frightened, Mab.
Georgia shall come too, and support you.”

In spite of her resolution, Mabel trembled a little as she entered the
improvised police-court, realising once more what issues hung upon her
words. Fitz was there, and a Hindu clerk, and the Commissioner,
propped up in bed. Before them stood a dozen natives with turbans and
clothes of various degrees of picturesque dirt and raggedness, guarded
by as many dismounted troopers armed to the teeth.

“Now, Mab, pick ’em out,” murmured Dick, from behind his sister.

“But there are too many men here. There were only three left,”
objected Mabel, in a hasty whisper.

“Well, and you have to tell us which they were. You didn’t think we
were going to parade the three prisoners and invite you to swear to
them, did you? Now don’t waste the time of the court.”

Absolute despair seized upon Mabel as she stood in front of the line
of men, and looked shrinkingly into their faces. How was it possible
that so many natives, differing presumably in origin and
circumstances, could be so much alike? Not one of them blenched under
her timid scrutiny. Some looked stolid and some bored, and one or two
even amused, but this gave her no help. At last, however, it struck
her that there was something familiar in one or two of the faces. She
moved a step or so in order to examine them more carefully, and then
looked round at Dick and the rest.

“This man,” she said, pointing to one, “and that one, and this.”

“You are certain?” asked Mr Burgrave.

“Yes; I know their faces quite well.”

This time an undisguised smile ran momentarily along the line of
swarthy countenances, only to disappear before Dick’s frown.

“Take them away,” he said to the troopers, and with a clanking of
chains here and there, the prisoners and their guard departed.

“What is the matter?” asked Mabel in bewilderment, as she looked from
one to the other of the three chagrined faces before her. “What have I

“Oh, only identified as your assailants one of the _chaprasis_ and a
sowar in mufti and the gardener’s son, who were all peacefully going
about their lawful business at the time of the outrage,” said Dick
bitterly. “You have made us the laughing-stock of the frontier.”

“But--but weren’t the real men there at all?”

“Of course they were, but you passed them over.”

“And what will happen to them now?”

“They’ll be discharged for lack of evidence, that’s all. Bahram Khan
will testify that they had been to Nalapur on an errand for him, and
other witnesses will swear that they saw and spoke to them there, and
we can say nothing.”


 “‘Are we not halves of one dissevered world,
 Whom this strange chance unites once more? Part? never!
 Till thou, the lover, know; and I, the knower,

read Mabel, and paused, since it was evident that her auditor had some
remark to make.

“It has always seemed to me,” said Mr Burgrave, “that in this meeting
between Paracelsus and Aprile, whose characteristics are so
essentially feminine, the poet has typified for all time the union of
the masculine and feminine elements in human nature. Woman--the
creature of feeling, man--the creature of reason, neither complete
without the other. Before perfection can be attained, the lover must
learn to know, the knower to love.”

“All women are not creatures of feeling,” said Mabel.

“But you would scarcely say that any woman was a creature of reason?
Such a--a person would not be a woman. She would be a monstrosity.”

“I mean that I don’t think you can divide people by hard and fast
lines in that way. It’s perfectly possible for a man to be a creature
of feeling, and I know women who are quite as reasonable as any man.”

“Pardon me; you don’t altogether follow my argument. I yield to no one
in my admiration of the conclusions at which women arrive. They are
often--one might say very often--astonishingly correct, but they are
purely the result of a leap in the dark, and not of any process of
reasoning. And since this is so, no wise man can feel safe in acting
upon them, while where the lady--as is not infrequently the case with
her charming sex--is biassed by her personal feelings, they are liable
to be dangerously deceptive.”

Mabel closed the book with a bang. “I wonder,” she said angrily, “at
your talking in this way, as if I wasn’t horribly humiliated enough
already. It was simply a chance that I didn’t identify the right men,
and I _know_ just the same that it was Bahram Khan who employed them.”

Mr Burgrave raised his eyebrows slightly. “Indeed, my dear Miss North,
you must pardon my maladroitness. I assure you that I had no intention
whatever of alluding to the--let us say the disagreeable incident of
yesterday. I was dealing purely with generalities.”

“But you yourself know perfectly well--though you pretend not to think
so--that it was Bahram Khan,” persisted Mabel.

The Commissioner raised himself on his elbow and looked straight at
her, and Mabel quailed. “And is it possible,” he demanded, “that you
believe I am deliberately sheltering from justice, contrary to the
dictates of my own conscience, a wretch who has dared to raise his
hand against an Englishwoman--against a lady for whom I have the
highest regard? No, Miss North, you must be good enough to withdraw
those words. Even your brother and his wife are sufficiently just to
believe me an honourable man, although we differ on so many points.”

The stern blue eyes under the lowering brows seemed to pierce Mabel
through and through. She half rose from her chair, then sat down
again, and repressed with difficulty a threatened burst of tears.

“I--I didn’t mean that,” she faltered. “All I meant was that I didn’t
see how you could think anything else when we are all so sure of it.”

“Allow me to say that I credit you with the sincerity you refuse to
recognise in me. Your brother has a strong prejudice--there is no
other word for it--against Bahram Khan, which he has transmitted to
you, and you look at the facts in the light of that prejudice. I was
perfectly willing to be convinced of the young man’s guilt by the
merest shred of anything that could be called evidence, but none was
produced. The case against him broke down completely. Would you have
me withdraw my countenance from a man whom I conscientiously believe
to be innocent, and ruin all his prospects, simply on the score of an
unf-- unsupported opinion of yours? No, Miss North, I won’t believe it
of you. You must perceive that I am right.”

“But you said our intuitions were wonderfully correct, and that your
judgment was incomplete by itself,” urged Mabel.

“To be of any real value, the feminine intuition must be confirmed by
the masculine judgment. Its use is purely supplementary.”

“Oh, Mr Burgrave, you can’t really mean that! Why, my brother would
never dream of doing anything without consulting his wife. He thinks
most highly of her judgment.”

“Surely Major North is the best judge of his own affairs?” suggested
Mr Burgrave dryly. “If he has confidence in his wife’s judgment, it is
only natural he should wish to avail himself of it. Such would not be
my case, I confess, but then, the confidence would be wanting.”

“But, according to you, I ought to model my opinions on some one’s,”
said Mabel--“Dick’s, I suppose--and that’s just what you have been
scolding me for doing.”

“Dick’s?” said the Commissioner reflectively. “No, not Dick’s, I
think. That was not at all what I had in my mind, Miss North. And have
I been scolding you, or is that another mistaken intuition? You know
how gladly I would have accepted your view of Bahram Khan’s guilt, if
that had been possible?”

“I know you said so, and I hoped so much----” Mabel’s eyes were full
of tears.

“And do you know why that was?”

“No, indeed, I can’t imagine.” She spoke hastily, scenting danger. The
Commissioner smiled paternally.

“No? Then will you do me the favour to consider the matter? Ask
yourself why I was willing, even anxious, to be converted from my own
opinion. When you have arrived at the answer, I shall know.”

He smiled at her again from his pillows, but Mabel muttered something
incoherent and fled.

“I don’t know what to do!” she cried, in the seclusion of her own
room. “Does he think I am a baby, or a little school-girl? If he wants
to propose, why can’t he do it straight out, and take his refusal like
a man? I know how to manage that sort of thing. But to break the idea
to me gradually in this way, as if I was--oh, I don’t know what--a
sort of fairy that must be handled gently for fear it should vanish
into thin air--it’s insufferable! And the worst of it is, I can’t
quite make out how to stop it. I seem somehow to have got myself into
his power.”

To see as little of Mr Burgrave as possible, and to confine the
conversation to safe subjects when she did meet him, was the remedy
which naturally suggested itself, and Mabel did her best to apply it;
but, to her dismay, it did not appear to produce any effect. She had
even a distinct feeling that it was just what Mr Burgrave had
expected. Moreover, it was extremely difficult to put in practice. Now
that the operation had been performed on the patient’s knee, and the
leg fixed immovably in a splint, he was allowed to be lifted on a
couch, and thus to spend his days in the society of his hosts. Dick
was out as much as ever, and when Georgia was busy, it was obviously
Mabel’s duty to entertain the invalid. It is sad to relate that when
escape proved impossible, she was reduced to assuming an intense
interest in the study of Browning, toiling through “Sordello” with
astonishing patience. But if any valid excuse offered itself for
leaving Mr Burgrave to his own reflections, she embraced it gladly,
and when the arrival in the neighbourhood of one of the nomadic tribes
brought Georgia a sudden rush of patients, she volunteered at once to
help her in dealing with them.

The surgery in which Georgia received her visitors was a building
standing by itself in the compound, and approached by a special gate
in the wall, so that the ladies might come to see their doctor without
fear of encountering any rude masculine gaze. As an additional
precaution, when the wives of any of the chief men came to the
surgery, they brought a youth with them as attendant, who mounted
guard over a motley array of slippers at the door, and completed the
security against profane intrusion. Inside, Georgia dealt with the
cases individually in a small room at one end, while in the large room
the visitors sat on the floor in rows, looking at the pictures on the
walls, or listening casually to the Biblewoman, trained by Miss
Jenkins at the Bab-us-Sahel Mission, who sat among them and read or
talked. At the other end was another small room, where a patient and
her friends were occasionally accommodated when Georgia had any
special reason for wishing to keep the case under her own eye, and the
husband was more than usually indulgent. At other times there stood in
this room a spring bedstead, which was never used, but which the women
made up parties to inspect, personally conducted by Rahah. There was a
history attaching to this object of pilgrimage. Two years before a
lady globe-trotter of exalted rank, in the course of an adventurous
flying visit to the frontier, had spent a night at the Norths’, and
been stirred to enthusiasm by Georgia’s quiet but far-reaching work
among the women. Her Grace deplored sympathetically the absence of a
proper hospital, and offered to put her London drawing-room at Mrs
North’s disposal during her next visit home, that she might plead for
funds to establish one. Georgia pointed out, however, that the
smallness of the station, and the uncertain character of the
wanderings of the tribes, would probably result in leaving the
hospital empty for eleven months out of the year, while if Dick should
be transferred to another post, its _raison d’être_ would be gone.
The duchess was disappointed, but not crushed. Would Mrs North allow
her to send a gift, just one, to the surgery as it stood at present?
She could not bear to think of the terrible discomfort the poor sick
women must suffer.

Georgia consented, and after a time the gift arrived, brought
up-country at a vast expenditure of toil and money. It was a
regulation hospital bed, the very latest patent, which could be made
to roll itself the wrong way like a bucking horse, stand up on end,
kneel down like a camel, dislocate itself in unexpected places, and
perform other acrobatic feats, all by turning a handle. Rahah sat
before it in silent admiration for a whole morning, occasionally
pressing the wires gently down for the pleasure of seeing them rise
again. When she had drunk in this delight sufficiently, she ventured
to put the bedstead through its paces, rushing to summon her mistress
in joyful awe at each new trick she discovered. But so far, her
enjoyment was incomplete. To be perfect, the bed needed a patient to
occupy it, and at last one was brought in by her friends, crippled by
some rheumatic affection. Rahah herself laid her on the bed, only to
behold her leap from it immediately with the strength of perfect
health. There was an evil spirit in the bed, she declared. All other
beds sank when you lay down upon them, this one rose up. And in spite
of the wonderful cure of this first and only case, the bed was never
occupied again. It was talked of all along the frontier, the women
came for miles to see it, and watched in shuddering delight while
Rahah showed them what it could do; but it was only very rarely that a
heroine could be found bold enough even to touch it with a finger.
Meanwhile, the patients continued to sleep on their mats or their
charpoys, insisting that the bed should be turned out of the room
before they would take up their quarters there, lest the evil spirit
should seize upon them during the hours of darkness.

On this particular morning Rahah was exhibiting the wonders of the bed
to a party of new arrivals, and Mabel was deputed to see that the
patients were admitted into Georgia’s sanctum in proper order, and
only one at a time. Seeing that they were all comfortably seated
facing the Biblewoman, she thought it would be best to begin with
those nearest the door, thus going through the whole assemblage
methodically. The women, on the other hand, considered that the worst
cases ought to be seen first, and each woman was firmly convinced that
her own case was the worst of all. Hence arose an uproar, in which the
sympathising friends accompanying each would-be patient joined with
all the force of their lungs, besieging the unfortunate Mabel, who
could not understand a word, with a tumult of assertions,
contradictions, and maledictions. At last one woman, who carried a
baby, was seized with a bright idea. Flinging away a fold of her veil
from the child’s face, she held it out to Mabel, exhibiting the awful
condition of its eyes, which were almost sightless from neglected
ophthalmia, as an incontestable proof of her right to the first place.
The hint was not lost upon the other women, and in a moment Mabel was
surrounded by sights from which she recoiled in horror. At first she
was too much appalled to move, as each woman displayed triumphantly
the urgency of her own need, and then she turned sick and faint. The
agglomeration of so many miseries was too much for her. Rahah,
returning at the moment, left the outer door open, and this gave her
courage to escape. Pressing her hands over her eyes, she burst through
the astonished crowd, drank in a draught of pure fresh air, and then
fairly ran across the compound and back to the house. Mounting the
steps with difficulty, she staggered and caught at the rail to steady
herself, only avoiding a fall by a wild clutch at one of the pillars
when she reached the top. An exclamation of concern reached her ears,
and she became dimly conscious that Mr Burgrave was making desperate
efforts to rise from his couch.

“You are ill, Miss North! What is it? You don’t mean to say that
another attempt has been made----?”

“To carry me off? Oh no, not quite so near home.” Mabel laughed a
little, and as she began to see more clearly, noticed how the
remorseful anxiety in his face gave place to unfeigned relief. “No,
I’m not ill, only silly and faint.”

“Try a whiff of this, then.” He passed her a bottle of salts. “I was
allowed to revive myself with it when my doctors had been
investigating the inside of my knee a little more closely than was

“Oh, don’t!” cried Mabel faintly. “I never want to hear a doctor
mentioned again.”

“Why, what has happened? Has Mrs North turned vivisectionist?”

“No, of course not. It was only that I was helping her with her
patients, and they had such awful things the matter with them that
I--well, I ran away.”

“And very wisely. Do I understand that Mrs North required you to
expose yourself to the sight of these horrors? It is monstrous!”

“She didn’t ask me to come; I offered to help her.”

“In the hope of pleasing her, of course. It is all the same. In the
abundant strength of mind and body she possesses, she forgets that
other people are more delicately organised than herself. I am amazed
at her lack of consideration.”

“I won’t have you say such things about Georgia!” cried Mabel. “She is
the best and dearest woman I know.”

“I honour your enthusiasm. Pray don’t mistake me. I have the highest
possible esteem myself for Mrs North, but she is a little too
strenuous for my taste.”

“I wouldn’t have her the least bit different. I wish I was like her,
instead of being so silly and cowardly.”

“No, Miss North, let me beg of you not to wish that. I would not have
_you_ different. Your sister-in-law’s training and her past
experiences account for many--er--remarkable points in her character,
but, believe me, your true friends would rather see in you this
womanly shrinking from the sight of suffering than a bold
determination to relieve it.”

“I hope I may consider you one of those true friends?” Mabel tried to
infuse a note of strong sarcasm into her voice.

“I hope you may. It is difficult, is it not, to feel confidence in one
who differs so totally from Mrs North and her husband? But this is a
question upon which we will not enter--yet.”

“Could I say that I preferred to enter upon it at once?” Mabel
demanded angrily of herself when she had made her escape. “Somehow he
gets such an advantage over me by putting me down in that lofty way,
and yet I don’t know how to stop it. The idea of his daring to
criticise Georgie to me!”

But Mr Burgrave was even bolder than Mabel imagined. Returning the
next morning from a ride with Fitz Anstruther, she was greeted by a
laugh from Georgia as she mounted the steps.

“Oh, Mab, I have been having quite a scolding, and all about you! It’s
clear that I am not worthy to have such a sister-in-law.”

“Georgie! you don’t mean that Mr Burgrave has been so rude as to----”

“Now, Mab, you know better than that. It would be impossible to him to
be rude. He simply took me to task, very mildly and calmly, about the
way I neglect you, though I stand to you in the place of a mother----”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Mabel, her face scarlet.

“So he says. It seems I am lacking in the tenderness which should be
lavished upon you. Our rough frontier life ought to be tempered to you
by all sorts of sweetness and light which I have made no attempt to
supply. I have been inconsiderate in bringing you into contact with
the revolting details of my professional work, and a lot more. Do
forgive me, Mab. I really haven’t meant to do all these dreadful
things, but you did want to make acquaintance with realities, you

“That man is getting unbearable!” broke from Mabel. “I shall speak to
him--No, I shan’t,” she added wearily; “it’s no good. He gets the
better of me somehow or other. Can’t you put a little cold poison into
his medicine, Georgie? Surely it’s a case in which the end would
justify the means.”

She went indoors with rather a forced laugh, and Fitz, who had been
looking out over the desert without appearing to notice what was being
said, turned round suddenly to Georgia.

“Can you honestly expect me to stand all this much longer, Mrs North?”

“All what?” asked Georgia, in astonishment.

“The Commissioner’s intolerable assumption. Any one would think he was
Miss North’s guardian, or her father, or even”--with a fierce
laugh--“her husband. What right has he to take it upon himself to
defend her?--as if she needed any defending against you! It’s nothing
but his arrogant impudence.”

“But still”--Georgia spoke with some hesitation--“how does it affect

“Oh, Mrs North, you needn’t pretend not to have noticed. You know as
well as I do that the Commissioner and I are both--er--well, we are
both awfully gone on Miss North, and he isn’t playing fair. You have
seen it, haven’t you?”

“I have, indeed, but I hoped you hadn’t quite found out what your real
feelings were.”

“Surely you must have thought me a hopeless idiot? I found out all
about it the day she had that fall from her horse.”

“So long ago as that? Why, you had scarcely known her a fortnight!”

“But I met her first years ago, before we went to Kubbet-ul-Haj.
Besides, what does it signify if I had only known her an hour? It is
the kind of feeling one can only have for one woman in one’s life.”

“But you didn’t say anything?” asked Georgia anxiously.

Fitz laughed shamefacedly. “No, I have said nothing even yet. The fact
is, it seemed sacrilege even to think of it. She is so lovely, so
sweet, so far above me in every way! Oh, Mrs North, I could rave about
her for hours.”

“And so you shall,” was the cordial but unexpected response, “as often
as you like, and I will listen patiently, provided that you still say
nothing to her.”

“No, no; things can’t go on in this way. You see, the Commissioner has
changed all that. He goes in and fights for his own hand in the most
barefaced way, and I must get my innings too. After all, though it
sounds horribly low to say it, I did kill the fellow that was carrying
her off, and bring her back.”

“Of course you did. If that was all, you certainly deserve to win

“Yes; but then the Commissioner scores in having got hurt. He sees her
for ever so long every day, and she is so awfully kind, talking to him
and reading to him, and letting him prose away to her, that no wonder
he thinks he is making splendid running. I only wish I had got hurt

“Do you really?” asked Georgia, with meaning in her tone.

“No, Mrs North, you’re right; I don’t. If we had both been hurt there
would have been no one with the slightest chance of catching up the
rascals. Whether she takes him or me in the end, I did save her, at
any rate.”

“Good,” said Georgia encouragingly. “I like that spirit.”

“Well, now you know how things stand. You see what an advantage the
Kumpsioner Sahib is taking of her gratitude and your kindness, and you
can guess how I feel about it. Tell me candidly, do you think I have
the slightest chance? Why did you say that you hoped I had not
understood my own feelings?”

“Simply because a waiting game is your only chance. Since you ask me,
I will speak plainly. You are younger than Mabel, you know; it is
undeniable, unfortunately”--as Fitz made a gesture of impatience--“and
Dick and I have got into the way of treating you like a son or a
brother--a very much younger brother. We haven’t taken you seriously,
and I am very much afraid Mabel doesn’t either. Mr Burgrave holds a
very high position, and he is a man of great distinction. We on this
frontier cherish an unfortunate prejudice against him, of course, but
elsewhere he is considered most charming and fascinating. How can she
but feel flattered by his homage? And he has undoubtedly acquired a
great influence over her; I can’t help seeing that. And yet I can’t
make out that she cares for him, and I have watched her closely.”

“Well, that is one grain of comfort, at any rate,” said Fitz
disconsolately. “But he is not going to carry her off without my
having the chance to say a word to her first, I can tell him.”

Georgia looked up anxiously. “Don’t throw away your only hope,” she
entreated. “What you have to do is to make yourself necessary to her.
You have been managing very well hitherto--always ready to do anything
she wanted. Make yourself so useful to her as a friend that she would
rather keep you as a lover than lose you altogether.”

“Oh, I say, Mrs North, you don’t flatter a man’s vanity much!”

“Yes, I do. At least, I am showing that I think you capable of a great
deal of self-effacement for the sake of winning her.”

“And if the Commissioner carries her off meanwhile?”

“I don’t think he will, provided you let her alone. But if you worry
her to have you, she may accept him just to be rid of your attentions.
And then there will be nothing to be done but to bear it like a man.”

“You don’t disguise the taste of your medicines much, Mrs Dr North.
I’ll chew the bitter pill as I ride, and try to look as if I liked it.
I was to meet the Major at the old fort at ten o’clock. It’s awfully
good of you to have listened so patiently to my symptoms, and
prescribed for me so fully.”

He ran down the steps and rode away, arriving at the fort a little
late, to find that Dick was already discussing with Colonel Graham the
business on which they had come. A series of small thefts, irritating
rather than serious, had occurred on the club premises of late, and
the minds of the members were exercised over the question of their
prevention in future. As Fitz rode up Dick and Colonel Graham were
descending to the courtyard after making the round of the walls, and
the former signed to him to wait where he was.

“I never remember such a succession of petty robberies before,” said
Colonel Graham. “The natives must be in a very unsettled state.”

“I’m not sorry these things have happened,” returned Dick. “In fact,
I’m glad of it.”

Colonel Graham glanced at him. “What have you got in your head?” he

“Simply this. I suppose you believe, as I do, that the thief gets in
by climbing over the wall, while the watchman is busy guarding the
gateway and never thinks that there is any other means of entering?”

“That’s my idea. In a climate like this mud-brick is bound to go
pretty soon if it isn’t looked after, and for years the rain has
washed it down into these rubbish-heaps, till they are as good as so
many flights of steps. What with the grass and bushes growing all
about, it’s as easy as possible to get in. I could do it myself.”

“Then you agree that it would be as well to make it harder? I propose
that we call a club meeting and invite subscriptions for the purpose
of putting the walls into proper repair. Otherwise we shall soon have
the place down on our heads.”

“But that sort of thing will take a long time to organise.”

“It needn’t, since it’s only to keep the natives from thinking there’s
anything up. So far as I can see, there’s no particular reason why you
and I shouldn’t head the subscription list with a thousand rupees
each--so that the most pressing work may be begun at once--or why that
two thousand rupees shouldn’t last out better than such a sum ever did

“Good! Are we to take the young fellows into our confidence?”

“Runcorn may as well know all about it. A sapper will be useful in
deciding what it’s possible to do in the time. Happily he and the
canal people have kept the wall overlooking the water in tolerable
repair. As for the other sides, we must clear away the rubbish from
the foot of the walls, and build up the parapets where the bricks have
weathered away. The bushes must go, naturally, and the ramparts be
made a fairly safe promenade--for the ladies, of course. The tower
stairs are awfully dangerous, and it will be quite natural to have
them seen to, and the floors and loopholes may as well be looked after
while we are about it, though we shall never get a satisfactory
flanking fire without rebuilding the whole thing. I shall take it upon
myself to present the place with a new gate--not obtrusively martial
in appearance, but with a certain reserve strength about it. My wife
will think me a terrible Vandal for spoiling the beautiful ruin her
father left behind him, but it’s obvious that the _chaukidar_ will be
able to look after the place better when there’s a gate to shut.”

“I should say there won’t be much ruin left when you have done with
it,” said Colonel Graham. “It’s a mere coincidence that our largest
godown turns out to be in the way of the canal extension works, and
has been condemned. There would be no harm in storing the corn and a
few other little trifles in the vaults under the club-house, and it
would give us an excuse for posting a sentry here at night.”

“Good,” said Dick, in his turn. “What accomplished deceivers we shall
be by the time this is over, if we live to see it!”

“You think things are in a bad way?”

“What do you think yourself?”

“I? I have no opinion. You have been on this frontier much longer than
I have, and you are in political charge. I’ve seen enough to know that
there’s something queer going on, that’s all.”

“I’ll tell you one thing that’s going on. Five times in the last
fortnight I have received secret information of tribal gatherings
which were to be held without my knowledge. Of course I made a point
of turning up, and behaving just as if I had received an invitation in
due form.”

“Well, that was all right, so far.”

“Yes, but think of the _jirgahs_ that I did not hear of. What went on
at them?”

“I see; it looks bad. What do you propose doing?”

“What ought to be done is to revive the martial law proclamation,
which has been in abeyance for the last four years. But I am not
supreme here just now.”

“Surely the Commissioner would not interfere with the exercise of your

“The Commissioner has imbibed so many horrors about the Khemistan
frontier that he is pleased every morning to find himself alive, and
the house not burnt over his head. I believe he regards the
improvement as due to his own presence here, and at the same time
considers it an additional proof that Khemistan may now be governed
like all the other provinces. If I had things my own way, my very
first move would be to deport Burgrave, preferably to Simla, where he
could both be happy himself and a cause of happiness to others, but as
it is, he will probably deport me.”

“Then you believe he has some trick on hand too?”

“I’m sure of it. He is in constant communication with Government.
Beardmore and his clerks come to him every day”--Beardmore was the
Commissioner’s private secretary, and a man after his chief’s own
heart, of the type that considers it has successfully surmounted a
crisis when it has drawn up a state-paper on the subject, and has no
inconvenient yearnings after energetic action--“and he is busy with
them for hours, concocting a report on the state of the frontier, I
suppose. When that is finished, we may expect the blow.”

“What is it that you expect exactly? A friend of mine at headquarters
tells me there’s a persistent rumour----”

“That they intend to withdraw the subsidy, and cut loose from Nalapur?
Just so. And that means the deluge for us. The blessed word
Non-intervention will bring about the need for intervention, as

“Our people will rise?”

“Not at first. Bahram Khan will probably remove his uncle quietly, and
in order to still any unpleasant rumours, encourage raids on us, which
will serve the further purpose of awakening the appetite for blood and
loot. The Sardars will be got to believe that we have only drawn back
in order to advance better, and that their one chance is to make the
first move. They will cross the border, and our people will join

“And we shall be thankful for the fort? North, in view of all this,
what do you say to sending the ladies down to Bab-us-Sahel for a

“I don’t know,” answered Dick hesitatingly. “I thought of suggesting
to my wife that she should go down there and do some shopping.”

“But you fancied she’d see through it? Probably. She was born and bred
here, and knows the weather-signs as well as you do. What’s the good
of trying to throw dust in her eyes? Put it to her plainly that, as
things are, you would feel much happier if she was away, and she’ll go
like a shot. Your sister and my Flora will go with her, and they’ll be
a pleasant party.”

“She won’t like going when there’s no sign of danger, and it might
precipitate the crisis, too. Perhaps when Burgrave launches his

“If you could only get him to escort the ladies down at once, we might
pull through yet.”

“No fear,” said Dick bitterly, “until he’s done his worst.”


“No bathing to-day, Mab!” laughed Georgia, meeting Mabel in her
riding-habit in the hall.

“You mean that we can’t ride? Why not?”

“Now you look just like the prehistoric lady in the picture! Because
there’s a dust-storm coming on. I meant to tell you before, but you
rushed away from the breakfast-table so quickly. I have been hurrying
Dick off, that he may get to the office before it begins.”

“But how do you know there’s going to be a dust-storm at all? I
thought that before they came on the sky was copper-coloured, and the
air got like an oven?”

“Well, the sky is getting black, as you can see. Dust-storms here are
not confined to the hot weather, they come all the year round. It’s
the merest chance that there hasn’t been one yet since you arrived.”

“How horrid that it should come just to-day!” said Mabel snappishly.
“I told Mr Anstruther I was tired of riding Simorgh, and he must
really bring Laili back. He said he couldn’t be sure she was cured
yet, and I told him he might use a leading-rein if he liked, but that
I meant to ride her. We weren’t going at all near the frontier, or
anywhere in the direction of Dera Gul.”

“My beloved Mab, dust-storms don’t respect British territory, and if
you had once been out in one you wouldn’t wish to repeat the
experience, even if you were in a position to do it. Go and take your
habit off, and when Mr Anstruther comes, I will tell him to send the
horses to the stables, and wait here until the storm is over. Then you
will have some one to talk to. See that the servants shut all your

But when Mabel emerged again from her darkened room into the lighted
hall, the disappointment caused by the loss of her ride was mingled
with a certain amount of ill-humour, due to an even more untoward
occurrence. The ayah Tara had chosen this particular morning for
passing in review all her mistress’s best gowns and hats, with an eye
to any little repairs that might be necessary, and having taken the
garments from their respective boxes and spread them out all over the
room, had sat down to contemplate them for a while before setting to
work. She was not accustomed to the peculiarities of the Khemistan
climate, and the gathering darkness appeared to her only as the
precursor of a thunderstorm. Hence, when the first gust of raging wind
whirled a cloud of gritty dust through the open windows, she was as
much astonished as Mabel herself, who was entering the room at the
moment, and was almost knocked down. Both mistress and maid flew at
once to shut the windows, but in the wind and darkness this was by no
means an easy task, and before it could be accomplished the dust lay
thick all over the room and its contents. Such a _contretemps_ was
enough to provoke a saint, Mabel said to herself angrily, when she had
left the weeping Tara to do what she could to repair the mischief, and
it would be idle to deny that she was feeling very cross indeed as she
entered the drawing-room with a bundle of letters in her hand.

The shutters were closed and the lamps lighted as if it were night,
and the dust pattered like hail on the verandah whenever the howling
of the wind would allow any other sound to be heard. Fitz Anstruther
was sitting near the fireplace, looking through an old magazine, and
Mabel, rejecting his suggestion of a game of chess, seated herself at
the writing-table, saying that she must finish her letters for the
mail. She found it difficult to write, however, for although she would
not look up, she could not help being conscious that her companion’s
eyes were much oftener fixed on her than on the printed page before
him. Accustomed though she was to such homage from men, this time it
made her nervous, and at last she could bear it no longer.

“Wouldn’t you like something to do?” she demanded suddenly, turning
round and catching him in the act of looking at her, but he was equal
to the occasion.

“Something to do? Something for you, do you mean? May I really write
your letters for you? I’m sure the Major has given me plenty of
practice in that sort of thing, and your friends would be so surprised
to find you had set up a private secretary.”

“Thanks, but I don’t seem to be in the mood for letter-writing, and
certainly not for dictating.”

“Then may I hold a skein of silk for you to wind? That’s the sort of
thing they set a mere man down to in books.”

“I don’t use silk of that sort. Is there nothing you would like to

“Yes, awfully. I should like to talk to you.”

“I think I shall go and read to the Commissioner,” severely.

“It would only be wasting sweetness on the desert air. He’s perfectly
happy at this moment, with Beardmore plotting treason in a
confidential report, and about six clerks writing away for him as hard
as they can write, and he wouldn’t appreciate an interruption.”

“I suppose you are judging Mr Burgrave by yourself when you say he
will be happier if I keep away?”

“I? Oh no; I was judging him by himself. The Kumpsioner Sahib doesn’t
think ladies and affairs of state go well together, you know.”

“Indeed?” Mabel was bitterly conscious that she bore a grudge against
the Commissioner for this very reason, but she had no intention of
admitting the fact.

“Why, do you mean that he vouchsafes to talk shop to you alone, out of
all the world of women? What an important person you are, Miss North!
Think of having the run of the Commissioner’s state secrets! But of
course one can see why he does it. How unfairly people are dealt with
in this world! Why have I no official secrets to confide? Supposing I
spy round and amass some, may I expound them to you for three or four
hours a day?”

“What nonsense!” said Mabel, with some warmth. “Mr Burgrave is only
teaching me to appreciate Browning.”

“And you fly to state secrets for relief in the intervals! Miss North,
won’t you teach me to appreciate Browning? I’ll wire to Bombay at once
for the whole twenty-nine volumes, if you will.”

“I really have no time to waste----”

“Oh, how unkind! Consider the crushing effect of your words. Do you
truly think me such an idiot that teaching me would be waste of time?”

Mabel laughed in spite of herself. “You didn’t let me finish my
sentence,” she said. “I was going to say that it would be only a waste
of your time, too, to try to learn anything from me.”

“Never! Say the word, and I enrol myself your pupil for ever.”

“You must have a very poor opinion of me as a teacher, I’m afraid, if
you think it would take a lifetime to turn you out a finished

“How you do twist a man’s words! The fault would be on my side, of
course. I was going to say the misfortune, but it would be good
fortune for me,” Fitz added, in a low voice.

(“Now, if I don’t keep my head, something will happen!” said Mabel to
herself, conscious that the atmosphere was becoming electric.) Aloud
she remarked lightly, “Ah, you have given yourself away. Do you think
I would have anything to do with a pupil who was determined not to

“Not if he has learnt all you can teach him?” demanded Fitz, rising
and coming towards her. “Please understand that there is nothing more
for me to learn. I want to teach you.”

“Oh, thanks! but I haven’t offered myself as a pupil,” with a nervous

“No, it’s the other way about. I want to teach you to care for me as
you have made me care for you. Well, not like that, perhaps; I
couldn’t expect it. But you do care for me a little, don’t you?”

“Mr Anstruther!--I am astonished--” stammered Mabel.

“Are you really? What a bad teacher I must be! I know all the other
men are wild after you, of course, but I thought it was different,
somehow, between you and me, as if--well, almost as if we were made
for each other, as people say. I have felt something of the sort from
the very first. I love you, Mabel, and I think you do like me rather,
don’t you? You have been so awfully kind in letting me do things for
you, and it has driven all the rest mad with envy. I believe I could
make you love me in time, if you would let me try. There’s nothing in
the whole world I wouldn’t do for you. If only you won’t shut your
heart up against me, I think you’ll have to give in.”

He was holding her hands tightly as he spoke, and Mabel trembled under
the rush of his words. Was she going to faint, or what was the meaning
of that wild throbbing at her heart? Clearly she must act decisively
and at once, or this tempestuous young man would think he had taken
her by storm. She summoned hastily the remnants of her pride.

“Please go and sit down over there,” she said, freeing her hands from
his grasp. “How can I think properly when you are towering over me
like that?” Fitz did not offer to move, and by way of redressing the
inequality, she rose also, supporting herself by laying a shaking hand
upon the writing-table. “I am so very sorry and--and surprised about
this. I had no idea----”

“None?” he asked.

“I mean I never thought it would go as far as this--that you would be
so persistent--so much in earnest.”

“A new light on the matter, evidently.” As she grew more agitated,
Fitz had become calmer.

“Because it’s impossible, you know.”

“Excuse me, I don’t know anything of the kind.”

“You are a great deal younger than I am, for one thing.”

“Barely three years, and it’s a fault that will mend.”

“No, it won’t. As you get older, I shall get old faster, and if there
is a thing I detest, it is to see a young man with an elderly wife. I
could not endure to feel that I was growing old while you were still
in the prime of life. You would hate it yourself, too, and you would
leave off caring for me, and we should both be miserable.”

“Try me!” said Fitz, with a light in his eyes that she could not meet.

“And then there’s another thing,” she went on hurriedly. “I know it
sounds horrid to say it, but--it’s not only that three years--you are
so young for your age. I’m not a reasonable creature like Georgia; I
simply long to be made to obey, whether I like it or not. I feel that
I want a master, but I could make you do what I liked.”

“Could you? But perhaps I could make you do what I liked. Just look at
me for a moment.”

But Mabel covered her eyes. “No, I won’t. It sounds as if I had been
inviting you to master me, which wouldn’t be at all what I meant.
Please understand, once for all, that I don’t care for you enough to
marry you.”

“Very well. But you will one day. If I am young, there’s one good
thing about it--I can wait.”

“It’s no good whatever your thinking that I shall change.”

“That is my business, please. I presume my thoughts are my own? and I
feel that I shall teach you to love me yet.”

“I shouldn’t have thought,” said Mabel indignantly, “that it was like
you to persecute a woman who had refused you.”

“Don’t be afraid. I shall not persecute you; I shall simply wait.”

“And try to make me miserable by looking doleful? I call that
persecution, just the same. No, really, if you are going to be so
disagreeable, I shall have to speak to my brother, and ask him to get
you transferred somewhere else, and that would be very bad for your

Mabel thought that this threat sounded extremely telling, but to Fitz,
who had declined excellent posts in other parts of the province,
rather than quit the frontier which grows to have such a strange
fascination for every Khemistan man, it was less alarming.

“Don’t trouble to get protection from the Major, Miss North. I assure
you it won’t be necessary.”

“But am I to be kept in perpetual dread of having to discuss
this--this unpleasant subject? I think it is very unkind of you,” said
Mabel, with tears in her eyes, “for I had come to like you so much as
a friend, and you were always so useful, and now----”

“And now I intend to be quite as useful, and just as much your friend,
I hope, as before. Let us make a bargain. You may feel quite safe. I
won’t attempt to approach the unpleasant subject without your leave.”

Mabel looked at him in astonishment. “But I should never give you
leave, you know,” she said.

“As you please. Then the subject will never be renewed. I am content
to wait.”

“But what is the good of waiting when I have told you----”

“Come, I don’t think you can deny me that consolation, can you, when
you have the whole thing in your own hands? Is it a bargain?”

“It doesn’t seem fair to let you go on hoping----”

“That’s my own lookout,” he said again. “If your friend is always at
hand when you want him, surely he may be allowed to nurse his foolish
hopes in private--provided that he never exhibits them?”

“Very well, then,” said Mabel reluctantly. “But I don’t feel----”

“If I am satisfied, surely you may be?”

The entrance of a servant to unbar the shutters dispensed with the
need of an answer. Preoccupied as they had been during the last
half-hour, neither Fitz nor Mabel had noticed that the dust had ceased
to patter and the wind to howl. The storm was over, and once again
there was daylight, although rain was descending in torrents.

“Mab, the Commissioner was asking for you,” said Georgia, pausing as
she passed the door. “He has finished his morning’s work, and wanted
to know if you were ready for some Browning.”

“Oh yes, I’ll go at once,” said Mabel, anxious only to escape from
Fitz and the memory of their agitating conversation. It had shaken her
a good deal, she felt, and this made her angry with him. What right
had he to disturb her so rudely, and make her feel guilty, when she
had done nothing? It was with distinct relief that she met Mr
Burgrave’s benignant smile, and returned his morning greeting. He did
not appear to notice any perturbation in her manner, and she took up
the book, and turned hastily to the page where they had left off,
while Mr Burgrave, pencil in hand, settled himself comfortably among
his cushions, ready to call attention to any beauties she might miss
in reading the lines. If he was like Fitz, in that his eyes were fixed
on the fair head bent over the pages of “Pippa Passes,” he was unlike
Fitz in that their gaze escaped unnoticed.

“‘You’ll love me yet!--and I can marry--’” read Mabel, totally
unconscious of the havoc she was making of the poet’s words, but her
auditor almost sprang from his couch.

“No, no!” he cried. “I beg your pardon, Miss North, but the storm has
shaken your nerves a little, hasn’t it? Allow me,” and he took the
book from her hands, and read the poem aloud in a voice so full of
feeling that it went to Mabel’s heart.

  “‘You’ll love me yet!--and I can tarry
   Your love’s protracted growing;
  June reared that bunch of flowers you carry
   From seeds of April’s sowing.

  ‘I plant a heartful now; some seed
   At least is sure to strike--’”

What malign influence had brought the reading to this point just now?
Fitz might have used those very words. Involuntarily Mabel rose and
stood at the edge of the verandah, looking out into the rain. Her eyes
were filled with tears, but she stood with her back to Mr Burgrave,
and he did not see them. He read on--

  “‘And yield--what you’ll not pluck indeed,
   Not love, but, maybe, like.

  ‘You’ll look at least on love’s remains,
   A grave’s one violet;
  Your look?--that pays a thousand pains.
   What’s death? You’ll love me yet!’”

Was the seed springing already? A tear splashed into the gritty dust
that lay on the verandah-rail, and Mabel dashed her hand across her
eyes in an agony of shame. Mr Burgrave must have seen; what would he
think? But before she could even reach her handkerchief, the book was
thrown down, and Mr Burgrave had seized his crutch, and was at her

“Mabel, my dear little girl!” he cried tenderly.

“Oh no, no; not you!” she gasped, horror-stricken.

“And why not, dearest? Forgive me for blundering so brutally. How
could I guess that the seed I had dared to plant was blossoming
already? I have watched it growing slowly day by day, so slowly that I
was often afraid it had not struck at all, and now, when it is
actually in full flower, I pass by without seeing it, and bruise it in
this heartless way. Forgive me, dear.”

“Indeed, indeed you are making a mistake!” cried Mabel, in a panic.
“It really isn’t what you think, Mr Burgrave. I don’t care for you in
that way at all.”

“My dear girl must allow me to be the judge of that. I can read your
heart better than you can read it for yourself, dearest. Do you think
I haven’t noticed how naturally you turn to me for refuge against
trouble and unkindness? It has touched me inexpressibly. Again and
again you have sought sympathy from me, with the sweetest confidence.”

“It’s quite true!” groaned Mabel, seeing in a sudden mental vision all
the occasions to which Mr Burgrave alluded.

“Of course it is, dear. You hadn’t realised how completely you trusted
me, had you? Other people thought--no, I won’t tell you what they
said--but I knew better. I was sure of you, you see.”

“What did other people say?” asked Mabel, with faint interest.

“Er--well, it was a lady in the neighbourhood.” Mabel’s thoughts flew
to Mrs Hardy with natural apprehension. “She was good enough to warn
me that you were--no, I will not say the word--that you were amusing
yourself with me. She had noticed, naturally enough, how inevitably we
drew together, but she ascribed your sweet trustfulness to such vile
motives as could never enter your head. I said to her, ‘Madam, to
defend Miss North against your suspicions would be to insult her. In a
short time, when you realise their baselessness, you will suffer as
keenly as you deserve for having entertained them.’ I could trust my
little girl, you see.”

“Oh, you make me ashamed!” cried Mabel, abashed by the perfect
confidence with which this stern, self-sufficient man regarded her.
“Oh, Mr Burgrave, do please believe I am not good enough for you. It
makes me miserable to think how disappointed you will be.”

“I should like to hear you call me Eustace,” said Mr Burgrave softly,
unmoved by her protestations. It occurred to Mabel, with a dreadful
sense of helplessness, that he regarded them only as deprecating
properly the honour he proposed doing her.

“Well--please--Eustace--” But Mr Burgrave kissed her solemnly on the
forehead, and she could stand no more.

“It’s too much! I’ll come back presently,” she gasped, and succeeded
in escaping. As she fled through the hall she met Georgia.

“Perhaps you’ll be interested to know that I’m engaged to Mr Burgrave,
Georgie!” she cried hysterically, rushing into her own room and
locking the door.

“That wretched man!” cried Georgia. “After all Dr Tighe and I have
done for his leg!”

“Didn’t know Tighe had any grievance against him about this,” grumbled
Dick. He was sitting on the edge of the dressing-table, ruefully
contemplating his boots, with his hands dug deep in his pockets. On
ordinary occasions Georgia would have requested him, gently but
firmly, to move, but now she was too much perturbed in mind to think
of the furniture. Delayed in starting by the dust-storm, Dick had only
returned from a hard day’s riding late at night, to find himself
confronted on the threshold, so to speak, by the triumphant
Commissioner, and requested to give him his sister.

“Oh, but he would be on our side, of course,” said Georgia. “Dick, I
do think it is horrid of Mr Burgrave to have proposed under present
circumstances. It’s as if he wanted to rob us of everything--even of

“No, he’s doing us an honour. He all but told me so. But he really is
absolutely gone on Mab. His whole face changes when he speaks of her.
Fact is, Georgie, if the man didn’t come rooting about on our very own
frontier, I couldn’t help having a sneaking liking for him. His belief
in his own greatness is perfectly sincere, and he cherishes no
animosity against us for opposing his plans. He told me that he hoped
political differences would make no break in our friendly
intercourse--Hang it! this thing’s giving way. Why in the world don’t
you have stronger tables?”

“Sit here,” said Georgia, pointing to the wicker sofa. “Well, Dick?”

“Well? It’s coming, old girl, coming fast, and he’s mercifully trying
to soften the blow to us.”

Georgia looked round with a shiver. The shabby bungalow with its
makeshift furniture was the outward and visible sign of the life-work
which she and her husband had inherited from her father, and it was to
be taken from them by the action of the man who hoped that his
arbitrary decree would be no obstacle to their continuing to regard
him as a friend.

“And what I think is,” Dick went on, “that they had better be married
as soon as possible, before Burgrave goes down to the river again, and
the blow falls.”

“But, Dick,” Georgia almost screamed, “you’re giving her no time to

“Repent? I’m not proposing to kill her. Surely it would be better for
her to be married from this house than from a Bombay hotel? Besides,
we should have no further anxiety about her----”

“No further anxiety? Dick, if she marries him I shall never know
another happy moment. She doesn’t care a straw for him--it’s a kind of
fascination, that’s all, a sort of deadly terror. I can’t tell you
what it’s been like all day. She couldn’t bear me to leave them alone
a moment, and there was he beaming at her, and not seeing it a bit. He
thinks it’s all right for her to be shy and tongue-tied, and not dare
to meet his eye--the pompous idiot! Mab shy--and with a man! She’s
miserable--in fear of her life.”

“No, no, Georgie, that’s a little too thick. Mab is not a school-girl,
to let herself be coerced into an engagement, and it won’t do to stir
her up to break it off. You mustn’t go and abuse him to her. Be
satisfied with relieving your feelings to me.”

“Now, Dick, is it likely? Am I the person to give her an extra reason
for sticking to him? If I abused him she would feel bound to defend
him, and might even end by caring for him. I can’t pretend to
congratulate her on her choice, but she shall have every facility for
seeing as much of him as she can possibly want.”

“Vengeful creature!”

“No, that’s not it. I have no patience with her.”

“Ah, she has proved you a false prophet, hasn’t she? That’s

“She has done worse; I’m perfectly convinced that she refused the
right man before accepting the wrong one. And though she doesn’t
deserve it, I think she ought to have time to get things put right, if
she can.”

“Very well. Then the deluge will come first, that’s all.”

“How soon do you expect it?”

“Well, I gather from what the Commissioner says that his report is
nearly drawn up. As it’s only a pretext for a predetermined move, they
won’t take long to consider it. The decision will be intimated to me,
and I shall submit my resignation in return.”

“And then we shall fold our tents like the Arabs, and silently steal

“Not quite at once. We must stick on until they send up a man to
replace me, and carry out the new policy. The worst of it will be that
Ashraf Ali will know why I am resigning, and unless I can get him to
keep quiet, he will think himself free to break the treaty before our
side does. If Bahram Khan once gets to know what’s on hand, it’s all
up, for nothing will persuade the Sardars that we are not repudiating
the treaty as the first step to an invasion and the annexation of
Nalapur, and he will be there to lead them, if the Amir won’t. I hope
to goodness that Burgrave will have removed the light of his
countenance from us before then, but I suppose that’s sure to be all
right. He would hardly like to look as if he was hounding his intended
brother-in-law out of the province. Unfortunately it’s pretty certain
that rumours of my impending departure will begin to get about in some
mysterious manner as soon as his unfavourable report goes up, for his
plans seem doomed to leak out into the bazaar. I’m inclined to think
he has a spy about him somewhere. By-the-bye, Georgie, who is the
sweetseller you’ve allowed to hang about the place lately?”

“I, Dick? He told me you had said he might come.”

“Something fishy there, evidently. But he must have an accomplice

“One of the Commissioner’s Hindu clerks, perhaps.”

“Possibly. Well, we’ll deal with him to-morrow.”


As soon as Dick awoke in the morning, his talk with Georgia recurred
to his mind, and looking out of his dressing-room window, he called to
Ismail Bakhsh, whom he saw in the compound. From his long connection
with the family, the old soldier was regarded as the head of the
household staff.

“Has that sweetseller turned up yet, Ismail Bakhsh?”

“No, sahib, I have not seen him this morning.”

“Well, when he does, you can detain him. I want to ask him a question
or two.”

“The thing is done, sahib. If the protector of the poor would listen
to a word from this unworthy one----”

“Yes; what is it?”

“It was in my mind yesterday, sahib, to examine all the verandahs,
lest the storm should have shaken the pillars, and in so doing I found
that the work of the rats under the floors has been great and very
evil. Surely there are many places in which the planks are loose and
easy to be moved, but on this side of the house it is the worst.
Before the Kumpsioner Sahib’s rooms a man might even squeeze himself
in and hide under the verandah floor.”

“We shall never get rid of the rats until we have proper cement
floors--and it’s no good thinking of that now,” added Dick, half to
himself. “But are you sure there’s nothing worse than rats about,
Ismail Bakhsh? I don’t like the idea of that hole.”

“I also suspected evil, sahib, but having sent two of the servants’
sons in with lights, I was content when they found nothing.”

“I hope you nailed the boards firmly into their places?”

“I put them back, sahib, but why fasten them? There was no man inside,
and in case any should seek to enter, the hole should be blocked up
from within, not from without. Moreover, if the protector of the poor
would invite Winlock Sahib to bring his sporting dog to the house,
with your honour’s own dogs we might succeed in killing all the rats
before mending the floors.”

“Good idea! Ask the memsahib to give you a _chit_ to Winlock Sahib.
No; it had better be to-morrow. I shall be out all to-day.”

Ismail Bakhsh salaamed and departed, and Dick returned to his
dressing, neither of them dreaming that they were separated by nothing
but a half-inch plank from a man who had listened to the whole of
their colloquy. The bungalow, which had never been intended for a
permanent dwelling, had been run up in haste. Hence the contrast of
its somewhat ramshackle appearance with that of the substantial stone
houses in the cantonments, and hence also the perpetual worry caused
by the colonies of rats inhabiting the space under the floors, which
should have been filled up with concrete. However, since innumerable
complaints and remonstrances had brought nothing but vague promises
and an occasional snub from those in authority, Dick and Georgia
continued to live on in their unsatisfactory dwelling, and to wage
intermittent warfare against the rats. But the rats could not fairly
be accused of the worst of the damage of which Ismail Bakhsh
complained, for crouched under the boards lay the sweetseller, who had
effected an entrance by sliding out one of the planks from the front
of the verandah and pulling another aside, returning them to their
places when he had crawled in. His dark face paled when Ismail Bakhsh
suggested bringing the dogs, but when he heard Dick postpone the
rat-hunt to the next day, he breathed freely again.

“To-day is all I want,” he said to himself. “When I have once got the
paper for Jehanara Bibi from that accursed half-blood my work is done,
and Nāth Sahib may set his dogs on my track as much as he likes--and
his sowars too.”

He remained crouched in his lair all morning, until the Commissioner
had dismissed his clerks and hobbled round to the other side of the
house to look for Mabel. As soon as the sound of his crutch had become
inaudible in the distance, there was a hesitating tap on one of the
loose boards. It was answered by a bolder knock from below, the board
was pushed slightly aside, and a yellow hand, trembling as if with
ague, passed a roll of papers through the crack. The sweetseller
seized it, and pressed the fingers of the transmitter, which were
hurriedly withdrawn. The hidden man secreted the papers carefully in
his clothing, and crawled round to the front of the house, whence he
could watch through a peep-hole all that went on in this part of the
compound. When noon was come, and the servants had all betaken
themselves to their own quarters, he removed the sliding plank and
slipped out, bringing with him his stock in trade, and replaced the
board carefully. Having assured himself that Dick was nowhere to be
seen, he crossed the compound boldly, climbed the wall at a point
where various projecting stones and convenient hollows afforded a
foothold, and walked with dignified haste to the nearest sandhill. On
the farther side of this he buried his tray and his sweets in the
sand, and then, girding up his loins, set out resolutely in the
direction of Dera Gul.

Dusk had already fallen when he reached the fortress, where he
received a respectful greeting from the ragged guards, who informed
him that the chief was in his zenana. As soon as the news was brought
that Narayan Singh had returned, however, Bahram Khan sent word that
he should be admitted immediately--a high honour which was not seldom
the reward of the indispensable spy. Committing himself to the
guidance of one of the slave-boys, Narayan Singh passed behind the
curtain and into the anteroom, to discover Bahram Khan reclining upon
the divan in the easiest possible undress. The pleasant murmur of the
hubble-bubble, as he approached, prepared the visitor to find the room
full of smoke, and his master seemed at first too much engrossed with
his pipe to notice his entrance. Cross-legged in the corner sat the
Eurasian Jehanara, shrouded in her veil, her glittering eyes
reflecting the faint light which was shed by a brazier of glowing

“Peace, Narayan Singh!” said the Prince at last, taking the mouthpiece
of the long leathern tube lazily from his lips. “Is all well?”

“All is well, Highness. I have here a copy of the report of Barkaraf
Sahib to the Sarkar, from the hands of his confidential clerk.”

Jehanara laughed harshly. “Thou hadst but little difficulty with
Antonio D’Costa?” she said.

“What knowest thou of the swine?” asked Bahram Khan jealously.

“I have not seen him for many years, Highness, but he is my cousin,
and I was acquainted with his character as a youth, and heard of his
doings as a man. Knowing thy desire to learn the intentions of the
Kumpsioner Sahib, and hearing that my cousin was in his employ, it
needed only that I should instruct the skilful Narayan Singh to
approach him in the right way.”

“And I,” said Narayan Singh, “needed but to hold before his eyes the
copies of the bonds I had obtained from certain money-lenders, and
threaten to show them to Barkaraf Sahib, when he fell down on his
knees before me, and was ready to do whatever I might desire, for fear
of the ruin that threatened him.”

“It is well,” growled Bahram Khan. “But what does the report say?”

Narayan Singh took out the papers which had been handed to him in his
hiding-place, and laid them on the floor before Jehanara. She took
them up, and leaning forward, scrutinised the contents eagerly by the
dim light of the brazier.

“In this report,” she said, with deep satisfaction, “which the
Kumpsioner Sahib has just finished drawing up, he recommends the
immediate withdrawal of the subsidy, and the recall of Beltring Sahib
from Nalapur, on the ground that the treaty was merely a temporary
arrangement, the necessity for which has passed away.” Bahram Khan
laughed, and she went on. “The Amir Sahib is to be assured of the
continuous friendship and good-will of the Sarkar, which with the one
hand will take away his rupees, and with the other present him with
the liberty to govern his people without interference or guidance.”

“Truly the infidels are delivered into our hands!” cried Bahram Khan.
“And when is the change to be announced?”

“The Kumpsioner Sahib desires an order, which may be carried out by
the political officer on the spot.”

“Then the fool himself is leaving the border? Let him go. I care not
to take his life. He has been a useful friend to me, and may be
permitted to carry his folly elsewhere. It is Nāth Sahib that I want,
and surely even my uncle will turn against him when he knows that the
Sarkar has determined to break the treaty.”

“Gently, Highness!” entreated Jehanara. “The Amir Sahib is ever
faithful to his friends, and not easily turned from his allegiance.
Such is his friendship for Nāth Sahib that the only thing that would
make him join in the plot would be the hope of benefiting him.”

“But,” put in Narayan Singh, who had been wondering uncomfortably
whether it would be better to tell his news at once, or to wait until
he had managed to secure a moment’s private conversation with
Jehanara. “I heard tidings yesterday, Highness, which seem to show
that the Kumpsioner Sahib is not the friend thou didst reckon him. I
could have told them sooner, but I fear they will not be pleasing in
thine ears.”

“Let us hear them,” cried Bahram Khan, while Jehanara shot an angry
glance at the spy. He ought to have known by this time that it was
generally wiser to soften and sweeten agitating news, and not to
administer it undiluted.

“It was said among the servant-people that Barkaraf Sahib had asked
Nāth Sahib for his sister, Highness, and that even now he has
betrothed her to him.”

There was a moment’s incredulous silence, and then Bahram Khan sprang
up from the divan, sending the heavy cut-glass bottle of the
water-pipe flying, and almost overturning the brazier. “And this is
the fruit of your counsel, both of you!” he shouted. “Who was it that
held me back when I would have fallen on the whole company of the
English as they returned from their fool’s dinner in the desert, and
killed them all, except Nāth Sahib’s sister? Who was it again that
bade me suffer my servants to be taken prisoners and held captive, and
be tried for their lives by a boy, and that told me to rejoice when I
received them back unharmed? Thou, O woman! thou, dog of an idolater!
Surely ye were in league with the Kumpsioner Sahib to steal the girl
from me, and he has bribed you to blacken my face in the eyes of all
my people.”

“Highness,” said Jehanara, with dignity, “thine anger has made thee
unjust to thy faithful servants. Fear not; I know the ways of the
English, and this betrothal need not lead to marriage for many months.
Nāth Sahib’s sister shall yet be thine, and the Kumpsioner Sahib may
wait in vain for his bride.”

“Wait!” cried Bahram Khan, sinking again upon his cushions, “nay, he
shall wait for nothing but death. He shall die by inches, and before
my eyes, because he has sought to befool me. If he escapes, the lives
of both of you shall pay for it.”

“As thou wilt, Highness. But was it not thy admiration of her beauty
which first showed the Kumpsioner Sahib that the girl was fair? Suffer
thy servant to consider the matter for a moment, and she will offer
thee her counsel.”

Leaving Bahram Khan to look at affairs in this new light, Jehanara
established herself again in her corner, gazing fixedly into the hot
coals. Both her life and that of Narayan Singh were at stake, and she
knew it; and she had no desire to die. Six years before she had played
a desperate game with Bahram Khan, conscious that in him she faced an
opponent as cunning and as faithless as herself. The conditions were
unequal, for she staked far more than he did, and he won, possibly
because her sense of the risk she was running had robbed her of the
perfect coolness necessary to ensure success. He had not married her,
even by Mohammedan rites, and nothing short of full legal recognition
could have vindicated in the eyes of her own people the course she had
pursued. Robbed of her anticipated triumph, she made no attempt to
escape the consequences, but set herself by every means in her power
to obtain that ascendency over the Prince’s mind which she had failed
to gain over his heart. Fresh failures and unspeakable mortifications
had awaited her. The women of the household, from the beautiful little
Ethiopian bride to whom was awarded the position Jehanara had intended
for herself, to the humblest hill-girl who had been kidnapped to
become at once a slave and a Muslimeh, saw to it that she ate the
bread of bitterness; but in spite of taunts and revilings she kept the
one end in view until her persistence was crowned with complete
success. Bahram Khan would listen to no advice but hers, having learnt
by experience that his confidence in her was justified. The intrigue
by which first the Commissioner, and then the Viceroy, had been
convinced of his wrongs, was of her devising, and had proved so
successful as to convince her that had it not been for Dick’s
opposition, she would already have seen Bahram Khan established as his
uncle’s heir. It followed that her hatred for Dick, heightened by his
cavalier treatment of herself, was at least as strong as that of the
disappointed claimant. As she sat brooding over the charcoal at this
moment, there was a cruel light in her eyes while she ran hastily over
the points of the scheme which had sprung full-grown into her mind
when Bahram Khan accused her of treachery.

“Highness,” she said at last, and Bahram Khan propped himself up on
his cushions with a muttered growl, while the trembling Narayan Singh
appeared to take fresh interest in life, “this perfidy of the
Kumpsioner Sahib’s provides thee with what was most needed, a means of
involving the Amir Sahib in our plans. Nay, through this treachery,
with the blessing of Heaven, thy servants will yet behold thee seated
upon his throne, with the sanction of the Sarkar.”

“Wonderful!” cried the Prince, with gleaming eyes. “Go on.”

“First of all, then, Highness, the Kumpsioner Sahib must not leave
Alibad before the treaty is broken--but we will consider presently by
what means he may be induced to remain on the border. Next,
instructions must be sent to the Vizier Ram Singh to represent thy
quarrel to his master, the Amir Sahib, in this wise. Thou wilt say
that the Kumpsioner Sahib, with a great show of friendliness, promised
to get thee Nāth Sahib’s sister for a wife, but that he has befooled
thee, and demanded the maiden for himself. Thine uncle may not
altogether believe that Barkaraf Sahib really offered thee his help in
the matter”--the half-caste could not restrain a touch of scorn as she
glanced through her eyelashes at the miserable native who had brought
himself to believe that an Englishman looked favourably on his desire
to marry an Englishwoman. “Still, he has doubtless heard through his
sister, thy mother, of thy love for the girl, and he will soon hear
also that she is betrothed to the Kumpsioner Sahib, so that he cannot
but believe in the enmity between him and thee. Next thou wilt say
that by setting spies on this enemy of thine thou hast learnt that he
has persuaded the Sarkar to withdraw the subsidy. This he does in
order to gain honour for himself by annexing the Nalapur state, and
also that he may overthrow Nāth Sahib, whom thine uncle loves, and
who, as we know through Ram Singh, has sworn to resign his office
rather than forsake his friend. Thus, then, thine uncle will be eager
to champion Nāth Sahib’s cause against Barkaraf Sahib, and thou,
forgetting thine old hatred in the new, will show him the way.
According to the words of this paper of my cousin’s, the Sarkar’s
change of policy will be announced at a durbar to be held by Nāth
Sahib in the Agency at Nalapur, and the Amir Sahib will do well to see
to it that this durbar is not held. If we devise a means for keeping
the Kumpsioner Sahib here, he must needs hold the durbar himself, and
while he and Nāth Sahib, and all the sahibs from Alibad, are
entangled in the mountains on the way to the city, they must be caught
in an ambush of the Amir Sahib’s troops. The Kumpsioner Sahib may well
be killed in the first onset, to save all further trouble, but Nāth
Sahib and the other friends of thine uncle need only be disarmed and
kept prisoners, the writing of the Sarkar being taken from them. Then
the Amir Sahib may send a peaceful message to the Sarkar that, hearing
rumours of evil intended against him, he has seized a number of its
officers and holds them as hostages, until he shall be assured that
his fears are groundless. So then the Sarkar, fearing for the lives of
its sahibs, will send some great person to reassure his Highness, and
explain that it was the evil doings of the dead Barkaraf Sahib alone
that caused the mischief, and Nāth Sahib will be put in his place,
and the subsidy continued, and all be well--save, perhaps, the payment
of a slight fine for the accidental slaying of the Kumpsioner Sahib.”

“But what is the good of all this to me?” bellowed Bahram Khan. “It
would rid me of the Kumpsioner Sahib, but no more--nay, it makes Nāth
Sahib the head where he is now the tail.”

“Seest thou not, Highness, that this is the plot as it must appear in
the eyes of thine uncle? Now lift the veil, and behold it as it is in
thine own mind. Who should naturally be chosen to command the force
lying in ambush but the Sardar Abd-ul-Nabi, and is he not a close
friend of the Vizier Ram Singh, and wholly devoted to thy cause? To
him the Amir Sahib will give orders that he is to slay no one but
Barkaraf Sahib, and that the lives of the rest are to be saved, even
at the risk of his own, but from thee he will receive the command to
slay all and spare none, not even the youngest.”

“Nay, I will ride with them, and smite them myself from behind!” cried
Bahram Khan.

“That must not be, Highness. Thou wilt be far away at the time.”

“Then Nāth Sahib and Barkaraf Sahib shall be saved alive and brought
to me that I may see them die.”

“The risk is too great, Highness. Hast thou forgotten the day when
Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib was attacked in a certain nullah and all his
escort slain, and how he fought his way out alone and rode back to his
camp, and returning, as if upon eagles’ wings, with a fresh body of
troops, fell upon the tribesmen when they were stripping the dead, and
slew them every one? Not a man shall live--be content with that, for
there is other work for thee than watching their blood flow.”

“And what is that, woman?”

“Thou wilt be waiting here, Highness, and as soon as a swift messenger
brings thee word that the sahibs have been attacked, thou wilt ride
with all speed to Alibad. Knowing that all the sahibs are away except
the Padri and two or three others who are not warriors, and that there
is no place of refuge for them, thou wilt hasten thither to save them
and the Memsahibs. If they believe in thy professions of friendship,
then all is well--they are delivered into our hands. But it is in my
mind that they will not trust thee, and that is even better, for then
all the evil that follows will spring from their own lack of
confidence. The men of the regiment who are left behind will fortify
themselves in their lines, but there is no need to attack them just
then. The bazaar and the European houses will be fired--by the
_badmashes_ of the place, doubtless--and in the turmoil and confusion
all the sahibs will be killed, but all men will behold thee rushing
hither and thither like one possessed, commanding thy soldiers with
curses to save the white men alive.”

Bahram Khan chuckled grimly, for the picture appealed to him.

“And at last,” went on Jehanara, “seeing that thou canst do nothing,
so few are thy men, thou wilt retire sorrowfully, taking with thee
such women and loot as may come in thy way--but only for safe
keeping.” Bahram Khan chuckled again. “The next day, when the Amir
Sahib learns that he has indeed raised his hand against the Sarkar,
and slain so many sahibs, he will be plunged in despair. He will find
it impossible to keep his army in check, and they will come to Alibad
and complete the work begun by thee, before ravaging the rest of the
frontier. All will be the deed of thine uncle, and he it is that will
have to answer to the Sarkar.”

“True, O woman. Trust me to see that his evil deeds shall blot out
mine. But how if Nāth Sahib’s sister should chance to be slain also?”

“Her safety is thy care, Highness. Before seeking to save the sahibs,
thou wilt have seized Nāth Sahib’s house, which is on the outskirts
of the town, and sent off his wife and sister here, for their better
protection, under a sufficient guard.”

“Who will see that Nāth Sahib’s Mem troubles us no more,” laughed
Bahram Khan.

“Not so, Highness. The doctor lady must find safety with the

“Nay, is she not Nāth Sahib’s wife?” cried Bahram Khan, much injured.

“There must be sanctuary for the doctor lady with thy mother,”
repeated Jehanara firmly. “What harm can she do thee, Highness?”

“She is Sinjāj Kīlin’s daughter. That is enough.”

“True, Highness, and for that very reason she must live. The Begum
must be warned to hide her in the inmost recesses of the zenana, since
the Amir Sahib clamours for her blood, and she herself must clearly
understand that thou art protecting her at the risk of thy life. See
here, Highness, and think not it is any love for thy foes that moves
me. Her testimony is the very crowning-point of our plan. When thou
hast made thyself master in Nalapur, and goest forth to meet the
armies of the Empress with the head of the Amir Sahib as a
peace-offering, there will yet be voices raised against thee. But when
it is known that thou didst save the doctor lady, the wife and
daughter of thine own and thy father’s enemies, and place her in
safety in thine own zenana, who shall judge thee too hardly that thou
couldst not save the town? Thou hast done all in thy power, and the
Memsahib will bear witness to thee. And as for sparing her--why, there
is Nāth Sahib’s sister left for thee still.”

“Aha!” laughed Bahram Khan, “and she is not of Sinjāj Kīlin’s blood.
She will not fight like the doctor lady.”

“Nay, but she is of Nāth Sahib’s blood,” said Jehanara, conscious
once more of an inconsistent thrill of perverted pride in her father’s
race, as she remembered what other Englishwomen had done before in
like circumstances; “but all will be well, Highness, whatever happens.
If she is found married to thee, she cannot, as a _pardah_ woman, be
brought into court to testify against thee, and if she is dead by that
time, why, she killed herself in her terror, not waiting to learn thy
merciful intentions towards her. And women pass, but the throne lasts,
Highness. The one is better than the other.”

“Truly, thou art a veritable Shaitan!” To Bahram Khan’s mind the
epithet conveyed a high compliment. “Set the matter in train, then.
Here is my seal.” He took off his heavy signet and handed it to her.
“Do thou and Narayan Singh see that all is in order, so that not one
of my enemies may escape. But what of Barkaraf Sahib? If he leaves the
border, I lose half my vengeance.”

“It may be, Highness”--the speaker was Narayan Singh, who had remained
silent in sheer astonishment at the daring and resourcefulness of his
co-plotter--“that the Hasrat Ali Begum might help us in the matter. If
her Highness were to hear that any evil threatened the doctor lady or
her husband, she would doubtless send a messenger to warn her. Might
she not become aware, through some indiscretion” (he looked across at
Jehanara), “that the Kumpsioner Sahib was departing from the border to
seek his own safety, leaving Nāth Sahib to carry out a dangerous and
disagreeable task? Her Highness would send the Eye-of-the-Begum
immediately to inform the doctor lady of what she had heard, and does
there live a woman upon earth who, having received such tidings, would
not at once fling the Kumpsioner Sahib’s cowardice in his teeth, and
taunt him until he was forced for very shame to remain and do his
business for himself?”

“By that saying,” interrupted Jehanara, vexed at being selected to
perpetrate an indiscretion, “thou betrayest thine ignorance, Narayan
Singh. There is such a woman, and the doctor lady is she. She would
tell the news to her husband, and leave him to reproach the Kumpsioner
Sahib if he thought fit, and there would be no taunts, for the English
are not wont to speak like the bazaar folk. But there is another woman
who would work for us, though ignorantly, and that is the wife of the
Padri Sahib.”

“The lady of the angry tongue!” cried Bahram Khan. “But how should we
persuade my mother to send a slave to her?”

“It would not be easy, Highness, and therefore the Begum shall not be
troubled in the matter. I will disguise myself and tell the Padri’s
Mem that her Highness, desiring to warn the doctor lady, was too
closely watched to allow of her sending her usual messenger. I will
say also that I succeeded in slipping away from Dera Gul, and in
crossing the desert with the message, but that I dared not approach
Nāth Sahib’s house, fearing there might be spies among his servants.
Thus, then, I will tell the news, and before very long the Padri’s Mem
will tell it also--in the ears of the Kumpsioner Sahib.”

“It is well thought of,” said Bahram Khan approvingly.


Three or four days later, Mrs Hardy marched up the steps of the
Norths’ bungalow with a purposeful mien, and requested an interview
with the Commissioner. Mr Burgrave had finished his morning’s work
early, and his couch had been placed in the drawing-room verandah. A
table was close beside him, with a volume of Browning lying upon it,
and there was a chair close at hand ready for Mabel, but she was out
riding with Fitz, to whom Dick, in utter oblivion of the probable
awkwardness of the situation, had hastily turned her over on finding
that he himself was needed elsewhere. The Commissioner groaned
impatiently when Mrs Hardy was announced. A talk with her was not the
pleasure he had in view when he hurried through his work, but he
consoled himself with the thought that she would not stay long. No
doubt the Padri was anxious to get a new harmonium, or to enlarge the
church, and they wanted him to head the subscription-list.

“Excuse my getting up,” he said, as he shook hands with her. “My
sapient boy has put my crutch just out of reach.”

If the words were intended to convey a hint, Mrs Hardy did not choose
to take it, for she sat down deliberately between the crutch and its
owner. Then, without any attempt at leading up to the subject, she
said, with great distinctness--

“I have come to talk to you about your policy, Mr Burgrave.”

The Commissioner stared at her in undisguised astonishment. “Pardon
me; but that is a subject I do not discuss with--with outsiders,” he

“I only want to lay a few facts before you,” pursued Mrs Hardy

“No, no; excuse me. I cannot consent to discuss affairs of state with
a lady.”

“I mean you to listen to what I have to say, Mr Burgrave, and I shall
stay here until you do.”

“I can’t run away,” said Mr Burgrave, with the best smile he could
muster, and a side glance at the crutch; “and when a lady is kind
enough to come and talk to me, it would be rude to stop my ears.
Perhaps you will be so good as to let me know your views at once,
then, that your valuable time may not be wasted?”

“I should like to ask you, first of all, whether you are aware that
your confidential report to the Government on the frontier question is
common property at Dera Gul? Of course, if you choose to tell your
secrets to Bahram Khan and leave Major North in ignorance of them, I
have nothing more to say.”

To her great joy, Mrs Hardy perceived that she had made an impression.
The Commissioner looked startled and disturbed. “Impossible!” he said.
“The report has been seen by no one but my secretary, and the clerks
who copied portions of it.”

“It is for you to find out which is to blame. I can only tell you what
is going on, just as it has been told to me. I was in my garden about
an hour ago, when a woman peeped out from behind the bushes--a
miserable, footsore creature. She told me she was a slave of the
Hasrat Ali Begum’s--Bahram Khan’s mother--who had sent her to warn the
Norths that you intend to withdraw the Nalapur subsidy, and leave
Major North to face the result. I have no idea how Bahram Khan
obtained the information, but he means to take advantage of it. Though
she could not tell me what his plan is exactly, she seemed quite sure
that it would end in a general rising, involving almost certain death
to the Europeans in places like this. It was clear that she regarded
you as a coward, running away from the consequences of your own acts,
and deliberately exposing others to danger. That is not my opinion, I
may say”--Mrs Hardy had seen the Commissioner wince--“but I thought
you could not have looked at things in this light, and as soon as the
poor creature was gone I came to you at once.”

“Confiding in Mrs North by the way, no doubt?”

“No, I came straight to you. Now let me ask you, have you realised
what will be the result of your action? You know that Major North will
resign rather than countenance what we all feel would be a gross
breach of faith, and yet you place him in a position in which he must
do one thing or the other. I don’t know what Miss North will think
about it, but I know what I----”

“We will leave Miss North’s name out of the conversation, if you

“Excuse me; we can’t. How do you expect her to feel towards you when
you have set yourself deliberately to ruin her brother? You think
worse of her than I do if you believe she will marry you after such a
piece of cruel, unprovoked oppression.”

“Mrs Hardy, a lady is privileged----”

“Yes, I have no doubt you think I am taking an outrageous liberty, but
I can’t and won’t be silent. All your interest in the frontier centres
in a pretty, flighty girl who has no business to be here at all, and
simply for the sake of showing your power you come and ride roughshod
over us, whose lives are bound up in it. I know you’re a proud man, Mr
Burgrave, and I don’t ask you to reverse your policy publicly, which
you would naturally find a hard thing to do. But if this dreadful
business has gone too far to be stopped, make Major North take a
month’s leave, and carry it through yourself. Then the people will see
that he is not responsible for the breach of faith, and he will come
back and be your right hand when you most need him. What good could a
stranger do when the tribes are out? Absolute ignorance of the country
is not always the qualification it was in your case, you know. I know
the frontier better than any other place in the world--we used to
itinerate in the district for years before we were allowed to settle
down--and I am _certain_ there’s trouble coming. I can see it in the
looks of the people, and hear it in the way they talk. And here on the
spot are the Norths, the very people to deal with a crisis, and you
have done your best to undermine their influence already. Can’t you
stop there? What have they done that you should persecute them like

“I assure you,” said Mr Burgrave slowly, “that I have the highest
possible respect for both Major and Mrs North personally, but
personality is not policy.”

“Up here it very often is. But come, Mr Burgrave, if you don’t
absolutely hate the Norths, why not do as I suggest?”

“I promise you that every suggestion you have made shall receive the
fullest consideration,” replied the Commissioner, in his best
Secretarial manner. “I may rely upon your silence as to the matter?”

Mrs Hardy thought she detected a relenting in his tone. “Of course you
may, if you are really going to do something. I am glad to find you
open to conviction, if only for Miss North’s sake and your own. You
will have a very pretty wife, and I trust a happy one. Ah, there she
is!” as the sound of horses’ feet was heard, and Mabel, cantering
past, waved her whip gaily to the watchers--“and riding with Mr

“And is there any reason why she should not ride with Mr Anstruther?”

“His peace of mind, that’s all. But perhaps you think he deserves no
mercy? I may tell you I was glad to hear of your engagement, since it
saved that fine young fellow for a more suitable woman.”

“A more fortunate woman, doubtless,” corrected Mr Burgrave, with
majestic forbearance. “A better there cannot be.”

Mabel was in the highest spirits as she mounted the steps after Fitz
had ridden away. When he had appeared with the message that Dick was
detained at the office, and had sent him to ride with her, her first
impulse was to refuse to go, but other counsels prevailed. Fitz had
offered no congratulations on her engagement, and the omission rankled
in her mind. She was nourishing a reckless determination to provoke a
scene by asking him what he meant by it, but her courage oozed away
very soon after starting. She would still have given much to know what
he thought of the whole situation, but she durst not venture upon an
inquiry. Fitz, on his part, made no allusion to the important event
which had occurred since their last ride, speaking of the Commissioner
as coolly as if she had no particular interest in him. Before they had
been out long, she was content to accept his ruling, and conscious of
a kind of horror in looking back upon the resolution with which she
had started. She was on good terms with herself once more, and to such
an extent did the gloom cast by Mr Burgrave’s impressive personality
seem to be lightened at this distance, that she returned home feeling
positively friendly towards him. It was unfortunate that Mrs Hardy’s
disapproving glance, when she encountered her on the steps, should
clash with this new mood of cheerfulness, and that another shock
should be awaiting her when she looked into the drawing-room verandah
on her way to take off her habit.

“Little girl,” said her lover, holding out his hand to draw her nearer
him, “would you mind very much if I said I had rather you didn’t take
these solitary rides with young Anstruther?”

The angry crimson leaped up into Mabel’s forehead.

“You have no right whatever to make such insinuations!” she cried

“Now, dearest, you mistake me. I make no insinuations--I should not
dream of such a thing. All I say is--doesn’t it seem more suitable to
you, yourself, that until I am able to ride with you again you should
not go out except with your brother? You will do me the justice to
believe that I am not jealous--I would not insult you by such a
feeling--but other people will talk. Yes, I am jealous--for my little
girl, not of her. No one must have the chance even of passing a remark
upon her.”

Mabel stood playing with her whip, her face flushed and her lips
pressed closely together. “He would like to make life a prison for me,
with himself as jailer!” she thought, as she bent the lash to meet the
handle, making no attempt to listen to Mr Burgrave, who went on to
speak of the high position his wife would occupy, of the extreme
circumspection necessary in such a station, and of the unfortunate
love of scandal characterising the higher circles of Indian female
officialdom. He did not actually say that the future Mrs Burgrave must
be above suspicion, but this was the general idea underlying his

“Why, you have broken your whip!” The words reached her ears at last.
“Never mind, you shall have the best in Bombay as soon as it can come
up here. You see what I mean, little girl, don’t you?”

“Oh yes,” said Mabel drearily. “You forbid me ever to ride with any
one but you, or to speak to a man under seventy.”

“Mabel!” he cried, deeply hurt, “can you really misjudge me so

“It’s not that,” she said, kneeling down beside him with a sudden
burst of frankness. “I know how fond you are of me, and I can’t tell
you how grateful and ashamed it makes me. But you don’t understand
things. You want to treat me like a baby, and I have been grown-up a
long, long time. Think what I have gone through since I came here,

“I know, I know!” he said hoarsely. “Don’t speak of it, my dearest!
The thought of that evening in the nullah comes upon me sometimes at
night, and turns me into an abject coward. I mean to take you away
where you will be safe, and have no anxieties.”

“Then have you never any anxieties? Because they will be mine.”

“No,” he said, with something of sternness, “my anxieties shall never
touch my wife. I want to shake off my worries when I leave the office,
and come home to find you in a perfect house, with everything round
you perfectly in keeping, the very embodiment of rest and peace,
sitting there in a perfect gown, long and soft and flowing, for me to
feast my eyes upon.”

He lingered lovingly over the contemplation of this ideal picture, to
the details of which Mabel listened with a cold shudder. “My dear
Eustace,” she said brusquely, to hide her dismay, “please tell me how
you think the house and the servants are to be kept perfect, if I do
nothing but trail round and strike attitudes in a tea-gown?” She
caught his wounded look, and went on hastily, “And what did you mean
by that invidious glance you cast at my habit? I won’t have my things
sniffed at.”

“It’s so horribly plain,” pleaded the culprit.

“And why not?” demanded Mabel, touched in her tenderest point. “I’m
sure it’s most workmanlike.”

“That’s just it. Workmanlike--detestable! Why should a woman want to
wear workmanlike clothes? All her things ought to be like that gown
you wore at the Gymkhana, looking as if a touch would spoil them.”

“I shall remind you of this in future, you absurd man!” laughed Mabel,
regaining her cheerfulness as she thought she saw a way of
establishing her point; “but please remember, once for all, that I
shall choose my clothes myself--and they will be suitable for various
occasions, for business as well as pleasure. Your part will only be to
admire, and to pay.” There was a seriousness in her tone which belied
the jesting words. Surely he would understand, he must understand,
that there was a principle at stake.

“And that part will be punctually performed,” said Mr Burgrave
indulgently, gazing in admiration into her animated face. “I know that
you will remember my foolish prejudices, and gratify them to the
utmost extent of my desires, if not of my purse. That is all I ask of
you--to be always beautiful.”

In her bitter disappointment Mabel could have burst into tears.

“Oh, you won’t understand! you won’t understand!” she cried. “I don’t
want piles of clothes; I don’t want everything softened and shaded
down for me. I want to be a helpmate to my husband, as Georgia is to

“Dear child, I am sorry you have returned to this subject,” said Mr
Burgrave, taken aback. “I thought we had threshed it out fully long

“Ah, but we can speak more freely now!” she cried. “Don’t you see that
I should hate to be stuck up on a pedestal for you to look at, or to
be a kind of pet, that you might amuse yourself smilingly with my
foolish little interests out of office hours? I want you to tell me
things, and let us talk them over together, as Dick and Georgia do.”

“I know they do,” said Mr Burgrave, trying to smile. “The walls here
are so thin that I hear them at it every evening. A prolonged growl is
your brother soliloquising, and a brief interlude of higher tones is
Mrs North giving her opinion of affairs. It is a little embarrassing
for me, knowing as I do that my doings are almost certainly the
subject of the conversation.”

“Well, and if they are?” cried Mabel. “It is only because you and Dick
don’t understand one another that he and Georgia criticise you. Now
think about this very matter of the frontier. If you would only talk
to me, and tell me what you thought was the proper thing to be done, I
could talk to them, and you might find out that your views were not so
much opposed after all. Do try, please; oh, do! I would give anything
to bring you to an agreement.”

Mr Burgrave’s brow was clouded as he looked into her eager eyes.

“Am I to understand,” he said, with dreadful distinctness, “that your
brother and Mrs North are trying to make use of you to extract
information from me? No, I will not suspect your brother. No man would
stoop to employ such an expedient--so degrading to my future wife, so
affronting to myself. It is Mrs North’s doing.”

Mabel, who had listened in horrified silence, sprang to her feet at
this point as if stung. “I think it will be as well for me to return
you this,” she said, laying upon the table the ring of “finest Europe
make,” which the Commissioner had been fain to purchase from the chief
jeweller in the bazaar as a makeshift until the diamond hoop for which
he had sent to Bombay could arrive. “You have grossly insulted both
Georgia and me, and--and I never wish to speak to you again.”

She meant to sweep impressively from the room, but the angry tears
that filled her eyes made her blunder against the table, and Mr
Burgrave, raising himself with a wild effort, caught her hand. “Mabel,
come here,” he said, and furious with herself for yielding, she
obeyed. “Give me that ring, please.” He restored it solemnly to its
place on her finger. “Now we are on speaking terms again. Dear little
girl, forgive me. I was wrong, unpardonably wrong, but I never thought
your generous little heart would lead you so far in opposing my
expressed wish. I admire the impulse, my darling, but when you come to
know me better you will understand how unlikely it is that I should
yield to it. Come, dear, look sunny again, or must I make a heroic
attempt to go down on my knees with one leg in splints?”

“Oh, if you would only understand!” sighed Mabel. She was kneeling
beside him again, occupying quite undeservedly, as she felt, the
position of suppliant. “If only I could make you see----”

“See what?” he asked, taking her face in his hands and kissing it. “I
see that my little girl thinks me an old brute. Won’t she believe me
if I assure her on my honour that I am trying to do the best I can for
her brother, and that I hope I have found a way of putting things

“Have you, really?” Her bright smile was a sufficient reward. “Oh,
Eustace, if it’s all settled happily, I shall love you for ever!”

The assurance did not seem to promise much that was new when the
relative position of those concerned was considered, but the
unsolicited kiss bestowed upon him was very grateful to Mr Burgrave,
and he smiled kindly as he released Mabel and bade her run away and
change her habit. She left the room gaily enough, but once outside, a
sudden wave of recollection swept over her, and she wrung her hands

“I was free--_free_!” she cried to herself. “Just for a moment I was
free, and I let him fetch me back. Oh, what can I do? I believe I
could be quite fond of him if he would let me, but he won’t. And if he
wasn’t so good I should delight to break it off in the most insulting
way possible, but his virtues are the worst thing about him. I hate
them! Is this sort of thing to go on for a whole lifetime--beating
against a stone wall and bruising my hands, and then being kissed and
given a sweet, and told not to cry? Mabel Louisa North, you are a
silly fool, and you deserve just what you have got. I hate and despise
you, and with my latest breath I shall say, Serve you right!”

“Oh, Dick, has it come?” Georgia sprang up to meet her husband, as he
entered the room with a gloomy face.

“No, but so far as I can see, it’s close at hand. I can’t quite make
things out, but Burgrave seems to have altered his plans
astonishingly. Instead of travelling down to the coast at once, he is
going to stay here another week, and hold a durbar at Nalapur. I have
to send word to Beltring at once to get the big _shamiana_ put up in
the Agency grounds, and to see that all the Sardars have notice. What
does it mean?”

“He’s going to see the thing through on his own account,” said
Georgia, with conviction. “But it will make no difference to us, will
it, Dick?”

“Rather not! The breach of faith is the same, whether I announce it at
first, or merely come in afterwards to carry it out. I wish Burgrave
hadn’t such a mania for mysteries. Ismail Bakhsh tells me he has been
sending off official telegrams at a tremendous rate all day, and yet
when I ventured to hint that some idea of the proposed proceedings at
the durbar would be interesting, he turned rusty at once, and said he
had not received his instructions. This system of government by
thunderbolt doesn’t suit me. It’s enough to make a man chuck things up
now, without waiting for the final blow.”

“Oh, but you will stick on as long as you can? It’s some sort of
security for peace.”

“A wretchedly shaky one, then,” said Dick, with an angry laugh.
“Here’s the Amir sending his mullah Aziz-ud-Din to say that he learns
on incontestable authority that the subsidy is to be withdrawn, and
imploring me to say whether I have any hand in it. The poor old
fellow’s faith in me is quite touching, but what could I say except
that I knew nothing about it, and repeat the assurance I gave him

“But what could Ashraf Ali mean by incontestable authority?”

“How can I tell? Some spy, I suppose. By the way, though, it didn’t
strike me. That must be what the Commissioner meant!”

“Why, what did he say?”

“He doesn’t intend to stay on in this house. Now that he can be got
into a cart, he thinks it better to return to his hired bungalow. I
imagine I looked a bit waxy, for he graciously explained that he had
reason to believe we have spies among the servants here.”

“Dick! you don’t mean to say that he accused you----?”

“No, he was so good as to assure me that he had the best possible
means of knowing I had nothing to do with it. But when I reminded him
that all the servants, except those Mab brought with her from Bombay,
have been with us for years, he intimated that he made no accusations,
but official matters had got out, and he didn’t mean to allow that
sort of thing to go on. No doubt it was that sweetseller fellow, as we

“Well, I think that to go is the best thing the Commissioner can do.
It will give Mab a little peace.”

“Yes, I shouldn’t say she looked exactly festive.”

“How could she? She feels that she has cut herself off from us, for of
course we can’t discuss things before her as we used to do, and I
don’t think she finds that he makes up for it. I have great hopes.”

“Now, no coming between them!” said Dick warningly, and Georgia

“I trust it won’t be necessary,” she said.

A week later she happened to be again sitting alone in the
drawing-room, busy with the fine white work on which she expended so
many hours and such loving care at this time, when Dick came in. To
her astonishment, he was in uniform, and laid his sword upon the table
by the door as he entered.

“Why, Dick, you are not going to Nalapur with the Commissioner after
all?” she cried.

“Burgrave can’t go, and I have to hold the durbar instead.”

“But how--what----?”

“It seems that he had a fearful blow-up with Tighe this morning, after
taking it for granted all along that he would be allowed to leave off
his splints and go. Tighe absolutely howled at the idea, told him that
in moving from this house to his own he had jarred the knee so badly
as to throw himself back for a week, and that the splints must stay on
for some time yet. Of course he can’t ride in them, and to take him
through the mountains in a doolie would be madness.”

“I wondered at his being allowed to ride so soon,” said Georgia, “but
I thought Dr Tighe must have found him better than we expected. Of
course I haven’t seen the knee for some time lately. But did he tell
you what the object of the durbar was?”

“He did. It is just what we thought it would be, Georgie.”

“Nonsense!” cried Georgia sharply. “As if you would go to Nalapur in
that case! Are you joking, Dick?”

His set face brought conviction slowly to her mind.

“You are not joking, and yet you came home, and got ready, just as if
you meant to hold the durbar, and never told me!” she cried.

“I do mean to hold the durbar,” said Dick.

She sat stunned, and he went on: “I thought I wouldn’t tell you till
the last moment, because I knew how you would feel about it, and I
didn’t want to worry you more than could be helped.”

“To worry me!” she repeated. “And yet you come here and try to tease
me with this absurd, impossible story? You are not going.”

Dick looked her straight in the face. “But I am,” he said.

“But you said you would resign first.”

“I must resign afterwards, that’s all. There are some things a man
can’t do, Georgie, and one is to desert in the face of the enemy.”

“But it’s wrong--dishonourable!”

“It’s got to be done, and Burgrave has managed to engineer matters so
that I have to do it. I talked about resigning, and he said very
huffily that he wasn’t the person to receive my resignation, which is
quite true. He anticipates danger, I can see, for he tells me he has
had information that Bahram Khan has some sort of plot on hand, and do
you expect me to hang back after that?”

“I never thought you would care what people said. If it’s right to
resign, do it, and let them say what they like.”

“If I wasn’t a soldier I would, but I have no choice.”

“No choice between right and wrong?”

“Not as a soldier. It isn’t my business to criticise my orders, but to
execute them. Oh, I know all you are thinking. I see it perfectly
well, and from your point of view you are absolutely in the right, and
as an individual I agree with you, but I am not my own master.”

“And your personal honour?”

“I’m afraid it has got to look after itself. Don’t think me a brute,
Georgie. I want to be on your side, but I can’t.”

“Then I suppose it’s no use my saying anything more?”

“I really think it would be better not. You see, it would only make us
both awfully uncomfortable, and do no good.”

“Oh, don’t!” burst from Georgia. “I can’t bear to hear you talk like
that. Remember your promise to Ashraf Ali. The poor old man has relied
on that, and pledged himself to all the Sardars that the Government
doesn’t intend to forsake them. The whole honour of England is at
stake. Dick, these people have learnt from you and my father to
believe the word of an Englishman, and are you going to teach them to
distrust it now?”

“When you have quite finished----” began Dick.

“I can’t! I can’t! Oh, Dick, our own people, who know us and trust us!
Have you the heart to forsake them? Dick, won’t you listen to me? I
have never urged you to do anything against your will before, but when
it is a matter of right and conscience--! I know you believe you’re
right now, but how will you feel about it afterwards? Think of our
friends betrayed, our name disgraced, through you!”

“Hang it, Georgie!” cried Dick, losing his temper, “you make a man
feel such a cur. I tell you I have got to go.”

“I wish I had died when baby died at Iskandarbagh, rather than lived
to hear you say that.”

Dick turned away without answering, and took up his sword from the
table where he had laid it down. It was always Georgia’s privilege to
buckle the sword-belt for him, and she rose mechanically, rousing
herself with an effort from her stupor of dismay. He took the strap
roughly out of her hands.

“No,” he said, “you’d better have nothing to do with it. The blame is
all mine at present, and you can keep your own conscience clear.”

She sank upon a chair again and watched him miserably as he buckled on
the sword and went out. On the threshold he looked back, softening a

“Graham has changed his mind, and is not coming to the durbar. If
there should be any attempt at a rising, you are to take refuge in the
old fort. Tighe will come and sleep in the house these two nights if
you are nervous.”

“I’m not nervous,” said Georgia indignantly.

“Oh, very well. After all, we shall be between you and Nalapur.”

He crossed the hall to the front door, Georgia’s strained nerves
quivering afresh as his spurs clinked at each step. Suddenly she
realised that he was gone, and without bidding her farewell.

“Dick!” she cried faintly, “you are not going--like this?”

There was no answer, and she moved slowly to the window, supporting
herself by the furniture. He was already mounted, and was giving his
final directions to Ismail Bakhsh. The sight gave Georgia fresh
strength, and stepping out on the verandah, she ran round the corner
of the house. There was one place where he always turned and looked
back as he rode out. He could not pass it unheeded even now, that
spot, close to the gate of the compound, where she had so often waited
for his return. As she stood grasping the verandah rail with both
hands, the consciousness that for the first time in their married life
he was leaving her in anger swept over her like a flood.

“Oh, it will kill me!” she moaned, seizing one of the pillars to
support herself, but almost immediately another thought flashed into
her mind. “No, he is not angry--my dear old Dick! he is only grieved.
He durst not be kind to me, lest I should persuade him any more, and
he should have to give way. God keep you, my darling!”

In the rush of happy tears that filled her eyes, the landscape was
blotted out, and when she could see distinctly again, Dick had passed
the gate. She could just distinguish the top of his helmet above the
wall as he rode. He had gone by while she was not looking. Would it
have been any comfort to her to know that he had looked back, and not
seeing her, had ridden on faster?

“I had to behave like a brute, or I should have given in--and she
didn’t see it,” he said to himself remorsefully. “Of course she was
right, bless her! She always is, but I couldn’t do anything else.”

Her pale reproachful face haunted him, and had there been time he
would have turned back, but he was obliged to hurry on. As he entered
the town, he came upon Dr Tighe.

“Doctor,” he said, laying a hand on the little man’s shoulder, “look
after my wife while I’m away. She’s awfully cut up at my going like

 [image: images/img_148.jpg

“All right!” said the doctor cheerfully; “and don’t you be frightened
about her. Mrs North is a sensible woman, and knows better than to go
and make herself ill with fretting.”

“The Memsahib parted from the sahib without kissing him!” said one of
the servants wonderingly to the rest.

“What foolish talk is this?” asked Mabel’s bearer scornfully. “My last
Memsahib never kissed the Sahib unless he had gained her favour by a
gift of jewels.”

The tone implied that the subject might be dismissed as beneath
contempt, but the man’s actions did not altogether tally with it, for
after loftily waving aside the assurance of the first speaker that
this Sahib and Memsahib were not as others, he retired precipitately
to his own quarters. Here a lanky youth, who was slumbering peacefully
in the midst of a miscellaneous collection of goods, some of them
Mabel’s, and others the bearer’s own, was suddenly roused by a kick.

“Hasten to Dera Gul with a message of good omen!” said the bearer,
impelling his messenger firmly in the desired direction. “Nāth Sahib
and the doctor lady have quarrelled, and until they meet again he is
without the protection of her magic.”


“Awake, Miss Sahib, awake!”

“Miss North! Miss North!”

Mabel sat up in bed. Her window was being shaken violently, and
outside on the verandah were those two persistent voices.

“See what it is, Tara,” she called to her ayah, but the woman was
crouching in a corner, her teeth chattering with terror. Seeing that
she was too frightened to move, Mabel threw on a dressing-gown and
went to the window. Outside stood Fitz Anstruther, his face pale in
the moonlight, and Ismail Bakhsh, who was armed with his old
regimental carbine and tulwar. Thus accoutred, he was wont to mount
guard over the house and its inmates when Dick was absent, patrolling
the verandahs at intervals; but he had never hitherto found it
necessary to alarm his charges at midnight.

“What is it?” asked Mabel, opening the window.

“You must get dressed at once, and bring anything that you
particularly value,” said Fitz hurriedly. “We were attacked on the way
to Nalapur, and there was no durbar. I’m come instead of the Major to
fetch you to the old fort, for Bahram Khan and his cut-throats may be
here at any moment. Will you speak to Mrs North, please? I was afraid
of startling her if I knocked at her window or came into the house.
Winlock is outside with twenty sowars, and he and I will see after the
papers in the Major’s study.”

Mabel dropped the blind and went towards Georgia’s room, twisting up
her hair mechanically as she did so. Rahah was already on the alert,
and met her at the door with gleaming eyes.

“I know, Miss Sahib. The evil is at hand at last. Awake, O my lady!”
She laid a hand gently on Georgia’s forehead. “The time has come to
take refuge in the fort. The Sahib bade me be prepared.”

“Dick has sent Mr Anstruther to fetch us, Georgie,” said Mabel,
unconsciously altering Fitz’s words, as Georgia, half awake, looked
sleepily from her to Rahah. “I think he wants us to be quick.”

“Of course,” said Georgia, rousing herself. “Now, Rahah, you will be
happy at last. We’ll come and help you, Mab, before Tara’s ready. Oh,
but the papers!--I must see that they are safe.”

“Mr Anstruther is looking after them,” said Mabel.

“I wonder whether Dick thought of giving him the key of the safe? Very
likely he forgot it in his hurry. He had better have my duplicate. Oh,
thanks, Mab! There’s a tin despatch-box standing by the safe which
will hold all the most important papers.”

With the key in her hand, Mabel hurried down the passage, her slippers
making no sound on the matting. There was a light in Dick’s den, and
Fitz and Captain Winlock were shovelling armfuls of papers and various
small articles into a huge camel-trunk which stood open in the middle
of the floor. As Mabel reached the door, Winlock held out something to
Fitz. “Not much good taking this, at any rate,” he said, and a cold
hand seemed to grip Mabel’s heart as she saw that it was Dick’s
tobacco-pouch, which Georgia, with what his sister considered a
reprehensible toleration of her husband’s pleasant vices, had worked
for him.

“No, put it in,” said Fitz gruffly. “It may comfort her to have it.”

A slight sound at the door, half gasp, half groan, made both men jump,
and looking round they saw Mabel, her eyes wide with terror.

“Mr Anstruther, what has happened to Dick?”

The words were barely audible. Fitz stood guiltily silent.

“Tell me,” she said.

“He was wounded,” growled Winlock.

“It’s worse than that, I know. Is he taken prisoner?”

“No,” was the unwilling reply.

“Then he’s killed! Oh!----” but before Mabel could utter another word,
Fitz’s hand was upon her mouth.

“Miss North, you mustn’t scream. For Heaven’s sake, think of his wife!
Remember what those two are--have been--to one another, and
remember--everything. Let us get her safe to the fort, and let Mrs
Hardy break it to her gently. A sudden shock like this might kill

Mabel freed herself from the restraining hand, and stood shivering as
if with cold. “Oh, Dick, Dick!” she wailed pitifully, in a tone that
went to the men’s hearts, and then she crept back in silence along the
passage. Once in her own room, she dropped helplessly into a chair and
sat rigid, staring straight before her. Dick dead! Georgia a widow!
that perfect comradeship at an end for ever!--and Georgia did not know
it. Mabel wrung her hands feebly. It was the only movement she had
strength to make. All power of thought and action seemed to have
forsaken her. Dick was dead and Georgia was left.

“My beloved Mab!” Georgia came hurrying in, equipped for driving. “I
said I should be ready first, but I didn’t expect to find you quite so
far behind. I believe Rahah keeps half my things packed, all ready for
a night alarm of this kind, but of course your ayah is not accustomed
to these little excitements. Are you quite overwhelmed by the amount
that has to be done?”

“Yes; I don’t know what to pack first,” said Mabel, with a forced
laugh, keeping her face turned away.

“Well, Rahah and I will see to that while you dress. We may be some
days in the fort, and you don’t want to go about in an amber
dressing-gown the whole time. We’ll begin with your jewel-case. Where
is it?”

“Oh, I don’t know! What’s the good of taking that sort of thing?”

“It might be invaluable--to buy food, or bribe the enemy, or ransom a
prisoner--or anything. Where _is_ it, Mab? I thought you kept it in

“Yes, I do.” Mabel looked up from the shoe she was tying, as Georgia
ransacked a drawer in vain. “But no doubt Tara has taken it out to the
cart already. She has always been instructed to save it first of all
if the house was on fire.”

Mabel spoke wearily. The awful irony of Georgia’s fussing over a box
of trinkets while Dick lay dead almost destroyed her self-control. How
was it that she did not guess the truth without being told?

“But why hasn’t she come back to help you to dress? I hope it’s all
right, Mab, but I doubt if you’ll see that jewel-case again. She has
had time to slip away with it and hide somewhere. Here, Rahah, put all
these things in the box. It’s well to take plenty of clothes, Mab, for
we are not likely to be able to get much washing done.”

“Don’t!” burst from Mabel.

“Why not?” asked Georgia, in astonishment.

“Why, it sounds as if you thought we were going to spend the rest of
our lives in the fort,” said Mabel lamely.

“I don’t see why. Surely you would like to save as many of your things
as possible, whether we stay there long or not?”

“Oh yes, of course.” Mabel turned away to fasten her dress at the
glass, conscious that in Georgia’s eyes she must be playing a sorry
part. Georgia thought her dazed with fright, whereas her mind was full
of that dreadful revelation which must be made sooner or later.

“Are you nearly ready, Mrs North?” asked Fitz’s voice in the passage.

“Quite,” replied Georgia, stuffing Mabel’s dressing-gown ruthlessly
into a full trunk. “Tell the servants to come and fetch the boxes,

“Well, I’m afraid the servants have stampeded to a certain extent.
Ismail Bakhsh and the rest of the _chaprasis_ and one or two others
are left, and that’s all, but of course they’ll make themselves

“You see, Mab!” said Georgia, and Mabel understood that she need not
expect to see her jewel-case again. They followed Fitz out into the
verandah, in front of which were ranged all the vehicles belonging to
the establishment, drawn by everything that could be found even
remotely resembling a horse.

“I told Ismail Bakhsh to get them out,” said Fitz. “There are the
wives and children to bring, and I knew you wouldn’t mind.”

“Of course not,” said Georgia. “Wait a moment, please; I have
forgotten something,” and she ran back into the drawing-room. Mabel
knew what it was she had suddenly remembered.

“I hope she won’t be long,” said Fitz anxiously. “We’ve been here a
quarter of an hour already.”

Only a quarter of an hour! To Mabel it seemed hours since she had been
awakened by those voices on the verandah. She looked out beyond the
line of troopers sitting motionless on their horses, and noticed,
without perceiving the significance of the fact, that there were two
or three of their number acting as scouts farther off in the

“I daren’t lose any more time,” Fitz went on, fidgeting up and down
the steps. “I can’t think how it is they have left us so long.”

Ismail Bakhsh, stowing Mabel’s dressing-bag under the seat of the
dog-cart, looked round. “Sahib, _he_ rides to-night. They will not
cross the border until he has passed.”

“Then whoever or whatever _he_ may be, he has probably saved all our
lives,” said Fitz, as Georgia came out of the house. While he was
helping her into the dog-cart, Mabel caught once more the sound of the
tramp of the galloping horse, which the old trooper’s quick ear had
perceived some minutes before. The sowars straightened themselves
suddenly in their saddles, and the horses pricked their ears in the
direction of the noise.

“Old boy seems somewhat agitated to-night,” muttered Winlock to Fitz,
as the invisible rider pulled up abruptly, then galloped on again.

“There’s enough to make him so,” returned Fitz, who was helping to
hoist the last terrified native woman, with her burden of two children
and several brass pots, into the last cart. “All right now?” he
demanded, looking down the row of vehicles. “We had better be off,

Was it fancy, or did Mabel see the sparks struck from the stone on
which the unseen horse stumbled as the sound came nearer? She could
have screamed for sheer terror; but Rahah, who was her companion on
the back seat of the dog-cart, laughed aloud as she wrapped the end of
her _chadar_ round the great white Persian cat she held in her arms.

“What is there to fear, Miss Sahib? No man has ever stood against
Sinjāj Kīlin, and he is close at hand. The rule of the Sarkar will

“Now do tell me what has happened,” Mabel heard Georgia saying to
Fitz, as he drove out of the gate. “I’m sure I am a model soldier’s
wife, for Dick suddenly sends me a bare message ordering me to abandon
all my household goods and take refuge in the fort, and I do it
without asking why! But I must confess I should like to know the
reason. Did the durbar break up in disorder, or were you attacked on
the way back?”

“There was no durbar at all. The attack came off on the way there. But
I say, Mrs North,” said Fitz desperately, anticipating Georgia’s
question, “I can’t tell you what happened then, for I wasn’t there.
Won’t it do if I recount my own experiences, and you ask the other
fellows about the rest of it when we get to the fort?” He left her no
time to answer, but went on hurriedly:--

“Yesterday we got as far as the entrance to the Akrab Pass, some way
beyond Dera Gul, and camped there for the night. The Major chose the
site of the camp himself, in an awfully good position commanding the
mouth of the pass, and arranged everything just as if it was war-time.
I knew, of course, that he was looking out for treachery of some sort,
and I was awfully sick when he told me this morning that I was to stay
and do camp-guard with Winlock, and not go with him to the durbar. I
yearned horribly to disobey orders, but, you see, he left me certain
things to do if--if anything went wrong.” Fitz cleared his throat,
muttered that he thought he must have got a cold, and hastened on.
“Beltring had come down from Nalapur to meet the Commissioner, as he
thought, and the Sardar Abd-ul-Nabi was waiting just inside the pass
with an escort of the Amir’s troops. We in camp had nothing to do but
kick our heels all day, for the Major left strict orders against going
out of sight of the pass. He meant to get through his work by
daylight, so as to sleep at the camp to-night, and come back here in
the morning, you see. There were no caravans passing, and the place
seemed deserted, which we thought a bad sign. But about eleven this
morning one of our scouts brought in a small boy, who had come tearing
down the pass and asked for the English camp. We had the little chap
up before us, and I recognised him as a slave-boy I saw at Dera Gul
the day Miss North and I were there. He knew me at once, and began to
pour out what he had to say so fast that we could scarcely follow him.
It seems that the Hasrat Ali Begum had managed in some way to get an
inkling of Bahram Khan’s plot, and she despatched one of her
confidential old ladies to warn you and the Major. Unfortunately, the
old lady got caught, and Bahram Khan was so enraged with his mother
that he promptly packed his whole zenana off to Nalapur, to be out of
mischief, I suppose. On the way through the pass this boy, by the
Begum’s orders, managed to hide among the rocks when they broke camp,
and so escaped with her message. He hoped to catch the Major before he
started, but, most unhappily, he durst not ask the only man he met
whether he had passed, and he was behind him instead of in front. So
he came down the pass, missing him entirely, of course, and warned us
instead. The Major’s force was to be attacked in the worst part of the
defile, he told us, and as soon as a messenger could reach Dera Gul to
say that the attack had taken place, Bahram Khan would set out to raid
Alibad. It was an awful dilemma for Winlock and me. It was no use
sending after the Major to warn him, for whatever was to happen must
have happened by that time, and if we tried to warn the town, Bahram
Khan was safe to intercept the messenger and start on his raid at
once, and of course we couldn’t evacuate the camp without orders. We
decided to strike the tents and get everything ready for a start at
any moment, and we posted our best shots on either side of the
entrance to the pass, in case the Major’s party should be pursued.
Then we waited, and at last the--the force turned up. Thanks to the
Major’s suspicions and precautions, the surprise was a good deal of a
fizzle. But as I said, I can’t tell you about that. Well, we had to
get back here. The enemy were supposed not to be far behind, so we
left Beltring and twenty-five men to hold the mouth of the pass at all
hazards, and see that no messenger got through until we were safely
past Dera Gul. After that it was left to them to seize the moment for
retreating on Shah Nawaz, which Haycraft was to evacuate, so that both
detachments might return here by the line of the canal. We put our
wounded and baggage in the middle, and started--”

“No, wait!” cried Georgia, for hitherto Fitz had spoken so fast that
she had found it impossible to get in a word. “Who were the wounded?
You said nothing about them before. Was any one killed?”

“I--I really can’t give you any particulars,” returned Fitz, at his
wits’ end. “Please let me finish my tale. I’m getting to the most
exciting part. It was fearfully thrilling when we had to pass under
the very walls of Dera Gul. Of course we were all ready for action at
a moment’s notice, but the men were told to ride at ease, and talk if
they liked, to give the impression that all was well. I know Winlock
and I exchanged the most appalling inanities at the top of our voices,
till the Dera Gul people must have thought we were drunk. As we
expected, pretty soon there came a hail from the walls, asking who we
were, and Ressaldar Badullah Khan, who was nearest, called out that we
were coming back from Nalapur without holding the durbar. ‘But what
has happened?’ asked the voice from the wall. ‘What should happen,
save that the Superintendent Sahib won’t hold the durbar?’ said the
Ressaldar, and we went on. Of course they must have been awfully
puzzled, for they couldn’t see our wounded in the dark, and the only
thing they could do was to send some one off to the pass to find out
what had happened. Beltring was to look out for that, and if possible
to seize the messenger and get his men away at once, before Bahram
Khan could come up and take him in the rear.”

“And I suppose Dick is helping to prepare the fort for defence?” asked
Georgia. “There must be a dreadful amount to do.”

“Oh, that reminds me, Miss North,” cried Fitz quickly, turning round
to Mabel. “The Commissioner was most anxious to come and fetch you
himself, but we pointed out to him that he could do no good, and being
so lame, might hinder us a good deal. Excuse me, Mrs North, but I
think I must give all my attention to driving just here. I don’t know
why the whole population should have turned their possessions out into
the street, unless it was to make it awkward for us.”

They were approaching the fort, and the roadway was almost blocked
with carts, cattle, household goods, and terrified people. Several
vedettes, to whom Winlock gave a countersign, had been passed at
various points, and it was evident that the sudden danger had not
taken the military authorities, at any rate, by surprise. The space in
front of the fort gates was a blaze of light from many torches, and
several officers in uniform were resolutely bringing order out of the
general chaos. Gangs of coolies, bearing sand-bags and loads of
furniture, fuel, provisions, and forage, seemed inextricably mixed up
with shrill-voiced women and crying children, ponies, camels, and
goats; and it needed a good deal of shouting and some diplomacy, with
not a little physical force, to separate the various streams and set
them flowing in the right directions. As the dog-cart stopped,
Woodworth, the adjutant, came up.

“We want volunteers to help destroy the buildings round the fort,” he
said. “You’ll go, Anstruther? What about your servants, Mrs North?”

“There are seven who have come with us, nearly all old soldiers,” said
Georgia. “If you will speak to Ismail Bakhsh, who is a host in
himself, I will see that their wives and children are safely lodged
while they set to work.”

“Awfully sorry to trouble you about this sort of thing just now,” said
Woodworth awkwardly.

“Trouble? I am delighted they should help, of course. Where shall I
find my husband?”

“Good heavens! You haven’t heard----?” The adjutant stopped suddenly.

“You blighted idiot!” muttered Fitz under his breath. “Fact is, Mrs
North, the Major’s hurt--rather badly--” this reluctantly; “but I
didn’t want to frighten you sooner than I could help----”

“Where is he? Take me to him at once,” was all she said.

Woodworth stepped forward mechanically to help her out of the cart,
but found himself forestalled. The Commissioner had come hurrying up,
preceded by two huge Sikhs, who cleared a passage for him through the
throng, and now, supporting himself upon his crutch, he held out his
hand to Georgia.

“Believe me, Mrs North,” he said, “you have the sympathy of every man
here at this terrible time. Surely it must be some consolation to you
that your noble husband fell fighting, as he would have wished, and
that the smallness of our losses is entirely owing to his prudence and

Georgia, on the ground now, looked about her like one dazed, finding,
wherever she looked, fresh confirmation of the cruel tidings. In Mr
Burgrave’s sympathising face, in Woodworth’s pitying eyes, in the
sorrowful glances of the stern troopers who had closed up round the
group, she read the truth of what she had just heard. Her hand went
quickly from her heart to her eyes, as though to shut out the sight.
Then it dropped again.

“Oh, you might have told me at once!” she cried bitterly to Fitz. “I
could have borne it better from you than from the man who has done it

“When you are more yourself, Mrs North, I know you will regret this
injustice,” said Mr Burgrave, without anger. “Allow me to take you to
your quarters in the fort.”

Georgia shook from head to foot as he offered her his arm. She was on
the point of refusing it, of yielding to the sickening sense of
aversion with which his presence inspired her, when the scowling gaze
of the mounted troopers arrested her attention, and awakened her to
the deadly peril in which the Commissioner stood. These men idolised
Dick, and they had heard her accuse Mr Burgrave of causing his death.
A word from her would mean that his last moment had come. Even to turn
her back upon him would be taken to show that she left him to their
vengeance, which might not follow immediately, but would be certain to
fall sooner or later. With a great effort she conquered her
repugnance, and laid her hand upon his arm.

“At a time like this there are no private quarrels,” she said
hoarsely, addressing the troopers rather than the Commissioner. “We
must all stand together for the honour of England.”

“Of course, of course!” agreed Mr Burgrave, wondering what on earth
had called forth such a melodramatic remark, for he had missed the
growl of disappointed rage with which the troopers let their ready
blades fall back into the scabbards. “Most admirable spirit, I’m

“Upon my word!” muttered Woodworth to Fitz, “the man would have been
cut to pieces before our eyes in another moment, and he never saw it.”

“Oh, ignorance is bliss,” returned Fitz shortly. “What’s to happen to
the carts?”

“Broken up for firewood, I suppose. We can’t make room for

“I fear you will find your quarters somewhat confined,” Mr Burgrave
was saying kindly to Georgia, as with the help of his Sikhs he piloted
her through the gateway, “but we cannot expect palatial accommodation
in our present circumstances. Our good friends Mrs Hardy and Miss
Graham are taking pains to make things comfortable for you, I know,
and you must be kind enough to excuse the deficiencies due to lack of
time and means.”

Georgia gave a short fierce laugh. The Commissioner’s tone suggested
that if he had been consulted sooner there would have been a perfect
Hôtel Métropole in readiness to receive the fugitives. She broke
away from him, and laid her hand lovingly upon one of the new gates,
for his presentation of which to a presumably ruined fort all the
newspapers of the province had made Dick their butt only the week
before. The echoes of their Homeric laughter were even at this moment
resounding in Bombay on the one hand and Lahore on the other.

“If your life--any of our lives--are saved, it will all be due to
him!” she cried, and the Commissioner marvelled at the lack of
sequence so characteristic of a woman’s mind. He led Georgia through
the labyrinth of curiously involved passages and courts at the back of
the club-house, in which Government stores and stray pieces of private
property were lying about pell-mell, until they could be separated and
reduced to some sort of order by the overworked officer in charge of
the housing arrangements. Mabel followed with Rahah, and at last they
reached a tiny oblong courtyard not far from the rear wall of the
fort. Here, in the middle of the paved space, was Mrs Hardy, sorting a
confused heap of her possessions with the assistance of an elderly
Christian native, Mr Hardy’s bearer.

“Oh, my dear! my poor dear!” she cried, running to Georgia, and for a
moment the two women held each other locked in a close embrace.

“This room,” said Mr Burgrave, who seemed to feel it incumbent upon
him to do the honours of the place, “has been allotted to Miss Graham,
as it communicates by a passage with the Colonel’s quarters in the
next courtyard. The two on the right are Mr and Mrs Hardy’s, the two
on the left are intended for you, Mrs North, and the one opposite is
for you, Mabel. I believe the arrangement was suggested to Colonel
Graham by Major North himself.”

Mrs Hardy raised her head and gave him a fiery glance. “Miss North,
will you be so kind as to request Mr Burgrave to go away?” she said

“No; wait, please,” said Georgia. “Which of the officers were with my
husband when he--was hurt, Mr Burgrave?”

“There were several, I believe, but the only one not seriously wounded
was Mr Beltring, and he will not come in until the Shah Nawaz
contingent gets here--if at all.”

“If--when he comes, I should like to see him, please,” said Georgia,
and the Commissioner departed.

“Now come in, dear, and lie down,” said Mrs Hardy. “Your rooms are
ready, and I see Rahah, like a thoughtful girl, has even brought the
cat to make it look homelike. Anand Masih will bring you some tea in a
minute, and then I hope you will just go to bed again.”

“Dear Mrs Hardy, you have given us all your own furniture,” protested
Georgia, recognising a well-worn writing-table; but Mrs Hardy shook
her head vigorously.

“Nonsense, my dear, nonsense! We had far more brought in than we can
possibly use in this little place, and as soon as I have seen you
settled, Anand Masih and I will look after my two rooms. Mr Hardy is
helping Dr Tighe in the reading-room, which they have turned into a
hospital, or I know he would have come to see if he could do anything
for you.”

Never silent for a moment, Mrs Hardy administered tea without milk to
Mabel and Georgia, and then tried vainly again to induce them to go to
bed. Just as she was departing in despair, Flora Graham ran in.

“I am helping to arrange the hospital--I can’t stay,” she panted. “Oh,
Mrs North, Mabel darling, I am so sorry! I can’t tell you how much--”
She stopped, unable to speak. “I know a little what it is like,” she
added, with a sob; “Fred and his men are not in yet.”

She dashed away, and Georgia and Mabel sat silent, hand in hand, until
the sound of a cheer from the hard-worked garrison heralded the
arrival of the Shah Nawaz detachment. Presently the clink of spurs on
the verandah announced young Beltring, who was Dick’s most trusted
pupil among the military officers desiring political employment, and
as a man after his chief’s own heart, had been allowed to earn
experience, if not fame, as his assistant at Nalapur. He came in
slowly and reluctantly, scarcely daring to look at Georgia, his torn
and bloodstained clothes and bandaged head bearing eloquent testimony
to the fighting he had seen that day.

“Sit down, Mr Beltring,” said Georgia, holding out her hand to him.
“You got here without further loss, I hope?”

“Yes, the enemy were on both flanks, but they never came near enough
to do any harm,” he answered, dropping wearily into a chair.

“Now tell us, please. You were with him--at the end?”

“I was the nearest, but not with him. He was riding with that
treacherous scoundrel Abd-ul-Nabi, and we had orders to keep a few
paces to the rear. We thought he wanted to speak to Abd-ul-Nabi
privately, but now I believe it was because he foresaw what was
coming. The rest of us were still in that part of the pass where the
walls are too steep for any ambush, while he, on in front with
Abd-ul-Nabi, was rounding the corner where the track goes down
suddenly into a wide rocky nullah. He must have seen something that he
was not meant to see--the glitter of weapons among the rocks
perhaps--for he turned suddenly and shouted, ‘Back! back! an
ambuscade!’ Abd-ul-Nabi spurred his horse across the pathway to
prevent his getting back to us, but the Major came straight at him,
and the ruffian pulled out a pistol and fired at him point-blank. I
cut the wretch down the next moment, but the Major had dropped like a
log, and before we could get him up there was a rush round the corner
in front, while Abd-ul-Nabi’s escort, who had been riding last,
attacked us in the rear. Leyward took command, and the fellows behind
were soon disposed of, but in front we had a pretty hard time. At last
we drove them back far enough to get at the Major’s body. He was lying
under a heap of dead. I got him out, and his head fell back on my
shoulder. No, there could be no mistake, Mrs North. Do you think I
would ever have left him while there was any breath in his body? I
tried to get him on to my horse, and Badullah Khan helped me. Just as
we had got him up, there was another rush, and the wretched beast
broke away. I was thrown off on my head, and when I came to myself the
Ressaldar was holding me in front of him on his horse, and we were in
full retreat down the pass. We had lost eight killed beside the Major,
and Leyward and the two other fellows were all badly wounded, besides
almost every one of the men, and--and they wouldn’t go back.”

“No, no; it would have been wrong,” murmured Georgia. “Thank you for
telling me this. There could be no message.”

“No message,” repeated Beltring, answering the unasked question.

“He could not send me any message,” wailed Georgia, as the young man
went out, “and I parted from him in anger. Oh, Dick, my darling, my
darling--forgive me!”

“Oh, Georgie, don’t!” sobbed Mabel.

“Poor Mab! I forgot you were there. Lie down here on my bed. I can’t

“I’m sure I can’t,” protested Mabel.

It was not long before she cried herself to sleep, however, but
Georgia sat where she was until the morning.


“Mab!” Mabel awoke from her uneasy slumbers to wonder where she was,
and why Georgia was sitting there, her face silhouetted against the
square of grey light that represented a window. “Mab! Dick is not

“Why--oh, Georgie!--have you heard anything?”

“No; but I know it. We always agreed that if either of us died when
the other was not there, the one that was dead should come back to say
good-bye. And I have waited for him all night, and he has not come.”

Mabel gazed at her in dismay. “Oh, but you are not building upon that,
Georgie? How can it be any proof that he is alive? He might not be
allowed to come.”

“He promised. Besides, I know he is alive,” persisted Georgia
obstinately. “If he was dead, I should feel it.”

“Georgie dear, you mustn’t go on like this. You will make yourself
ill. Come and lie down a little, and try to go to sleep. I will tell
you if he comes.” Mabel ended with a sob.

“If he does, I shall know,” murmured Georgia, as she lay down.
“Thanks, Mab; I am so tired.”

Mabel waited only until she was asleep, and then, summoning Rahah to
watch beside her, went in search of Dr Tighe. It so happened that she
met him in the passage which led into the courtyard.

“Bad business this, Miss North. We can ill spare your brother. How is
his poor wife?”

“She has borne up wonderfully so far, but--oh, Dr Tighe, I’m afraid
her mind is going. She will persist that Dick is not dead.”

“Poor thing! can’t realise it yet,” said the doctor compassionately.

“No; it is quite a delusion. She says he is still alive, or she would
know it. What can we do? I thought perhaps if she could see his

“No, no. Better that the delusion should last for ever than she should
see his body after those fiends have had to do with it.”

“But she must give up hope soon, and it will be such a fearful

“If the hope keeps her up through the next few days, so much the
better. Afterwards, please God, she’ll have more effectual comfort
than we could give her.”

“But I can’t help hoping too, and it will make the reality so much
worse,” confessed Mabel, with an irrepressible sob.

“Woman alive! who cares about you?” cried the doctor furiously. “What
do your little bits of feelings matter compared with hers? No, no; I
beg your pardon, Miss North,” his tone softening. “I’d get a fine
wigging if the Commissioner heard me, wouldn’t I? But you must
remember how much you have got left, and your sister has nothing. For
God’s sake, let her please herself with thinking that he’s all right
for the present, if that comforts her at all. By-and-by the truth will
come to her gradually, but she will have the child to think of, and
the worst bitterness will be gone. Come, now, you’re brave enough for
that, aren’t you? How is she--asleep just now? I’ll look in again
later on. Now make up your mind to be unselfish about this.”

“Does he mean that generally I am selfish?” mused Mabel. “It never
struck me before. But nobody seems to care about me. They all think
that I have Eustace left. As if he could ever make up to me for Dick!”
she laughed mirthlessly at the mere idea. “He will be coming in
presently and making appropriate remarks. Oh dear, oh dear! if he had
gone to the durbar and been killed instead of Dick, I believe I should
have been _glad_. How dreadful it is! How can I ever marry him? But I
know I shall never have the courage to tell him I want to give him up.
What can I do?”

“Mabel, my poor little girl!” Mr Burgrave emerged from the passage,
and limped towards her as she stood listlessly on the verandah. “You
have slept badly, I fear? How is Mrs North?”

“She won’t believe that he is dead.” And with her eyes full of tears,
Mabel repeated to him Georgia’s words.

“Very touching, very touching!” remarked the Commissioner, his tone
breathing the deepest sympathy. “Poor thing! it is unspeakably sad to
see so strong a mind overthrown. You must find it very trying, poor
child! I hope you are taking care of yourself?” His glance travelled
over her, and Mabel remembered for the first time that she had slept
in her clothes, and that her hair had not been touched since she had
twisted it up roughly the night before on the first alarm.

“Oh, I know I’m not fit to be seen!” she cried impatiently. “But what
does that signify?”

“It signifies very much. You must remember the natives in the fort.
Their endurance--even their loyalty--may hang upon our success in
keeping up appearances during the next few days. And we white men,
also--surely it is a poor compliment to us to make such a sorry
ob--figure--of yourself? Then there is your unfortunate sister. Is it
likely to restore her mental balance to see you in such a dishevelled
condition? Oblige me by changing your dress and doing something to
your hair. It is a public duty at such a time.”

“I wish you wouldn’t bother!” said Mabel, weeping weakly. “I have no
black things, and I can’t bear to put on colours.”

“My dear girl, is it for me to advise you as to your clothes?” The
tone, half severe and half humorous, stung Mabel with a recollection
of their conversation of ten days before. “Considering poor Mrs
North’s delusion, might it not be advisable to humour her, in so far
as not to insist upon wearing mourning immediately?”

“Oh, very well,” was the grudging reply, of which Mabel repented the
next moment, adding contritely, “I’m sorry to have been so cross,
Eustace. I will try to be brave.”

“That is what I expect of my little girl. She would never bring
discredit upon my choice by showing the white feather. I rely upon her
to set an example of cheerfulness to the whole garrison.”

He bestowed upon her what Mabel inwardly stigmatised as a lofty kiss
of encouragement before departing, and she obeyed him meekly, going at
once to her room to change her dress. She was so angry with herself
for having deserved his rebuke that she forgot to be angry with him.
After all, it was well for her to have this severe master to please,
if she was in danger of bringing reproach upon her country by her
faint-heartedness. She was taking herself to task in this strain, when
the sound of voices in the outermost of Georgia’s two rooms, which was
next to her own, interrupted her meditations.

“Oh dear! Georgie hasn’t slept long,” she lamented to herself. “Who is
that talking to her, I wonder? Oh, Mr Anstruther, of course.”

“I came in to see if there was anything I could do for you,” she heard
Fitz say. “I’m ashamed to have been so long in coming, but the fact
is, I was up all night knocking down houses and setting coolies to
cart away the remains, and when we had got the space all round pretty
clear and came in, I was so dead tired that I just lay down and went
to sleep where I was.”

“Oh, you should have gone on resting while you had the chance,” said
Georgia. “Everybody is only too kind to me, and there’s nothing I want
done. Then we are really besieged now?”

“I suppose we might say that we are in a state of siege. At present
all the tribes are holding _jirgahs_ to consider the matter. Our outer
circle of vedettes was driven in soon after we got here last night,
but we held the houses facing the fort against a few spasmodic rushes
until we had got the zone of fire cleared. The enemy are too close for
comfort as it is, but at any rate they have a space to cross before
they can get up to the walls.”

“Then they are occupying the town?”

“Decidedly, if that means looting all the houses and firing most of

“Is our house burnt?”

“Almost as soon as you were out of it. I noticed the fire when I
looked round once as we were driving. But I don’t think the enemy can
have been as close behind us as that. I fancy the servants who shirked
coming with us were looting, and some one had knocked over a lamp.”

“And how are things going with us here?”

“So-so. But you know, Mrs North, if it hadn’t been for the Major and
Colonel Graham, we might as well have taken refuge in a fowl-house as
in this place. Long ago they got in all the stores they could without
attracting attention, and everything else was ready to be moved at a
moment’s notice. They had their plans all cut and dried, too, and
every man found his post assigned to him. The walls are good against
anything but artillery, and the towers and loopholes and gates have
all been put into some sort of repair.”

“Yes,” said Georgia, “and that is the best of the situation. Now for
the worst.”

“Well, you know, it would all have been worst but for the Major, and
every soul inside the walls is blessing him. The worst is that we have
scraped together a preposterous number of non-combatants--some of them
the wives and children of the sowars, of course, but a good many of
them Hindus and bazaar-people of that sort, whom it would have been
sheer murder to leave outside, but who will be no good to us whatever.
All the old soldiers have been re-enlisted, and the boys are to make
themselves useful, but there is a helpless crowd of women and children
and elderly people to dispose of somehow. That’s the secret of your
close quarters here. We can’t have the poor wretches anywhere near the
walls, so they are put away in the central courts, where we can keep
an eye upon them, and overawe them if necessary.”

“Poor things! I must go and see after them,” murmured Georgia.

“Of course, with all these extra mouths, we are not provisioned for a
regular siege, unless we eat the horses, which ought to be saved in
case we have to cut our way out at last. But the worst thing is that
we have no artillery, not so much as a field-gun, and very little of
anything else. The regiment have their carbines, of course, but the
Commissioner’s Sikhs are the only men with rifles--except those of us
who go in for big game shooting. However, as a set-off against that,
the enemy have no big guns either. And then, it’s about the best
season of the year for moving troops on this frontier, so that we
ought to be relieved before very long.”

“But that’s only if the enemy don’t cut the canals.”

“Yes, I’m afraid they’re too sharp not to do that. It looks as if a
dust-storm was coming on, which would help them if they set to work at

“Have they made any pretence of offering terms?”

“The Amir sent his mullah this morning with a flag of truce. He
couldn’t be allowed inside, so the Commissioner and Colonel Graham
spoke to him from the walls. But there was no accepting what he

“What was it?”

“Poor old Ashraf Ali was awfully cut up about--what happened
yesterday. He explained through the mullah that he arranged the
ambuscade entirely for the benefit of the Commissioner, whom he really
was anxious to have out of the way. It was a pure accident that the
very last thing he could have wished happened instead. However, in
order that his trouble mightn’t be wasted, he suggested that we should
hand him over the Commissioner now. He will see that he gives no more
trouble on this frontier, and it is open to the rest of us either to
stay here unmolested, or to return to civilisation under a
safe-conduct, just as we like.”

“You mean that he actually offers to guarantee the safety of every one
else if the Commissioner gives himself up?”

“Practically that. Doesn’t it strike you as a little quaint?”

“Was that the Commissioner’s view of it?”

“I believe so. He remarked what a preposterous demand it was, when he
had the responsibility of the fort and the whole community on his
shoulders. He doesn’t intend to shirk his duty. The Colonel said it
was a tremendous relief to hear how sensibly he took it. Some men
would have insisted on giving themselves up forthwith, but he has too
much to think of.”

A wan smile showed itself on Georgia’s face. “Well, if he intends to
interpret his duty very strictly, we may wish he had gone,” she said.

“I don’t believe he is even technically in the right, and certainly I
think the Colonel will have to organise a little mutiny if he insists
upon bossing the show. Couldn’t you turn on Miss North to induce him
to moderate his pretensions a bit?” Mabel, in the next room, shook her
fist unseen at the speaker.

“After all,” said Georgia, “it’s most unlikely that they would have
kept their promise to protect us, even if he had given himself up.”

“Very little doubt about that. From what the mullah said, it’s clear
that there are two parties in their camp, and I shouldn’t care to say
which is the stronger. Bahram Khan’s following, besides his own men,
who did all the looting last night, comprises the more troublesome of
the frontier tribes and the chiefs who have grudges against the Amir,
while Ashraf Ali has his loyal Sardars and the tribes which have
always been friendly to us. If only we had the Major here!”

“You mean that he would play them off against one another?”

“Yes, and there’s no one else to do it. Beltring and I wanted to try,
because there’s just the chance that the tribes would listen to us, as
we have been with him so much, but the Colonel won’t let us leave the

“No, it would be no good. You would only be risking your lives
uselessly,” said Georgia. “He has more influence over them than any
man I ever knew, except my father.”

“Ah, but, Mrs North, there’s no time to lose. As soon as we have
killed two or three of the lot, they’ll all be against us, and the
longer we hold out the worse it will be. Even if Bahram Khan doesn’t
succeed in bringing them over to his side at once, he will be
intriguing against his uncle in secret.”

“I know, but what can we do? I dare not make inquiries about Dick, for
if the Amir is keeping him safe somewhere, it might put him into
Bahram Khan’s power. We can only wait.”

“Oh, Mrs North, don’t count on that,” pleaded Fitz sorrowfully. “It’s
no good, believe me. Ashraf Ali knows he is dead as well as we do.”

“But I know that he is not dead,” said Georgia, and Fitz went out
hastily. In the verandah he met Mabel.

“Oh, Miss North, I wanted to speak to you,” he said, but she beckoned
him imperiously aside.

“You seem to think it rather a fine thing to abuse a man who isn’t
there to defend himself,” she said.

“Indeed?” he said, in astonishment. “I wasn’t aware of it.”

“Perhaps you didn’t know that I could hear you when you were laughing
at Mr Burgrave?”

“I certainly didn’t know you were listening, but I was not laughing at
him. I merely said that he hadn’t given himself up. Would you wish me
to say that he had?”

“You hinted that it was wrong and cowardly of him, and that he was
saving himself at the expense of every one else here, when you ought
to know it was only his strong sense of duty that kept him back. Would
you have gone?”

“Certainly not, if the burden of the defence rested on me, as the
Commissioner fancies it does on him.”

“You see! And you said yourself it would probably have been no good.”

“So I say still. Bahram Khan has more on hand than a piece of private
revenge. If we trusted to his safe-conduct, we should be in for
Cawnpore over again.”

“And after that you still make fun of Mr Burgrave for not going! It’s
a shame! I know he has made mistakes in the past, from our point of
view, but I won’t hear him called a coward. He is the most noble,
lofty-minded man in the world, and I only wish I was more worthy of

“You can’t expect me to indorse that, any more than the Commissioner
himself would,” said Fitz. “If anything I have said about him has
pained you, Miss North, I humbly beg your pardon; but please remember
that I should never speak against him intentionally, simply because
you think so highly of him.”

“I only want you to understand that I am not going to ask him to
moderate his pretensions, as you call it,” went on Mabel, rather
confused. “For one thing, he wouldn’t do it, and for another, now that
Dick is gone, I must be guided by him.”

“Quite so,” said Fitz, somewhat dryly. Then his tone changed. “I
wanted to ask you what you thought about telling poor Mrs North
something the mullah said this morning. It struck me that perhaps we
ought to keep it dark for a bit, as the doctor thinks it a good thing
she can’t believe that the worst has happened. The poor old Amir wept
as if for his own son when he heard that the Major was dead, and went
himself to look for the body, intending to give it a state funeral.
But when they got to the pass, it was gone. The Hasrat Ali Begum, who
was in camp near, had broken _pardah_ with her women as soon as the
fight was over, and carried off the body and buried it. They were
afraid of what Bahram Khan would do with it, you see, and at present
they won’t tell even the Amir where the grave is, but he sent word
that he meant to build a tomb over it later on. Now, ought Mrs North
to know?”

“I shouldn’t think so, should you? I have never been much with people
in trouble--I don’t know how to deal with them. But I think it will be
better not to tell her unless she asks.”

“But she isn’t likely to ask, is she? Oh, Miss North, if she might
only be right! I don’t believe there’s a man in the fort that wouldn’t
gladly die to bring him back.”

The expected dust-storm did not begin until the afternoon, and in the
interval the besieged continued to strengthen their defences,
disturbed only by an intermittent rifle-fire. A party of the enemy had
taken possession of General Keeling’s old house, and lying down behind
the low wall which surrounded the roof, were firing at any one they
saw on the ramparts. Thanks to the efforts of Colonel Graham and Dick,
the ruined parapet here had been repaired, but when there were
messages to be sent from one point to another, the cry was “Heads
down!” So skilfully were the enemy posted that no response to their
annoying attentions was possible until a party of Sikhs, at
considerable risk to life and limb, scaled the turrets flanking the
gateway, the repair of which had not been completed owing to lack of
time, and succeeded in commanding the roof of the old house. They had
scarcely cleared it before the storm came on, and they were ordered
down again, since it was generally believed that an assault would be
attempted under cover of the wind and darkness. Nothing of the kind
took place, however, and the garrison, who were kept under arms,
chafed at their enforced inaction, and tried in vain to pierce the
obscurity which surrounded them, while the wind howled and the dust
rattled on the roofs. When, last of all, the rain poured down in
sheets, and the air cleared sufficiently to allow the buildings beyond
the zone of fire to become dimly visible, it was seen that the enemy
had taken advantage of the storm for a different purpose. On the roof
of General Keeling’s house was now a rough stone breastwork, so
constructed as to shelter its occupants even against the fire from the
towers, and provided with loopholes so arranged as to allow the barrel
of a rifle to be pointed through them in any direction.

“It looks to me as though we should have to rush the General’s house
and blow it up,” said the Commissioner to Colonel Graham, as they
stood in one of the turrets, peering into the sweeping rain, during
the last few minutes of daylight. “That sangar makes our walls

“Then we shall have to raise them,” was the laconic reply, as Colonel
Graham passed his field-glass to his companion. “You may not have
noticed that though the General’s old stone house is the only one
strong enough to support a sangar on the roof, the brick houses on
both sides of it have been loop-holed. The place is a regular

“Do you mean to say that in this short time they have prepared a
position impregnable to our whole force?” asked Mr Burgrave

“Quite possibly, but that isn’t the question. Their numbers are
practically unlimited; ours are not. I should be glad if you and I
could come to an understanding at once. We are not here to exhibit
feats of arms, but to keep the flag flying until we can be relieved,
and to protect the unfortunate women and children down below there.
Nothing would please me better than to lead an assault on the house
yonder, but who’s to defend the fort when the butcher’s bill is paid?
If we had only ourselves to consider, I might cut my way out with the
troops, and make a historic march to Rahmat-Ullah, but with the
non-combatants it would be impossible. You see this?--or perhaps you
don’t see it, but I do. Well, are we to work together, or not?”

“You are asking me to subordinate my judgment to yours?”

“Politically, you are supreme here. From a military point of view----”

“You think you ought to be? Considering the office I hold, doesn’t
that strike you as rather a large order?”

“Would you propose to occupy an independent and superior position from
which to criticise my measures? Surely you must see that is out of the
question? You may be Commissioner for the province, but I am
commandant of this fort, and the troops are under my orders. The
conclusion is pretty obvious, isn’t it? In such a situation as this, a
single head is essential, and there must be no hint of divided
counsels. You and I have both got everything we prize in the world at
stake here. Can we squabble over our relative positions in face of
what lies before us?”

“The question would come more gracefully from me to you, in the
circumstances,” said Mr Burgrave, “but I see your point. Let it be
understood that the conduct of all military operations is vested in
you, then. I reserve, of course, the right of private criticism, and
of offering advice.”

“And of putting the blame on me if things go wrong!” thought Colonel
Graham, but he was too wise to give utterance to the remark. “Do you
care to make the round of the defences with me?” he asked. “I should
like to see how the new brickwork stands this deluge.”

As they emerged from the shelter of the tower into the rainy dusk,
they were met by Fitz, who, like the other civilians in the place, had
enrolled himself as a volunteer. When he first spoke, his voice was
inaudible, owing to a rushing, roaring sound which filled the air.

“Why, what’s this?” shouted the Colonel.

“The canal, sir,” answered Fitz, as loudly. “Winlock sent me to ask
you to come and look at it.”

“Is it in flood? Can the reservoir have burst?”

“We think the enemy have opened the sluices. The dead body of a white
man was washed down just now. We saw it, though we couldn’t reach it,
and some one said it was Western, who was in charge at the canal

The Colonel and Mr Burgrave hurried along the rampart, sheltered from
the enemy’s fire by the gathering darkness, to the rear wall of the
fort, the base of which was washed by the canal. The canal itself was
part of the great system of irrigation-works by means of which, as the
Commissioner had once complained, General Keeling had made Khemistan.
A huge reservoir was constructed in the hills to receive the torrents
of water which rushed down every ravine after a storm, and which,
after carrying ruin and destruction in their path, ran fruitlessly to
waste. By means of sluices the outflow was regulated with the minutest
care, and the precious water husbanded so jealously that even in the
hottest seasons it was possible to supply the canal which, with its
many effluents, had converted the immediate surroundings of Alibad
from a sandy waste into a garden. In view of the possible necessity of
coping with an occasional rush of water, the banks were artificially
raised, and the one opposite the south-west angle of the fort, where
the canal took a sudden bend, had been strengthened to a considerable
height with masonry, to protect the cultivated land beyond it from
inundation. This change in its course largely increased the force of
the current at this point.

After a storm the placid canal always became a rushing torrent, on
account of the accessions it received after leaving the reservoir, but
none of those in the fort had ever seen it rise to the height it had
reached on the present occasion. Colonel Graham uttered an exclamation
of dismay when he looked out over the turbid stream, which seemed to
be flung back from the opposite bank against the fort wall with even
increased violence. Presently there was a lull in the storm, and by
the aid of a lantern, which was lowered from the rampart, he was able
to see that the current was actually scouring away the lower courses
of the wall. The next moment the lantern was violently swept from the
hand of the man who held the cord, as another rush of water came
swirling round the tower at the angle of the wall, dashing its spray
into the faces of the watchers. Every one of them felt the wall shake
under the blow, and there was a murmur of uneasiness. Colonel Graham
recovered himself first.

“Turn out all the servants and coolies, Winlock,” he said, “and shore
up the wall with props and sand-bags as far as possible. We will stay
here and watch whether the water rises any higher. It’s clear they
hope that this south curtain will go,” he added to Mr Burgrave, “and
that then they will only have to walk in.”

“They must have a clever head among them,” said the Commissioner; “for
they are evidently letting the water out a little at a time.”

“Ah, that’s the native engineer, no doubt. They would keep him alive
to manage the machinery for them when they murdered poor Western. Look
out, here’s another!”

Again the wall trembled perceptibly, but by this time the courtyard
was full of eager workers, piling up earth and stones and beams and
bags of sand, and anything else that could be found. Presently the
Colonel called out to them to stop, for there was now the danger that
the wall might fall outwards instead of inwards, and they waited in
unwilling idleness, while the two men on the rampart watched the
current anxiously, and measured the distance of its surface from the
parapet. Then came a more violent rush of water than any before, and
to Colonel Graham and Mr Burgrave the wall seemed to rock backwards
and forwards under them. When they looked into each other’s faces once
more, they could scarcely believe that it was still standing.

“That’s the last, evidently,” said the Colonel, “a final effort. The
water’s getting lower already. We’re safe for to-night, but if they
had only had the patience to wait till this rain was over, we could
never have stood the force of water they could have turned on. And as
it is, a child’s popgun might almost account for this bit of wall


“Why, Mrs North!” Disturbed in his task of supervising the
proceedings of a nervous native assistant, whose mind was less
occupied with his dispensing than with the bullets which flattened
themselves occasionally upon the pavement outside the surgery, Dr
Tighe had turned suddenly to find Georgia at his elbow. “Can I do
anything for you?” he asked kindly, looking with professional
disapproval at her pale face and weary eyes.

“I want you to let me help you in the hospital.”

“And I thought you were a sensible woman! Will you tell me if you call
this wise, now?”

“I think it would help me to have something to do.”

“But not this. What am I to say to the Major when--if--when I see him
again, if you overtask your strength?”

“I see you think I am mad,” she said earnestly, “but I _know_ he is
alive. But the suspense is so dreadful, doctor. It’s certain that he
is wounded, and I can scarcely doubt he is a prisoner; and what may be
happening to him at any moment? It is killing me, and I must live--for
both their sakes.” The doctor nodded quickly. “And I thought if I
could do something to help those who were suffering as he is, it
might--oh, I don’t know--it might make me tired enough to sleep

“A good idea!” said Dr Tighe, in his most matter-of-fact tones. “You
shall relieve me of half my dressings, by all means, and I’ll turn
over to you the out-patient work among these unfortunate women and
children. You can leave that dispensing, Babu”--the assistant, who had
been listening for the thud of the bullets, started violently--“and go
round the wards with the Memsahib.”

From his own cases on the opposite side of the improvised wards Dr
Tighe glanced across at Georgia several times, remarking with approval
that her face and figure were losing their look of utter weariness as
she went about her work. She was giving her whole mind to it, that was
evident, and for the time her own anxiety was pushed into the
background. The number of patients to be treated was considerable, for
besides the men who had been wounded at the fight in the Akrab Pass,
there were a good many casualties due to the enemy’s fire since the
siege had begun. The work was therefore heavy, but as soon as the
dressings were finished Dr Tighe bustled up to Georgia and pointed out
a new opening for her energies.

“The Colonel wants sacks made--millions of ’em--for sand-bags,” he
said. “He was at his wits’ end about it this morning, tried to get the
native women to sew them, and they wouldn’t.”

“Oh, why didn’t he ask us?” cried Georgia. “We would have worked our
fingers to the bone.”

“I’m sure you would, and it’s likely he’d ask it of you, isn’t it? But
why all the refugees should have board and lodging given them free, I
don’t know. Why, they wouldn’t even make the sacks for payment! A lot
of them said they couldn’t sew, and the rest seemed to think they were
being persecuted when they were asked to do it. But you know how to
get round them, Mrs North. We can’t very well say that if a woman
doesn’t sew a sack a day out she goes--sounds a bit brutal--but you’ll
manage to set them to work, I’m sure. I’ll tell Colonel Graham you’ve
taken the matter in hand, and he’ll be for ever grateful.”

Unpromising though the task seemed, Georgia succeeded in finding six
women who consented to sew if the Memsahibs would do so too, and a
working-party was organised in the little courtyard, from which Mr
Hardy and the men-servants were rigorously banished for the time.
Since the need of sand-bags--at any rate in such numbers--had not been
foreseen, the proper material was lacking, but all the tents in the
fort were promptly requisitioned, and their canvas utilised. The
regimental tailors cut out the sacks, delivering them into the charge
of Rahah, and inside the courtyard Mrs Hardy and Georgia superintended
the unskilled workers, while Flora and Mabel took a pride in proving
their willingness to blister their fingers for their country. It was
fortunate that fine needlework was not required, for the native
women’s ideas of sewing were rudimentary in the extreme, but their two
instructresses succeeded at last in convincing them, by precept and
example, that to sew one side only of a seam was unnecessary as a
decoration and not calculated materially to further the usefulness of
a sack. When this lesson had been sufficiently impressed upon the
pupils, Georgia sat down in the doorway of her room to divide the
_pice_ which Colonel Graham had entrusted to her for distribution
among them. The sun was setting over the hill beyond the fort, and the
women, as they sat cross-legged on the floor, seized the fact that the
light was in their eyes as an excuse for turning round to gaze
greedily at the money which Georgia was apportioning on a chair.
Suddenly there was a whizz and a noisy clatter. A bullet had grazed
Georgia’s hand and struck the chair, sending the coins flying, and it
was followed by a burst of firing, which caused the terrified
workwomen to drop their sacks and exclaim with one voice that they
were dead.

“Down! down!” cried Georgia, setting the example herself, “and crawl
round to the other verandah. They are firing from the hill, but they
won’t be able to see us there.”

Dragging with her one woman who was paralysed with fright, she induced
the others to follow her, and when they were out of the line of fire,
proceeded to examine the terrific wounds from which one and all
declared themselves to be suffering. Curiously enough, no one was
badly hurt. Two had scratches, and one a nasty bruise from a ricochet
shot, but of severe injuries there were none. Georgia dressed the
wounds and comforted the sufferers with one or two _pice_ extra, and
then sent them back to their own quarters, thus allowing admittance to
Colonel Graham, Mr Hardy, the Commissioner, and Fitz, who had been
informed by the horrified servants that the enemy were firing into the
Memsahibs’ courtyard. Their anxiety raised to the highest pitch by the
shrieks from within, the four gentlemen were held at bay in the
passage by the heroic Rahah, who informed them that they must pass
over her body before they should break the _pardah_ of the women
assembled under her mistress’s protection. Just as they were at last
admitted a cry from behind made them look round, to see an unfortunate
water-carrier who had been passing along the rampart falling into the

“We must get up a parados on that side,” said Colonel Graham, when the
wounded man had been sent to the hospital. “They command the inside of
the whole east curtain from that hill. Your sand-bags will be made
useful sooner than we expected, Mrs North.”

“But what is to happen to us?” cried Mabel. “Are we to stay here to be
shot at?”

“Calm yourself, my dear girl,” said Mr Burgrave, in gently reproving
tones. “You are in no danger at the present moment.”

“You see, Miss North,” said the Colonel, “I don’t want to have to put
you either in the hospital courtyard or among the native refugees, and
there is nowhere else. After all, this court is so small that the
enemy can’t possibly command more than the east side, and we’ll put
that right by hanging curtains along the verandah.”

“Why, what good would that be against bullets?”

“The curtain wouldn’t stop them, certainly, but our friends up there
are very careful of their ammunition, and never waste a shot. Not
being able to see whether any one is in the verandah, they won’t aim
at it. It was the sight of a whole party assembled here that was

“But is Georgia to live in darkness?” demanded Georgia’s
self-constituted champion.

“Nonsense, Mab! There are three other verandahs to sit in. After all,
one expects bullets in a siege,” said Georgia.

“That’s the right spirit, Mrs North,” said Colonel Graham heartily.
“As soon as it’s dusk we’ll have the matting up from the
club-house--messroom, I mean--floor, and nail it along the roof of
this verandah and across the corner where the passage is. Then you’ll
be safe from anything but chance shots, and those, I’m afraid, we can
none of us guard against.”

“But are those fellows up there to pot at the ladies without our ever
having a chance to pay them back, sir?” cried Fitz.

“I was coming to that. Of course the plan is to clear us off the east
rampart so that a force from the town may rush it under cover of the
fire from the hill, and therefore the parados must be our first care.
Still, I think we can spare a few sand-bags for the two western
towers, and if we arrange a little sangar on the top of each when it
is dark, we can show our chivalrous friends the snipers to-morrow what
it feels like to be sniped. Tell Winlock to set all the servants to
work filling bags and baskets, and anything else they can find, with
earth at once.”

“We seem to hold our own fairly well at present,” said Mr Burgrave, as
Fitz departed, and the Colonel stood looking narrowly at the
threatened verandah and the scattered work-materials with which it was

“We seem to--yes, but it is simply because we have not been tried as
yet. There is far too great a length of wall for us to hold against a
well-planned attack--say from two sides at once. Why they haven’t put
us to the test before I can’t imagine. It’s not like their usual
tactics to let things drag on in this way.”

“I am of opinion that they dislike crossing the cleared space, and
intend to remain at a discreet distance and starve us out. If only
they stick to that, we ought to be relieved long before matters come
to a crisis.”

“No, it’s not that!” cried the Colonel irritably. “There’s something
behind that we don’t see. If there was any possibility of their having
guns, I should say they were waiting for them. But where are they to
get them from unless they have surprised Rahmat-Ullah, which we have
no reason to suppose? They have some dodge on hand, though, I’m

“Is there any weak point at which they could be aiming?”

“Man, this place is nothing but weak points. If those fellows on the
hill knew what they were about, they could enfilade our north and
south ramparts as well as cover the eastern one. The south curtain is
so weak now that an elephant or a battering-ram--let alone a
well-planted shell or two--could knock it over, and the canal on that
side is getting lower every day. The water-carriers have to go down a
dozen steps now, and it’s only the enemy’s fear for their own precious
skins that prevents their picking them off from the opposite bank. We
could pepper them from the rampart, they know that, and they haven’t
the sense to pour in an oblique fire from the hill. I suppose, too, it
hasn’t occurred to you that if they took it into their heads to blow
us up, one or two plucky fellows could get close up to the walls under
cover of a general attack, and lay a train at their leisure. It’s
impossible to fire transversely from the loopholes in the towers
without exposing pretty nearly one’s whole body, and as to depressing
a rifle and firing point-blank down from the parapet, well----”

Mr Burgrave understood the pause to mean that the consequences would
probably be very uncomfortable for the holder of the rifle, and said
no more. The night passed without further alarm, save that Georgia
found it would be dangerous to have a light in her rooms unless door
and shutters were both closed. The glimmer from the window, even when
only seen through the matting curtain, attracted two or three bullets
immediately, and it was evident that the choice must be made between
air and light. During the hours of darkness the besieged worked hard
at their defences, and succeeded in erecting a more or less effectual
shelter along the inside of the east rampart, and also a sand-bag
parapet at the summit of the two western towers. The gateway turrets
on the north-east, which were now exposed to the fire from the hill in
the rear as well as to that from General Keeling’s house in front,
were strengthened in the same way. Behind these shelters the best
marksmen of the garrison took up their posts, and as soon as the
bullets began to fly from the hill, seized the opportunity of pointing
out to the enemy that the state of things had altered to some extent
in the night. Since it was impossible for a man on either side to fire
without exposing himself slightly, a return shot was the instant
comment on this imprudence, and hence, before the morning was over,
both parties were lying low and glaring at their opponents’ sangars,
ready to shoot but not caring to be shot. Helmets on the one side and
turbans on the other, raised cautiously on rifle-barrels above the
breastwork, drew a few shots, but the nature of the trick was quickly
perceived by both parties, and the sniping continued to languish.

“Their rifles seem to carry as far as ours,” remarked Mr Burgrave to
Colonel Graham.

“So they ought,” was the grim reply. “Most of them, if not all, are
ours. They are stolen and smuggled wholesale into Ethiopia, and Bahram
Khan has borrowed them to arm his followers with. That’s how they
manage to give us so much trouble. In the matchlock days, when this
place was built, we could have laughed at their shooting from the

“What is that?” said the Commissioner suddenly, putting up his
eye-glass; “a pile of cannon-balls? It was not there last night.”

They were standing in one of the gateway turrets, and the heap to
which he pointed was visible upon the cleared space, in front of the
entrance to a lane between two of the houses occupied by the enemy.
Colonel Graham laid down his field-glass with an exclamation of

“Cannon-balls! It’s _heads_--human heads--heads of our men. Those
fiends have surprised one of our posts--Sultanibagh probably, beyond
Shah Nawaz. I telegraphed to the Jemadar in charge to retire upon
Rahmat-Ullah, as there was no chance of their getting here safely, but
the wires must have been cut before they got the message, or else the
men have been ambushed on their way. Well, Bahram Khan has put himself
beyond the pale of mercy this time, even with our Government, I should

As the light grew stronger the sickening trophy was perceived from
other parts of the fort, and the men of the Khemistan Horse began to
become impatient. It appeared that a deserter had ventured close under
the walls in the night, in order to taunt the garrison with some
unexplained reverse, the nature of which was now made manifest. They
were asked how long Sinjāj Kīlin’s sowars had been content to hide
behind stone walls, instead of coming out to fight on horseback in the
open, and a variety of interesting and savoury information was added
as to the precise nature of the tortures in store for all, whether
officers or men, who fell into Bahram Khan’s hands. To the men who had
so long dominated the frontier, this abuse was intolerably galling,
and the troopers were gathering in corners with sullen faces, and
asking one another why they were kept back from washing out the
disgrace in blood. They had now been in the fort the best part of a
week, no attack in force had been made, and yet there had not been the
slightest attempt to drive off the enemy or inflict any loss upon him.
Ressaldar Badullah Khan voiced this feeling to Colonel Graham a little
later, when the Colonel had passed with a judicious lack of apparent
notice the scowling groups of men who were discussing the state of

“Our faces are black, sahib,” said the native officer, in response to
the question put to him. “Bahram Khan and his _badmashes_ laugh at our
beards, and we are pent up here like women. We are better men than
they--we have proved it in every fight since first Sinjāj Kīlin
Sahib raised the regiment--why then (so say the sowars) is it
forbidden to us to issue forth with our horses, and sweep the baseborn
rabble outside from the face of the earth?”

“Is the regiment complaining of the course I choose to take,

“Nay, sahib; the sowars say that it is the will of the Kumpsioner
Sahib which is being done.”

“They are wrong. It is mine. What could the regiment do on horseback
in the streets of the town, with the enemy firing from roofs and
loopholes? We have not a man too many in the fort now, and yet,
Ressaldar, I anticipate a sortie in force before long, though not in
review order.”

The Ressaldar’s eyes gleamed. “May the news be told to the regiment,
sahib?” he asked.

“Could they refrain from shouting it to the next man who taunts them?
No, Ressaldar; tell them to trust me as they have always done
hitherto. There will be work to be done before many days, but I cannot
set mutinous men to do it.”

Badullah Khan went out, meeting Woodworth on the threshold.

“Would you mind coming up to the north-western tower, sir?” asked the
adjutant, when he had closed the door. “The enemy seem to be doing
something in that direction which I can’t quite make out.”

“What sort of thing?” asked Colonel Graham, rising.

“I would rather not give an opinion until you have seen what there is
to see, sir,” was the reply, so unwontedly cautious that the Colonel
prepared for a heavy blow. Woodworth followed him up the narrow
winding stairs in silence, and pointed to the stretch of desert on the
northern side of the town, across which two long strings of men and
animals were slowly passing in a westerly direction. The Colonel
started, examined the moving objects through his field-glass, and
called to his orderly--

“Ask Beltring Sahib to come here at once.”

Almost before Beltring, breathless, had mounted the staircase, he was
greeted by a question. “Beltring, are there any guns at Nalapur?”

“No, sir. At least, there are two old field-pieces in front of the
palace, but that’s all.”

“Are they in working order?”

“They use them for firing salutes, sir, not for anything else, I

“Still, that shows they are safe to work, and here they are. Where
will they mount them, should you say, Woodworth?”

“On the hill, sir. The slope on the far side is comparatively easy for
getting them up.”

“True, and from the brow there they could knock the place about our
ears in a couple of hours. At all costs we must keep them from getting
the range to-day. They will have no range-finders, that’s one good
thing, and if we can secure a night’s respite, it’ll be a pity if we
don’t make good use of it. Tell our marksmen to fire at anything they
see moving up there. Those guns must not be placed in position before
sunset. And then tell all the other officers and volunteers to meet me
on the south rampart immediately.”

The council of war which assembled on the rampart, sheltered by the
south-western tower, was sufficiently informal to make the hair of any
stickler for military etiquette stand on end, but its proceedings were
absolutely practical. The Colonel, beside whom stood Mr Burgrave,
stated the situation briefly.

“You have seen the two guns which the enemy intend to mount on the
hill there. Once they get them into position and find our range, we
may as well retire into the vaults and wait until we are smoked out,
for there is no possible shelter above ground. With our small force it
is hopeless to detach a party to sally out and capture the guns in the
open--more especially since the enemy hold the town between us and
them. Still, they have plenty to do in getting the guns across the
canal and dragging them up the hill, and we must make it our business
to prevent them from opening fire to-day, and to-night those guns must
be taken. I propose to leave the Commissioner in charge of the fort,
with ten of his own Sikhs and fifty sowars under Ressaldar Ghulam
Rasul. Every civilian who can hold a weapon must also do duty. I shall
take a hundred and fifty dismounted sowars and thirty Sikhs, with all
the enrolled volunteers, and make a dash for the hill under cover of
darkness. If we succeed, we shall have averted a great danger; if we
fail, the fort will be no worse off than if we had hung about and done
nothing. I am confident that the Commissioner will fight to the end,
and not allow himself to be tempted by any offer of terms.”

“Know the beggars too well,” said Mr Burgrave laconically.

“That’s the main scheme; now for details. To reach the hill, the canal
must be crossed in any case. The most obvious plan would undoubtedly
be for the force to rendezvous silently in the shadow of the west
curtain, traverse the irrigated land, and restore the bridge at the
foot of the hill sufficiently to cross by it. But the enemy could
sweep the whole route from their positions both in the town and on the
hill, and they will be very much on the alert to-night. My idea is to
cross the canal here from the water-gate, and march the first part of
the distance along the bank, so as to come upon the enemy from the
side he won’t expect us. He knows we have neither boat nor bridge, and
the water is still deep enough along the wall to be impassable to any
but good swimmers.”

“Then how do you propose to cross?” asked Mr Burgrave.

“There I must invite suggestions. We have no time for building boats
or bridges, and the water-gate offers no facilities for it either. A
raft, possibly. What do you think, Runcorn?”

“A raft supported on inflated skins, sir?” asked the engineer officer.
“That might be practicable, but it would have to be very small, for
the passage to the gate is so narrow that all the materials must be
taken to the water’s edge separately and put together there. There is
no standing-ground of any sort but the wretched shaky steps that the
water-carriers use, so that we can’t well lower things from the wall.”

“And the time spent in ferrying the force over would be interminable,
not to mention the risk of discovery by the enemy,” said Colonel

His subordinates looked at one another. Various suggestions had been
hazarded and rejected, when a hesitating voice made itself heard. The
speaker was Mr Hardy, who had joined the group a few minutes earlier,
with a message to the Colonel from one of the wounded officers in the

“In my Oxford days,” he said, “I remember a pleasant walk through the
meadows--” His hearers gasped. Why should these peaceful recollections
be obtruded at such a moment? “There was one point at which the path
crossed a considerable stream, and a punt that ran on wires was placed
there. I’m afraid I am not very intelligible,” he smiled nervously. “I
can’t describe the mechanism in technical language, but the punt was
fastened to one wire, and the other was free and moved on pulleys, so
that you could pull yourself across, or draw the punt towards you if
it happened to be at the opposite bank.”

“Padri,” said Colonel Graham, “it’s clear that you are an unsuspected
mechanical genius. This is the very thing we want, though we must use
rope instead of wire.”

“But we have even got that, sir,” said Runcorn eagerly. “Timson was
boasting that he had saved all the stores of his department--miles of
telegraph wire amongst them. Now he’ll have to disgorge.”

“Then will you set about the construction of the ferry, Runcorn? You
can’t begin work on the spot until night, but you can get your
materials ready. Requisition anything you want, of course.”

“May we make a suggestion, sir?” said Fitz Anstruther, coming forward
with Winlock as the council broke up. Signals of intelligence had been
passing between the two for some time, and they had held a whispered
consultation while the ferry was being discussed.

“Why, what plot have you on hand?”

It was Winlock who answered. “We thought that it might make all the
difference to your success, sir, if a diversion could be arranged to
distract the enemy’s attention. We two know every foot of these hills
from _chikor_-shooting, and if we might pick out a dozen or so of the
sowars who have constantly gone with us out hunting as beaters, we
could make a sham attack. We know of a splendid place on the side of a
hill, inaccessible from below, which commands the camp of the hostile
tribes, and we thought if we sent up a signal rocket or two, to be
answered from the fort, and then poured in as many volleys as there
was time for, it might make a good impression. Of course, as soon as
they try to get round us and rush the hill, we must retire, to keep
them from finding out how few we are; but the main force ought to have
settled the guns by that time, and we might rendezvous on the hill and
march back together.”

“It sounds feasible,” said the Colonel slowly; “but how do you propose
to cross the canal?”

“We don’t mean to cross it in going, sir. Anstruther says we can
clamber along the base of this wall from the water-gate round the
south-western tower, so as to get on to dry land under the west

“I know it’s possible, sir,” said Fitz eagerly. “I’ve done it more
than once when the canal was low, and it’ll be easier now that the
bricks are so much washed away. And of course we shall be very careful
in crossing the irrigated land--all of us in khaki, you see, and
taking advantage of every bit of cover--and unless we run right into
one of the enemy’s outposts, I don’t see how they are to spot us. And
think of the benefit it will be to have their attention distracted
from your movement!”

“You realise that you are taking your lives in your hands? You will
probably have to swim the canal higher up to join us, and, after all,
we may not be able to wait for you. Your men will be volunteers, of
course? They must understand that it’s a desperate business.”

“Yes, sir; but they’ll come like a shot. They’ve been out with us
after _markhor_, and we’ve been in some tight places in the mountains.
May we have what rockets we want?”

“By all means. Good luck go with you! I wish I was coming too!”

“That’s really handsome of the C.O.,” said Fitz, dodging a bullet as
he clattered down the stairs into the courtyard with Winlock. “Grand
firework display to-night! What a pity that the ladies and all the
refugees can’t have front seats on the ramparts to watch the


“Sahib, there is a man under the wall on the east side.”

“How did he come there?” demanded Colonel Graham angrily. “What are
the sentries doing?”

“The night is so dark, sahib, that he crept up unnoticed. He is the
holy mullah Aziz-ud-Din, and desires speech with your honour.”

“The Amir’s mullah? You are sure of it?”

“I know his voice, sahib. He is holding his hands on high, to show
that he has no weapons.”

“I suppose we may as well see what he has to say,” said the Colonel to
Mr Burgrave, with whom he had been making final arrangements, and the
two men climbed the steps to the east rampart. Once there, and looking
over into the darkness, it was some little time before their eyes
could distinguish the dim figure at the foot of the wall.

“Peace!” said Colonel Graham.

“It is peace, sahib. I bear the words of the Amir Ashraf Ali Khan. He
says, ‘It is now out of my power to save the lives of the sahibs, and
I will not deceive them, knowing that a warrior’s death amid the ruins
of their fortress will please them better than to fall into the hands
of my thrice-accursed nephew, who has stolen the hearts of my soldiers
from me. But this I can do. The houses next to the canal on this side
of the fort are held by my own bodyguard, faithful men who have eaten
of my salt for many years, and I have there six swift camels hidden.
Let the Memsahibs be entrusted to me, especially those of the
household of my beloved friend Nāth Sahib, and I will send them at
once to Nalapur, where they shall be in sanctuary in my own palace,
and I will swear--I who kept my covenant with the Sarkar until the
Sarkar broke it--that death shall befall me before any harm touches

“Why is this message sent to-night?” asked Colonel Graham.

“Because Bahram Khan is preparing a great destruction, sahib, and the
heart of Ashraf Ali Khan bleeds to think that the houses of his
friends Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib and Nāth Sahib should both be blotted
out in one day.”

“Carry my thanks and those of the Commissioner Sahib to Ashraf Ali
Khan, but tell him that the Memsahibs will remain with us. Their
presence would only place him in greater danger, and he would not be
able to protect them. But we can. They will not fall into the hands of
Bahram Khan.”

“It is well, sahib.” The faint blur which represented the messenger
melted into the surrounding blackness, and Colonel Graham turned to
his companion.

“It will be your business to see to that, if the enemy break in.
Haycraft comes with me. We must leave Flora in your charge. Don’t let
her fall into their hands, any more than Miss North.”

“I promise,” said Mr Burgrave, and their hands met in the darkness.

“Thanks. I think we have settled everything now. We don’t start for an
hour yet, and if you like to explain things to Miss North----”

“I should prefer to say nothing unless the necessity arises.”

“I never thought of your going into details, but she must know
something, surely? Flora will learn the state of affairs from
Haycraft; Mrs North will pick it up from the Hardys and her ayah, and
Miss North will probably expect---- But please yourself, of course.”

“I will go and talk to her for a little while. I have scarcely seen
her all day.”

Mr Burgrave’s tone was constrained. It seemed to him almost impossible
to meet Mabel at this crisis, and abstain from any allusion to the
terrible duty which had just been laid upon him. He was not an
imaginative man, and no forecast of the scene burned itself into his
brain, as would have been the case with some people, but the
oppression of anticipation was heavy upon him. For him the dull horror
in his mind overshadowed everything, and it was with a shock that he
found Mabel to be in one of her most vivacious and aggressive moods.
She was walking up and down the verandah outside her room as if for a
wager, turning at each end of the course with a swish of draperies
which sounded like an angry breeze, and she hailed his arrival with
something like enthusiasm, simply because he was some one to talk to.

“Flora is crying on Fred’s--I mean Mr Haycraft’s--shoulder somewhere,”
she said; “and Mrs Hardy and Georgia are having a prayer-meeting with
the native Christians. They wanted me to come too; but I don’t feel as
if I could be quiet, and I shouldn’t understand, either. What is going
to happen, really?”

“The Colonel proposes to make a sortie and capture the two guns which
the enemy have brought up. There is, I trust, every prospect of his

Mabel stamped her foot. “Why can’t you tell me the truth, instead of
trying to sugar things over?” she demanded. “It would be much more

“You must allow me to decide what is suitable for you to hear,” said
Mr Burgrave, his mind still so full of that final duty of his that he
spoke with a serene indifference which Mabel found most galling.

“I don’t allow you to do anything of the sort. I wish you wouldn’t
treat me as if I was a baby. It’s like telling me yesterday that all
the fresh milk in the place was to be reserved for us women and the
wounded, as if I wanted to be pilloried as a lazy, selfish creature,
doing nothing and demanding luxuries!”

“My dear little girl, I am sure there isn’t a man in the garrison who
would consent to your missing any comfort that the place can furnish.”

“That’s just it. I want to feel the pinch--to share the hardships. But
of course you don’t understand--you never do.” She stopped and looked
at him. “I don’t know how it is, Eustace, but you seem somehow to stir
up everything that is bad in my nature. I could die happy if I had
once shocked you thoroughly.”

He recoiled from her involuntarily. “Do you think it is a time to joke
about death when it may be close upon you?” he asked, with some

“That sounds as if you were a little shocked,” said Mabel
meditatively. “But you know, Eustace, whenever you tell me to do
anything--I mean when you express a wish that I should do anything--I
feel immediately the strongest possible impulse to do exactly the

“But the impulse has never yet been translated into action?” he asked,
with the indulgent smile which was reserved for Mabel when she talked

“I’m ashamed to say it hasn’t.”

“Then I am quite satisfied. I can scarcely aspire to regulate your
thoughts just at present, can I? But so long as you respect my

“Oh, what a lot of trouble it would save if we were all comfortably
killed to-night!” cried Mabel, with a sudden change of mood. Mr
Burgrave was shocked, and showed it. “I’m in earnest, Eustace.”

“My dear child, you can hardly expect me to believe that you would
welcome the horrors which the storming of this place would entail?”

“Oh no; of course not. You are so horribly literal. Can’t you see that
my nerves are all on edge? I do wish you understood things. If you
won’t talk about what’s going to be done to-night, do go away, and
don’t stay here and be mysterious.”

“Dear child, do you think I shall judge you hardly for this feminine
weakness? You need not be afraid of hurting or shocking me. Say
anything you like; I shall put it down to the true cause. If your
varying moods have taught me nothing else, at least I have learnt
since our engagement to take your words at their proper valuation.”

“If you pile many more loads of obligation upon me, I shall expire!”
said Mabel sharply, only to receive a kind smile in return. Anything
more that she might have said, in the amiable design of shocking him
beyond forgiveness, was prevented by the appearance of Mrs Hardy.

“Is it true that you are going to arm all the civilians in the place,
Mr Burgrave?” she demanded of the Commissioner.

“It is thought well--merely as a precautionary measure.”

“Then I do beg and beseech you to give Mr Hardy a rifle that won’t go
off, or we shall all be shot.”

“We will get the Padri to go round and hand out fresh cartridges,
instead of giving him a gun,” said Mr Burgrave seriously, but Mabel
burst into a peal of hysterical laughter, which was effectual in
putting a stop to further conversation, and he returned to the outer
courtyard, where the men chosen for the forlorn hope were mustering in
readiness for the start. Fitz and Winlock and their small party had
left already, officers and men alike wearing the native grass sandals
instead of boots, as they had been accustomed to do in their hunting
expeditions, and it was known that they had scrambled along the wall
and round the base of the south-western tower in safety. The ferry had
by this time been successfully constructed by Runcorn and his
assistants, one of whom had undertaken the very unpleasant task of
swimming across the ice-cold canal to pass the first wire rope round
one of the posts which registered the height of the water on the
opposite bank. Ball ammunition in extra quantities was served out to
the whole force, for although Colonel Graham hoped to confine himself
entirely to cold steel, for the sake of quietness, he was determined
to be able to reply to the enemy’s fire, should their attention
unfortunately be aroused. The men were marched down in parties to the
water-gate, and ferried over as quickly as the confined space would
allow, and when all had crossed, the raft was drawn back to the
gateway, and the wire disconnected. It had been decided that this was
imperative, lest the enemy should take advantage of the ferry to cross
the canal while the attention of the garrison was occupied by an
attack in front. If the forlorn hope returned victorious, it would be
easy to reconstruct the ferry by throwing a rope to them from the
rampart, while if they were compelled to retreat, the raft was so
small that to employ it under fire would entail a useless sacrifice of
life, and the fugitives would do better to swim.

Then began a weary waiting-time for those in the fort. The night was
moonless, so that it was impossible to distinguish any movement,
whether on the part of friend or of foe. At last a rocket, rising from
the cliff which overhung the town on the north-west, and which Fitz
and Winlock had indicated as their goal, showed that they, at least,
had so far been successful. The rocket sent up from the fort in reply
was answered by another from the cliff, and this was immediately
followed by the distant sound of brisk firing, which seemed to cause
considerable perturbation in the parts of the town occupied by the
enemy. Lights moved about hurriedly from place to place, horns were
blown, and there was a confused noise of angry shouting. The garrison
did their best, by opening fire from the wall and towers, to increase
the effect of the surprise, but without much hope of hitting anything,
for the moving lights did not afford very satisfactory targets. In
reply, a dropping fire broke out from the houses opposite, which was
maintained for some time, but with little spirit, and slackened
gradually. Scarcely had Mr Burgrave given the order to cease fire,
however, when a heavy fusillade was heard on the west of the fort,
though not from the hill. The sound appeared to come from the point at
which the bridge, now in ruins, had crossed the canal, a point which
it had not hitherto been known that the enemy were occupying, and
which Colonel Graham had not intended to approach. His force should
have been far to the left of it by this time, and already mounting the
hill. The most probable explanation seemed to be that they had missed
their way in the darkness, and following the bank of the canal too
far, had fallen into an ambuscade posted at the ruins of the bridge to
guard against any attempt to cross for the purpose of capturing the
guns. The Commissioner and his garrison waited and listened in the
deepest anxiety, straining their eyes to try and perceive, from the
flashes of the rifles, which way the fight was tending. But the firing
ceased suddenly, as that on the farther side of the enemy’s position
had done some time before. There was nothing to do but wait.

Suddenly, after a long interval, a piteous wailing arose at the rear
of the fort, from the opposite bank of the canal. A native stood
there, one of the water-carriers who had accompanied the force,
abjectly entreating to be fetched over, since the enemy were at his
heels. To employ the ferry at such a moment was not to be thought of,
but a rope was thrown from the steps of the water-gate, and the
miserable wretch, plunging in, caught it, and was drawn across. He
told a terrible tale as he stood dripping and shivering in the passage
leading to the gate. Colonel Graham’s force had been attacked, shortly
after leaving the canal-bank, by overwhelming numbers of the enemy,
who had first poured in a withering fire, and then rushed forward to
complete the destruction with their knives and tulwars. The _bhisti_
himself was the only man who had escaped, and the enemy had pursued
him to the very edge of the canal. The sharpest-sighted men in the
fort, sent to the rampart to test the truth of this statement as far
as they could by starlight, were obliged to confirm it. There was
undoubtedly a large body of the enemy on the other side of the canal.
They were lying down behind the high bank, so as to be sheltered from
the fire of the garrison.

“To cut off fugitives, I suppose,” muttered Mr Burgrave, half to
himself and half to Ressaldar Ghulam Rasul. “That looks as though the
massacre were not quite so complete as--Hark! I thought I heard a
sound from the hill. Can our glorious fellows have made a last dash
for it after all--some few who escaped?”

The men on the rampart stood like statues to listen, but failed to
distinguish anything that might confirm the Commissioner’s surmise.
The air seemed full of sound--footfalls, a murmur from the town, a
stray shot or two from the same direction, and on the west a kind of
shuffling noise. The enemy were taking up their positions for the
attack. Mr Burgrave sent orders to the guard at the water-gate to let
the air out of the inflated skins which supported the raft, so as to
sink it to the level of the water, and this was at once done. When he
had posted a sentry in the passage and another on the rampart above
it, he was able to leave that side of the fort to defend itself, since
the enemy had no means of crossing to assail it. To occupy the whole
range of wall with the absurdly small force at his disposal was
obviously impossible, and he therefore placed ten men in each of the
larger towers, from which, with the usual amount of trouble and risk,
a flanking fire could be obtained, and twelve in the two gateway
turrets, retaining the Ressaldar and sixteen men as a reserve, ready
to make a dash for any point that might be specially threatened. If
the garrison should be driven from the walls, those who escaped were
to rush for the hospital, where the women and children would take
refuge, and the last stand was to be made. Having ordered his forces
to their stations, the Commissioner went the round of the towers to
encourage the men. His own Sikhs he could deal with well enough, but
he felt that it was the irony of fate which obliged him to urge the
sowars of the Khemistan Horse to show themselves worthy of their first
commander, General Keeling, and it seemed as if the same thought had
occurred to the men, for they scowled at him resentfully when they
heard the mighty name from his lips.

The bad news brought by the fugitive spread through the fort with
astonishing rapidity. The native women, whom Georgia had succeeded in
soothing into some sort of calmness before the departure of the
forlorn hope, filled the air with their wailings, until Ismail Bakhsh,
who was head of the civilian guard detailed for the defence of the
hospital, threatened to fire a volley among them if they were not
quiet. Flora Graham’s ayah was gossiping with a friend among these
women when the news arrived, and she rushed with it at once to her
mistress’s room. Poor Flora had shut herself up alone to pray for the
safety of her father and lover, and was following in thought every
step of their perilous march. She had just reached with them the
summit of the hill, and rushed upon the guard round the guns, when the
ayah burst in with the news that the worst had happened. The sudden
revulsion of feeling was too much for Flora. Her usual self-control
deserted her, and she ran wildly across the courtyard to Georgia’s
room. Georgia was lying down, talking softly in the dark to Mabel, who
sat beside her, and both sprang up at Flora’s entrance.

“What is it? Have they come back?” they demanded, with one voice.

“No, no; they are killed--all killed! Papa and Fred both--oh, Mrs
North, what can I do?” She dropped sobbing on the floor at Georgia’s
feet, and buried her face in her dress.

“Perhaps it isn’t true,” suggested Georgia faintly. She had sunk down
again on the bed.

“There’s no hope--one man has come back, the only survivor. Both of
them at once! and I was praying for them, and I felt so sure--and even
while I was praying they were being killed.”

“Is the whole force cut off?” asked Georgia, almost in a whisper.

“All but this one man.” Flora checked her sobs for a moment to answer.

“Fitz Anstruther too?” cried Mabel sharply.

“All, I tell you! It doesn’t signify to you, Mab; you have your
Eustace left, but I have lost everything. Oh, Mrs North, you know how
it feels. Help me to bear it.”

“Flora dear,” began Georgia, with difficulty. “I--I can’t breathe,”
she gasped, struggling to stand up. “Please ask Mrs Hardy to come. I
feel so faint. She will understand.”

Rahah, who had been crouched in the corner as usual, sprang up and ran
out, returning in a moment with Mrs Hardy, who fell upon both girls
immediately, and drove them out with bitter reproaches.

“You pair of selfish, thoughtless chatterboxes! I should have thought
you had more sense, Flora. Just be off, both of you. You can have my
rooms for the rest of the night; I shall stay here. Even if all our
poor fellows are killed, is that any reason for killing Mrs North

“Oh, please don’t, Mrs Hardy! I never thought--Mrs North is always so
kind, and I am so miserable,” sobbed Flora.

“You shouldn’t be miserable unless you’re quite certain it’s
necessary. You wouldn’t believe a native who told you he was dead, as
they are always doing; so why should you when he says other people are
dead?” demanded Mrs Hardy, with a brilliancy of logic which somehow
failed to satisfy. “I haven’t a doubt that the _bhisti_ took to his
heels in a panic at the sound of the first shot, and if he hadn’t
fortunately been in the rear, the panic might have spread to all the
rest. There, go away, do, and don’t cry so. We’ll hope all will go

“Why have you left your post, doctor?” asked Mr Burgrave, meeting Dr
Tighe crossing the courtyard.

“The hospital will have to look after itself a good deal to-night, but
I have left the Padri and my Babu in charge there. Mrs North is taken

“Good heavens! It only needed this to make the horror of the situation

“From our point of view, it may be the best thing that could happen.
It will make the men fight like demons. Here, you girl, where are you
going?” He had caught the shoulder of a veiled woman who ran up and
tried to slip past him into the passage, but she let her _chadar_ fall
aside, and disclosed herself as Rahah.

“I have been telling the men of the regiment, sahib, and they have all
sworn great oaths that so long as one of them has a spark of life left
Sinjāj Kīlin’s daughter shall not be without a protector in her
need, and that the corpses of foes without and friends within shall be
piled as high as the ramparts before the enemy shall gain a footing on
the wall. I told also those in the hospital”--there was a hint of
malice in Rahah’s voice--“and every wounded man who can sit up in bed
is crying out for a gun. They will serve as hospital guard, they say,
and set Ismail Bakhsh and his men free to fight on the walls.”

“Good idea, that!” said Dr Tighe, turning to the Commissioner. “You
see how the men take it. Well, I shall keep Mrs North in her own
quarters if I can, but there is a passage through to the hospital
courtyard, and we must carry her over if it’s necessary. But I don’t
think it will be, now.”

Mr Burgrave nodded, and returned to his station on the west curtain.
Why the enemy did not advance to the attack was a mystery. In the
opinion of Ghulam Rasul and his most experienced subordinates, they
had moved out from their position in the town, and were occupying the
irrigated land on both sides of the canal in large numbers, sheltered
against any volley from the walls by the rows of trees which marked
the lines of the water-courses. They could not be seen, nor could it
precisely be said that they were heard, but as the old soldiers in the
garrison said, it could be felt that they were there. The situation
was eerie in the extreme, and Mr Burgrave was unable to find comfort
in a phenomenon which made his men cheerful in a moment. It was the
Ressaldar who called his attention to it as they stood straining their
ears in the attempt to distinguish some definite sound in the
murmuring silence, and at once he himself heard clearly the faint
tramp of a galloping horse far away to the north-east.

“He rides!” breathed Ghulam Rasul in an ecstasy, and “He rides!” cried
the sowar nearest him, catching up the words from his lips. “He
rides!” went from man to man, until the defenders of the towers looked
at one another with glistening eyes, and even the unsympathetic Sikhs,
who held themselves loftily aloof from the contemptible local
superstitions of their Khemi comrades, repeated, with something of
enthusiasm, “He rides!” “He rides; all is well,” said Ismail Bakhsh,
puffing out his chest with pride, in his temporary guardroom on the
clubhouse verandah. “Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib is watching over his house
and over his children. The power of the Sarkar stands firm.”

 [image: images/img_198.jpg
 caption: “HE RIDES”]

All unconscious of the moral reinforcement which was doubling the
strength of the garrison, Mabel and Flora sat disconsolately over the
charcoal brazier in Mrs Hardy’s room, listening for the sounds of the
attack, which they expected to hear each moment. Mrs Hardy’s vigorous
rebuke had nerved them both to put a brave face on matters, and for
some time they vied with one another in discovering reasons for
refusing to credit the report of the fugitive, and deciding that all
might yet be well. But as time went on, and there was no sign of the
triumphant return of Colonel Graham and his force, their valiant
efforts at cheerfulness flagged perceptibly. Mrs Hardy, running across
to say that Georgia was doing pretty well, advised them to lie down
and try to sleep, but they scouted the idea with indignation, and
still sat looking gloomily into the glowing embers and listening to
the night wind, which wailed round the crazy old buildings in a
peculiarly mournful manner.

“Doesn’t it seem absurdly incongruous,” said Mabel at last, in a low
voice, “that you and I--two _fin de siècle_ High School girls, who
have taken up all the modern fads just like other people--should be
sitting here, expecting every moment that a band of savages will break
in and kill us--with swords? It feels so unnatural--so horribly out of

“How can you talk such nonsense?” snapped Flora, upon whose nerves the
strain of suspense was telling severely. “I never heard that a High
School career protected people against a violent death. Do you think
it felt natural to the women in the Mutiny to be killed--or the French
Revolution, or any time like that?”

“I don’t know. It really seems as if they must have been more
accustomed to horrors in those days. Just imagine, Flora, the little
paragraph there will be in the _South Central Magazine_: ‘We regret to
record the death of Miss Mabel North, O.S.C., who was murdered in the
late rising on the Indian frontier. Miss Flora Graham, a distinguished
student of St Scipio’s College, St Margarets, N.B., is believed to
have perished on the same sad occasion.’ Your school paper will have
just the same sort of thing in it, and the two editors will send each
other complimentary copies, and acknowledge the courtesy in the next
number. It will all be about you and me--and we shall be dead.”

“Of course we shall; you said that before. But I don’t see what good
it does to die many times before our deaths.”

“How horrid of you to call me a coward!” said Mabel pensively.

“I don’t call you anything of the sort. I think you must be fearfully
brave to look at things in this detached, artistic kind of way, but
what’s the good of it? Death must come when it will come, but
naturally no one could be expected to look forward with pleasure to
the mere fact of dying. Unless, of course”--Flora’s blue eyes shone as
she turned suddenly from the general to the particular--“my dying
would save papa or Fred. Then I should be glad to die.”

“You really mean that you wouldn’t mind being killed if somehow it
would save either of their lives?”

“Of course I do, just as you would gladly die to save your Eustace.”

“But I wouldn’t!” cried Mabel involuntarily, then tried to minimise
the effect of her admission by turning it into a joke. “I think it’s
his privilege to do that for me.”

“I wish you wouldn’t say that sort of thing!” said Flora
reproachfully. “Happily there’s no one else to hear it, but if I
didn’t know you, I should think you were perfectly horrid.”

“No, Flora, really,” cried Mabel, in a burst of honesty; “I can’t say
confidently that there is one person in the world I would die for. I
feel as if I could die to save Georgia, but I don’t know whether I
could do it when the time came. I used to think that people--English
people, at any rate--became heroic just as a matter of course when
danger happened, but now I begin to believe that it depends a good
deal on what they have been like before.”

“You always try to make the worst of yourself.”

“No, I don’t. I’m trying to look at myself as I really am. I have
never in all my life done a thing I didn’t like if I could help it.
What sort of preparation is that for being heroic? Flora,” with a
sudden change of subject, “suppose the enemy had stormed the fort
before this evening, would you have asked your father or Fred to kill

“No,” was the unexpected reply. “It would have been so awfully hard on
them. I keep a revolver in this pocket of my coat. You just put it to
your eye--and it’s done.”

“Oh, I wish I was like you! I know I should be wondering and worrying
whether it was right, and all that sort of thing, until it was too
late to do it.”

“I don’t care whether it would be right or not,” said Flora doggedly.
“I should do it. Do you think I would make things worse for papa and
Fred, or let them have the blame of it if it was wrong?”

“I suppose Eustace would do it for me,” drearily. “He would if he
thought it was the proper thing. He always does the proper thing.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk in such a horrid voice. It makes me feel
creepy. And I don’t think it’s fair to say that sort of thing about
the Commissioner. He’s perfectly devoted to you, and you know it would
break his heart to have to--do what we were talking about. I don’t
believe you’re half as fond of him as he is of you.”

“Have you found that out now for the first time?”

“Then it’s a shame!” cried Flora. “Why do you let him think you care
for him? He worships you, and you pretend----”

“I don’t pretend. He took it into his head that I cared for him, and
wouldn’t let me say I didn’t. And he doesn’t worship me. He thinks
that I shall make a nice adoring sort of worshipper for him when he
has got me well in hand.”

“Well, I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself!” said Flora

“You needn’t be horrid. I’m sure I have quite enough to bear as it is.
What with thinking every morning when I wake that I shall have to be
pleasant to him whenever he chooses to come and talk to me all day,
when I should like to be at the other end of the world----”

“What do you mean to do when you are married?”

Mabel shivered. “I don’t know,” she said. “I rather hope we shall be
killed instead.”

“You needn’t expect to get out of difficulties in that way. If you
want to be killed, you are quite sure not to be. And to go on living a

“_Don’t!_” entreated Mabel. “Whichever way you look at it, it’s
dreadful. I don’t know what to do. What’s that? I’m sure I heard a

It must have been Mr Burgrave’s evil genius which prompted him to
present himself at that particular time. The enemy had made no
movement, and the Commissioner thought he might safely leave the wall
for a moment, in order to obtain a sight of Mabel, and inquire after
Georgia. He entered the room with a creditable assumption of
cheerfulness, which the girls did not even observe.

“How are we getting on?” asked Mabel hastily.

“Oh, well, we must hope for the best,” was the unsatisfying answer. In
his own mind Mr Burgrave had no doubt that the enemy were only waiting
for dawn to make their attack, and would advance on the fort at the
same moment that their guns opened fire from the hill.

“No news yet of the forlorn hope?” asked Flora.

“No news,” he answered, then hesitated with his hand on the door, and
looked at Mabel. She rose, as if in response to his glance, and went
out on the verandah with him.

“Poor little girl!” he said, putting his arm round her. “This
waiting-time is very hard upon you, isn’t it? God knows I would give
you comfort if I could, but I dare not raise false hopes.”

Mabel freed herself from his clasp. In the dim light cast by the
brazier through the small window, he could see that she was very pale,
and that her eyes looked unnaturally large and dark in the whiteness
of her face. “I want you to take this back, please,” she said, holding
out her engagement ring. “I can’t die with a lie upon my soul.”

“A lie!” he exclaimed, in bewilderment.

“I don’t love you. Sometimes I think I almost hate you,” she replied,
in a low, monotonous voice.

His natural impulse was to take her in his arms and crush this latest
attempt at rebellion by sheer weight of mingled authority and
affection, as he had done more than once before; but the words died
upon his lips as he looked into her face, and he stood irresolute.
This was not coquetry, not the wild talk for which he had smiled at
her that very evening, but desperate earnest.

“Am I to take this as your own unbiassed wish, Mabel?” he asked
slowly, seeing his world fall in ruins around him as he spoke.

“Absolutely,” she answered.

He took the ring from her hand. “It is the kind of encouragement that
is calculated to nerve a man for the fight, isn’t it?” he asked. “But
perhaps some bullet will be more merciful than you are.”

He slipped the ring on his little finger, and taking up his crutch,
left her without another word. When he returned to the rampart it
struck him, preoccupied though he was, that the night was not quite so
dark as before. Dawn was approaching, and there was a perceptible
unrest in the direction of the plane trees behind which the enemy were
posted. As he stood looking round, Ghulam Rasul approached him from
the north curtain.

“There is a large body of the enemy advancing towards the gate,
sahib,” he said. “They come out of the town, and are marching in
perfect silence.”

“Then they mean to attack us on two sides at once,” said the
Commissioner. “Tell the men in the turrets to reserve their fire until
they are close up, Ressaldar. We can’t afford to throw away a shot.
Are the reserve all under arms?”

“All ready, sahib. Your honour can now hear the enemy’s approach.”

They stood waiting and listening. And in that hour of awful
expectancy, when armed men were advancing on all sides upon the sorely
pressed fort, Georgia’s boy was born.


“What is it, doctor?” cried the Commissioner impatiently, as Dr
Tighe ran up the steps towards him at a most unwonted pace.

“It’s a boy--as fine a child as ever I saw in my life--and both likely
to do well,” was the gasping response.

“What in the world do you mean by coming and telling me such a thing
as that at this moment, sir?” demanded Mr Burgrave, whose habitual
calmness was fast vanishing under the strain of the events of the
night. “Are you aware that the enemy will probably be inside the fort
in a few minutes, and that I am just about to give the order to fire?”
He leaned over the sand-bags again to listen to the tramp of advancing

“I tell you, it’ll make all the difference in the world to the men!”
cried the doctor. “For Heaven’s sake, exhibit some interest, even if
you don’t feel it, or they will credit you with ill-wishing the

“Ill-wishing? Nonsense! No one need wish the poor little beggar worse
luck than to come into the world at such a peculiarly inopportune

“Inopportune? Why, he brings good luck with him. Doesn’t he,

“It is the best of luck, sahib,” answered Ghulam Rasul, with a
complacent smile. “Will your honour bear the _salaams_ of the regiment
to the Memsahib, and entreat her to name an hour when it will be
fitting for a deputation representing all ranks to pay their respects
to the Baba Sahib?”

“The fellow talks as though we had a lifetime before us!” grumbled the
Commissioner morosely. “Surely they are within easy range now,

Ghulam Rasul advanced to the parapet, and peered narrowly over the
sand-bags which capped it. “I know not how they come on so steadily,
sahib,” he said hesitatingly, when he stood erect again. “Perhaps it
might be well for your honour----” but he was interrupted by a frantic
shout from both gateway turrets at the same moment.

“Hold your fire! Hold your fire! The Colonel Sahib!”

“It is the luck of the Baba Sahib,” said Ghulam Rasul calmly, as Mr
Burgrave and the doctor raced one another for the nearest turret. The
doctor, not being hampered with a crutch, reached the goal first, and
saluted the advancing force with the information that they had just
missed being blown into smithereens.

“All well, I hope?” said Colonel Graham, as the guard of the turrets
descended tumultuously to unbar the gate.

“All well, Colonel, and the garrison increased by one since you left.
And what about the guns, if I may ask?”

“The guns? Oh, they’re at the bottom of the canal,” was the answer
that stupefied Dr Tighe, as the forlorn hope began to file through the

“Then you were successful after all,” inquired the incredulous voice
of Mr Burgrave from the steps.

“Oh, I see it! I see it!” cried Dr Tighe, laughing wildly. “You
settled the guns, Colonel dear, and then you came home another way,
while the enemy are all waiting for you under the hill at this moment!
Oh, pat me on the back, somebody, or I’ll die!”

“What’s wrong with you, Tighe?” asked Colonel Graham in astonishment,
as the doctor sat down upon a pile of the sand-bags that had been
taken away from the gate, and fairly wept.

“If you’d been through what I have to-night, going backwards and
forwards between life and death, as I may say, and expecting those
fiends to break in any moment--why, you would be glad to find yourself
and other people still alive,” was the incoherent reply, as Dr Tighe
accepted a sip from the flask which Winlock held out to him. “But I
beg your pardon, Colonel Graham and gentlemen, for this exhibition,”
he added stiffly, as he rose and smoothed down his coat. “It was the
thought that there’s a chance now for Mrs North and the child that
bowled me over.”

“The child?” cried Fitz. “Is it a boy, doctor? Oh, good luck! Three
cheers for the Luck of Alibad!”

Colonel Graham waved his helmet, and led the cheering with a will,
until the rousing sounds echoed beyond the circuit of the fort and
revealed to the startled enemy that their prey had escaped them. In
the rage caused by the shock of this discovery they forgot their
customary prudence, and leaving their cover, pressed forward to the
walls. The troops had been marching all night, but every man hurried
to his station without a moment for food or rest, in the conviction
that the crisis of the siege had at last arrived. The attack was only
half-hearted however, although the enemy had provided themselves with
scaling-ladders, in the evident expectation of being able to push
their assault home. The absence of the support upon which they had
counted from their cannon on the hill upset their plans, and although
Bahram Khan could be seen urging his followers forward even with
blows, and setting them the example himself by advancing to the very
foot of the wall, they did not so much as succeed in planting one of
the ladders. When convinced that the attempt was hopeless, the Prince
drew off his forces with considerable skill. A detachment of marksmen
posted behind the plane trees made it impossible for the defenders to
show themselves at the loopholes, and thus the assailants escaped with
but little loss, though it was indubitable that in this, their first
attack in force, they had suffered a defeat.

“Oh, I do feel so perfectly happy!” cried Mabel. “Think of all the
horrid doleful things we were saying last night, Flora. And now
Georgie is getting on all right, and the baby----”

“And such a baby!” said Flora gravely, contemplating with deep
interest the morsel of humanity which was lying in Mabel’s arms,
wrapped in a shawl. It was with most unflattering reluctance that Mrs
Hardy and Rahah had consented to confide their precious charge to two
amateur nurses, however well meaning; but Mabel took a high view of
her privileges as an aunt, and the baby had been entrusted to her and
Flora for a short time, on condition of their promising faithfully to
bring it back if it cried.

“And our men are all safely back, and we have won a victory, and
everything is splendid!” Mabel went on. And yet she did not disclose
the chief cause of her abounding satisfaction. She was free once more,
and she felt that a load had been removed from her mind. But if she
told Flora, Flora would think that her plain speaking the night before
had brought about this happy result, and ungratefully enough, Mabel
did not care that she should think so. “I feel as if I should like to
dance,” she broke out. “Do dance, Flora.”

“And shake the dear baby?” asked Flora reproachfully.

“Salaam, Miss Sahib!” said a voice from the doorway, and they turned
to see Ismail Bakhsh standing in the semi-darkness of the passage,
shaded by the matting curtain. “Is it permitted to the meanest of his
slaves to kiss the feet of the Baba Sahib?”

“Oh yes, you can see him,” said Mabel, guessing at the tenor of the
request, and she held up the baby. It was not by any means her
intention that Ismail Bakhsh should take the child from her arms, but
this he did at once.

“Oh, you’ll make him cry!” protested Flora.

“Nay, Miss Sahib, he will know me, that I am the servant of his house.
Was I not for ten years Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib’s orderly, going in and
out with him?”

“All the same, I don’t quite see how that should make you an authority
on babies, my good man,” murmured Flora, and told Mabel Ismail
Bakhsh’s qualifications for the post he had usurped. But the baby lay
quite quietly in his arms, as though it recognised the force of the
ancestral tie.

“The Baba Sahib has the eyes of Nāth Sahib, not of Kīlin Sahib,” was
the self-constituted nurse’s next remark, delivered in a tone of keen

“True, but some children’s eyes change colour, just as kittens’ do.
Perhaps his will,” suggested Flora, gravely and consolingly.

“Georgia wouldn’t like that,” objected Mabel, when this was translated
to her.

“I’m afraid poor Mrs North won’t see much of him, if the regiment have
their way,” said Flora. “Do you know what Ismail Bakhsh is saying

“I shall carry the Baba Sahib daily into the air, that he may grow
tall and strong,” the old man was announcing. “And as soon as he
learns to walk I shall bring a little pony--a very little pony, Miss
Sahib”--this in answer to the protest he discerned in Flora’s
face--“and I shall teach him to ride without saddle or bridle, that he
may be like his grandfather, and I shall instruct him in the use of
arms, so that when he joins the regiment with the Empress’s commission
he will have no occasion to learn anything. He is to be a soldier from
the day of his birth.”

“Oh, how his father would have loved to teach him to ride!” murmured
Mabel, with tears in her eyes.

“The regiment will be his father, Miss Sahib. Is he not the son of
Sinjāj Kīlin?”

“No, he isn’t!” cried Mabel, “and I don’t know why you should persist
in leaving out his own father. Have you forgotten him already?”

Flora translated the question, and the old man answered it solemnly.
“The Baba Sahib has no father until he has avenged him, Miss Sahib. We
shall tell him of all Nāth Sahib’s doings, and how he was lured to
his death by guile, but he must not take his name upon his lips until
he can say, ‘Now there is not one left alive that had any part in that
accursed deed, for I his son have tracked them out and slain them

“I don’t think Georgia will quite approve of the principles in which
the regiment proposes to educate her boy,” said Mabel.

“Oh,” said Flora, “he says--‘The Memsahib is but a woman, though
something more than other women. This is our business. Is not the Baba
Sahib the seal of the General, left behind to rule us?’ You know the
story, don’t you, Mab? When General Keeling died the chiefs heard that
he had expressed a desire to be buried in England--which was not true,
by-the-bye--and they came to say that if his seal was left in
Khemistan, they would obey it as if it was himself, so that his body
might be buried where he wished. But he is buried in the churchyard
here, you know, by his own desire.”

“May we be allowed to take part in the baby-worshipping?” asked Fred
Haycraft’s voice at the end of the verandah. “We couldn’t find any
servants to announce us, so we were obliged to walk in.”

“Poor old Anand Masih is seeking a little rest after the exciting
events of the night,” laughed Mabel. “Walk softly, please, and come
quite to this end of the verandah, so as not to disturb Georgia.”

“We felt shy because we couldn’t send in our cards properly,” said
Fitz, who was Haycraft’s companion, “but when we saw you had a visitor
already, we thought we might venture in. What a nice smart nursemaid
Mrs North has set up!--eh, Ismail Bakhsh?”

“True, sahib; I am the Baba Sahib’s bearer,” responded the old man,
with simple dignity. “Every night when I am not on guard I shall bring
my mat and lie in the verandah here, to guard his sleep.”

“That’s a queer idea,” said Haycraft. “Has the Memsahib asked you to
look after him?”

“Nay, sahib; but many seek to destroy the lion cub, for fear of what
he will do when he is full-grown.”

“I wonder if there’s anything in that,” said Fitz. “Can it be that
Bahram Khan’s men directed their fire purposely upon this courtyard,
knowing that Mrs North was here?”

“There are enemies within the walls as well as without, sahib,” was
the answer, as Ismail Bakhsh rocked the baby gently in his arms.

“I say, I believe I could do that!” said Fitz. “Let me have a try.”

“No, no,” said Mabel; “you’ll only make the baby cry, and hurt his
nurse’s feelings. We want you and Mr Haycraft to tell us what really
happened last night, and why you left us to endure such agonies of
suspense for hours. I believe it was simply that we might think all
the more of you when you got back.”

“Then I hope you do,” said Haycraft, “for he deserves it. Go ahead,
Anstruther; you left the fort first. I’ll cut in later on, and spare
your blushes.”

“What in the world are you driving at?” demanded Fitz. “Story? bless
you, ladies! I’ve none to tell. We got across the irrigated land and
into the hills just as we had intended, settled ourselves in our
_cache_, and then sent up our rockets and opened fire. At first it was
exactly like upsetting a beehive, there was such a rushing about and
shouting in the camp underneath and all over the town. But we hadn’t
allowed for one thing. Bahram Khan is far cleverer than we thought
him. He could tell by the sound of our firing that we were only a
small party, and he guessed at once that our attack was nothing but a
feint, arranged to cover a dash on the guns. So he didn’t waste any
time in trying to rush our position, but simply left us alone, which
was truly mortifying, for we had been looking forward to no end of fun
among the rocks, leading the fellows off on false scents, and
astonishing them with unexpected volleys, and all that sort of thing.”

“Fun, indeed!” cried Mabel indignantly. “You ought to be thankful they
let you alone.”

“I’m sorry, Miss North. I didn’t know your heart was so tender towards
the enemy. At any rate, they escaped us that time, you see. Well, as
soon as we made sure that the tide of battle was taking its way
elsewhere, we evacuated our sangar, and started off at the double for
the rendezvous. But there were difficulties in the way of getting
there. While we were slipping and sliding down into the valley, making
for the canal, we heard tremendous firing in the direction of the
bridge, which sent our hearts into our sandals, for we knew that the
Colonel’s column had no business to be anywhere near there.”

“Yes, I cannot make out how you managed to get so far to the right,”
said Flora, addressing Haycraft, and speaking more in sorrow than in
anger, as beseems the arm-chair critic.

“We didn’t manage anything of the sort,” answered Haycraft. “As a
matter of fact, we were not there at all. The only explanation we can
suggest for the mysterious fusillade is that the Commissioner and his
command were making a record display of wild firing from the walls
here--simply blazing away in every direction--and that some of their
bullets fell among the enemy posted at the bridge-head, and started
them off too. We were marching by compass on the right road when we
heard them a good way off, repulsing, as they imagined, an attack in
the rear. They can’t make out that their shooting is much better than
ours, at any rate, for some of their bullets went wide too, and fell
into our ranks, which threw the native followers into an awful panic.
One or two men got flesh-wounds, that was all, but the doolie-bearers
and _bhistis_ scattered in a moment, and tried to hide. We had to rout
them out of all sort of places, but at last we did think we had found
them all, though it seems now that one of them succeeded in getting
away. He is being dealt with--suitably--at this moment.”

“And do you mean to say,” asked Mabel, as Fitz laughed grimly, “that
you all went on as if nothing had happened, and never returned the

“Why, that would have given the whole thing away. Our only chance was
to leave them to blaze away at one another, and go straight for the
hill. But this is still Anstruther’s innings.”

“Well,” said Fitz, “when we heard the firing we instantly occupied a
fine strategic position in a hollow at the base of our cliff, with the
canal in front of us, and one of the men and I scouted a little way
along the bank. What we found out was very exciting indeed. The men at
the bridge-head had discovered their mistake by this time, and ceased
firing, but we saw why they were in such an agitated state of mind.
The bridge had been repaired, and they were guarding it! More than
that, Bahram Khan was even then--as we crouched there--bringing up his
men to cross the canal, and invest the water side of the fort, so
cutting off our fellows as they came home. I can tell you it was a
pretty tough job to wriggle along like a snake, and take advantage of
cover, when one wanted simply to tear back to the rest and consult
what was to be done. You see, there was just this in our favour. The
enemy didn’t know exactly where our men were, and so long as there was
no noise on the hill, they would remain in doubt, for they weren’t
likely to risk their lives by going up to see. Sure enough, they
waited discreetly, spreading themselves out over the irrigated land
below the hill on both sides of the canal. That gave Winlock and me
our cue, and when I got to the Colonel----”

“But you haven’t said how you got to him!” cried Mabel and Flora

“My turn!” said Haycraft blandly, laying an authoritative hand on
Fitz’s shoulder. “Sit and squirm, my boy, while I sing your praises.
He swam the canal, ladies, in the dark and icy cold, and took over
with him the end of a rope made of the men’s turbans. Winlock and the
rest waited to guard the crossing, while this fellow climbed the hill,
and by the best of good luck, found us at the top. We had taken the
guard round the guns absolutely by surprise--they were all asleep, in
fact, without a single sentry--and settled things almost in silence.
Not a shot was fired, and everything was so quiet that Woodworth
started the bright idea of bringing the guns home with us instead of
destroying them. It really seemed quite possible, for the drag-ropes
were there ready, and it would have made all the difference in the
world to us to have a couple of cannon. But when Anstruther turned up,
like a very dripping ghost, and informed us that the way was blocked,
and we couldn’t even get home ourselves, much less take back the guns
in triumph, things began to look a little blue. We might stay where we
were, or we might try to cut our way through, but the prospect wasn’t
very cheerful either way.”

“No food or water on the hill, and the enemy holding all the plain
below,” summarised Fitz tersely.

“And therefore,” went on Haycraft, “the Colonel lent a willing ear to
the aspiring civilian before you, who offered to lead him right round
through the hills and bring him in at the main gate of the fort, the
very last place where the enemy would think of expecting him. So the
drag-ropes came in useful, after all, for we pulled the guns to a nice
steep place overlooking the water. We had to be awfully quiet, of
course, though the hill was between us and the enemy, but we spiked
the guns and rolled them over into the canal. Then we marched down,
and got across by the help of the drag-ropes, which Winlock and his
men hauled over with their string of turbans. We got pretty wet about
the legs, but nothing to Anstruther. He led us right round, as he had
promised, and at the end we actually marched right through the town
without meeting a soul. The men were told to break step, lest the
tramp should be heard; but the enemy were all ever so far off,
watching affectionately for our reappearance on the other side of the
canal. They hadn’t the slightest suspicion of our real whereabouts. Of
course, if we had known which way we were coming back, we might have
done a lot of things--taken some dynamite and blown up General
Keeling’s house, perhaps--but it’s no use repining about that now.”

“Repining? I should think not!” cried Flora. “You’ve had a whole night
of marching and counter-marching, and strategic movements and
capturing guns, and you come home to find a nice little fight waiting
for you before you can lie down to sleep, and yet, when you are in the
very act of playing Othello to two Desdemonas, you pretend you aren’t

“Oh, we haven’t made enough of them,” said Mabel briskly. “They think
we ought to have met them at the gate, and cast the flowers out of our
best hats before them as they marched in. I’m sure this morbid thirst
for appreciation oughtn’t to be gratified, for their own sakes. Now I
am going to take the boy back to his mother. His brains will certainly
be addled if Ismail Bakhsh rocks him up and down much longer.”

“What’s happened to the Commissioner?” asked Haycraft, as Mabel
disappeared with the baby. “We rather thought we should find him

“I don’t know,” said Flora. “He hasn’t been in this morning. Oh no,”
as Haycraft lifted his eyebrows, “they haven’t quarrelled. They were
quite friendly last night. I daresay he’s busy.”

“It is because of the Baba Sahib that the Kumpsioner Sahib has not
come,” remarked Ismail Bakhsh calmly, pausing at the corner of the
verandah, and addressing no one in particular.

“Our friend understands English too well,” muttered Haycraft to Fitz.
“But what can he mean--that Burgrave dislikes babies, or that he is
jealous because Miss North is so much taken up with it?”

“The Kumpsioner Sahib will not come here in the daytime,” was the dark
reply. “That is why this unworthy one will keep guard here at night,

“What maggot has the old fellow got in his brain now?” asked Fitz,
when Ismail Bakhsh had disappeared down the passage.

“I really think this valued family retainer is getting a little bit
cracked,” said Flora. “Do just imagine the Commissioner creeping in
here in the dark with a dagger to murder the baby!”

“Or smothering it with pillows!” chuckled Haycraft.

“Well, I only hope Ismail Bakhsh won’t go and shoot some one by
mistake,” said Fitz.

“There is a deputation from the regiment waiting at the end of the
verandah, anxious to interview your son and heir, Mrs North,” said Dr
Tighe in the afternoon of the same day.

“How nice of them! I wish I could take him to them myself,” said

“You must leave that to his proud aunt,” said Mabel. “But surely we
ought to smarten him up a little, Georgie? I wish we had a proper robe
for him. How would that white embroidered shawl of mine do to wrap him

“No, tell Rahah to get out the shawl which the native officers gave me
for a wedding present. It is in the regimental colours, and that will
please them more than anything.”

“Now, don’t excite yourself,” entreated Mabel. “You are getting quite
flushed over the boy’s toilette. Do leave him to us. Surely Mrs Hardy
and Rahah and Flora and I can dress one baby between us?”

“Well, mind that if they hold out the hilts of their tulwars, you make
him touch them with his hand, and the same if they bring any present.”

“Oh, Flora will prompt me. Don’t be afraid, Georgie. The boy’s first
public appearance shall do credit to us all, and the regiment too.”

But when Mabel stepped out into the verandah, carrying the gorgeous
bundle, she was met by Ismail Bakhsh, who held out his arms with an
air of proprietorship which she resented. “No, no!” she said, shaking
her head vigorously; “I am going to hold him.”

“Nay, Miss Sahib, am I not his bearer? Was I not for ten years orderly
to Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib? Have I not served Nāth Sahib and the

“Don’t hurt his feelings, Miss North,” laughed Dr Tighe.

“Well, he can stand beside me and lift the boy’s hand to touch the
swords and presents and things. People will really have to understand
that he belongs to us as well as the regiment.”

The honourable post assigned to him served to mollify Ismail Bakhsh,
and he took his stand beside Mabel with immense dignity. The members
of the deputation were all in full uniform, and advanced to pay their
respects strictly in order of rank. All unconsciously, the baby itself
struck the right note at the very outset. When Ressaldar Badullah Khan
came forward and held up the hilt of his sword, there was no need for
Ismail Bakhsh to guide the little hand to it. The glittering metal,
rendered dazzling by a ray of light which came through a bullet-hole
in the curtain, seemed to catch the baby’s eye, and the aimless
movements of both arms which followed were immediately interpreted as
indicating a desire to seize the sword.

“_Shabash! Shabash!_” came in eager accents from the men behind. “He
is the true son of Sinjāj Kīlin. The sword will never be out of his

Badullah Khan retired, much gratified, and Ghulam Rasul, taking his
place, was careful to hold his sword where the light fell upon it.
Again the baby stretched out its arms to the gleam, and this was
accepted as confirming the omen. The rest of the deputation were
content when Ismail Bakhsh raised the baby’s hand to touch their
sword-hilts, and the same was the case with regard to the two or three
gold coins which were brought forward as a mark of respect. The bearer
of this _nasr_ was just retiring when an untoward incident occurred.
There was a sudden whirr, and a bullet, piercing the matting curtain,
ploughed up the skin of Ismail Bakhsh’s wrist and passed through the
fleshy part of his arm, before burying itself in the wall behind him.
The group in the verandah stood staring at one another. Flora declared
afterwards that Mabel dropped the baby in her fright, and that it was
only rescued by a frantic effort on the part of Dr Tighe, but Mabel
repudiated the accusation with scorn. Certain it is that her nephew
was still in her arms the moment after, when a cry of “A hit! a
palpable hit!” came from the nearest tower, following closely upon the
report of a rifle.

“Are you trying to pot the baby, Winlock?” shouted the doctor,
recognising the voice, and stooping under the curtain to step out into
the courtyard.

“No, but I’ve sniped the sniper. There’s no cover on Gun Hill now, and
I saw his head when he raised it to fire. No harm done, I hope?”

“Well, the Luck of Alibad very nearly came to an abrupt and premature
end. Take the child in, Miss North, and reassure the mother. Master
North has had his baptism of fire pretty early in life.”

“What can have made them fire in this direction now that we have the
curtain?” asked Flora, as she brought out a pair of scissors to slit
up Ismail Bakhsh’s sleeve.

“I see how it is,” cried the doctor. “The curtain doesn’t quite reach
the ground, and the sight of such an assemblage of spurs, shining in
the sun, showed the sniper that something was going on in this
neighbourhood. It’s a happy thing that Ismail Bakhsh was standing in
front of the baby.”

“Ah,” said the old man, with a delighted grin, “the Baba Sahib is
altogether ours now. We have paid our respects at his first durbar,
and we have been under fire with him already. Surely the
Ressaldar-Major Sahib and those who are absent with him will be mad
with envy of us!”

“And you have shed your blood for him,” said Dr Tighe, as he bandaged
the arm.

“Nay, sahib, it all belongs to him. He has but taken toll.”

“Isn’t he perfectly sweet, Georgie?” Mabel was demanding at that
moment, by way of diverting Georgia’s mind from the danger to which
the baby had been exposed. Kneeling at the side of the bed, she was
trying, with conspicuous lack of success, to tempt her nephew to play
with her hair. “Don’t you think he’s the most delightful baby that
ever was born?” she asked again.

“Of course,” said Georgia, smiling. “I am almost as proud of him as Dr
Tighe is, and that’s saying a good deal.”

“And he’s so good,” resumed Mabel, referring to the baby, not to the
doctor. “He has scarcely cried a bit, and that is such a comfort under
the circumstances. It would have been so discreditable if the Luck of
Alibad had cried whenever a shot was fired, but he’s a regular little

“Well, he has no lack of nurses, if that’s good for the temper,” said
Georgia. “Oh, how I wish his father could see him!” she sighed
suddenly, as the baby moved in her arms and looked straight before it
with solemn grey eyes.

“Perhaps he can,” suggested Mabel softly.

“Why, Mab! what do you mean?” cried Georgia, her face flushing.

“I only meant that many people think they are allowed to know what is
happening on earth,” explained Mabel, with some hesitation. Georgia
laid her head upon the pillow again with a little moan of

“You will talk as if Dick was dead!” she said. “I thought you had
heard something--that he was here, perhaps.”

“Oh, Georgie!” cried Mabel, in strong remonstrance. Then, remembering
that exciting topics ought to be avoided, she changed the subject.
“What do you mean to call the boy? Have you decided?”

“St George Keeling,” was the unhesitating reply. “Dick has always said
that if he had a son he would name him after my father.”

“Then you won’t call him after Dick? Oh, Georgie!”

Georgia smiled triumphantly. “Oh yes, I shall insist upon that. If
Dick chooses two names, I’m sure I have a right to choose one. Richard
St George Keeling North--it’s rather long, isn’t it? but Dick won’t

“Then I suppose,” said Mabel, feeling her way timorously, “that you
are not thinking of having him christened just yet? Mr Hardy was
asking me whether you would like it to be soon, as things are so

“Before his father comes back? Certainly not,” said Georgia, with so
much decision that Mabel dared make no further protest. She attacked
Dr Tighe, however, upon the subject when she saw him next.

“You thought that poor Georgia’s delusion would pass away when the
baby was born, but she is as fully convinced as ever that Dick is
alive,” she said, with something of triumph.

“I know,” acquiesced the doctor, “and I am disappointed. But the
delusion is bound to disappear in course of time--when she sees his
grave, if not before. And I’d have you remember, Miss North, that
she’s likely only hoping against hope now. Her reason may be assuring
her that he’s dead, while her heart fights against the notion. To try
to combat this hope of hers would only make her stick to it all the
more. Let it alone, and it will fade away naturally.”

Much against her will, Mabel promised to obey. It seemed to her that
it was both wrong and cruel to allow such a state of uncertainty to
continue; but as the days passed on without any further suggestion
that Dick was alive, she began to be satisfied that the delusion was
fading from Georgia’s mind.


After their disappointment with regard to the guns, the enemy made
no further effort to take the fort by storm. They seemed quite content
to substitute a blockade for a siege, but this circumstance did not
tend to raise the spirits of the garrison, since it showed that there
was as yet no sign of any movement for their relief. Sniping was
practised indefatigably on both sides whenever opportunity offered,
and a stranger standing on the cleared ground between the fort and
General Keeling’s house might have imagined the one and the other
alike deserted, so skilful had the occupants become in taking
advantage of cover, save when a puff of smoke and the crack of a rifle
on the right met with an immediate response in kind from the left. The
enemy were not now occupying the opposite bank of the canal in force,
but it was a favourite station for their boldest sharp-shooters, who
took up their posts under cover of darkness, and from the shelter of
rough sangars or dikes of earth, fired at the water-carriers as they
clambered up and down to the water-gate with their skins and earthen
pots. The great fall in the level of the water gave much encouragement
to this form of attack, and it was found necessary to erect a screen
of tent-cloth, supported on poles, to protect the steps cut in the
wall below the gate. On the rampart above two or three good marksmen
were always posted, watching for the moment at which the sniper was
forced to betray his presence for an instant, and the post was much
coveted. Any duty that promised a little excitement was eagerly
welcomed, for the closeness of their quarters and the lack of exercise
were telling upon the health and spirits of the garrison. The wounded
did not recover as they ought, and the mortality among the native
refugees was very heavy. Moreover, the stock of provisions accumulated
under difficulties by Colonel Graham and Dick was diminishing with
alarming speed. Rations were served out to all with the strictest
economy, and Mabel and Flora, observing a daily diminution in the
numbers of the horses stabled in the outer court, refrained heroically
from any remark on the shape of the joints set before them. The two
girls were quite accustomed to a state of siege by this time, had
ceased to start at the whirr and ping of a bullet, and took cover as
naturally as the oldest trooper in the regiment when they left the
shelter of their rooms. As Mabel said one day to Colonel Graham, the
strangest thing was the remembrance that they had ever known a time
when the siege was not going on.

“And that you will know a time when it is over, I hope?” he responded.
“I only wish I saw any chance of our being relieved, or even of being
able to cut our way through, but the next move lies undoubtedly with
the enemy.”

This move, when it came, was an unexpected one. In the course of a
dark night, a scuffle close under the eastern wall became audible to
the sentries, who fired immediately in the direction of the sound, to
hear in return a scream which was unmistakably a woman’s. The garrison
stood to arms, but no attack was made, and no explanation of the
mysterious occurrence offered itself. In the morning, however, a white
flag appeared in the street next to General Keeling’s house, and when
Colonel Graham replied to it from one of the gateway turrets, two
unarmed men made their appearance, dragging with them a woman, her
clothes and veil torn and blood-stained. Having escorted her into the
middle of the cleared space, they left her there, and ran back to
shelter, while she sank on her knees and raised one hand in an
entreaty for mercy. Despite her agony of fear, however, she kept her
veil wrapped closely round her.

“Evidently a _pardah_ woman,” said Colonel Graham to Mr Burgrave, “but
what she is doing here I can’t make out.”

He shouted some words of encouragement, and the woman came a little
nearer, and made signs that she desired to be admitted into the fort.

“No, no; can’t have that,” cried the Colonel. “You must say what you
have to say from where you are.”

“Nay, sahib,” came in a quavering voice, “I am not used to speak
before so many men. Thy servant belongs to the household of the Hasrat
Ali Begum, and is sent with a message to the doctor lady.”

“Tell me your message, by all means, and I will give it her.”

“Nay, sahib, suffer thy servant to see her, for I have gone through
great perils to bring the message. Last night I crept close up to the
walls, hoping to speak with some who might let me in, but the servants
of my mistress’s son tracked and seized me, and thy sowars shot at me
from the rampart,” and she thrust forth a roughly bandaged foot. “And
this morning Syad Bahram Khan said that since I came to bear my
mistress’s message, I should now bear his, and tell thee, sahib, what
terms he offers thee.”

“And what may they be?”

“He says, sahib--‘The siege has now lasted many days, and my followers
are fast becoming discontented and stealing away from me. I have
learnt to honour the valour of the sahibs, and but for the rancour of
my uncle, the Amir Sahib, I would have made terms with them long
before. He has sworn to have the life of every white man in the fort,
and it is only because he is now away at Nalapur that I can offer them
safety. The fort I must have, to save my face in the sight of my
followers; but if it is surrendered to me to-day, before my uncle
returns in his cruelty, thirsting for blood, I will send all the
sahibs and the women and children away to Rahmat-Ullah, and by
nightfall they shall be so far off that there is no pursuing them. The
troopers also may go where they will, but I cannot promise them
safe-conduct, for I have not beasts to mount them all, and they might
chance to be overtaken. These terms I offer out of my honour for the
sahibs, and my hatred for the cruelty of my uncle.’”

“And does the Hasrat Ali Begum advise us to accept them?” asked
Colonel Graham dryly.

“She has not heard of them, sahib. I have but spoken as I was

“Well, I don’t think we need deliberate long over this,” said the
Colonel to Mr Burgrave. “It’s clear that Bahram Khan is trying to
hedge, and throwing the blame of all that has happened upon his uncle.
From that I should judge that the relieving force is in motion at
last. When the inevitable attack was made upon us as soon as we were
outside the fort, the Amir would get the credit of the massacre, and
Bahram Khan would pose as the innocent and peaceable dupe of his
uncle’s treachery. He might even contrive to wipe out the Amir in his
honest wrath, and appear red-handed at Rahmat-Ullah as our
avenger--and also as the natural heir to the throne of Nalapur.”

“You don’t leave him many shreds of character,” said the Commissioner

“I forgot he was a friend of yours. No; but seriously, you wouldn’t
dream of trusting him? Of course not. The terms are refused, O servant
of the Begum Sahib. Now, what about that message of yours for the
doctor lady?”

“It is for her ear alone, sahib.”

“She is ill, and cannot come to the wall.”

“Suffer me to see her, sahib, if only for a moment. My mistress bade
me inquire of her health, for she has heard rumours that grieve her

“I’m sorry it’s impossible to admit you. Mrs North is doing well; you
must be satisfied with that.”

“Nay, but let me see her, sahib. I dare not go back with my mistress’s
commands undone.”

“It is impossible. Have you any further message?”

“I must see her. It is urgent--most necessary. Sahib, suffer me to
come in.”

“Impossible. Get back to your own side as fast as you can.”

“What could she have had to say?” asked Mr Burgrave curiously, as they
left the turret.

“Can’t tell. Some native remedy or charm to give her, perhaps--which
might have been poison. We have no proof that the woman comes from the
Begum. She may be in reality a spy of Bahram Khan’s.”

The news of the woman’s mysterious mission, and her importunity,
spread quickly through the fort, but the occupants of the inner
courtyard had little time to wonder over it, for Georgia’s condition
seemed to have taken a sudden turn for the worse. After a troubled
night she had waked in an agitated, excited state, unable to bear the
slightest noise in the room. She lay listening anxiously, asking the
rest at intervals if they did not hear something, and they tried in
vain to find out what it was she thought they ought to hear. They left
her alone at last, since their presence seemed only to increase the
strain upon her mind, and Mabel remained in the outer room with the
door ajar. Peeping into the inner room after a time, she saw, to her
delight, that her sister-in-law had dropped asleep, but very soon a
cry summoned her back. Georgia was sitting up in bed with flushed

“He _is_ here, then,” she said. “I knew I heard his voice. Bring him
in, Mab. How can you keep him outside, when you know he is longing to
see me?”

“There’s no one outside. What do you mean, Georgie?” asked Mabel,

“Why, Dick, of course! I have heard him calling me all day, though it
sounded so far off, but now it’s quite close--in my ear, almost.
There, don’t you hear?”

Mabel strained her ears, but in vain. “There’s nothing, really,” she

“Oh, you must be deaf! Go and see, Mab. Don’t keep him waiting. I know
he wants me. Why doesn’t some one tell him where I am?”

To satisfy her, Mabel went out into the verandah and looked round,
naturally without result. She could scarcely bring herself to return
and assure Georgia that the voice was purely a hallucination, but it
was a relief to find that she did not seem seriously disappointed. A
new idea had come into her mind.

“What was Dr Tighe or some one saying about the Eye-of-the-Begum? that
she wanted to see me? She was bringing me a message from him.”

“Oh, Georgie!” sighed Mabel, in hopeless despair.

“He wants me. I must go to him. Tell Rahah to get my things ready.”

“But you can’t get up, you know. Besides, the enemy are all round

“I tell you I must go to him. I wish you wouldn’t put absurd obstacles
in the way, Mab. He wants me. He is calling me. Of course I shall go.”

“Yes, you shall,” said poor harassed Mabel; “only lie quiet just now.
You can’t possibly go to-night, you know. Try to sleep a little.”

She succeeded in inducing her to lie down, but whenever she crept in
to look at her Georgia was staring into the darkness with wide-open,
brilliant eyes. Not even the baby could divert her thoughts from the
conviction that had taken possession of her mind, and Mabel decided to
sleep in the outer room, in case her help should be needed during the
night. All passed quietly, however, although she had a dream that
Rahah came and looked at her very earnestly, even entreatingly, but
said nothing. In the morning, after glancing at Georgia, and finding
her apparently asleep, she went to her own room to dress. She was just
putting the finishing touches to her hair when she saw Rahah come out
with a large bundle in one hand and a box in the other, and after
looking anxiously around, turn away as if disappointed, and disappear
down the passage.

“That looked like Georgie’s travelling medicine-chest. What can she be
doing with it?” said Mabel to herself. “And a bundle of clothes-- Oh,

A terrible thought had seized her, and she ran along the darkened
verandah. The outer room was in a state of wild confusion, as if Rahah
had been making a hasty selection from among her mistress’s
possessions, and in the inner room Georgia was sitting on the side of
the bed, trying to dress.

“Georgie! what are you doing?” gasped Mabel.

“I am going to Dick. He wants me,” answered Georgia, looking at her
with unseeing eyes.

“But you can’t move. You’re not fit for it. Georgie, do be sensible.”

“I don’t know what you mean. I’m perfectly well, only so ridiculously
weak. But Dick is calling me, and I am going to him.”

Mabel gazed at her in despair, then seized the baby, which was wrapped
up in a shawl, ready for travelling. “You won’t go without him, I
suppose, and I’ll take good care that you don’t go with him,” she
said, while Georgia looked at her without a trace of comprehension in
her gaze. “Just sit there until I come back.”

She ran down the passage with the baby in her arms, and glanced at the
archway in the wall which led to the water-gate. The gate was open,
and Ismail Bakhsh was hard at work inflating one of the skins which
had been used to support the raft. Rahah was standing near him with
her parcels, looking helplessly round, apparently for some one to whom
to appeal.

“They have waited until Ismail Bakhsh is on guard, and the sentries on
the wall are to look the other way while he ferries them over in
turn,” said Mabel to herself. “Why, it would kill Georgie! Well, they
won’t start while I have the boy. Oh,” she cried, coming suddenly upon
a European, “please tell somebody to go and arrest Ismail Bakhsh. He
has got the water-gate open, and he is going to desert.”

Long before she had reached the end of her sentence she recognised
that it was Mr Burgrave to whom she was speaking. They had scarcely
met since the dreadful night of anxiety when she had given him back
his ring, and she noticed with a shock how gray and shrunken he
looked. It was the hardships of the siege, she tried to assure
herself, that had made him old before his time.

“I will certainly give your message to the officer on guard,” he
answered politely. “We can’t allow this sort of thing to begin.”

He went on his way with a bow, and she stood looking after him.
Hearing a click, she glanced up hastily. The sentry on the rampart
above her was kneeling down and taking deliberate aim with his carbine
at the unconscious Commissioner. She knew the man; he was Ismail
Bakhsh’s son Ibrahim, and she saw that the moment Mr Burgrave quitted
the shelter of the wall in crossing the courtyard he would be at his
mercy. But in her arms was a talisman, and she ran forward and caught
up the Commissioner, who looked round at her in astonishment.

“Oh, do take him in your arms for a moment!” she cried, stammering in
her eagerness. “You have never held him, and his mother will be so

Taken completely by surprise, Mr Burgrave allowed the baby to be
placed in his arms, and actually carried it across the court, while
Mabel, at his side, was shaking with apprehension. She knew that he
was safe while he held that precious bundle, but she was by no means
sure that Ibrahim would not resent her interference with his plans to
the extent of shooting her instead. This physical terror kept her from
feeling the awkwardness of the situation, and she did not even realise
it until Mr Burgrave paused at the archway leading into the outer
court, and looked into her face as he gave her back the baby.

“You will laugh at me for saying that I had a little hope left until
to-day,” he said. “Now I see how foolish I was. In spite of the siege
and all your troubles, you look now as you did when I first knew you,
and it is simply because you are free from me. Don’t be afraid; I
shall not persecute you. All I care for is to see you happy in your
own way.”

There was little inclination to laughter in Mabel’s mind as she
returned slowly to Georgia’s room. She had scarcely reached it when
Rahah came flying along the passage to tell her mistress that
Woodworth Sahib and ten men had come and taken Ismail Bakhsh prisoner,
and there was therefore no hope of escaping to-day. Georgia hardly
seemed to hear. She was still sitting where Mabel had left her,
sobbing feebly and too weak to move, and they were able to get her
into bed again before Dr Tighe came bustling in.

“Now, now, what’s this I hear?” he asked severely. “Will you think,
Mrs North, that we’ve always regarded you as a sensible woman, and
that the Major was proud of your judgment? You wouldn’t be in earnest
just now?”

“Oh, let me go!” implored Georgia. “I can’t hear what you say, doctor.
Dick’s voice comes in between. He wants me so much. Oh, Dick, I would
come, but they won’t let me.”

“This won’t do,” said Dr Tighe. “Must humour her, poor thing!” he
muttered behind his hand to Mabel. “Now, Mrs North, assuming that the
Major is delirious, and crying out for you----”

“Torture!” interjected Georgia, in a high, hard voice.

“No, no! Nonsense, nonsense! Why, it’s biting out his tongue he’d be
before the devils would get a word out of him. But supposing he’s ill,
now--would it be any pleasure to him to know that you had killed
yourself and the child trying to get to him? You know it wouldn’t.
’Twould be a bitter grief to him all his days. And for that reason
you’ll take this, and lie down quietly, and try to get some sleep.”

“It won’t drown his voice,” said Georgia, accepting the medicine, but
looking up with such misery in her eyes that it almost destroyed the
doctor’s self-control. “I should hear that if I were dead.”

“Oh, doctor,” murmured Mabel, drawing him into the outer room, “if she
should be right, after all! What can we do?”

He looked at her in astonishment. “My dear Miss North, you mustn’t let
yourself be led away by that poor soul’s ravings. After such a happy
married life as hers, it would be strange indeed if she could give her
husband up for lost without a struggle. But what possible hope is
there of his being alive? If he was a prisoner, don’t you think Bahram
Khan would have made use of him long ago to torment us? Don’t make it
worse for her by encouraging her to hope.”

“No, no, of course not,” said Mabel impatiently. “But all the same,”
she muttered to herself as he left her, “something ought to be done,
and I know the man to do it.”

Half-an-hour later she went out into the verandah to meet Fitz
Anstruther, who had come as usual to inquire after Georgia and the
baby, and beckoned him to a secluded corner, where two packing-cases
served as seats.

“Do you know,” she said eagerly, without giving him time to speak, “I
am beginning to believe that Dick is really alive. Georgia is so
absolutely convinced he isn’t dead, and I can’t think she is
altogether mistaken. Is there no way of finding out?”

“You don’t mean by making inquiries, surely? The Amir certainly
believes he is dead, and Bahram Khan chooses us to think that he does
too, so we should get no good out of them.”

“Yes, I quite see that, but what I have been thinking is that some one
to whom he had been kind may have hidden him away--in a house in the
mountains, or one of the camps of the wandering tribes--and he may be
lying there ill all this time.”

“I only wish he might, but in that case I’m afraid it would simply be
his death-warrant if we found out where he was. Bahram Khan would
still be between us and him, you see.”

“Yes, but there’s another chance still. Suppose he is in Bahram Khan’s
hands, after all, but too badly wounded to be moved? Bahram Khan would
know that he could not make use of him without showing him, and that
he would be no good to him dead. So what if he is keeping him prisoner
just with that in view--to produce him when he gets better, and offer
to give him up if we surrender the fort? Yes, the more I think it
over, the more I feel certain that it must be that.”

“And what then?” asked Fitz, as she paused eagerly.

“Why then, don’t you see, if we once knew that he was a prisoner, and
where he was kept, a force could go out and rescue him, as they did
the guns. There isn’t a man that would not volunteer, and then he
would be saved.”

“But how are we to find out whether he is a prisoner?”

“Oh, surely you must know! Don’t pretend to be so stupid. Some one
must go and see--dress up as a native, and get into the enemy’s camp.”

He laughed. “Curiously enough, the Colonel was talking of something of
the kind this very morning. He wants to know whether there is really a
rumour among the enemy about a relieving force.”

“And who is to go?”

“Who? Oh, I think that old _daffadar_ of Haycraft’s, Sultan Jān, was
the man pitched upon at last. He is the foxiest old beggar alive, and
less known about here than most of our fellows.”

“Only Sultan Jān?” in deep disappointment. “But you are dark--you
know the language so well--you are such a good scout--you are going?”

“I, Miss North? Why in the world----”

“To find Dick, because you and he are such friends--because I ask

“I am very much honoured, but surely the Commissioner is the natural

“The Commissioner would be too lame to go,” cried Mabel, in confusion,
“and even if he wasn’t, I couldn’t ask him.” Fitz’s look of surprise,
less for the fact than for her mention of it, reminded her that her
words must sound strangely in his ears. “Perhaps I ought to explain,”
she stammered. “I--I am not engaged to Mr Burgrave now.”

“Oh, indeed!” said Fitz slowly, readjusting his ideas as he spoke.
Only the night before he had heard Haycraft say to Flora that the
Commissioner and Miss North must have quarrelled, for they had not
spoken for days, and she was not wearing his ring. Certain hopes of
Fitz’s own had sprung up anew at that moment, only to be dashed to
earth again by Flora’s confident assurance that the estrangement could
be only a temporary one. She was certain that the engagement was not
broken off, or Mabel would have told her. Now, however, it appeared
that Flora had been mistaken.

Fitz drew a deep breath. “You want me to go in disguise and make
inquiries about your brother, because you ask me? Not so very long ago
we were discussing a certain subject, and I agreed not to mention it
again without your permission. If I go, will you give me that

Mabel recoiled from him, aghast. “You are trying to drive a bargain
with me for Dick’s life?” she cried, in horror. “I should never have
believed it of you.”

“Oh, I am only looking at the matter in a business light. If I do your
work, I should like to be sure of my wages.”

“How can you talk in such a horrid mercenary way? It’s mean,
ungentlemanly of you to try to entrap me like this! I could not have

“Please let us be business-like. Only, believe me, I had no idea of
setting a trap.”

“Do you mean to say that if I refuse to let you speak to me again you
won’t go?”

“That is not the question, allow me to remark. I ask you whether, if I
go, I may enter upon the forbidden subject when I come back?”

“I believe you are going whether I say Yes or No.” She looked at him
sharply, but he did not change countenance in the least. “Why should
you take it into your head to spoil a thing that ought to be so
splendid, by tacking on an odious condition to it?”

“I am afraid you won’t find it easy to move me either by hard words or
soft ones. Is it a bargain?”

“If you mean that I am to promise to marry you if you go----” cried
Mabel, her eyes blazing.

“I mean nothing of the kind. That is not in the bond. If I have such a
curious fancy for being rejected by you that I am willing to accept
another refusal as the price of my services on this occasion, don’t
you think you are getting off rather cheaply on the whole?”

Mabel laughed shamefacedly. “I believe you have only been trying to
tease me all along,” she said. “Very well; it is a bargain, then.”

“There’s something rather mysterious about this attempt to desert on
the part of Mrs North’s servant,” said Colonel Graham to the
Commissioner. “The men seem to feel strongly on the subject, but I
can’t get any of them to speak out. I am not sure that it’s a case for
a court-martial, and if you would join me in an informal inquiry into
the affair, it might prevent bad feeling.”

“With pleasure. But I don’t quite see where the civil power comes in,
in a matter of this kind. Is it that the man’s status is really that
of a civilian?”

“He is a volunteer, of course”--Colonel Graham ignored the veiled
reference to what Mr Burgrave still considered his usurpation of
authority--“but as an old soldier, they all acknowledge that he is
amenable to military discipline. What I can’t make out is the notion
which seems to prevail that you have something to do with the matter,
and that’s why I should like your assistance in inquiring into it.”

“You don’t imagine that I incite your volunteers to desert, I hope?”
said the Commissioner dryly, taking his seat beside Colonel Graham, to
await the arrival of the prisoner.

“If I could think so, the mystery would be cleared up. As it is--” the
Colonel broke off suddenly, on the entrance of the prisoner with his
guards. He signed to the two sowars to retire out of earshot, and
addressed their charge. “I have sent for you privately because I hope
that things are less black than they look against you, Ismail Bakhsh.
That a man with your record should be detected in the act of deserting
to the enemy seems preposterous, and I hope you may be able to show
that your idea was to obtain information of some kind. In that case
your conduct might be passed over for once, as imprudent but not

“I have nothing to say, sahib. I had my orders.”

“Orders from Bahram Khan? Don’t trifle with me, Ismail Bakhsh. Am I to
give Mrs North the pain of knowing that her father’s orderly has been
shot as a traitor?”

The old man drew himself up. “Since I shall no longer be present to
protect the Memsahib and her son, I will tell thee the truth, sahib,
that thou mayest watch over them in my stead. My orders were from the
Memsahib herself.”

“Mrs North told you to desert?” cried the Colonel incredulously.

“The Memsahib bade me be ready to convey her and her son and her
waiting-woman out of the fort at such an hour, and I obeyed her.”

“Oh, come, this is too much! Why should Mrs North wish to leave the

Ismail Bakhsh cast a fierce glance at Mr Burgrave, who had taken no
part in the examination. “I can guess the reason, sahib, but it is not
expedient to accuse the great ones of the earth to their faces.”

“Now what did I tell you?” asked Colonel Graham of the Commissioner.
“I said you were mixed up in it somehow. You would like to have the
matter cleared up, of course?”

“By all means,” said Mr Burgrave indifferently. The proceedings bored
him, and he did not see why both the Colonel and Ismail Bakhsh should
persist in bringing his name into them.

“Speak, and fear not,” said the Colonel.

“Thus then it is, sahib. When the Kumpsioner Sahib came to the border,
he found the name of Sinjāj Kīlin in all men’s mouths, and he hated
it, and sought to throw dirt upon it, even as an upstart king seeks to
defile the monuments of those that were before him. But there were yet
living in the land Sinjāj Kīlin’s daughter and her husband, Nāth
Sahib, to keep his name in remembrance, and therefore the Kumpsioner
Sahib hated them also. His eye was evil against Nāth Sahib, insomuch
that he blackened his face in the presence of the tribes and of the
Amir of Nalapur. Then, because that was not sufficient, he suborned
Bahram Khan to murder him”--the Commissioner, looking bored no longer,
tried to interpose a protest, but Ismail Bakhsh disregarded it
contemptuously--“and he thought all his enemies were removed, since
there was only a woman left of the whole house of Sinjāj Kīlin. But
when the Memsahib’s son was born, the Kumpsioner Sahib, remembering
the evil deed he had done, feared lest the boy should grow up to
avenge his father. The Ressaldar Ghulam Rasul can tell of the wrath
and fear with which he heard of the child’s birth, and I myself have
watched every night in the Memsahib’s verandah with my weapons, so
that no harm should come to the Baba Sahib. And seeing that the
Kumpsioner Sahib could not even dissemble his enmity so far as to come
and take the child in his arms like the other sahibs, and send
messages of good luck to the mother by the Miss Sahibs, I thought at
least that he would fight with steel and not with drugs. But the
Memsahib knew him better than I, and when this morning I received her
order to help her to escape with the child, I knew that she thought it
safer to take refuge with the Amir Sahib than to remain in this place.
And now they will kill me; but the charge of Sinjāj Kīlin’s son is
thine, sahib,” addressing the Colonel, “since the truth has been fully
made known to thee by my mouth. For what says the proverb? ‘When the
base-born mounts the throne, it is ill to be a king’s son.’ Guard well
the Baba Sahib, for the sake of Nāth Sahib, thy friend. And as for
the Kumpsioner Sahib, let him know that the men of the regiment have
sworn by the holy Kaaba and the sacred well, and by the head of the
Prophet of God, that he shall not escape. Once he has succeeded in
slaying the Baba Sahib, no land shall be distant enough to afford him
a refuge. Each man will hand down to his children the duty of slaying
him, and his sons and brothers and nephews, and all his house, even as
he has set himself to destroy the house of Sinjāj Kīlin.”

“Good heavens!” said the Commissioner, passing his hand feebly over
his damp brow, “do they actually suspect me of plotting to murder a
woman and child--and of putting poor North out of the way?”

“Suspect is not the word,” replied Colonel Graham, rather cruelly;
“they are absolutely convinced of it.”

“This is one of the things that have to be lived down, I suppose.
Well, the offence of our friend here seems to be a matter relating to
me personally. Will you kindly release him as a favour to me? I think
also it might be as well to let him do perpetual sentry-go in the
verandah he seems to affect so much--take up his quarters there, in
fact, and protect the baby from my machinations. And tell him that he
is welcome to use his weapons on me if he catches me there under
suspicious circumstances.”

“Are you inviting him to murder you?” demanded the Colonel.

“He doesn’t seem to need much invitation. But no amount of
protestations will disabuse him of his theory, and it would be a pity
to deprive Mrs North of such an attached servant. If you point out
that last fact to him, it may give me a few years longer to live.”

It was with deepening surprise and bewilderment that Ismail Bakhsh
heard his sentence, which was delivered in terms of considerable
pungency by Colonel Graham. Imprisonment or hard labour would have
seemed natural enough, death he had confidently expected; but what did
this release mean? The Colonel’s indignant vindication of Mr Burgrave
affected him not a whit; but that the man he had accused betrayed
neither guilt nor fear did cost him some searchings of heart.


Mabel was not far wrong in guessing that before she spoke to Fitz it
had been decided he should take part in Daffadar Sultan Jān’s
reconnaissance. Colonel Graham’s choice had fallen upon him less on
account of any merits he possessed than of his personal appearance. It
could not be said that he outshone the other men in coolness or
courage, and in knowledge of the surrounding country Winlock, at any
rate, was his equal, but the determining point in his favour was the
fact which his friends, dancing with rage the while, were forced to
acknowledge, that he made up detestably well as a native. From his
Irish mother he had inherited the Spanish type of colouring often
found in Connaught and Western Munster, large dark eyes, black hair,
and a skin so smooth and sallow that very little assistance from art
was needed to assimilate it to the comparatively light tint prevailing
among the frontier tribes. There were difficulties at first with
Sultan Jān, who had once saved Haycraft’s life in a border skirmish,
and had constituted himself a kind of nursing father to him ever
since. He rejected with scorn the idea of taking any but his own
particular sahib with him on his perilous journey, until it was
pointed out to him that this would almost certainly involve the death
of both. Haycraft’s fair hair, grey eyes, and sun-reddened complexion
made it impossible to disguise him satisfactorily, and the old man
yielded the point, ungraciously enough, when he had seen Fitz in
native dress.

A noted freebooter in his unregenerate days, Sultan Jān had never
found it easy to submit his own will to that of his military
superiors. Belonging to a powerful tribe across the border, he had
been the terror of the outlying British districts, until one of
General Keeling’s lieutenants induced him first to come in to a
conference, and then to join the regiment. His independent habits
operated to prevent him from rising to any higher rank than that of
daffadar, but he was a power in his troop, which was now largely
composed of his nephews and cousins of many varying degrees. Haycraft
would say sometimes that he was entirely devoid of the moral sense,
and that his regard for the honour of the regiment was not wholly to
be depended upon as a substitute, but as no one knew exactly what this
condemnation implied, Haycraft’s brother-officers generally put it
down to liver. One thing was certain, that Sultan Jān’s faithfulness
to his salt was above suspicion, since he had on occasion assisted in
inflicting punishment upon his own tribe for various raids, and there
were special reasons for anticipating his success in the adventure he
was undertaking. The scheme, indeed, had been entirely modified in
accordance with his views, since Colonel Graham’s first intention had
been that his messenger should turn southwards, and cross the desert
into the settled territory. Sultan Jān recommended a dash for Fort
Rahmat-Ullah instead, pointing out that if he and his companion chose
a dark night for their start, they might swim down the canal for a
considerable distance, supporting themselves on inflated skins. When
beyond the enemy’s farthest outposts, they could strike across the
desert to the north until they reached the mountains, with every pass
and track of which he was familiar. By certain little-known paths they
could then make their way to Rahmat-Ullah, where there would be the
chance of discovering what was going on in the outside world, as well
as of representing the hard plight of the defenders of Alibad. In
returning they might, if opportunity offered, acquaint themselves with
the enemy’s dispositions nearer home.

The hour, and even the night, appointed for the start, were kept a
profound secret from all but those immediately concerned, lest
information should in any way be conveyed to the enemy, and it was not
until a whole day had passed without a visit from Fitz, that the
dwellers in the Memsahibs’ courtyard made up their minds that he was
actually gone. Mabel, sitting in the safest of the four verandahs,
with the baby in her arms, looked up anxiously when Flora came to tell
her that Fred Haycraft admitted they were right in their surmise.

“Oh, poor Mr Anstruther!” she said. “I do hope he won’t get hurt. I
should feel so dreadfully guilty if anything happened to him.”

“You needn’t, then,” said Flora bluntly, as Mabel stopped short,
remembering that she had not intended to make public her compact with
Fitz. “His going has nothing whatever to do with you. He was chosen as
the most suitable man all round, that’s all. Fred said so.”

This was hardly to be borne. “I didn’t mean to tell you,” said Mabel,
with dignity, “but I asked him to go, that he might make inquiries
about Dick.”

“Oh!” cried Flora, suddenly enlightened; “then Fred was right after
all, and you have broken off your engagement. I never would have

“I really don’t see why you should jump to a conclusion in that way.”

“Why, because you couldn’t very well be engaged to two people at

“I am not engaged to anybody,” very haughtily.

“Not to Mr Anstruther?”

“Certainly not.”

“And yet you make him run this awful risk for the sake of your
brother? Oh, nonsense! he knows he will get his reward when he comes

“You don’t seem to understand,” coldly, “that some men are willing to
do things without hope of reward. Since I have told you so much, I may
as well say that if Mr Anstruther chooses to ask me to marry him when
he comes back, he will do it knowing that I shall refuse him again.”

“Again?” cried Flora. “Would you like to know what I think of you? Oh,
I’m sure you wouldn’t, but I am going to tell you. If you happened to
be plain--but no, if you were a plain woman, you wouldn’t find men to
do this sort of thing for you--if you were any one but Queen Mab,
people would say you were absolutely _mean_! It’s simply and solely
the celebrated smile that makes you able to do these horrid things,
and you presume upon it.”

“Oh, don’t, please!” entreated Mabel. “That’s Dick’s word.”

The tables were turned, and Flora became the criminal instead of the
avenger of justice. She had seized upon one of Mabel’s dearest
memories with which to taunt her, and she was silent for very shame.
It tended to deepen her remorse that Mabel betrayed no anger, only a
gentle forbearance that cut the accuser to the quick.

“You don’t understand,” she said sadly, “and I don’t know that I
understand it myself. You wouldn’t wish me to marry Fitz Anstruther if
I don’t care for him, would you? and he wouldn’t wish it either. But
could I lose a chance of saving Dick because of that? It’s not as if I
had pretended to give him any hope. I spoke perfectly plainly, and he
quite sees how it is.”

“But you must care for him a little,” broke out Flora, “when he is
willing to do such a thing for you without any reward. Oh, you do,
don’t you?”

“No,” said Mabel slowly, “I’m sure I don’t. If I did, I couldn’t have
let him go.”

“Oh yes,” cried Flora hopefully, “for Mrs North’s sake, and your
brother’s, you could give him up.”

Mabel shook her head. “I like him very much,” she said, “but I don’t
want to marry him.”

“Now that’s what I say is being mean!” cried Flora. “You get all you
want out of him, and offer him nothing in return, because he is
generous enough to work without payment. He has made himself too

“Well, I am very sorry, but I don’t see how I can help it. If I want
things done, and he is willing to do them on my conditions, would you
have me refuse?”

“Did your Browning studies with the Commissioner ever take you as far
as the story of the lady and the glove?” asked Flora suddenly. “The
knight fetched her glove out of the lions’ den, you know, and then
threw it in her face. Mr Anstruther would never do anything so rude,
but I should really love to advise him to try how you would feel
towards him after a little wholesome neglect.”

“Mr Anstruther is a gentleman,” said Mabel, growing red.

“And you trade upon that too! Oh, Mab, you don’t deserve to have a
nice man in love with you. It would serve you right if a William the
Conqueror sort of person came, and urged his suit with a horsewhip.”

“You are so absurd, Flora. I do wish you wouldn’t bother. I don’t want
to marry any one, if you would only believe it. I’m quite satisfied as
I am,” and Mabel rose with a flushed face, and carried the baby

That day and the next passed without any news of the adventurers, but
on the second night after their departure the sentries on the south
rampart were startled by a hail which seemed to come from the canal.
The moon had long set, and nothing could be distinguished in the misty
darkness, but again the cry came, weak and quavering, as if uttered by
a man all but exhausted. The listening sowars grew pale, and whispered
fearfully that the murdered irrigation officer, Western, whose body
had been thrown by the enemy into the canal at the beginning of the
siege, was claiming the funeral rites of which he had been deprived.
The whisper soon reached the ears of Woodworth, who was on duty, and
rating the men heartily for their superstition, he went down at once
to the water-gate. Here, clinging to the poles which sustained the
canvas screen placed to protect the water-carriers, they found Fitz,
barely able to speak, supporting Sultan Jān’s head on his shoulder.
The old man, who was covered with wounds, and almost insensible, was
partially upheld by the inflated skin to which he was tied, but his
helplessness had obliged Fitz to propel the skin before him as he
swam. It was with the greatest difficulty that the many willing
helpers succeeded in bringing the two men, one almost as powerless as
the other, up the steps and in at the gate, and when they were safely
inside, both were carried at once to the hospital, and delivered over
to the care of Dr Tighe. The news of their return spread through the
fort as soon as it was light, but it was not until the evening, when
Haycraft came into the inner courtyard after a visit to the hospital,
that the ladies learned anything of the adventures they had met with.

“I haven’t seen much of Anstruther,” he said, in answer to the eager
questions which greeted him. “He was only allowed to talk for a few
minutes, and of course the Colonel had to hear all he could tell, but
I have a message for you, Miss North. He could not discover anything
to justify Mrs North in believing that the Major is still alive. The
few men to whom he ventured to put a question were positive that
neither Bahram Khan nor the Amir have any white prisoners, and he
believes they were speaking the truth.”

“Oh dear! I was so hoping--” sighed Mabel. “But of course he could not
help it.”

“Help it? Scarcely. He has done wonders as it is. I have just been
hearing all about it from Sultan Jān, who was frantic lest he should
die before he could tell his story. The doctor said it would do the
old fellow less harm to talk than to lie there fuming, so I listened
to the whole thing, and took notes, just to satisfy him.”

“Oh, do tell us what they did,” cried Mabel and Flora together.

“Well, things seem to have panned out all right just at first. They
got past the enemy’s outposts, and swam a good bit farther before they
thought it safe to take to dry land. When they had let the air out of
their skins, they hid them on the opposite bank of the canal, so as to
throw any one who found them off the scent, and swam over. They
managed to get across the desert before it was light, so that they
were not seen, but in the mountains, where they expected to find
everything easy, their troubles began. They were scouting awfully
carefully, and yet they all but dropped into a pleasant little party
of Sultan Jān’s own tribesmen.”

“But why was that a trouble?” interrupted Flora. “I should have
thought it was the best thing that could happen to them.”

“Flora is just a little bit apt to jump at conclusions,” said
Haycraft, in a stage aside to Mabel, dodging dexterously the palm-leaf
fan which Flora threw at him. “If she would just consider that Sultan
Jān’s tribe are fighting for Bahram Khan, she would see that family
relations might possibly be a little strained if they met. Well,
nearly the whole day our two fellows dodged about among the hills,
trying to find a path left unguarded, but there wasn’t one. You see,
the tribe know the locality as well as Sultan Jān does, and they have
picketed all the passes for the benefit of any traders who may come
by. So at night our men slipped down into the desert again, and struck
out for Rahmat-Ullah by that route. But the level ground was dangerous
too, owing to a few other bodies of Bahram Khan’s adherents, who don’t
dare dispute the mountain paths with the hillmen, but keep their eyes
open for anything that may come their way. After avoiding two or three
lots of them with difficulty, Sultan Jān suggested taking a short
rest in a cave that he knew of, and going on again when the moon set.
Unfortunately, the cave had also occurred to other people as a nice
place for a night’s lodging, and before they had been asleep very
long, they were waked by the arrival of a whole party of belated
travellers, some of the very fellows they had escaped just before.
Why, Miss North----”

“No, no, it’s nothing. Please go on,” said Mabel, who had shivered

“Old Sultan Jān had all his wits about him, and cried out at once
that he and his son had quarrelled with their tribe, and were coming
to Alibad to take service with Bahram Khan. The other men
cross-questioned them a good deal, but finding nothing suspicious in
their answers, agreed to take them on with them to Alibad in the
morning. Of course it was a blow not being able to go on to
Rahmat-Ullah, but they didn’t mind that so much when they found out
from their new friends that the people there are practically as much
besieged as we are. The tribes have given up attempting to rush the
place, but they hold the passes, and it’s impossible for the fellows
in the fort to force them until there’s a relieving column ready to
co-operate at the other end.”

“But what about the relieving column?” broke in Flora. “Is it never

“In the course of a few centuries, I suppose. There seems to be the
usual transport difficulty, to judge by the way the tribesmen are
chortling over the loss of time. Of course Anstruther and Sultan Jān
made good use of their ears, and learned all they could without asking
suspicious questions. In the morning they started off with their
fellow-lodgers in this direction, and I must say I don’t envy their
feelings. If they had happened to meet one of Sultan Jān’s tribe, it
would have been all up. However, the rotten discipline of Bahram
Khan’s lot stood them in good stead. It seems that the permanent
investing force here consists only of his personal hangers-on and a
detachment from the Nalapur army, which the Amir has made as small as
he dares, and would like to recall altogether. All the rest--the
tribesmen and robber bands--start off whenever they like to raid along
the frontier, just leaving representatives in the town to see how
things go, so as to make sure of not missing their share in the loot
when this place falls. There’s one good thing--they’ll have
established such a sweet reputation among the country-people that we
shan’t have much trouble in hunting them down when the rising is

“Aren’t you counting your chickens a little too soon?” asked Mabel,
with a rather strained smile. “And we are forgetting----”

“Our two fellows? So we are. I’m an awful chap for wandering away from
the point. Well, they found Bahram Khan established in the
court-house, which was in a horrible state of squalor, overlaid with a
little cheap magnificence. He received them with every appearance of
friendliness, though they were certain he suspected them. They had
nothing to go upon, for he treated them royally, and promised them
both posts in his bodyguard, but they felt sure there was something
wrong. They expected to be denounced every minute, but he was too wily
for that. Before letting them go to their quarters at night, he
informed them confidentially that he had just finished constructing a
mine reaching from General Keeling’s house to our east curtain, and
that it was to be exploded the next day. They should form part of the
storming-party, and have the honour of leading. Of course they
pretended to accept with tremendous delight, but he had got them in an
awful fix. There was just the one hope that the mine did not really
exist at all, but when they asked the rest about it, they were shown
the entrance, though they were not allowed to go down into it, because
of the explosives put ready there, the fellows said. I think myself,
and so does Runcorn, that the soil is much too light for them to be
able to dig such a length of tunnel without its falling in, and that
we must have heard them at work if they had got as near as they make
out, but of course Anstruther dared not trust to the chance. He didn’t
venture to speak to Sultan Jān, but they managed to give each other a
look which meant that they must get away and warn us. Of course that
was just what Bahram Khan had been counting upon, and they found that
their quarters for the night were in the stables belonging to the
court-house, where all their new comrades slept. There were sentries
in the yard in front, which looked as if something was expected to
happen. Anstruther and Sultan Jān had one of the stalls to
themselves, and as soon as ever the rest seemed to be asleep, they set
to work to dig through the wall with their daggers, one working, and
the other lying so as to screen him from the sentry, or any one else
who might look in. Just before they broke through, it struck them to
ask one another what was on the other side. They knew there was a lane
at the back of the stables, but would they come out into the full
moonlight or the shadow, and was there another sentry there? After
listening carefully, they settled that there, wasn’t a sentry, but
they couldn’t decide upon the moonlight, so they had to chance it.
While Sultan Jān dug away the mud bricks, Anstruther was heaping up
the straw they had been lying upon to hide the hole, and arranging
their _poshteens_ [sheepskin-lined coats] to look as if they were
still there. Happily, when they got through, they were on the dark
side of the lane. They crept out, and built up the hole again as well
as they could from the outside. It was awfully nervous work, for a
patrol might come along at any minute, but at last they were able to
be off. They wriggled along in the shadow, and Sultan Jān led the way
towards the east side of the town. Of course it was a fearful round,
but they couldn’t risk passing the enemy’s headquarters again. The
moon bothered them horribly, for they knew that until it set there was
no hope of passing the outpost at the old godowns on the bank, even if
they got to the canal safely. They reached the desert all right
through the by-lanes, and made tracks for the point at which they had
landed two nights before, but to get to it they had to pass the house
of one of the Hindu canal-officials, who seems to have been left in
possession in return for doing some sort of dirty work for Bahram
Khan. There was a dog which made a row, and the Hindu came out and
caught them. Sultan Jān wanted to kill him, but Anstruther wouldn’t
hear of it, so they asked for a night’s lodging in one of the
outbuildings, intending, of course, to slip away as soon as he was
gone to bed again. But he insisted on bringing out food, and sat up
talking to them, while they were agonising to get rid of him. And all
the time he must have sent some one to the town to give the alarm, for
suddenly he changed countenance and got confused as he talked, and
they looked at the door, and there were Bahram Khan’s men. In a moment
they were in the thick of a tremendous rough-and-tumble fight. There
was no room inside the hut to use rifles, but both sides had daggers,
and the enemy tulwars. Anstruther says he fought mostly with his
fists, and the enemy seemed to think that wasn’t fair, for pretty soon
they began to give him a wide berth. Just as he got out of the
scrimmage, Sultan Jān went down, and in falling knocked over the lamp
and put it out. The enemy devoted their attention to one another for
some little time before they saw what had happened, and then they
started to find Anstruther. He was standing up, perfectly quiet,
against the side of the hut, and he says it nearly turned his brain to
hear the fellows feeling for him in the dark, while he knew that his
only hope was not to move. They didn’t find him--actually! but they
found the Hindu instead. He had been hiding in a corner in an awful
fright, and they killed him, and having accounted for two, thought
they had done their business. They didn’t stop to mutilate the bodies,
apparently because there was a false alarm in the town just then. You
know one of our men let off his rifle by mistake last night, and we
noticed that the enemy seemed a good deal disturbed. Well, there was
Anstruther left in the hut, with what he believed to be Sultan Jān’s
dead body. And this is what the old man can’t get over--he wouldn’t
leave him to be cut up by those swine, but dragged him down to the
canal, and when he had fetched over one of the skins and blown it out,
tied him on to it, and started to swim up here. But as soon as the
cold water touched Sultan Jān’s wounds, he revived, and was able to
put one arm round Anstruther’s neck, and so make it a little easier
for him. But it was tremendous--simply tremendous, and if ever any man
deserved the V.C., Anstruther does, though of course he won’t get it,
being merely a poor wretch of a civilian.”

“Why, Mab!” cried Flora, for Mabel had risen suddenly. Her eyes were
dilated and her cheeks flushed, and she looked more beautiful than the
others had ever seen her. They almost expected her to break out into
an impassioned eulogy of Fitz’s achievement, but the sight of their
astonishment seemed to recall her to herself, and she faltered and
grew crimson.

“Oh, it’s too splendid!” she stammered. “I--I can’t bear it,” and they
heard a sob as she rushed away.

“I say!” remarked Haycraft, with meaning in his tone.

“Fred!” responded Flora, in a voice of such crushing severity that he
hastened to apologise, and to assure her that he had not meant

“Of course not. Why should you mean anything?” demanded Flora.

“Oh no, naturally. There was nothing that should make any one mean
anything,” he said lamely; whereupon, as a reward for his docility,
Flora assured him she had great hopes that everything would come
right, and when it did, he should know all about it, but that if he
went and fancied things and made trouble, she would never speak to him

“All right! Henceforth I am blind and deaf and dumb,” he declared.

“That’s right! When you can’t do anything to help, at least you
needn’t spoil things. Oh, but that reminds me, Fred. I am not blind
and deaf, you know. Is it true that Mr Beardmore is dead, as the
servants say?”

“Yes, poor chap! and it was only last night that we were chaffing him
about being seedy. He was so perfectly happy looking after the stores,
you know, and we said he couldn’t bear to think that he would soon
have to write to the Colonel, ‘Sir, I have the honour to report that
the last ounce of food has been distributed according to instructions.
Please send further orders.’ His occupation would be gone, you see.”

“Yes,” said Flora absently; “but, Fred--only last night? That’s
fearfully sudden. Was it--is it true that it was--cholera?”

“Hush!” said Haycraft, looking round apprehensively, “you mustn’t let
it get about. If it’s once suspected that cholera has broken out, we
shall have the natives dying like flies of sheer terror. And there’s
no occasion for panic. It was the poor fellow’s own fault--a case of
the ruling passion, you know. He was mad to make the stores last out
as long as possible, and there were a lot of tins that Tighe condemned
as unfit for food. Beardmore was certain they were all right, and
backed his opinion by trying one--with this result. But you see how it
is. There’s no reason for any one else to be frightened.”

“I’m glad you told me,” was Flora’s only answer, “for now I can help
to keep it from the rest.”

“You’re a trump, Flo! I’d share a secret with you as soon as with any
man I know.” And with this unromantic tribute Flora was wholly

Mabel had rushed away to her own room, and was now lying sobbing upon
her bed, with her face pressed tightly into the pillow, lest any sound
should reach Georgia’s ears through the thin partition. At this moment
even the news of the outbreak of cholera would not have disquieted
her, for she had other things to think of. It seemed to her that a
veil had been suddenly removed from her eyes, with the result that for
the first time she saw Fitz Anstruther as he really was. “That boy,”
as she had been wont to call him, with friendly, half-contemptuous
patronage, was a hero. He had gloried in making himself generally
useful to Dick and Georgia, doing anything that needed doing, and
requiring no thanks for it. Mabel herself had made a slave of him--a
willing slave, undoubtedly, for he had entered into all her whims with
a ready zest, not merely submitting to them, but furthering them. Why
was this? Not because he was fit for nothing better than humouring her
fancies, as she had been inclined to think, but because that was the
way in which he had deliberately chosen to do her homage. It was
because he loved her. Had he chosen, he could have beaten down her
defences long ago, but his love knew itself so strong that it could
afford to wait. It refused to accept defeat, but it responded to her
appeal for mercy. Mabel sprang up from her bed, and began to walk
about the room. She could not be still.

“Oh, how can he? how can he?” she demanded of herself. “To care for me
so tremendously after the way I have treated him--a man who can do
such splendid things! How can I ever meet him? I daren’t face him.
He’ll guess. I should be too dreadfully ashamed to let him know I have
changed so suddenly. It seemed to come all at once. Oh, why didn’t I
care for him a little before? why did I say those awful things to him
only the other day? why did I let even Flora see what a mean wretch I
was? She said herself that I was mean. And now they’ll all think it’s
just because he deserves the V.C. that I care for him, and it’s not.
It isn’t what he did, but what he is--but no one will believe it. He
has been quite as splendid all the time, and I never saw it; and when
he speaks to me again, he’ll think that I--I am different to him just
because he didn’t leave Sultan Jān to die. As if that signified!
It’s--it’s simply because he cares for me that I care for him.”

These considerations, though they might seem somewhat inconsistent
with one another, made Mabel sit down in despair to think the matter
out. First of all, how was she to nerve herself to meet Fitz again?
and next, how was he to be brought to perceive the delicate
distinction, that she loved him not because he had done a great thing,
but because the doing of it had revealed his real self to her?

“I know,” she said to herself at last; “I will meet him just as usual.
I think I have pride and self-respect enough left for that, and when
he speaks to me again I won’t accept him at once. I won’t refuse him
again, of course, or at any rate, not definitely. I will be kinder,
and give him a little hope. Then he will feel at liberty to try
again,” she laughed nervously; “and I can give in by degrees, so that
he will understand how it really is. Oh dear! how glad I am that he
made that condition the other day.”

For two or three days she waited impatiently, unable to carry out her
plan, for Dr Tighe announced loudly that he was keeping Fitz a
prisoner in hospital, and that he found him a perfect angel of a
patient, not fussing a bit to be out before it was safe to let him go.
Mabel received the statement with secret incredulity, judging of
Fitz’s feelings by her own, but when she did see him next, the meeting
proved grievously disappointing. On the first day of his convalescence
Mrs Hardy invited him to tea in the inner courtyard, with the special
intimation that his mission there was to cheer up the inmates, and he
did his duty nobly. The tea was very weak, and without milk, and Anand
Masih, with shamefaced reluctance, handed round a few broken
biscuits--the last that could be mustered--in his mistress’s shining
silver basket. It wounded his hospitable soul to see guests invited to
a Barmecide feast, and when Mrs Hardy alluded pleasantly to the care
he showed in keeping everything nice, he was covered with confusion.
Fitz, decorated in several places with bandages and sticking-plaster,
was the life of the party. He was particularly amusing on the subject
of the stores, which came naturally to the front, since the rations
had been reduced that day, in consequence of the deficiency caused by
the unsoundness of some of the tinned provisions, of which Haycraft
had spoken to Flora. Mabel sat listening, with an impatience that was
almost disgust, to his funny stories of sieges and the shifts to which
other besieged garrisons had been put--stories so palpably absurd that
they could not shed any additional gloom on the present situation.
Then he turned upon Rahah, who came out of Georgia’s room, followed by
her inseparable companion, the great Persian cat. She had brought the
baby for Fitz to see, with her mistress’s compliments, and was not the
Baba Sahib grown?

“I’m looking with wolfish eyes at that cat of yours, ayah,” he said,
after duly admiring the baby. “Some morning you will find it gone.”

“Then the Dipty Sahib will be found shot by Ismail Bakhsh,” said
Rahah, unmoved.

“Why, you don’t mean to say you would have me killed for trying to get
one good meal? You shouldn’t keep the creature so fat if you don’t
want it stolen, you know. What do you feed it on--rats?”

“The cat shares with me, sahib.”

“Well, that’s very noble of you, I’m sure; but it would really be
safer for the poor thing if you let it shift for itself.”

“No one will eat the cat but my Memsahib,” said Rahah severely. “When
there is no food left, it will preserve her life for two or three
days, and that is why I feed it with my own ration, sahib.”

She departed with dignity, and the rest did not dare to laugh until
she was out of hearing. Then Fitz took the lead in the conversation
again, and talked away until Dr Tighe appeared suddenly and haled him
back to the hospital. Mabel was disappointed--bitterly disappointed.
She had felt certain that he would perceive a change in her, even
while she scouted the idea of allowing him to divine the cause of it,
but he had not seemed to think of her at all. However, he imagined, no
doubt, that he was consulting her wishes by ignoring their compact
altogether, and she consoled herself with thinking that things would
be different to-morrow. But they were not. Day after day Fitz paid his
afternoon visit to the courtyard, rattled away to Flora or Mrs Hardy
or herself, and seemed to desire nothing more. She was puzzled. Could
it be that he had actually forgotten their agreement, perhaps as a
result of some injury to his brain? But no; it was evident that his
mind was as clear as ever. What was it, then? Had he determined,
during those long hours in the hospital, to crush down and root out
the love which had met with so poor a return? Had her change of
feeling come too late? Or, worst of all, had he seen her character too
clearly in that last interview--had she shown herself in such colours
of hardness and ingratitude that he had now no desire to ask his
question again? Mabel writhed under the thought. Her one consolation
was in the assurance that he had not perceived the change in her. She
would die rather than let him know that her heart had warmed towards
him as his had cooled towards her; and yet--such is the inconsistency
of human nature--she felt it would kill her to go on in this way, and
she did not wish to die just yet. Even when he was alone with her,
there was nothing loverlike in his manner, and she felt bitterly that
the tables were turned. It was she who now listened in vain for any
softening in his voice, who longed to be allowed to do things for him,
and could not, for very shame, offer her services. At first she was
piqued by his behaviour, then hurt, at last made thoroughly miserable;
but she flattered herself that she hid her trouble from the world, at
least as well as Fitz had hitherto contrived to hide his. For this
reason it was a blow to discover one day that Mrs Hardy, who had been
exclusively occupied with Georgia for some time, was now at leisure to
think of other people’s affairs. She opened her attack without the
slightest warning beforehand.

“I don’t like to see you looking so doleful, Miss North,” she said
briskly, finding Mabel sitting idle, in a somewhat disconsolate

“Why, do you think all our circumstances are so bright that I ought to
be cheerful too?” asked Mabel, roused to defend herself. Mrs Hardy
looked at her critically.

“It’s not circumstances that are wrong in your case; it’s yourself.
You needn’t try to blind me. Think of poor Mrs North. Do you ever see
her looking doleful, or hear a murmur from her? No; because she
persists in being cheerful for the child’s sake and ours. You have
spirit enough, too, to be bright before other people, but when you are
alone you drop the mask. Can you deny it?”

“At least I don’t drop the mask until I think I’m alone.” The emphasis
was marked.

“Now don’t be angry with me for having my eyes open. I only want to
see you happy. Why, child, you needn’t be afraid to confide in me; I
have lived a good deal longer than you, and seen about ten times as
much. You’re not the first person that has done a foolish thing in a
hasty moment, and been sorry for it afterwards.”

“I--I don’t know what you mean,” stammered Mabel.

“Why, dear me! what a pity it is to see two people going on at
cross-purposes like this! Can’t you bring yourself to let him know
you’re sorry? He’s a proud man, we all know that, but he won’t be
proud to you. Why, he is suffering as much as you are, and the least
word from you would bring him back.”

“It never struck me that pride had anything to do with it,” said
Mabel, surprised.

“That’s where a looker-on can see more than you do. Now, don’t you be
proud either. I suppose he made too much of his authority over you,
and you were angry and insisted on giving him back his ring----”

“His ring!” gasped Mabel.

“Well, you are not wearing it, so I presume you gave it back. Now,
just let me hint to him, in the very most delicate way in the world,
of course, that you miss that ring from your finger, and trust me, it
will be back there before another hour is over, and you and he both as
happy as----”

But, to Mrs Hardy’s astonishment and indignation, Mabel burst into a
wild peal of laughter. “Oh, you mean _that_?” she cried. “Why, that
happened centuries ago. I had forgotten all about it!”


The days dragged slowly by in the beleaguered fort. The enemy’s
extraordinary dislike of coming to close quarters, and the consequent
absence of direct attacks, tried the endurance of the garrison sorely.
It showed, no doubt, that the tribes retained a wholesome remembrance
of past hand-to-hand encounters, and were now actuated rather by a
desire for loot than by any fanatical hatred of British rule; but it
showed also that their leaders believed they had abundance of time
before them. Moreover, while Bahram Khan maintained the investment
with a cynical contempt for the relieving force which did not appear,
the numbers of the defenders were dwindling. The death-roll did not
indeed increase by leaps and bounds, as would have been the case after
a series of fierce assaults, but the relentless monotony of its daily
growth was scarcely less terrible. Disease had obtained a firm
foothold in the crowded courtyards and narrow passages, and the supply
of medicines and disinfectants was as limited as that of food had
proved to be. A sowar dropped here, a Sikh there, next two or three of
the wretched Hindu refugees, then one of the wounded in the hospital,
unable to resist the poisoned atmosphere of the place. The tiny patch
of garden--once the despair of the Club committee, because nothing but
weeds would grow in it--which had been used as a cemetery, was soon
over-full, and now silent burying-parties stole down nightly to the
water-gate, and were ferried across the canal to conduct a hasty
funeral on the opposite bank. Mabel and Flora will never forget the
night they stood on the south rampart to see Captain Leyward’s body
carried out. He had been desperately wounded when he took command of
the escort in the Akrab Pass, after Dick was struck down, and although
Dr Tighe was hopeful at first, it was not long before the case took an
unfavourable turn. In order that the enemy should not discover these
sallies of the garrison, the funeral rites were maimed indeed. There
was no question of a band or a firing-party, and as it was not
allowable even to use a lantern, Mr Hardy repeated portions of the
Burial Service from memory. The grave, which had been hastily dug as
soon as darkness came on, was made absolutely level with the
surrounding sand as soon as it had been filled up. Its bearings were
taken by compass in the hope of happier days to come, but no mark was
placed upon it, for to point out that a British officer lay there
would have been to invite the desecration of the spot. The two girls
watched the dark mass of figures melt into the blackness beyond the
embankment, and strained their eyes in vain to catch a glimpse of the
group round the grave. They could see and hear nothing until the
sudden creaking of the ferry-wires announced that the burial-party was
returning, and soon afterwards Colonel Graham came up to the rampart
and ordered them down to bed.

Mabel wondered very much what Georgia’s thoughts were at this time.
She never alluded to the wild impulse which had led her to try and
leave the fort, but she seemed to shrink into herself, and liked to be
left alone with the baby for hours. When her friends came to speak to
her, she showed an impatience that surprised them, until at last, in a
burst of contrition for the irritation she had shown, she explained
that she was listening for Dick’s voice. She could hear it sometimes
when the baby and she were alone together, but if there were other
people in the room, their voices seemed to drown it. “What did he
say?” Mabel ventured to ask, awed by her sister-in-law’s tone of
absolute conviction, and Georgia confessed, with some disappointment,
that he had not said anything particular. It was as if they were just
talking together as usual about things in general, and the
conversation would break off abruptly, as if she was waking out of a
dream. Mabel was disappointed also. If Dick could really speak to his
wife from the dead, surely he would communicate his wishes about the
boy’s bringing-up, or some subject of similar importance; but this
casual talk--what could it be but a delusion of Georgia’s troubled
brain, which could not distinguish between dreams and realities?

In the meantime, the reconnaissance which Fitz had made in company
with Sultan Jān was not entirely destitute of results. The news that
a mine was in course of construction had alarmed Colonel Graham more
than he cared to show, although the most careful investigations
possible in the circumstances went to prove that the tunnel had not at
present reached the neighbourhood of the walls. Runcorn, who took the
matter very much to heart, regarding it as a sign that he had not been
sufficiently on the alert, obtained permission to make a solitary
reconnaissance on two successive nights, and managed on the second
occasion to creep across the cleared space, and up to the very walls
of General Keeling’s house. By dint of long and careful listening,
with his ear to the ground, he satisfied himself that work was going
on briskly, but that the tunnel was not yet nearly long enough to
threaten the east curtain. After this, he held much consultation with
Fitz, and the two formulated a desperate scheme. They proposed to
creep into the enemy’s entrenchments, carrying with them a supply of
explosives, and blow up the mine before it was carried any farther,
destroying at the same time General Keeling’s house, in the compound
of which was the entrance shown to Fitz. The Colonel vetoed the plan
promptly, but its inventors were not to be discouraged, and produced a
fresh modification of it every day, until circumstances intervened
with decisive effect to prevent its execution.

On a certain night Mabel awoke with the impression that she was
passing anew through the most disagreeable experience of her voyage
out--a gale in the Bay of Biscay. She could feel the ship
trembling--it had been rolling just now--the passengers were
screaming, and the wind seemed to be howling on all sides at once.

“A mast gone!” she said to herself, with a vague recollection of
sea-stories read in youth, as she heard a fearful crash; “but the wind
howls just as if we were on land. I wonder whether I had better try to
get on deck? Why!--but how can we be on land?”

It was most confusing. She was awake now, and realised that the voyage
had ended long ago, but it seemed impossible not to believe that she
was still on board ship, for the floor was shaking when she stood upon
it, and the little square of grey darkness which marked the position
of the window was wavering about just as a porthole would naturally do
in rough weather.

“Am I going mad?” Mabel demanded of herself, yielding to a sudden
lurch, and sitting down unsteadily on the side of her bed. “No, I am
actually beginning to feel sea-sick--that must be real, at any rate.
Why, it must be the mine!”--she sprang up, and threw on her
dressing-gown and a cloak over it--“and what about Georgie and the

She tried to open her door, but the handle refused to act, and she was
struggling with it frantically when she heard Mr Hardy’s voice calling
to her from outside.

“Kick, please!” she cried through the keyhole. “I can’t get it open.”

A violent blow on the lower part of the door released the handle, at
the same time that it sent Mabel staggering back into the room. In the
semi-darkness she could dimly discern the old clergyman supporting
himself by one of the pillars of the verandah, his white beard blown
hither and thither by the wind.

“Your sister and the baby!” he cried. “We must get them out. My wife
has sent me to see that they are safe.”

“What has happened?” gasped Mabel, as they made a dash side by side
for Georgia’s verandah.

“Our roof has fallen in. My wife is partly buried, but she won’t let
me do anything for her till Mrs North is safe. What’s this?”

A groan answered him, and the object over which he had stumbled proved
to be Rahah, pinned to the ground by one of the beams from the
verandah, which had struck her down and imprisoned her foot. Mr Hardy
and Mabel succeeded in releasing the foot, not, however, in response
to any appeal on Rahah’s part, for she entreated them incessantly to
go and save the doctor lady and the Baba Sahib.

“We must carry her out on her bed,” panted Mabel, as they reached
Georgia’s door, which had shut with a bang after Rahah had rushed out
to see what was the matter. Mr Hardy forced it open with an effort of
which Mabel would not have believed him capable, and they found
Georgia sitting up in bed, with the baby clasped in her arms.

“Lie down again, Mrs North, and hold the child tight,” said Mr Hardy
cheerily, and he and Mabel seized the bedstead, and succeeded in
dragging it to the door. Here, however, it stuck fast, and in the
darkness they could not see what was the matter. To add to the horror
of this detention, the ominous shaking began again, and fragments of
wood and tiles began to clatter down from the part of the verandah
which remained standing.

“Oh, what shall we do?” cried Mabel in an agony, as she pulled and
pushed, and Mr Hardy tugged and strained, without effect. “We must
leave the bed, and help her to walk.”

“No, no,” said a voice behind her, and she felt herself moved gently
aside. “Take the boy and carry him into the middle of the yard, and we
will manage this.”

She obeyed unquestioningly, and saw Fitz strike a match, which shed a
flickering light on the scene. Extinguishing the light carefully, he
called to Mr Hardy to pull the bedstead back and turn it slightly,
thus bringing it through the doorway without difficulty. They carried
it out to the spot where Mabel was standing, and Fitz raced back
immediately into the room, to return with an umbrella and all the rugs
he could lay hands upon.

“Hold it over her head. We shall have torrents of rain in a minute or
two!” he cried, as he went to the help of Mr Hardy, who was trying to
lift Rahah away from the dangerous spot where she lay.

“Are there mines all round us?” asked Mabel in bewilderment, as they
returned, just escaping the fall of another portion of the roof.

“Mines! This is an earthquake!” he called back, starting again to the
relief of Mrs Hardy, of whose uncomfortable position her husband’s
stammering and excited accents had only just made him aware.

“Where is the Baba Sahib?” cried a frantic voice, and Ismail Bakhsh
crawled up, bruised and dishevelled; “and what of my Memsahib?”

“Safe, fool!” answered Rahah contemptuously, as she sat nursing her
injured foot, “and no thanks to thee.”

“Peace, woman! Did not the verandah roof descend upon me as I sat
beneath it, and did I not lie there senseless until I came to myself
and fought my way out to help the Baba Sahib and his mother?”

“If you are able to move, Ismail Bakhsh, go and help the sahibs to dig
out the Padri’s Mem,” said Georgia faintly, cutting short the
squabble, and Ismail Bakhsh obeyed. Before very long the rescuers came
back triumphant, in company with Anand Masih, who had refused to leave
his mistress, even at her express command, and had succeeded before
help came in removing a good deal of the weight that pressed upon her.

“Well, my dear, all’s well that ends well,” said Mrs Hardy, hobbling
up and dropping stiffly on a rug beside Georgia. “Hurt? Oh, nonsense!”
in response to the anxious inquiries showered upon her; “bruised and
knocked about a little, but that’s all, and we ought to be very
thankful that it’s no worse. If those roofs hadn’t been jerry-built,
probably none of us would have escaped with our lives, but the beams
were not solid enough, as I have often said. And now the worst is
over, so we had better make ourselves as comfortable as we can here
for the rest of the night.”

But this consoling view of things proved to be premature, for even as
Mrs Hardy spoke, there came another long-drawn, moaning gust of wind,
and the ground trembled slightly, then rocked.

“Couldn’t we move to a safer place?” asked Mabel, for whom the sight
of the shaking buildings round the little courtyard had an awful
fascination. They seemed to her to be actually leaning towards her.

“There is no safer place inside the walls,” said Fitz quickly.

“Will the wall over the canal stand this?” asked Mr Hardy, in a low
voice, of Fitz, who shook his head and raised his eyebrows, just as a
stentorian voice rang out from the nearest tower.

“Come down, you fools! Don’t you see that wall will go in a minute?”

“That’s Woodworth calling down the Sikhs,” explained Fitz, with a
smile that did him credit. “If a volcano opened at their very feet,
they would stay where they were until they received orders to retire.
How will it fall?” he muttered to Mr Hardy.

“If it falls inwards, that will be the end of us,” was the calm reply
of Mrs Hardy, who had caught the words.

“Heaven is as near to Khemistan as to England,” said Mr Hardy, laying
his hand gently on Georgia’s shoulder. She had started up wildly.

“I don’t mind for myself; it’s the boy!” she cried. “Oh, won’t some
one save him? What will Dick do when he comes back and finds no one

“I would take him, Mrs North, indeed I would, if I thought there was a
better chance anywhere else,” said Fitz, to whom her agonised eyes
appealed; “but it would be much worse in the passages, or under any
roof. We are safer here than in most places.”

“May God have mercy upon us all!” said Mr Hardy solemnly, as the
ground began to rock so violently that they found it impossible to
keep their feet. Half-kneeling, half-crouching, they waited. There was
a moment of awful expectation, then a crash louder than any that had
come before. To Mabel’s eyes, the dark line of wall visible above the
roofs was slowly but surely descending upon them, and horror seemed to
freeze her blood. Without knowing it, she seized Fitz’s hand, and
clung to it desperately. It was a support to have any companionship at
that dreadful moment, but she did not trouble to ask herself why she
should suddenly feel safe, almost happy. And still the mass of wall
hung poised above them for a long, long time--at least, so it seemed,
for no appreciable interval can in reality have elapsed; but at the
same moment that it struck Mabel that the line against the sky was
becoming lower instead of higher, some one called out: “It’s falling
the other way!” There was a sound which could only be likened to the
simultaneous discharge of a whole battery of 81-ton guns, a shock
which threw them all down, and immediately the air was thick with dust
and pieces of brick and stone. When it had cleared a little they
rubbed their eyes. The line of wall was gone.

Before any one could utter a word, down came the rain in torrents, and
the baby relieved the strain of the situation by expressing his
dissatisfaction at the very top of his voice. Every one else became
conscious at once of a sense of guilt, and Ismail Bakhsh and Fitz,
jumping up, set to work to contrive a shelter for his royal highness.
Before very long, he and his mother were packed away underneath the
bed, with all the rugs and umbrellas that could be found arranged
over, under, or around them; and when he had permitted himself to be
comforted, the rest felt easier in their minds. Uncertain whether any
further shocks were likely to occur, they durst not return to their
rooms; but the matting which had been hung along the front of the
verandah was supported on sticks to form a sort of tent, and under
this they sat, wishing for the day. Fitz hurried away when he had
helped to erect the tent, saying that he might be needed elsewhere,
and Mabel was left to wonder whether his arm had really been round her
when the wall fell. He had sheltered her afterwards from the flying
fragments, that she knew, but her mind was not quite clear as to what
had happened first.

Fortunately for the dwellers in the inner court, they did not in the
least realise the full extent of the damage caused by the earthquake,
alarming though their own experiences had been. The whole south front
of the fort now lay open to the enemy, for both lines of defence had
disappeared simultaneously. Not only had the wall given way, tearing
down with it half of the south-western tower, which had been partially
undermined by the flood at the beginning of the siege, but in its fall
it had completely choked the canal as far as the south-eastern angle.
The other walls and towers, the bases of which were sound, had
resisted the shocks with wonderful tenacity, but the temporary
defences built up of stones and sand-bags, as also the shelters
erected as a protection against a cross-fire, were absolutely wrecked.
A portion of the materials used had fallen inside the fort, but the
greater part was scattered about on the cleared space round. This was
the situation at three o’clock in the morning.

“If only the enemy knew the state we are in!” said Colonel Graham,
when the extent of the disaster had been roughly estimated.

“I rather hope their own troubles are giving them enough to do, sir,”
said Beltring. “I am certain I heard an explosion in their lines just
before our wall fell, and there were screams enough for anything.”

“Let us hope they are too busy to attend to us, then. What is it,
Runcorn? I see you have something to propose.”

“May I suggest, sir, that we should set to work at once to clear out
the canal, even before repairing the walls? If the flow continues to
be stopped, we shall soon have a marsh all round us, and yet there
will be no way of getting water but by digging.”

The Colonel looked doubtful. “But surely it is impossible to move all
that mass of rubbish with the means we have?”

“Yes, sir; we can’t hope to restore the whole channel. But I think we
could clear a passage just wide enough to keep the water running, and
perhaps to check the enemy’s rush for a moment, and the current itself
will soon make it wider.”

“It’s worth thinking of. But while the canal is being cleared out we
must build a breastwork behind it, or there will be no cover against a
fire from the opposite bank; and we must restore our traverses and
sangars on the other walls and the towers. Every man in the fort must
set to work, for we can only count on two hours or so more of
darkness. See that the men are mustered by word of mouth, Woodworth.
We don’t want to force the fact of our wakefulness on the enemy.”

In a very few minutes the fort and its surroundings presented a scene
of intense activity. In the cleared space men were collecting the
stones and sand-bags dashed from the parapets, and sending them up
again by means of ropes, while beyond them were several scouts, lying
flat on the ground, and trying hard to pierce with their eyes the
darkness and the pouring rain in the direction of the enemy. At the
back of the fort Runcorn, with a number of volunteers and a large
fatigue party, was levering away huge masses of mud-brick, and digging
through heaps of broken rubbish, while behind him Colonel Graham was
superintending the construction of the work which was to replace the
vanished rampart. There was no attempt to build anything at all
answering to the curtain which had been destroyed, for weeks of labour
would be needed to clear the canal-bed of the rubbish that choked it
up; but such stones and bricks as could be found were piled together,
and backed by heaps of earth, and then the work ceased perforce for
want of material. There was no time to burrow into the muddy chaos for
suitable fragments, and the remaining masses of brickwork were too
large to be moved with the means at hand. But the pause was only a
short one. All the empty boxes in the fort were requisitioned, filled
with earth, and built into the wall, but still more were needed.
Officers rushed to their quarters, hurled their possessions on the
floor, and reappeared with portmanteaus and uniform-cases. Fitz
brought the tin boxes that had held the documents of which he was
guardian, and the refugees were forced to resign the gaily painted
wooden chests some of them had succeeded in bringing in with them.
Before very long the excitement penetrated to the Memsahibs’
courtyard, the inmates of which had now returned to their rooms.

“Georgie, let us give them our boxes!” cried Mabel.

“Yes, anything!” returned Georgia, sitting up with flushed cheeks.
“Turn all the things out, Mab. Oh, I wish I could come and help!”

“Give them that plate-box, Anand Masih,” said Mrs Hardy to the
faithful bearer, who was sitting stolidly upon the piece of property
in question, which was his own particular charge. He obeyed with a
heart-rending sigh, tying up the silver carefully in a blanket before
he surrendered the box.

“Georgie, they want more!” cried Mabel, flying back into the court.
“They are filling greatcoats with earth and tying them up by the
sleeves. What can we give them?--pillow-cases?--mattresses?”

“_Skirts_,” said Georgia, with the ardour of a sudden discovery. “They
would make beautiful sacks if they were sewn up at the hem.”

“Oh, my poor tailor-mades!” groaned Mabel; “but for my country’s
sake--” and she dashed into her own room, and reappeared with two or
three tweed skirts and a supply of needles and thread.

“Oh, really, Miss North, I haven’t asked for this sacrifice,” said
Colonel Graham, unable to restrain a smile when he found himself
solemnly presented with the results of her handiwork.

“No, but it’s made now, and Flora will bring you some of hers in a
minute. She hasn’t quite finished sewing them up. Oh, do use them
quickly, please, or I shall repent, and lose the credit of the
self-denial after all.”

“The shape is a little unusual,” said Colonel Graham, considering the
skirts gravely, “but we can certainly use the--the contribution for
strengthening the breastwork. You ladies deserve well of your country,
I am sure.”

“The women of Carthage are quite outdone,” said Mr Burgrave, who was
standing by; but at the sound of his voice Mabel fled back into the
court. Her own feelings during the past few days had taught her to
understand something of the pain she had inflicted on him, and she
could not face his eyes.

“All the scattered material collected and brought in, sir,” reported
Haycraft, who had been in command of the party at work on the cleared
space, “and I have recalled the scouts. It’s a queer thing, but the
enemy have had a mounted man patrolling between their lines and ours
the whole time. It was too dark to see him, but I heard him
distinctly. He was riding round the fort, or rather round three sides
of it, from one point on the canal to the other.”

“That encourages one to hope that they have suffered as much as we
have,” said the Colonel. “Very likely, if we only knew it, they are in
deadly fear of an attack from us; but I couldn’t venture to leave our
rear exposed while we made a sortie.”

“The water runs, sir,” said Runcorn, coming up, “and with a few poles
and some canvas I could make a shelter for the water-carriers at a
point where it’s fairly easy to get down to the edge.”

“Take them, by all means. What about the south-west tower?”

“I have tested it in every way I can, sir, and I think what’s left of
it will stand all right, but there’s no hope of patching it up at

“I foresee that this breastwork will be the burden of our lives,” said
Colonel Graham to the Commissioner, as Runcorn departed. “We shall
have to keep the guard there always under arms, and extra sentries in
the tower ruins, for the enemy could take it with a rush at any
moment, even if it didn’t topple down under their weight.”

“Yes, it strikes one that there is a certain lack of privacy about the
new arrangement as compared with the old,” said Mr Burgrave. “It is
like finding the public suddenly in possession of one’s back garden.”

“I should very much like to know what damage the enemy have sustained.
Do you care to come with me to the gateway? It ought soon to be light
enough to see.”

An exclamation broke from both men as the dawn revealed to them the
outlines of the enemy’s position. Half-way across the cleared space
extended a curious fissure, and when this was traced back, it lost
itself in a heap of ruins to the right of General Keeling’s house. The
house itself still stood, although the stone sangars on its roof were
destroyed, but the loopholed buildings which had faced it were gone.

“The mine!” was the cry that leaped to the lips of both Colonel Graham
and Mr Burgrave, and the former added, “It must have exploded
prematurely when Beltring heard the noise, but in the crash of our own
wall the rest of us did not notice it.”

“This explains the enemy’s anxiety to keep us at a distance,” said the
Commissioner. “But why employ a mounted patrol, and only one man?”

“It was simply to give an impression of watchfulness, I suppose. Can
you suggest any other explanation, Ressaldar?” and the Colonel turned
to Badullah Khan, who stood beside them.

“That was no enemy, sahib. It was Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib Bahadar.”

“Nonsense!” cried Mr Burgrave. The native officer drew himself up.

“We who knew Kīlin Sahib can judge better than the Kumpsioner Sahib
what he would do. When we have heard him riding all night between us
and the enemy, preventing them from attacking us, are we to doubt the
witness of our own ears--nay, our eyes, since certain of the sowars
swear that they beheld him?”

“I beg your pardon, Ressaldar,” said the Commissioner, with marked
politeness. “I suppose it will now be an article of faith all along
the frontier that General Keeling saved the fort last night?”

“Without doubt, sahib. Is it not the truth?”

“I must say I wish my faith was as robust as the regiment’s!” said the
Commissioner with a smile, as they turned to descend the steps.

“A white flag, sir!” reported Winlock, who was on guard at the
gateway, when they reached the ground.

“Who is carrying it?”

“A Hindu with two servants. The sowars say that it is Bahram Khan’s
_diwan_, Narayan Singh.”

“Let him come within speaking distance--no farther.”

“Perhaps I ought to say, sir, if you are thinking that he wants to see
what state we are in, that they have found that out already. A scout
on a swift camel rode along the opposite bank of the canal a few
minutes ago. He was near enough to see what we were doing, but he came
and went like the wind, before the men could take up their carbines.
Since he was gone so quickly, I did not call you.”

“I wish we could have caught him, but we can’t expect to keep them
from discovering our plight. But certainly we won’t have them spying
about under the walls. Let the Sikhs have their rifles ready, in case
of treachery.”

Before inviting Mr Burgrave to return with him to the turret, Colonel
Graham went the round of the defences, to make sure that the sentries
were all on the alert. He had in his mind more than one occasion on
which the tribes had advanced to the attack under cover of a parley,
and with the rear of the fort in its present condition he could not
neglect any precautions. The heaps of rubbish on the opposite bank of
the narrow channel which Runcorn had cleared for the water were a
cause for constant anxiety, since a small force of resolute men posted
behind them might render the new breastwork untenable, but nothing
could be done to them at present.

“I would give ten years of my life for a forty-eight hours’
armistice!” said the Colonel to Mr Burgrave, as they mounted the steps
to the loophole of the turret, below which the Hindu was waiting, his
two attendants having paused at a respectful distance.

“What message do you bring?” asked Colonel Graham, after the usual
salutations had been exchanged.

“This unworthy one brings to your lordship the words of Syad Bahram
Khan, Sword-of-the-Faith: ‘Who can stand against the will of Allah?
This night His hand has been heavy upon my army, even as upon that of
the sahibs, and many men are killed, and many also buried while yet
alive under the ruins of their quarters. Let there then be peace
between us for three days. We will continue to hold our lines from the
bridge to the godowns, but we will not cross the canal, nor come out
upon the open space; and I would have the sahibs swear also that they
will keep to their fort and the other bank of the canal, and not cross
it on either side to attack us. Then shall the dead be buried and the
injured cared for, and both sides may also repair their damaged
defences, but it is forbidden to raise any new ones. What is the
answer of the Colonel Sahib?’”

“Can’t be much doubt, can there?” said Colonel Graham to the

“I suppose not. But how coolly they talk of wasting three days! It
seems as if they thought they had a lifetime before them to spend on
this siege.”

“Well, so much the better for us--on this occasion, at any rate. When
is the armistice to begin?” he asked of Narayan Singh; “now, or
to-morrow morning?”

“At daybreak to-morrow, sahib,” was the answer, after a moment’s

“So be it,” said Colonel Graham. “Then they _have_ something on hand!”
he added to Mr Burgrave. “If Bahram Khan were all anxiety for his
wounded, as he would like us to think, of course he would want the
armistice to begin at once. But he knows we shan’t fire at his men if
they begin digging out the poor wretches now, and he would like three
clear days for some plot of his own. What can it be?”

“Perhaps he merely hopes to catch us off our guard to-day,” suggested
the Commissioner.

“But if that’s his game, no scruples of conscience would have kept him
from making use of the armistice for the purpose. No, he’s up to
something, and I should very much like to know what it is. I shall
post a lookout at the top of the north-west tower with the best
field-glass we have, to keep an eye on all that goes on in their

The Colonel’s prevision was justified early the next morning, when the
lookout announced that a small body of fully armed men, all mounted,
among whom he believed he could distinguish Bahram Khan himself, had
left the town and were proceeding towards the north-east, apparently
in the direction of Nalapur.

“I am very much afraid that bodes ill to poor old Ashraf Ali,” said
the Colonel. “I only wish we could warn him.”

“After all, sir,” said Haycraft, to whom he had spoken, “Bahram Khan
may only be off to see how the blockade of Rahmat-Ullah is going on.
It’s evident he thinks we’re stuck pretty fast here, for really, if we
had the proper number of horses, and anywhere to go to, we might take
advantage of the armistice to disappear, they have left so few men in
their lines.”

“I prefer the shelter of even our tumble-down walls to being
surrounded in the desert,” said the Colonel shortly. “And now to


There was some grumbling when it became known that only half the
garrison was to go to work on the defences at a time, the other half
remaining under arms, but Colonel Graham knew the enemy too well to
omit any precaution. He thought it most unlikely that the armistice
would be allowed to expire without an attempt to surprise the
defenders of the fort, and it was highly probable that Bahram Khan’s
departure was intended purely as a blind. Hence the sentries were
posted as usual upon walls and towers, and scouts were thrown out in
both directions along the line of the canal, so that the
working-parties might safely give their full attention to the matter
in hand. As usual, the first work to be done was the digging of
several graves, for the earthquake had found victims both in the
refugees’ quarters and in the hospital, where two of the wounded had
died of sheer terror, but when the funerals were over, the
rubbish-heaps were attacked with a will. Stones and pieces of
brickwork of manageable size were put aside to strengthen the
makeshift rampart on the inner bank, while the dust and loose earth
was carried some little distance, and spread evenly over the ground,
so as to offer no cover whatever. When this had been done, Runcorn
pressed forward the all-important work of the further clearing of the
canal, a dirty and laborious job which it would require months to
accomplish properly. As things were, the whole of the time at the
disposal of the garrison produced very little apparent effect, and it
needed unfailing tact and the constant force of example to keep the
weary labourers at work. Colonel Graham took his turn with the rest,
so that the younger men could not for very shame rebel against the
task, while Mr Burgrave, for whom active labour was out of the
question, stimulated the ardour of the native workmen by offering
rewards for the best record of work done.

To the inmates of the Memsahibs’ courtyard, the armistice brought
little change. They were allowed to cross the canal, and walk about a
little on the opposite bank, but they were forbidden to venture upon
the irrigated land by themselves, and no one was at liberty to escort
them even as far as the outlying pickets. Mabel and Flora carried the
baby across, that it might breathe the air outside prison walls for
the first time in its life, as Mabel said, and they sat upon a heap of
crumbling rubbish amidst clouds of dust and watched the men at work,
until it dawned upon them that their room was more desired than their
company, whereupon they returned to the fort, and found a seat upon
the ramparts. On ordinary occasions this was forbidden ground, but the
armistice had been faithfully observed so far, and in spite of his
misgivings Colonel Graham gave them leave to enjoy the air and sky
while they might.

“Oh dear! I feel like the naughty little boy in the spelling-book,”
sighed Mabel. “Everybody is too busy to talk to me. Isn’t it dull,
Flora? I do wish something would happen.”

“Why, what a martial spirit you are developing!” said Flora. “Do you
yearn for an attack at this moment?”

“Oh, nonsense! I don’t mean that sort of thing. I mean something

Her eyes strayed involuntarily to the spot where Fitz was at work down
below, and the thought crossed her mind that she would make him look
up at her.

“But I won’t,” she decided. “He would know I was thinking of him, and
he doesn’t deserve it.” She had only spoken to him once since the
earthquake, and then it seemed to her that his manner was almost
apologetic, as if he knew he had offended her, but was anxious to show
that she need not fear a repetition of the offence. “So I suppose he
did put his arm round me,” she reflected, “but if I wasn’t angry, why
should he behave as though I had been? If he does care for me still,
why should he be so anxious to pretend he doesn’t? Flora!” she turned
suddenly upon her friend, who was engrossed in trying to read some
meaning into the baby’s inarticulate gurglings, “have you said
anything to Mr Anstruther about our talk the other day? about
wholesome neglect, I mean?”

“I?” asked Flora, looking up quickly, “to him, about you? Mab! as if I
would ever give away another girl to any man in the world! Of course
not. You ought to know me better than that.”

“I didn’t really think you had,” said Mabel lamely. “It was only--”
she stopped, for the thought in her mind was that she wished there had
been some such explanation of Fitz’s silence, since in that case she
could at least have felt sure that he had not changed his mind.

It was the evening of the third day of the armistice, and as the sun
began to set, the tired labourers in what was pleasantly called the
“back garden” were able to look with pride upon the result of their
toil. It is true that all were not satisfied with it, for the
inexorable Runcorn, finding the work he had mapped out actually
accomplished, was anxious to make further improvements. Since,
however, the erection of sangars on the roof of Mabel’s room and of
the hospital had rendered it possible to bring a converging fire to
bear on all parts of the temporary breastwork, the Colonel considered
any more tampering with the canal-banks unadvisable, and work was
declared to be at an end. The sowars and other natives had already
been marched back into the fort, but the white men lingered for a few
minutes’ idleness in the fresh air. Runcorn was still urging his point
on the rest, who were lounging in various attitudes of ease on the
bank, when a shot was fired overhead.

“What’s up?” shouted Woodworth.

“There’s a fellow on Gun Hill,” answered Winlock’s voice from the
ruined tower. “He seemed to be displaying a good deal of interest in
our arrangements, so I sent a gentle reminder pretty near him.”

“Don’t you go breaking armistices, or we shall get into trouble,” Fitz
called out, and the subject dropped, but presently a hail from the
farthest scout in the direction of the bridge brought every man to his

“He’s stopped some one--only one man--perhaps it’s a messenger!” cried
Beltring. “Take your guns, you idiots! it may be a trap,” as the rest
started off at a run. “Bring him with you, and retire on the next
man,” he shouted to the Sikh, who obeyed, keeping his bayonet pointed
at the stranger’s breast.

“What is it?” inquired the white men breathlessly, as they ran up, to
find the two stolid Sikhs guarding a feeble figure in native dress.

“Don’t fire,” said the new-comer in English. “Don’t fire!”

“No, no, they won’t,” said Woodworth impatiently. “Who are you?”

“Don’t f--” began the stranger again, then looked round helplessly. “I
can’t--I can’t--” he faltered, then threw off his turban with a hasty
movement of the hand. “Don’t you--any of you----?” he murmured.

“Are you English?” demanded Woodworth, with considerable misgiving, as
he took in the details of the man’s appearance--the unkempt hair, the
scanty grey beard, the lack-lustre eyes, and the bony face, with the
lips trembling pitifully.

“Not one of you?” went on the stranger, recovering himself a little.

“I do! I do!” cried Fitz, with a mighty shout. “You fellows, are you
blind? It’s the Major!”

“The Major? Impossible!” was the cry, as Fitz wrung the new-comer’s
hand with painful warmth. The idea seemed absurd, but gradually
conviction grew upon the rest, and they stood round in awkward
silence. Dick’s eyes sought their faces one by one.

“What is it?” he asked, turning anxiously back to Fitz. “Will no one
tell me? Is--is--how is----?”

“As well as possible,” cried Fitz joyously. “Never given you up for an
hour, Major. And the _baba_ is a boy, the pride of the whole place.”

“Thank God!” said Dick fervently, and at the words the last remnants
of the distrust with which the rest had regarded him melted away.

“Forgive us, Major. We’ve thought of you so long as dead that we
couldn’t believe our eyes,” said Woodworth. “Have you been a prisoner
all this time, after all?”

“North, my dear fellow!” Colonel Graham broke into the group and
seized Dick’s hand. “Thank God you’re alive! This will be new life to
Mrs North. But look here, we mustn’t let her see you like this. The
fright would undo any good she might get.”

“I suppose I am rather a scarecrow,” said Dick slowly. He spoke with a
curious hesitation, as though the words he wished to use would not
come to his lips. “But I have been at death’s door until very lately,
and now I have had no food for three days.”

“Woodworth,” said Colonel Graham, “post a sentry before the door of
the ladies’ courtyard, and don’t let any one go in to carry the news.
Happily they are none of them on the walls this evening. Now, North,
for your wife’s sake, to save her an awful shock, you’ll come to my
quarters and have a bath and a shave and something to eat, and get
into some of my clothes. You’ll be a different man then. Can you

“I have walked a good deal yesterday and to-day, but I can do a little
more,” said Dick, accepting gratefully the arm which was offered him.

“Close round, and let us smuggle him in,” said Colonel Graham to the
rest. “We don’t want the men to hear the news before Mrs North. Let
them think it’s a messenger who has got through in disguise.”

The other men waited outside the Colonel’s quarters until, after the
lapse of a miraculously short space of time, Dick came out again. They
raised a subdued cheer when they saw him, for once more in uniform, he
looked his old self. The feebleness was gone from his gait, and he
held himself erect again. His hair and moustache, though greyer than
before, had resumed their usual aspect, and the straggling beard was
gone, so that but for the excessive thinness, which made the clothes
hang loosely about him, he seemed little changed. The rest pressed
forward to shake hands with him.

“We were a set of fools not to know you, Major,” said Beltring, “but
at the moment I hadn’t a doubt you were a spy.”

“Well,” said Dick, as the others laughed shamefacedly, “that didn’t
matter; but when you all stood and looked at me without speaking, I
made certain something frightful had happened. See you all afterwards;
I can’t wait now.”

He passed on into the inner courtyard, where Mabel and Flora were
sitting talking in the verandah. Both sprang up as his shadow came
between them and the sunset.

“Dick!” shrieked Mabel. “Then Georgie was right after all! But don’t
stay here.” She was dragging him in the direction of Georgia’s room.
“I daren’t keep you from her a moment.”

Forgetful of everything but the unconquerable faith which was
justified at last, she would not detain him even to greet him herself,
but he drew back on the threshold.

“Oughtn’t you to break it to her? The shock might be too great.”

“The shock? She’s expecting you, has been for weeks!” cried Mabel
hysterically. “Oh, Dick, I could die of joy!”

“Mab,” came in Georgia’s tones through the half-closed door, “I hear
Dick’s voice. Bring him in--bring him in.”

“Oh, go on. She mustn’t get up; it’ll hurt her,” cried Mabel, pushing
the door open.

“Georgie, if you get up,” cried Dick, charging into the room,
“I’ll--Oh, Georgie, Georgie!” He fell on his knees by the bed, and
there was a long silence, interrupted only by broken words and sobs.
As for Mabel, she banged the door, and rushed away to cry somewhere in

“My poor dear boy!” said Georgia at last, her voice still trembling,
as she passed her hand over Dick’s forehead, “you have wanted me very
much, haven’t you?”

“Your boy is a very old boy, I’m afraid--quite grey-haired now,
Georgie. Wanted you? of course I have--words can’t express how much.”

“I know. And you called to me one whole day and night, didn’t you?”

“Why, yes, I suppose so. But how did you know?”

“I heard you. I tried to get to you, Dick, but they wouldn’t let me.”

“It’s a mercy they didn’t. Oh, Georgie, you blessed woman, what it is
to see you again!”

“And--?” cried Georgia. “Oh, you’ve forgotten--I’ve forgotten! Look
here, Dick. You have never even thought of him. Take him up, and hold
him in your arms.”

“Don’t you think it’s happier as it is?” inquired Dick, poking the
baby gingerly with a tentative finger.

“_It_? It’s your son, Dick. Take him up at once. I want to see you
together. Now, isn’t he splendid?”

“Little beggar’s not a scrap like you,” grumbled Dick.

“No,” said Georgia, with entire satisfaction; “every one says he’s the
image of you.”

“Oh no; not really?” protested Dick in dismay.

“Why not? He’s a beautiful baby. Look what lovely eyes he has. And see
how good he is; _mens aequa in arduis_ ought to be his motto, I always

“Oh, very well; if he feels it a hardship for me to hold him, I quite
agree,” and the baby was returned with elaborate gentleness to the
basket which served as a cradle.

“Dick, aren’t you pleased? Don’t you really like him?” Georgia’s eyes
were full of tears.

“_Like_ him? My dear girl, in a day or two I shall be prouder of him
than you are. But you see, it’s you I’ve been thinking of all this
time, and I can’t think of anything else yet. I want to sit by you and
look at you and hold your hand for hours and hours, and think of
nothing but that I’ve got you again.”

“I won’t accept compliments at my baby’s expense,” laughed Georgia
through her tears.

“Ah, he’s quite taken my place, I see. Now, old girl, I’m only joking.
There!” Dick lifted the baby again, and laid it carefully in Georgia’s
arms; “you hold him, and let me look at you both.”

Mabel, in the meantime, was sobbing in a corner of the verandah. Her
tears were purely tears of joy, but her attitude, as she sat crouched
on the floor (for the boxes which had once served as seats were now a
portion of the breastwork), was desolate enough to melt the heart of
any sympathetic spectator. So, at least, it seemed to Fitz, who came
hurrying through the passage, and pulled up, in astonishment and
alarm, just in time to avoid stumbling over her.

“What is it, Miss North? Anything wrong?” he asked anxiously.

“Oh no; it’s only--that I’m so--happy,” said Mabel, between her sobs.
“I came here to be out of the way,” she added, rising with all the
dignity she could muster, and shaking the dust from her skirts, “but
it seems impossible to find a place where one can be by oneself.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon. Please don’t let me interrupt you. I only came
to ask when the Major would like to see the men. They are wild to
welcome him back. If you will just ask him, I’ll go away directly.”

“I won’t disturb him and Georgia now,” said Mabel. “If the men come in
an hour’s time, I’ll tell him before that, and he will be ready to see

“Oh, thanks.” He turned to go, then hesitated a moment, and came back.
“I want just to say one thing, Miss North--about that promise you gave

“Oh, don’t!” cried Mabel hysterically. “You haven’t treated me fairly
about it. It’s cruel to keep such a thing hanging over me, so that I
am in terror whenever I see you.”

“Why, what a low brute you must have thought me! But really I didn’t
mean to be such an out-and-out cad as all that. I thought you knew me
better--and I did try to show you what I meant. You couldn’t imagine
that I would hold you to a promise which I practically forced you to

“Oh!” said Mabel. An unprejudiced listener would have said that she
had not only expected but desired to be held to her promise. But Fitz
was not unprejudiced, and he went on earnestly.

“This is how it was. I told you I should go on hoping, you know (and I
do still, for the matter of that). And I had a sort of idea that you
might be changing your mind just a little--of course it was awful
cheek on my part--and I thought I’d put it to the test. So I asked you
for that promise, just to see how you’d take it. But when I saw how
you felt about it, I never thought of going any further. Didn’t you
understand, really? I thought I must have made it clear that I was
quite content to be your friend until you could give me more--of your
own free will. Oh, you must have seen.”

Mabel’s heart felt like lead, but she made a gallant effort to appear
indifferent. “Of course I saw that you avoided me----” she began.

“Oh no--it has been you who avoided me,” protested Fitz.

“Oh, well, it’s very much the same,” wearily. “And I am sorry to say I
misjudged you. I thought you were trying to make me feel that you had
a hold over me. I must apologise for that. Then you give me back my
promise?” she added suddenly.

“Not at all. I am keeping it for another time.”

“But that’s a trick. You are just as bad as I thought.”

“You must really imagine that I have a perfect mania for being
refused. I have told you that I believe you’ll have me yet, and that I
shall go on hoping until you do. Don’t you see that I’m keeping your
promise in store solely out of consideration for you--to save you from
the very unpleasant necessity of letting me know when you do make up
your mind?”

“I believe--you are laughing at me!” said Mabel, in wounded and
incredulous amazement.

“Laughing--I? Not a bit of it. Look at me and see. I am serious, if
you are not. Well, you see, I have only got back the freedom of which
I deprived myself at first. Say it was by a trick, if you like--though
I didn’t intend it so--but I don’t think you need be afraid of the way
I shall use it. I shan’t waste the promise, I assure you. Until the
right time comes, I am nothing but your friend, and the promise is
exactly as if it didn’t exist.”

“But,” protested Mabel, “you seem to expect me to--to----”

“Haven’t I just said that I want to save you from anything of the
kind? You see, it’s not as if I had any number of opportunities to
waste. I have only the one, and I don’t mean to use it until I can lay
it out to good advantage.”

“Well,” said Mabel desperately, “I think you are most ungenerous. You
want me to feel myself entirely dependent upon your forbearance--and
you call yourself a gentleman!”

“Miss North, do you wish me to give you back your promise?”

“Yes, of course. Why not?”

“Because, if I do, you will naturally feel bound in honour to give me
a hint when your feelings change. You couldn’t intend us both to go on
in misery because my mouth was shut and you wouldn’t speak?”

“You seem to put me in the wrong at every turn,” sobbed Mabel. “Oh, I
wish you would go away!” and he went.

Now, at least, Mabel ought to have been happy. But she was not. After
assuring herself several times over that she hated Fitz, she proceeded
to give the lie promptly to her assurances, while looking the
situation in the face.

“He _will_ make it depend on me,” she lamented to herself, “and it’s
simple cowardice on his part, because he thinks I should refuse him
again. Well, I know I said I should, but I meant to give him a little
hope. As it is, I don’t like him to be so masterful, and I won’t give
in. He has managed to get a horrible hold over me, but I will not let
him see it. I won’t give in. Oh dear, why can’t he ask me properly?
why can’t something happen to put things right? If he knew how I cared
for him, I wonder whether he would say anything? But I am glad he
doesn’t guess; yes, I--am--glad. If I let him see it, he would think
he could ride roughshod over me ever after. No, he wouldn’t, he’s too
generous, but I should hate his being generous at my expense. I
suppose I don’t care for him enough, or I should be glad to give in.
So it’s better as it is.”

She dried her eyes with great determination, whereupon another thought
came immediately to fill them again with tears.

“What shall I do to-morrow morning? Each day I have thought, ‘Perhaps
he will speak to-day!’ and now I know he won’t, unless I let him see
in some way--but I won’t! I won’t! I won’t! What an idiot I am! I feel
like the foolish woman who plucks down her house with her own hands.
Oh, why has Georgie got everything and I nothing? But I have, of
course. I have got Dick back again just as much as she has, and I
suppose I don’t deserve anything more. But I don’t know why this
particularly horrible thing should happen to me. It’s not as if I had
ever led any one on--except poor Eustace. I did really flirt with him
at first, so I suppose this is my punishment. If he knew he would say
it was only just. But the rest--why, Captain Winlock or Mr Beltring or
Captain Woodworth would propose to-morrow if I held up my little
finger. I could have any of them I liked--except the right one. It
would serve him right if I flirted with one of them now, and made him
jealous--” she grew suddenly cheerful, for the idea pleased her. “I
should like to make him miserable a little, after the way he has
treated me, and I could do it so splendidly. But I suppose he was
rather miserable when I was engaged to Eustace, and it would be
distinctly hard on the other man. I never thought I was such a
wretch,” with a repentant sigh, “but it was a temptation for the
moment. And to think that I should be going on in this way when I
ought to remember nothing but that Dick’s alive! I’m a perfect beast,
and I _will_ be glad. I’ll try and think only of Georgie, and perhaps
I shan’t feel quite so miserable then. Oh dear, I wish there was some
way of letting people know you were sorry without giving in!”

No such paradox offered itself, however, and suddenly remembering her
duty, Mabel went to give Dick the message Fitz had brought from the
men. A short time afterwards they filed into the courtyard, first the
half who were off duty, and then those from the walls, who came as
soon as they were relieved. On all of them Dick impressed his absolute
command that the enemy should not be in any way informed of his
return. The men were disappointed, for they had looked forward to
publishing the tidings in one of those contests of scurrility in which
they engaged at every opportunity, sometimes with the invisible
defenders of General Keeling’s house, and sometimes with the rash
spirits who crept up under the ramparts at night, risking their lives
for the sole delight of taunting the garrison. But Dick’s word was
law, and the Ressaldars assured him that nothing should leak out to
give the enemy an inkling of what had happened. When they had retired,
and the guards had been set for the night, a festal gathering took
place in the inner courtyard. Georgia was carried into the verandah,
and Mr and Mrs Hardy and Mabel and Flora brought out all the seats
they could muster, and placed them round her couch; Colonel Graham,
the doctor, and Fitz came in, and Dick related his adventures.

“There really is awfully little to tell,” he said, “because, you see,
I was knocked silly at once, and I can only remember one moment in a
whole long time. I suppose it was the evening of the fight in the
Pass. I was being carried along by a lot of native women--at least,
that is how I interpret the thing now, but at the moment I couldn’t
tell what to make of it. It might have been rather weird if I had had
time to think of that, but no sooner had I opened my eyes than the
woman who was holding my feet saw that I was looking at her. She
screamed and let me drop--that she might put on her veil, I
suppose--but that finished me for the moment. I don’t remember
anything more until I found myself in a cave, with an old _fakir_
sitting a little way off, absorbed in meditation. I was too weak to
talk, and I seem to have had visions of the cave and the old man, off
and on, for hundreds of years. At last, when I had been sensible
rather longer than usual, I managed to get out sufficient voice to ask
him where I was. He told me I was in his cave, which was not much
information, but I couldn’t think of anything else to ask him at the
time. The next day I asked him how I had got there, and he said the
Hasrat Ali Begum had sent and asked him to take care of me, and I had
been let down into the cave by ropes from above. He evidently believed
in letting his patients severely alone, for he pursued his meditations
assiduously except when I worried him with my impertinent questions. I
couldn’t think how I came to be there, and I hammered at him until he
let out the truth. I daresay he was wiser not to tell me before, for
as soon as the whole thing flashed upon me, I was mad to get away. You
see, the old chap was so very holy that he had no disciples and never
went out into the world, and even his food was brought to an appointed
place by his admirers, and left there for him to fetch. He knew about
the fight in the Pass, but he couldn’t say whether any of the escort
had escaped, or whether this place had been taken by surprise and
everybody wiped out. You may imagine the state I was in, and the
threats and prayers and promises I lavished upon the old man, until he
was at his wits’ end to know what to do with me. He preached me a long
sermon one day upon patience and resignation, pointing out, first,
that I must not think he bore me ill-will--quite the contrary, since I
had saved him from being hung for murder in a very hard-sworn case
when I first came here; second, that if he departed from his usual
custom so far as to go out and ask the news, suspicion would
immediately be excited, and I should be done for; third, that it was
not he that was keeping me there, but the wounds I had got, which
prevented me from moving.”

“I should think so!” cried Dr Tighe, unable to keep silence longer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the patient before you was as good as dead,
ought by rights to be dead now, yet there he sits and talks. Will you
think of it, Mrs North? This husband of yours has had a bullet
actually through his heart. He’s a living miracle. The difference of
the minutest fraction of an inch of space, the minutest fraction of a
second of time, would have meant that you would be a widow at this
moment. How it is you are not, I cannot explain--I tell you frankly.
Though it may seem to the vulgar mind to reflect upon our common
profession, I imagine that being let absolutely alone may have had
something to do with it, but I can’t tell. Be thankful that you’ve got
him back, and take good care of him in future.”

“I will; I will, indeed,” said Georgia fervently, squeezing Dick’s

“I regard you with an evil eye, Major, I don’t deny it,” went on the
doctor. “You’re a living falsification of every canon of surgery. You
had no business to survive that wound, much less to live through the
absence of treatment you met with. It’s a slap in Mrs North’s face, I
call it, to say nothing of mine. But let us hear some more of your
reprehensible proceedings.”

“Well,” said Dick, “I remember that sermon very well, because I was
panting the whole time to get away. I thought that some day, when old
Faiz-Ullah was saying his prayers, I might crawl past him, and slip
out. I did manage to crawl to the entrance, though I thought I should
have died in doing it, but when I got there I found only a precipice
in front. At the side was a rope-ladder by which my elderly friend was
accustomed to get to the spot where his food was left, but of course I
could as soon have flown as climbed it. I simply lay there like a log,
until the old fellow happened to miss me, and came to look. I must
have got a touch of fever or sunstroke, for I had awful nightmares
after that--oh, horrors and tortures beyond conception! Faiz-Ullah
must have been frightened, for at last he made me understand that he
had seen the Begum’s servant, and she was going to try and bring my
wife to cure me. That set me off on a new tack. The horrors went on
just the same, but Georgia was always there, on the other side of a
gulf, and I couldn’t get at her. She knows how much I wanted her”--he
stole a glance at Georgia, down whose face the tears were
streaming--“but I don’t think any one else can ever guess how bad it
was. Well, she didn’t come, as you know, but the old woman who had
tried to fetch her sent me a message, which I suppose she took the
trouble to invent, just to satisfy me. If I insisted upon it, Georgia
would come, she said, but to reach me she must run the gantlet of so
many dangers that it was scarcely possible she could get through. Was
she to come? I’m thankful to remember that I had strength of mind
enough to say she wasn’t to think of it. Of course she couldn’t get
the message, but a man doesn’t like to feel----”

“Oh, Dick, as if I should have thought of the danger!” murmured

“We know you didn’t, Mrs North,” said Colonel Graham, “and that’s why
I agree with North that it’s a good thing he left off calling you.”

“I don’t know why,” said Dick, “but after that I was happier, somehow.
I used to have the idea that Georgia was there, and we held long
conversations”--Georgia’s eyes met Mabel’s significantly--“and so I
grew better. Of course I was wild to get away, but there was always
that rope-ladder, and the very thought of it turned me sick. Old
Faiz-Ullah promised faithfully that in a few days he would help me up
it, and escort me through the mountains to this place, so that I might
get in if I could, and three nights ago he went to meet the Begum’s
servant when she brought the food, intending to ask if they could find
me a pony. But that night there was the worst earthquake I have ever
felt”--the rest exchanged glances--“and he never came back. The noise
was fearful, and as shock after shock came, I never for a moment
expected to live through it. But the cave was not damaged, and when I
crawled out in the morning, the rope-ladder was still there. I waited
for the old man, but he did not come, and there was no food left. At
last I decided that something must have happened to him, and I
determined to make the attempt sooner than starve to death. I don’t
know how long I hung between heaven and earth on that awful ladder,
but I got to the top at last, and followed Faiz-Ullah’s track. Before
very long I found him, poor old fellow! crushed under a fallen rock,
quite dead. I hunted about for some stones that I could lift to put
over him, to keep off the leopards, and then I started. If any food
had been brought the night before, it was buried under the rock with
him, so I had no time to lose. I knew roughly where I was, and I set
my course as best I could by the sun. I went from hiding-place to
hiding-place, sometimes crawling, and sometimes able to walk. I dared
not rest long anywhere, for I knew I should starve even if the enemy
didn’t find me. I got across the Akrab Pass almost by a miracle.
Bahram Khan was holding a _jirgah_ with the tribesmen, and they had no
scouts out except in the direction of Nalapur. After taking a good
look at them, I crept round below and got through. And after that I
went on somehow, I don’t remember how, and at last I worked round by
our house, and into the hills where the canal comes from, and got
across on a landslip, where the water was shallow, and here I am.”

“When you ought to be in bed,” said Dr Tighe. “You don’t deserve it,
after your outrageous behaviour in defying the profession, but I’d
like to overhaul you, and see if nature hasn’t left any little
crevices that art may manage to patch up.”

“Art must go to work quickly, then,” said Dick. “I want to get hold of
the tribes before Bahram Khan comes back.”

“That will be to-morrow morning, when the armistice ends,” said
Colonel Graham. “No, we have got you again now, North, and you won’t
start out on any fools’ errands just yet, let me tell you.”


“Ah!” said Colonel Graham sharply. “So that is the little dodge, is

He and Dick were standing in one of the gateway turrets as the day
broke, and it was the sight of a long column of men marching into the
town from the north-east that had called forth the exclamation.

“Look behind you!” said Dick laconically. A second force was moving
along the south bank of the canal in the direction of the fort.

“Nice use to make of an armistice!” said the Colonel.

“Well, you didn’t expect anything else, did you? You see they have got
us between two fires? That means a simultaneous attack on the gateway
and the breastwork, at any rate, if not on all four sides at once. We
have no time to lose.”

“Have you any suggestions to offer?” The Colonel spoke with the
calmness of despair, and Dick glanced at him in surprise.

“Of course you know our possibilities better than I do, but I should
certainly occupy Gun Hill, so as both to cover our west face, and
enable us to deliver a flank attack on the fellows on the opposite
bank if they come any nearer.”

“We have no guns, unfortunately, as you know, and worse than that, we
have not men enough to send out a detachment to the hill and hold the
place at the same time. Look there!” he handed Dick his field-glass.
“The buildings facing us are packed with men ready to advance in
response to any movement on our part.”

“I see. But at any rate we can line the earthwork and the roofs and
our bank of the canal with sharpshooters, and keep the enemy at a
distance on the south face?”

“No doubt we could, but for one thing. Do you recollect that we have
now been besieged over a month? What is the natural corollary?”

“That the ammunition is running out?”

“Exactly. There is so little left for the rifles that I have forbidden
it to be used except for picking off any specially troublesome
snipers. We are slightly better off as regards the carbines, but a
single day of hard fighting would leave us with nothing but cold

“Good heavens!” said Dick, beginning to pace backwards and forwards in
the narrow limits of the turret; “and with the men they are bringing
up now they can overwhelm us by sheer weight of numbers. You see it’s
the Nalapur army that is marching in? No doubt Bahram Khan was on his
way to fetch it when I saw him in the Pass. Now, either the Amir has
been got rid of, or he has decided to throw in his lot with his
precious nephew. If he’s dead, it’s all up, but if not, there’s just a
chance. You said he seemed to turn reckless when he thought he had
done for me; well, I may be able to sober him down again.”

“You are not thinking of venturing into their camp?”

“Scarcely, since Bahram Khan would very soon repair his unfortunate
omission if I did. But if he doesn’t propose a parley, you must, and
insist on the Amir’s taking part in it. Then I will show myself
suddenly, and see whether there’s any hope of working upon the old
man’s feelings.”

All morning the garrison watched in gloomy helplessness the assembling
of the force which was to crush them. When Bahram Khan’s
reinforcements had taken up their positions, the fort was practically
surrounded. On the north-west, and extending under cover of the trees
to the reconstructed bridge, were the tents of the tribes, now once
more fully occupied, and humming like a hive of bees. Clearly, the
news had gone out that victory was at hand. On the north and east was
the town, now held by a strong contingent of Nalapuris, in addition to
Bahram Khan’s original force, and on the south the main body of the
Nalapur army in a roughly fortified camp. Famine and pestilence had
proved too slow in their work, and the final arbitrament was to be
sharp and short.

In the course of the afternoon a white flag was hoisted on General
Keeling’s house, and when the garrison had replied to it, Bahram Khan
rode out on the cleared space, surrounded by his own guard and the
Nalapuri officers. Colonel Graham and Mr Burgrave faced him at the
loophole of the turret, Dick lurking in the shadows behind them, and
received what was announced as a final offer of terms. Stripped of the
verbiage in which it was enwrapped, this was simply a demand for
unconditional surrender. Bahram Khan would do his best to save the
lives of the garrison, but the fury of the Amir was so great that he
could not guarantee even that, and every shred of public and personal
property was to be relinquished. Colonel Graham returned a prompt
refusal. To propose a surrender was preposterous, unless the besiegers
were prepared to guarantee the lives of all in the fort. Upon this
Bahram Khan sent a messenger back into his own lines, ostensibly to
consult the wishes of the Amir, and when he returned, announced
joyfully that the stipulation was accepted. The instant and obvious
retort was that the Amir must show himself in person, and swear to
observe the conditions, if the thought of capitulation was to be
entertained; but to this Bahram Khan demurred for a long time,
displaying a singular fertility of excuse. The Amir was ill, he was
resting, he had sworn not to exchange another word with an Englishman
who was not his prisoner, he was in such a frenzied state that to
insist upon his appearance would probably goad him to order a general
massacre forthwith. Colonel Graham pointed out politely that since the
besieged were still under the protection of their own walls and
weapons, there was no immediate fear of such a contingency, and at
last Bahram Khan himself withdrew into the town, in order, as he
explained, to lavish all his entreaties upon his uncle, and persuade
him to appear.

Presently a state palanquin was seen approaching, borne by sixteen
men, who carried it out upon the cleared space, and set it down.

“What’s this?” murmured Dick. “Ashraf Ali in a _palki_? I’ve never
seen him in one in my life.”

Bahram Khan, who had ridden in advance of the palanquin, now
dismounted, and approaching it with extreme deference, raised the
heavy gold-embroidered curtain at the side. Those in the turret
strained their eyes to pierce the dimness within, and made out with
some difficulty the figure of the white-bearded ruler, sitting
motionless, as though absorbed in meditation.

“He’s stupefied!” came in a fierce whisper from Dick. “They’ve given
him opium or something of the sort.”

Colonel Graham addressed the Amir politely, but no answer was
vouchsafed. It was Bahram Khan who replied for him, in the silkiest of

“The Amir Sahib refuses to look upon the sahibs, or to listen to their
words, until they have surrendered to him.”

“Oh, does he?” said Dick, and he stepped forward between Colonel
Graham and the Commissioner, and showed himself at the loophole.

“Amir Sahib, do you know my voice?” he cried.

An electric shock seemed to pass through the inanimate form in the
palanquin. “Is that the voice of Nāth Sahib?” was asked, in high,
quavering tones. “Then can this most unhappy one die in peace.”

“Do you guarantee our safety, Amir Sahib?” asked Dick.

“Trust them not,” came back the answer. “See how they treat me!” and
the old man rose as though to step out of the palanquin. There were
chains on his wrists and ankles. The next moment Bahram Khan and his
followers, recovering from their surprise, had thrown themselves upon
him and forced him back, and the palanquin was immediately carried

“Well, after this, I think even Bahram Khan must feel that the
capitulation idea has been knocked on the head,” said Dick. “Now
everything depends on whether they attack us at once.”

“Isn’t that a rather obvious remark?” asked Mr Burgrave dryly.

“Ah, you don’t see my point,” said Dick, without taking offence. “I
think Colonel Graham will agree with me that since Bahram Khan has
thrown off the mask, and made himself master of Nalapur, it shows he
is determined to crush us at once. Evidently the relieving column is
on its way, or famine might have been left to do the work.”

“I see what you mean,” said Colonel Graham. “If he attacks at once, it
means that relief is close at hand, but if he gives his men a night’s
rest, the column is still far enough off for him to take things

“That’s it. Well, since he’s so bent on putting the blame on his
uncle, it’s clear that he means to come the injured innocent over our
men when they get up. We here know too much now to be allowed to
escape, but the order for massacring us must be given by the Amir, who
will be murdered by his virtuously indignant nephew as soon as it has
been carried out. We are safe just so long as we can hold out, and the
Amir is safe while we are. That’s the situation. Now if we are left in
peace for to-night, I mean to get through and hurry up the relieving

“I thought so,” said the Colonel, “and I mean you to do nothing of the
kind. Why, man, you couldn’t walk a mile in the state you are in. You
ought to be in hospital now. We have no medical comforts left to feed
you up with, but at least we can see that you have a rest.”

“I shall get on somehow. I don’t mind telling you that I have designs
on the tribes on my way. We have eaten each other’s salt, and they
won’t hurt me.”

“Possibly not, but they would stop you, and Bahram Khan would soon
find a way of getting you out of their hands. I won’t let you go on
any such fool’s errand.”

“I think the civil and the political power will have to combine
against the military,” said Dick, turning to the Commissioner, who had
stood by with a “Settle it between yourselves” air. “What do you

“As a military man yourself, you are hardly the person to organise
such a revolt,” was the reply, “and I am debarred from it by the
delegation of authority to which I agreed at the beginning of the
siege.” The tone was abrupt, and Dick and Colonel Graham glanced at
one another in surprise, but the Commissioner went on, “If the
decision lay in my hands, I should absolutely forbid your going. Your
wife may at least claim to be spared useless torture, and you can’t
expect to get the V.C. twice over.”

“I am glad you agree with me,” said the Colonel heartily, ignoring the
stiffness of the tone. “Consider yourself sat upon, North.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Fitz, coming up the steps and
addressing the Colonel, “but there’s a queer light to the westward,
which doesn’t seem like the sunset. We thought it might possibly be a

Colonel Graham wheeled round sharply. “No, it’s certainly not the
sunset,” he said, looking through the doorway which led on to the
ramparts. “Somewhere behind Gun Hill on the south-west, I should say.
What do you think of looking at it from the broken tower?” to the
Commissioner. “You come too, North.”

“What in the world are Papa and the Major and Mr Burgrave climbing up
there for?” demanded Flora, a few minutes later. She was sitting with
the other inmates of the Memsahibs’ courtyard in Georgia’s
verandah--such part of it as had survived the earthquake--watching the
sunset, and it was natural that the acrobatic feats necessary for
reaching the top of the south-west tower should catch her eye at once.

“They are gone to look at some sort of fire that there seems to be in
the hills,” said Fitz, who came in just then.

“A fire? Oh, perhaps----” Flora stopped suddenly, for Mr Hardy had
sprung up from his chair in wild excitement.

“A fire?” he cried. “Nicodemus!” and rushed out of the courtyard.

“Is Mr Hardy beginning to swear?” asked Mabel, in an awed voice, of
the rest, but even Mrs Hardy was too much astonished to rebuke her.

“He’ll kill himself!” she murmured, as she saw her husband mounting
the broken steps that led up to the tower.

“Why, Padri, what’s the matter?” asked Colonel Graham, turning round
to see the old missionary toiling after him. “Take my hand across

“I am so sorry--I can never forgive myself--it quite slipped my
memory,” panted Mr Hardy. “It was a _Malik_ from one of the tribes to
the south-west--he came to me secretly--to ask about Christianity--I
called him Nicodemus to myself. The night the siege began--he came to
warn me--and promised to light a fire in the hills--when relief was at
hand. I was so busy hurrying the Christians into the fort, and helping
them to save their possessions, that I never remembered the matter

“Well, it doesn’t signify so much, since you have remembered it now,”
said the Colonel kindly. “Did the man seem to you trustworthy?”

“He took his life in his hand to warn me that night, and of course
when he came before he risked losing everything. His name was Hasrat
Isa, curiously enough, and he seemed to me to be genuinely in

“Thanks, Padri. You have brought us the best news we could desire. We
must manage to hold out now.”

“This settles it,” muttered Dick. “Can I have a word or two with you?”
he asked of the Commissioner, and they moved across to the other side
of the tower, Mr Burgrave’s face wearing an absolutely non-committal

“You see how it is?” said Dick. “This gives me just the pull I wanted
over the tribes. Of course the one thing now is to detach them from
Bahram Khan before our men come up, and to save the Amir. They know me
and trust me, and if I assure them that an overwhelming force is close
at hand, I believe they will be ready to lay down their arms. Of
course they will have to give up all their loot and to pay a fine of
rifles, but they know enough of us by this time to prefer that to a
war of extermination. Then about the Amir. He’s safe for the present,
as I said, but I haven’t a doubt his guards have got orders to kill
him when the head of the column appears, if we are still holding out
then. I shall try to get the tribes to rescue him. But now for the
crux of the whole thing. If I am to have the faintest hope of success,
I must be able to tell the tribes that we mean to hold on to Nalapur
when the rising is put down. Otherwise as soon as Bahram Khan has made
terms he will establish himself in his uncle’s place, and wipe out all
who submitted before him. Have I a free hand to do it?”

“Why consult me?” asked the Commissioner coldly.

“Because it depends upon you. The announcement of our intended
withdrawal has never been actually made, thanks to the ambush on the
road to the durbar, and it rests with you to withhold it altogether.
Of course I know I’m inviting you to reverse your policy, and all that
sort of thing, but I don’t believe you’re the man to weigh that
against the peace of the frontier.”

“Are you aware that I came to Khemistan for the express purpose of
carrying out the policy you invite me to reverse?”

“Yes, and I know it means you will probably have to resign, and will
certainly get the cold shoulder at Simla. But I call upon you to do
it, just as I am staking everything myself--and I have a wife and
child. It will prevent no one knows how much bloodshed, the desolation
of hundreds of miles of country, and years of unrest and bitter
feeling, for the Government can’t press things against the opinion,
not only of the man on the spot, but of their own official converted
by observation of the facts. They will shunt us--that’s only to be
expected--but it will save the frontier.”

“You are right, and it must be done. You are at liberty to tell the
tribes that I throw all my influence on the side of maintaining the
treaty with Nalapur.”

“Thanks. If anything happens to me, look after my wife and the boy.”

The trust was the seal of the newly born friendliness between them,
and Mr Burgrave felt it so. “God knows,” he said, with more emotion
than Dick had seen him display before, “I wish I could risk my life as
you are doing, but at least I’ll do what I can.”

Without another word, Dick crossed to the spot where Colonel Graham
was standing, still examining the distant glare through his

“Our friend Nicodemus has gone to work very shrewdly,” he said, as
Dick came up. “I should say that his signal is absolutely invisible to
any one on the plain. We only see it because we are so high up.”

“So much the better,” said Dick. “I suppose you’ve guessed what our
plotting was about, Colonel? I have my plans all cut and dried by this
time, and with the civil and the political power both against you,
you’ll have to let me go. Assuming that there won’t be any attack till
dawn, I shall take Anstruther with me, and creep out as soon as it’s
really dark. He must go across the hills and hunt for the relief
column, and guide it here when he has found it, and I shall set to
work to palaver the tribes.”

“They’ll shoot you at sight,” groaned the Colonel.

“I hope not. At any rate, for argument’s sake, we’ll take it that they
don’t. Of course my dodge will be to get them to delay the attack by
insisting beforehand on an impossible proportion of loot. While their
messengers and Bahram Khan’s are going to and fro, Anstruther, knowing
the ground, ought to be able to bring up the column. When I see his
signal, the tribes will hasten to make graceful concessions, and
Bahram Khan will order the attack. While he is occupied at the front,
a few of the tribesmen and I will make a dash for the Amir, and the
column will get its guns into position. Then, if all goes well, a
grand transformation scene. The guns plump a shell or two into the
advancing ranks, the Sikhs and Goorkhas, and possibly a British
regiment, make their appearance on the heights, the tribesmen turn
their rifles against their own side, and the Amir shows himself and
orders his revolted army to surrender. If they won’t, their blood will
be upon their own heads, as they’ll soon see, but I think only Bahram
Khan and a few irreconcilables will refuse.”

“And you?” demanded the Colonel. “Your programme doesn’t provide for
your being killed a dozen times over, does it? What will Mrs North say
when she hears what you think of doing?”

“She will tell me to go. The tribes are as much her people as
mine--more so, indeed. I am going to tell her now.”

He clambered down the ruined staircase, found Fitz and told him
briefly what he wanted of him, and then went to Georgia’s room, where
he set himself to catch her with guile--a process which, as he ought
to have known, had not the faintest chance of success.

“Do you remember the last time I went away, Georgie?” he asked, as he
sat down beside her.

Georgie looked up at him with a thrill of alarm. “Do you think I could
ever forget it, Dick? Not if I lived for hundreds of years.”

“We almost quarrelled, didn’t we? You were in the right, of course--I
knew it all along, but I had to go. You don’t like me to go out
treaty-breaking, do you?”

“No.” Her voice was almost inaudible.

“But it’s all right if I go treaty-making, isn’t it? just to get the
tribes to feel what fools they’ve been, and make them see reason?”

“Oh, Dick, must you go? so soon? and you have been away so long!”

“You jump at things so suddenly,” lamented Dick. “I wanted to break it
gently to you.”

“My dear stupid boy, do you think I don’t know your way of breaking
things gently yet?”

“Well, anyhow, you’ll let me go, won’t you? without making a fuss, I

“A fuss! Do I ever make a fuss?”

“Oh, you know what I mean--without making me feel a brute for doing

“You know I would never keep you back from what was really your duty.”

“That’s all right, then,” Dick failed to notice the distinction thus
delicately implied. “And I’m going to try and save all your father’s
work from being ruined, so it must be my duty, mustn’t it?”

“I suppose so. And I am forbidden to make a fuss?”

“Oh yes, please, absolutely--unless it would comfort you awfully to do

“It wouldn’t comfort you. That’s what I have to think of. When do you
start, Dick?”

“In an hour or so--as soon as it’s properly dark.”

“Then there’s plenty of time. I should so like the boy to be baptized
before you go.”

“Why not? I suppose the Padri won’t kick at the shortness of the
notice? Georgie, will you be very much surprised? I should like to ask
Burgrave to be godfather.”

“Dick!” Georgia’s tone was full of dismay. “I thought of Colonel
Graham--” Dick nodded approval--“and either Fitz Anstruther or Dr

“I’d rather have Burgrave, if you don’t mind. He has come out strong
to-night. I respect him more than any man I know. In his place I don’t
believe I could have made the sacrifice he’s prepared to make.”

“Then we will have him, of course. But Mabel is the godmother,
naturally. Won’t she feel it awkward? You know they have quarrelled?”

“That’s putting it mildly. I’m afraid it’s quite off.”

“Ah, that’s what I was afraid of, too, but Mab always refuses to
discuss the subject with me until I am stronger. I can’t force her
confidence, you know.”

“I suppose not, but there’s no need to be so awfully careful of her
feelings. She has treated Burgrave shamefully, and so far as I can
see, without the slightest excuse. She insists on engaging herself to
him, and then she goes and breaks it off for no reason whatever. I’m
disgusted with her.”

“Oh, Dick, don’t be unkind to her! If she didn’t care for him it was
only right to break it off. I told you she was miserable about it.”

“Then she had no business to begin it. But don’t let us waste time
over her nonsense, Georgie. Shall I go and speak to the Padri?” He
opened the door, and stepped out on the verandah. “Why, Anstruther,
you here? It’s not nearly dark enough to start yet.”

Fitz smothered an exclamation of impatience. This was the second time
he had been foiled in half-an-hour in an attempt to get a few words
with Mabel. He had succeeded in catching her alone for a moment
immediately after Dick had told him of the adventure in which he was
to take part, and then Flora came and called her away, because the
baby was breathing heavily in its sleep, and she was afraid something
was wrong with it. On this occasion he had got hold of Flora herself,
wasting no time in preliminaries.

“Oh, I say, Miss Graham, could you manage to get Mabel here without
telling her that I want to see her? I must speak to her before I go.
I’m certain she cares for me a little, but she was so determined I
should not see it that I couldn’t insult her by letting on that I did.
But there’s no time now for any more fooling. I must tell her what I
have to say, and there’s an end of it.”

“Now, why couldn’t you have said that before?” demanded Flora. “That’s
the right way to take her. I’ll have her here in a moment,” and even
now she was beguiling her out on the verandah when Dick appeared to
announce that the baptism was to take place at once, and Fitz’s hopes
were again disappointed. There would be no chance of speaking to Mabel
now for some time, and he left the courtyard and joined Winlock on the
broken tower, where he was keeping a solitary watch in case the
relieving force should attempt to communicate with the fort by means
of flash-light signals. Their eyes, strained with staring into the
darkness, showed them lights at every possible and impossible point in
the more distant hills, until at last they abandoned the tantalising
prospect, and talked in whispers of the expected relief.

“To think that by this time to-morrow we may have had a good square
meal!” sighed Winlock.

“Beef, not horse,” murmured Fitz sympathetically.

“And tinned things--though I shall always feel a delicacy about tins
in future. They’ve been ‘medical comforts, strictly reserved for the
sick,’ such a long time.”

“And real bread, instead of this abominable bran mash.”

“And as much to drink as ever you want--and soap--and baths--” He
stopped suddenly, for Fitz had caught him by the arm. “What is it?” he

“I’m sure I heard a noise down below. Help me to move this sand-bag.”

The sand-bag on the parapet was pushed aside, and Fitz put his head
through the gap thus left, but only just far enough to see over the
edge, lest he should be visible against the sky. It was clear that the
enemy were keeping high festival in all their camps, for the air was
full of the sound of tomtoms and similar instruments, and snatches of
wild song. To Winlock it seemed impossible to detect any noise less
insistent or nearer at hand, but Fitz looked and listened until his
friend hauled him back.

“Well, is there anything?” he demanded impatiently.

“I’m almost certain there is. You take a look.”

“I’m not a cat,” whispered Winlock in disgust, when he had drawn his
head back in his turn. “Can’t see a thing.”

“Well, I am, rather, in that way, and I believe there’s a fellow down

Again he put his head into the opening, and supporting his face on his
hands, concentrated all his attention on the foot of the wall. After
several minutes, which seemed like hours to Winlock, he faced him

“There is a man down there, and his clothes are dark, so as not to
show. He has put two bags against the wall, and he has crawled away to
fetch another.”

“Going to blow down the tower?”

“Yes, it’s their best chance. Half gone already, you see. Well, will
you clear the men off the near half of the wall, and tell the Colonel,
so as to be ready for developments? I’m going to nip the villain in
the bud.”

“Nonsense, he’ll knife you! And how will you get down?”

“Climb down the broken brickwork and drop.” He drew off his boots. “I
shall take him by surprise. Don’t let any one fire, whatever you do.
It would explode the powder at once. Be off.”

Winlock obeyed, and hurried to alarm the Colonel, after hastily
calling down the sentries, the noise of whose own footsteps
effectually prevented their noticing any suspicious sound. Richard St
George Keeling had just received his name, and was accepting the
congratulations of the representatives of the regiment on the
auspicious event with his usual composure, when Winlock came into the
courtyard and drew Colonel Graham aside. Before he could utter a word,
however, there was an explosion which seemed to shake the very
foundations of the fort, followed by the collapse of various portions
of the newly-repaired defences.

“I’m afraid the wall’s gone, sir,” gasped Winlock, when he recovered

“Not a bit of it,” said the Colonel, pointing to the dark line above
the roofs; but before anything more could be said, the sentry on the
north-west tower gave the alarm. There was no time for anything but a
rush to the walls, which were only reached just as a hurrying mob of
men, some carrying torches, others scaling-ladders, advanced in wild
confusion, shouting and singing, from the shelter of the plane trees.
A couple of volleys sent them flying back in headlong rout, and beyond
a shot or two from General Keeling’s house there was no semblance of
an attack on any other side of the fort. The officers gathered on the
rampart looked at one another in complete mystification.

“I never remember a worse-planned attack,” said Colonel Graham. “In
fact there was no plan about it. And yet the explosion----”

“Yes, but how came it to do so little damage?” said Dick. Some
additional masses of brickwork had been torn from the tower, and the
sand-bags were flung about, but the wall was comparatively uninjured.

“Probably the powder became ignited before it was properly placed in
position,” suggested Mr Burgrave. “If the man in charge intended to
use a slow match, the attack may only have been planned for dawn, so
that the various parties were naturally not prepared. This fiasco here
was a kind of drunken forlorn hope, started simply by the noise of the

“Yes, but why should the powder get ignited? Why, Winlock!” The young
man had made his appearance with his arms full of rope.

“I want to go down and look for Anstruther, sir. He must be awfully
hurt, for he was going to try and stop the explosion.”

Half-an-hour later Mabel and Flora, waiting anxiously in the verandah
to learn the result of the attack, heard in the passage the slow tread
of a body of men carrying something. Dick was at their head.

“We’ll bring him in here, as the hospital is full,” he was saying. “As
I shall be away, there’ll be the room I had last night to spare, and
the ladies will help to look after him.”

“Who is it? What has happened?” asked the two girls together.

“Poor old Anstruther has got himself blown up instead of the fort,”
returned Dick. “Take care of that corner, Woodworth.”

“What is the matter with him? Is he badly hurt?” asked Mabel hoarsely.

“Can’t say yet. On second thoughts, Colonel, I’ll take Winlock, if you
can spare him. He knows the country round here so much better than

“Dick, are you absolutely heartless?” Mabel grasped her brother’s arm,
and shook him. “Is he dying?”

“How can I tell? He was just alive when we found him.”

“I must be with him. I will nurse him,” she managed to say.

“You’ll do nothing of the kind. It’s no sight for you, and we don’t
want fainting and hysterics. For Heaven’s sake, Mabel, don’t make a
scene!” he added, in a whisper of angry disgust. “It’s not as if he
was anything to you.”

“I have a right----” she began with difficulty.

“Keep her away, Burgrave,” said Dick curtly, turning his head for a
moment, and the Commissioner drew her hand within his arm, and led her
in silence to the other side of the courtyard. In the tumult of her
anger and mortification, she struggled furiously at first, but he
declined to release her, and presently she found herself deposited in
a chair, with Mr Burgrave standing over her like a jailer. Between her
sobs she could hear him talking, apparently with the charitable
intention of at once comforting her for her exclusion and assuring her
that the cause of her emotion remained unsuspected.

“Anxious to be of use--highly delicate nervous organisation--might
distract the doctor’s attention at a critical moment--your brother
meant kindly--” were some of the scraps that reached her ears.

“It’s not that!” she cried wildly. “He’ll die without my seeing him,
and Dick says he’s nothing to me, and--and he’s everything!” and her
sobs died away into low, hopeless weeping, which wrung the heart of
the man before her. She did not think of him until she felt an
unsteady touch on her hair, and looking up at him, saw that not only
his hands but his very lips were trembling.

“Don’t cry so,” he said hoarsely; “you break my heart. Then you are
engaged to him? I never dreamt of this.”

“No, I’m not--but it’s my own fault. He asked me long ago--and I told
him it could never be--and I was so horrid that--he never asked me
again. And now they won’t let me go to him--and I wanted--just to tell
him--before he died--that--that----”

“That he might die happy? No, no, I am in earnest,” as Mabel threw him
a glance of reproach. “I could die happy in his case.”

“Oh, how wicked--how mean--I am, to say all this to you! And I have
treated you so badly-- What can you think of me?”

“What should I think but that you are the woman I hoped to shield from
every breath of trouble, and now you are in this sorrow, and I can do

“Oh, but you can!” cried Mabel impulsively. “It’s no good speaking to
Dick, but Dr Tighe will listen to you, and you can ask him to let me
help to nurse him.”

“I have no doubt he will be willing to do that--or if it is not
possible, I am sure he will promise to call you if any change for the
worse occurs.”

“Oh, you won’t believe in me even now! You don’t think I could be
brave even for him. If it was to do him good, I could----”

“Your seeing him now could do him no possible good, and the sight
would haunt you for ever. I think you don’t quite trust me, do you?
Try to think of me as a friend, as one who would a thousand times
rather see you happy with the man you loved than unhappy with himself.
And perhaps”--he hesitated a little--“you may like to know that you
have lifted a weight from my mind to-night. I confess it seemed to me
a cruel thing when you broke off our engagement without any special
reason, but now I know that you love some one else, I feel it was
quite natural and right.”

Mabel saw his meaning dimly. The sting of her treatment of him had
lain in the feeling that though there was no one else she preferred,
she valued so lightly the love he offered that she refused even to
tolerate it. Now his self-respect was restored. It was for a tangible
rival, not for freedom in the abstract, that she had cast him off.


“Mab, are you awake?”

“Go away; I hate you!” was the muffled reply. Mabel had thrown
herself, dressed, upon her bed, and her face was buried in the pillow.
She shook off Flora’s hand angrily from her shoulder as she spoke.

“Why, Mab, I only wanted to tell you---- What have I done?”

Mabel sat up and pushed back her hair. “They let you go and help with
him,” she said venomously, “and they kept me out. Dick called you--I
heard him myself. And they wouldn’t let me come. Eustace held my
hands. And you went--and helped them.”

“I didn’t do anything but hold things for them, really. Dr Tighe did
it all, and your brother helped him. I had to go when they called me.”

“Did he look at you--recognise you? If he did, I’ll never forgive

“No, not a bit. But, Mab----”

“I’m glad of that, at any rate. And you came to say I might go to him

“Yes, Mr Burgrave spoke to Dr Tighe. But don’t say you’re glad he
didn’t look at me. It will make you miserable all your life to have
even thought it.”

“Why, what is the matter?” asked Mabel impatiently, as Flora barred
her way to the door.

“I can’t let you go into the room without realising it. His--his hair
is all burnt off, Mab, and he’s fearfully scorched. You can’t see
anything but bandages, and he is quite insensible.”

“It’s only the shock. He must come round soon.”

“That’s not all. I must tell you. The explosion seems to have
paralysed all his faculties. He is deaf and dumb and blind--for the

“Oh, for the time, of course. But he won’t be deaf when I speak to
him. Don’t keep me here, Flora. I want to wake him.”

Flora drew back reluctantly, and Mabel ran across the courtyard. At
the door of the sick-room, which was a makeshift structure erected
since the earthquake at the corner where two verandahs joined, she met
Dr Tighe.

“So I hear you want to play at nursing a little, Miss North?” he said,
not unkindly, but by no means as if he regarded her intention as
serious. “Do you think you won’t fall asleep? Can you keep cool,
whatever happens? Not that you could do much harm if you went into
hysterics,” he added, half to himself. “The poor fellow wouldn’t be

Even this slighting estimate of her powers did not provoke Mabel to
protest. “What have I to do?” she asked, with determined calmness, and
the doctor looked at her curiously.

“I want you to sit beside him and watch for any sound or movement. If
there is the least change, send for me at once. I must spend the night
over at the hospital, but I am leaving my boy in the verandah here,
and he will fetch me whenever you want me.”

“Wait, please. May I speak to him?”

“Who--the boy? Oh, the patient. Yes, of course, as much as you like,
if it will ease your mind. Didn’t I tell you that he couldn’t hear
you?” He glanced sharply at her, but she turned away from him, and
went into the room without saying anything, leaving him puzzled. “I
feel a bit of a brute,” he said to himself, as he crossed to the
passage leading into the hospital, “but she must keep up. I don’t want
her on my hands in hysterics, in addition to all the rest.”

Mabel sat down quietly beside the bed. A smoky native lamp shed a
flickering light through the little room, rendering dimly visible the
swathed figure which lay absolutely motionless in its shroud of
bandages. Of the face nothing could be seen, and the bandaged hands
were stretched straight at the sides. A great terror seized Mabel.
Surely he must be dead? She laid her hand timidly on the wrist nearest
her, so lightly as scarcely to touch it, but the contact served to
reassure her. He was still living, and she resigned herself to her
silent and solitary watch.

At first she was so much absorbed in listening and looking for the
sounds and movements which never came, that she had no thought of her
surroundings, but after a time they forced themselves upon her notice.
The deathlike silence all around, the presence of that shrouded form
upon the bed, the uncertain light--all combined to strain her nerves
to their utmost tension. She would have risen and walked about, in the
hope of breaking the spell, but she discovered that she had no power
to stir. The semi-darkness was full of shadows for which she could not
account, and small mysterious noises sounded in her ears like
thunder-claps. Over and over again she thought she saw her patient
move, only to find that her eyes had deceived her, and the breathless
expectation did but increase the strain upon her. By degrees her
terror grew almost uncontrollable, but she fought against it doggedly.
Never in her life had she placed such constraint upon herself. The
door was so near, two steps would take her to it, and once outside she
would be safe from the shadows and the silence. But she gripped her
chair hard with both hands, and at last the impulse passed away. Next
came the temptation to scream--to shriek, sing, do anything to break
the stillness. She was shaking from head to foot; it seemed utterly
impossible to check her sobs, yet she succeeded in crushing them down.
The struggle was a fearful one, and she felt that her self-command
would not hold out much longer. She looked at her watch, and resolved
to remain quiet for five minutes, whatever happened. When the five
minutes was over, she renewed the resolution for another five minutes,
and so on, and the expedient was successful for a time. Then it became
more and more difficult to maintain, and the periods of five minutes
dwindled to four, three, and finally one. She gazed at the watch
aghast. It was impossible that so much agony and mental stress could
have been crowded into one minute. But the watch had not stopped, and
she gave up the conflict, and burst into tears.

“Fitz!” she wailed, dropping on her knees beside the bed. “Fitz!”

Surely he would hear. Georgia had said that Dick’s voice would reach
her if she were dead. But in this case there was no answer.

“Oh, Fitz, speak to me!” she entreated. “I am so frightened.”

The piteous voice died away. It must have availed to pierce the
silence which enwrapped him, she thought, and yet he would not speak.
Could it be that he was resolved to punish her for her coldness in the
past, to humble her pride in return for all she had made him suffer?
Or perhaps he did not understand even yet.

“Fitz,” she murmured softly, “I love you.”

No sooner had the words escaped her lips than she sprang up aghast.
They seemed to be echoed back by the walls on every side, to be
whispered by mocking sprites, to clang like the strokes of great
bells. “I love you! I love you!” The air was full of them, and she was
overwhelmed with shame.

“Oh, if you don’t hate me, say just one word!” she sobbed. “I am so
ashamed, but you said you loved me. Oh, Fitz, it’s not like you to be
so unkind! And I thought you would be glad to know.”

Surely he must answer now?--but she sobbed on, and there came no word
of comfort.

“Well, Miss North, and what’s all this about?” said Dr Tighe.

He stood at the door, looking in at her, and Mabel sprang to her feet
and confronted him, shaking with sobs, her face stained with tears.

“It’s--it’s only--I was speaking to him, and he won’t answer,” she
managed to say.

“But I told you he wouldn’t. He can’t. Why, he doesn’t even hear you.”

“I thought I could make him hear.”

“As well try to wake the dead. No, no; what an idiot I am!” as she
recoiled from him in terror. “Purely a figure of speech, nothing more.
Now I will take a turn of watching, and do you go and get some rest.”

“Oh no, I won’t leave him. I am not a bit tired.”

“Go to Mrs North. She can’t sleep either, and she and her ayah have
got some coffee for you. It will soon be daylight, and you had better
rest while you can.”

“As if I should think of leaving him!” repeated Mabel in scorn.

“I won’t be defied by my own nurses, Miss North. If you don’t go
peaceably, I’ll have you gently assisted out, and once outside this
room you won’t get in again.”

“Oh, how can you be so unkind!” sobbed Mabel, breaking down abjectly.

“I am not unkind. I want you to help me a great deal with the poor
fellow, and that’s why I insist upon your resting now. You shall come
on duty again in four hours or so, and I’ll promise faithfully to call
you if there’s any change in the meantime.”

Slowly and reluctantly Mabel left the room, and went along the
verandah to Georgia’s door. Georgia was sitting up in a long cane
chair, and welcomed her cheerfully.

“Come in, Mab. It seems absurdly early to be up, but I knew how cold
and miserable you would feel after being awake all night. This is the
very last of the coffee. Dr Tighe has lavished it upon us recklessly
on the chance of our being relieved to-day, so make the most of it.”

“I couldn’t touch it, Georgie!” with a gesture of disgust.

“Oh yes, you can, to please me. After you have drunk it you shall lie
down on my bed, and if you can’t sleep, we will talk. Why, you are
shivering! Put on that shawl, and now drink the coffee,” and Mabel

“Let me stay here, Georgie,” she said when she had finished, sitting
down on the floor, and laying her head on Georgia’s knee. “I like to
be close to you. You understand things.” Georgia stroked her hair
softly, and she went on, “Other people don’t understand--even Flora,
or Dr Tighe. And Dick was horrid last night. The only person who seems
to know how I feel is poor Eustace--he understands.”

“Yes, he has suffered himself.”

“And that is my fault. But I never knew how it hurt till now, Georgie,
or I couldn’t have done it, and now that I do know, it’s too late. I
know now how you feel about Dick, because of what I feel about _him_.
I can’t bear any one else to do a single thing for him, and if he
became conscious again while I was away, I should be ready to kill Dr
Tighe. Isn’t it strange that to-day I would give anything to hear him
say the things that made me so angry a little while ago, and that I
have said things in his ear to-night that would have made him
perfectly happy then, and now he can’t even hear them? Oh, Georgie, if
he should never hear them--if he should die without recovering his

“We can only hope--and pray,” said Georgia gently.

“I know, but you must pray--I can’t. You have always been kind to him,
at any rate; I haven’t. I don’t deserve that he should get well, I
know--but I do want him so much. When I think that he has been wasting
his love upon me all this time, while I was too proud to take it, I
feel it would serve me right if I never had the chance of telling him
how glad and thankful I am to have it. But I do love him, Georgie,
indeed I do.”

“I know you do, Mab,” said Georgia, still passing her hand softly over
Mabel’s hair. She would not allow a word of reproach to cross her
lips, but in her heart there was a little tumult of wifely
indignation. Mabel was so much engrossed with Fitz Anstruther as not
even to remember that her brother had taken his life in his hand and
gone straight into the enemy’s camp. “But it is only natural. Perhaps
I should do the same in her place,” thought Georgia, and continued the
pleasant restful movement. Before very long Mabel was asleep, and she
was still crouched upon the floor, leaning against Georgia, when Dr
Tighe came to say that she might take her second turn of watching in
the sick-room. She awoke with a start, while he was talking to Georgia
in an excited whisper.

“Yes, Mrs North, I’m certain there’s something up. Two or three
distinct _jirgahs_ seem to be going on in the enemy’s lines, and
though they began to make preparations for fighting two hours ago,
they don’t get any forrarder. And we are almost certain that there’s a
movement of some kind in progress at the back of Gun Hill. There may
be artillery there, taking up a position, or possibly the whole relief
column is preparing to occupy the heights. If it’s anything of the
sort, it’s all due to that marvellous husband of yours, whom I’d make
Viceroy this very hour if I had my way.”

“And he would be excessively unhappy at Government House, and the
cause of extreme misery to every one else,” laughed Georgia; but
Mabel, who had been listening to their talk half asleep, sprang up.

“Oh, Doctor, is there any change? Is he awake?”

“No change whatever, I’m sorry to say. Have your breakfast before you
come across, and then I’ll leave you in charge while I go my morning
rounds in the hospital.”

Very soon Mabel was at her post again, wondering at the horror which
night and silence had lent to the rough-walled, commonplace little
room. The full blaze of sunlight never reached this particular corner
of the courtyard until late in the afternoon, but the hole which had
been left as a window admitted a certain amount of light. Through it
also there came pleasantly distant sounds of life and movement from
the other parts of the fort. As Mabel sat with her eyes fixed upon the
bed, the murmur of different noises lulled her into a state very
nearly resembling sleep, and once again she thought she saw a
movement, only to discover that it was merely fancy. Another period of
intense vigilance passing gradually into semi-consciousness followed,
the mere effort of concentrating her gaze on one object inclining her
to slumber, and then there came a sudden awakening. Was it thunder, or
another earthquake, or what could be the meaning of those tremendous
crashes, each of which was welcomed by cries of delight from the

“Guns, I suppose,” said Mabel to herself, still half asleep. “Perhaps
it will wake him.” She bent forward eagerly, but there was still no
movement, and she sat down again disappointed. The crashes and the
shouts of joy overhead still continued, but she made no attempt to
learn what was going on, not so much from reluctance to leave her post
as from sheer lack of interest. Suddenly there came a different sound,
a singing, shrieking noise, deepening into a groan as it came nearer.
She had never heard it before, and yet she knew by instinct what it

“A shell!” she cried, springing up involuntarily. However long she may
live, she will never remember that moment without a blush of bitter
humiliation, for she sprang up to run away. But the impulse was only
momentary. Even before she could turn towards the door a rush of
incredulous shame swept over her and made her throw herself on her
knees by the bed. She clasped one of the bandaged hands in hers to
give herself courage. “I will die with him!” she said, and burying her
face in the coverlet, waited. It seemed to her that she waited for
hours, and yet only the minutest fraction of time can have elapsed
between her recognition of the nature of the sound and the concussion
which followed--a deafening, rending noise, which seemed to comprise
within itself all imaginable sounds of terror, and which was
intensified a hundredfold by the echoes it evoked from the walls of
the fort. To Mabel it felt as if the world was coming to an end, and
she was being buried in the ruins, but at this point she lost
consciousness, and knew no more until she found Dr Tighe and Flora
dashing water into her face, rubbing her hands, and using various
other means to revive her. Her first impression was of a blaze of
intense light, and it only dawned upon her gradually that the roof of
the room and the two walls facing the courtyard were gone, their
shattered fragments lying in heaps around.

“I’ll never forgive myself!” cried Dr Tighe frantically. “What
business had I to be trespassing upon the walls, just to watch the
practice our fellows were making, and leaving my patients to be killed
without me? The moment I saw the Nalapuri horse trying to escape
across the canal, and the gun on the hill turned round to cover them,
I said, ‘We’ll have a shell dumped into us in another minute,’ and
sure enough we had.”

“What was it, then?” asked Mabel feebly.

“Thank God you’re alive yet! ’Twas one of our own shells that fell
short, and as nearly as possible wrecked the whole place. I made sure
you were done for when Miss Graham and I got you out.”

“Oh, but what about him--is he safe?” cried Mabel, starting up and
pushing her way into the corner where the bed stood. Its position had
protected it to a wonderful extent from the falling timbers of the
roof and walls, but it was covered with smaller fragments, and
enveloped in a haze of dust which was only now dispersing. But Mabel
cared nothing for the dust or falling plaster.

“He’s talking!” she shrieked to Dr Tighe, who followed her, stumbling
over the rubbish on the floor. “Hush, oh, hush! I must hear what he

Dr Tighe held his breath, and Flora quickly waved back the curious
servants and others who had been attracted to the spot by the bursting
of the shell, and withdrew with them out of earshot. Mabel, kneeling
beside the bed, was listening hungrily to the words which poured from
the patient’s lips, not spoken with any apparent difficulty, but
rattled off in quick low tones.

“Awfully good job those Sikh fellows are making such a noise on the
wall. I’m sure I dislodged something then, but I didn’t hear it fall.
Perhaps it fell on our friend down below. Rather a startler for him,
but he’ll be waiting for me. Hope he looks in the wrong place. This is
the best point to drop from, I should think. Hope and trust there are
no sharp bricks and things to come down upon. It’s creepy work. One,
two, three, and away! So far, so good. Now to stalk our friend. If
he’s trying to stalk me at the same moment, our heads will probably
meet with a bang. I’ll have my knife out--revolver would be too risky.
Ah--h--h--h--what’s that? The powder-bag, I’ll swear; but I thought it
was the man. Now if only I knew where you are at this moment, my
friend, I would drag your bags to a safe distance, and give you a nice
little hunt for them. But it would be awkward if you came on me from
behind, so I’ll wait here. Wonder if my eyes shine in the dark like a
cat’s? That would give him rather a turn; he might think it was a
tiger. Hullo! back already, are you, and another lot of powder too?
Now if you’ll only leave it behind you, and retire gracefully for the
moment, we’ll whip it up over the wall in no time, and requisition it
for her Majesty’s service. Oh, that’s it, is it? Well, you are a cool
hand, I must say, to make your bed on a heap of powder-bags! But I
can’t stay watching you until you choose to make a move. I might
sneeze, you know, so I’m afraid I must trouble you. Now then! just
hand over that knife. Oh, that’s your little game, is it? This is not
playing fair. Firearms not allowed on any account. I say!”

There was a pause, a sigh, and the voice went on again.

“I never guessed these bricks would be so knobby. It’s rather rough
negotiating them without any boots. Awfully good job those Sikh
fellows are making such a noise on the wall. I’m sure I dislodged
something then----” Mabel lifted an agonised face to the doctor.

“He’s saying the same things over again. What does it all mean?”

“He is going over the last two or three minutes before the explosion.
I suppose the thoughts and impressions of that time have fixed
themselves in his mind, which seems to have been set working again by
the shock of the bursting shell. Very likely he will go on like this.”

“What! Always?” cried Mabel, in horror.

“We’ll hope not, though I have known cases in which the effect of such
a shock has been permanent. The brain seems unable ever to receive any
other impression afterwards. But he can’t well go on talking at this
rate long, and when he’s exhausted he may sink into a stupor, and
emerge in a more rational state of mind. I wonder whether his hearing
has returned? Anstruther!”

There was no answer. “You try,” said the doctor.

“Fitz!” cried Mabel, her tones sharpened by anxiety; but the low
monotonous voice rambled on, and there was no response to be

“We can’t do anything. He must go on until he is tired,” said Dr
Tighe. “And you had better go on the sick-list yourself, Miss North.
You’re a good deal knocked about.”

To her astonishment, Mabel found that this was the case. Bruises and
flesh-wounds of which she had not been conscious were painfully
evident on her arms and shoulders, and her dress was torn in a dozen
places. But she refused to leave her post until the time Dr Tighe had
appointed her was over; and perceiving that she would not be able to
rest while Fitz was in this state, he consented to do what he could
for her on the spot, and allowed her to remain for the present. It was
almost more heart-rending to listen to the often-repeated story of the
last few minutes of consciousness Fitz had known, than it had been to
see him lying silent, but she remained at her post until the low
hurrying tones became intermittent, and finally ceased altogether. By
this time the servants had contrived, by means of screens and loose
boards, partially to repair, or at least to conceal, the dilapidation
of the room, for Dr Tighe declined to attempt the removal of the
patient, assuring Mabel cheerfully that he was in the safest place in
the fort. Even if the relieving column should chance to drop in a few
more shells, all the probabilities were against their falling in the
same spot. Thus assured, Mabel consented to allow her own hurts to be
looked to, and swallowed with unexpected docility the draught which
the doctor gave her. She did so the more readily that she began to be
conscious she could not keep up much longer. The vigil and terror of
the night, the alarm and anxiety of the day, seemed to have robbed her
of every vestige of strength, and she had no mind to allow herself to
be ousted from the post which was hers by right. If she was to
continue in charge of Fitz, she must contrive to get the doctor on her
side, and not alienate him by opposition to his orders.

This time she had no difficulty in obtaining rest. Her eyes closed
almost as soon as she threw herself on her bed, and she slept without
waking until the evening. When at length she awoke, she sprang up in
alarm. Why had no one called her? It was actually getting dark, and
the courtyard looked utterly deserted. What had happened? She threw on
her dress, and ran along the verandah to the sick-room. Just as she
reached it, the screen which served as a door was moved aside, and
Dick and Dr Tighe came out, accompanied by a sunburnt elderly man in
khaki campaigning uniform.

“My sister,” said Dick laconically. “We have been taking Colonel
Slaney to see Anstruther, Mab. Glad to say he thinks he’ll do.”

“Oh, really, really?” cried Mabel, clasping her hands, and looking at
the surgeon with eyes suddenly overflowing with tears.

“Well, he’ll never be much of a beauty again,” was the gruff reply.

“Oh, what does that signify? His mind--will that be all right?”

“I hope so--if he can be kept from any more shocks. That shell to-day
seems to have been a kill or cure business--I shouldn’t recommend any
more of the same sort. You were there at the time--stuck to him--eh?
Very plucky thing to do. Well, you just let him alone now. Don’t try
to excite his feelings, or make him recognise you. Give the brain time
to recover itself.”

“But you are sure it will be all right? Oh, I can’t thank you properly
for telling me this--but he will get quite well?”

“Very ungrateful if he doesn’t, with such a nurse. Don’t go and wear
yourself to a shadow looking after him while he’s insensible. You’ll
need all your cheerfulness and good spirits when he recovers

Mabel looked dumbly at Dr Tighe. What did this warning portend? The
little man answered her mute appeal with friendly alacrity.

“At the best he’ll be rather badly scarred, Miss North, but we hope
and trust there’ll be nothing else the matter. Colonel Slaney doesn’t
mean to imply that you would mind the scars, or that the poor fellow
would care about them for his own sake, but it’s likely he will for

“I see. Thank you for telling me. I shall know what to do now,” said
Mabel, quite calmly, though the screen trembled where her fingers were
gripping it.

“Buck up, Queen Mab!” said Dick kindly, lingering behind the other two
to give her an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “Never say die!”

She caught his hand and wrung it, reading in his action an apology for
his hasty speech of the night before, and he smiled at her cheerily as
she disappeared behind the screen. Fitz was still lying in the state
of stupor in which she had left him, and she sat down beside the bed,
and tried to lay her plans for the future. As she recalled what
Colonel Slaney had said, it was natural that the man himself should
recur to her mind.

“Why, we must be relieved!” she said to herself. “How stupid of me
never to have thought of it. Colonel Slaney belongs to the column, of
course. And Dick has come back safe, too. And I took it all for
granted, and nobody said anything. Where can Georgie be--and Flora?”

Wondering again at the calm way in which the three men had ignored the
almost incredible fact of the ending of the siege, she tried to recall
her conversation with them, in order to see whether any allusion had
been made to it, and suddenly remembered what had struck her vaguely
at the time, the stranger’s manner. He had not addressed her in the
way in which long experience had prepared her to be addressed; in
fact, she missed the peculiar deference to which she was accustomed
from the other sex.

“He spoke to me just as if I was any other woman!” she said to
herself, with a _naïveté_ which would have struck her as laughable
in any one else. “He was kind and encouraging--patronising, almost. Do
I look very dreadful, I wonder?” She cast a puzzled glance at her limp
cotton gown. “Still, even then, it’s not usually my clothes that
people think about. How Dick would laugh! He’ll say that the
celebrated smile failed of its effect for once.”

Presently an unexpected solution of the mystery occurred to her.

“Perhaps I’m getting old and ugly, and people won’t care to talk to me
any more. How dreadful to have to ask men to do things, instead of
their rushing to do them of their own accord! It will take a long time
to get accustomed to it. Oh, and perhaps Fitz won’t care for me now!
If he leaves off loving me just as I have found out that I love him,
what shall I do? I told Georgie once that I would give anything to
care for any one as she cared for Dick, but I never thought of not
being loved in return. There was some fairy tale about a princess who
had no heart, and could not get one without giving everything she had
in exchange for it, and that’s how I feel. But how dreadful to get the
heart, and then find that it’s not wanted! If he cares for me still, I
don’t mind if I never speak to another man again, but if he

There was a step outside, and Flora looked cautiously round the corner
of the screen, then advanced, bearing a tray.

“Oh, Mab, you must have thought we had forgotten you, you poor thing!”
she murmured, in subdued tones. “But you were fast asleep when I
looked into your room, and we thought it would be kinder not to wake
you. We were all in the mess-room verandah to welcome General
Cranstoun and the officers of the column. It was lovely to see them
come in; I did wish you were there. And they are all so kind, you
can’t think! As soon as ever they heard what we were reduced to, they
sent their servants for all sorts of private stores, and gave us
everything they could think of that we should like. Look! here’s a cup
of tea--strong tea--for you, with milk in it, and I have made you some
sandwiches of potted meat. Isn’t it good of them? And they say such
nice things about the way we have stood the siege, and they are so
interested in the boy, and they admire your brother and Mrs North so
much. It’s delightful to hear them.”

“But what has happened to the enemy?” asked Mabel.

“Oh, most of them have surrendered, but Bahram Khan and a body of
horse escaped, and got safely to Dera Gul. Major North just succeeded
in saving the Amir, and he’s in the fort now. Part of the column has
gone on to keep an eye on Dera Gul, but the rest will camp here for
to-night. Some of the officers are coming in after dinner--doesn’t it
sound funny to say that again? You will come and talk to them, won’t

“I’ll just come and see them--it would seem rude not to go near them
after all they have done for us--but I can’t leave him for long.
Flora!” suddenly, “do you see anything different in me?”

“You are dreadfully pale and tired, and your dress looks as if you had
put it on in a hurry, and your hair isn’t very nicely done,” said
Flora hesitatingly. “Is that what you mean?”

“No--not quite. If--if you were a man, should you still think of me as
Queen Mab?”

Flora hesitated still, then suddenly flew at Mabel, and kissed her
with great vehemence. “What does it signify?” she demanded. “I shall
love you just as well, and so will _he_, and lots of people will love
you a great deal more. You’re just as lovely, really, as ever you

“Then there is something,” cried Mabel. “What is it?”

“I--I don’t know, exactly. It’s something gone. I have noticed it
going, since--I think since Mr Anstruther came back from looking for
your brother. It was a sort of assurance--I can’t think of the proper
word--as if you knew that every one admired you, and you had a right
to their services. Yes, that was it. It took every one captive, you
know, Mab.”

“And now?” asked Mabel, in a low voice.

“Now? Oh, it makes me miserable to see you. You look as if you wanted
people to be kind to you, poor darling.”

“Only one person,” whispered Mabel. “Do you think he will?”

“As if you doubted him! Fraud! If he isn’t, I’ll give Fred up, and
come and live with you in a hermitage. There!”

“Then I don’t mind. I have lost my kingdom, and found a heart.”


“Dick, I want to speak to you. I’m sure there’s something wrong.”

“There’ll be something wrong with you, if you rush up the steps at
that rate, after being out all morning. You haven’t walked back, I

“No, of course not. I had a doolie. But it’s really important, Dick.”

“I dare say it is, but I won’t listen to a single word until you lie
down in that chair and let me fan you. Now let us hear about it. You
went to the Refugees’ Camp as usual, and doctored all and sundry?”

It was not in the confined limits of the Memsahibs’ courtyard that
this conversation took place, for since the arrival of the relieving
column the fort had been practically deserted, owing to its insanitary
condition. As the town had also been left by the enemy in an
undesirable state, most of the rightful inhabitants were under canvas
for the present. Quarters had been found, however, in the large Sarai
for a good many of the Europeans, who led a picnic existence in the
bare mud rooms, cheered by such remnants of their household goods as
they had been able to save, until the neighbourhood should quiet down,
so as to allow them to return to their homes. Bahram Khan was holding
out obstinately at Dera Gul, where he appeared to hold in deep
contempt the devastation wrought by the besiegers’ mountain-guns. They
had battered his walls to pieces, but he and his garrison retired to
shelters underground, whence they emerged on more than one occasion to
frustrate, with considerable loss to the attacking party, attempts to
carry the place by assault. Meanwhile, his followers’ wives and
children, who were not admitted into the fortress, had thrown
themselves quite happily on the hands of the besiegers, in the calm
confidence that this course would ensure their being provided with
food, lodging, and medical attendance free of cost. To have despatched
them, in their present unprotected condition, to any distance from the
British lines would merely have led to their being killed or enslaved
by the tribes, and after much discussion they were gathered into a
special camp, under the charge of an officer detailed for the duty,
which he cursed daily. Here they were looked after in company with the
native women and children who had survived the siege, and such of the
townspeople as now began to reappear from mysterious hiding-places or
cities of refuge. The care of their health was entrusted to Georgia,
and every morning she visited the camp and prescribed for any patients
that might be awaiting her. It was from one of these visits that she
had just returned.

“I was making a surprise inspection of the huts, Dick--it’s necessary
every few days, you know--and I came to one where a number of women
who have no children are quartered together. They were not expecting
me, and they were just sitting or standing about. One of them was

“My word!” Dick sprang to his feet. “Are you certain, Georgie?”

“Quite. I never forget a face, you know, and hers is a remarkable

“And what did you do?”

“I pretended not to have recognised her, and our eyes did not meet, so
I don’t think she could have seen that I knew her. I finished the
inspection, and then, when I was reporting to Major Atkinson, I asked
him to arrest her at once, as I was sure she was there as a spy.”

“And had she got away in the meantime?”

“Oh dear, no! When I had made Major Atkinson understand which woman I
meant, he laughed at me, and said that she was certainly a spy--a spy
of our own; and she had a pass signed by the General to allow her to
leave the camp when she liked.”

“Somebody is being made a nice fool of.”

“That’s what I thought. If she has come to the General, and offered to
betray the fortress to him--that door, you know--and it’s all a trap!
He doesn’t know her as we do. I thought of going to him at once, but
then it struck me that he might laugh at me as Major Atkinson did, so
I came back to tell you as fast as I could.”

“You thought he might be like Burgrave, and dislike ladies’
interfering in politics? Well, I suppose I must go myself, and fish
for snubs. What I do admire in all these big chaps is their
deep-rooted distrust of the man on the spot. I wonder they don’t order
us all out of the district before they’ll deign to set foot in it.”

Before very long Dick was received by General Cranstoun in the
seclusion of his tent. To his observant eye, the General’s face wore a
slightly expectant, not to say conscious expression, and he went
straight to the business in hand.

“I should be glad, sir, if you would authorise the arrest of an East
Indian woman who calls herself Joanna Warren or Jehanara. She is a
secret agent of Bahram Khan’s, and my wife found her secreted in the
Refugees’ Camp this morning.”

“There is no such person in the camp,” was the terse reply.

“What! has she got away already?” cried Dick. “Excuse me, but this may
be a serious matter. Did she know that she was recognised?”

“I believe not. I understand that when she heard it was Mrs North’s
habit to visit the camp, she considered it unwise to remain there

“I wish to goodness I knew whether that was all,” muttered Dick. “Is
there any hope of getting hold of her still?”

“I do not know. The matter does not appear to me to lie in your
province, Major North, and I am not prepared to offer you any

“Perhaps you are not aware, sir, that the woman in question is Bahram
Khan’s most trusted counsellor? It is generally understood that all
our recent misfortunes are attributable to her influence, and I know
personally that she has done an immense amount of harm.”

“Perhaps you are not aware that the unfortunate woman of whom you are
speaking has been for years most cruelly ill-used by Bahram Khan, and
has vowed vengeance upon him in consequence? But I am not at liberty
to say more upon the subject.”

“No!” cried Dick, with sudden enlightenment, “because she made you
promise to say nothing to me before she would utter a word. She told
you that I was brutally unsympathetic, and had insulted her in her
misfortunes, and that I forbade my wife to receive her?”

“These are facts of which I should scarcely expect you to be proud,
Major North.” Still, the General looked uncomfortable.

“I am prouder of them than I should be of being taken in by the most
cunning Jezebel in India. The woman hasn’t a grain of truth in her

“I have been considered a good judge of character,” said General
Cranstoun severely, “and I would stake my life on Miss Warren’s
truthfulness. She has told me something of her history, and her manner
left on my mind the most extraordinary impression of impotent fury
thirsting for revenge. No acting could have produced the effect.”

“And so you are going to stake your life on her truthfulness? and the
lives of her Majesty’s troops? I see it all!” cried Dick, with growing
excitement. “You are to be at the north-east corner of the Dera Gul
rock with a body of picked men at a certain time, when she will open a
door leading into the subterranean passages. Guided by her, you will
make your way up with your detachment to the gate opening on the
zigzag path, and hold it until the rest of your force comes up. Then
the fortress is in your hands.”

“Why--how in the world did you know this?”

“I am acquainted with the lady, you see.”

“But the door--how did you hear about that?”

“I have seen it. When the place was empty, before it was restored to
Bahram Khan, I explored it thoroughly.”

“And you never told me of the existence of the door? I should have
imagined that the interests of the public service would have prevailed
over any slight personal jealousy----”

“I didn’t mention it,” said Dick, “because the door is a portion of
the solid rock, and can only be opened from within. It is lifted by a
complicated arrangement of weights and pulleys, and a dozen women
couldn’t make it stir. I should say it needed ten men at least.”

The General’s brow gathered blackness. “Your information would have
been more valuable had it come earlier,” he said. “In the
circumstances, I do not feel justified in abandoning an excellent
opportunity of ending this revolt, merely in view of your suspicions.”

“They are certainties. Say that you and your picked men are trapped in
the cave--the door works from above. The only way out is up a narrow
staircase, which only one man can climb at a time, but there are holes
high up through which you could be shot down in dozens. Once inside,
Bahram Khan has you safe--to use as a hostage, if he likes.”

“I should not feel justified in abandoning the attempt,” repeated the
General, “but,” he added, with a degree less of severity, “if you can
suggest any precautions that might render success more certain, I
shall be glad to consider them.”

“There are to be no lights, I suppose? Then I would let every man
except those in the front rank carry a block of stone. We can get them
out of the ruins not far off, and if they are piled up at the sides of
the doorway--I’ll show the men how to do it--the door can’t come right
down, at any rate. Then, Jehanara has arranged with you that the rest
of the force shall advance up the zigzag path at a signal from the
gate? The enemy’s fire commands every foot of the way, and we can’t
shell them to any purpose at night. But if, instead of climbing up on
that side, our main body was making a determined assault with
scaling-ladders upon the opposite side of the fortress, where the
walls come down to the level, that would distract the attention of the
garrison if you found it necessary to retire from the cave. My idea is
that as soon as you are well inside, the door will go down, and you
will be summoned to surrender. But the door will stick, and you will
be able to retire in good order, and form outside. Then, even if the
attack did not come off quite at the same moment, you would be
prepared to resist the garrison if they charged, and be sheltered
against their fire from above. And the best part of the plan,” added
Dick cunningly, “is that there is no need to break faith with
Jehanara. If she means well by you, everything will go off just as you
arranged, and her feelings will not be hurt by the knowledge of my
base suspicions.”

“Major North,” said the General, holding out his hand, “I have done
you an injustice. The arrangements you suggest seem to obviate all
risk, and I shall be glad if you will accompany me, in order to direct
the men who will carry the stones. The details of the main attack I
will arrange immediately.”

“Then when was the attempt to be made, sir?”

“To-night, of course. _Is_ to be made, if you please.”

“That was a pretty close shave!” muttered Dick to himself, when he was
safely outside.

And thus it came to pass that there was yet another night in which
Georgia and Flora, unable to sleep, sat together in one of the bleak
rooms of the Sarai, and held each other’s hands in an agony of fear
and anxiety, while Mabel stole in at intervals from her watch beside
Fitz to ask whether there was any news yet. Over and over again the
anxious watchers persuaded themselves that they could hear the sound
of firing echoed across the miles of desert which separated them from
Dera Gul, and on each occasion they assured one another that the idea
was absurd. Mrs Hardy came in several times to scold them for sitting
up, twice spoiling the effect of her rebukes by administering hot
coffee as a corrective, but she knew as well as they did that they
could not bring themselves to face the solitude of their own rooms. At
last, just as day was breaking, a messenger came from the signal
officer at the camp to say that flash-signals of some sort were
visible to the eastward, but the mists of the morning made it
impossible to read them properly. There was still an hour or so more
of weary waiting, and then Dick and Haycraft rode in together, the
latter with his arm in a sling. He had been knocked from one of the
scaling-ladders by a stone hurled at him, and the bone was broken, but
otherwise he was only bruised. And what did even a broken arm signify,
when there was victory at last?

“It was just as we thought,” Dick told Georgia. “As soon as we were
inside the cave, I saw the door begin to come down--shutting out the
stars, don’t you know? and a voice called out to us to surrender. But
just when the door ought to have descended with a crash, it made a
grating noise instead, and stuck fast, for the stones were piled about
four feet high on each side. The enemy saw the dodge in a moment, and
opened fire through the holes up above, but as we were all in the
dark, it was a pretty wild affair. Two or three were wounded, and from
the back of the cave came an awful scream--a woman’s scream. It was
that wretched Jehanara, who had tried to escape up the staircase, and
was shot down by mistake. So now we shall never know--or rather, the
General won’t--whether she was deceived herself, or deceiving us.
Then, as we got out of the place, we heard the sound of the attack on
the other side, and we raced round to take part in it. Our men were
already in at the breach the shells have made, and by the time we got
up they were fighting hand to hand inside. We pressed the garrison
back from point to point, until we came to the zenana. It seems that
Bahram Khan had talked big about killing all his women before the end
came, but his plucky old mother didn’t quite see it. She and the rest
barricaded themselves in, all except Bahram Khan’s wife Zeynab, and
kept him out. The fellow made a great fuss about breaking down the
barricade, and went off to find a hammer or pickaxe or something to do
it with, but we got there first. The men he had left fought to the
last in front of the barricade, and behind it the old Begum held out
stoutly until I came up, when she surrendered at discretion. Then we
found out from one of our wounded that Bahram Khan and his wife had
got away through the cave, with either two or three of his men, so
that he is still at large, though the place is in our hands. Of course
the regiment is scouring the country for him, and the tribes are all
thirsting for the reward that will be offered, but it is a horrid

“Zeynab will scarcely be the help to him that Jehanara would have
been,” said Georgia.

“No, but I don’t like his being loose. I shall get them to post a
sentry at the gate here, as well as the Sikh at Burgrave’s door, and
none of you must go outside without an escort. Mab mustn’t try any
more of her adventurous rides.”

“Why, Dick, there’s no one for her to ride with at present.”

“No more there is, happily. Well, I shall be thankful if her devotion
to Anstruther lasts long enough to keep her between walls just now.
Bahram Khan driven desperate would be an ugly customer to meet out in
the open.”

It was a source of considerable relief to Dick to learn that at this
particular time Mabel was less likely than ever to quit her charge.
Two or three days before, she had astonished Dr Tighe by demanding to
be allowed to assist in dressing the patient’s burns. The doctor, who
had contrived, with what he regarded as almost superhuman cunning,
always to accomplish this process at a time when she was not on duty,
was much perplexed by the request.

“Trust me,” he urged; “I’ll let you help as soon as it’s desirable.”

Mabel shook her head. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I want to
know the worst while he is still unconscious. I think I can trust
myself not to make any sign, but I am not sure, and if it is very
dreadful--oh, it would break my heart if he thought I shrank from him
because of his scars!”

“But, my dear young lady, that’s all the more reason for waiting. The
wounds will be far less painful to look at when they are a little more

“That’s just it. If I see them now, at their worst, I can’t be
horrified afterwards. I want to be able to judge of the improvement,
so that I may cheer him if he thinks he is not getting on.”

Dr Tighe muttered fiercely to himself, but yielded at last, and
allowed Mabel to act as his assistant at the next dressing. She
thought she had schooled herself to bear the worst, but in spite of
all her resolutions she shrank and shivered involuntarily when she
realised the frightful change in the dark handsome face she had always
secretly admired. Dr Tighe, going about his work with swift, practised
fingers, said nothing, and pretended not to notice the drops of water
which splashed upon him from the basin she held.

“Will he--can he ever look at all as he did?” she asked in a whisper
at last.

“If things turn out as I hope, he will look no worse than a man who is
badly marked with smallpox. There will be two or three ugly
seams--here, and here”--he indicated the precise spots lightly with a
finger-tip--“but the hair will help to cover them when it grows again,
and if the mouth is much disfigured--why, you must lay your commands
upon the patient to grow a beard.”

Mabel was crying. “Oh, it is too dreadful, too dreadful!” she sobbed.

“Then you had better leave the sick-room to me before he recovers
consciousness. There’s no need to make things worse for him by raising
false hopes. Either stick to him, disfigurements and all, or don’t let
him know that he ever had the chance of marrying you.”

“It’s not for myself; it’s for him!” flashed forth Mabel. “Stick to
him? of course I shall. He himself is not changed. But I can’t be too
thankful that I have seen him like this. At least I know the worst.”

Again the doctor was puzzled. Was she forcing herself to keep faith,
for shame or pity’s sake, or was she really in love still? He did not
attempt to argue the matter with her, and nothing more was said on the
subject for a day or two. Then the doctor stopped Mabel one morning at
the door of the sick-room.

“One moment, Miss North. Has the patient ever exhibited any signs of
consciousness in your presence--tried to speak, or anything of the

“Never,” said Mabel, in surprise. “I should have told you if he had.”

“I didn’t know whether you might be luxuriating in the sentimental
satisfaction of feeling that you were the only person he recognised.
You needn’t be angry; from your point of view it would be very
natural. Well, I can’t make it out, then.”

“But has he spoken again--are there any signs----?”

“Not a word. But I can’t help thinking that there may be a kind of
semi-consciousness about him--ability to distinguish light from
darkness, or a loud noise from silence, perhaps--and I am almost
certain that he knows when you are there. There are minute variations
of temperature and pulse which correspond day after day, marking the
difference between your presence and absence. It’s a queer thing.”

“And you think he will soon be quite conscious? Oh, doctor!” and this
hope it was that kept Mabel so closely within the walls of the Sarai
as to satisfy even Dick. But no further change in the patient’s
condition seemed to reward her eager watchfulness. Dr Tighe said
nothing more, and Mabel was afraid to ask questions. Any good news he
would surely tell her, and she did not want to hear any that was bad.
After another three days, however, he stopped her again outside the

“Miss North, I’m going to give that poor fellow away. I won’t presume
to inquire into your feelings towards him, but unless you can take
him, scarred as he will be, without a qualm, you had better keep away
from him in future. He is conscious, but he guesses how it is with
him, and he means to tire you out. He has settled in his own mind that
if he shows no gratitude for your nursing, and no interest in your
presence, you will leave him alone, so that he won’t be tempted to
take advantage of your pity for him. So he lies there like a log, and
the self-repression is bad for him. I would be glad to see you end it
one way or another.”

“Do you mean that he can speak, and see, and hear, but pretends he
can’t?” demanded Mabel.

“No, no. He can’t see--because of the bandage over his eyes, if for no
other reason--and he can’t speak intelligibly. But he can hear, and he
can answer questions by moving his right hand for yes, and his left
for no. That’s how I found it all out.”

“And he has pretended not to be able to hear a sound! Why, I might
have said anything to him--anything! Happily I haven’t,” catching the
doctor’s eye, “for Colonel Slaney told me so particularly not to
excite him. But what do you want me to do?”

“To please yourself. Either make him understand that you mean to stick
to him, or simply stay away. It’ll be better for him.”

“Which have you told him you expect I shall do?” asked Mabel, turning
upon him. The doctor looked guilty.

“I’d have had the greatest pleasure in preparing the poor fellow’s
mind, if I’d known,” he confessed; “but for the life of me I couldn’t
decide which you’d be likely to do.”

“Thanks for your high opinion of me,” said Mabel, entering the room
with a short laugh. “Perhaps you will kindly notice that I am putting
an end to your doubts at this moment.”

Such was the confused condition of Dr Tighe’s mind that he did not at
first realise the bearing of this sentence. Indeed, it was not until
he was busy in his improvised surgery half-an-hour later that he
perceived its full import, and made the bottles ring again with the
shout of joy which greeted his discovery. As for Mabel, she sat down
in her usual place beside the bed, and bent over the patient.

“Fitz,” she said very distinctly, “I want to speak to you. You needn’t
pretend you can’t hear, for I know Dr Tighe has been talking to you.
Raise your right hand when you mean yes, and your left when you mean

No movement of any kind followed, but Mabel was not to be daunted.

“I understand,” she went on, “that you don’t like me to be here, and
would rather I left off helping to nurse you?”

This time the right hand was unmistakably raised an inch or so.

“I have no right to offer any objection,” resumed Mabel, “but I don’t
think you need have left Dr Tighe to tell me about it. I suppose I
ought to have known that I had treated you too badly for you ever to
care for me again.”

The left hand was shaken two or three times with pathetic vehemence.

“Then some one has told you,” indignantly, “how old and wretched I am
beginning to look. Even Flora confesses it--I made her tell me--but
she said she loved me just the same. I said I shouldn’t mind it, if it
didn’t prevent my friends caring for me--and there were one or two to
whom I felt sure it would make no difference. I never thought that
you---- No, you are not to touch that bandage,” intercepting a feeble
movement of one hand towards the eyes. “Do you want to be blind? But
it’s better as it is,” with a heavy sigh--“better that we should part
now. I mean, I couldn’t bear you to think me ugly.”

Again the left hand was shaken vehemently.

“Do you mean that it isn’t that? Then there’s only one other thing it
can possibly be. You don’t believe I can be faithful, though you can;
and you haven’t realised that it’s just this accident of yours which
removes my objection to you. You know I said you would look so
dreadfully young compared with me. Well, no one can say that now. You
will look like a battered veteran, and though I have gone off so
dreadfully, I shall look quite youthful beside you. Do you

The right hand was lifted somewhat doubtfully.

“I’m glad of that. Because, you see, I have told people that we are
engaged, and it would be such a very uncomfortable thing if I had to
contradict it. Now listen. Flora and I have agreed that I am not Queen
Mab any longer, but if you agree it will be very rude.” Up came the
left hand with alacrity. “That’s right; then I am still Queen Mab to
you, and I lay my commands on you that this sort of thing is not to
happen again. I mean to help nurse you, whether you like it or not,
and you will get well much sooner if you make up your mind to like it.
But even if you don’t, I won’t give you up.”

Both hands were raised, with an imploring gesture, and Mabel took them
in her own, and hid her face in them.

“Because I love you, Fitz. You couldn’t have the heart to send me away
after that, could you? Don’t try to talk; I understand.”

Returning to her watch that evening, Mabel met the Commissioner, who
stopped to inquire after Fitz.

“He is conscious; he knows me,” she answered joyfully, adding, after a
moment’s hesitation, “I think perhaps you will like to know that it is
all right between us now.”

“I am very glad to hear it. I hope from my heart that you may be
absolutely happy. As for Anstruther,” added Mr Burgrave, in his old
courtly way, “there can be no question as to his happiness.”

“We shall always feel that we owe it very much to you,” faltered

“It is extremely kind of you to say so. I am leaving early to-morrow,
and that is a pleasant assurance to carry with me. I hoped I should
meet you this evening, as I am dining at your brother’s, but I see you
have other duties.”

“I am so sorry--I didn’t understand--how stupid of me!” cried Mabel.
“Are you leaving the frontier altogether?”

“I am returning in the first instance to Bab-us-Sahel, to take up my
regular duties again. My visit to the frontier has extended over a
preposterous length of time, owing first to my accident and then to
the rising, and I fear it has thrown the machinery of government a
good deal out of gear. Personally, however, I cannot bring myself to
regret it. I have enjoyed many important experiences, for which I did
not bargain when I set out.”

Mabel’s eyes fell before the kindly look in his. “Can you ever forgive
me?” she murmured.

“I have nothing to forgive. The fault was mine.” He bowed over the
hand she held out to him. “The Queen can do no wrong.”

They parted, and Mr Burgrave went on to the Norths’ quarters, two
small square rooms without a door, and possessing only one small
window apiece, high up in the back wall. One side was open to the
courtyard of the Sarai, and at night was somewhat inadequately closed
by means of curtains and Venetian blinds. The dinner-table had been
laid with the help of contributions from the Grahams and the Hardys,
and the Commissioner pretended politely not to recognise his own
reading-lamp, the only large lamp belonging to the community that had
escaped the chances of war and earthquake. Flora, whose father was
dining with the General, occupied Mabel’s vacant place, and did her
part in helping to arrange the impromptu drawing-room at the back of
the room. There were screens and a brazier, to mitigate the coldness
of the evening air, and for furniture the camp-chairs which had played
so many parts in the economy of the siege. Dick had received strict
injunctions to offer his guest a cigar, and Georgia and Flora were
prepared to efface themselves so far as to retire into the bedroom
should Mr Burgrave’s principles forbid him to smoke in the presence of
ladies, but their self-sacrifice was not needed. No sooner were the
chairs arranged than the Commissioner, who had been helping to carry
them behind the screen, prepared to take his leave.

“I will ask you to excuse me early,” he said to Georgia, “for I have a
good deal of writing to do, and Mr Beltring has been good enough to
offer to take poor Beardmore’s place for this evening.”

He hesitated for a moment, turned to go, and then came back again.

“I think perhaps I had better explain something that might perplex you
in the future,” he said, speaking to Dick, but including Georgia. “It
has to do with the frontier question.”

“I thought we had come to an agreement on that subject,” said Dick,
with some apprehension.

“Pardon me, I agreed to withdraw my report in deference to your
representations, but I still think your principles unsound--radically

The rest gazed at him in alarm, and he went on. “Your custom of
intervening in trans-frontier disputes, and practically exercising
authority outside our own borders, is diametrically opposed to the
traditional policy of the Government. I am bound to admit that it
seems to succeed in your case, but it needs exceptional men to carry
it out. You, Major, especially with Mrs North to assist you”--he bowed
to Georgia--“are unquestionably a power to be reckoned with all along
this frontier, but what would befall the ordinary civil servant who
might be sent to succeed you?”

“That’s just it,” said Dick. “You mustn’t send us the common or garden
office-wallah up here. Let me pick the right man--whether he’s a wild
rattlepate like Anstruther, or a steady plodding chap like
Beltring--and give him the right rough-and-tumble sort of training,
till he knows the tribes like a brother, and there’s your exceptional
man ready when you want him. Only he must be the right sort to begin
with, and he must be caught young.”

“A possible clue to my own lack of success up here!” mused the
Commissioner. “Still, I fear you will scarcely find that any
Government will look with favour upon a system that would practically
make the frontier a close preserve for you and your pupils. But this
is what I wished to say. I can’t conscientiously work with you on your
lines, though I have promised not to oppose you, and therefore I am
recommending the severance of the frontier districts from those of
Khemistan proper, and their erection into a separate agency under an
officer answerable directly to the Viceroy. Don’t think I have tried
to shift the responsibility from my own shoulders. It seemed that
while we could not well work together, we might work side by side. I
have done the best I can.”

He went out precipitately, one of the servants hastening to light him
to his own quarters, thus restoring the lamp. Those left behind looked
at each other.

“Poor old chap!” said Dick. “It’s about the worst thing he could have
done for himself, and it’s not very much good to us. The Great Great
One can scarcely be expected to welcome such a slap in the face as
that. His own nominee, sent to carry out his very own policy,
recommending its reversal, not because his views have changed, but
simply because facts are against him!”

They sat talking round the brazier in the dusk for some time, until
there was a footstep outside, and Beltring pushed aside the screen and
entered. He had a paper in his hand.

“Why, you are all in the dark, Mrs North!” he said. “Never mind, I can
tell you the great news. The Commissioner has just had a telegram that
the rumour of the Viceroy’s resignation is true. Lord Torvalvin is
coming out instead.”

“Torvalvin!” cried Dick. “Then the frontier’s safe.”

“And you will be Warden of the Marches still,” said Flora.

“That seems to make me out a sort of Vicar of Bray,” grumbled Dick.

“It’s only Flora’s poetical way of speaking,” said Georgia. “I’m sure
it sounds much better to talk of keeping the marches than of running
the frontier.”

“Yes,” said Flora. “I was thinking of the inscription in Sir Walter
Scott’s hall at Abbotsford, about the ‘men wha keepit the marchys in
the old tyme for the Kynge. Trewe men war they in their tyme, and in
their defence God them defendyt.’”

“I like that,” said Georgia softly.

“Well,” said Dick, “it’s all very well for me, but Torvalvin’s coming
out will be a fearful blow for Burgrave. I suppose he will feel bound
to resign, for I certainly don’t see how they can work together. Did
he seem much cut up, Beltring?”

“He didn’t show it, sir. Only said he thought you would like to see
the telegram. Why, his lamp has gone out!” Beltring had reached the
threshold on his way back. “Good heavens! what’s that?”

A wild uproar was arising from the camp, which stretched into the
desert beyond the Sarai, and alternate cries of “Dīn! Dīn!” and
“Ghazis!” were discernible.

“A Ghazi raid!” cried Dick, springing for his sword. “Georgie, take
the boy and Rahah, and barricade yourself in with Mab and Miss Graham.
You have two revolvers, and I’ll send help as soon as possible. Take
the chairs. They’ll help you to build up a corner.”

Rahah ran out with the baby, and Dick and Beltring saw the ladies
safely to the door of the sick-room, then rushed to the gateway, where
they stumbled over the dead body of the sentry. The tumult in the camp
still continued, shouts and yells coming from several directions
mingled with the sound of shots, but in each case all was quiet again
before they arrived at the point of interest. Such of the troops as
were new to the frontier looked somewhat ashamed when they realised
that the attack which had thrown the camp into confusion was the work
of only four men, but the more experienced knew that four desperate
fanatics, armed to the teeth, and determined to kill until they
themselves were killed, were by no means foes to be despised. The one
who had fought most obstinately wore a green turban, and Dick nodded
grimly as he caught sight of his face.

“Bahram Khan! I thought so,” he said. “But I’m afraid there’s been the
devil’s own work done in the Sarai. Bring torches.”

A number of officers ran back with him to the gateway, where the
sentry was found to have been dexterously strangled from behind.
Entering the courtyard, they turned towards the Commissioner’s
quarters, which were still in darkness. Suddenly Dick’s foot slipped.

“Another body here!” he said, and some one brought forward a torch. To
their astonishment, it was a woman who lay before them, dressed in
rich native garments, which, with the coarse _chadar_ covering her
face, were soaked with blood. She had been stabbed in the breast, but
was still breathing heavily. Sending a messenger for Dr Tighe, they
went on, in growing dread as to what they might find. Their fears were
justified. On the verandah lay the Sikh sentry, stabbed in the back,
and on the floor of his office was the body of the Commissioner,
hacked and disfigured almost beyond recognition with a hundred wounds.
It did not need the verdict of Dr Tighe to assure the men who stood
round that life was extinct.

“What can have been the reason? Why the Commissioner and not North?”
were the questions that passed from mouth to mouth, as Dick tore down
a curtain and laid it reverently over the body, with the help of Dr

“Perhaps the woman can tell us something. She seems conscious now,”
said some one, but when the doctor knelt down beside her she pulled
her veil feebly over her face, moaning out a name the while.

“She won’t let me touch her. She’s a _pardah nishin_,” he said,
rising. “It’s the doctor lady she’s asking for, Major.”

Dick went himself to fetch his wife, and the men stood aside a little
as Georgia tried to stanch the gaping wound, which was draining the
poor creature’s life away. The woman herself laughed weakly.

“It matters not, O doctor lady. I shall follow my lord.”

“You are little Zeynab?” asked Georgia gently, looking into the drawn

“I am that luckless one, O doctor lady, and I die thus for the sake of
the kindness thou didst show me many years ago.”

“Don’t talk now,” said Georgia. “Tell me afterwards.”

 [image: images/img_324.jpg

“Nay, I must speak now, for soon it will be too late. Six days we have
been hiding here and there, O doctor lady, my lord and his three
servants and I, and this evening we were in the shadow of the
oleanders beside the gate. Thence we saw the Kumpsioner Sahib return
to his house with a light carried before him, and presently there came
out a young sahib with a _chit_ in his hand, and crossed the
courtyard. Then my lord said, ‘It is time,’ and two of his followers
slew the guard at the gate, while he and the third flung themselves
like tigers upon the accursed Sikh on the verandah, and killed him
without a cry. I, who had crept after them, saw the Kumpsioner Sahib
sitting at a table with the light in front of him, and a pistol at his
right hand--for truly he feared my lord, even in his own house--and I
saw also that my lord had crept in like a cat, and was stretching out
his hand over his shoulder for the pistol. But as he took away the
pistol, the Kumpsioner Sahib saw his hand, and turned round and sprang
up. Then one of the other men blew at the lamp to put it out, and the
light burned low. And my lord laughed and said in the Persian tongue,
‘We meet at last, O Barkaraf Sahib. Thou didst indeed believe that
victory was thine, but if Nāth Sahib’s sister is not for me, neither
is she for thee. Death is thy bride.’ At first it seemed to me that
the Kumpsioner Sahib was about to speak, but he stood up straight with
his arms folded, and said nothing, until my lord added divers other
taunts, when he said, ‘Take not the name of that lady upon thy lips, O
low-born one. Dost thou fear to strike me, who am here unarmed, that
thou speakest evil of a woman who is absent?’ Then my lord struck him
with his dagger, and the lamp went out, and they all fell upon him,
and stabbed him many times. And coming out, my lord found me, and
said, ‘Go through the midst of the Sarai, and cry out aloud for the
doctor lady, that she may come out and we may slay her and her son,
and it may be the accursed Nāth Sahib himself also.’ But I would not,
O doctor lady, and therefore it was that my lord stabbed me, and that
I die now at his hand.” With a sudden convulsive movement, she tore
away Georgia’s hand from the wound, and struggled to her feet, then
staggered and fell. Georgia caught her in her arms, but the dressing
had been dislodged, and the blood streamed forth again as the dark
head dropped heavily on her shoulder.

They buried the Commissioner in the little cemetery at Alibad, and for
days people went about saying that it was the irony of fate that his
grave should be next to that of General Keeling. It was Georgia who
chose the spot, however, and she thought otherwise.

“He would have been a man after my father’s own heart, if he had known
him,” said Georgia, “though I don’t say they wouldn’t have wrangled on
theoretical questions from morning to night. But when I think that
with death staring him in the face, he would not say a word that might
turn their thoughts to Fitz, who was only a few feet away, and
absolutely helpless, I feel that he was one of the bravest men I have
ever known.”

Not all the opinions expressed concerning the dead man were so
favourable, however. On the evening of his funeral two Pathan soldiers
from one of the relieving regiments met Ismail Bakhsh near the
cemetery, and saluted him with marked friendliness.

“O brother,” they said, “we have heard that the famous general,
Sinjāj Kīlin Sahib Bahadar, is wont to ride abroad upon this border
by night. Is this so?”

“It is true,” returned the old trooper, “and I myself have heard him,
not once nor twice. And, moreover, what these eyes of mine have
beheld, it is not wise to relate.”

“Pray, brother, tell us when these things may be seen and heard? We
have a great desire to make proof of them for ourselves.”

“Nay,” said Ismail Bakhsh, with a lofty smile, “for that ye must wait
awhile. It is only when there is trouble on the border that the
General Sahib rides, and”--with a wave of the hand towards the
new-made grave--“the troubler of the border lies there.”



Sydney C. Grier was the pseudonym of Hilda Caroline Gregg.

This book is part of the author’s “Modern East” series. The full
series, in order, being:

  The Flag of the Adventurer
  Two Strong Men
  The Advanced-Guard
  His Excellency’s English Governess
  Peace With Honour
  The Warden of the Marches

Alterations to the text:

A few minor punctuation corrections--mostly involving the pairing of
quotation marks.

Change three instances of “Mrs.” to “Mrs” and one of “Dr.” to “Dr”.
Otherwise, minor spelling and hyphenization inconsistencies have been
left as is.

[Title Page]

Add illustrator’s credit and brief note indicating this novel’s
position in the series. See above.


Place the book’s sole footnote (Chapter XIX) in square brackets inline
with the text.

[Chapter XI]

Change “said Bahram _Kham_ approvingly” to _Khan_.

[Chapter XVII]

“and Ghulam _Rasal_, taking his place” to _Rasul_.

[Chapter XIX]

“broken off your _engagemen_” to _engagement_.

[Chapter XX]

“said the _Comissioner_ with a smile” to _Commissioner_.

 [End of Text]


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