W. P. Drury

The Incendiaries

I Dedicate This Book
The Memory of
John Granville Cornwallis
6th Earl of St. Germans
M.C., Captain, 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys)
in the
Gardens of Whose Historic Home, Port Eliot
Many of Its Pages Have Been Written

Chapter I

India Comes to Dullington

The short December day was drawing to a close, and the Nunc Dimittis of the countryside fell musically upon the frosty air. The badinage of rooks in distant elm-tops and the plaint of folded sheep upon the down formed a background of mellow murmur to the notes of men and kine more immediately at hand. With a leisurely gait that neither the cold nor their pressing needs could hasten, soft-eyed Jerseys came lowing from the sheltered home pastures to the milking byre. A whistling obligato to an andante of horseshoes on the ringing road proclaimed the homecoming of a hungry ploughman and his cattle. Behind the shoulder of the hill the last ruby spark of the setting sun had vanished with surprising suddenness, as though Nature, impatient for sleep, had blown out her sinking lamp before jumping into bed. A scarlet glow, barred by the stems of a pine wood in the middle distance, still lay along the purple crestline of the downs. Four-square and time-worn, a cluster of Tudor chimneys topped a lower ridge, marking the near neighbourhood of a village; and slender columns of pale blue smoke, as of burnt offerings from a dozen rustic altars, ascended to the evening star.

The old church clock was adding its measured chime—the first quarter after four—to this typical English pastoral, when, with a silence that savoured of stealth, two closely muffled figures suddenly appeared upon the frozen highway. That they were of a different hemisphere from that of the usual frequenters of the road was obvious at the first glance; in physique and movement alone the sinuous pair and the brawny Sussex siffleur, who had lately preceded them, were as the poles asunder. The eyes of Piers Plowman, moreover, had been of cornflower blue and their expression stolid, while his cheeks had reflected the red of the beef he devoured on Sundays. The complexion of the strangers was that of weak coffee, and the eyes which looked out from the mufflers were the dark and gleaming orbs of the inscrutable East.

The shorter of the two, a youth in the mid-twenties, was already showing promise of that generous girth to which, in later life, his ease-loving countrymen are addicted. Though his overcoat was buttoned up to his ears, one instinctively divined from the shape of his billycock and the glimpse of his turned-up trousers that his waistcoat was Tooting’s latest fancy. His tan boots rivalled the orange of the sunset, his socks the purple of the hills, and he was weighted, as a patient ass with panniers, by a couple of sagging burdens. In one hand he carried a Gladstone bag marked “C.M.” and obviously containing his own belongings; the fingers of the other fumbled painfully with the knotted cord of a small tin trunk, gaudily painted, which was as evidently the property of his companion. Frequenters of the Bloomsbury boarding-house or the flats about Shaftesbury Avenue would have shrewdly betted on his being a Bengali Babu or student, and had they further wagered (as nine-tenths of them would have done) on the bag initials standing for “Chunder Mookerjee,” they would have won their money as easily.

A spare, ascetic figure of commanding presence, taller by a head and of patently higher caste than his fellow-pilgrim, the second Indian gained yet an added dignity from his simple native garb. His sinister face was crowned by a white turban, his feet were thrust, as though protecting, into unfamiliar shoes, while a brown camel’s hair blanket was closely wrapped about his supple body. No menial burden hampered his easy stride; to the painful progress of his doubly weighted companion he was loftily indifferent. A contemptuous smile flickered on his lips, his baleful eyes held in their dark depths the afterglow of the sunset as, with inexorable purpose, he neared the appointed goal. For, poised above a turret in the valley, a planet burned with brilliance, marking the long journey’s end for this Machiavellian Wise Man from the East.

At the bend of the road where the chimneys first became visible, he stopped abruptly.

“A village!” he snarled in Hindustani.

“Aï, of Dullington,” grinned the other with relief.

His companion spat in the roadway. “I enter no more of their accursed villages,” he said.

Although, like Charity, the Babu had suffered long, he was far from feeling kind. His hereditary prejudice against physical effort was being cruelly violated. His fingers ached from the cold, his arms from the unwonted drain placed upon them, his feet from a combination of new boots and many weary miles of frozen roadway. It was the limit, as he mentally expressed it in newly acquired idiom, though his querulous retort was in the vernacular.

“There would have been no need to enter any village, Punditjee, had we not quitted the te-rain in anger because of foolish laughter.”

The Pundit drew himself up to his full height, and tightened the blanket about his spare figure.

“I love neither the village street nor the public te-rain,” he replied haughtily. “It is not meet that the Twice-Born should suffer the taunts of low caste Christarn sweepers.”

Plainly the democratic man-and-brother doctrine of the West had no place in this dark-skinned pagan’s creed, and none knew it better than the English-tailored Babu beside him.

“Nevertheless,” ventured the latter doubtfully, “the road to the burra bungalow, lieth through this village before us.”

“Then must thou search the paper of the Government for another road, Babujee.”

With the serenity of a race which takes no stock of time, the Pundit folded his arms across his breast, and became, to all appearances, lost in contemplation of the evening star.

Ready enough to avail himself of the momentary relief, the Babu dropped his burdens on the ground, fumbled with frozen fingers at an inner pocket, and produced a folded sheet of the Ordnance Survey. He was still peering at it in the fading light when the near cackle of rustic repartee heralded the advent of lovers from the hamlet.

“Wah!” With a gesture of contempt the Pundit abandoned his study of the planets and returned to earth. “Of a truth this land is filled with the laughter of fools! Yet——” he stroked his chin reflectively—“even a fool may know his own jungle paths better than they who map a kingdom. Cease thy blinking, Owl, and ask yon babblers whether there be some such path.”

“And thou, Holy One? Whither goest thou?”

“I will endure no more the mockings of these low-born ryots. I will await thee behind the cactus. Perchance,” his eye fell contemptuously on the new brown boots, “they may take thee for a sahib!”

Jungle-bred, he vanished through a gap in the hedge with scarce a rustle, leaving the Babu to question the slowly approaching lovers. So absorbed in each other were the hand-locked pair that neither noticed the Indian’s presence in the dusk till they were close upon him.

“Oh, my lor’!” screamed the girl, clutching her swain by the elbow.

The Babu coughed deprecatingly. “I beg humble pardon for temporary bust-up of love’s young dream,” he smirked, “but——”

“Look ’ere,” interrupted ex-Private Bullimore, with a bluster that ill-concealed his own shaken nerves, “wot d’yer mean by skeerin’ my young lady with that mug o’ yours?”

“Aforesaid mug not being my fortune, h’n?” Mookerjee grinned ingratiatingly.

“I’ve more than ’alf a mind to ’it it,” retorted the other, eyeing him doubtfully. “I would,” he added, as an afterthought, “if it was like anything ’uman.”

The Babu breathed freely again. “Thanking you for esteemed favour,” he went on hastily, “and without further trespass on primrose path of dalliance, kindly inform re shortest cut to address as per invoice.”

The ex-soldier peered with suspicion at the envelope presented for his inspection.

“Squire’s,” he explained laconically to his companion, after he had deciphered the superscription.

“Then don’t ’ee tell him,” was her whispered injunction. “As like as not he means to cut the old gen’leman’s throat.”

Desperate to reach warmth and shelter without further delay, Mookerjee dived in his pocket, produced half a crown, and pressed it in Mr. Bullimore’s palm.

“Towards purchase of connubial ring,” he leered.

Without a change of countenance the anything but bashful swain pouched the coin, and pointed down the road.

“Cross the stile ’alf left,” he directed, “and you’ll find a path through the wood. It’s nearer than the road, and better for the civilian population. They ain’t accustomed to the ’orrors o’ war same as what I’ve been. The next time you give a young lady shell-shock on the King’s ’ighway,” he stopped to shout the warning over his shoulder, “you’ll get ’urt!”

Rejoined by his companion, Mookerjee reported the result of his inquiries.

“It is well,” commented the Pundit. “He who would not have his business priest upon avoideth the village peepul tree at eventide.”

Unbosomed of this cryptic axiom, he lapsed into contemplative silence; and, leaving the Babu to follow with their joint impedimenta as best he might, he lightly vaulted the stile and plunged into the screening twilight of the wood. In the heart of the sombre pines night had already fallen. But darkness was no obstacle to this child of the primeval forest: for him the devious path, invisible to the Babu, was as easy to follow as by day. In an incredibly short time, considering the nature of the track and the distance, the pair emerged from the gloom into the fading brightness of the afterglow; and, passing through a wicket labelled Private, they stepped upon a stone-flagged path that bordered the prim parterres of an old-world garden.

On the far side of this formal and well-ordered pleasaunce stretched a balustrated terrace; and from the terrace, in a stately array of gable-ends and chimney-stacks, rose the loom of an ancient manor-house. Here and there a finger of smoke upon the sky and a panel of firelight below showed indeed that the building was occupied. But the sparse illumination and the absence of domestic stir and bustle also suggested, as was actually the case, that the tenants of Dullington Hall were at present few in number.

His arms folded in his habitual attitude across his breast, his eyes fixed with a sombre intensity on the house before him, the Pundit stood, rigid and motionless as a bronze statue. As minute after minute slipped by, the Babu stamped his icy feet and blew upon his fingers with an impatience bordering on tears. In sheer desperation he at length even ventured on a mild remonstrance. As well might he have appealed to a veritable graven image. Not even his final hysterical collapse upon the baggage produced the smallest effect on his companion, who, as though entranced, appeared to see some object veiled from grosser vision by the massive walls of the Elizabethan manor-house.

After what seemed to the numbed and exhausted Babu an eternity of torture—certainly long after the last tinge of carmine had faded from the sky—the Pundit spoke.

“The gods are just!” he cried in triumph, yet as one newly awakened from sleep, “’tis true talk. The journey hath not been in vain; the work awaits the craftsman. Come!”

By a prodigious effort the Babu made shift to raise himself, and even the Gladstone bag, from the frozen path. But the tin trunk was now utterly beyond his strength. Realizing this at last, the Pundit, with an exclamation of impatience, tucked it under his own arm; and, as though it were no weightier than a tin of tobacco, strode across the garden, mounted the terrace steps, and made for the great Tudor porch to which they gave access. Tottering along a dozen paces behind, the Babu arrived in time to hear, from the far recesses of the house, the clanging of a bell, which his companion had rung with a vigour savouring of insolence.

After a lengthy interval, and just as the Pundit had once more grasped the bell-pull, approaching footsteps were heard, a ponderous latch was lifted, and the great double doors were flung open by a footman in evening livery. His well-fed figure was sharply silhouetted against the lamp- and fire-light of a spacious galleried hall, at the moment empty; and the beady eyes of the chilled and famished Babu searched its luxury with a hunger that did not escape the flunkey.

“Now, then, be off, both of you!” he ordered, after a supercilious survey of the turbanned and blanketed Pundit. “Comin’ to the ’all door, too, like your confounded impidence! Come, move yourselves, my fine fellers, before I sets Towser on you!”

“Begging humble pardon for sartorial disreputableness of self and friend,” cringed Mookerjee, “to which misfortune regrettable reference to watch-dog no doubt due, kindly forward as per address accompanying introductory epistle to Honourable B. Biddulph, M.P., and oblige.”

The outraged flunkey took the proffered envelope gingerly between his fingers, held it at arm’s length while he suspiciously deciphered its legend, hesitated, and finally retained it.

“Tradesmen’s hentrance,” he directed, indicating the end of the terrace with his thumb. “And it may be noos to you,” he added, as a parting shot ere he closed the door, “that if it’s ’anky-panky we can telephone for the p’lice.”

With feigned humility Mookerjee followed the Pundit down the steps and a pace or two along the terrace walk. But when the banged door behind them had hidden them from view, the Babu ecstatically plucked his companion by the sleeve.

“Punditjee,” he whispered, “it is true talk! Yonder she sits beneath the gallery—with mine own eyes I beheld her! Lo, I have seen——”

“Peace, babbler!” The Pundit glanced contemptuously at the trembling form beside him. “It needs not an open door to reveal the truth to the Twice-Born. What thy dull eyes have but this moment discovered I saw ten minutes since, even as we tarried on the borders of the wood!”

Chapter II

The Policeman in the Row

The Romans, who classified Nature among the nouns of the feminine gender, and assigned her, on the Gallic principle of place aux dames, to the first declension, did credit no less to their sense of humour than to their reputation for logic. It is indeed inconceivable that anyone possessed of those attributes would affix to that hysteria in excelsis known to as us Nature, the label of the better balanced sex; for even the prehistoric humorist in his cave must have marked the close affinity between her disconcertingly swift changes of mood and those of the lady gnawing an elk bone beside him. It is true that in the course of aeons man has grown to tolerate the baggage who consistently weeps in February, is a femina furens in March, smiles through her tears in April, is by turns ardent and languishing in the dog days, falls into a gentle melancholy in October, and in January chills with an icy demeanour the most loyal of her lovers. But for the unruly wanton who runs through the entire gamut of her tantrums in one bewildering month he has no manner of use, and, if he be an Englishman, his lurid abuse of her colours all his traffic with his fellows in the market-place.

It coloured the conversation of more than one group of loungers leaning over the rails of the Row one fine morning towards the end of a certain post-war December. The new-born month, the sickly infant of the year’s old age, had been ushered into the calendar wrapped about in a yellow blanket of fog. Its second week, a se’nnight of black frost, had been succeeded by a worse one of icy rain from the north-east, and now a day had dawned, mild and sunny, which recalled the gracious tenderness of October. With a cynical distrust of their native climate pessimists labelled it as “borrowed,” gratitude for a coquette’s present smiles being a less abiding emotion than resentment at her past frowns coupled with an uneasy anticipation of their recurrence.

For a mid-winter morning the Park presented an unusually cheerful appearance. Lured by the warmth, sybarites, who for the past three weeks had hibernated by the chimney-corner, crawled in the sunshine like premature butterflies and beetles. Eastward-bound business men reduced their habitual brisk pace to a saunter. Practised economists in khaki, lighting a circle of cigarettes from a single match, loitered to gossip of sterner days with demobilized comrades in “civies.” Women in furs, unfastened as the sun gained power, strolled, or sat for a few chattering moments, with uniformed friends of both sexes. Nursemaids, in an immemorial failure to keep one eye on Mars and the other on a perambulator, jerked monosyllabic apologies at incensed victims of collision; ubiquitous children and dogs ignored the rule of the road as they have been wont to do since the day Noah shoo’d them from the stranded Ark to fling and retrieve wet sticks between the cramped legs of Shem, Ham and Japhet on Ararat. From a distant slowly moving dot of brilliant scarlet was presently evolved the picturesque figure of a Chelsea pensioner, dreaming, in the shadow of an Armageddon that had left him cold, of an immortal thin red line of which he was a tattered shred; while a blur of cobalt across the Ride marked a group of wounded lads, who had faced a yet more tremendous hell, and whose fathers were still unborn when Inkerman was fought. On age and youth, on frivolity and strenuous achievement, on the hale and on the halt, on furs and khaki and blue jean, on the just and on the unjust the genial sun shone “without partiality, favour or affection,” and the magic of the morning was on all.

The long vista of the Mile was lost in each direction in a summer-like haze, through which the dancing specks of distant horses and riders continually vanished and loomed again into view. One of these specks, rapidly advancing from the direction of the Corner resolved itself in due course into a smart cob ridden at a canter by a girl in a notably well-cut habit. The creator of the garment, which was of the graceful side-saddle design, was obviously a master of his craft, who had taxed his skill to the utmost to do justice to the perfect figure of his fair client. Nor were the accessories of the costume less carefully considered. From the wide-brimmed hat, securely set on the burnished, neatly coiled hair, to her immaculate gloves and riding-boots, the finish of the girl’s attire was in marked contrast to the slovenliness which disfigured a dozen galloping hoydens who passed her.

This prevailing daintiness was the keynote of the picture, and furnished an index to at least one trait in the rider’s character. It was a part of her personality, though the art that conceals art had been employed in expressing it. One intuitively felt that it reflected the fastidiousness of a mind that was sweet and wholesome and could never harbour unclean lumber. There was an air of distinction about her that compelled attention. In the poise of the small, well-shaped head, in the imperious lift of the chin and the set of the squared shoulders, in every line of the lissom figure was the unmistakable stamp of breeding; even the level, fearless glance from the widely spaced grey eyes was a legacy from a race that had made history. Add to these attractions a graceful seat in the saddle, the charm and freshness bestowed by nineteen joyous summers, a face of rare loveliness alert with intelligence and mobile as an April sky, and you will scarce wonder that her progress was followed with approval by every male eye and by not a few feminine ones within focus.

But the slight frown which puckered her pretty forehead was in no wise due to the undisguised admiration of the bystanders, an admiration of which she was perfectly aware. Pamela Hastings was accustomed to attract attention in whatever sphere she moved, and, provided it was not lacking in proper deference, she healthily enjoyed it. At the crossing near the French Embassy, however, the frown relaxed in a smile, as she bowed to a man riding in the opposite direction. With a muttered exclamation of dismay, he suddenly wheeled his horse and joined her.

“I thought you were at Dullington,” he began, when they had reined their animals to a walk.

With an inward satisfaction she was careful not to let him suspect, Pamela noted the disappointment in the voice.

“The manners of the men of the present day are not what they used to be,” she retorted, with the ripe experience of nineteen years. “You might at least take the trouble to disguise your annoyance, Mr. Crowther.”

The bronzed hard-bitten man of thirty gasped at the girl’s attack.

“Annoyance?” he echoed feebly.

“At finding that I’m still sharing London with you. However, you can buck up—it won’t be for long. You’ll be glad to hear we’re all going back to Dullington next week.”

“I am,” he laughed, and the shadow passed from his face. “You see, I’m going down there myself—tomorrow, though, worse luck! A week of my leave wasted,” he added ruefully.

“I didn’t know you had any friends at Dullington— except ourselves, of course,” she commented, ignoring his last remark.

“Thank you for the exception.” He turned, and gravely bowed to her. “No, when I said Dullington I meant the Arbuthnots’. They’ve asked me down for a week’s hunting.”

“If this thaw lasts you ought to have a topping time.”

“I shall have a rotten time—for the first week, anyhow,” he returned with conviction. “I thought, when I accepted—I mean, I only accepted because—oh, well, because——”

“Because?” prompted the girl softly.

“—They said they were near neighbours of yours. They are, aren’t they?” he added anxiously.

“It depends whether you call twenty-five miles near.”

“Twenty-five miles!” He checked his horse in sudden consternation. “Good lord, what a gorgeous liar Arbuthnot must be! He told me it was a short five.”

His dismay was so patent that Pamela laughed aloud. “Poor Colonel Arbuthnot!” she rippled. “He’s the most painfully truthful man I know. Perhaps, after all, I exaggerated a little.”

“By twenty miles, I suppose?”

“Well, more or less. Guess what has brought me up to town,” she commanded, changing the subject.

“Shopping.” The reply was instant and unhesitating.

“I wonder why every man has that bee in his bonnet,” sighed Pamela. “I suppose they’re born with it, and can’t help themselves, poor things. I haven’t been near a shop for two days.”

“Yesterday was wet, and the day before was Sunday,” murmured Crowther.

The girl ignored the reminder. “As a matter of fact,” she explained, “my people are home quite suddenly from India, and I came up on Friday with Aunt Octavia to meet them.”

“I’m jolly glad to hear they’re in England,” he returned, with such obvious sincerity that Pamela’s grey eyes betrayed her appreciation of the tribute. “When I left Bombay in the middle of November there didn’t seem a dog’s chance of the Judge getting away for months to come. I wonder my own leave was approved with all this unrest brewing. Anyhow, ‘sufficient unto the day—’ How are they? Fit, I hope?”

“As far as I can gather; I haven’t seen them for five years, remember. They’re naturally looking old, poor dears.”

“Then they must have aged a lot in six weeks,” laughed Crowther. “When I met her last I thought your mother was looking younger than ever. Why, the Judge can’t be more than forty-eight.”

“But that’s frightfully old, isn’t it? Though not too old, apparently——” She suddenly checked herself, and the frown of five minutes earlier reappeared on the charming face.

“You’ve deserted them rather quickly, haven’t you?” he hazarded, puzzled by her change of expression. “They’re not with you, by any chance?”

“Mother’s gone with Aunt Octavia to get some glad rags—her present ones are a bit mouldy, poor darling, after five years of India in war-time. Dad’s supposed to be riding with me, but,” the frown deepened, “I couldn’t stick a Bombay pal of his he spotted on one of the chairs near the Corner, so I left him to it, as they say.”

“Bombay? I probably know him.”

“I hope not. And it isn’t a ‘him.’”

“Then it’s a woman.”

“How clever of you to guess! Personally I should describe it as ‘a rag and a bone and a hank of hair.’ But I’m not going to talk about her. I wonder if you do know her?” she continued with feminine inconsistency.

“Did you catch her name?”

“Dad introduced me; I shall have something to say to him about that later on. Oh, what was her horrid name? Something small or mean that obviously fitted her— Little, I believe it was. Yes, that was it—Mrs. Little.”

“‘Little Georgie’! Wonder what she’s doing in England,” he mused.

“At the present moment making a fool of a man old enough to know better,” snapped the girl vindictively. “No, wash out—I oughtn’t to have said that. Why ‘Little Georgie’?”

“Her Christian name’s Georgina,” explained Crowther absentmindedly.

“It would be,” laughed Pamela with contempt, though she would probably have found cause for ridicule had the lady been baptized by any other. The girl resented, too, the preoccupied air which, in a swift glance, she had noted on her companion’s face. Had that awful woman an attraction for the younger man also?

“I don’t know why we’re dawdling like this,” she exclaimed irritably, and, kicking her horse into a canter, she was half a dozen lengths ahead before her companion recovered himself sufficiently to think of following her.

James Havelock Crowther was an instance of that hereditary service under the government of India, which is found in so many Anglo-Indian families, and which has been so large a factor in the successful rule of her teeming and complex millions. He was a descendant, through his mother, of the great soldier of Mutiny renown, whose name it was his secret pride to bear. His grandparents had perished in the massacre at Cawnpore; his parents lay in another Indian grave, the one slain by cholera, the other—the survivor by a few short weeks—dead of a broken heart. For, although the pharmacopoeia may contain no reference to the fracture of that organ and its treatment, its occurrence is by no means confined to the pages of fiction. The double tragedy left their only son, a lad at Wellington cramming for Sandhurst, practically penniless and without a relative in the world to help him. But destiny was drawing him to the East as surely as the magnetic pole attracts the compass needle to the North. Through the influence of certain friends of his father an appointment was eventually procured for him in the Indian Police, a career to which he took as naturally as the oft-quoted duck takes to the water. For, apart from a marked aptitude for the calling, India was in his bones, and, in accordance with the traditions of his race, in India it seemed probable he would in due time lay them.

But, of a hundred observers who readily enough detected the Anglo-Indian in the bronzed face and lean, athletic figure of the police officer, not ten, it is safe to say, correctly guessed his profession. The probability of his being a soldier jumped to the eye; few ever seemed to consider the possibility of his being a policeman. For, in truth, there was little enough in the buoyant, lighthearted, flippant exterior to suggest the sleuth-hound beneath. It was a side of his personality, moreover, which Crowther for professional purposes found it useful to accentuate. To his acquaintances, and their name was legion, he was the most careless, irresponsible, popular dog in the Bombay Presidency. The narrower circle of his intimate friends, certain of his superiors in the Service, and (to their cost) not a few erring and cruelly undeceived natives realized that the nonchalant, debonair manner effectually disguised one of the most astute detectives in India.

Lured by a soldier pal one evening, soon after his arrival in England, to one of the many concerts then being inflicted on the wounded, he had heard Pamela play the violin, and, what he had perhaps appreciated more, had watched Pamela do it. Like every other male creature who came within her orbit, he had instantly fallen in love, and the fall was as resistless as it was sudden. Level-headed and calculating as he was in other adventures, in this, the greatest of all, he threw caution to the winds, showing no shred even of the instinct which prompts a man slipping down a precipice to clutch at every means of checking his descent. His was no gradual declension from one reasoned step to another, from dawning attraction and the weighing of heart against head to passion and a fevered examination of his pass-book. He fell headlong, in one swift rush, as a seaman falls from the yardarm into the sea. One moment he was as aloof from the treacherous element as the sailor on the yard, the next he was over head and ears in the swirling waters of love. And that, as he himself put it, was all that there was to it.

It was, moreover, and to change the metaphor, the first toss he had taken in the whole course of his ten or dozen years of manhood, and he naturally took it badly. For his total lack of feminine relations he had by turns blessed and abused Providence according to the mood of the moment. But though his loneliness in that respect more frequently depressed than elated him, he had so far shown no inclination to remedy it. His world indeed was filled with women. From the moment he first set eyes on Pamela it held—a very different thing—a woman.

How he had contrived to find someone to introduce him he could never afterwards recall. The name of that benefactor, if indeed he had ever heard it, was promptly and most ungratefully forgotten. But the graciously accorded permission to escort the grey-eyed divinity home, the all too brief rapture of the walk by her side through a moonlit city of romance known to prosaic souls as London, the renewal of the dream on the morrow when, on paying his formal respects to the uncle and aunt with whom she lived, she herself poured out his tea and afterwards played to him, the subsequent rides in the park and evenings at the theatre—these were events on whose memory he existed when Pamela in due season returned to the country and London had suddenly grown dark and empty.

And now, just as he had succeeded, after a diplomatic dinner at the club, in wangling this invitation out of Arbuthnot, she was back again! It was the country that would now be an aching void, and to the country he was committed on the morrow by his own premature move in the game. It was something gained, of course, to have an anchor down—within “a short five miles,” wasn’t it?—before she sailed back to Bullington. But the thought of that wasted intervening week rode him like an old man of the sea, and refused to be shaken off. He felt that he had no weeks to waste; for, although he had undoubtedly made a certain amount of hay while the sun (metaphorically) shone during the past two or three, after all what did it amount to? Largely out of the discovery that he knew her people in India a comradeship had sprung up between them which was encouraging as far as it went. But, even so, it was nothing, as he mentally phrased it, to write home about. They were good pals of the moment, like a score of other professedly platonic couples about them. Of any warmer feeling on Pamela’s part he ruefully confessed to himself he saw not the faintest indication.

Near the shrubbery, which blocks the Kensington end of the Mile, the girl had stopped to breathe her horse before turning.

“Who is that?” she asked in an undertone, as Crowther rejoined her.

For the moment he had no eyes for anything but the alluring face before him. Slightly flushed by the canter in the soft wintry air, and with all trace of the recent cloud vanished, it seemed to him the most perfect example of English loveliness the race could produce. A slight but imperious gesture recalled her question, and he turned in the direction indicated by her glance.

Across the Ride, and not a dozen paces distant, stood a magnificent, beautifully groomed charger, ridden by an Indian officer in khaki. The spare, lithe figure, sharply silhouetted against the misty grey-green background, was obviously that of a man in perfect training and, as Pamela mentally summed him up, as “hard as nails.” With his lean squared shoulders and well-knit figure, the uprightness of which was accentuated by the long straight lines of his pugaree, he looked what in truth he was—the ideal light cavalry soldier. His back was turned to the man and girl who sat watching him, for he was gazing intently at the distant Albert Memorial; and, so rigid was the pose of horse and rider alike, the pair might well have passed in a less direct light and in the courtyard of Burlington House, for instance, for an equestrian statue in bronze. With a curious little gesture, in which the girl found something indefinably pathetic, he presently turned, and Crowther was able to answer her question.

“Great Scot!” he exclaimed. “It’s Jaiselpore! All Anglo-India seems to be in the Park this morning.”

Pamela’s eyebrows lifted the fraction of an inch. “You don’t call that Anglo-India, surely?” she queried coldly.

“Of course not. But somehow one forgets Jaiselpore isn’t an Englishman. Anyhow, he’s a ripper—the best chap in the world, and a jolly fine asset to India. Would you care to meet him?”

“A native?”

Crowther noted the supercilious ring in the voice, the slight tilt of the chin, and was vaguely irritated by them. Yet Pamela was no snob, either in the social or in the racial sense. She was intensely white, and had all the healthy Englishwoman’s antipathy to colour. To her the mating of East with West was peculiarly abhorrent. She had no sort of use, as she expressed it, for the man-and-brother gospel of the missionary meeting. The cult of internationalism clashed with her simpler patriotic creed; in her vision of the human race the Anglo-Saxon was the winner every time, the rest were merely “also rans.” But she was imperially gracious to all alike who crossed her royal path. She would treat an Italian organ-grinder with the same perfect courtesy she accorded a countryman of her own caste. But she secretly placed the former in much the same category with his monkey.

“Well, you and I are natives,” Crowther reminded her, a little too curtly, perhaps, for wisdom. He had a very genuine liking for this man, and he resented the girl’s attitude when he should have condoned it as the natural outcome of youth and inexperience. “There are natives and natives—in both countries,” he went on. “Some you can’t know, others it’s an honour to meet, and this chap happens to be one of the latter. After all, he was at Eton and Oxford, and in many ways is as English as you and I. He’s a Maharajah, too, a sort of Prince, and was in the Imperial Cadet Corps. He was in France, and in the Mespot stunt—got pipped, you know, and a bit of ribbon that’s worth having. He——”

Pamela made a little gesture of impatience. Her colour had deepened, and there was a glint of angry amusement in the grey eyes.

“When you’ve quite finished the lecture,” she interrupted, “perhaps you will introduce the paragon. On second thoughts, I don’t mind if I do, as the village says when you invite it to tea. For Heaven’s sake,” she touched the cob with her heel, “let’s get it over!”

Chapter III

East or West?

The touch of hauteur in the Maharajah’s first careless glance at the approaching couple vanished in a smile of genuine pleasure as he recognized Crowther. Then, realizing that the latter was accompanied by a lady, he raised his fingers to his turban in a formal salute.

“This is great, Maharajah Sahib!” cried the Police Officer, as they shook hands. “I thought you had gone back to India months ago. Let me introduce you to Miss Hastings—you know her people of course in Bombay? His Highness the Maharajah of Jaiselpore.”

Pamela acknowledged the introduction a shade more ceremoniously than she had originally intended. Her suddenly changed attitude was dictated by an uneasy conviction that this was no “native” to be treated with condescension, however graciously bestowed. She instantly recognized in his bearing the indefinable yet unmistakable caste-mark of gentle birth, and, testing him by the standards of her own world, she admitted, with a curious reluctance, that, but for his Oriental exterior, he differed in no respect from the men she was accustomed to meet at the dinner-table.

The girl noted too, with a faint surprise, that the olive tint beneath his tanned skin was no darker than that of a southern Italian’s, and for once she failed to connect it with the piano-organ and monkey usually associated in her mind with the native of the Mediterranean peninsula. In the phraseology familiar to her from childhood she mentally catalogued the man before her as a burra sahib, a classification entirely uninfluenced by his high-sounding title; and, with a growing sense of bewilderment, she found herself hastily readjusting her previously conceived and very dogmatic views on the racial question. She was sensible of the swift comprehensive glance with which the keen dark eyes had swept her from head to foot, and the resulting gleam of respectful admiration, which she had no less failed to mark, at once thrilled and repelled her.

“Yes, indeed,” he was saying, in reply to Crowther’s reference, “I have had the pleasure of meeting the Judge and Mrs. Hastings more than once—often enough, I hope, to be allowed to call myself a friend. Is there any chance”—he turned courteously to Pamela—“of your coming out to join them?”

There was some talk, she told him, of her returning with them in the early spring.

“Then I hope it won’t end in talk,” he rejoined politely. “But you say, ‘return with them.’ Are they at home, then?”

“Rather! They’ve just turned up—a bit unexpectedly,” she explained. “As a matter of fact, my father’s with me now. Or is supposed to be,” she amended coldly.

“Then this is one of my red-letter days; I shall meet your parents, too, before returning to India, which,” he sighed, “I must do next week.”

Pamela was quick to detect the same sincere note of pleasure in his voice as that which had rung in Crowther’s on hearing of her parents’ arrival, and the added tribute to their popularity contributed not a little to the favourable impression the Maharajah had already begun to create in the girl’s mind. The slightly emphasized “too” in the compliment she resolutely ignored.

“How about getting a move on, Miss Hastings?” put in Crowther, a trifle curtly. “The Judge will wonder what’s become of you.”

“He’s far more likely to be wondering where Mother is,” retorted the girl, “and whether she’s likely to come into the Park when her shopping’s done! However, perhaps it is time I looked him up. One never knows what mischief one’s parents may be up to, Maharajah Sahib, if one lets them out of one’s sight for half an hour!”

“It’s a strenuous age for youth,” laughed Jaiselpore. “May I take some of its burden off your shoulders by helping you to find your missing charge?”

“Do, and Mr. Crowther, who seems depressed at the thought of my responsibilities, may help, too. His professional knowledge may come in useful, you know.”

“Yes,” agreed the Maharajah, “Miss Hastings and I are only amateurs. We shall look to you to pick up the trail, Crowther.”

“Miss Hastings is probably quite capable of finding it without the help of either of us,” retorted that officer shortly, “and the only thing that depresses me is the foreboding that her theory about parents and mischief may prove correct.”

Having revenged himself on her by this reminder of his knowledge of the Judge’s present whereabouts and occupation, he gloomily ranged himself on the girl’s off side while Jaiselpore took the other, and all three turned their horses’ heads westwards. Much as he liked the Maharajah amid bachelor surroundings, keenly alive as he was to the fact that he represented the best type of ruler in our eastern empire, Crowther had all the Anglo-Indian’s inherent prejudice against any hint of intimacy between a native, however well-born, and an Englishwoman. He had proposed the introduction in the first rush of enthusiasm at unexpectedly meeting a man for whom he had the warmest admiration and regard. He had forced it in a fit of pique at Pamela’s arrogant and unreasoned attitude towards the whole racial question. But his love for the girl had taken alarm at the dawning attraction Jaiselpore evidently possessed for her, and, without finding any definite cause for his uneasiness, he was already beginning to repent his hasty and impulsive action. In a word, James Crowther was angry with himself and sulky with his companions, and, resenting his mood, Pamela took a malicious pleasure in unbending to the Maharajah to a greater extent than she would have dared had they been alone.

Whether Jaiselpore was equally observant is another question. If so—and little escaped those dark, inscrutable eyes—he certainly showed no sign of it. He chatted on general topics with the ease and self-possession of the cultured English gentleman who bears the indelible hall-mark of a public school and university education. If an occasional hint of “chi-chi” crept into the pleasant, well-modulated voice, it enhanced the speaker’s charm for one of his hearers even though it offended the ears of the other. Yet Crowther found it increasingly difficult to nurse his ill-humour. For Jaiselpore, with perfect tact, contrived to include him in every remark he addressed to Pamela during their progress down the Ride.

It was a progress that could not fail to arouse interest and comment among riders and bystanders alike. For, indeed, there were few things in the Row that winter’s morning better worth looking at than the picture formed by the fair English girl and her attendant escort on their well turned-out mounts. Each of the two men, keen, alert, and trained to the last ounce, was a specimen of the best type of vigorous manhood produced by his own hemisphere of the empire; and, as Pamela smilingly turned her graceful head, first to one, then to the other, there were many who silently wished them luck and hoped the better man might win.

“If it’s not a rude question,” asked the girl suddenly, “what were you so interested in, Maharajah Sahib, just before we met you? Although you were looking that way, it could hardly have been the Albert Memorial.”

“‘The golden image that Victoria the Queen hath set up’? I’m afraid I must plead guilty, Miss Hastings, though I know the thing’s considered an outrage on modern English taste. You see, it reminded me somehow of India.”

The note of pathos in the last sentence recalled the gesture with which she had seen him turn from his reverie, and in a flash she understood the tragedy of the man’s destiny.

“You will be glad to see India again?” she ventured softly.

He paused before replying. “Yes—and no,” he said at length. “Yes, because I am returning to the work among my people that was interrupted by the war, and no, because”—again he hesitated—“I love England.”

“Yes, I can understand that,” she mused. “Mr. Crowther has told me that you were at Eton and Oxford, and that more than half your life has been spent in England. But that must make the change all the more perplexing for you. I mean, after London, for instance, India must seem in many ways a thousand years behind the West.”

“Or a thousand years before it,” he smiled. “History revolves in cycles, Miss Hastings, and is always catching itself up, as it were. Let me put it another way. Two competitors are at opposite points in a circular mile-race. One appears to be a whole lap behind the other. Yet his pace has been so much faster that he is actually a lap ahead. I’m afraid I express myself very clumsily, and in any case it’s unpardonable of me to be talking like a schoolmaster. I’m not really a prig, am I, Crowther?”

“If I said you were, Miss Hastings wouldn’t believe me, and, if I agreed with you, I should be stating the grossly obvious. So I won’t commit myself either way,” laughed Crowther. The next moment he swore beneath his breath, as all three reined back their animals almost on to their haunches.

With studied purpose and an insolent disregard of their approach, a man had deliberately pursued his path across the Ride under the noses of the slowly advancing horses. Crowther mentally summed him up as the affront to high Heaven one invariably encounters when one has left one’s gun at home. The outrage of the creature’s blatant brown boots was heightened by their combination with a tightly buttoned black frock-coat, a garment which shrieked attention to the corpulence of his figure. A grey Homburg hat, a size too small, was perched on the cone of his egg-shaped skull, which, tapering from a brick-red bull neck, suggested, when viewed from behind, a squat lighthouse. The round inflamed face, which shone like a beacon beneath the curled-up hat brim, and which seemed to cast a ruddy reflection on the monstrous hands below, completed the illusion from the front.

“A perishing Hun, or I’m a Dutchman!” muttered the Police Officer, as, with a contemptuous smile at the trouble he had caused, the man elbowed his way through the bystanders and disappeared in the distance.

The Maharajah leaned across Pamela’s horse towards Crowther.

“So England hasn’t got rid of them all yet?” he murmured.

“Come back by special invitation of the Home Office to kiss and be friends,” opined the other. “We shall find all the dear old faces with us again when we return to Bombay, Maharajah!”

“With the same old eye-wash for Delhi or Simla! We are every sort of fool, Crowther.”

“We must put our trust once more, I suppose, in the special Providence that looks after fools!” laughed Pamela.

“The patience even of Providence has its limits,” said the Maharajah gravely. “We may try it once too often, Miss Hastings. But, to turn the conversation into pleasanter channels, here comes the long-lost Judge! I spotted him first, and,” he looked the Police Officer straight in the eyes, “I shall claim the reward, Crowther.”

Vaguely conscious of an underlying challenge in the level look and pleasant, bantering tones, the man addressed glanced involuntarily at the girl between them. But, if Pamela’s intuition had read the same message in the light badinage, she at all events appeared to be serenely indifferent to it, and Crowther gleaned comfort from the fact.

“How much shall we give him, Mr. Crowther?” she cried gaily. “Would ten rupees be spoiling the market, do you think?”

“Ten lakhs of them would not express my pleasure at being the means of reuniting father and daughter,” smiled the Maharajah. “There are some rewards that cannot be measured in terms of money. Perhaps, who knows? I shall claim mine later—when we all meet in India, for instance.”

This time, at all events, the significance of his words was missed by neither of his companions, both of whom perceptibly stiffened in their saddles. Nor was the action, his inscrutable expression notwithstanding, lost on Jaiselpore, who, no less than the others perhaps, secretly welcomed the interruption afforded by the advent of the Judge.

The Honourable Mr. Justice Hastings, of the High Court of Bombay—hereinafter referred to as the Judge—looked considerably younger than his eight-and-forty years of strenuous existence warranted. Picked for his responsible office from the legal ranks of the I.C.S., he, too, was a fair type of that handful of sahibs who, in spite of the meddling ignoramus at Westminster, keep some ninety millions of mixed Orientals from cutting each others’ throats. In common with Crowther he had a certain soldierly air of command, which differentiated him from his brethren of the legal profession at home; and, if a slight stoop of the shoulders betrayed the sedentary nature of his work, his bronzed face and muscular development testified to the open-air character of his play. A sprinkling of iron-grey in the closely cut hair gave an added touch of distinction to a figure few men—and no woman—passed by without a second glance. The keynote of the man’s personality was strength, mental no less than physical; and, given no other clue than the thrust of the chin and the deeply graven lines about the firm mouth, the student of character would have easily read therein Anthony Hastings’ contemptuous intolerance of weakness.

“Jolly glad to have had a glimpse of you before you leave England, Maharajah!” he exclaimed, holding out his hand. “I hope it won’t be another five years—or months, for that matter—before we foregather again. How are you, Crowther? Enjoying your leave? And thank you both for bringing my truant daughter back.”

“Truant! I! Well, if that doesn’t put the lid on it!” gasped the indignant Pamela. “You really are the outside limit, Father! He asks me to ride with him,” she turned to the others, “and before we’ve been in the Park three minutes he chucks me for a woman with magenta hair who tells me to run away and play!”

“Slander,” commented the Judge. “She neither has the one nor said the other.”

“Her manner said it, anyhow. You’ve seen Mother, of course, Dad?”

“Your Mother? She’s shopping with your Aunt, isn’t she? Good Lord, you don’t mean to say she’s in the Park?”

His expression, which had been that of a naughty child defying its nurse, suddenly changed to such a look of consternation that Pamela laughed outright.

“Perhaps it was only someone like her,” she rippled. “Oh, Dad, I’m really afraid you’re too young to be trusted alone! Anyhow, you’d better come home with me now before you fall into any more mischief. You’ll get it in the neck from Aunt Octavia next for being late for lunch!”

“Then I won’t risk getting into Miss Biddulph’s bad books too by detaining you,” laughed Jaiselpore. “It would be a poor return for Mr. Biddulph’s kindness in taking me into the House the other night. Well, I hope we shall all meet in India before long. Good-bye.”

“The chances are too much on the knees of the gods for me,” put in Crowther desperately. “I was wondering whether you would all dine with me somewhere to-night, and perhaps do a theatre afterwards?”

“I should have simply loved it,” said Pamela, and the Police Officer rallied at the note of regret in her voice. “Unluckily we have to go to a rotten tamasha at the Foreign Office. You must ask us another night, Mr. Crowther—oh, I forgot. Of course, you go down to Dullington to-morrow.”

“It seems that I am more fortunate,” smiled the Maharajah; “I can say ‘au revoir’ instead of ‘goodbye.’ I have been bidden to the ‘rotten tamasha’ too.”

The announcement, which brought an involuntary flush of pleasure to Pamela’s face, was received by Crowther with gloom. “Some fellows have all the luck,” he grumbled. “Never mind, Miss Hastings, we shall meet at Dullington.”

“Of course, with that prospect in store, I shan’t mind,” she retorted. “It will help me to keep smiling even through a Foreign Office reception. It seems that I’m to be a lucky fellow too, Maharajah!”

But Jaiselpore, who had turned to acknowledge the salute of a passing acquaintance, missed the little gibe at the man he was beginning to regard as his rival.

“I don’t know why you should down me like that,” said the latter aggrievedly. “Why will you never take me seriously?”

“Because I never take anyone seriously—not even Uncle Benjamin,” laughed Pamela, “and he’s going to revolutionize India!”

“So I gathered from his speech in the House,” said the Maharajah gravely. “He means well.”

“I’m glad he didn’t hear you say that, Maharajah Sahib.”

“Because it’s supposed to be the most damning thing one can say of anybody?”

“No, because, coming from you, I’m afraid it would give the poor old dear swollen head. Come along, Father. We really must go.”

With a parting flourish of her whip and a smile, which she contrived each man should regard as specially intended for himself, she set her horse at a canter, and, followed by the Judge, was quickly lost to view in the dim perspective of the Row. Then Crowther and Jaiselpore, who had silently watched her departure, turned and faced one another, each conscious of a newborn hostility between them which had not existed when they first met that morning.

“You heard what she said about her uncle?” asked the Maharajah abruptly.

The Police Officer nodded.

“A crank, Crowther—an amiable one, if you like, but none the less dangerous for that. He should be watched.”

The other made a slight gesture of impatience. It was his obvious interest to propitiate Pamela’s uncle and godfather, a task he was by no means finding easy, and the suggestion that he should shadow that gentleman— with its risk of being found out—did not attract him.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he returned carelessly. “He’s a harmless old bird really, and couldn’t do much mischief here in England, even if he wanted to.”

The Maharajah laid his hand on Crowther’s sleeve. “Believe me, you are wrong,” he said gravely. “When a politician of Mr. Biddulph’s influence and wealth gets the maggot of so-called Indian reform into his head, he is very far from being harmless. A man with no knowledge of high explosives, who tampers with a vast powder magazine like India, is asking for trouble—trouble for others as well as for himself. It would be folly to belittle it.”

An uneasy conviction that Jaiselpore was right forced a grudging assent from the Police Officer, though it increased his irritation.

“Very well,” he returned, “I’ll do what I can, though I’m the last man in the world he’s likely to listen to. He thinks all Anglo-Indians, especially policemen, the embodiment of brutal tyranny. Anyhow, I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“Good. Well, as you go down to the country tomorrow, and I sail next week, I don’t suppose we shall meet again in England. In India—we must.”

Again Crowther read the veiled challenge in the dark, sombre eyes, and his answering glance showed the Indian that it was accepted. For a brief moment they continued to gaze steadily at each other, as though already measuring swords. Then, with a punctilious salute, but without any pretence at shaking hands, the two men parted.

On her return from the reception a dozen hours afterwards, Pamela sat late before her mirror, absently brushing the glorious hair which covered her shoulders like a shield of burnished copper. Beyond the reflection of her own alluring picture she saw in retrospect the faces of a score of men who, at one time or another, had attracted her since she left the schoolroom. In all alike she marked the look of admiration—in some cases veiled, in others undisguised; in not a few she was conscious of a warmer expression still. Each in its turn came up for judgment, was dismissed with a tolerant smile, and vanished. Two alone lingered, and they were the faces of the men with whom she had ridden in the morning.

Even that night she had met more than one, who, before the ride, would have interested her to the extent at least of speculating on the prospect of their reappearance on the morrow. Now it was a matter of indifference whether she ever set eyes on them again. She realized with a thrill of excitement that, as far as her own heart was concerned, it was a neck-and-neck race between two men who, each in his own sphere, was helping to mould the destinies of the Indian Empire, and that all the others were merely “also rans.” Which of the pair did she wish to be the winner? If her imagination had been fired by the morning’s romantic figure in its beribboned khaki and picturesque turban and with its underlying hint of tragedy, it had kindled into flame before the princely splendour of the full native dress in which she had beheld the same figure an hour or two ago. The next moment it was the vision of the Englishman, with his fearless blue eyes and gallant bearing, which appeared behind her reflection in the glass; and she found herself wondering how she could compare even the most regal of dark aliens with this clean-bred sahib of her own race.

With a sigh of impatience Pamela switched off the light and jumped into bed. But the problem was not to be banished from her mind by the darkness. For a long time she lay awake, still balancing one against the other, till the robust, virile tones of the English voice merged into the liquid sing-song of the Orient, and she fell asleep.

Yet even in her dreams the weathercock of her maiden fancy continued to veer from East to West and back again. In which quarter would the wind eventually sit?

Chapter IV

The Good Englishman

At the same hour in which the Maharajah and his Anglo-Indian friends had foregathered in the Row three persons were basking in the wintry sunshine on one of the seats facing the ornamental water in St. James’s Park. In point of years, appearance and social class Chance would have been hard put to it to fling together a more ill-assorted trio; and the silence in which they continued to sit, and which the brightness and warmth of the day seemed incapable of thawing, was less due to the British habit of taciturnity than to the temperamental barriers which separated them.

The first, in order of seniority at least, was an old, silver-haired French priest, in whose finely chiselled ascetic features was proclaimed the aristocrat of his ancient Church. So lost in meditation was he over the open breviary upon his knee that he seemed to all intents as remote from the workaday world around him as though he were on. the summit of the soaring campanile opposite, to which he now and then lifted his dreamy gaze. At the other end of the bench, rendered equally oblivious to her surroundings by the thrilling chapter in which Lord Algernon leads the village Blowsibella to the altar, lolled the ubiquitous nursemaid, absently pushing to and fro with her disengaged hand the perambulator of the slumbering infant committed to her charge. While neither of the pair was more than subconscious of the other’s presence, each acutely resented the neighbourhood of the third occupant of the seat, the person between them whose restlessness they were finding increasingly inimical to the study of literature, sacred and profane alike.

The disturbing element was a clean-shaven, overdressed man of middle age, whose sleek and prosperous appearance suggested the possession of a flamboyant wife and a “place” in the outer suburbs and a luxuriously appointed office in the City. He wore a silk hat that glistened with aggressive newness, gold-rimmed pince-nez, and a fur-lined overcoat, the lapel of which bore the “strange device” sold in connection with that day’s street collection. This ostentatious display of his charity was unfortunately discounted by the Semitic nose above it, a feature which instantly assured the cynic that the decoration had been procured at the minimum cost of one penny. Although he was smoking a cigar of generous size and price, he seemed to be criminally indifferent to its virtues; for he had not only repeatedly let it out and relit it, but had omitted to remove the paper band, solecisms held in abhorrence by the epicure who takes his cigar seriously. The spot where he was committing them, while less frequented than the Row, was sprinkled with more than its normal number of promenaders this genial winter morning, and, as each came into view, he scanned the new-comer apprehensively, as though expecting an appointment he could very well dispense with.

He was in the act of rekindling the charred and maltreated Havannah for the fourth or fifth time, when the tail of his eye focussed a ponderously approaching figure, and, like an animal hoping to escape detection by an enemy, he stiffened into an instantaneous immobility. So hypnotized was he by the vision that he continued to hold the flaming match till it burnt his finger-tips, when, with a muttered imprecation which drew a reproving glance from the old priest, he flung it away, half rose from the seat, and sat down again. A moment later there passed, with an incredibly light footstep for one of his bulk, the man who had insolently checked the course of the three riders in the Row some forty minutes earlier.

Passed, and, even as the other breathed a deep sigh of relief, swiftly turned and held out an enormous crimson hand. The action was rendered more startling by his apparent unconsciousness till that instant of the other’s presence. For, although the Jew had watched him intently from the first moment of his appearance, he had not detected the slightest flicker of a glance at the seat and its occupants. The uncanniness of it struck him like a cold draught, and he shivered.

“My dear fellow, this is indeed an unexpected pleasure!” exclaimed the new arrival, in a voice that suggested an organ reed-stop in need of tuning. “Who would have thought of meeting my good friend Ponsonby at this time of day so far from the sound of Bow Bells! Have you room there for a little one?”

The elephantine playfulness of the query so thinly disguised its hint of command that the man in the middle obediently edged nearer the priest.

“And how is the great firm progressing?” There was a timbre of mockery in the reed-stop, as its owner lowered his huge bulk on to the vacant space. “Let me see, what is it called again? ‘The All-British Pianoforte Supply Company, Limited,’ is it not? How’s business?”

“Fair to middling. The musical public don’t seem to ache for All-British pianos so far,” complained the other, jettisoning at last the wreckage of a good cigar.

“Then we must make them ache!” The big man assumed an air of blustering resolution. “Don’t tell me that an English firm cannot turn out a better instrument than a Bechstein at half the price! Why should those blasted Germans keep the monopoly—I beg your pardon, sir,” he leaned forward and raised his hat to the priest, whom he pretended to see for the first time, “I did not notice that one of the cloth was present. I fear I was carried away by my patriotism.”

The old ecclesiastic stiffly acknowledged the apology, and, with a keen glance at its blatant source, returned to the perusal of his book. But a moment later he closed it, made a slight gesture of crossing himself—though whether as part of the ritual of the office he had been reading or as a protection against the evil influence beside him he alone knew—rose, and slowly departed by way of the footbridge in the direction of the cathedral.

“Afraid I shocked the good pastor,” laughed the red-faced man coarsely, the corner of his eye on the nursemaid; “anyway, he knows me for a good Englishman! Now, about these pianos——”

Whatever the recipe may have been for making the musical public ache, it was lost for that day at all events to the All-British Pianoforte Supply Company, Limited. For, the infant in the perambulator, choosing this inauspicious moment to terminate its slumbers, effected the process, after the manner of its species, by opening its eyes with disconcerting suddenness and focussing the first object in its immediate line of vision. This chanced to be the flaming countenance of the “good Englishman,” a prospect which so appalled the child that it narrowly escaped convulsions. Its face, which seemed suddenly to reflect the scarlet of the other, puckered and wrinkled and worked as though it were an india-rubber mask manipulated by invisible fingers. The mouth quivered like a miniature saucepan lid and bubbled over, the blue eyes flooded with tears—and all in that instant of ominous silence which invariably precedes the blood-curdling yell of the pin-pricked or terrified baby.

For the second time within the minute the new-comer swore, on this occasion in deep rumbling gutturals, which he promptly covered by a cough. With an equally felt, if less forcibly expressed, exasperation, the girl rose from the seat, and, bestowing a withering glare on the author of the disturbance, jerked the perambulator towards Whitehall, and its occupant into a whimpering sleep of exhaustion, while she recovered her place in the marriage service. As the tense moment had now arrived when, stepping from behind a pillar, and lifting her thick veil, Lord Algernon’s “lawful wedded” in sepulchral tones forbids the banns, the gentle reader may be forgiven for having momentarily lapsed from the literary gentility of tradition.

As soon as she was out of earshot the good Englishman turned to his companion.

“Why have you not obeyed orders?” he rasped out savagely.

In an instant his voice and manner had changed. The suave, mocking tones had gone from the one, the studied indolence from the other, and in their place had appeared the attributes of the parade bully. He seemed, moreover, to have acquired the chameleon’s ability to see in every direction without turning his head; for, whether a pedestrian approached along the path or by way of the grass behind them, without appearing to notice him he imperceptibly reverted to his former boisterous geniality and led the current of conversation into safer channels.

“Obeyed orders?” echoed the Jew vaguely.

“I said the second seat from the bridge. This is the third.”

“I know, but the second was occupied when I arrived. You hadn’t turned up, though I was here on the stroke of the hour.”

The other laughed contemptuously. “So was I,” he retorted. “You haven’t been out of my sight since you came into the Park.”

Mr. Ponsonby shivered. If the statement were true, and he instinctively felt that the visitor would not bother to lie to him, it looked as though he possessed, in spite of his size, something very like the power of making himself invisible. Oddly enough it did not seem to strike the shrewd business man as impossible.

“If I had had your orders,” the rasping voice continued, “I should have squeezed myself on to that seat and got rid of all the swine in five minutes. I cleared this one in two. Suppose I had seen from a distance that you were not there, and, having no time to waste, had gone away! The next time you receive instructions,” a note of menace crept into the words, “obey them.”

“I can’t think why you chose such a public rendezvous,” complained the other. “Surely my place in the country, or even my City office, would have been wiser?”

“And I can’t think why you were ever chosen for a job that needs brains,” snarled the big man brutally. “One would suppose you had never heard the nursery truism that walls have ears. The genius who first discovered that fact should have been ennobled by his country—which, of course, was Germany. Talk in the open and in the public eye, and, as long as you don’t talk German or look like one,” he gave the Homburg an extra tilt, “you can plot the destruction of their cursed empire as safely in London as in Berlin. Himmel! I have not come here to teach you the A B C of an agent’s business. Take my tip, my dear fellow, and put your shirt on rubber.”

The irrelevance of the last sentence and its jovial crescendo were due to the passing of a wheezy old lady, who looked as if nothing short of the last trump or a dinner-bell could ever be audible to her. It was characteristic of the speaker that he deemed it worth while to interrupt his conversation for so trivial a cause; the principle of taking no chances was the guiding principle of his subterranean pilgrimage. His weakness lay in the arrogant assumption that by no possibility could he be taken for anyone but an Englishman, though every British dog barked its derision at the claim. It is true that he spoke idiomatic English with small trace of accent, his companion with still less. Yet an attentive listener would have instantly realized that neither man was employing his mother tongue.

“Now, attend!” The voice of the Prussian drill-sergeant had returned, and the other stiffened in response to its familiar ring. “I have no time to waste on you; there are others. To begin with, Berlin is dissatisfied with you. You are reprimanded.”

The Jew made the same gesture of protest with his out-turned palms as Abraham doubtless used in pleading for the cities of the plain.

“Why, vot ’ave I done?” he stammered.

“Nothing. That is the trouble.”

“Nothing! Gott im Himmel!”

Without any visible movement of the huge body beside him, an enormous hand closed like a vice on the Jew’s wrist till he squirmed with pain.

“Why not shout your nationality in Scotland Yard while you are about it?” suggested the owner of the vice with savage sarcasm.

“Because they know it already,” retorted the victim rebelliously. “In any case there’s no one within fifty yards of us.”

“What has that to do with it? If you acquire the habit you’ll give yourself away one day when somebody is. And if Scotland Yard does know, there is no need to remind them. Do it again, and I’ll have you recalled.”

The prospect was so little to Mr. Ponsonby’s liking that the Adam’s-apple in his throat seemed to be pumping beads of moisture out of his face.

“Was the Bombay outbreak in 1915 nothing?” he whined, swallowing with difficulty. “That affair at all events was partly due to my ten years’ spade work in Bloomsbury.”

The big man laughed scornfully. “If you had pulled it off in August, ’14,” he snarled, “and if it had been generally successful, England would have had to send her Expeditionary Force to India instead of to France. Think what that would have meant for us! The All-Highest would have considered no reward too great to bestow on you. But,” he spat on the path before them, “you were a year too late, my friend!”

“I have done my best.”

“You are here to do, not your best, but the best. You have had every advantage.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “You were set up in business here five years before the war. You were naturalized early enough to escape suspicion. You were not recalled with other reservists because you were considered—mistakenly considered—to be more useful where you are. You have been liberally, even extravagantly, paid. Results—nil!”

The Jew cast about for some straw of justification, and, seeing one, like a drowning man he clutched it.

“My naturalization papers didn’t save me from being watched like a mouse by the cats of the Intelligence Department all through the war,” he sneered.

“What harm was there in that? Unless you were caught in the act of signalling to a Zeppelin or a submarine, neither of which was your job, they couldn’t lay a finger on you. Their imbecile Home Office saw to that! If the British Home Office had run the war, Britain to-day would be a province of the German Empire. That it isn’t is mainly owing to inefficients like you.”

“Let me tell you what I’ve done——”

“I know what you have not done, which is all that matters. But I will tell you,” the huge hand fell on the seat with brutal emphasis, “what you were placed here to do, what you should have done, and what you will still have to do,” the note of menace again sounded, “unless you wish to be recalled. Your memory seems to need refreshing.”

Mr. Ponsonby looked as if he could dispense with the refreshment, though he did not venture to say so.

“It was part of Germany’s foreign policy to embarrass her greatest enemy on the outbreak of war—and so prevent her from entering it—by hatching trouble, not only in the United Kingdom, but in the overseas Dominions, especially India. The Indian organization is all that concerns you.”

The Jew nodded his recognition of the fact.

“For that purpose our agents were placed, years before the war, very many in India itself, others elsewhere about the world, some, including yourself, in London. Your especial work was propaganda among the Babus of the Bloomsbury district.”

Again the other tacitly assented.

“I will not dwell on the vast sum spent by the Fatherland on the agents of that particular mission alone. Some earned their money, others did not. The net result—so far—has been failure, and the responsibility for the failure rests with those who did not.”

“Bengal at least is seething with sedition,” protested the Jew.

“The sheepfold of India!” The big Prussian shrugged his shoulders with contempt. “Is the bleating of a stock of pot-bellied bell-wethers all you can boast of after ten years’ overpaid work? What happened when war broke out? The warrior nations, all warlike India, the India that matters, were anti-German to a man; thousands of them even crossed the dreaded black water to fight us in France. With a little more luck I should have broken the neck of one of them in Hyde Park only an hour ago!”

The slanderous reflection on the Maharajah’s horsemanship caused him such evident satisfaction that the Jew seized the moment to retaliate.

“Perhaps, ‘with a little more luck,’ I should have been able to break a few necks in India,” he put in maliciously.

“Luck, or no luck, there must be no failure—next time.”

Mr. Ponsonby looked up with sudden interest. “There is to be a ‘next time,’ then?”

“There will always be a next time,” returned the Prussian superbly, “till Deutchsland über Alles has become an accomplished fact.”

“You think that still possible?”

“I don’t think, I know it is inevitable. We have been temporarily beaten in the field, not from any fault of our invincible troops, but through the black treachery of England. Treitschke foresaw the possibility when he said—my dear fellow, I can take you to a little Italian restaurant in Soho where they give you one of the best cooked dinners in London for half a crown.”

When the passing district messenger boy had carried his stare of undisguised interest elsewhere, the speaker requoted the German historian with greater justice.

“The gospel according to St. Treitschke is this—that in the event of our defeat in war, we must concentrate on destroying the enemy empire by sowing broadcast the poisonous weed of internal dissension. We are practising that doctrine with gratifying success. In industrial Britain the weed is already showing above the ground. In Ireland you can see nothing else. It is making headway in certain parts of the Dominions, and we have even sown it in America. Relations between the Anglo-Saxon cousins are in consequence anything but cousinly!”

He laughed cynically, and, in emphasis of his words, with the tip of an iron forefinger prodded the Jew’s knee.

“In India the weed is very near the surface. When it breaks ground in that climate its growth will be rapid. The loss of India to England in trade and prestige alone would be fatal to the stability of her empire. The rest would crumble to pieces like a bridge with its keystone pulled out. It is your business to help loosen the mortar which keeps that stone in place. What tools are you using? Well, I will place one at least in your hands. If you do not make full use of it——”

The sudden pressure from the stabbing forefinger emphasized the unspoken threat so painfully that Mr. Ponsonby with difficulty restrained himself from crying out.

“I shall be only too ready to make use of it,” he protested. “But I’ve already handled every amenable Babu in London.”

“Then you must now use a more powerful and different type of tool. Listen. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. Our German Gott has therefore created a special class of madmen in this nation of fools for the express purpose of playing Germany’s game. They are the cranks who stand for every other country but their own, who are full of mawkish sympathy with every alien scum—especially rebels—that yelp at the British soldier or administrator who interferes with the scum’s favourite pastime of murder. They are the apostles of sentimentality, and hold anything in the nature of force, armed force in particular, in abhorrence. Militarism to them is the greatest of all the vices. But you will find no hint of its chivalry or self-sacrifice in the Commercialism they worship in its place. Nevertheless, it is by means of their religion, or the hypocrisy which goes by that name, that we must befool this decadent breed. Do you follow me?”

“Perfectly. You have someone in your mind?” suggested the Jew.

“I have, and his name is Biddulph—Mr. Benjamin Biddulph, Member of Parliament, fabulously wealthy, a crank ‘reformer’ aching to throw grit into any part of the machinery of law and order, and ripe for any high-sounding mischief that may be suggested to him. He has many disciples. Here is his address.”

He removed his hand from the other’s knee, and, as though it were the result of a conjuring trick, a microscopic square of paper lay in its place. Mr. Ponsonby’s deft fingers instantly closed on it and transferred it to his waistcoat pocket. The Prussian rose.

“You have now all the ingredients for making your box of matches,” he grinned. “I have told you where to find the sticks; all you have to do is to dip their heads in sulphur. Take care that when they are needed they all strike on the box; Germany has less use than ever for duds. And remember,” the grin suddenly became a glare of menace, “that, although she may seem at present to be in a state of chaos, it is no more than the natural effect of a great war. It is a temporary phase only. Her indomitable military spirit is unbroken. She will recover her strength in spite of the League of Nations, probably because of it. She is strong enough now in any case to punish an agent who fails her!”

He turned swiftly, and, vouchsafing neither word nor gesture of farewell, departed with the same sinister lightness of tread that characterized his coming. With a curious sensation that he himself was on the deck of a moving steamer and the other a lighthouse disappearing beneath the horizon, the Jew watched him till he was out of sight. For a long time he sat on, too closely wrapped in thought even to smoke another cigar. Then, with an air of sudden resolution, he rose, crossed the footbridge, and five minutes later dived into the gloom of the St. James’s Park station of the Underground Railway.

Chapter V

Mr. Rampling Receives a Call

The day was some three-quarters of an hour older when Mr. Ponsonby, better known to his familiars across the North Sea as Gottlieb Posen, rose to the surface at Tottenham Court Road. It is true that he could have walked the distance in far less time than that occupied by his devious underground trekkings from Inner Circle to Tube. But, in spite of the strong presumption that the Intelligence Department since the war had ceased to interest itself in his movements, Mr. Ponsonby, like his amiable compatriot, was taking no chances. The habits formed by a decade of intrigue were not readily broken, nor did the “good Englishman’s” forecast of a Next Time seem to warrant their total abandonment.

With one eye on the traffic and the other alert for the sudden reappearance of the unwelcome visitor, whom he was beginning to regard as omnipotent as well as omniscient, the Jew crossed Oxford Street, proceeded—with a cryptic smile in passing at the Headquarters of the great Christian Brotherhood—up the Tottenham Court Road, and turned down a side thoroughfare running eastward at the back of Bedford Square. A shrewd observer would have noticed that his furtive glance instantly focussed a certain small shop some distance ahead on the opposite side of the way, and would have deduced therefrom the actual truth that the shop was Mr. Ponsonby’s ultimate destination. Nevertheless that modern Machiavelli, his gaze ostentatiously directed to his front, passed it, altered course to the south’ard, circumnavigated Bedford Square, returned on the other side of the street, and paused, as if suddenly attracted by the wares within, before the shop window. One felt that if Mr. Ponsonby, deceased, were organizing his own funeral he would design the route of the hearse with a view to baffling the mourners.

The shop which had claimed his attention, and which, in spite of his tortuous method of approaching it, had been the goal in his mind when he quitted the seat in St. James’s Park, was a newsagent’s of the less pretentious variety. Its modesty indeed was so painful that it seemed to shrink from rather than to court the attention of the passer-by, though it must be confessed that neither the quantity nor the character of its stock was calculated to prolong an idle glance into a stare. It obviously made no bid for the custom of the big square round the corner; the cheap stationery in the window and the obscure journals and magazines on the doorpost were evidently intended for a different and humbler type of customer. A few illuminated scriptural texts of the kind that crowd the walls of certain dingy “Apartments” and a stray copy or two of the Methodist Times and Daily Herald sufficiently indicated the religious and political leanings of the clientele catered for. Above the window a blistered legend in plethoric block capitals flanked by italics informed those in quest of reading and writing material that it was retailed within by “Newsagent JOHN RAMPLING and Stationer.”

Mr. Ponsonby, though in no immediate need of either, stepped within and took an instantaneous mental photograph of the establishment. The dinginess of the exterior, like the keynote of a well-designed colour-scheme, was consistently repeated inside, the stock-in-trade on the counter and shelves being a replica in bulk of the samples displayed on the doorpost and in the window. But the object on which Mr. Ponsonby focussed his camera, so to speak, was the tousled mop of hair of a youth poring over a book in the gloom behind the counter.

Roused by the clang of the door-bell, the student looked up, laid aside the volume, and slowly raised himself to his full height of six foot three or thereabouts. He was a year or two over twenty, sun-burned, muscular, the picture of well-developed, healthy young manhood. The Jew’s observant eye instinctively searched for the silver war badge on his coat lapel or the gleam of a medal ribbon beneath it. Both were conspicuous by their absence, and he instantly conceived an aversion for the blue-eyed, unkempt young giant.

“Have you by any chance a copy of the last Sunday at Home?” he asked, with the unctuous smile he felt the request and his environment demanded. He had as much use for the dusty Noah’s Ark on the topmost shelf as for the periodical mentioned, but Mr. Ponsonby’s method of approaching his real purpose was ever the indirect one.

The youth’s face reflected on an exaggerated scale, as though it were a magnifying mirror, the unctuous smile on the other’s.

“I’m afraid the Sunday at ’Ome is completely sold out, sir,” he smirked; “it has quite a gratifying circulation in this neighbour’ood. But we can easily procure you one. May I ’ave the pleasure of booking the order?”

“No, it doesn’t matter—I’ll have one of these Methodist Hymn Books while I think of it. I left mine in a ’bus last Sunday.”

“Then let us ’ope it has proved the means of grace to some pore wandering sinner. Seed by the wayside what? Excuse me, sir,” he looked at the customer with interest, “but surely we have met before? Your face seems familiar to me, some’ow.”

Mr. Ponsonby smiled, a thought uneasily this time.

“More people know Tom Fool,” he began, “than——”

“Of course, I remember now—how stoopid of me!” interrupted the other. “You are the gentleman who addressed us at the Y.M.C.A. last winter on the ‘Brother’ood of Nations.’ I agreed with every word—it made one feel ashamed to be an Englishman. If only our pore misguided brethren, who were shedding each other’s blood in the trenches, could have heard it, it might have stopped the capitalists’ wicked war!”

“You were not one of the misguided combatants, then?”

“I!” An ineffable smile of superiority, which increased Mr. Ponsonby’s yearning to kick him, spread itself over the mop-haired youth’s tanned face. “You do not mean to insult me, sir, I am sure. No, I thank God, I was not one of them. I happen to be a Christian, and during the greater part of the war I was suffering for conscience’s sake at the settlement at Princetown.”

Mr. Ponsonby, who, in spite of his treachery to his adopted country, was at all events a man and a patriot, found some difficulty in camouflaging his loathing of the creature before him. He thought of the tens of thousands of their respective countrymen who had paid the supreme sacrifice of their lives for conscience’s sake, and the vaunted martyrdom of this stalwart holiday-maker from Dartmoor raised his gorge to choking point. But the cunning of his craft prevailed.

“In plain words, you were a Conscientious Objector?” he smiled. “Permit me the honour of shaking hands with one of the few of us who had the courage of their convictions. By the way, is Mr. Rampling in?”

The light of religious mania faded from the shop assistant’s eyes, and he addressed himself to the mundane matter of his employer’s whereabouts.

“Mr. Rampling is partaking of an early dinner, sir,” he replied. “He is addressing a Temperance Meeting this afternoon, and he likes a little time for meditation before’and. I’ll tell him you want to see him.”

“No, don’t do that—I won’t disturb him now.” Mr. Ponsonby believed in waiting for the psychological moment, and experience had taught him that it did not occur as a rule in the middle of a man’s dinner hour. “Give him that card, and say I’ll call again this evening.”

Except in the case of the rates, the assistant had no confidence in the promised return of any stranger to the dingy shop. Outside the calls of the regular customers, who could be numbered on the fingers, the first visit usually proved to be the last. The advent of this prosperous Jew suggested some business deal in the background, and in his employer’s interest the assistant was determined not to let the opportunity slip.

“Mr. Rampling would never forgive me if you went away without seeing him,” he rejoined. “He had the privilege of hearing you at the Y.M.C.A. too, and I know he is most anxious to become acquainted with you. We are both great admirers of yours, sir—yes, I must certainly let him know you’re ’ere. Just one moment, if you please.”

Taking the card with him, he disappeared through a door, the glass upper half of which was curtained by dirty muslin, at the back of the shop. But he was careful, lest in his absence the visitor might vanish, to leave the door ajar, and through the opening a muttered colloquy reached the ears of Mr. Ponsonby. Having listened, from force of habit, and failed to catch its purport, the Jew solaced himself by inspecting a mirror on the shop wall which reflected a strip of the inner room otherwise invisible to him; and it amused him to watch, amid the passion flowers painted on the glass, the image of a fat hand (presumably that of the temperance orator) as it removed a whisky bottle from the tablecloth to the carpet beneath. The next moment, brushing the crumbs from his beard with the original of the hand reflected in the mirror, and followed by the towering form of his assistant, the newsagent and stationer himself entered the shop. Mr. Ponsonby instinctively recalled the woodcuts of his childhood depicting Friar Tuck and Robin Hood.

John Rampling was a short, stout man of fifty, with a thin patch in the centre of his grey hair that somehow suggested a worn badger skin rather than human baldness. His eyes were smaller and a thought more closely set together than the space at Nature’s disposal seemed to necessitate, for his face was large, round and fleshy. He wore a black frock-coat, unbuttoned, and an expansive waistcoat of the same sombre hue but relieved by the many-tinted stains of bygone slovenly meals. The inadequacy of his shapeless black trousers to cover his ankles created the impression that the lacking material had gone to supplement the increasing demands of the waist. A low collar and white bow tie, partly concealed by his beard and the creases of his neck, completed his attire, which, in the street, was crowned by a clerical wide-awake hat. In a word, he dressed the part and played the role of a minister of religion as nearly as a layman may.

He was a member of some half-dozen religious societies and municipal bodies and a local preacher of great acceptance at the Ebenezer he honoured with his worship. He affected the half-playful, half-dictatorial mode of address of a Sunday School superintendent at an annual treat, and, notwithstanding the obvious stagnation of his ostensible business, plainly obtained the means of “doing himself well.” The mystery, however, was not as great as would appear upon the surface; indeed it is explained in a single sentence. John Rampling had discovered the secret of making religion pay.

“Very pleased indeed to meet you, sir,” he mouthed, holding out the fat hand. “I have never forgotten your truly inspired address, if I may call it so, on the Brother’ood—Brotherhood of Nations. It made a great impression, I can assure you—indeed I know for a fact that it saved more than one young waverer from the recruiting sergeant and the evils of militarism. I trust you are keeping your health?”

Mr. Ponsonby, having reassured him on this vital point, gently withdrew his hand from a clasp that showed no signs of relaxing.

“I regret that you should have been disturbed at your dinner; I could very well have waited,” he began. “But when you have finished——”

It appeared that Mr. Rampling had that moment done so.

“Then, if you will allow me, I should be glad of a few minutes’ conversation on a subject I believe we both have very closely at heart. Your assistant tells me you have an engagement this afternoon; I promise not to occupy more of your valuable time than is absolutely essential.”

Mr. Rampling waved the fat hand in the direction of the inner room. “My time is always available in a good cause,” he said grandiloquently, “and Mr. Ponsonby could be associated with no other. Will you please to step into my little—ah, sanctorum, sir?”

The Jew stepped into it and into an atmosphere in which the odour of pork chops was more noticeable than that of sanctity. The room was overpoweringly hot and stuffy, and the cleanliness, which is proverbially ranked with (but after) its comrade godliness, appeared in this instance to have been demobilized some years previously. The grimy window, which looked into an untidy, paper-littered courtyard, was hermetically sealed against the admittance of fresh air (termed by the tenant “draughts”), yet, and in spite of the post-war cost of fuel, a generous fire blazed in the unpolished, unswept grate. The stuffing of a capacious arm-chair drawn beside it protruded from its brown leather skin like the sage and onion from that of a roast goose, and the tablecloth looked as if it had been a conscientious objector to laundries since at least the outbreak of hostilities. But, as if to emphasize the proper precedence of the two virtues in the proverb referred to, a plethoric gilt-edged Bible lay on an antimacassar-covered table before the dirty window, and a shop-soiled illuminated reminder of the Deity’s omniscience hung crookedly from the adjacent wall. Mr. Ponsonby’s practised powers of observation enabled him to read his host’s character from his environment as readily as though it were the typewritten confidential report of a commanding officer.

The newsagent made a deprecating gesture in reference to the greasy crockery on the table.

“Excuse the debbry of my frugal meal,” he said, “a meal washed down, as you will see,” he indicated with unconscious irony the brimming water jug, “by a draught of Adam’s ale, if you will forgive the witticism. Pray be seated.”

He drew the arm-chair nearer the fire, but Mr. Ponsonby, with a glance of disfavour at the stuffing, courteously restrained him.

“I never take another man’s thinking chair,” he explained. “I always find that, like myself, he can concentrate his attention better when he is sitting in the chair he is accustomed to. And it is your concentrated attention, Mr. Rampling, that I am going to ask you for.”

“You have it, sir.”

“Thank you. Then take the arm-chair yourself—that’s better—and I’ll sit here. Now, what I have to say can be said in ten minutes, if you can spare me as many. I see you’re a smoker,” he glanced at an unattractive pipe on the mantelpiece, “may I offer you a cigar?”

It appeared that he might, and, what was more, that Mr. Rampling would accept the offer. When both cigars were satisfactorily alight and drawing, the visitor proceeded.

“I am sure you wouldn’t wish me to flatter you by eulogizing your many philanthropic activities. They speak for themselves, and are far too widely known and appreciated to need any encomiums from me.”

Mr. Rampling simperingly bowed his acknowledgments.

“Your name is a household word in the religious and charitable circles of this district; your active interest in half a dozen home missions is recognized even farther afield. It is because of that well-earned reputation that I have ventured to call on you.”

John Rampling glanced suspiciously at the speaker. Could it be that this opulent looking Jew, who had seemed so full of golden possibilities, had, after all, called for a subscription or, at the best, with an invitation to take the chair at a missionary meeting?

“I am afraid you come at an unfortunate time,” he sighed. “What with increasing rates and taxes, the ’igh—ahem, high cost of living, and the——”

The other hastened to reassure him. You misunderstand me,” he smiled. “But first, am I right in supposing that your sympathies are not confined to the down-trodden and oppressed of this City or even of this country? That they are of a wider, of a more cosmopolitan character?”

The sleek Briton in the arm-chair hurriedly deprecated any suggestion of undue patriotism. “You appre’end my sympathies exactly, sir,” he agreed; “they embrace all ’u—all humanity. Speaking as a professed Christian I have no country, I am an International. I stand for the self-determination of small states, for race equality, for the brother’ood of nations.”

He mopped the beads of fervour from his large white face with a ball of grey material that looked like a duster but might have been a handkerchief. Mr. Ponsonby held out his hand.

“Your sentiments do you the highest credit,” he declared; “I need hardly say that I most cordially endorse them. Your reference to race equality especially appeals to me. Think of it! We are all members of one universal brotherhood, children of the same great human family. Yet we refuse—some of us—to meet two-thirds of the remainder on terms of race equality! Why, in the name of common justice, should not the yellow, brown or black brother be admitted to the enjoyment of the same social amenities, to the same dinner-table if he choose,” Mr. Ponsonby smacked the gravy-stained cloth beside him, “with the white? Of all the pig-headed prejudices of the British military caste, race prejudice is the most damnable. When I think of the systematic cold-shouldering, by Government officials and their womenfolk, of the ‘native’ in our own empire, it makes my blood boil. Take India, for instance.”

Mr. Rampling took it, and, like a voracious dog that has had a bone flung to him, instantly began to worry it.

“A perfectly scandalous example of British oppression and—and misgover’ment,” he stuttered. “I happen to know something of the subject—-indeed I may say I ’ave it at my finger-ends. It’s bin my proud privilege, sir, to meet many Indian young gentlemen—perfect gentlemen they are too—in this very neighbour’ood. All tell me the same abominable story. You’ll scarcely credit it, but it seems that, though they have the entry to a score of Bloomsbury drawing-rooms and mingle with our young ladies on familiar terms, as they are entitled to do, in India—their own country, mind you—the Anglo-Indian women (I won’t call them ladies) refuse to know them or invite them to their ’ouses— bungalows! What India is suffering from,” he leaned forward and tapped his visitor on the knee, “is too much British aristocracy. Get rid of the so-called ruling caste, substitoot a sprinkling of democracy to help the downtrodden native to throw off the yoke of militarism, and we could hand over India to its lawful possessors in a month. And there you ’ave it in a nutshell!”

Having solved the vast problem of India in sixty seconds, Mr. Rampling flung himself back in his chair and glanced thirstily in the direction of the invisible whisky bottle. On the other side of the fireplace the visitor smiled cynically behind his hand. The affair was proceeding precisely as he had designed it. No one could gauge more nicely than this German Jew the sort of rubbish that would attract the type of Englishman before him. He recalled his superior’s reference to the material provided by the Teuton Gott for the undoing of England, and the cynical smile broadened.

“I agree with every word you say,” he rejoined heartily. “But, so far, they are words only. Our next step is to translate them into deeds.”

A ripple of uneasiness disturbed the self-complacency mirrored on Mr. Rampling’s broad face. Deeds were all very well for people like soldiers, sailors, and policemen, who were paid to carry out the ideas of the thinkers. For himself he had all the politician’s preference for words.

“Quite so,” he murmured, after a moment’s pause, “but that surely is the task of others? I can’t see where I come in.”

The Jew instantly divined the poltroon behind the braggart, and hastened to reassure him.

“My dear Mr. Rampling,” he cooed, with a deprecating gesture, “please don’t imagine for a moment I am suggesting that you, with all your multifarious charities here, should take an active part in the awakening of India. It would be unreasonable to ask it of you. But two classes of men are necessary for the conduct of every campaign—the soldier in the trenches and the politician in the arm-chair at home.”

Mr. Rampling nodded his concurrence. The satire of the proposition was lost on him.

“In this campaign of ours the organization of propaganda work must naturally precede more active measures. A persuasive speaker, a gentleman well known in religious and philanthropic circles, a man of wide sympathies and lofty ideals is needed at the outset. We believe that in you we have the ideal man.”


“Yes. I am but the humble ambassador and spokesman for certain powerful, and, I may add, wealthy friends of India, who prefer to remain anonymous.”

The subtly introduced word “wealthy” stimulated Mr. Rampling’s attention as no other in the vocabulary could have done. No terrier ever dropped his bone more quickly at the mention of rats. But his uneasiness was not yet entirely allayed.

“Why should your friends wish to remain anonymous?” he asked.

“Because, being men in prominent positions and well known in society, it is essential that they should do nothing openly to offend the authorities,” was the ready lie. “But their indignation and horror at the wrongs suffered by India—some of them have been in the country—are so intense that they have secretly subscribed a very large sum indeed to found a Society for the promotion of propaganda and for prosecuting the campaign itself when the time is ripe. I can assure you, Mr. Rampling, that money will be no object to them.”

This sounded so promising that the newsagent spent some moments in considering it.

“Tell me definitely what you want me to do,” he said at length.

“The first obvious step is to secure a suitable President, or Chairman, and Secretary. We thought of you as Secretary.”

Like a war-time merchantman avoiding detection Mr. Rampling concealed his glistening face behind a smoke-cloud.

“Hon’ry?” he inquired.

“Certainly not; the labourer is worthy of his hire. The Secretary would be generously paid for his services, Mr. Rampling.”

“I must make it a subject of prayerful consideration, sir; I must be assured that it is a call from on high to labour in another vineyard before I accept your offer,” declared the newsagent with unction. But through the evaporating smoke Mr. Ponsonby caught the gleam of avarice in the close-set eyes, and he knew that he had gained at least one of his objects.

“I am sure you will be wisely guided,” he returned ambiguously. “Now, with regard to a President. Is there anyone you can suggest—some gentleman of standing to whom such a cause would be likely to appeal, and who could afford, perhaps, to subscribe generously to its funds? As I have told you, money is really no object. Still, the more we have the greater our chances of success, and a wealthy President would undoubtedly carry more weight than a poor one. Can you think of anybody?” Mr. Rampling leaned back in his chair, worked out several mental sums (based upon secretarial salaries) upon the grimy ceiling, and confessed, with reference to the question put to him, that he couldn’t.

“A Member of Parliament, if you knew of one, would be useful,” mused Mr. Ponsonby softly, the tail of his eye on the other’s face.

The newsagent slapped his knee with the fat hand, reminding the visitor of a plaice flung down on a fishmonger’s slab.

“God bless my soul,” he shouted in his excitement, “I know the very man! Why didn’t I think of him before? Oddly enough, too, he’s taking the chair at our meeting this afternoon! If you searched the ’Ouse— House of Commons you couldn’t find a gentleman more sootable for the purpose—a sound Radical, champion of every alien cause, rich as Crusoe—Croeso, I should say, and——”

Mr. Ponsonby smilingly produced his note-book. He knew that he already possessed the information folded within a minute square of paper in his waistcoat pocket, nevertheless,

“What is his name?” he asked.

“Biddulph—Mr. Benjamin Biddulph, of Dullington Manor, ’Amp—Hampshire, and Member for one of the Divisions, I forget which, of the county. Now, here’s an idea. Why not come with me to the meeting and nail him on the spot?”

In addition to its being entirely foreign to Mr. Ponsonby’s nature to nail anybody or anything on the spot—his preference, as we have seen, lying in the direction of less direct methods—he shared with the good friends he had quoted a rooted abhorrence of publicity. He might, without undue violence to his modesty, invite half a dozen Indian gentlemen to dinner at his “place” in the suburbs, or even address an obscure meeting of young intellectuals at the Y.M.C.A.; but to draw attention to himself by association with a well-known M.P. was another matter, and he courteously waived aside Mr. Rampling’s brilliant idea.

“Personally I should like nothing better,” he declared, “but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do. My friends wouldn’t like it; it might tend, you see, to disclose their identity. But your case is quite different. You know the great man intimately,” Mr. Rampling bowed, as though it were true, your tact and persuasive powers are proverbial, you must be left a clear field for their unhampered exercise. No, no, I mustn’t dream of butting in. I should simply ‘tear it,’ as your—our delightful idiom has it. But you may tell him that he will have powerful anonymous friends behind him, and that, in proof of your statement, he will receive a handsome cheque for the cause on the day the Society is actually started. And now I must be going.”

He rose and held out his hand, which Mr. Rampling seized with a glow of affection. It was not often that open-handed opulence entered the little “sanctorum,” and its proprietor felt himself irresistibly impelled to murmur a graceful reference to the entertainment of angels unawares. Still, there was one little matter left in a more or less nebulous condition, and, pending its clearance, he retained the angel’s obviously unwilling hand.

“Perhaps you are right, sir,” he acquiesced. “In any case you may rely on me to arouse Mr. Biddulph’s enthusiasm and enlist his practical sympathy with our new movement. Yes, I think I can safely promise you that I shall be successful. By the way, you mentioned the trifling detail of the Secretary’s ah—honorarium. Do I appre’end that it will be sufficiently remunerative in these grievously oppressive times to justify me in relinquishing my other labours in the vineyard?”

Mr. Ponsonby mentioned a figure which, in spite of his effort at camouflage, caused the labourer’s small eyes to glisten.

“And a word in conclusion,” added the visitor with emphasis, as he recalled the big Prussian’s menaces. “There must be no half measures. The Society—I leave you to christen it—must be established on sound business lines. Its officials must be practical men as well as enthusiasts. Branches must be formed throughout the kingdom, and, because everything seems to indicate that the immediate future will produce the psychological moment, all this must be done with the least possible delay. In a word, you must ‘get a move on.’ Achieve it,” he laid his hand impressively on the other’s sleeve, “and you are a made man, Mr. Rampling. On the day India throws off the yoke of British militarism and asserts her independence, you will be a wealthy one. Meanwhile, this address,” he indicated his card, which lay on the table, “will always find me. For the second time—good-bye.”

He passed through the muslin-curtained door held open for him by his smilingly exultant host, through the shop beyond, where the bowing Conscientious Objector, for whom he had no further use, failed to obtain even the recognition of a glance, and so, by way of the clanging door, into the street. The next moment Mr. Ponsonby, alias Gottlieb Posen, German Jew and Berlin secret agent, turned the corner and simultaneously vanished from view and from this story.

Chapter VI

Playing with Fire

Miss Octavia Biddulph smiled with conscious rectitude as she regarded the near completion of a singularly unattractive garment of coarse, brick-red flannelette, which spread itself with blushing effrontery across her capacious lap. It is undeniable that in the course of years the lap had broadened in profile from the right angle originally designed by Nature to one appreciably more obtuse; for Miss Octavia’s nativity had been a mid-Victorian affair, and Time, figuratively speaking, had dealt generously with her. But the waning December daylight, which filtered through the great mullioned window of the hall, and the flickering firelight from the open hearth revealed proofs in abundance that the energy of her fin de siècle girlhood remained unabated.

A basket piled high with clothing akin to the flannel nightmare in progress stood at her elbow. Propaganda leaflets and labelled account-books of half a dozen crank societies littered a bureau hard by. A flamboyant poster of the latest “cause” was pinned incongruously to the old oak-panelled wall, while her own ample bodice displayed a medley of that faddist insignia by means of which certain enthusiasts are wont to shout their opinions to a lamentably indifferent world.

Born to employ a metaphor which does perpetual violence to obstetric possibility—with a golden spoon in her mouth, a strip of royal carpet, as it were, perennially unrolled before her on her daily path by well-trained servants, her sole occupation of any importance was the oiling of life’s wheels for the bachelor brother for whom she kept house. She had never strayed a mile from the beaten tracks of home and continental travel, and knew nothing of the ways of men and women other than those of her own decorous and restricted circle. In the absence of less mischievous outlets for her restless activity her generous but uninformed sympathies were easily enlisted by every wild cat movement for upsetting the existing order of things. The whole world, it would seem, was in need of drastic reform, save the feudal system which still survived at Dullington Manor.

But there were reasons for Miss Octavia’s smile other than an approving conscience and an invincible optimism. To begin with, the Hastings’ had returned with her from London the previous day on one of their necessarily rare visits to England. How time had flown! It seemed but last week—was it really twenty years ago?—that Marion, a girl of eighteen, had married Anthony Hastings, the rising Civilian, now a Judge of the High Court of Bombay. Miss Octavia was genuinely fond of her considerably younger sister, whom she had mothered in their orphaned childhood, and her liking for her virile and masterful brother-in-law, if a little tinged with awe, was no less sincere. To have them both again at Dullington gave the kindly spinster unbounded pleasure.

Another source of satisfaction was the knowledge that dear Mr. Rampling, secretary of the newly formed Society for the Emancipation of India, was to lecture that very evening in the library, with a view to forming a Dullington Branch, and that the returned Anglo-Indians would have the privilege of being present. It is true that, now the hour was approaching, Miss Octavia had secret qualms as to how the Judge, as yet unaware of his good fortune, would take it. But in the coincidence of the double event she saw the finger of Providence, and she was quite prepared to risk a little unpleasantness to gain a valuable adherent to the Movement she had (for the moment) so tremendously at heart.

And, finally, there was Pamela, Marion’s child and the apple of her Uncle Benjamin’s—to say nothing of Aunt Octavia’s—eye. Ever since the exile of her parents had transferred her in childhood to the guardianship of her bachelor relatives, Pamela had ruled at Dullington. Well, it seemed not altogether unlikely that the girl might one day help to rule something larger and more important than an English manor. The young Maharajah of Jaiselpore, Eton and Oxford bred, had certainly paid her pretty niece a respectful yet marked attention when they had recently met in London. If only Pamela——!

Part of Miss Octavia’s smile was due to the reflection that here again Providence appeared to be working in furtherance of the Cause.

The whirlwind entrance at this point of a dapper little man with a rustling sheaf of pamphlets in his hand interrupted her reverie, and, with a sigh of resignation, she returned to what she was wont to describe (with more truth than she intended) as her plain sewing.

Despite the marked contrast in physique between the pair, no one could have failed at first glance to identify the interrupter as her brother. Apart from a strong resemblance in feature, the same bird-like restlessness, the same tricks of voice and gesture characterized both, while the kindly twinkle in the spinster’s eye was faithfully reflected in the bachelor’s. He had the consequential manner to which little men seem peculiarly prone, yet an underlying old-world courtesy robbed his somewhat dictatorial address of all offence. If Benjamin Biddulph was a crank—and no one spent five minutes in his company without discovering the fact—he was no less obviously a well-bred one. For the rest, he was a year or two on the wrong side of fifty, wore his grey hair a thought longer than he should have done, a scarlet tie (a socialistic protest against his inherited Toryism), and, though he had never been seen on a horse, riding breeches and box-cloth gaiters.

“Chunder Mookerjee’s a treasure, Octavia—-worth half a dozen European secretaries!” He fidgeted about the hall as he spoke, tapping the papers with his gold-rimmed pince-nez. “Everything’s been thought of, even the glass of water for the lecturer’s table, and now he’s gone to the station with the dog-cart to meet Rampling.”

“Dear Mr. Mookerjee!” His sister smiled in sympathy. “With Abdullah Khan to stand at the door and give out pamphlets, we ought to have a most helpful meeting.”

“Quite so—bar accidents.”

“Benjamin!” Miss Octavia dropped her work, and regarded her brother with annoyance. “You make me drag the Hastings’ down here in time for this lecture, you arrange it all with Mr. Rampling, the whole idea is yours, and now, at the last moment, you’re weakening on it.”

“I’m not weakening on it.”

“You’re secretly hoping Mr. Rampling won’t turn up. In other words, you’re afraid of Anthony.”

“Tch! So like a woman!” He querulously flung the pamphlets on to an old oak chest that stood beneath the gallery. “Because I happened to remark at lunch that it’s a Bank Holiday and the trains all disorganized, you jump to an unwarrantable conclusion. I’m afraid of my conscience, if you like: I don’t mind confessing it’s beginning to prick me for luring a man out of London on the pretext of a Boxing Day meet, and then springing a missionary meeting on him.”

“It’s not a missionary meeting.”

“If I know anything of Rampling, he’ll jolly soon make it one.”

Miss Octavia knew perfectly well that, had she hinted at the lecture and its inflammatory subject, her guests would have found some pretext for postponing their visit. How obstinately narrow-minded Anglo-Indians were! Why was it they could never be prevailed on to see that what was good for England was equally good for India? Still, to communicate her own misgivings to her brother would certainly not tend to lessen his, and, with a glance at her watch, she adroitly changed the topic.

“I do hope Anthony and Pamela will be back from hunting in time for tea.”

Benjamin’s fidgety dog-trot up and down the hall stopped abruptly.

“By the by,” he blustered, his eye-glasses poised to emphasize his words, “I hope you’ve told her I will not have that Bombay policeman feller hanging about the premises all day long?”

“As Pamela is not the cook, or Mr. Crowther the village constable,” sighed Miss Octavia gently, “I’ve certainly done nothing so crude.”

“No, you encourage them, and when they’ve married on twopence a year—I should unhesitatingly cut Pamela out of my will if she marries him—they’ll curse you for the rest of their lives. How much brighter the world would be if it weren’t for match-making women!”

“I should have thought it was brighter because of them. Bryant and May alone employ thousands. I like Mr. Crowther.”

Plainly Mr. Biddulph didn’t. In his opinion—and, as we have seen, in that of many others—the Indian Police Officer was a feather-headed fool. He was worse. He was one of the official oppressors of a down-trodden race, and the Police were even greater enemies to the emancipation of the native than the Army itself. Besides, the fellow hadn’t a penny beyond his pay, and, as far as he could discover, not a single relative or influential friend in the world to push him. From every point of view he was a detrimental, and not to be thought of for a moment as a suitor for the niece and heiress of Benjamin Biddulph, M.P., of Dullington Manor. Why couldn’t the provoking girl marry Jaiselpore, and have done with it? A more suitable alliance could not well be imagined. Here was an Eastern prince and enlightened ruler, educated at an English public school and university, deeply imbued with a sense of his responsibility to his poor dragooned subjects, young, handsome, wealthy, and madly in love with her. Good heavens, what more could the girl want? With their combined fortunes, moreover, and as her highness the Maharanee, she could do more for the Cause than all the Ramplings and Mookerjees in the world. Yet Miss Pamela, forsooth, hesitated to seize this chance in ten thousand all because of a blind race prejudice inherited from her great-grandfather! Stepping into the middle of the hall, Mr. Biddulph scowled up at the gallery, whence the life-size portrait of a truculent-looking officer in the uniform of the Honourable East India Company glared back at him.

“Thank Heaven,” he exclaimed with fervour, “there’s nothing of the nabob about me!”

“Except five lakhs of rupees,” his sister reminded him softly.

“Well, I couldn’t help inheriting them, could I?” he snapped. “And while we’re on the subject I may as well tell you I’ve made up my mind, Octavia. Now, listen. Rampling—a man of singularly disinterested motives, for whom I have the highest respect has shown me most clearly that, in common justice the money should return to India, which at the present crisis is in sore need of it. Very well. If Pamela furthers the Cause by marrying Jaiselpore, the fortune goes to her as we have always intended it should. If not, the Cause shall have it instead. That’s fair enough, isn’t it?”

Miss Octavia hesitated before replying. “If we don’t leave her penniless in the one case, or force her in the other,” she sighed at length.

“Tch! I’m as fond of the child as you are, you know that. But it’s as well she should understand the position, that’s all. No need to say anything before Marion,” he added in a lower tone, as Mrs. Hastings appeared at the end of the gallery above them.

At the zenith of her beauty, which showed surprisingly little trace of her long exile in the East, tall, graceful, perfectly gowned, she descended the staircase and crossed the hall to the fireplace with a quiet dignity that proclaimed the well-bred gentlewoman of inherited self-restraint and repose of manner. Those who saw mother and daughter together inevitably recalled the filia pulchrior tag, though it was but fair to the former to remember that the girl’s loveliness, unlike the woman’s matured beauty, had been untouched either by Indian suns or by sorrow. The underlying hint of sadness in Marion Hastings, however, was balanced by a delightful sense of humour, a sense entirely lacking in the Biddulphs, who, like many other people, unconsciously advertised the deficiency by perpetually describing themselves as “enjoying a good joke as much as anybody.”

“You make me positively ashamed of our eastern laziness, Octavia,” she drawled, in a pleasant, low-pitched voice, as she settled herself comfortably in the opposite chair. “While I’ve been having my siesta, you’ve finished another—garment.”

Miss Octavia surveyed it at arm’s length with conscious virtue. “The third this week,” she bridled.

“Are they for your Friendly Girls?”

“The G.F.S.?” The spinster’s conversation was sprinkled with initials as cryptic to the uninitiated as the badges on her breast. “No, they were intended for the G.U.M.”

“The G.U.M.? I hope it’s not as sticky as it sounds?”

Miss Octavia stiffened. “It means,” she explained chillingly, “the Guild of Undenominational Mothers. But I’ve decided to send them to the S.E.I. instead—the new Society for the Emancipation of India.”

“I see.” Mrs. Hastings leaned forward, and, taking one of the garments from the basket, unfolded and thoughtfully regarded it. “You are going to emancipate India with this?”

“Many of the greatest reforms of history have sprung from small beginnings.”

“But, my dear Octavia,” a scarcely repressed smile played round the corners of Marion’s mouth, “you surely don’t call this a ‘small beginning’? It’s large even for me! Have you any conception of the size of the Hindu women?”

“I’ve never been in India, as you know. But we make our zenana garments from the same pattern as our Undenominational Mothers’. It saves valuable time. I suppose you leave all work to the natives?”

“As much as we can. Satan, you see, finds even more mischief for black hands when they’re idle than for white.”

“Surely, Marion,” put in Biddulph reprovingly, “you believe that beneath our skins Providence has made us alike?”

“Why should I?” returned his sister in her pleasant drawl, “when Providence has made the skins different colours? But our point of view can hardly be the same, can it? You don’t live in the shadow of the Mutiny, you’ve never been in India.”

“That is no reason,” he retorted, with a covert glance at Miss Octavia, “why we should not go there some day. Meantime, India has come to us. We are privileged in having two most delightful natives as members of our household. You haven’t met them yet, of course. Mr. Mookerjee, my secretary, has been too busy to join our circle since you arrived last night, and poor Abdullah Khan’s in bed with the ‘flu.’”

For the first time Mrs. Hastings showed faint signs of interest in the conversation.

“Really?” she murmured. “And who is ‘poor Abdullah Khan’?”

“Our ‘bearer,’ as you would call him: a Mahommedan,” explained Miss Octavia with pride. “He’s such a dear! I insisted on putting a mustard leaf on his chest last night, and he was so grateful. I wish you could have heard his torrent of thanks in the vernacular.”

“I’m thankful I didn’t,” laughed her sister. “You see I happen to understand the vernacular.”

“We don’t,” chimed in Biddulph pompously, “but we find sympathy an excellent substitute. By treating them as fellow Christians—they both have a horror of their old paganism—and by winning their confidence, we’ve already gained a complete grasp of the Native Question.”

“Yes? And they’ve been with you—how long?”

“Three weeks next Thursday,” purred Miss Octavia. “They arrived quite unexpectedly, but it appears that Benjamin’s championship of the Alien Cause is so well known he was the first person they asked for on landing. We felt it a privilege to be able to offer them employment.”

Mrs. Hastings stifled a yawn. “I hope you’ll never regret it,” she said. “Meantime your patient seems to have made a record recovery.”

On the far side of the hall stood the Indian, who, some three weeks before, had scandalized the footman by pealing the front door bell. In his white turban, tunic and tight linen trousers, he seemed even taller than when muffled in his blanket on the highway, and his sudden and stealthy entrance in the dusk was so ghostlike that Miss Octavia gave a little involuntary scream, which she tried with indifferent success to camouflage into a cough. Tucked beneath one arm the new bearer carried a large leather post-bag fitted with a brass lock, and, striding across the hall, he handed it, with a servility that thinly veiled insolence, to Biddulph. That doughty champion of aliens, if the truth must be told, was scarcely less startled than his sister; but, recovering himself as readily, he greeted the native with an effusiveness that brought a faint tinge of carmine to the cheeks of the affronted Anglo-Indian lady.

“Ah! Salaam, Abdullah Khan!” An ill-concealed pride in his imagined knowledge of Hindustani, combined with the well-known necessity of using the trumpet stop when addressing foreigners, prompted the little man to shout the greeting in a deafening fortissimo that flickered the convalescent’s eyelids and rattled the eggshell china in Miss Octavia’s cabinet. “How are we feeling now? You’ve had the champagne I sent you?” Abdullah made a deprecating sign of horror. “No? Well, don’t stand in the draught; come over here by the fire.”

Miss Octavia shook a playful finger at her scowling patient. “Abdullah Khan, you’re very naughty,” she admonished. “You oughtn’t to have got up till I’d taken your temperature again. I shall make you put your feet in mustard and water to-night and give you another plaster.”

Abdullah touched his chest tenderly. “I thanking Miss Sahib,” he rumbled, “I not wanting more fireleaf. Fever gone.”

“Come, that’s good hearing, O brother!” Convinced that he had acquired the correct form of address, Biddulph shot a sly glance of triumph at Marion. “By the by, this lady’s a memsahib from your own country.”

The Indian slowly turned his glance towards her. For a couple of heart-beats Mrs. Hastings had an eerie feeling that his inscrutable eyes were piecing together the half-formed thoughts in her brain. The next instant he had bent his head in an exaggerated assumption of humility and, touching his forehead with his fingers, he removed them with a circular sweep of his arms, the veiled mockery of which was not lost on her.

“Salaam, Memsahib.”


She watched him narrowly for a moment through half-closed eyes. Then, in level, slightly imperious tones that were in marked contrast to Biddulph’s fussy familiarity, she addressed a question to him in the vernacular. The sinister, contemptuous face instantly became a mask.

Nâhin,” he cringed, “Memsahib mistaking. I never seeing Memsahib before.”

“Oh—er,” interrupted Biddulph impatiently, indicating the oak chest, “there are the pamphlets you’ve kindly undertaken to distribute, Abdullah Khan. Take them into the library for me, like a good fellow.”

Serenely unconscious of the outrage this mode of addressing a native was to the Anglo-Indian mind, Miss Octavia, the door having closed on Abdullah’s contemptuous exit, leaned forward and laid her hand on her sister’s knee.

“Tell me, Marion,” she whispered eagerly. “It’s dear Abdullah’s most earnest wish that I should teach him the Catechism; he is a convinced Christian, as I think Benjamin told you. But he knows so little English that it is rather difficult. How should I begin?”

“By locking up the spoons,” drawled Mrs. Hastings lazily.

Miss Octavia sat upright in her chair with a suddenness that suggested a released spring.

“Can you never be serious?” she complained.

“My dear Octavia,” a note of unwonted gravity crept into the pleasant, indolent voice, “believe me, I was never more serious in my life. You and Ben are simply a couple of children playing with fire. If you take my advice, which of course you won’t, you’ll send ‘poor dear Abdullah Khan’ packing without an hour’s delay.”

“Are you suggesting that I should turn a member of my household, an influenza patient, a native of the Tropics moreover, out of doors on a bitter winter’s night like this?” The elder lady’s voice trembled with righteous anger. “I would never have believed that even the deplorable race-prejudice of an Anglo-Indian could make a Christian so callous. I’m ashamed of you, Marion!”

“Yes, I suppose it does sound very brutal to you, but perhaps I’ve had a little more experience with these people than you have. I’ve doctored and nursed many sick natives—we’re not quite so callous as you imagine, Octavia—but this one is obviously as well as you and I are. he’s simply shamming, for some reason best known to himself, and it would certainly be healthier for the rest of us if he were on the other side of the front door.”


“For one thing, he’s no more a Mahommedan than Ben is. In spite of his beard, which is probably a clever fake, he’s got Hindu written all over him. If my twenty years’ experience of India goes for anything, the man’s a fraud, and, what is more,” she lowered her voice, and glanced uneasily over her shoulder, “an extremely dangerous one. Well, I’ve warned you, so that’s off my conscience. Listen! Here come the others at last.”

“Yes, it’s them right enough,” confirmed Biddulph, his familiarity with the Hindustani idiom doubtless estranging him from that of his own tongue. In his speckled white-and-brown waistcoat, the creation of his admiring sister, and with his head cocked in a listening attitude, he looked like a thrush awaiting a worm’s issue from the lawn after a shower of rain. “Don’t go to the door, Abdullah Khan,” the ‘bearer’ was crossing the hall from the library for that purpose, “I’ll open it. So here you are! Well, what sort of a day have you had, dear?”

“Simply ripping, Uncle!” burst out Pamela enthusiastically, as she linked her arm in his. “The last run forty minutes without a check! I was in at the death, too, as you see,” she added, holding up the brush in proof of her statement. “It’s been a perfectly top-hole day!”

Miss Octavia looked up with affectionate pride at the girl’s flushed face and the graceful figure in its immaculately fitting habit. If only the Maharajah could see her now! But he was half-way to India by this time, poor fellow. Well, the future would show, but what a pity she had grown so slangy.

“Top-hole! My dear child, I can’t think where you pick up such dreadful slang. Certainly not from your Uncle or me,” she declared with conviction.

Pamela laughed at the confident assertion. “I’d love to hear you two dear old early Victorian back numbers talking modern English,” she rippled, as she stooped to kiss her. “I’ll take you both on one of these days and give you lessons. It would buck up Uncle Benjamin’s speeches no end—make the House sit up and beg, what? I say, I hope we’re not very late?”

“No, you’re two good, punctual people, for once.”

“Three,” corrected the Judge, who had been hanging up his hat and crop on the stand in the porch. “Hope you don’t mind, Octavia, but we’ve brought the policeman back with us—Jim Crowther, of Bombay. You know him, Marion.”

“Of course I do.”

“So do we,” put in Biddulph grimly.

“I know. He told us he was staying with friends of yours close by.”

“I hope he’s told them,” snorted the little man. “Otherwise they’re probably under the impression he’s staying with us. Where is he, by the way?”

“Arranging with your groom to give his mount a feed before he goes on, I believe,” explained the Judge.

“Oh, is he?” sputtered the host indignantly. “Well, of all the—ah, there you are, Mr. Crowther! How do you do—again?”

“Again?” echoed the new arrival blandly, as he crossed the hall to shake hands with his hostess. “Oh, of course. Extraordinary thing the ‘long arm,’ sir, what?”

“You called in on your way to the meet this morning, didn’t you?” smiled Mrs. Hastings, as she held out her hand in turn. “Some trouble with your horse, I hear?”

“Yes,” he glanced guiltily at Pamela, “another remarkable case of nostalgia in animals; I’m going to send it to the Field. Positively refused to pass his old home without looking in. You weren’t down then, Mrs. Hastings, so the Judge insisted on my returning now to make my salaams.”

“Anthony was quite right,” said Miss Octavia politely. “Of course you’ll stay and have some tea, Mr. Crowther—it’s just coming. Abdullah Khan, please tell William to bring it in.”

If looks were lethal weapons Mr. Benjamin Biddulph would certainly have been in custody that night on a charge of sororicide. The murderous glance he darted at his sister was, however, fortunately missed by the Police Officer, who at the moment was fully occupied with the problem of Abdullah Khan. Accustomed as Crowther was to the unexpected and to India’s trick of springing dramatic surprises, the sudden appearance of this sinister figure from the shadows at the back of the hall startled him more than he cared to admit. The footman had opened the door to him that morning; he had heard no whisper of the existence of a ‘native’ servant in the household; he knew that the Hastings’ would be extremely unlikely to bring their own bearer to England with them. Who was the fellow, and what was he doing in this secluded manor-house? No good, decided the Police Officer, as he watched him without seeming to do so. Two things at all events were evident. “Abdullah Khan’s” assumed name and clever disguise masked a very crafty Hindu, and he was extremely anxious to avoid Crowther’s eye. In these very obvious facts the Anglo-Indian found considerable food for reflection.

“Come and tell me who were at the meet, dear child,” Miss Octavia was saying to Pamela. “I hope you’re not very tired?”

“You funny old thing, it would take a bit more than a day’s hunting to make me tired,” laughed the girl. “All the same I’ll own that my arms feel as if they’d been pulled from their sockets.” She stretched them above her head, and Crowther noted for the hundredth time the graceful lines of the supple figure. “Although ‘The Canon’ did come from a rectory, his name ought to have another ‘n’ in the middle. He’s a perfect devil, and has a mouth like iron!”

“I don’t believe the horse exists that Pamela couldn’t ride,” put in the Judge proudly. “I wish you had some of your daughter’s pluck, Marion.”

“You don’t wish it more than I do. I’m simply terrified of horses, Mr. Crowther.”

“Perhaps you don’t understand them?” suggested the Police Officer with tact. “One of the pluckiest men I know is nervous in the saddle. He thinks the horse a dangerous fool.”

“And the horse is intelligent enough to resent it,” laughed Pamela.

“Of course he is,” agreed her father. “No, it’s the rider who’s generally the fool. I’ve no use for nerves. Give me a woman who can ride straight to hounds like—” He checked himself.

“Like your Bombay paragon, Mrs. Little, I suppose?” prompted his wife quietly.

“Like Pamela, I was going to say,” he blustered. “And whatever you may think of Georgie Little, Marion, you’ll admit she’s bold enough with a horse?”

“Or with a man. Yes, I admit that.”

With a muttered monosyllable that sounded suspiciously like an expletive, and with as much sound as though he were opening its sheets in a gale of wind, Anthony Hastings took cover behind the Morning Post. The awkward silence that fell upon the party was broken by Crowther.

“Perhaps, after all,” he laughed, “we’re confusing nerves with nerve. It’s odd, isn’t it, that the plural of a word should mean the exact opposite of its singular? I’m afraid I don’t know Mrs. Little well enough to risk my money, but anyhow I’m going to back Mrs. Hastings heavily for nerve.”

“Thank you, Mr. Crowther, that’s very charming of you,” she smiled. “I can only hope that when the race is run you won’t lose your money.”

“You will,” growled the voice from behind the Morning Post, and the Police Officer found more food for reflection in the discovery that even Judges of the High Court are sometimes as mortal as those they judge. The business of squaring the circle, he pondered, might present geometrical difficulties, but the apparent ease with which the eternal triangle was evolved from the golden circle that symbolized matrimony was disconcerting to a man who contemplated entering it. He gloomily recalled half a dozen instances, from Kipling’s plain tale of the Tertium Quid to the concrete warning before him, and he bethought himself that the celibate state at all events was immune from this, as well as from many another, form of domestic disturbance. Wisdom undoubtedly was all on the side of single blessedness. He looked across at Pamela—and, as it was from the beginning and ever shall be, man’s wisdom was straightway transmuted into divine folly by the alchemy of a woman’s smile.

Chapter VII

Pamela Does “Pooja”

Crowther’s crafty design—inspired by the encouragement just recorded—to manoeuvre Pamela into a dim corner of the hall for a tête-à-tête over the teacups was strangled at its birth. For the sound of wheels crunching on the gravel outside heralded the advent of new arrivals, and there was a general movement to receive them.

“Rampling!” anticipated Biddulph, with an affectation of heartiness that failed to deceive his sister; and, forestalling Abdullah Khan, who had reluctantly reappeared out of the shadows, he crossed the hall, flung open the door, and proved himself a true prophet. Stamping their numbed feet on the stone flags of the porch, and grinning with frozen agony, Messrs. Rampling and Mookerjee were revealed to the expectant company within like a couple of music-hall clog-dancers discovered on the rise of the curtain.

“My dear fellow, I knew you wouldn’t fail us,” exclaimed the host, as he fussily helped the former to shed his snow-powdered muffler and overcoat. “But what a journey you must have had!”

“Martyrdom for the Cause, my dear sir, martyrdom for the Cause!” The martyr raised his eyes to the groined roof and groaned at the recollection of his sufferings. “Like Christian’s, the pilgrimage was beset with trials! A Bank ’oli—-holiday inebriate, with whom I ventured to expostulate——”

“Yes, yes,” interrupted Biddulph hastily, “now come in both of you and thaw yourselves by the fire. You know my sister, Rampling?”

“Indeed, yes. Are you keeping your health, Miss Biddulph?”

Miss Biddulph hurriedly assured him that she was. He held her hand as though he were feeling her pulse, and the inquiry was made with such an air of solicitude that she had been within an ace of putting out her tongue.

“That’s right,” he rejoined, playfully patting her fingers. “We must all of us look after the inner man, you know—or should it be lady?—for the sake of the Cause.”

No one could doubt that Mr. Rampling practised what he preached. He wore what was obviously the Sunday edition of the clothes in which he “kept shop,” the only discernible difference lying in the reduced number of stains on the waistcoat. But there was no appreciable reduction in the generous girth of the garment, indeed a slightly increased pull upon the buttons seemed to suggest that the new vineyard was even more productive in the matter of pork chops than the old.

“Marion,” Biddulph was saying, “let me introduce one of the pioneers of our Movement. You’ve heard me speak of Mr. Rampling? My sister, Mrs. Hastings—from India, you know.”

Rampling held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. ’Astings—or do you spell it with a haitch?” he simpered. “Are you quite well?”

“Quite, thank you. How charming of you to ask.” She acknowledged the introduction with a slight inclination of her head, carelessly ignoring the extended hand.

“And you come from dear India? By and by you and I must have a little cosy talk together.”

“That will be delightful. Meantime, I will try and possess my soul in patience,” she drawled, mentally resolved that the appalling proposition should never materialize.

From his position under the gallery Crowther watched the new arrivals with growing interest. Preposterously out of the picture as the Cockney vulgarian was among the guests at a country house, the observer contemptuously catalogued him as one of the religious cranks for whom Dullington was fast becoming a notorious asylum. But the other roused all his professional curiosity. There were two Hindus, then, of widely different types domiciled in the house! What sinister purpose—no purpose in which “Abdullah Khan” figured could fail to be sinister—had brought him and this unspeakable Babu six thousand miles overseas to a remote English manor?

The Biddulphs, so Pamela had told him, had never been in India, and, apart from their two Anglo-Indian relatives, seemed to have no tangible link whatever with that distant continent. The reason for the presence in their household of these ill-paired Hindus did not jump to the eye, and Crowther felt that the mystery was a challenge to his police-trained intelligence. What did the Judge make of it, he wondered? He glanced in his direction, and the look of mingled disgust and perplexity with which the affronted Bench was eyeing the Babu over the top of the Morning Post nearly caused the Police Officer to laugh aloud.

Miss Octavia turned to the two men to complete the circle of introductions. “I don’t think you have either of you met Mr. Rampling?” she said, a trifle nervously. “And this is my niece, Miss Hastings, so now I think we all know one another.”

With a ponderous bow, Rampling seized Pamela’s hand, shook it for several moments with an up-and-down motion, as though he were testing its weight, and expressed his usual anxiety to learn whether she was “enjoying good health.”

“If hunger’s a sign of it, I certainly am,” she laughed. “I hope tea won’t be long, Aunt Octavia?”

“Here it comes,” returned that lady, as “Abdullah Khan” haughtily strode across the hall, flung open the door, and admitted William, the footman, with the tea-tray. “I’m sure you’re ready for a cup, Mr. Mookerjee?”

The Babu, tactfully rescued from a squirming embarrassment beneath the glare of the outraged Judge, tiptoed with alacrity to her side.

“The cup that cheers? Ah, Miss Biddulph,” he glanced apprehensively at the back which Pamela had deliberately turned on him, “what a hollow mockery you’d find that tomfool cup if your poor toad of a heart were under the harrow like mine!”

“Dear me! What has harrowed it?”

“It is not a whatt, it is a who,” he whispered. “On strength of three weeks’ domicile I ventured to address Miss Pamela this morning by baptismal tally, omitting customary prefix. Oh, whatt a kettle of fish!”

He mopped his face, which the poignant recollection of the rebuff had damped with perspiration.

“I am not surprised that she was annoyed,” observed Miss Octavia stiffly, as, after a chilling pause, she handed him two cups of tea. “For Mrs. Hastings and Miss Hastings,” she said, with a significant emphasis on the latter prefix.

Mookerjee set down one of the cups as hurriedly as though it had scalded him. “In compliance with esteemed command,” he grinned uneasily, “I shall have pleasure in waiting on Honourable Mrs. Justice Hastings, leaving younger lady to ministrations of more popular gent.”

He smirked his way across to Mrs. Hastings, handed her her cup with a bow that splashed half its contents into the saucer, and retraced his steps to secure his own. But, encountering Pamela’s withering glance, and being seized with panic, he snatched his tea and a slice of cake from the table, and, like a thieving cat, stealthily fled from the hall.

Miss Octavia diplomatically ignored the incident and beckoned to Rampling, who was exasperating his near neighbour, the Judge, by swallowing his tea with a noise that suggested water running out of a bath.

“How good of you to come to us in such weather, dear Mr. Rampling!” she murmured, making room for him beside her. “You must have been frozen in the train.”

“It was purgatory, if you will forgive the popish expression,” he mumbled, his mouth full of cake. “But I insisted on having both windows up, and there were twelve of us in the compartment, so it might have been worse.”

“Yes,” drawled Mrs. Hastings, “you might have been thirteen.”

“Ah,” he turned and shook a playful finger at her, “there speaks superstitious India! Personally, I should have welcomed a thirteenth. But what is the young lady doing?”

Impelled by the puzzled expression on the large white face, Mrs. Hastings lazily glanced over her shoulder at Pamela. The girl was standing in the gloom under the gallery, her back towards the hall, her graceful figure clearly visible in the direct ray from the red firelight of the hearth. In her hands, raised high above her head, she held the brush, the trophy of the day’s sport, and her attitude reminded Crowther, who was also watching her, of a devotee making an offering to an idol. A moment later he realized with a shock of surprise that it was precisely what she was doing.

Peering more attentively into the shadow, he had caught the flicker of firelight on a brass image some two and a half feet high, which until that moment had escaped his notice. It stood, or rather squatted, on an iron bracket set against the dark panelling of the wall, and, though it was difficult in the dusk to identify the deity it represented, Crowther had no doubt that it was a Hindu idol, whose brazen existence possibly contained a clue to the enigma of the Indians’ presence in the house. The suspicion was strengthened by the gleaming eyes and tense attitude of “Abdullah Khan,” who, in his white garments and in the act of quitting the hall, suggested Lot’s wife, her chin upon her shoulder, petrifying into a hogshead of salt. With an obeisance half ironical, half serious, the girl laid the brush, as upon an altar, on the massive Jacobean chest which stood immediately beneath the idol.

“My dear child!”

Miss Octavia’s half-hearted protest seemed to hint that the rite was not altogether unfamiliar to her.

“Hullo, Pamela, doing pooja?” called out her father, on his way across the hall to get his tea.

“Rather! So would you if it brought you luck,” laughed the girl over her shoulder. “I did pooja this morning; that’s why I got the brush. It’s a good egg—won’t someone else have a try? Come on, Aunt Octavia, pull up your socks and show ’em the way.”

“Pull up my socks! Really, Pamela——”

“And what, may I inquire, is poojer?” interrupted Rampling ponderously.

With a malicious enjoyment of the effect of his words Crowther explained,

“It means playing for safety, Mr. Rampling. You see, you never quite know where you are with Hindu idols, and Miss Hastings is very wisely taking no chances with this one. A little attention now and then in the way of a salaam or some small offering keeps ’em smiling and costs nothing. They’re uncanny, and it’s safer to propitiate them than to make them ratty, don’t you know.”

The noise as of a pipe sucking dry suddenly ceased, as Rampling, setting down his cup with a clatter that nearly cracked it, held up his hands in horror at the pagan practice he had witnessed and now heard defended.

“But what a deplorable example to our dear brothers from India!” he groaned. “Our young Christian sister bowing herself down in the House of Rimmon—if Mr. Biddulph will forgive the libel on his noble mansion—and worshipping a graven image! No, no,” he clasped his hands in supplication, “as an earnest chapel member and a local preacher of some acceptance (so they tell me) let me implore you, dear sir, to cast down that idol of Baal and break it in pieces before the Lord.”

“As ‘Baal’ is made of solid brass,” laughed the Judge contemptuously, “Mr. Biddulph would find it a pretty tough job in any case. But I sincerely trust he won’t be tempted to try.”

“Indeed? Why?”

“I don’t believe in asking for trouble.”

Mr. Rampling bristled with righteous anger. “I trust, sir,” he stuttered, “that you—that you don’t believe in the power of a graven image to harm anybody?”

“There are more things in Asia, Mr. Rampling, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Take my tip and go slow where the gods of India are concerned.”

He turned his back on the outraged local preacher with an air of finality, realizing that further discussion on Hindu mythology with a man of his type was sheer waste of time. It was obvious that he lacked not only the education and experience but the intelligence to appreciate the attitude of the average Anglo-Indian mind towards the mysteries of the East—a non-committal attitude of agnosticism. At the same moment William entered the hall with a couple of lighted lamps, one of which he placed near the tea-table, the other, evidently in accordance with routine, on a stand before the idol. Taking advantage of the light, Crowther stepped up to the image and examined it.

The discovery that, so far from being the uncouth effigy he had half expected to see, it was the work of a past-master in his craft, gave him a mild shock of surprise. The figure was that of a woman, elaborately adorned, who bore a lotus flower in her hand and on her face that baffling expression of the East which can only be described by the hackneyed yet exact word—inscrutable. That the idol was extremely old he recognized at a glance. It was certainly no purchase by a curio hunting globe-trotter from the godmaker in the bazaar. It was obviously a genuine idol that had been acquired by fair means or foul from its shrine in some Hindu temple. The more Crowther pondered the matter the less he liked it: for he had all the Anglo-Indian’s feeling against any tampering with the gods of the East, and the desecration of a western sanctuary would have caused him less concern. But he covered his uneasiness with a light laugh.

“By Jove, Miss Hastings,” he exclaimed, “I can quite understand your doing pooja to this deity! I wouldn’t treat her with disrespect for all the wealth in India.”

“And why not, pray?” demanded Rampling.

“Because she’s a lady we all want to propitiate—the goddess Lakshmi, the dispenser of luck, good or bad as the case may be. I never lose a chance of salaaming her myself”—he turned to the idol and made the eastern obeisance—“though I’m bound to confess,” he added, with a rueful glance at Pamela, “that it has brought me precious little luck so far.”

“Ah!” said Rampling triumphantly.

“But it will,” smiled Mrs. Hastings with quiet conviction, as she strolled across to the group. “She can be quite a dear to those who treat her with respect, though I’ve known her behave like a cat—or is tigress a more dignified simile for a goddess?—to people who have offended her. After all, she’s a great lady, the wife of Vishnu, you know, and the Venus of India.”

“Truly lamentable!” groaned Rampling, with pious horror.

“I had no idea there was any resemblance between Lakshmi and Venus, Marion,” threw in Biddulph, a shade resentfully, from the hearthrug.

“She’s the goddess of beauty as well as of luck, isn’t she, Mr. Crowther? And the legend of her birth is much the same, too, I believe?”

“More picturesque, if anything. She rose, with a lotus flower in her hand, from the foam of the ocean, which the gods had churned up in their search for ambrosia. It must have given the old gentlemen the shock of their lives, what?”

“But is this a meet subject for discussion before the ladies of a Christian household?” protected Rampling unctuously.

“Don’t mind me,” laughed Pamela. “Besides, no one suggested that ambrosia was meat.”

“If you make any more atrocious puns like that,” grinned her father, “you’ll be sent to bed, my child. By the by, what is the exact history of this family idol, Octavia? Crowther’s been too well brought up to ask for himself, and he’s aching to know.”

“If it’s no question of dragging a family skeleton from its cupboard,” began the Police Officer doubtfully.

“Good gracious, why should it be?” asked Miss Octavia. She was secretly proud of the heirloom and of its alleged history, and she resented the suggestion that there was anything amiss with it. “To begin with, it was brought from India more than eighty years ago by the original of the portrait up there.”

She pointed to the picture on the gallery wall, and, stepping back to obtain a clear view, Crowther inspected it through his eye-glass.

“Yes,” he nodded, “he looks quite capable of carrying off a lady, doesn’t he?”

Miss Octavia stiffened. “He was my grandfather, Mr. Crowther, and, I trust, as incapable of such an indiscretion as my brother himself.”

“Of course, I can see that,” agreed Crowther hurriedly, “now that I look at him more closely. The light is so dim up there—anyhow, please wash out. Yes, and how was your grandfather lucky enough to get hold of her?”

Miss Octavia’s pet hobby—no one ventured in her hearing to catalogue her numerous “societies” under that heading—was the family history. Given an interested listener, she became voluble on the subject, and, with a wealth of inconsequent detail and an emphasized mispronunciation of names excruciating to her Anglo-Indian audience, she unfolded the story of the idol. It occupied several minutes in the telling, though it need have lost nothing that was relevant had the narration been compressed within as many seconds. For it boiled down to the bald allegation that the acquisition of the goddess had been a deed of charity, the truculent original of the portrait having purchased it at a time of famine from starving priests in a jungle temple near Bombay. To Crowther’s ears the story was unconvincing; it lacked probability and he smelt loot in it, though he wisely refrained from saying so.

“And she has brought you luck ever since?” he suggested, anticipating the conventional ending.

“As a subscriber to foreign missions,” sighed the narrator, “it would be most inconsistent of me to admit it.”

“But Aunt Octavia believes it all the same, Mr. Crowther,” laughed Pamela. “She knows that Lakshmi’s brought the most extraordinary luck to four generations of the family.”

Biddulph, abandoning the hearthrug, joined the little group before the idol.

“Yes, but even to the family she’s far from being an unmixed blessing,” he explained. “We’ve been continually pestered with offers for her ever since we’ve had her.”

Crowther pricked up his ears and suddenly grew thoughtful.

“From India, of course?” he queried.

“From India, and from dealers all over England.”

“Quite so, but all inspired from the same source,” opined the other slowly. “Look here, sir,” he turned with sudden resolution to his host, “it’s infernal cheek, of course, for me to tender you advice, but I happen to know something of these things. You say she’s a mixed blessing. Well, mixed blessings from the East have an uncanny trick sometimes of changing into very unmixed curses. Take the next offer, sir, and get rid of her.”

Had Mr. Biddulph been urged by a policeman at the House of Commons to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds he could scarcely have been more affronted. That this irresponsible mountebank, paid to oppress the people he, Benjamin Biddulph, was seeking to emancipate, should suggest the riddance of a family heirloom because it came from India, was rank impertinence. Nor did Crowther fail to note, with something like dismay, that the indignation blazing in his host’s face was reflected in Miss Octavia’s, and that even Pamela resented his well-meant, if ill-timed, counsel.

“What you are kind enough to suggest, Mr. Crowther,” retorted Biddulph, with an icy politeness that betrayed his anger, “is unfortunately impossible. My grandfather made it a condition of inheritance that the idol remained in the family. It had brought him luck, and he believed it would bring luck to his descendants. I am bound to admit that, so far, he has been amply justified.”

“Good. Then let us hope,” said Crowther, with a shrug of the shoulders and a smile, “that the lady will never exercise the privilege of her sex.”

“Which one?” asked Mrs. Hastings laughingly.

“Changing her mind.”

“Which reminds me,” put in Pamela, a little stiffly, “that I’d better run upstairs and change my habit. In case I don’t see you again—good-bye, Mr. Crowther.”

She ran across the hall, but he contrived to intercept her at the foot of the staircase.

“Don’t go away,” he pleaded, lowering his voice. “I can only stay a few minutes longer, and I haven’t had a chance of a single word with you yet.”

“You shouldn’t have wasted so many of them on Lakshmi,” she retorted, her chin in the air.

“You’re offended with me?”

“Of course, I am. What on earth possessed you to put the wind up Uncle Ben like that when you know how ratty he is with you already? I could have shaken you.”

“I wish you had—no, wash out, I didn’t mean that,” he added hurriedly, as she tried to pass him. “I meant, I wish you had for your own sake—if it would have given you any satisfaction, you know. Can’t you change after I’ve gone? Stop another five minutes—do; I want that missing word badly.”

Something in his voice, more perhaps in his eyes, caused the girl to turn her head aside and her heart to beat faster. Was the word to be an answer to a question? If so, the question must be evaded at all costs. She realized that she was a very long way from being ready with the answer, and she cast about desperately for some means of escape from a situation she had long foreseen but which she was still unprepared to encounter. Her mother’s level voice fell upon the silence like a lifebuoy flung to a swimmer in difficulties, and, metaphorically clutching it, she recovered her temporarily shaken composure.

“Mother’s put her feet in the soup!” she whispered, with laughing irrelevance. “She’s breaking the joyful intelligence to Daddy. Listen!”

But her companion was less concerned to hear the mother’s news than to watch the fluttering colour and varying shades of expression on the beautiful face of the daughter. That for one brief moment Pamela had been agitated by his request he realized with a thrill of thankfulness; it was at least a long step in progress from indifference. But was that fleeting instant of panic caused by fear or dislike of him, or was it merely due to the feminine intuition which senses a pending proposal as a barometer anticipates the hurricane? On consideration he ruled out the first contingency; their comradeship had strengthened too steadily during the past week or so to make it really thinkable. Yet Crowther ruefully recognized that, while he himself had practically touched bottom in the ocean reputed to be fathomless, the girl was still as far from being in love with him as she had been at their first meeting. Nevertheless there were purple patches on the surface of that troubled sea, and on one of them his mind’s eye focussed itself. The romantic figure of the Maharajah, his most formidable if not his only rival, had temporarily vanished, leaving him, James Crowther, a clear stage for his love scenes. It was up to him to make the most of the opportunity. For Jaiselpore would reappear, and their respective positions might conceivably be reversed. The mere thought of it sent up his temperature; for time was pressing—a cable received that morning had considerably increased the pressure—and he knew that he must put his luck to the test and throw amain with Fortune without further delay.

“Come into the Library,” he murmured.

“’Sh!” she commanded, “I want to listen.”

Mrs. Hastings, to the acute distress of Biddulph, who had retreated to his ancient fastness on the hearthrug, was explaining to her husband the “little surprise” arranged for them in the shape of a lecture by Rampling. If Mr. Justice Hastings appreciated his good fortune his face was certainly no index to his feelings, for it suggested the vocal exercise known as swearing under the breath. But, being hurriedly reassured by his brother-in-law (in defiance of Miss Octavia’s glance of withering scorn) that it was a no greater matter than an hour’s entertainment for the villagers, he rallied sufficiently to murmur his gratification and to ask the title of the lecture. It was Miss Octavia who informed him.

“‘India,’” she announced, with a truculence that failed to conceal her nervousness.

“Good God!” boomed the Judge.

His collapse was so complete, his glance of helplessness at Crowther so like that of a trapped badger, that this time the Police Officer inadvertently laughed aloud.

“If you must be profane, Anthony,” said his sister-in-law chillingly, after a naked silence, “you might at least refrain from being so in the presence of your own daughter. And I see nothing to laugh at in blasphemy, Mr. Crowther.”

“I wasn’t,” protested the latter, in the phraseology of a convicted schoolboy, “I was laughing at a story Arbuthnot told me last night.”

“What part of India do you know, Mr. Rampling?” blustered the discomfited Judge in his best cross-examining manner.

Mr. Rampling, it appeared, had an exhaustive knowledge of all India. He had read everything on the subject—encyclopaedias, blue books, missionary reports, everything. He hoped some day even to spend his annual ’oli—holiday there, instead of going to the seaside; so far he had not enjoyed the inestimable privilege of treading India’s coral strand. “But I know my India, Mr. ’Astings,” he concluded, with a comprehensive wave of the fat hand.

The Judge gasped; the man’s audacity was colossal. “I congratulate you,” he sneered. “I don’t even know my own province, and I’ve lived in it a quarter of a century.”

“It’s the onlooker who proverbially sees most of the game,” he was reminded, with a patronizing smile.

“He certainly avoids all its dangers,” spluttered the Judge. “You’ve chosen the wiser part, Mr. Rampling; I shall appreciate the privilege of sitting at the feet of Gamaliel.”

“It looks as if we should have the privilege to ourselves,” murmured Mrs. Hastings, with a glance at the window. “I’m afraid this snow will keep most of the villagers at home, Benjamin.”

Mr. Biddulph fancied not. Snow or no snow, he explained with an indignant snort, he expected his tenants to share their landlord’s interest in the emancipation of the Native.

“Then I shall start a Society for the emancipation of your tenants,” announced Pamela laughingly.

“I’ll talk to you later, Miss Impudence,” retorted her uncle. “Oh, by the by, Pamela, our emancipation banner’s got torn. You might put a stitch or two in it, there’s a dear child. You’ll find it on the library table, and—where did I see your work-basket?—oh, yes, in the window-seat.”

Crowther, catching the girl’s eye, smiled a little maliciously. She might evade his own suggestion, but she could not well refuse her uncle’s request to go into the library, and the impetuous lover instantly resolved to accompany her thither. His recent salaams to Lakshmi were already bearing fruit; the goddess had given him the opportunity he had prayed for. Well, it would not be his fault if he failed to make the most of it, though he fully realized that circumstances were dangerously forcing the pace, and that the psychological moment for speaking to Pamela was still in the womb of Time.

“I’ll come and give you a hand,” he announced jauntily. “I’m quite dodgy with a needle—always had to tinker my own kit, you know.”

Pamela hesitated. Although her first instinct was to refuse Crowther’s proffered aid with an emphasis that would make persistence on his part impossible, she suddenly remembered that the library at that moment contained the odious Mookerjee, and she shuddered. The Police Officer’s presence would at least assure her from further risk of the Babu’s impertinence. For widely different reasons, it was true, she wanted to escape from both men, yet she must perforce choose between them. But there was no hesitation about Biddulph, whose sorely tried patience Crowther’s flippant proposal had now brought to the end of its tether.

“We mustn’t dream of keeping you,” he glared, savagely consulting his watch in an impotent effort to speed a guest who showed no sign of parting. “What time do the Arbuthnots dine?”

“Any old time,” lied the Police Officer airily. “Shockingly slack people in the matter of meal hours—don’t worry about them, sir. Come along, Miss Pamela, ‘a stitch in time’—what? Never put off till to-morrow what you can do—to-morrow three weeks, say. Don’t you agree with me, Miss Biddulph?”

Babbling on in this inconsequent fashion, and entirely unabashed by the murderous fury in his host’s face, he preceded Pamela across the hall and held open the library door for her. The girl, outwardly calm, but with a beating heart—she had noted his use for the first time of her Christian name—passed into the room beyond. The Police Officer’s parting smile, as he followed her and closed the door behind them, drove Mr. Benjamin Biddulph, M.P., nearer the verge of profanity than that impeccable politician had probably ever been in the whole course of his decorous life.

Chapter VIII

Mr. Justice Hastings Dismisses an Appeal

Remote and hidden though it was among its beech woods in a sleepy hollow of the South Downs, the ancient manor-house of Dullington had in its time played no inconsiderable part in the making of English history. The projecting Tudor porch, set midway the gabled wings and helping with them to form the Elizabethan E on which, in the pretty fashion of the day and in architectural compliment to the Virgin Queen, the mansion had been designed, had witnessed the coming and going of many a gentleman adventurer upon his sovereign’s business.

On a certain July morning in the fateful year 1588 it had seen one of Drake’s captains ride forth to Shoreham to share, in the pinnace of his own fitting-out, the great drive of the Spaniards to their first disaster off Calais. On the outbreak of the Civil War the Caroline lord of the manor, following the example of his Tudor forbear, had answered the call to arms and set out with a troop of retainers to join the King’s standard at Nottingham, and ultimately to leave his bones on Marston Moor. The Merry Monarch himself, if tradition may be trusted, had dallied for a peril-packed hour beneath its roof to drink a cup of sack and “give the glad eye” to the daughter of the house during his flight along the Downs from Worcester to the coast. Jacobite plotters, bound to and from St. Germains with a price upon their periwigged heads, had flitted through its shrubberies on moonless nights, and the Napoleonic wars had added yet another tablet to the Biddulph memorials in the village church.

And though the twentieth-century bearer of the name was politically an avowed pacifist, he had inherited all the energy and not a little of the fighting instincts of his belligerent ancestors. During the Great War the old manor-house had hummed with the mingled chatter of Miss Octavia’s working parties and the trench jargon of convalescent officers, to whom the kindly couple had offered a warm-hearted hospitality. If, when the living had retired to bed, ghosts foregathered in the panelled hall, they met with the knowledge that each in his time had added his sentence to the page of history. Elizabethan seaman or Caroline cavalier, Jacobite post or he who had borne the King’s colour through the breach at Badajos, Tory archdeacon or Radical M.P. who now succeeded them, not one had been content to spend his life in leisured ease upon his sheltered manor. The care of his inheritance had been in each instance a secondary, though rarely a neglected, duty of his strenuous life. The welfare of the state, or, it may have been, the lure of adventure, had ever come first, and for three and a half centuries the history of their race had been closely interwoven with that of their country.

Yet, adventurers as those successive lords of the manor had been, it is doubtful whether one of them had ever assembled beneath his ancestral roof so ill-assorted a company as that brought together by Mr. Benjamin Biddulph’s evil genius in the closing days of the year of grace 1918. In social caste, in education and tradition, in religious and political creed, in their outlook on life generally, even in race and colour, the present inmates of Dullington were as much in sympathy with one another as the unnatural “happy family” in a showman’s cage. The barrier between concord and violent dissension was a flimsy and artificial one, which must have given way before a prolonged strain. Happily it was, for some of them, a question of hours only. Crowther’s departure indeed might be looked for within the next few minutes; Rampling must catch the first train in the morning; the remainder would scatter, for the daylight hours at least, on their various occasions. Yet, unsuspected by any of them, Christian and pagan, churchman and dissenter, Tory and Radical, man and woman alike were being inexorably beckoned by Destiny to play their respective parts in a drama, the stage for which was already being set some six thousand miles from Dullington Manor.

For a choking moment or two after Crowther had closed the library door on himself and Pamela, Biddulph continued to glare at its oak panels as though his bête noire were still within the orbit of his vision. Then, with a final snort of anger, he turned, strode across the hall, and, selecting a key from a bunch fished up from his trouser pocket, unlocked the letter-bag brought in by Abdullah Khan, sorted and arranged the contents in piles, and handed them to their respective owners. As he fussily trotted from one to the other, peering at the superscriptions on the envelopes, he reminded Mrs. Hastings of a postman spurred to a show of zeal by the anticipation of a pending Christmas-box.

“You shall give it to the Cause,” he retorted maliciously, as she put the thought into words. “Quite a budget, Marion!”

“Oh, the Indian mail’s in!” She glanced through the pile; “I wonder what the news is. Will you excuse me, Octavia?”

“Of course. By the by, you would like me to show you your room, Mr. Rampling. I hope you will find everything you want.”

“My wants are very simple,” smirked the local preacher, as he stertorously followed his hostess up the staircase. “A sandbag on the window-sill to keep out draughts, and, if there’s no fire, the register closed in the chimney. M’yes, and a hot water-bottle for the stomach’s sake, if the apostle will forgive the little witticism; I always prefer to ’ug it. No, I needn’t trouble you, dear lady, to air my bedsocks. I wear them by day inside my vest . . . serve the double purpose of chest preserver and . . . Yes, indeed, a martyr to chilblains . . .”

As the unctuous voice died away in an indistinct rumble along the corridor, the library door hurriedly opened, and was slammed behind him by an invisible agent, as Mookerjee shot into the hall. His normal cringing attitude had given place to an assumption of outraged dignity; with one hand he tenderly nursed the portion of his anatomy nearest the door handle, while the other held a paper to which he furtively endeavoured to attract the attention of his preoccupied employer.

“What is it now, Mookerjee?” exclaimed the latter testily, as he delivered the last of the letters. “Can’t that thing wait?”

“Not if we are to catch outward-bound Indian mail by its forelock, dear Mister; there will be a deuce of a hurry-skurry as it is. After despatch of same, and with ref to your esteemed status as worshipful J.P.,” the Babu spluttered with wrath, “I shall present humble petition to have our Mr. Crowther, now in camera, bound over to keep the peace.”

“What the—what on earth are you talking about, man?” demanded Biddulph angrily, as he stared at his grimacing secretary.

“Re unprovoked pedal assault by above-named limb of law on dorsal region of Indian gentleman,” explained Mookerjee, rubbing the “region” indicated. “But let it rip,” he added magnanimously, “pending indorsement and mailing of urgent chit in hand.”

Biddulph adjusted his pince-nez. “Well, bring it over here,” he snapped.

A deep scowl had settled on his ordinarily genial face. Here in his own house was an instance of the brutality with which the Anglo-Indian habitually treated the Native. Was further proof needed of the urgency for such an organization as the Society for the Emancipation of India? Another indictment was added to Mr. Biddulph’s long calendar of charges against the hapless Crowther, who, it must be confessed, had employed a method less usual at home than overseas in showing the Babu that his room was preferred to his company.

“Hullo! What’s this?” Biddulph lowered his voice and glanced uneasily at his Anglo-Indian relatives, who, to his obvious relief, appeared to be absorbed in their correspondence. “Another draft on the Bank of Bombay already? I signed a cheque only last week.”

“That was for Rampling Sahib’s passage money,” whispered Mookerjee ingratiatingly. “This, honoured sir, is for propagation of Cause on arrival.”

Biddulph removed his glasses. “It’s a big figure, Mookerjee.”

“It’s a big Cause, dear Mister. I would humbly remind honourable Member that proverbial omelette necessitates demolition of eggs.”

The honourable Member objected that he seemed to be supplying an undue share of the eggs. Unnoticed by him, the Judge’s attention had wandered from the letter he was trying, with sotto voce profanity, to decipher. Perhaps the whispering did not render the task any easier.

“For which,” the Babu was cooing in answer to his patron’s objection, “millions of unborns will acclaim you Glorious Golden Goose of India.”

“The Government may call me something else,” opined the Golden Goose gloomily. “I’m not at all sure it isn’t a hanging matter, Mookerjee.”

“Then let it be for a ship, dear Mister, and not for ha’porth of tar. This,” he fluttered the draft in his hand, “is positively the last before glorious bust-up in India on April first prox.”

Mr. Biddulph retorted with warmth that the date fixed for the inaugural demonstration of the Society was a most ill-chosen one. “However, bring the thing to my study,” he sighed, leading the way, “and I’ll sign it.”

Left to themselves, the Judge and his wife sat on for a considerable time in silence, she engrossed in her correspondence, he staring thoughtfully into the fire. What did the whispered colloquy between his Radical brother-in-law and this seditious Babu—most Babus were seditious—mean? He certainly had had no intention of playing the eavesdropper—in any case he had not consciously listened to more than the concluding sentences exchanged between the pair. But although the plotters—for plotters he now knew them to be—had held their murmured conference on the far side of the spacious hall, their words in the prevailing stillness had carried farther than either had probably imagined, and Anthony Hastings realized with something like dismay that his mind had subconsciously recorded all of them. What, then, was the proper line of conduct to pursue?

Unhappily the relations between himself and his eccentric brother-in-law had at no time been of a cordial character. The wide dissimilarity in outlook between the two men made anything in the nature of racial, religious or political agreement impossible. And Anthony knew that the widening rift between himself and his wife was suspected and resented by Marion’s brother. Never had his intercourse with Benjamin Biddulph been so strained as at present, and the Judge felt that any interference with the little man’s latest crank, however tactfully engineered, would inevitably precipitate the open rupture which, for certain material reasons, he was particularly anxious to avoid.

But if this preposterous “emancipation” movement initiated by his wife’s relatives was anything more than the faddist craze of a moment so many of its predecessors had been; if there was actual, even potential, mischief behind this crank Society that had brought together under one roof so many ill-matched inmates; if the sedition he knew to be smouldering in India had more sympathizers at home than he had hitherto suspected; if, in a word, the English match was about to be set to the Indian tow—then no consideration of kinship, however imperative, could be permitted for one moment to influence his course of action. What that immediate course was he needed time to consider. That it would ultimately estrange him past redemption from his present host and hostess he had no doubt whatever. Yet two rays of light at least pierced the mist of perplexity which enveloped him.

The first was the knowledge that, in whatever family imbroglio his duty to India might involve him, he would have the loyal support of his wife; the other was the recollection that there was still apparently three months’ grace before an actual outbreak might be looked for. It was now the end of December, and he recalled the Babu’s whispered reference to a “bust-up” on April the first. If he, the Judge, were ultimately driven to take a hand in the game, it would be no fault of his if the date failed to prove an All Fools’ Day for the others. In the meantime he would set Crowther on the trail; and, with the comfortable reflection that that sleuth-hound might be trusted to stick to it till his own aid was needed, Anthony Hastings returned to the perusal of his letters.

“Hullo! Here’s a bit of news, Marion,” he exclaimed presently. “Always begin a woman’s letter at the postscript.”

“Yes, you ought to know,” agreed his wife in her lazy drawl, without looking up. “Most of your correspondence seems to be of the feminine gender.”

“This is semi-official—from the Mem at Government House,” he blustered. “I should have thought she at all events was safe from your——”

“She’s a very charming woman, but I am not in the least interested in her reasons for writing to you. What’s her news?”

Again the Judge stared thoughtfully into the fire. “You remember the high priest of the Lakshmi temple—the one in the Thana jungle?” he asked.

“The horror who cursed poor Mr. Quennell the day before he broke his neck?”

“That’s the chap. Well, he’s disappeared again.”

“I’m delighted to hear it,” she shuddered, “and I hope to goodness the police won’t try to find him this time.”

“They’ll have to. The queer thing is that these vanishing stunts are always followed by trouble amongst his stock, bad luck to ’em. He’s the only chap who can bring ’em to heel, you see.”

“How different from Dullington!” she sighed. “Octavia tells me that it’s when the Vicar’s at home there’s most trouble in the parish.”

“This accounts for Crowther’s recall,” mused the Judge.

Mrs. Hastings looked up with suddenly awakened interest.

“I wonder whether he has told Pamela,” was her first unspoken thought. “What a nuisance for him,” she commented aloud. “Is an absentee Hindu priest as serious as all that?”

“When the Hindu priest happens to be this one. Damn!” He threw aside a second letter he had opened and glanced at.

“What’s the matter now?”

“Everything. Dropped some more money over that infernal tea estate of Harry Little’s.”

His wife’s lip curled contemptuously. “So you let her persuade you after all to invest in her husband’s tea estate?” she said. “By the way, Anthony, I have to apologize. I opened this letter of yours,” she tossed it over to him, “by mistake. The address is so obviously in a woman’s handwriting that I suppose Benjamin thought it must be intended for me.”

“Well, why not? It’s from Georgie Little—meant as much for you as for me.”

“You may think differently when you’ve read it.”

He started guiltily. “Why? Have you?” he stammered.

“My dear Anthony!”

The slightly raised eyebrows and the touch of carmine in her cheek showed her deep resentment at the question, and he made haste to retract it.

“I’m sorry—of course I didn’t mean that. Wash out.” He rose impatiently, and paced up and down the hall. “Come, I say, Marion, what rot it all is! We’re not an early Victorian couple. Apron-strings went out of fashion with pegtop trousers in the ’sixties.”

“I suppose she told you that. She would remember both quite easily.”

“I don’t know why you should say so. After all, a woman’s as old as she looks.”

“That’s why I said it.”

“Oh, I know there’s no love lost between you,” he laughed.

Marion Hastings rose, and laid a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Has it ever occurred to you that it may be lost between us, Anthony?” she asked wistfully. “It has been so gradual I don’t believe either of us has quite realized it, but we seem to be drifting apart, somehow.” For a brief instant his eyes sought hers, and he made a half movement as though about to return her caress. Then, with a gesture of impatience, he shook himself free, and flung himself down in his chair again.

“My dear Marion,” he fumed, “what morbid nonsense you’re talking. Just because I’m ordinarily civil to another woman——”

“Who isn’t even ordinarily civil to me.”

“You give her jolly little encouragement, you must admit.”

Mrs. Hastings laughed scornfully. “Encouragement’s the last thing the creature wants,” she retorted.

“That’s not fair,” stuttered the Judge. “She may have her faults, none of us are perfect—well, I don’t see what there is to smile at in that! Anyhow, all I know is that she’s got more pluck in her little finger than—than——”

“Than I have in the whole of my composition. Even that’s not saying much. I’m sorry you’ve married such a mouse, Anthony.”

The Judge petulantly picked up another letter. “You’re making a mountain of a molehill,” he declared, as he opened the envelope. “The friendship between Georgie Little and me is purely platonic: why the devil make all this fuss about it?”

“I’m not given to fuss about anything,” drawled his wife, “least of all a woman of the crinoline age. There, Tony,” she added impulsively, “I don’t mean to be catty, but I’m miserable. I feel I’m losing you.”

“What rubbish! Why——”

“Is she worth it, Tony? I’m not fond of making appeals—I’m certainly not likely to make another. But I do appeal to you now. Is our twenty years of comradeship to count for nothing? Tony——?”

She made a little gesture of supplication with her hands, and there was a hint of tears in the vibrant, low-pitched voice. For all her composure of manner and quiet self-restraint—mistaken by many for coldness—Marion Hastings was still as capable of a great passion at thirty-eight as she had been at eighteen. Her love for the man, whose virile personality had fired her imagination and won her maiden heart twenty years earlier, had grown and strengthened, rather than abated, with the passage of time. The discovery that her idol, when other women did pooja to it, was wont to exhibit feet of clay, had long been a source of unhappiness to her. But, since there had hitherto been no fall on the idol’s part that was past mending, her sense of humour had always come to her rescue, enabling her to laugh him out of more than one feminine entanglement. She had taught herself to regard him, in spite of his physical and intellectual strength, as a rather tiresomely mischievous schoolboy, to be cajoled and mothered back into the path of rectitude.

But she had recognized, with fast growing concern, that this latest infatuation was in a different category from its predecessors. His strength was being mined more scientifically by this eastern Delilah, who had cunningly preceded him to England, than had ever been attempted before. Fool as the woman undoubtedly was in all other respects, she had aimed her arrows with diabolical accuracy at the weak joints in the man’s armour. By nature a coward, she posed as the possessor of that reckless courage he blindly worshipped, and by foolhardy displays of horsemanship and shooting, both of which secretly terrorized her, she had begun by winning his admiration. The sapping of his loyalty to his wife was pushed a parallel further by an ostentatious, though wholly fictitious, enthusiasm for those open-air pastimes, such as polo, in which he excelled, but which held no attraction for Marion. A subtly suggested sympathy with him for this flaw in the married state, an insidious flattery of his aptitude for the role of Don Juan, a shrill and brainless prattle designed as a pleasing relief from her rival’s low-pitched drawl, were now fast ripening the initial admiration into a sentiment more illicit.

The Judge was perfectly well aware of his wife’s appealing attitude, and a pang of remorse seized him as he marked the unwonted note of emotion in her voice. If his colder nature was less capable than hers of keeping alive the embers of passion, his genuine affection for her was still undiminished. But she had worked up an imaginary grievance against him. She was jealous of a very natural friendship with a woman who could appreciate qualities in his character she herself was incapable of understanding. He had not the slightest intention (he had got into the habit of believing) of compromising either himself or Georgie Little. He was no weak fool to be twisted round a woman’s little finger, as Marion of all people ought to realize, and this hysteria because he was not always at her own beck and call was making them ridiculous. In a word, Mr. Justice Hastings was furious with his wife for having committed the unpardonable crime of convincing him that he was in the wrong.

Therefore she must be taught a lesson. After a proper interval he would pull her together with a word or two of dignified but kindly rebuke, and then magnanimously forgive her. Bygones should be bygones, and he would never refer to the matter again. Meanwhile, in order that she should realize the enormity of her offence and feel the full weight of his displeasure, he affected to be absorbed in his correspondence, and resolutely steeled himself to disregard her appeal.

And still, for a brief instant, she remained standing with arms outstretched to her husband. The next, in a little gesture of despair, she dropped them to her sides and, with an expression of contempt slowly hardening in her eyes and about the lines of her mouth, resumed her chair and the reading of her Indian mail.

Her appeal had failed. In making it at all—abhorring, as she did, anything in the nature of a “scene”—she had done no little violence to her pride. The resulting snub, she told herself, made it impossible that she should ever attempt the experiment again. The imp, specially detailed by the Father of all Mischief to sow dissension between man and wife, had once more fulfilled his mission, and flew off to other cases. One could almost hear his exultant chuckle in the stillness, a stillness that was emphasized rather than broken by the rustle of a turned page, the ticking of an eight-day clock, and the occasional fall of an ember from the sinking fire.

Chapter IX

“A Banner with a Strange Device”

Much as Pamela adored her Uncle Benjamin, angry resentment at the untimely task he had imposed on her was the feeling uppermost in her mind at the moment Crowther closed the library door behind them. To think that, after she had succeeded in putting the lid on the latter’s attempts to manoeuvre her into the room, the aggravating old darling—how extraordinarily obtuse all males were—should have practically thrown her into the arms of the man he himself detected and she was so desperately anxious to avoid! It was the outside limit! If she scorned the immemorial solace of her sex known as “having a good cry,” she was none the less perilously near the brink of tears; and she firmly resolved, not only to complete the job in record time, but to ply that feminine safeguard, her tongue, as diligently as her needle while she was employed upon it.

“Now, then, where’s this rotten banner I’ve got to mend?” she began breathlessly. “Oh, here we are! Good heavens, did anyone ever see such a scream? Be an angel, Mr. Crowther, and get me my work-basket—you’ll find it on the window-seat—no, not that one, the other. Thanks awfully, now we shan’t be long.” The library, a long, lofty room with mullioned bay windows, now snugly curtained against the snow-laden night, had been arranged for the reception of a rustic audience and seemed to wear an air of resentment at the affront to its scholarly dignity. The Jacobean table of massive oak, which normally occupied the centre, had been dismantled of its high-brow quarterlies and morocco-bound directories, and now stood naked (save for a carafe of water) and obviously ashamed across the upper end of the room. Behind a row of chairs, reserved for the use of the house party, ranks of deal benches, commandeered from the village school, stretched in an ink-splashed platoon to the door; and Crowther mentally decided that, if the employment of the latter had been designed with a view to discouraging somnolence on the part of their occupants, the success of that stern measure seemed assured. By way of addenda to the spoken (and fleeting) word, and on the classic principle of litera scripta manet, the benches were dappled with leaflets as a tree-shadowed road is patched with moonlight; while, pinned to the window curtains, a double-crown poster in hectic type warned Mr. Biddulph’s tenantry that their attendance was expected that evening at a lecture by Mr. John Rampling, London Secretary of the S.E.I., on “British Autocracy in India.” It further intimated, though in less provocative lettering, that a silver levy would be made during the singing of the hymn, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.”

At a writing-table in one of the bays, his empty teacup beside him, his preposterous “fancy” waistcoat sprinkled with the crumbs of the sweet cakes his soul loved, sat Chunder Mookerjee. On Pamela’s entrance he rose, an ingratiating grin on his coffee-tinted face; for, though he had a wholesome fear of the girl’s scathing tongue, and still retained a very lively remembrance of the morning’s rebuff, he was so assured of his reputation among his fellow Babus as “irresistible West-End lady-killer” that he entertained no doubt whatever of his ability to squirm himself ultimately into her affections. But, seeing that she was followed by Crowther, his face darkened (if the expression be permissible), and he insolently sat down again.

The Police Officer handed Pamela her work-basket, and sauntered across to him, an inscrutable smile playing about the corners of his mouth.

“Sorry to disturb you,” he said pointedly, “but I wish to have a few words in private with Miss Hastings.”

“While appreciating risk of being dubbed disagreeable spoilsport,” grinned Mookerjee, hooking his spindle legs round those of the table, “I much regret pressure of correspondence makes compliance with esteemed command impossible.”

Exactly how it happened the Babu was never able to determine. But the next moment he found himself propelled into the hall by the toe of a riding boot, and the door slammed behind him.

“That’s that,” laughed Crowther, resettling his collar; “now for the next job.”

“He asked for trouble, and got all he deserved,” commented Pamela, a hint of admiration in her eyes; “all the same, I wish Uncle Benjamin hadn’t been in the hall. Now, hold it up—so, and let me have a look at it,” she ordered, as she placed the corners of the banner in his upraised hands, and stepped back to examine it.

Her first act, having thus effectually masked his vision, was to dab her tear-threatened face with the powder-puff concealed in her handkerchief; her next, after one swift glance at the unfurled banner, to break into a smothered peal of suspiciously hysterical laughter.

“Ye gods, what a nightmare!” she sobbed at length, sinking on to the nearest bench; “oh, it’s positively the last word in gibbering idiocy!”

“I can’t see it from this side,” said Crowther aggrievedly, “what’s it like?”

“Like?” choked the girl, “like nothing on earth— unless it’s a sampler worked by some poor kid with water on the brain. Poor dear old Uncle Ben! You must look at it, Mr. Crowther.”

He obeyed with alacrity, reversing the banner and holding it before him at arms’ length to obtain a clearer view. For a moment he stood, straddle-legged, frowning at its ill-spaced and tottering motto, “India for the Indians,” at the crude map of that continent appliquéd in brown blanketing upon a background of sea-green silk, at all the childish insignia of Mr. Benjamin Biddulph’s crackbrained Society, and his gorge rose as he thought of the potential danger to Englishwomen in India it represented. Then, suddenly, the grotesque absurdity of the thing tickled his sense of humour, and, since there is nothing so infectious as laughter, he was soon as limp and tearful as Pamela herself.

Ridiculous as it undoubtedly was, one suspects that the banner after all was less excruciatingly funny than these two seemed to find it. Under normal conditions they would probably have dismissed it with a contemptuous word and smile. But both were tuned up to meet a sudden crisis in their lives; apart from their own immediate trouble, each had an indefinable feeling that something sinister was afoot, that drama, possibly tragedy, was in the making. Their nerves were on edge, and at such times we are prone to view the trivialities of life through a microscope, even as, in more careless hours, we see its larger issues through the wrong end of a spyglass.

“Wha-what’s the cotton wool meant for?” squeaked Crowther, in the falsetto of exhaustion. With one hand he held his aching side, with the handkerchief in the other he mopped his eyes. “Clouds, d’you suppose, or the smoke of a G.I.P. puff-puff?”

“Oh—oh—oh!” moaned the girl, “for pity’s sake don’t send me off again! I think they’re intended for m-m-mountains,” she added, in an effort to pull herself together; “that’s evidently the convulsion of nature I’ve got to repair.”

“What’s wrong with ’em?”

“Seem to have side-slipped badly, don’t they?” She fingered the festoon of wool, which hung, by a couple of loosened threads, several inches below the position designed for it. “I’ll jolly soon fix that up.”

“It’s a big job shifting a mountain range,” he laughed, as he watched her shaky attempts to thread a needle.

“Not if you’ll attend to your part of it and hold the thing steady.” But it was her own fingers, not his, which were trembling. She noted his tendency to gaze at her face rather than at the material he was supposed to be keeping stretched for her; and as he grew more serious her nervousness returned.

“Anyhow, I expect you’re equal to it,” he said admiringly, transferring his glance to her fingers. “It’s a wonderful thing to me to see a woman sewing.”

“It’s a very ordinary thing, surely?”

“Not to me.” A note of sadness had crept into his voice, and she bent her head lower over her needle.


She sprang to her feet. The moment she had foreseen and so desperately wished to avert had come at last, and panic seized her in its grip. For an instant her tongue failed her, but for an infant only.

“There!” she laughed, holding up the banner, and he sighed at the determined effort to stop him, “you see it’s not such a big job after all, Mr. Crowther.”

“Wonderful!” he murmured. “I say, you know, your name ought to be Faith.”

“Faith? Why?”

“Because you’ve power to remove mountains.”

“Only cotton-wool ones, I’m afraid.”

She was feverishly returning her reel of thread and her thimble to the work-basket, and he realized that the remnant of opportunity still left to him was to be measured in moments.

“I’m not so sure,” he said gravely. “There’s one mountain in a man’s life—in mine, at all events—that only a woman can move.”

“Yes?” she whispered faintly.

“The Mountain of Loneliness. I wonder if anyone—except the poor devil himself—realizes what it means not to have a single woman relative in the world! Think of it,” he laughed, a little bitterly, “not even one of the thirty unmarriageable ladies mentioned in the table of affinity at the end of the Prayer Book! Well, that’s my case.”

“But, surely, you must have someone living somewhere,” she protected vaguely.

“If there is, I’ve never heard of her,” he rejoined. “The fact remains that I’ve no womenfolk of my own kin even to send me a picture post-card at Christmas. My mother died in India when I was at school: I hadn’t seen her since I was a kid, and scarcely remember her. I’ve no sisters—oh, well, sometimes I congratulate myself that I haven’t even a ‘she-cousin,’ as Pepys would say, to bother about. But there are other times——”

He turned away, and began absently to roll up the banner. The forlornness in his voice and attitude wrung the girl’s gentle heart, and a flood of that pity, which is said to be akin to love, surged up in her breast and forced the tears into her eyes. But in this case, alas, the kinship between the two emotions was so distant as to be scarcely recognizable, and Pamela realized, with a passing pang of regret, that, genuine as her sympathy with the man was, she was not in love with him.

“Pamela!” He suddenly swung round, and seized her hands in his. “Till this morning I hadn’t meant to speak—I’ve no right to now. But I’m recalled, and shan’t see you again before I sail. I can’t go in uncertainty. My dear, my dear, I love you so,” he lifted her hands to his lips and passionately kissed them, “tell me you care for me a little! Have pity on my loneliness—Pamela, be my wife!”

The girl gently withdrew her hands from his clasp, and, sinking on to the bench, buried her face in them.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, so sorry!” she sobbed. “I wanted to avoid it, to—to save you distress. I wouldn’t have had this happen for the world!”

“Then—you don’t care for me?” he murmured brokenly.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. How should I?” she asked, with sudden irritation. “And yet,” she looked up at him through her tears, and laid her hand lightly on his sleeve, “I like you too much to come to you with only pity. There should be more than that.”

“God knows I’d be content with pity even, if only you’d come.”

“I can’t—I can’t!” In her agitation she sprang to her feet, clenching the crumpled ball of her handkerchief in her hand. “Oh, don’t you understand?”

“There’s someone else?” he said grimly, the image of the Maharajah leaping to his mind.

“Oh, no, indeed, indeed it’s not that! I’ve never been in love with anyone. Not even with you,” she added, with a rueful little smile.

Not even with him! The words shot a sudden, if very faint, ray of hope across the gathering clouds of despair. They seemed to hint at least that he stood higher in her regard than some. Yet what did that amount to? In less than a month six thousand miles of sea would separate them: long before then, he told himself bitterly, another would have slipped into his place as her pal of the moment, and he himself become a fast fading memory. And then—he looked into the loyal grey eyes, now filled with tears, and all bitterness vanished.

“I was wrong,” he said gently, “I oughtn’t to have spoken. But—you won’t let it make any difference to our friendship, will you? Let me keep that at least—Pamela.”

The wistfulness in his voice touched her. “Why shouldn’t you?” she smiled. “I hope we shall be just as good pals in India as we have been in England.”

“In India? We? What d’you mean?” he asked breathlessly.

“Why, hasn’t Mother or Daddy told you?” she queried, with a hasty dab at her eyes with the handkerchief. “It’s all settled. I’m returning with them in March, you know. Oh, I’m so sorry this has happened: I want you to go on liking me. You will, won’t you?”

With a reverence that entirely redeemed the action from being theatrical, he bent and kissed her hand.

“I shall love you all my life,” he said simply.

He rose to his feet, and for a moment stood hungrily gazing at the sweet face he would see no more for three aching months. He had no portrait of her, and, greatly as he yearned to possess one, he knew that this was not the time to ask her for it. But he drew some solace from the reflection that photographs are prone to fade, whereas the picture he had taken, by means of the magic lens and camera of eye and brain, would remain undimmed upon the retina till the last hour of his life.

The girl hurriedly crossed to a small mirror, which hung on the opposite wall.

“You’d better buck up,” she laughed, over her shoulder, as she gave her tear-ravaged face a few final touches with the powder-puff, “or Uncle Ben will nab you to propose a vote of thanks to Mr. Rampling.”

“He’d as soon think of asking a Kensit preacher to propose the health of the Pope,” retorted Crowther, turning the handle of the library door.

It was at the moment—recorded in the last chapter—of Mrs. Hastings’ stillborn effort at reconciliation with her husband, that Pamela peered cautiously into the hall. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes unnaturally bright, and in her hands she bore the mended “Emancipation” banner. Seeing her parents in sole possession, and ignorant of the crisis she had interrupted, the girl rushed excitedly across to them, followed in more leisurely fashion by an obviously dejected Crowther.

“Mummie! Daddy! Did you ever see such a ghastly thing as this?” She laughed, a thought hysterically, as she held up the banner for inspection. “And Uncle Ben’s so proud of it, poor old dear! It’s pathetic.”

Marion gave one quick comprehending glance at the girl’s tell-tale face; she noted, too, the ring of forced hilarity in the voice, and read in both a tragedy that seemed a pale reflection of her own. For she realized with aching regret that the daughter’s love story was opening as unpropitiously as the mother’s appeared to be ending. Although, so far, Pamela had breathed no hint of it, maternal intuition had been quick to discover Crowther’s love for the girl, and she had secretly rejoiced at it. She had a genuine liking for the popular, keen Police Officer, and she knew instinctively that she could safely trust him with her child’s happiness. The disappointment, coming as it did on the heels of her failure with her husband, filled her eyes with unaccustomed tears, and she turned her face away to hide them.

“Pathetic!” The Judge contemptuously eyed the banner. “Your Uncle oughtn’t to be allowed to make such a fool of himself. ‘A banner with a Strange device,’ what? That’s the Babu’s handiwork—I’d spot it anywhere. Looks like an advertisement of a Beechwood ham more than anything else.”

“Thought it reminded me of something—I expert it’s the frill,” put in Crowther, with an attempt at cheerfulness.

“Those chunks of cotton-wool? What the deuce are they meant for?”

“Oh, you’ve neither of you a spark of imagination,” laughed Pamela. “They’re the snow-clad Himalayas, of course.”

“Never knew the Himalayas were that end of India before,” snorted the Judge. “Seem to have tobogganed fifteen hundred miles down the map, what?”

Crowther craned his head round the girl’s upstretched arms, and inspected the avalanche through his eye-glass.

“Hullo, Miss Pamela!” he exclaimed, “your stitches seem to have given way—the bally wool’s slipped out of place again. India insists on remaining upside-down. Prophetic, I call it.”

She recognized the pain manfully repressed beneath the jesting words, and hurriedly rolled up the banner.

“I’ll take it up to my room and re-mend it,” she muttered, making for the staircase. “In any case I must get a move on if I’m to change my habit before the lecture. If I don’t see you again before you go, Mr, Crowther,” she added softly, as she paused to lean over the gallery rail, “au revoir!” The next moment she had vanished.

“What did she want to bolt like that for?” demanded the obtuse Judge, awkwardly breaking the silence that followed. “Well,” he rose from his chair and stretched himself, “I know jolly well what I want, and that’s a whisky peg; Mookerjee’s ham has made me thirdly. Join me, Crowther?”

“I think not, sir, thanks—it’s time I was off. I’m only waiting to say good-bye to Miss Biddulph.”

“So you’ve had your recall, I hear?” sighed Mrs. Hastings, as soon as they were alone together. “I’m sorry, Mr. Crowther.”

He caught in the inflexion of her voice a hint of a deeper regret than the conventional words implied, and he was grateful.

“So am I. At least, I was half an hour ago,” he amended bitterly.

“But you like India, don’t you?” she said, affecting not to have heard the latter part of his remark.

He hesitated. “I did,” he admitted. “It’s rotten of me, I know, but I’ve never felt so jumpy about going back as I do this time. Not on my own account—of course you understand that?”

“You mean, on ours? You believe there’s going to be—trouble?”

“I’m sure of it, thanks to these meddlesome idiots at home.”

“’Sh!” She put her finger to her lip, and glanced guiltily round the hall. “That’s rank heresy here, you know. Dullington’s the headquarters of the Society for the Emancipation of India.”

“Then Dullington’s jolly well helping to brew another—shindy.”

She looked up swiftly. “As bad as that?” she whispered. “Oh, it’s too horrible! But, like you, I’m not nervous on my own account. I’m thinking of— Pamela.”

“I know.” He turned, and, striding across the hall, leaned his arm on the chimney-piece and stared into the fire. “She told me she was going out with you.”

“Mr. Crowther—Jim.” Something in her voice arrested him, and he flung round and faced her. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am. But don’t despair. You must give her time; remember, she’s very young and doesn’t yet know her own mind. If I may advise you——”

But Crowther was never to hear the counsel his heart yearned for. In the doorway leading from the kitchen premises stood the squirming Mookerjee, a bundle of pamphlets in his hand.

“I beg to inform honourable company,” he grinned, “that hoi polloi from village have arrived!”

Chapter X

The Abduction of a Lady

Close on his heels, but from the direction of the study, came Biddulph. The little man was in a fever of fussy excitement, his bright eye, speckled waistcoat and birdlike movements again suggesting a thrush, now agitated by the near neighbourhood of a cat. The moment to which he had been looking forward (albeit with secret misgivings) for several days past had now arrived; the Dullington—-the first provincial—Branch of the S.E.I. was about to be formed; the Anglo-Indians beneath his roof would discover, for once in their arrogant lives, that there were people at home who understood India better than they did, and who were resolved that the tyranny of an alien ruling caste should be forthwith swept away in favour of a democratic native government “by the people for the people.”

As he stood for a moment in the doorway, mentally rehearsing with poised pince-nez the opening periods of the Chairman’s “few brief words to introduce the speaker,” it suddenly dawned on him that the hall was half empty, when everyone should have been crowded with eager interest round the library door.

“God bless my soul, where have they all got to?” he exclaimed irritably. “Octavia? Pamela? Anthony? I hope Anthony’s not going to cry off at the last moment, Marion?”

His anxiety struck her as a trifle overdone. “I hope not,” she returned, with an enigmatical smile; “as a matter of fact, I believe he’s stringing himself up for it—in the dining-room.”

“The dining-room—why the dining-room? Oh, there you are, Octavia! Come along, the villagers are very properly punctual, but our own party seem to be straying all over the house. Where’s Pamela? And I can’t find Abdullah Khan anywhere—Rampling, too, at the last moment. ’Pon my word, it’s too bad.”

In a frenzy of irritation he flung himself upon an Indian gong that stood in a corner, and banged a deafening tocsin on it that caused Mrs. Hastings to put her fingers to her ears and Mookerjee to purr with pleasure. The feline sound was at all events suggested by the Babu’s fatuous expression, which was that of a cat tickled under the jaw; no doubt the din recalled the temple summons to worship, and soothed his pagan ear much as distant village chimes please musical Christians.

“You’re stopping, I hope, Mr. Crowther?” said Miss Octavia politely, as she descended the staircase.

“Thanks ever so much,” he returned, holding out his hand, “I should so like to have learnt something of India from Mr. Rampling. But I really must go.”

“Well, if you really must,” intervened Biddulph, with ill-concealed eagerness, “I’ll send round for your horse.”

“No, don’t bother, sir, please—I’ll find my own way to the stables. You mustn’t keep those enthusiasts waiting,” he added, as the sound of shuffling feet, the murmur of querulous voices, and, it must be confessed, the plaint of a studiedly unchecked yawn reached them from the library.

“Very well; good-bye, good-bye. The sahib’s coat and hat, Abdullah Khan—bring them in here, don’t stand about in the cold porch. Tch! Five striking already, and the audience growing impatient—why on earth can’t people——?”

Mr. Biddulph’s query still lacked finality, the reverberations of the gong were yet audible among the rafters, when the Judge appeared with an ill-received inquiry as to where the fire had broken out. The ghost-like form of Abdullah loomed simultaneously out of the shadows, and a moment later Rampling creaked his way ponderously down the stairs, his fat hands clasping a small library of MS. notes, blue books, gazetteers, newspaper clippings and missionary reports. Their bulk caused Miss Octavia to speculate on the amount of space left for night gear and toilet accessories in the diminutive handbag the supercilious William had deposited in splendid isolation in the middle of the bedroom floor. But, had that shrewd observer, Mr. Ponsonby, been present, he would have reasoned that room at least had been found for the whisky bottle (or its successor) he had once seen reflected among the passion flowers painted on a mirror; for Mr. Rampling not only bore with him on his passage through the hall a faint aroma of spirits, but his speech was blurred to the same appreciable extent, relatively, as the worn type of a country newspaper. To be just, however, it is conceivable that he had primarily acted on the principle of removing temptation from the path of the Conscientious Objector, who catered for the religious public of Bloomsbury in his absence, and that a pressing need for stimulant after his late wrestle with the Bank Holiday inebriate had ultimately drawn the cork. “At last, Rampling—thought you were never coming!” cried Biddulph peevishly. “Your audience are waiting— getting impatient, too. Now, come along and see that you’ve all you want, and then we can make a start.” “If the ladies will forgive the little joo desprit,” leered Rampling,

“‘My wants are as simple as Adam and Eve’s, Before they went stripping the fig-tree for leaves—’

“No, beyond a glassh of water, perhaps——” “Yes, yes, Mookerjee has seen to that,” interrupted Biddulph hastily, as he opened the library door and shepherded the joyous poet within; “I meant, anything in the way of a desk, or reading-lamp? No? Well, if the rest of you are ready?” “All but Pamela, but the naughty child will follow us in a minute or two—she must have heard the gong. Shall we make a move?” And, linking her arm in her sister’s, Miss Octavia passed with her into the crowded room. As the scowling Judge was about to follow them, Crowther detained him by a sign. “One moment, sir—I want your help,” he whispered hurriedly. “I’m going to hide. Those natives must be watched.” “Ah, so you suspect ’em, too?” “Yes. When the bearer returns—he’s coming now—send him away on some pretext, will you?” “Right.” Striding across the hall, and carrying Crowther’s hat and covert coat insolently by his finger-tips as though they were infested rags, came Abdullah Khan. Haughty disdain gleamed in his half-closed eyes, and the obsequious manner with which he helped Crowther into the garment was so subtly insulting that the Police Officer with difficulty restrained himself from kicking him. “Have a cigar, Crowther?” The Judge ostentatiously opened his case, which he knew to be empty. “Hullo—sorry! ’Fraid I’ve smoked the last. Here, boy,” he turned to Abdullah, “bring cheroots for Crowther Sahib from the dining-room. Jao!” With a salaam that was a greater affront than any spoken word could have been, and a studied leisureliness that was worse than either, Abdullah Stalked off upon his errand. “Good, sir!” whispered Crowther. “When he comes back, tell him I’ve gone. Boom him off with any old lie.” The Police Officer’s first act was to dart into the porch and set the outer door ajar. The drawing of the heavy curtain and lifting of the ponderous iron latch occupied an appreciable interval, and it was while he was thus employed that Pamela, the re-mended banner in her hand, and still in the riding-habit she had lacked time to change, flew down the stairs on her way to the library. “Hullo, Dad, late, too?” she laughed. “Buck up, or you’ll get it in the neck from Uncle Ben!” “For the Lord’s sake don’t let him come and fetch me!” enjoined her father earnestly, as he pushed her towards the library door. “If anyone asks for me, say I had to go back for a handkerchief,” and, as she slipped into the room, Pamela decided that, for a man, her parent was quite creditable at subterfuge. “Lucky miss that!” commented the Judge, as Crowther returned. “My daughter came downstairs just as you got under cover—a secret’s no longer a secret once a woman gets wind of it.” “I’d trust Miss Pamela with my life,” returned the other fervently, as, with catlike agility and silence, he sprang up the staircase and flattened himself along the gallery floor. “Can you spot me from where you are?” he whispered, craning his head through the rails. The Judge, from his position in the centre of the hall, viewed the hiding-place critically. “Only when you lean over the edge,” he assured him. “Stand by!” The slapping of Abdullah’s slippers on the parquetry of the passage heralded that sinister alien’s return, and the next moment the Judge had crossed to the hearthrug and was staring into the fire. “Oh, you?” he said over his shoulder, on Abdullah’s entrance, affecting to have forgotten his existence. “You’ve been such a confounded long time the sahib couldn’t wait; he’s gone to the stables—probably halfway home by now. Left the front door open, by the way; you’d better close it.” And, with an air of finality, the wily Judge opened the library door, narrowly escaping collision with Mookerjee, who had been sent in quest of him. But as the Babu obsequiously turned to follow, Abdullah, with an imperious gesture that Crowther recognized as oddly familiar, restrained him. The subsequent movements of the pair were of such absorbing interest to the watcher concealed in the gallery, that instinctively he fingered the small pocket revolver, which long habit impelled him to carry even in England. The first act of Abdullah was to step to the library door, and, with a small tool produced from a fold in his turban, dexterously and noiselessly manipulate the screws of the handle. The knob, if now tried from within, would turn as usual, though without effect, for the displacement of the mechanism had made the opening of the door by that means impossible; and, since the person attempting it would soon discover that it was unlocked, he would naturally come to the conclusion that the latch had accidentally slipped. Crowther paid the crafty locksmith a mental tribute of admiration for a trick he himself had more than once professionally employed; for he realized that the simpler and more obvious method of wedging the door was in this instance useless, since it opened from the hall inwards. Having thus secured himself from all risk of interruption—for he knew that the entire household were assembled in the library, and that, before anyone could reach the hall by way of the garden entrance, he would have ample warning—Abdullah turned and strode to a position, just invisible to Crowther, beneath the gallery rail. With the exception of the lamp burning before the idol—the others had been removed to the library—the hall was lit by flickering firelight only; its outer spaces, including the gallery in which he lay, were in shadow; both Indians were deeply engrossed in the business in hand. The Police Officer decided that the risk of detection was slight, and, cautiously thrusting his head between the rails, he peered down with growing interest at the scene in progress beneath him.

On a chair in a corner of the hall lay a pile of coloured art muslin, remnants of the material used by Miss Octavia and Pamela for the Christmas decoration of the village school. Selecting a salmon-tinted length, of which several yards remained, Abdullah, with an arrogant gesture yet with infinite grace, flung it over his shoulders and deftly swathed its folds about his lithe figure. The dramatic surprise of his next act startled even the imperturbable Police Officer, albeit he had been expecting something of the kind. The pseudo “bearer,” abhorrence written in every line of his imperious face, stripped off his turban, hair and beard—the two latter, of course, as Mrs. Hastings had suspected, being fakes; and yet, so perfect were they, Crowther admiringly confessed that Mr. Clarkson himself might well have been deceived by them. At a sign from their creator, however, Mookerjee ruthlessly tossed the works of art into the fire, and, turning, fell prostrate on his hands and knees in an attitude of adoration.

For, where Abdullah Khan, the Mahommedan body-servant, had stood a moment ago, now towered the commanding and sinister form of a high-caste Brahmin priest. His smooth, shaven crown, with its single tuft of hair, gleamed like old ivory in the lamplight; his ascetic face bore the stamp of a fierce and relentless fanaticism; round his neck hung the sacred thread, while the warm tint of his impromptu robe, intensified by the red glow from the fire, completed a study of Oriental priesthood that would have filled the soul of a figure painter with delight.

No such emotion stirred the pulse of Deputy Commissioner James Crowther of the Indian Police. To him the consummate actor in the ruby firelight below was less an artist’s model than an absorbingly interesting study in eastern criminology. “Shādanand Swami!” he whispered to himself, “and here, of all places in the world!” The coincidence was so amazing it almost took his breath away. For in this sequestered manor-house in the depths of the English country, to which he himself was a stranger and where he was but a chance bird of passage, was the notorious seditionist for whom the hue and cry was out in India, and whose sudden disappearance had necessitated his own recall.

It was true that, in the light of that evening’s events, he could now make a shrewd guess at the object of the priest’s long and hazardous pilgrimage. That object was evidently on the brink of accomplishment, yet he could not see his way to preventing it, nor, on consideration, did he find himself anxious to do so. He was Anglo-Indian enough to believe that the looted idol beneath him—for he rejected as incredible Miss Octavia’s fond story of its acquisition—was a perpetual menace to its present possessors, and—here was the determining factor—-Pamela would be involved with the rest of the family in any misfortune that might befall them. The destruction or removal of the image by the priest, if either act were contemplated, would be, in his judgment, the best thing that could happen, and he was reluctant to take any steps to hinder it. In England, moreover, he had no jurisdiction over these natives, and he felt that the situation was too delicate a one for the blundering intervention of his British confrères. His wisest course, he decided, was to watch the two plotters for the moment and await their arrival in India afterwards; meantime it would be exceedingly instructive to observe their methods. But, having now discovered the identity of the fanatic with whom he had to deal, and mindful of the possibility of discovery, he took the precaution of transferring the revolver from his coat-tail pocket to the boards beside him.

For the space of a dozen heart-beats, perhaps, the Brahmin stood with half-closed eyes, rigid as the idol before him, his head bent towards it, his hands crossed upon his breast in the attitude of ecstasy in which the Babu had fretfully watched him stand three weeks earlier on the borders of the wood. Then, suddenly shooting his lean brown arms upwards, arms so long that they suggested a couple of saplings, he spoke in the vernacular.

“Hail, Lakshmi! Hail!”

The Babu started forward in alarm. “Holy One, have a care!” he whispered hoarsely in the same tongue. “What if the sahibs discover thee?”

The priest threw a contemptuous glance at the terrified Mookerjee. “I know but one sahib who can see through fastened doors,” he snarled, “and he hath departed.”

“Yet, the others——”

“Peace, fool. Ere they return, ‘Abdullah Khan’ will have vanished—for ever.”

“Then—the work is finished! Where hast thou hidden it?”

“Beneath thy nose, wise one. Since early dawn it hath lain,” he indicated the chest, “here.”

The Babu wrung his hands with anxiety. “Aree, aree,” he wailed, “what if someone had chanced to raise the lid and——”

“Thinkest thou, fool, I had not guarded against that? He is a cunning locksmith who can discover the trick of the catch I have tampered with. Behold!”

Once more the Brahmin produced the small tool he had employed so effectually a few moments before, and, stooping over the massive iron-clamped chest, busied himself with its lock. In less than a minute he threw open the lid, and, lifting from the interior the small, corded tin trunk Mookerjee had lately borne with such travail along the frozen highway, he set it on the floor.

“Loosen the knots,” he commanded, as though he were a sultan addressing a slave.

With fumbling fingers, which grew increasingly inept beneath the taunts of the sneering priest, Mookerjee obeyed. His task at length accomplished, the former waived him imperiously aside, and, bending down, extracted from the opened trunk an object closely wrapped in the camel’s-hair blanket he had worn on his journey to Dullington. This covering he deftly removed, and both Crowther, invisible above him, and the Babu at his side, started with admiration and surprise at the thing revealed to their gaze.

It was a replica of the idol on the bracket, a facsimile so perfect in finish and detail, that each instantly realized the impossibility of distinguishing it from the original. The dimensions did not appear to vary—nor did they actually vary—by a hair’s breadth; in general appearance the two images were identical; the inscrutable expression of the goddess was marvellously reflected in the eyes of the fake; the very age of the genuine work had been faithfully simulated in the counterfeit. If the original was the masterpiece of an artist, the copy was no less the handiwork of a prince of forgers.

“Magic!” breathed the Babu, as, with starting eyeballs, he stared first at one, then at the other. “Of a truth no priest in Hind could detect the difference.”

A faint smile, in which the pride of the artist was mingled with the sneer of the cynic, gleamed for an instant in Shādanand’s baleful eyes.

“Nevertheless there is a difference.” He stretched his arm towards the goddess. “Lift her down,” he commanded.

The Babu hesitated. To touch the sacred figure of the deity filled his soul with terror. Yet the priest——

“The priest permits it,” answered Shādanand with a low laugh, reading the other’s thoughts.

Reassured, Mookerjee stepped up to the idol, which squatted an inch or two above his head, and raised his arms to obey. But the utmost exercise of his strength was unavailing to move from its elevated position its considerable weight of solid brass, and he soon desisted.

“It is made fast to the bracket,” he gasped,

“Wah!” The priest contemptuously shouldered him aside, and clasped the idol beneath its projecting elbows. The tense muscles showed for an instant like twisted cords on the slender, sinewy arms, but they were cords of steel. With small visible effort, and to the accompaniment of muttered invocations, he lifted the image from its bracket, and, rolling it in the length of his discarded turban, carefully deposited it within the trunk. What the fleshy limbs of the soft-living Bengali had utterly failed to achieve, the jungle-bred ascetic had accomplished with comparative ease. Yet it was obvious that his strength was as abnormal as it was unexpected in so spare and lean a frame.

He pointed to the substitute. “Although thy puny arm hath failed to aid the goddess upon the first step of her journey,” he said maliciously, “thou mayst yet acquire merit by replacing her.”

The Babu groaned inwardly at this new task allotted him. Yet he knew better than to refuse. Prepared for a final stupendous effort, he stooped and placed his hands beneath the arms of the counterfeit idol sitting by the trunk. With every ounce of his remaining strength applied to the action, he lifted the figure—so suddenly, and with such unexpected ease, that he rolled backward with it on the floor. The expression of foolish bewilderment on his face reminded Crowther of an overturned sheep, and he was within an ace of betraying himself by laughing aloud.

“And therein lies the difference,” softly chuckled the Brahmin, with a transient gleam of humour. “Unknowing the nature of thy burden, thou didst carry it hither over many complaining furlongs of frozen road. Had it been fashioned of brass, thou couldst not have borne it two strides. Moreover, its great weight would doubtless have raised suspicion in the te-rain. What need to waste solid brass on fools, when a baser and lighter substance overlaid with a thin covering of the metal serves the same purpose? Nor is there immediate risk of discovery.” He seemed to the listener in the gallery to be less employed in imparting information to the Babu than in allaying his own misgivings. “Though they may set great store by the presence of the goddess in the bungalow, the sahib-logue secretly fear her; the mad Councillor-Sahib hath forbidden any to touch her. Nay, the khansamah—a son of a pig whom, for a kick he bestowed on me, may Kali burn!—declareth that no finger hath been laid on her within memory. Wah! Long ere her absence be discovered, Lakshmi will sit once more in her temple in Thana.”

“And thou and I, Holy One, when do we depart?”

The priest marked the Babu’s askant glance at the trunk he had been hurriedly re-cording, and smiled grimly. He understood the Bengali reluctance to exchange the warmth and comfort of his present quarters for the role of beast of burden across country through the long snow-filled night.

“O sheep, have no fear,” he sneered; “thou shalt not be shorn of thy fleece yet awhile, neither need thy round belly again be pinched with hunger. The work that remaineth for thee to do is here. Listen to the commands of the goddess, and—see that thou obey.”

The sudden ring of menace in the bantering voice cowed Mookerjee like the crack of a whip, and he salaamed with fear. Shādanand was serenely assured of his disciple’s obedience.

“When I have departed,” he flung at his feet the small locksmith’s screwdriver he had lately used, “make fast, but without noise, the screws of the door-handle I have loosened. ’Tis the work of a child. When inquiry is presently made for Abdullah Khan, say that his sickness hath returned, and that, having taken the sleep drug, it is his earnest desire that he be not awakened before noon to-morrow. My door is fast locked, and the key,” he laughed softly, “will not readily be found. Is all clear to thee?”

“But, when noon is past, they will break open the door, and I shall be questioned,” bleated Mookerjee in protect. “What shall I answer, Holy One?”

“That Abdullah Khan’s gods have called him,” snarled the pried, “and that their wrath will surely fall on them who seek to overtake him. ’Tis true,” he added sombrely, “I had not purposed to depart while the accursed snow remained to print the tale of my journey; ’twill now need more cunning woodcraft to baffle the pursuer. But the sahib I spoke of—he who can see through locked doors—also, I think, the memsahib, suspect me. Wherefore, to-night I go.”

“And surely in safety, since Lakshmi goes with thee!” The Babu made a profound salaam, first to the trunk standing on the floor, then to the priest towering above it. “Great merit hast thou acquired, O Shādanand Swami!”

“Yet not without some sacrifice,” the latter drily reminded him. “Many laborious hours have gone to the perfecting of the changeling; in the cold night watches I have stolen hither to grave upon my memory, inch by inch, the measurements and a thousand other details of the sacred form of our long-exiled goddess. Ai, and grievous burnings upon my bread have I suffered at the hands of the Fool Miss-sahib, whilst I feigned sickness to work in secret upon the changeling hidden beneath my bed.”

The flame of fanaticism flared in his cruel eyes, as he stepped into the middle of the hall and pointed insolently at the portrait in the gallery.

“Of four-score years of luck hath the soldier-wallah robbed us,” he hissed; “now, lo, it leaves his house for ever! Success to our Cause is now made certain; the goddess returns to her own again!”

With such feeble aid as his disciple could compass, the priest hoisted the heavily weighted trunk on to his muscular back, deftly adjusted a loop of the blanket to ease the drain on his arms, and, as though it were no more than ordinary baggage, strode with it towards the hall door. At the threshold Mookerjee timidly laid his hand upon his sleeve.

“This sahib of whom thou speakest?” he inquired anxiously; “who is he?”

So venomous was the hatred which gleamed in the priest’s malignant eyes and fell in spittle from his lips, that the Police Officer once more involuntarily grasped his revolver butt.

“May the curse of Siva wither him! Owl, he is—Crowther sahib!”

The information appeared to leave the owl cold. “I have heard of him,” he sneered; “the biggest damfool in all the Bombay Presidency!”

In the act of opening the outer door, the Brahmin turned, and bestowed a glance of scathing contempt on the cringing Babu.

“And the most dangerous police-wallah in India,” he retorted. The next moment he had vanished into the night.

Panic, lest he should be interrupted before the completion of his tasks, winged Mookerjee’s subsequent movements with an energy highly diverting to Crowther, so foreign was it to the Babu nature. His first care was to set the counterfeit idol upon the vacant bracket, securing its lightness against accidental movement by bending into position the invisible clips provided by Shādanand for that purpose. Then, snatching up the screwdriver, he darted across to the library door, noiselessly put the handle once more in working order, and slipped inside the room a bare moment before the Judge, choking down his fury, emerged from it.

“Had enough, sir?” grinned Crowther, as he slipped down the staircase.

“Enough!” The affronted representative of law and order seemed to have difficulty in finding words.

“The fellow’s talking rank treason—enough to have hanged him a dozen times over in the good old days! And the tosh he’s ladling out about India—never heard such putrid piffle outside a criminal lunatic asylum! Man’s drunk, too; my precious brother-in-law must be every sort of blind idiot not to see through him! Anyhow,” the Judge banged the table with his fist, “it’s got to be stopped, Crowther, before any further mischief is done. By the way, how have you got on?”

“Oh, I’ve had my dose of treason, too—the usual eastern variety. They’re working the stunt, as we knew already of course, at the other end.” In a few terse sentences the Police Officer summarized what he had heard and witnessed. “I agree with you, sir, it must be stopped; but it can be done more effectually in India. The clown drivelling in there,” he paused, as a muffled burst of bucolic laughter came from the library, “is too obvious a fraud to do much harm anywhere, and, if we give Mr. Biddulph rope enough, he’ll probably hang himself and save us trouble. The Swami’s another matter; I’ll cable Bombay to-morrow, in case he’s ahead of me, and lie low for him when I get out. And now I must really get a move on. Good-bye, sir.”

They shook hands, the elder man expressing the cordial hope that they might speedily foregather in Bombay. He fully shared his wife’s liking for the popular Police Officer, and, as the hall door closed behind him, Mr. Justice Hastings decided that his premature departure, taken in conjunction with the recent outrage to his own feelings, justified another peg. And since he was accustomed to act on the heels of a decision, he strode off in quest of the needed balm without further loss of time.

There followed an interval of undisturbed stillness in the deserted, dimly-lit hall. Beyond the distant drone of the lecturer’s voice and its muffled accompaniment of weary coughs, the drowsy ticking of the clock and a faint singing from the burning logs were the only sounds audible, the occasional flicker of the fire and the darting of an adventurous mouse in quest of cake crumbs the only movements discernible—had there been anyone to hear and note them. And yet, who knows? That scowling face upon the gallery wall, those half-veiled eyes of the feminine impostor beneath—did they hear and see nothing? Who knows? Who knows?

Crash! Like the shadow of a flung ball the mouse streaked across the firelight and through his tiny sallyport in the wainscot. Never in the whole brief span of his timorous existence had his small heart beat so violently. And indeed the sudden clatter which woke the echoes of the silent hall were calculated to startle an infinitely stronger organism than his. Stupendous Man himself, reflected the mouse—if he were capable of reflection in his shattered condition—would have been rattled by it!

For the truculent warrior’s place upon the gallery wall knew him no more. The nails and cord which, for two generations had supported his scarlet bulk, had failed him at last, and, beneath the curse of his departed enemy, he had fallen from his high estate and lay prone upon the floor. The luck, to which he and his descendants with considerable justification had pinned their faith for eighty prosperous years, had departed from his house for ever; who that viewed with superstition the fall of a family portrait could fail to realize it? Was it an effect of the flickering firelight, or did the face of the understudy on the bracket reflect for one fleeting instant the inscrutable smile of the goddess journeying seawards through the wintry night on the back of her servant, the priest?

Chapter XI

The Godmaker’s Shop in the Bazaar

An April afternoon. To an English ear there is something in the lilt of the words irresistibly suggestive of the English countryside. Whether the exile be freezing within the Arctic Circle or burning beneath the vertical sun of the equatorial belt—and provided always that he possesses a glimmer of imagination—the phrase will conjure up a vision of rural England, rain-washed and glistening in the clear golden light of spring. He will see the hedgerow sulphured with pale primroses, the wilder riot of the yellow buttercups along the grassy margin of the road, the first adventurous bluebell peeping in the wood, the tender green of copse and daisy-powdered meadow, the lambs already sobering into staid young sheephood, the purple shadows trailed across the land by the great bellying sails of the sunlit clouds.

The scent of the gorse will be in his nostrils, his ears will be filled with the liquid minstrelsy of birds—a concert hushed for one dismayed moment by the notice-to-quit taunt flung in its midst by the newly arrived, unwelcome cuckoo. April! The feminine month, when Nature’s tears and smiles succeed each other with such baffling hysteria; the month of England’s patron saint; the month which instinctively recalls Herrick and his Prue, Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway loitering along the lanes of Warwickshire; the month of smiling promise, the gracious herald of summer.

Many an Englishman and Englishwoman in Bombay, be sure, dreamed with longing of April showers that afternoon midway the month on which this chapter opens. For the great furnace of India at this season is beginning to stoke up; the heat already attained would be deemed terrific for an English midsummer. April, as at home, is a month of promise indeed, but it is a promise of sunstroke, of apoplexy, of sudden death, of extreme discomfort and distress at best. The vast island city lay grilling in the afternoon heat with as much enjoyment of the process as a moribund sole may be supposed to derive from the gridiron. On Malabar Hill, at Colaba, on the tree-bordered Maidan, along the sea-washed Apollo Bunder life, it is true, was a thought less ardent than within the narrower, airless spaces of the city. Those “lines in (comparatively) pleasant places” represented, so to speak, the bars of the gridiron, the fiery intervals between being the streets of the native quarter. All Europeans, but the few whose occasions (lawful or otherwise) compelled them thither, avoided that quarter as though it were plague-stricken; and, perspiring in the intense heat, one marvelled again at the endurance of the Elizabethan pioneers who, in steel headpiece and leather jerkin, braved the sun they had not yet learned to propitiate with white drill and solar topee.

With concentrated power the pitiless heat filled the narrow strip of space between the crazy houses of an alley in the bazaar. The ground floor of the buildings was composed mainly of shops, open to the street and piled with a medley of articles and colour, from fruit to fabrics, from baskets to brass cooking pots, designed to satisfy the primitive needs of the East. A chattering, restless, kaleidoscopic native crowd jostled its way hither and thither with the apparent aimlessness of purpose and contempt for time characteristic of the Orient. Yet no painter assuredly would have had them hurry; their sunlit rags provided too pleasing a riot of colour to wish them gone. The hues of their turbans ranged from the brilliant primary tints of yesterday’s acquisition to the bleached russets, citrons and olives of the heirloom and the pre-war purchase; and the bobbing of these variegated head-dresses, as their owners swayed upon their brown stems of legs, and puffs of the burning wind fluttered their multi-coloured rags, suggested a gay parterre of flowers rippled by the breeze. And there, it must be confessed, the simile ended. For the indescribable compound of a thousand eastern odours, pleasant and the reverse, from the aroma of spice to the smell of dusky, sweating humanity, held small reminiscence of a flower garden, and, if the eye was enchanted, the nose was outrageously affronted at every step of the unsavoury way.

At the end of the street half a dozen tenements had already been cleared away, and the next two or three on the same side were in process of demolition, at the dictates of the Bombay Improvement Trust. In the interests of hygiene the road was being widened, and the steel frames and girders of western architecture, set many feet back from the original alignment, were rising phoenix-like from the rubble of the insanitary, if more picturesque, hovels of the East. The steam roller of civilization circled ponderously in an ever-narrowing orbit, in the centre of which, with ragstaff and alms-bowl complete, sat the loathsome ash-smeared figure of a fakir. From a time beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant the holy man had squatted there and, with the disdainful aloofness of the Orient, would continue to squat till the roller’s approach jeopardized his sacred toes. Then it would become necessary to remove him by force, while his pitch was macadamized and rolled in common with the rest of the roadway. A riot would probably result; meanwhile the eastern equivalent of the “sufficient-unto-the-day” maxim was phlegmatically accepted by invaders and invaded alike.

One of the next group of houses doomed by the march of progress to demolition in the near future was that of Narain Dass, the godmaker, who, within its dim recesses, was volubly unfolding his tale of Government oppression to the poojari of the neighbouring temple. On the slightly tilted counter of the open shop front, and overflowing on to the shelves inside, were arrayed in varying sizes the whole brazen hierarchy of Hindu mythology. Crude oleographs of the deities, printed in Germany, ogled from the walls the customer to whom the price of the more costly image was prohibitive, and smaller reproductions, edged with paper lace like old-fashioned valentines, lay here and there to lure the annas of the devout poor. On a mat in the corner the godmaker’s assistant was assiduously polishing the latest arrival from the work-bench, while, from a cage hard by, a talking minah held unceasing—and it is to be feared profane—converse with the heavenly host around him.

“Aree, ’tis surely an affront to Kali,” protested the godmaker, salaaming an alabaster image of the goddess of destruction. “A curse, I say, on this mad-brained Englis fassen of striving to stay disease by pulling down the houses of the people! What the gods have ordained must be; of a certainty will their wrath fall on them who seek to meddle with their decrees. Punditjee,” he laid a skinny finger on the priest’s sleeve, “my father, and his father, and the gods alone know how many of our race before him, have dwelt in this house, and now, lo at the command of the Government I must quit it—I Narain Dass, maker of the gods!”

“For the touris’-logue,” the poojari drily reminded him, “not for the service of the temple.”

“It is true talk, yet still are they the gods, having power for good or evil.”

“Not the gods for sale in the bazaar—unless they have passed perchance through our hands,” corrected the other softly.

“Ai, I care not whence the power comes,” retorted the nettled godmaker, “so that their vengeance strikes these tyrant hirelings of the British Raj.”

“The tyrants will pay thee in compensation more rupees than two houses such as thine are worth. In these matters at least they are just. Nevertheless,” the priest thoughtfully stroked his chin, “the vengeance of the gods will fall——”

He checked himself. Although it is improbable that the poojari had ever heard of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, he evidently believed in its counsel to “be as one that knoweth and yet holdeth his tongue.”

“Lo, here come two—nay three—of the touris’-logue,” exclaimed the godmaker with a sudden gleam of cupidity, his business instincts diverting his attention from theology. “Of a truth ‘a man’s raiment, and gait, and excessive laughter, show what he is.’”

A party of belated American globe-trotters, fleeing by that night’s P. and O. from the wrath to come, and making their last fevered quest for curios in the bazaar, paused, hesitated, and finally entered the shop of the profoundly salaaming Narain Dass. Serenely unconscious of the scowling poojari in the shadows, several moments were spent in jestingly fingering the godmaker’s sacred wares.

“My, if that ain’t the dinkiest little godling I’ve struck since leaving Noo York!” cried the girl of the party, suddenly sighting the alabaster Kali; “she’s just too ’cute for anything. Say, Mister Nar-ain Dass, what’s the lowest figure you’ll take for her?”

The godmaker deprecatingly named a sum exactly ten times the idol’s intrinsic value.

“I guess I’ll have her, Poppa,” decided the girl, turning to the elder of her companions, “she’ll look a perfect peach on the dining-room mantelpiece at home.”

Like the shadow of a racing cloud, a look of abhorrence passed over the face of the poojari, who, unsuspected by the visitors, spoke far purer English than they did. Had not this fool woman been long enough in India to realize the risk she ran in enshrining a Hindu deity in a room where the sacred cow was devoured?

“I guess you haven’t struck many American citizens in the course of your commercial career, old bean,” laughed Poppa, addressing Narain Dass. “I’ll give haff what you ask, and, if you’ll fix up Bloody Mary with a cass-ket for the voyage, I’ll forget to say anything about discount.”

The usual haggling ensued, with the entirely satisfactory result to each that Poppa lowered the sale price by one-third, while, quite unsuspected by him, Narain Dass gained seven per cent on the cost of production.

But as the latter was about to pack the goddess into her box, the poojari stretched out a thin brown hand and stayed him for a moment. Stooping over the idol, he muttered a few words in Hindustani, then signed to the godmaker to complete his task.

“Priest blessing idol,” lied Narain Dass glibly in explanation, “now Kali bringing Miss-sahib plenty good luck. Perhaps sahib giving one rupee for temple, h’n?”

The thank-offering pouched by the cynically salaaming poojari, and the tourists with their box of future trouble departed, the former turned to the godmaker.

“Before a month be passed,” he observed grimly, “the fool you cheated will be ready to pay a thousand times as much to be rid of his purchase. Aree, the gods are just!” And, lifting his robe to give free play to his legs, he climbed a crazy staircase at the back of the shop and vanished into the room above.

There had been many visitors to the godmaker’s that afternoon besides the Americans, and a casual observer would have inferred therefrom that Narain Dass was doing excellent business. But a more leisurely watch would have revealed a few interesting details calculated to alter the original impression. In the first place, with the exception of the three tourists, the visitors were all natives, whereas the godmaker catered chiefly for the European curio-hunter. Secondly, they were obviously not customers; for, though at least a dozen had entered—with a noticeable furtiveness—from time to time, not one was seen to come out, nor did any spend more moments in the shop itself than those occupied in transit to the room overhead. And lastly, they were for the most part young men, and of a type the least likely to have dealings with the godly (one employs the term in the trade sense) Narain Dass.

The room, which was dim, stiflingly hot, and reeking (chiefly) of cocoa-nut oil, looked on to a rickety balcony, whence a ladder gave egress to an evil-smelling courtyard below. Narain Dass’s stealthy visitors were seated in various attitudes round the chamber, a few, mainly those in European dress, on a divan along the wall and on a string bed in the corner, the remainder in native fashion on the floor. A small square of straw matting in the centre was evidently reserved for some expected personage of importance, and all eyes were turned meanwhile on a young, pot-bellied Babu in dingy white drill and gold-rimmed spectacles, who was making the best of the thankless task known as “holding the meeting.”

Ergo,” he concluded, “I affirm, without fear of snipsnap from any captious contradicente, that this bukh in subsidized Government Press of a contented India under the benign and fostering sceptre of Albion is all Betty Martin and the outside limit of fiddle-faddle. To practise tyranny and give it the name of beneficence, what a fine trick and a dust in the eye is this for a newly awakened and educated nation! But young India is better literate and more up to snuff than the old: we deprecate further continuance of Barmecide feast of crumbs dispensed from dinner-table of Dives. I say to Dives, gluttonizing with booze at Delhi or Simla, ‘This table is teakwood table of India; we want it. Pop off home to your own banqueting board of walnut or whatnot, and leave us to dine under glorious presidency of Indian gentleman.’ And to England I send this message in the name of enlightened India. ‘Old bird, you have roosted in peepul tree long enough; we will now swop the shadow of protection under your wing for the substance of national independence and self- determination. By-by, ta-ta, and so long.’”

Perspiring profusely, no less from the heat of his own eloquence than from that of the room, he sat down amid a lukewarm chorus of “Hear, hears!” and a perfunctory patter of applause. It was the oldest man present—he may have been thirty—who took up the tale in the vernacular.

“Without doubt,” he observed scoffingly, “the British Raj will tremble when it receives Babu Chatterjee’s message! Wah! His words are but the same parrot talk we have heard from others a thousand times before, and we have grown weary of empty words at which the sahibs jest. It would be more to the purpose could Babu Chatterjee tell us,” his voice dropped in a whisper, “when the words will become knives? When the appointed day will dawn? When the gods will bid us—strike? Or, at least, why we have been summoned hither at this hour?”

The deep hum of approval which greeted these sentiments seemed to indicate that they were more to the liking of the audience than the Babu’s feebler hymn of hate. In an instant Chatterjee was on his feet again.

“Am I the mouthpiece of the gods?” he demanded, reverting in the heat of the moment to his mother tongue. “Be assured, brothers, that when they call, I, Lail Chatterjee, shall be as ready to forsake words for deeds as any here. And as for why we are bidden hither, perchance thou canst tell us, Punditjee?”

The poojari, who had lately laid the curse of Kali on the unsuspecting tourists, turned in a listening attitude towards the door, and smiled cryptically.

“One cometh,” he rejoined, “who can answer thee with more authority, Babujee.”

A stealthy step upon the stair, a furtive finger at the latch, and there loomed in the doorway the tall forbidding presence of the high priest, Shādanand Swami. Save for the two facts that he now wore, as though it were royal purple, a saffron-coloured robe, and that a recent spell of fasting had accentuated the leanness of his ascetic figure, he was unchanged since the night he stood for the last time in the firelit hall at Dullington. The same crafty expression lurked in the depths of his dark, baleful eyes, the same cynical smile played round the corners of his cruel mouth, and his bearing was as arrogantly insolent as it had been when playing the role of Abdullah Khan, the bearer. As all present rose to their feet and profoundly salaamed, he raised his arm with a regal gesture the King-Emperor himself might have envied.

“Hail, brothers!” The words fell from his lips in even, passionless tones. “The gods have spoken—the hour is at hand!”

A buzz of expectancy went round the assembly, as the priest seated himself Buddha-wise on the mat reserved for him. Although he would have resented the comparison deeply as an insult to his creed and caste, as he sat there in the gloom with half-shut eyes, his robe fallen from his glistening bronze shoulders, his slender hands palms upward upon his knees, motionless, silent, inscrutable, he resembled nothing so much as a life-size image of the great Teacher who arose in India five centuries before Christ. Beyond the external suggestion, however, there was little enough similarity between Buddha, the reformer of Brahmanism, and the twentieth-century Brahmin priest meditating murder in the dim upper room of the godmaker’s house.

For a considerable time he sat on, wrapped in—he and the gods alone knew what dark thoughts, his followers scarce daring to breathe, the silence broken only by the dull murmur of the bazaar and the feverish chatter of the caged minah below. But the passage of time is of little concern to the Oriental mind, and the dark-skinned audience, albeit consumed with eagerness, would have continued to wait for hours with a patience incomprehensible to the hustling West. Then, raising his head which had been sunk upon his breast, the Swami spoke.

“Ai, the gods are just! See that ye give good heed to my words, for they are the words of holy Lakshmi herself, speaking to you through the mouth of her servant.

“Lo, I have accomplished the task for which I crossed the black water and jeopardized my high caste.” With a lean brown finger he lightly touched the two white lines of the caste mark painted on his forehead. “The distant call of our outraged goddess reached my ears yonder in her temple at Thana, and I obeyed. At her command, I, Shādanand Swami, the Twice Born, served for three unspeakable weeks as bearer in the house of a mad English Councillor-sahib. With averted eyes did I stand daily behind his chair whilst he ate ravenously of the flesh of the sacred cow. With incantations to the Kristarn God lest I should die did the shameless virgin, who rules the sahib’s household—-a she-elephant whom Kali burn!—lay fireleaves nightly upon my breast when I feigned sickness for my purpose. Many taunts have I suffered from the low servant caste—the mali in the garden, the syce in the stables, the female maestri in the kitchen, the Miss-sahib’s ayah on the staircase, ai, and the khansamah, who in his folly accompanied the taunt with a kick.”

A low cry of horror at the sacrilege broke from the audience, but the priest made a movement with his hands as though the episode were closed.

“He hath since died,” he yawned. “The anger of the gods smote him with an incurable sickness the night I departed, and, since their anger leaves no trace within a man’s belly, the doctor-sahibs and police-wallahs, who made inquiry concerning his death, suspected naught.”

“And of thy journey, Holy One?” prompted Babu Lail Chatterjee, notebook in hand. As editor of a seditious bazaar rag he scented sensational copy.

“The perils and profanations of the journey concern none save the gods and myself; it is not meet that they should furnish matter for bazaar gup,” rebuked Shādanand sternly. “Wherefore, replace thy pen behind thine ear, Babujee, and store in thy basket of a memory what is essential that thou shouldst know.” He paused for a moment, then continued, “Since my return I have given alms to the poor of my kindred, I have fasted, I have washed in holy Gunga—I have done all that is decreed for him who has lost, and would regain, his caste. The days of my purification are now ended. Once more am I the high priest of the temple; once more, and through her servant’s sufferings, Lakshmi sits where she sat fourscore years ago!”

“And surely great merit hail thou acquired thereby, Holy One,” salaamed the caviller—a thought impatiently—who had poured scorn on Babu Chatterjee’s oration. “But we are consumed with the desire to learn the purpose for which thou hast bidden us hither. There are many things which have not yet been made clear to us; we are as men benighted at the crossways, who stumble in the dark, knowing neither the hour of the dawn nor which road to follow. The day appointed for us to strike has come and gone; many weary days have followed while we waited for a sign. Yet no sign has been given. The people grow impatient; they would fain know——”

“Peace, babbler!” The high priest, risen to his feet, checked with an imperious gesture the flow of querulous oratory. “It is the childish petulance of such as thou which brings great enterprises to naught. The baba, hungered for the evening meal, would have the sun hasten on his course, unknowing the laws of the universe and heedless of the destruction to a hundred worlds the fulfilment of his wish would cause. The uprising here is but a small part of a widespread whole. Though we were ready at the time appointed, word came from Amritsar, from Lahore and many other places that the moment was not yet ripe. Therefore did we stay our hand. Our strength lieth in unity. Except we strike together, ’tis madness to strike at all. Yet is the hour again at hand, and this time all will strike—so swiftly and so surely that neither sahib, nor memsahib, nor baba will be left alive in Hind!”

“And whence will come the sign, Holy One?”

“From the gods,” was the startling answer, “nor shall any, save the blind, fail to see it. Wherefore, on the thirteenth night of the month lift up your eyes to the heavens, and let your knives be sharpened. See to it that ye be ready; yet, until the hour of the sign, abide quiet, so that the sahibs have no suspicion. Then strike, tarrying neither to bind the turban nor fold the loin cloth, for ‘if one comes to dance, what matters a veil?’”

The ring of dark eyes about him gleamed in the half light of the chamber, some with suppressed excitement, others with fear, a few with the lust of murder. Yet a thrill of uneasiness was felt even by these extremists. Each was ready enough with words; it was well known that the Government was incomprehensibly tolerant of them, even when they were the words of sedition. Now that they were about to be translated into violent deeds against the all-powerful ruling caste it was a very different matter, and one of the audience voiced the timidity of his fellows.

“Thinkest thou not, Punditjee,” he began doubtfully, “that ’twere wise to tarry till the chances of success be past peradventure? The gods, thou sayest, will give us the sign to strike. It is well. Yet will they not first vouchsafe us a sign that we shall not fail? There have been other attempts to throw off the yoke of the British Raj, and always has the hand of Government fallen heavily upon the rebellious. Aree, my father’s father was blown from the guns in the time of the Great Trouble, and——”

“Wah!” The priest brushed the objection aside as though it were the reasoning of a child. “The Mutiny was, for the most part, a matter of sepoys only; the other attempts of which thou speakest were made either by those of our holy religion or by the accursed followers of the false Prophet. Never, till now, have the twain been allies. But our leaders have since learned wisdom. To-day, Hindu and Mahommedan, sepoy and ryot and babu, have joined hands against the oppressor of all alike. Nation and state, creed and caste, have made common cause against the sahib-logue; from the Himalayas to Cormorin a united Hindustan awaits the signal to drive them forth. If there be any tremblers among you,” with a gesture of profound contempt he flung his spread fingers in the direction of those he suspected, “let them draw water at the well with the women-folk, or sit beneath the peepul tree between the village elders, and their sons’ sons shall spit upon their ashes. But he that feareth not to strike shall acquire merit in the sight of the gods and much loot from the bungalows of the sahibs, for this time success is made certain, yea, it is past all shadow of doubt. Lo, I have spoken.”

The veneer of truth, which overlay this monstrous misstatement of the actual facts, put new heart into the doubters, and they rose to their feet with a scarcely repressed sigh of relief and a loudly vaunted approval of the priest’s crafty words. For a moment he stood, cynically watching them; the next he was gone—gone ere they had risen from their deep salaams, gone as silently and stealthily as he had come, this time by way of the balcony ladder and the noisome courtyard.

One by one his disciples followed, parting from each other with many whispered injunctions to secrecy and valiant promises of firmness when the appointed hour should come. The afternoon had by now drawn on towards evening, and Narain Dass was already busied with preparations for the evening meal. At the cheerful clink of the cooking pots his assistant nimbly placed the newly polished idol on the shelf lately vacated by Kali, and betook himself to his ablutions. With a final burst of profanity, the minah took leave for another monotonous day of the heavenly host, who seemed to be continually on his nerves, and settled himself to roost. For he already sensed afar off the comparative coolness of the night, and a peace, undisturbed either by customers, plotters, or his own tireless tongue, fell upon the godmaker’s house in the bazaar.

Chapter XII

Litera Scripta Manet

After a more than ordinarily harassing day’s work, which the heat had not tended to lighten, the Deputy Commissioner of Police was on his way to the Gymkhana Club for a reviving game of tennis in the cool of the early evening. Clad in flannels and blazer, and carelessly swinging his racket to clear a path through the leisurely native crowd, he was to them the typical mad and entirely incomprehensible sahib in quest of violent exercise when wise men are contemplating rest at the close of the day’s labours. On the faces of babus, and shopkeepers, and Parsee merchants to whom he was known by sight, his passing left a smile of tolerant contempt; for Mookerjee’s reference to his reputation as “the biggest damfool in the Bombay Presidency” had been founded on solid fact, and in the interval the reputation had grown rather than abated. Since his return to Bombay, Crowther had taken peculiar trouble to foster the fallacy; for tragedy was looming on the horizon, and it was ever his policy at times of crisis to disarm suspicion by a painstaking assumption of light-hearted and irresponsible levity.

But beneath the jaunty exterior, and little guessed at by the scoffers, the Police Officer’s tireless brain was working at high pressure. His fears, expressed to Mrs. Hastings at Dullington, of a general rising throughout India had been confirmed on picking up the threads of his work again; the seditious movement had undoubtedly made great strides during his brief visit to England. Secret information from all parts of the Presidency, as well as grave warnings from other provinces, convinced him that the trouble was more widespread and far more serious than any with which the Police had had to deal in his day; his own experienced Chief, an even more confirmed optimist at normal times than himself, was beginning to take a gloomy view of the situation, and was daily growing more anxious and jaded. It was true that the Police and the military authorities working together had concerted strong measures for the repression of an outbreak, and that the Government at Delhi were keenly alive to the danger menacing Anglo-India. Yet when all was said and done, the comparative handful of English in the peninsula would be in a precarious position among its teeming native millions, should the projected rising prove anything like general and reasonably well organized. Since the declaration of peace the armed forces of the Crown had been largely disbanded; reinforcements on an adequate scale from overseas would be practically impossible. The instigators to rebellion, who included many of the keenest brains among Hindus and Mahommedans alike, were perfectly aware of this weakness and were timing their venture accordingly. The outlook at best was far from reassuring. When one considered the English women and children scattered over India, and thought of the Mutiny, it became alarming.

Still, left to itself and given a free hand, the Government of India, by acting with promptitude and strength, might successfully grapple with a rebellion even on a large scale. But in the light of recent legislation was it conceivable that it would be permitted to exercise the necessary force? Crowther swore beneath his breath as he thought of the uninformed sentimentalists at Westminster, whose own womenfolk were in safeguarded homes, but who would howl with indignation at any repressive action taken against a fanatical population for the safety of English women in India. The native fanatic was dangerous enough, Heaven knew! But the home product, of whom Benjamin Biddulph was a fair type, was infinitely worse; for he was six thousand miles nearer the fire-control of the Empire, and was able to make his voice heard on the question of restricting the supply of ammunition. Biddulph was especially mischievous. With his wealth and influence he was able to bring no inconsiderable political pressure to bear on the Government, and Crowther reflected, cynically that to the average politician votes were of greater import than the potential loss of our Indian Empire.

Casting about in his mind for the reason of Biddulph’s intrusion into his thoughts, the Police Officer suddenly became aware that the connecting link stalked in material form scarce a dozen paces before him. The saffron robe of Shādanand Swami had subconsciously caught his eye some moments ere he realized that his old quarry was in the vicinity, but, having realized it, he instantly became alert and watchful as a cat in the same room with an uncaged canary. It is true that, since their simultaneous arrival in India (though by different boats), he had taken care that the priest was kept under strict observation. But this was the first time he himself had actually seen him since the memorable evening at Dullington, and all his sleuth-hound instincts were immediately aroused.

The Brahmin strode along the street with all his native arrogance, deviating neither to one side nor to the other, but compelling all, by sheer force of his masterful personality, to make way for him. The salaam of the passing Hindu, the scowl of the Mahommedan, the careless glance of the occasional sahib he treated alike with the disdainful indifference one may suppose to have been employed by the gods who walked with men. The regal bearing of the priest enlisted Crowther’s admiration in spite of himself; but what interested him more was the fact that, as he walked, Shādanand was reading a letter which had just been presented to him by a salaaming Hindu postman on his way from the General Post Office, and in which he appeared to be profoundly absorbed.

The Police Officer bethought himself that it was mail day, and an overwhelming desire to have a look at the letter seized him, though he saw small prospect at the moment of gratifying it. “Oho! the church militant on the war-path again,” he decided. “Well, the Chief may call it undignified, but I’m going to do another little C.I.D. Stunt on my own; the reverend budmash is never dull, and seems to repay watching. Anyhow, I’ll watch.” And in an instant the apparently careless idler bent on tennis had become beneath his camouflage the keen and crafty detective.

His subsequent procedure would have filled a Boy Scout with ecstasy. With no perceptible change from his former method of progress, the Police Officer was henceforward always masked from any backward glance of his quarry by some intervening passenger. If the Brahmin chanced to pause in a frowning effort to decipher an illegible passage, the Policeman was closely inspecting the wares within the screen of an adjacent doorway. When the former unexpectedly turned to fling a word over his shoulder at a passing fellow priest, the crown of Crowther’s straw hat was the most visible portion of him as he stooped to tie a shoelace. And once, when Shādanand retraced a few steps to pick up the envelope he had dropped, the tracker slipped like a shadow behind a tikka-gharry crawling down the street, though to the casual observer he appeared to be merely crossing to the other side. Yet all the time the saffron robe was never for an instant out of the tail of his eye, albeit he seemed to be carelessly glancing at every other object within view save that alone.

A short distance ahead of the striding priest the street was crossed by another, which led in the direction of the Gymkhana Club, Crowther’s own destination. The latter realized that, if Shādanand continued on his present course or turned the wrong way, he, on the other hand, would have to decide between giving up the chase or losing his game of tennis. Chance, whom the notoriously lucky Police Officer had come to regard as a faithful ally in times of doubt, took the problem into her own hands and settled it by way of a compromise. Arrived at the crossing of the ways, one of those fitful gusts of hot wind, which had punctuated the sultriness of the afternoon, swept round the corner and rushed the written sheets out of the Brahmin’s hands.

In an instant they were fluttering in all directions, while the priest, his robe billowing in the draught, darted and swooped after them like a great yellow hawk among a flight of pigeons. A dozen passers-by joined in the hunt, and never did Crowther regret so keenly that he was not in the native disguise he occasionally donned, unknown to his Chief, in his third for knowledge. For a Sahib to share in a bazaar paper-chase was unthinkable, and he was (to all appearances) indifferently watching the scrimmage from a neighbouring doorway, when a page of the letter came dancing towards him down the centre of the direct. The next moment he had stepped into the road, as though to cross it, and set his foot upon the folded half-sheet of notepaper.

Although for the present it was completely hidden from view beneath the sole of his shoe, he dared not stoop to pick it up. Shādanand, who by this time had retrieved the others, was still hunting round for the missing page, and, should he chance to see Crowther recover it, the latter would obviously be under the necessity of restoring it to its owner. Nothing was further from the Police Officer’s intentions. The primitive instinct of “finding’s keeping” possessed him; the document, coming from such a source, might well prove to be of the utmost value to his department. Wherefore, like the fakir in the bazaar, the Deputy-Commissioner of Police remained a fixed point in the very centre of the crossways, while four profane streams of traffic endeavoured to avoid him.

And still the high priest continued his fruitless search. But he had instantly recognized Crowther, and was at considerable pains to efface himself as much as possible. Trouble with the authorities was the last thing he desired at that particular moment; his one thought was to recover the missing paper and be gone. Yet he seemed increasingly reluctant to abandon the quest, and the sidelong glances he began to cast at the Police Officer in holiday attire obstinately impeding the traffic showed the latter the direction the priest’s suspicions were taking. A hint of panic in Shādanand’s fevered examination of gutters and doorways confirmed Crowther’s conviction that he held under his own foot a valuable piece of incriminating documentary evidence. Meanwhile, to allay the curiosity of the staring bystanders—though the pretence was wasted on the Brahmin—he produced pouch and matches from his blazer pockets and leisurely proceeded to fill and light his pipe.

It was at this moment, and just as the absurdity of his position was beginning to exasperate him, that a girl in a passing gharry suddenly called to the driver to stop and leaned out with a smile of mingled surprise and amusement on her pretty face. The gharry-wallah, who had violently swerved to avoid the obstructing figure, changed his voluble invective to abject excuse so swiftly on recognizing the Police sahib that his fare laughed aloud, and, glancing up at the sound, Crowther looked into the dancing grey eyes of Pamela.

They had met on several occasions since the girl’s arrival in Bombay with her parents some three weeks earlier, and Crowther, with her mother’s hinted encouragement in his ears, had lost no time in prosecuting his suit. Yet Pamela’s heart was still her own. Though many had sought to unlock it, no man had yet discovered the key; and if the weathercock of her maiden fancy continued to veer between two, it showed no more tendency to set in Crowther’s direction than in Jaiselpore’s. It was true that the Maharajah, chained by arrears of state business to his own dominions, had not yet reappeared upon the scene. Still, all attempts of the former to change the role of good comrade for that of accepted lover had signally failed, and though the girl used all her tact and tenderness in doing it, she was none the less firm in checking every effort at lovemaking.

“We’re evidently bound for the same destination,” she cried. “Hop in, Mr. Crowther, and if you promise to behave,” she stipulated meaningly, “I’ll give you a lift.”

But, much as her lover yearned to accept the smiling invitation, to hop anywhere under the circumstances did not appear to fit in with the existing scheme of things. Removing his pipe from his mouth, he took an involuntary step towards her with his free foot, suddenly checked himself, and stood, straddle-legged, in an even more ridiculous position than before.

“It’s awfully good of you,” he murmured, “but the fact is I’m—I’ve got a job on I can’t very well leave for the moment. Please don’t wait—-I’ll roll up presently. Make up a sett, will you? and I’ll buzz along as soon as I’m ready.”

Pamela regarded him with a perplexity that held in it a tinge of annoyance. Resolved as she was not to let him be silly, as she mentally expressed it, she told herself with true feminine inconsistency that she had no use for a laggard in love. Besides, this laggard was making them both ridiculous in the public street.

“What’s the trouble?” she demanded curtly, “got your foot wedged in the tram-line? Sit down and unlace your shoe—perhaps you’ll be able to wriggle out of it then. You’ll look more like the fakir in the bazaar than ever,” she tittered.

“I know—I’ve been feeling like him for the last five minutes,” he retorted with impotent rage. “No, my foot’s all right. Nothing wrong with my foot,” he grinned, sensible of the inanity of the repetition. “It’s simply a matter of ‘constabulary duty’s to be done,’ don’t you know?”

The girl raised her eyebrows. “In tennis kit?” she queried incredulously.

“I’ve had to do it in my pyjamas before now. A policeman’s always supposed to be on duty—like a soldier, what? Anyhow, if I can’t get along to the Gymkhana, we shall meet at the Yacht Club dance to-night, shan’t we?”

“I don’t think it’s the least likely,” she snapped, an added touch of colour in her face.

Dismay spread over his. “Why, shan’t you be there?” he gasped.

“Of course I shall, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that we shall meet; there’ll be a pretty healthy crowd, I’m told. Well, I can’t sit here all day, and I’ve promised to play a single with Mr. Nicholson at six. Salaam—fakir! Gymkhana Club, gharry-wallah. Chello!”

With a muttered curse on his ill-luck, Crowther gloomily watched the clattering vehicle till it was out of sight. He had missed a golden chance of a tête-à-tête drive with his divinity, and by his refusal of her offer had wounded her dignity into the bargain. He made no allowance for the intolerance of youth, still less for the display of feminine pique in which he should have discerned encouragement. Pamela was angry with him without cause—woman all over! Who was the cynic, by the by, who alleged that God rested from His work of creation, made woman as an afterthought, and that the world had had no rest ever since? Some poor devil who knew what he was talking about, anyhow. Well—his jaw set with a determination that had got him over stiffer obstacles—they would meet at the dance; he would jolly well see to that! Meantime——

For the space of two or three heart-beats the volatile priest’s back was turned to him. Yet that scarcely appreciable interval was sufficient for Crowther’s purpose. His pipe fell from his mouth; for an instant it lay in the dust at his feet, the next it was between his teeth again. But his shoe no longer hid the folded scrap of paper so fiercely desired by Shādanand; with lightning rapidity, and in the same movement with which he retrieved the briar, the Police Officer had transferred it to his blazer pocket.

So perfectly concealed in his hand was it that no untrained eye could have detected its transit. The casual beholder saw the swift recovery of the pipe only; a close observer with knowledge of the situation would have regarded the rest of the feat as an extremely clever piece of conjuring. Which indeed it was. For the thing was done with a neat and smooth dexterity a professional practitioner of legerdemain might well have envied; it was not for nothing that Crowther had once masqueraded for several months (when he was supposed to be at home on furlough) as the cheela of one of the cleverest exponents of magic in India.

But the dusty fold of paper was far too valuable, from the police point of view, to lie loose in an outer pocket while the crafty Brahmin, a dozen expert thieves at his beck and call, was bent on its recovery. With a clever imitation of a sneeze, Crowther made a swift half-turn of his head and shoulders, and, in the act of bending, slipped the document into a notebook produced from an inner breast pocket. This, with the replaced book, he buttoned up securely, now in the knowledge that his find was safe for the moment at least, though for the moment only. For Shādanand was striding down the street as before, his quest suddenly abandoned; and the Police Officer felt instinctively that, whereas a score of onlookers had been hoodwinked by the trick and the high priest’s back alone had been turned, the omniscient Brahmin was the only being besides himself who knew the present whereabouts of the missing page.

Pamela’s displeasure had fallen like a summer mist on Crowther’s holiday mood, and he vaguely felt that it would be wise to avoid her till the weather cleared—an event that might be reasonably looked for in the genial atmosphere of the dance. Nor had he the least desire to sit and watch her play with young Nicholson, an exuberant subaltern in a Punjabi regiment for whom he had hitherto entertained a genuine liking, but who was now beginning to strike him as being in need of snubbing. On the other hand, he was impatient to read the scrap of letter lying in his pocket-book, and caution urged him to wait till he could do so in privacy. He decided, in order to gratify his curiosity with the least possible delay, to forego his tennis, and, with a final glance at the vanishing Shādanand, he headed for his own quarters in Datoobhoi Mansions.

A tea-tray at his elbow, his legs outstretched before him on the rests of his long chair, Crowther relit his pipe and took the folded half-sheet of notepaper from his pocket. The first glance revealed three outstanding points. The page was a middle one, and naturally lacked address, date and signature; it was in English and written by a woman; in the event of a serious rising, and once her identity was established, it would incriminate the writer up to the neck and, in former days, would have unpleasantly stretched it.

For the page ran as follows:

“. . . proud to have had the privilege for some months past of providing your enlightened priest, Shādanand Swami (whom we hope to convert to Christianity) with funds to organize a glorious crusade of emancipation throughout India. Now, as delegates from the S.E.I., we all come out to share with you the triumphant hour of victory over brutal British oppression, an oppression which . . .”

The Police Officer leaned back in his chair and blew a succession of smoke rings to be broken and scattered by the swinging punkah above his head. The sentiment uppermost in his mind was a grievance against fate for having sent him the very portion of the letter which contained the least means of identifying the writer. Had it been the opening page he would have been in possession of her address; the last would have given him her name. But the middle one betrayed no hint of either, and the handwriting was unknown to him. Crowther’s trained memory, reliable in most directions, was especially retentive in that of calligraphy; yet he could not recall having seen before those upright, jostling characters, which suggested rows of hurdles but no other writing with which he was acquainted.

His next thought was for the subject of the letter, and here he was fain to admit he had been more fortunate. For it was at least doubtful whether any other of its pages contained a more damning passage than the one that had come into his hands, and in any case, given identification, that one was more than sufficient to convict the writer of treason. It was a direct admission of her share in an organized and financed effort to incite the subjects of the King-Emperor to rebellion, and—though the letter was obviously not addressed to him—the information that the notorious seditionist, Shādanand Swami, was in the pay of the mischievous S.E.I. was of the utmost value to the police.

Who was the writer? When and where would she and her precious companions land in India? Or had they already arrived? Bombay was undoubtedly the most likely port, and Crowther made a mental note that on the morrow he would carry out a systematic search of every hotel register in the city. Yet it would probably be mere waste of time. The recent vigilance exercised over hotel visitors had been relaxed; the collective names of the party would doubtless be entered in the visitors’ book, if entered at all, by one of their number, and the odds were against that one being the writer of the letter. If only he had pumped the Biddulphs on the subject of the S.E.I. when at Bullington, he might have learned something to his present advantage. But in his contempt for the cranks who thought they could democratize India he had let the opportunity slip.

And then a possibility suddenly crossed his mind— so preposterous, so disturbing, yet so insistent, that he sprang from his chair in a determined effort to shake it off. Rot! The arm of coincidence was proverbially a long one, but never so long as that. It was the suggestion of a disordered brain; that fakir stunt in the bazaar had probably given him a touch of the sun; he must take some quinine. Still——

Crowther crossed the room, and locked the cause of this new-born worry securely within his safe. For the next few hours at all events he would have a steel door and a good Chubb’s lock between the infernal thing and his peace of mind. He would banish it from his thoughts and switch them into pleasanter channels, a mental metamorphosis at which he was an adept. He had had a long irritating day, and would lay himself out to enjoy what remained of it. In this resolve he changed into evening kit, dined at the Yacht Club, and in due course betook himself to the ball-room.

The weekly Friday evening dance organized by the famous Club was in full swing as he entered, and, his mind stored with secret and sinister knowledge, the light-hearted chatter and laughter which suddenly filled his ears jarred on nerves already fretted with responsibility. Yet he realized that many there knew—on broad lines if not in detail—as much as he did, and that the most careless were vaguely sensible of the menace which has overshadowed Anglo-India since the Mutiny. For the comparative handful of English, women no less than men, are ever concerned to show the whispering, watching, inscrutable millions about them that they fear the knives of rebellion as little as the French noblesse feared the pikes and the guillotine of the Revolution.

But all the while these thoughts were running through his mind, Crowther’s eager glance swept the circling couples in search of Pamela. She would be in virginal white, he told himself; silk perhaps, or muslin, or—what did they call it again?—oh, yes, tulle. And of course she would have a cluster of pink roses at her breast, or tucked into her belt—or was girdle the right word? For in the course of his busy and vagabond career the Police Officer had had neither leisure nor inclination to frequent the social gatherings of his caste, and his conception of a heroine’s gala frock was derived mainly from the novels (with which he read himself to sleep) of the unemancipated ’eighties. His quest for the ingénue of his imagination proved fruitless, however, and he was beginning to fear some accident had kept her away, when she sailed by within a foot of him—so close, indeed, that her skirt brushed his ankles, and thrilled his whole being, in passing.

But the garment was a very different affair from the “sweet simplicity” gown he had visualized. Yet never had Pamela looked so beautiful as she did in the filmy black “creation” she wore that evening. Her exquisite face—with its vivid colouring and crown of burnished copper-tinted hair, so imperiously set upon her neck and the gleaming ivory-white shoulders—seemed to him to be rising like that of a goddess from a dusky cloud; while her bright green stockings and shoes and the long plume of the same brilliant hue which trailed from her right hand, held in them a suggestion of spring foliage from which the cloud was lifting. Her dancing grey eyes and smiling, scarlet lips were turned upwards in enjoyment of some jest made by her partner, who chanced to be the obnoxious Nicholson, and though for a fraction of a second the eyes encountered Crowther’s passionate gaze, their owner appeared to be serenely unconscious of his existence.

Until, like a run-down musical box, the final bars of the dance began to slacken, he stood rooted in the same position, following the entrancing vision with his eyes as though hypnotized. Then, scarcely waiting for the music to stop, he strode through the scattering couples and smilingly intercepted Pamela and her partner on their way to the verandah.

“You were wrong, you see,” he murmured gently.

The girl affected a slight start of surprise. “Oh, the fakir,” she said, raising her eyebrows; “so you managed to free your leg after all?”

“Yes. I want to explain how I did it.”

“The situation did seem to demand—an apology,” she retorted, “but it’s scarcely worth raking up now.”

“Not now, perhaps, but later on. You’ll give me a dance, won’t you?”

With a little grimace she handed him her programme. It was filled with names to the last extra, and a malicious triumph gleamed in the frank grey eyes. He had been at least ten minutes late—she had seen him the instant he entered the room—and once more she had told herself that she had no use for a laggard in love.

“H’m!” He studied the card thoughtfully, then, with the pencil attached to it, deliberately scored out one of the names and initialled the erasure.

“Here, I say, D.C., that was my dance, you know,” protested the indignant Nicholson, looking over his shoulder.

“It’s mine now,” laughed the other pleasantly. “You’re down for three, I notice; you can very well spare me one.”

“I’ll be hanged if I do,” cried the boy. “I was here long before you, and——”

“So you ought to have been, young soldier; you’re not a policeman and your working hours are over earlier. Anyhow, we can’t quarrel over it here; I’ll meet you on the Maidan at dawn, if you like.”

“And where do I come in?” demanded Pamela loftily, though secretly applauding the man’s masterfulness.

“In the outer verandah for number seven,” he laughed. “I’ll meet you there just before it begins.”

With a friendly pat on Nicholson’s shoulder, which largely mollified that buoyant youth’s resentment, he turned, and from a distant point of vantage rapturously watched the passing and repassing of Pamela’s graceful figure through the intervening dances. So absorbed was he in this occupation that he failed to hear the conversation of two men standing near him till the mention of a familiar name instantly diverted his attention to it.

“Yes, it’ll be a close thing,” one of them, an A.D.C. to the Governor, was saying. “There’s not a pin to choose between the two teams; though, between you and I, I’ve put my money on Jaiselpore’s.”

“I’ve never been lucky enough yet to see the polo finals,” complained the other. “The old hooker’s been at sea each time they’ve played them off—lay you anything you like we’ll have the mudhook up again before Tuesday. Is Jaiselpore playing for his team, by the way?”

“Rather. Turned up to-day on purpose for a bit of preliminary practice—that’s why I’m backin ’em. Tophole chap, the Maharajah, isn’t he?”

“Don’t know a better, even among white men, what?”

“Well, in a sense, Jaiselpore is a white man,” rejoined the soldier warmly: “pukka sahib and all that, don’t you know? Still, we can’t have our womenfolk falling in love with a native, whoever the chap may be and I’m told that more than one girl in Bombay is secretly mad about him.”

“Then their mamas ought to pack ’em off home by the next mail,” opined Commander Bell with vehemence. “East and West may mate, for all I care, when it’s a case of Balham and the Bazaar, though that’s damnable enough in all conscience. But a Miss-Sahib-and-Maharajah wedding in the cathedral with a Hindu temple tamasha to top-up with is unthinkable. By the by, I hear there’s trouble brewing at Amritsar—D.C. pressing for reinforcements——”

But Crowther knew all there was to be known about the impending outbreak in the Punjaub; for the moment he had something more intimate to think of. Passing through the inner verandah, in which a few couples (including the Judge and Mrs. Little) preferred to sit out the dance, he lit a cigarette, leaned over the outer rail, and moodily pondered the piece of personal intelligence he had just overheard.

Jaiselpore was back in Bombay. Did Pamela know of his arrival, and, if so, how did the knowledge affect her? That she had been strongly attracted by him in London had been obvious; whether a deeper feeling underlay the attraction he was unable to determine. But if it did, Jaiselpore’s reappearance might well ripen the feeling into something warmer. There was undoubtedly a halo of romance about the Maharajah, and Pamela was of the age and temperament to be dazzled by it. How far would her natural good sense and inherited Anglo-Indian instincts safeguard her from irretrievable disaster? Her parents could be counted on to oppose with all the influence and force at their disposal any suggestion of marriage with a native. On the other hand, Pamela was self-willed; she had been brought up by a pair of cranks to whom she was devoted and to whom such an alliance would appear as an honour to the girl and a furtherance of their precious Cause. And lastly, for all her “emancipated” notions and intolerance of mid-Victorian conventions, Pamela was woman to her finger-tips; and Crowther ruefully realized that he might as well set himself to read the riddle of the Sphinx as to attempt to fathom a woman’s mind.

The Maharajah’s was another matter. Inscrutable as the Oriental side of it might be, its attitude towards the English girl was as clear as noonday. He had fallen in love with her at sight, as all men did beneath the witchery of her smile and voice, yet with the added violence of his race. That Jaiselpore’s sentiments were as honourable as his own Crowther never doubted for an instant; even had Pamela been capable of it, which was unthinkable, the man was too great a sahib to stoop to sordid intrigue, to contemplate anything less than marriage. His English training, moreover, had taught him a respect for women not usually entertained by the Oriental, and he had proved himself as chivalrous towards them as he was gallant in the field. Yet these unquestioned attributes of his character only added to Crowther’s uneasiness. He recalled the bantering menace, the unspoken challenge flung at him that winter morning in the Park, and he suddenly resolved that he would obtain Pamela’s definite promise before she should meet the Maharajah on the morrow. And even as he came to the decision, she was at his elbow.

“Thank you, Captain Bell,” she was saying, “that was a ripping dance, wasn’t it? Here’s my next partner, and I know you must be going.”

“Yes, rotten luck, what? Got to be on board by midnight—the skipper’s gone up country for a few days’ shooting, and we can’t both be out of the ship for long together. Well, good night. So long, Crowther; take care Miss Hastings doesn’t pick up a touch of fever out here—-jolly hot, dancing. Better go inside, what?”

“Shall we?” asked the Police Officer, as the cheery sailor vanished.

“No, I’m quite all right—not in the least warm. Well, what have you to say to me?”

“A great deal.” He watched her hungrily as she settled herself in a low wicker chair and toyed with the ridiculous feather she called a fan. “In the first place, let me explain that idiotic stunt of this afternoon.”

She listened judicially, though with a touch of scepticism, as he related the episode of the letter. “I hope it proved interesting?” she said, when he had finished, affecting to suppress a yawn.

“Very. By the by,” he stooped to pick up a used match and fling it over the verandah rail, “did I hear, or dream it, that your Uncle and Aunt were coming out to India?”

She stared at him in surprise. “Good gracious, what an idea! You certainly must have dreamt it, Mr. Crowther—what on earth could have put it into your head?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Something, I suppose, Miss Biddulph said at Dullington about hoping to see India some day,” he answered carelessly.

“Well,” she laughed, “they’re hoping to see Heaven some day, if it comes to that, and I’d bank on their seeing it before India. But to return to the letter; all that happened hours ago. Why were you late this evening, and why were you in the room ten minutes before you saw me?”

“Then you spotted me as soon as I came in?” he said delightedly.

“That’s no answer to my question.”

He glanced at her frock. “Oh, well, I suppose it was because I expected to see you in quite a different sort of dress. I was looking for a white one—with roses, you know.”

“You would.” She laughed, and the delicious ripple of low-pitched merriment swept his heart strings like a hand lightly trailed across those of a harp. His whole being thrilled to the music of her voice, and he ached to hear the note of passion in it—a note, so far, dumb.

“What’s the joke?” he asked presently, when the music had ceased.

“Why, the picture of myself as the Maria Edgeworth heroine you were looking for! You funny old early Victorian policeman, didn’t you know we put the lid on the bread-and-butter miss, and screwed her down, and buried her donkey’s years ago? And you expected to find her here of all places! No, I can’t see myself in muslin and a blue sash somehow; but Mother’s in white all right—look, there she goes! She’ll be awfully bucked to know you like it.”

He looked up in time to catch a glimpse of a regal figure in white velvet and silver, as it sailed pail the inner verandah on the arm of the Governor himself. Mrs. Hastings’ gown certainly held no suggestion of the muslin and sash derided by her daughter.

“Don’t imagine I don’t like yours,” he protested eagerly; “I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. When I first caught sight of you, you took my breath away.”

“That’s quite the right thing to say. Tell me now, how would you describe it if you had to do it for the Lady’s Pictorial?”

He looked at her critically. “Well, what there is of it——” he began.

“There’s not enough of it, then?”

“Of course there is. What I meant to say was that, such as it is——”

“Oh, the material’s wrong now?”

He sighed impatiently. “What I was trying to say—only you keep on interrupting,” he explained laboriously, “was that it’s so filmy it’s more like a cloud than a frock. The material’s right enough, what there is of it——”

“Now you’re repeating yourself—you said that before,” she reminded him. “Never mind, you seem to have got quite the impression I intended; I should hate anyone who could give a cut-and-dried description of it. I’ll give you full marks, Mr. Crowther.”

He seized her hand. “Can’t you give me something else, Pamela?” he said wistfully.

“If you’re going to be silly again,” she observed, gently withdrawing her fingers, “I shall have to go inside. And you really must give up that bad habit you’ve slipped into lately of calling me by my Christian name; I might just as well call you by yours, whatever it may be.”

“‘Jim,’” he prompted, “and I wish to Heaven you would. It may sound incredible, but since I was a child I’ve never yet heard a woman call me by it. Pamela, when will you answer the question I asked you at Dullington and half a dozen times since? Is there anyone else, dear, or have I a sporting chance? If you only knew how badly I want you, you wouldn’t keep me in suspense like this! “

She rose, a thought unsteadily, from her chair. “I must go now—the next dance is beginning, and I can’t keep a G.O.C. waiting,” she declared. “No, don’t come with me—I can find my own way. But if you care for a ride on Malabar Hill to-morrow morning at six,” she added hurriedly over her shoulder, “it’s just possible we may meet—Jim.”

Chapter XIII

Mrs. Hastings Wins the Trick


Mr. Justice Hastings entered the drawing-room of Mrs. Little’s flat in Marine Lines with the air of a sulky schoolboy called to an uncongenial task in his playtime, nor was the touch of irritation in his voice lost upon the lady, who had eagerly risen to greet him, A long, hot day over some stuffy case in the High Court, she decided, had obviously fretted his temper, and she realized too late that she had chosen an unseasonable moment to command the infatuated Judge’s attendance. A scented chit, scrawled “Urgent,” and arrogant with an assumption of proprietorship he was secretly beginning to resent, had reached him that morning in court: and, though he had sworn beneath his breath as he tore the querulous summons into minute fragments, five o’clock saw him stepping obediently from a taxi at his enslaver’s door.

Georgie Little was a concrete illustration of the axiom that a woman’s personality may be gauged with reasonable accuracy from her environment, when the latter is of her own making. But for the grass matting, the bamboo sun-“chicks,” a teakwood screen, a punkah and an electric fan—necessities of the climate—the drawing-room in Marine Lines might have been transhipped complete from Balham or any other of the commercial suburbs of far-off London. For its mistress was herself a product of inner suburbia, and, like a human snail, had carried with her into a faintly amused and supercilious Anglo-India the same suburban home (in replica) in which she had been born.

The limited space was overcrowded with furniture and knick-knacks, the latter mainly rubbish, the former glaringly inappropriate to the East and shrieking aloud its original catalogue description as a “handsome drawing-room suite.” Curtains, cushions and the wall decoration generally were a medley of clashing colours, while the eruption of unframed photographs and invitation cards from which the room seemed to be suffering produced a spotty effect which still further irritated the eye. There was a marked lack of repose about Georgie Little’s drawing-room, of method, of harmony, of the faintest indication of a colour scheme: that indefinable yet all-pervading touch of the woman, whose instinct for beauty in her immediate setting will conjure it out of a lodging-house parlour, was as conspicuous by its absence as was the gracious welcome of flowers. An auctioneer would doubtless have appraised its contents at a considerable figure: the most elementary artistic sense would have prompted anyone else to refuse even the pick of its banalities as a gift. The room, in a word, reflected the personality of its mistress: it was bourgeois, meretricious, and bad art.

“How sweet of you to have come!” she cooed, holding out a rather podgy and much beringed hand: “I was simply terrified after I had sent my frivolous little chit to such a solemn place as the High Court. Please say you’ve forgiven your foolish little Georgie.”

She placed her other hand caressingly on his sleeve, and gazed up at him with an admirable assumption of piteous appeal. Before he entered the room nothing had been farther from her design than this melting mode of address. She had intended to disquiet him by a show of displeasure because he was a few minutes late; to bring him to heel with a little fiction of an urgent summons to rejoin her husband on his distant tea estate: to strengthen her hold on him, after recent symptoms of restiveness, by inspiring the fear that he might lose her altogether: and to complete his subjugation by consenting, at the end of a frenzied hour, to ignore the marital telegram and remain in Bombay for his sake.

But she was clever enough to realize that in his present mood such a course of action might prove fatal. It was conceivable that he would jump at the chance of breaking off a liaison which was beginning to show signs of growing irksome, that so far from strengthening the chains by which she held him she would probably end by snapping them. She must change her plan of attack to meet this not altogether unforeseen revolt, and substitute for the frowning cold of January the tears and warmth and promise of smiling April.

“Come and sit down,” she said coaxingly, after he had assured her that she might send as many notes as she pleased to the High Court, provided none were addressed to the bungalow on Malabar Hill. “Shall I rub the poor old bear’s sore head for him, then?”

She perched herself on the arm of the long wicker chair into which he wearily lowered himself, and prepared to put her suggestion into practice. But, leaning back, he pointedly barricaded himself against the proposed massage by the simple process of clasping his hands behind his head and bringing his elbows as far to the front as possible. Evidently the bear had no desire to be petted to-day: indeed he was secretly wondering how he could have derived pleasure at any time from the rumpling of his hair by those podgy fingers.

“Can’t think what possessed you to come out again for the hot weather,” he said querulously, “when you’d persuaded your husband to send you home to avoid it. You were barely three months in England: jolly expensive stunt, too, with fares at the present figure.”

“Oh, Tom can afford it, though we have had a run of bad luck lately,” she retorted lightly, “and, anyhow, I came back by cargo boat. You surely wouldn’t have had me stay in London enjoying myself while my poor hubby was being worried to death over this tea business?” she added reproachfully.

“You were having a rotten time,” he grinned with conviction.

“How horrid of you, Tony, and you don’t seem to be the least bit glad to have me back again. I simply had to come. Streatham was too deadly after Bombay: I should have been a drivelling idiot if I’d stopped there another week, and, after you left, I’d no use for London. You’ve no conception how lonely I was!”

Whatever other qualities Georgie Little lacked, the histrionic gift was assuredly not one of them. The emotion in her voice, the quiver of her lip, the very tears in her eyes were as insincere as the shallow nature beneath them, as artificial as her youthful complexion. Yet, born actress that she was, she made them so convincing to the man beside her that, before he realized it, he was sympathetically stroking the podgy hand posed for that purpose on the chair rest.

“Poor little woman,” he murmured, “of course I’m glad to see you back again. I’m damned sorry you had such a thin time of it, when you wanted bucking up and looking after—all this infernal tea worry on your mind, I mean. Anyhow, you’re not at Streatham now.”

“And you’re not going to be cross with me any more?” She warily dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, of which the heliotrope scent was more evident than its square inch or so of cambric, and, as though making a brave effort to pull herself together, suddenly sprang to her feet. “Well, that’s that. Now, which are you going to have, tea or a whisky peg?”

“Neither, thanks—some plain soda, if I may: I’ll help myself.” He rose and stretched himself. “You’re having tea, I suppose?”

“No, if you won’t be shocked, I think I’ll have a peg: you might get it for me—you’ll find everything on that table. I want something to buck me up, Heaven knows.”

“Well, here it is,” he laughed cynically, as he brought her the tumblerful of whisky and soda he had mixed, “a happy issue out of all your afflictions! Now, what’s the trouble?”


“It always is,” he groaned. “Perhaps we’d better sit down.”

She adopted his advice, but, after emptying his own glass at a draught, he still remained on his feet, staring down at her with mingled annoyance and contempt.

“What’s the figure?”

“Roughly a hundred pounds, and I want you to lend it to me. I’m in an awful hole, Tony.”

“Bridge, of course?”

“No, Pelham and Byle—you know, the shop in the Esplanade Road. Well,” she noted his gesture of impatience, “one must have clothes, even in a hot climate, or your police would have something to say. They’re threatening to sue me—not the police, of course, the drapers—and I haven’t a hundred shillings in the world, let alone pounds. It would be funny, wouldn’t it, if the case came before you in the High Court?”

He caught the veiled threat of scandal in the suggestion, and instantly stiffened. Georgie Little had made a false move.

“It would,” he admitted grimly, “but I’m afraid you can’t count on deriving any humour from that source. You see, the case would be heard by a Presidency Magistrate—a native, possibly—in the Small Cause Court. Does your husband know you’re asking me for the money?”

“Good heavens, no! He’d never understand: he doesn’t believe in—well, in platonic friendships.”

The Judge laughed ironically. “Neither does Marion,” he said.

“How absurdly early Victorian of them both! Anyhow, I can’t tell Tom: he’d be furious. You’ll be a saint and lend me the money, won’t you, Tony? It won’t break you, and I’ll pay you back—with the usual interest, of course—the moment the estate bucks up again. We’ll keep it a nice cosy little business transaction between ourselves, and no one else need know a word about it.” She sprang to her feet, and seized him by the lapels of his coat. “Say ‘yes,’ like a dear old thing, and I’ll give you a kiss.”

Like many another man, Mr. Justice Hastings could think more clearly on his feet than in his chair. Even in court he would rise, and, with hands locked behind him under his robes, pace the confined space between “bench” and desk while he solved some knotty problem of the case in progress. From force of habit, therefore, and without waiting for the proffered bribe, he turned to perambulate the furniture emporium which represented his hostess’s idea of a drawing-room. But, having barked his shins against a “whatnot” and kicked over an “occasional table,” he desisted (with muffled profanity), and flung himself into a settee designed apparently by some late Victorian humorist to crick the necks of three unsuspecting occupants bent on conversation.

Beneath his exasperation at the woman’s extravagance—an extravagance little short of criminal in her husband’s straitened circumstances—there lay a chivalrous desire to save her from the nemesis which was overtaking her. It was true that their intimacy, in spite of her recent hint at scandal, had not been of a character to make monetary assistance on his part imperative. Still, they had been close, if only platonic, friends for a considerable period: she was “a good sport” herself, and had certainly shown a very proper appreciation of his own claim to the title. Between himself and the gate-post he was beginning to weary of her constant demands upon his time and purse, and he was resolved—gradually, of course—to break off the relations between them. But, if only “for auld lang syne” he must do something to pull her out of the ditch, though what that something was to be he found considerable difficulty in determining.

“Look here, Georgie,” he said suddenly, “I’m honestly sorry for you, and would lend you the money like a shot—if I could spare it. But the fact is I’m badly dipped myself: that tea business that you—er——”

“That I tempted you into! Why not say it and have done with it?” She laughed scornfully. “My dear Tony, do at least try to be original. Adam thought of that moth-eaten old excuse in the year one.”

The Judge began to lose his temper. “Well, there were no flies on Adam—to quote one of your own original flowers of speech. Anyhow, I should find it extremely difficult at the present moment to lay my hands on a spare hundred pounds, or even fifty, for that matter. You see——”

“Of course I do.” Mrs. Little smiled sweetly, though her voice trembled with rage. “Your wife is always so smartly turned out, and her car—a birthday present, wasn’t it?—is the envy of every woman in Bombay. One can’t excite that kind of envy on nothing!”

For the second time she had made a mistake. The attack on Marion angered him, and the last vestige of sympathy with the woman who had made it vanished.

“We won’t discuss my wife, I think,” he said icily. “I don’t blame you because your tea don’t draw, but there it is. I’ve dropped a pot—a teapot—of money over it, and I’m afraid I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”

He turned with an air of finality towards the door, thereby missing the wave of fury which swept over her face, a fury born of wounded vanity, of disappointment and despair. But, despite her physical cowardice, Georgic Little possessed a courage of a sort, and that courage she now summoned to her aid. Her direct appeal for the money had failed: the man might yet become the indirect means by which she could obtain it.

“Don’t go yet, Tony,” she pleaded. “Sit down again for five minutes, just to show there’s no ill-feeling. If you haven’t got the money, well, you haven’t, and I’m not so unreasonable as to expect you to do the impossible. And there’s something else I want to talk to you about.”

He turned at that, a little reluctantly, and crossed the room to the chair he had originally occupied. She had not yet entirely lost her hold on him, and the wistfulness she contrived to put into her eyes and voice was not without its effect upon him, touched as he already was with remorse.

“May I smoke?” he asked, taking out his cigarette-case.

“Of course: I’ll have one, too, if you’ll give me one. Now, sit down, and forget all about my silly little affairs. I oughtn’t to have bothered you with them while you’re worried over these horrid sedition trials. Thanks.”

He had lit her cigarette, but paused in the act of lighting his own. “What makes you think I’m worried?” he asked.

“You looked it when you first came in: I don’t wonder at it. I know I shouldn’t sleep a wink if I knew I had to sentence those poor men to death, or to the Andamans for life, or whatever the punishment may be, just because they want to govern their own country in their own way.”

“So that’s your view of it?” he asked, faintly amused.

“Yes, so I want you to temper justice to the shorn lamb, Tony—no, that’s not quite the quotation, but you know what I mean.” She perched herself again on the arm of his chair, and began very lightly to stroke his hair. “I wish you could see your way to let the poor creatures off altogether,” she sighed.

“Good God!” The Judge visibly stiffened, and the lines about his mouth grew stern. Here was a deliberate, if foolish, attempt to influence the course of justice, and his legal mind resented the outrage. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snapped. “I’m not going to discuss a case that’s sub judice with you, or with anyone else, for that matter. But I may tell you that the ‘poor creatures’ you’re wasting your sympathy on are implicated up to the necks in the biggest murder conspiracy since the Mutiny, and that some of them are murderers in fact. So much at all events is common knowledge. And now I refuse to talk about it any more.”

His lips shut like a trap on his cigarette, and he leaned back with an air of having said the last word on the subject. But from time immemorial that has been the prerogative of woman, and Mr. Justice Hastings reckoned without his hostess.

“I think it’s very unkind of you,” she whimpered. “This is the second request I’ve made this afternoon, and you put the lid on it almost before I’ve opened my mouth. And I’m so frightfully interested in the native question: I feel there’s so much to be said for their point of view, Tony.”

“First time I’ve ever heard you bother about ’em,” he commented, thoughtfully watching her through the drifting cigarette smoke.

“I know. But I met a man in England—at the house of some friends of mine in Bloomsbury—a Mr. Ponsonby, who converted me, as a padre would say. Such a charming man, Tony: I really believe you would have been jealous of him. He was so excited when he found I came from India—asked me a hundred questions I couldn’t answer: I never met anyone at home so frightfully keen on finding out all he could about us. And the odd thing was that, although he’d never been out here, he could tell me more about the natives, and what they were agitating for, and the causes of the present unrest than I’d ever dreamt of, though I’ve been in the country donkey’s years.”

The Judge thought it was very possible, though he refrained from saying so. “What sort of questions did he ask you?” he inquired.

“Oh, whether I knew many people in Bombay, and who they were, and what they were like, and—oh, yes, what sort of a man you were, Tony. He was tremendously interested to hear I knew you so well.”

“The devil he was!”

“Yes, he’d heard all about you, you see, and had a tremendous opinion of you. I got a lot of reflected glory, I can tell you, Tony, and when I left home he gave me an introduction to a Parsee pal of his in Bombay, a Mr. Jamsetjee, who owns several of the mills. I believe he’s enormously rich—quite the wealthiest man in the city, they say.”

“Have you met him yet?”

“Rather—I don’t let chances of that kind slip! He had tea with me yesterday afternoon. I don’t go much on natives as a rule, but I must say he’s the best specimen I’ve struck yet. I was immensely taken with him, and so would you be if you met him.” She sidled closer to her companion, and ran her fingers lightly through his hair. “Do you know, Tony, I believe he would feel it a tremendous compliment if you would? And if you’re as badly chipped as you make out,” she added softly, “he might be a useful man to know.”

The Judge slowly blew a cloud of smoke through his nostrils and addressed himself to the arithmetical exercise known as putting two and two together. Georgie Little cared as much for the well-being of the native as she did for that of the hired pony she mercilessly galloped up and down the sea front before breakfast. Yet she had suddenly developed a tender concern for the fate of a gang of notorious criminals. The local Croesus, Mr. Jamsetjee, a gentleman (unsuspected by himself) under the eye of the Intelligence Department, had had tea with the impecunious lady yesterday, and Mr. Jamsetjee was burning to make his, the Judge’s, immediate acquaintance. It needed no great reasoning powers to arrive at the deduction that the Parsee was interested in the trial of the sedition-wallahs, and was prepared to oil the machinery of the law to procure their acquittal. The wrath of Mr. Justice Hastings, when he arrived at this conclusion, was so great as to render him for several moments speechless.

“And if you pull the job off, your account with Pelham and Byle will be receipted?” he blurted out suddenly.

“How on earth did you know that?” she gasped, startled into the admission by the Judge’s supposed omniscience.

“I didn’t,” he laughed grimly, “but I do now.”

In an instant she had recovered herself. “I think it perfectly horrid of you to suggest such a thing,” she sobbed, once more playing the misunderstood woman, and dabbing her eyes with the handkerchief. “It’s p-perfectly true that Mr. Jamsetjee promised to lend me the money, but that was p-partly because his great friend Mr. Ponsonby had asked him to be nice to me, and partly because he was s-sorry for me—much more than you are. But it’s a wicked lie to say it had anything to do with the trials, or with an introduction to you. Why are you so cruel to your poor little Georgie this afternoon?”

She broke down in a flood of stage tears that would have deceived a man far more experienced in feminine wiles than the Judge, who, in accordance with her design, spent several minutes in vain attempts to console her. When she deemed that she had reduced him to the required pitch of penitence and remorse, she slowly recovered, and, with a wan little smile, magnanimously forgave him.

“I know you didn’t mean to, Tony,” she sighed, “but you hurt me more than I can say. I wonder if you’re really as sorry as you tell me you are?”

“Well, I can’t say more than I have,” he rejoined.

“How can I prove it?”

“By taking me out to dinner at Green’s to-night,” was the prompt and totally unexpected reply. “Mr. Jamsetjee is coming in afterwards for coffee and a cigarette—I was dining there alone in any case—and we can all three have a cosy little chat about investments. I’m sure you and I both want putting on to a good thing, and what he doesn’t know about money isn’t worth knowing. Besides,” she suddenly bethought herself of the invented telegram, “Tom has wired for me to rejoin him, and this may be our last chance of a little tête-à-tête dinner for goodness knows how long. You can’t refuse me for the third time of asking, Tony, and I deserve a little pleasure after all the misery you’ve caused me. Say yes, like a dear boy, won’t you?”

The trapped Judge hunted round for a way of escape, and failed to find one. He detested the prospect of dining with Georgie Little in public, and the thought of his wife’s cold contempt when she heard of it infuriated him. He detested still more the idea of being seen in the company of the suspected Mr. Jamsetjee, especially during a sensational conspiracy trial; and his sudden determination to deal sternly with the conspirators would have caused those enemies of the King to quake in their shoes had they known of it.

On the other hand he must placate the vengeful and hysterical woman, who had already shown her teeth and was quite capable of biting. Open scandal must be avoided at all costs, and who more ready to create it, even at the sacrifice of her own reputation, than a woman scorned? After all, it was for the last time; her husband had sent for her, and the jungle would swallow her up in another day or two. As for the Parsee, well, he was Crowther’s job really, but a few moments’ conversation on finance could do no harm and might conceivably put him, the Judge, in possession of information useful to the authorities.

“Very well,” he assented gloomily: “I’ll roll up about eight.”

The honours of war were with the lady. Fortunately for the bearer, who entered the room a moment later, the triumph of conquest still gleamed in his Memsahib’s eye. For the visiting cards he presented for her inspection reposed on the tin dish which, for some occult reason, he preferred to the silver salver of convention, and under normal conditions—to quote the military phrase of the moment—he would have been for it. But the advent of callers at this crisis, by adding to her triumph, saved her henchman from obloquy: all Bombay would now learn that Mr. Justice Hastings, after the fatigues of the High Court, preferred the solace of Mrs. Little’s society to the tedium of his lawful wife’s.

Salaam bolo,” she commanded.

The tin dish and its human attachment vanished, and, before the profanely muttering Judge could effect his escape, a bevy of chattering callers had invaded the room. Their half-apologetic, half-amused glances betrayed their lively interest in the tête-à-tête they had interrupted, and Mrs. Little noted with malicious satisfaction that the party included at least two of the greatest scandalmongers in Bombay. It was doubtless the same knowledge which drove the Judge on his side into a sulky silence, from which neither masculine chaff nor feminine blandishments could lure him.

The mingled cackle of conversation and clatter of teacups had been in full swing for a quarter of an hour or more when the tin dish was again presented for his mistress’s inspection by the unabashed bearer. Once more his delinquency escaped notice: for the second time the card in the centre of the dish covered the whole magnitude of his sin—indeed his Memsahib seemed even more pleased with this single teekut than with the pack he had brought her before. Slipping it face downwards on the table at her elbow, she repeated the Hindustani intimation that she was at home to the new caller.

If the Viceroy himself had walked into the room he could not have commanded a more immediate and complete silence than that which greeted the appearance of Marion Hastings. The cackle and the laughter ceased with a unanimity that would have visibly disconcerted nine women out of ten. Mrs. Hastings was the tenth. The triangular situation, of which the High Court, Malabar Hill, and Marine Lines were the points, was a topic of amused debate at every tea-table in Bombay; but, like Euclid’s parallel lines, the three had never yet been known to meet. Whether Marion had expected to find her husband in her rival’s drawing-room, or whether the meeting was pure coincidence, she alone knew. Mrs. Little’s thickly powdered face wore a smile of undisguised triumph: the Judge looked, as indeed he felt, like a schoolboy caught out of bounds: the others sat in expectation—partly fearful, partly pleasurable—of a domestic scene. Mrs. Hastings alone betrayed no hint that she found the situation otherwise than normal, or that there was the least cause for embarrassment.

“As I was passing, I thought I would drop in and see you about to-morrow’s moonlight picnic,” she explained pleasantly, as she shook hands with her hostess. “There are one or two details yet to be arranged, and one can do it so much better over a cup of tea than over the ’phone, don’t you think?”

She turned to greet the other guests, and the Judge hastily rose from his seat in the corner.

“Then while you’re arranging ’em,” he muttered, “I think I’ll be pushing along.”

His wife looked round with an affected start of surprise.

“Hullo, Anthony, you there?” she drawled. “It’s difficult to see everyone at first when one comes in from the sunlight. If you like to wait a few moments till Mrs. Little and I have had our chat, I can take you home in the car.”

The Judge sat down again. “Very well,” he assented helplessly.

The situation was not working in the least as Georgie Little had intended. Somehow this woman, whose quiet restraint and air of breeding always exasperated her, seemed to be subtly robbing her of all her triumph. Well, there was still one more card up her sleeve, and she would play it.

“I hope you won’t let him be too late,” she smiled. “Oh, but of course you don’t know—how stupid of me! I’m going to ask you to spare him for a few hours longer: your husband and I were arranging a little dinner at Green’s together. I want him to meet a man afterwards I think may be useful to him, and I know that business bores you. I hope you don’t mind very much?”

Mrs. Little’s glance, having swept the rest of the circle to note the effect of her announcement, rested on the face of her enemy with the air of one who should say vulgarly, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

“Mind?” Marion’s smile outvied her hostess’s in sweetness. “On the contrary, I’m most grateful to you. Mrs. Little”—she turned to her neighbour—“has unwittingly come to my assistance in the middle of a domestic catastrophe. My cook was taken ill this afternoon, and of course the khansamah must seize the opportunity to go and bury his fourth—no, his fifth grandfather since he’s been with us. You know what a man is like who is suddenly deprived of his dinner: I really can’t be too grateful to Mrs. Little for stepping into the breach and, as Punch puts it, ‘feeding the brute’ for me. Don’t let me down, Mrs. Little: I hope you’ve made sure of a table?”

“Absolutely,” retorted that lady with venom, “you needn’t worry about that. I’ve secured number seven—at the far end, you know: quite the cosiest table for two in the room.”

Mrs. Hastings affected to glance at the clock. “Good gracious!” she exclaimed, hurriedly rising, “I hadn’t the least notion it was so late—and I have to get out to Malabar Hill, change, and be back before eight. I’m afraid, after all, we must postpone our little picnic chat till to-morrow. Or, why not to-night?” she amended, as she held out her hand.


“Yes, the first thing I did, of course, when I found there was no prospect of dinner at home, was to ’phone down for a table at Green’s. I can’t remember whether the number is six or eight: I’ve no head for figures—why, how delightful, in either case it must be the next one to yours! Anthony would be bored to death if he had to dine at a restaurant with no one but his wife and daughter: he’ll enjoy himself much more with you. But I’m afraid,” she smiled over her shoulder from the doorway, “that we shall be sitting very much in each other’s laps—all the appearance of a family party if none of its boredom. Till this evening, then!”

Having helped his wife into the smart landaulette waiting in the road outside, Mr. Justice Hastings gloomily followed her, slammed the door to, and ferociously commanded the native chauffeur to drive home.

Mrs. Hastings leaned forward and calmly countermanded the order.

“Green’s juldi ko jao,” she directed.

“Thought you were in a hurry?” grumbled the Judge: “Green’s is miles out of our way.”

“I know, but I want to call there before we go home to dress, Tony.”

“What on earth for?”

She looked him straight in the eyes, and a faint smile played round the corners of her mouth.

“To order a table for dinner,” she said.

Chapter XIV

Dullington Goes to India

The first (comparatively) cool breath of the coming evening was beginning to temper the afternoon’s heat, and for the second time in the twenty-four hours domestic Anglo-India within embowered bungalows on Malabar Hill turned in its sleep and renewed its languid interest in the business of “getting through the day.” As in the dawn, the stillness of the slumbering hours was gradually broken by a crescendo of significant sounds—the slippered footfall and mysterious rustlings of newly risen femininity in “chick” screened bedrooms, the querulous call for the ayah, the nasal sing-song reply from the verandah, the mingled talk of East and West temporarily linked by a mutual concern in matters of the toilet, yet in all else as widely sundered as the respective countries of the talkers’ birth. From the kitchen quarters across the compound the clink of cooking utensils in preparation for the sahibs’ dinner fell pleasantly upon the ear, while the white-clad figures of the servants rose here and there from the earth after their midday sleep like a pictured resurrection in an illustrated Bible. The syce in the stables, the motorwallah in the garage making ready for the evening excursion, each added the characteristic clatter of his calling to the awakened medley of sounds: and, dominating all, as it had persistently punctuated the somnolent hours, was the tireless note of the coppersmith bird, as though some fairy craftsman concealed in the foliage was industriously at work with tiny hammer and anvil.

Like the rustling of autumn leaves chased by the wind was the whispering of the squatting servants gathered this afternoon on the verandah of the Judge’s bungalow. From shady sleeping nooks scattered about the premises they had suddenly and stealthily assembled as though by some preconcerted signal, and all the compound was represented. The khitmagar, butler and peculator-in-chief to the household: his aider and abettor, the khansamah, most immaculate of table servants: the bearer and the ayah: a hamal, the Oriental male substitute for a housemaid: the mali, with his square flat basket of newly cut flowers: the syce, the motor-gharri-wallah, and, at a seemly distance, the outcast sweeper. Still further removed, though well within earshot—he was careful to see to that—stood the Judge’s scarlet-clad chuprassi, or orderly, whose undisguised contempt for his social inferiors in the establishment would have afforded a useful object lesson to those who dream of democratising India.

Less than half an hour earlier the sedition trials convened by the sircar at the High Court in Bombay, several miles distant, had been concluded. The results had not yet been ’phoned or telegraphed out to Malabar Hill, and the sahib-logue of the district were consequently still in ignorance of the rising of the court. But, by the mysterious means by which news travels through the bazaars of India, the verdict and sentence in each of the cases were already known in every native compound on the Hill. Wherefore it would appear that there was much need of bukh among the group on the Judge’s verandah, while the information was yet their exclusive property and the moment was propitious.

For the Judge-sahib himself, as was well known, had not yet returned. And did not the ayah affirm that her Mem lay in the darkened bedchamber, afflicted—by reason, doubtless, of her husband’s hardness in the matter of bribes, and by Kali herself—with torments as of stabbing knives in the face? There remained the Miss-sahib, it was true, and heads were shaken dubiously at the whispered mention of her name. For who could ever count with certainty on the coming or going of this maddest of Miss-sahibs, who appeared and vanished with the suddenness of a magic-wallah’s cheela, who danced till daybreak, and rode in the dawn, and, scorning the wise custom of the afternoon sleep, drove balls across a net with lightning strokes till the chokra was like to die of the fatigue of recovering them?

“Lo, the sentences have been made known,” whispered the khitmagar, “and three are to be hanged. These are evil days, my brothers. In the old time, before my father’s father was born, a man’s sons might avenge his death and gain honour thereby. Now the sircar hath forbidden the blood feud, and he who kills the enemy of his house is accounted a budmash. But the time cometh,” he glanced round furtively, “when there will be no sircar to stay the ancient customs of Hind, when a man may plant his knife in his enemy’s belly without hindrance from the magistrate-sahib and the police-wallah.”

“Yea, for there will be neither left in the land after the gods have given the sign,” grinned the mali, with gleaming teeth.

“It is true talk,” agreed the khansamah. “Aree, and what of the others?”

“Some go to the jail-khana, others to the Andamans. Ai, ’twere surely better to be hanged with the three.”

A pause followed, while the group dubiously pondered this saying. The silence was broken by the khansamah.

“As I stood once behind the Judge-sahib’s chair,” he mused, “he spoke to the Mem with angry words of the sending of a Jahudi Viceroy, and she answered, without haste as is her custom, that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. Truly in the matter of these trials have they made the Judge-sahib mad: for we do but await the sign, and the vengeance of the gods is like to fall heavily upon him. His blood be upon his own head!”


The girl’s clear, imperious voice instantly stilled the whispering, as the note of military authority checks the murmur of the ranks. The ubiquitous Miss-sahib, then, was here when she was thought to be elsewhere, and the error was accepted with the philosophic resignation of the East.

“Chuprao, Hamal, chuprao!” As evidence of his zeal the chuprassi loudly commanded silence, addressing himself to the inferior servant in spite of the fact that the latter had not opened his mouth. “The Miss-sahib calleth!”

“Bring water for flowers, plenty water, chello!” commanded Pamela, appearing on the verandah.

“Atcha, Miss-sahib, atcha!”

The whisperers had all risen to their feet, and were salaaming with a humility emphasized to camouflage their underlying readiness for murder. In the event of trouble a few amongst them would doubtless remain loyal. It is common knowledge that in the Mutiny many native servants were faithful to their employers, even at the risk of their own lives. On the other hand, numbers of those whose loyalty had been unquestioned proved to be the most treacherous and the first to ply the butcher’s knife. No European yet has plumbed the mysterious depths of the Oriental mind, and if British Labour imagines it ever will, British Labour imagines a vain thing and jeopardises its reputation for common sense.

The khitmagar translated the girl’s order to one of the hamals, who, seizing a small water-jar that stood in a corner of the verandah, held it over the rail and chanted his requirement to the water-carrier in the garden below.

“Oh, Bheestie, oh! Pani, pani lao!”

Mounting the steps with his dripping massak, the bheestie filled the jar, which the hamal carried into the drawing-room and handed to the khitmagar. No trade unionist in England is more fearful of overstepping the limits of his peculiar job than is his Indian brother of poaching on a fellow servant’s province.

Mrs. Hastings’ drawing-room reflected her personality as unmistakably as the room in Marine Lines betrayed that of its bourgeois and flamboyant mistress. There the dominant note was ostentation: here it was simplicity, though by no means the simpering simplicity that lacks character. Everywhere were evidences of its owner’s cultured taste and sense of the fitness of things, yet nothing was obtrusive: the features of the room seemed to occupy their expected positions as naturally as the features of a face fill theirs. It was furnished with a light touch and with a marked absence of stuffy material, and the atmosphere was cool and restful. There was no lack of colour in the room, nor was the colour without scheme. Yet, so far from the eye being arrested by it, one seemed vaguely to sense it, for it had been designed on the principle of art concealing art. Bright chintzes, a few good water-colours, flowers in abundance gave the room a cheerful air and at the same time accentuated their neutral-tinted environment. The long panel of brilliant sunshine, furnished by the opening on to the verandah and barred by the roof posts and the rail, added its quota of gorgeous garden blossom and foliage to the picture, while the low overhanging eaves cast a grateful strip of purple shadow on the platform immediately beneath. The room was filled with beauty, and the most beautiful thing in it was the figure of the girl in her cool white linen coat and skirt, clasping an armful of scarlet hibiscus blossom.

“Has the mali brought fresh flowers yet?” she demanded of the khitmagar.

Hearing his name, the salaaming gardener appeared on the verandah to answer for himself. Everyone desired to stand well with the Miss-sahib, who was idolized by all, from the dignified chuprassi to the small chokra who groaningly retrieved her tennis balls.

“I bringing plenty flowers, Miss-sahib; I very good mali.”

“Well, that’s a comfort,” laughed Pamela pleasantly, as she relieved him of the square flat basket. “I want all those flower vases filled with water, boy.”

The khitmagar dismissed the mali and the servants on the verandah with a word, and, having completed his task, like a conventional white ghost silently followed them into the shadows. A moment later Mrs. Hastings entered the room.

“It is sweet of you to do the flowers for me, dear.”

“Oh, there you are, Mother!” The girl dropped the basket on the table and turned to greet her. “Are you really fit for the picnic to-night? Did the aspirin work the trick—how’s the horrid neuralgia now?”

“Gone for the moment, darling, in spite of that maddening coppersmith bird. My sleep did me no end of good.”

“I’m so glad. It’s a sovereign cure for most things, isn’t it?”

Mrs. Hastings sighed wearily. “It’s a sovereign cure in a more literal sense that I want, Pamela. A few thousands of them would cure my neuralgia completely.”

“Thousands!” The girl, suddenly grown serious, linked her arm sympathetically in her mother’s. “I’d no idea it was as bad as that. Never mind, Mummie, buck up: come and sit down here under the fan.”

“It’s only right you should know, darling,” explained her mother when she had been made comfortable with cushions and a footstool. “Unless we can raise something like two thousand pounds within a month we’re practically ruined.”

Pamela gave a low whistle of dismay. “Why, it’s a fortune, Mother! But—how? Neither you nor Daddy play bridge.”

“It’s not bridge.”

“Horses, then? I know Father lost a pot of money, poor dear, at Bombay Races last week.”

Mrs. Hastings shook her head. “It’s not horses either. It’s tea.”

“Tea! What on earth does Daddy know about tea?”

“Nothing, or he’d never have invested in Mr. Little’s tea estates.”

The girl jumped up and furiously paced the room. “That cat of a woman got round him, I suppose? Why can’t she go back to her beastly Balham, or wherever it is she comes from?” she snapped.

“I can’t blame even a cat for preferring Bombay to Balham,” smiled her mother. “Not that Bombay has brought us much luck,” she added bitterly.

“But Lakshmi ought to have. I can’t understand it—why should she suddenly fail us after all these years?” Pamela pondered the matter with puckered forehead. “I did pooja to the minx, too, the very morning we left Dullington.”

“You’re a hopeless little pagan, Pamela.”

The girl suddenly flung herself down beside her mother and buried her face in her lap. “Anyhow,” she said softly, “I think she’s bringing me all the luck I want.”

For a moment there was silence between the pair, each being busy with her own thoughts. Then Mrs. Hastings stooped, and gently forcing the beautiful face upwards the face so like a mirrored reflection of her own, kissed it.

“You rode with Jim Crowther this morning, dear? ‘The third time of asking,’ isn’t it? Was the third time lucky—for him?”

“I’ve promised to give him his answer this afternoon. Oh, I know it’s brutal of me to feel so happy when you’re miserable, but you’ll say you’re pleased, won’t you, Mummie darling?”

For an appreciable interval Mrs. Hastings hesitated. That Crowther would make the girl a good husband she never doubted, indeed she had long cherished the hope that Pamela in the end would accept him. But, now that her dream seemed about to be realized, a doubt crept into her mind—not of the man, but of the possibility under present conditions of the marriage. The Police Officer had nothing but his pay, while Pamela, before another month had passed, might well find herself the daughter of a pair of bankrupts. Benjamin, it was true, had always avowed his intention of making his niece his heiress. But would he be likely to carry out that intention if she married Crowther? To him all the legendary vices of Anglo-India were summed up in an officer of the police, and this one he especially detested. Moreover, though neither of them had said anything to her on the subject, Marion knew perfectly well that both the Biddulphs had set their hearts on Pamela marrying Jaiselpore. The outlook was gloomy enough for the child, and her mother’s heart was sore at the thought of damping her new-born happiness.

“But Jim isn’t marrying me for money,” objected Pamela, when the situation had been gently explained to her, “and we can live quite easily on his pay.”

“You might, but love wouldn’t, dear. He’s a more capricious god even than your Lakshmi.”

“Twenty-one years in India have made you cynical, Mother,” laughed Pamela.

“Forty-one years in the world have taught me some of its wisdom, darling. I don’t want you to suffer as I—listen! There’s the car: you don’t know what a relief it is to me to have your father safely back since these sedition trials have been on.”

“Oh, Daddy’s all right,” opined the girl lightly: “I’d be sorry for the budmash who chucked even half a brick at a Judge of the High Court! Mummie,” she paused in the verandah, bent on escape to the garden and solitude, “you will make him use his influence with Uncle Ben, won’t you? Promise!”

Mr. Justice Hastings looked jaded and harassed, as indeed he had ample cause to be. In addition to his financial anxieties, daily growing more acute, and the worry of his entanglement with Mrs. Little, an entanglement more difficult to cut through than barbed wire, the long strain of the trials just concluded had been a severe tax even on an iron constitution like his. Nor had the attitude of the native population, as he had driven along the Queen’s Road, been reassuring to a man with the responsibility of womenfolk upon his hands. That there was an ugly feeling abroad no one with eyes in his head could fail to see: that it was far deeper than mere surface discontent the Judge had peculiar opportunities of knowing. A considerable part of India, instigated by the notorious agitator Ghandi, and encouraged by an egregious deputation from the Labour Party in England, was obsessed with the madness of boycotting the Government into immediate compliance with its premature demand for self-rule. The deputation talked loudly of constitutional methods and the desirability of avoiding violence, as though it were addressing a political meeting gathered round a village pump in Devonshire. But the fool who plays with hidden forces, of whose nature he is blandly ignorant, may well end like Frankenstein in raising a monster of destruction. The translated oratory of this particular brand of fool newly arrived from Westminster had fanned into flame the embers of murderous fanaticism which are always smouldering beneath the feet of the white race in India. A leaping tongue or two of that baleful fire had, within the past few days, scorched the Judge into profanely cursing the mischievous home-bred politicians, whose folly was jeopardizing the lives of thousands of defenceless English women and children isolated up and down the Indian peninsula.

“Caught sight of Pamela in the garden—looks very pleased with herself,” he commented, as he entered the drawing-room. “By the by, you’ve got a revolver, Marion?”

“As bad as that?” she drawled, looking up from the flowers she was finishing. “Yes—at least Pamela has one: luckily she can shoot straight enough for both of us.”

“Oh, she’s all right: I wish you weren’t so ridiculously jumpy with firearms,” he went on irritably. “Look at Georgie Little—swears she’ll shoot the first native who comes into her compound armed. What’s made Pamela so chirpy to-day?”

“How dense men are! It’s Jim Crowther, of course, and this time she means to say ‘yes.’”

The Judge flung himself wearily into the nearest chair. “Then you’ll jolly well have to make her say ‘no,’” he snapped. “Look here, Marion, we’re in a devil of a hole, as you know. What on earth do people want to drink that beastly muck for?”

“What ‘beastly muck’?”

“Tea, of course.”

“Surely the trouble is they’re not drinking it—not Mr. Little’s blend, at any rate?”

“Well,” he sprang impatiently from his seat and began to pace the room, “it’s no good beating about the bush. I cabled to your brother yesterday to lend me two thousand pounds. Needs must when the devil drives.”

“Yes, she can drive as well as shoot, apparently.”

Her contempt exasperated him, and he swore beneath his breath. “It’s Pamela we’re discussing, not Georgie Little,” he retorted.

“What has Pamela’s engagement to do with our money affairs?” she asked.

“Everything. Can’t you see that if we let her marry Crowther we may whistle for that loan? You know as well as I do that at Dullington they want her to marry Jaiselpore.”

“Anthony! You’d never encourage that?”

“Good heavens, no—though the man’s a sahib, Marion, you must admit that?”

“Readily. But,” she shuddered slightly, “as a husband for a white woman——”

“Of course not: it’s utterly out of the question. But that’s no reason why she should marry Crowther: he’s not the only white pebble on the beach, and——”

“Salaam, Sahib.”

The voice of the bowing chuprassi was followed by the sound of brisk footsteps along the verandah, and an instant later the Police Officer himself appeared in the opening. He was dressed for the moonlight picnic given ostensibly by Mrs. Little, but in which, by a clever manoeuvre, Mrs. Hastings had contrived to associate herself as joint hostess—and his habitual air of irresponsible light-heartedness was so carefully accentuated that the Judge instantly suspected him of being the bearer of ill-tidings.

“Forgive me for blowing in in this unceremonious way, Mrs. Hastings,” he said smilingly, as he stepped into the room. “How do, sir—I wonder if I may send your scarlet-runner for my pipe? I’ve left it in the car.”

“By all means: but isn’t that it sticking out of your pocket?” asked the Judge blandly.

“By Jove, so it is! Never mind, he’ll take all the longer to find it,” laughed Crowther, returning to the verandah. “Chuprassi, chalajao! Motor-gharry ko jao hamara pip lao! Thanks so much, sir,” he continued, as soon as the man was out of earshot: “when a native looks particularly dense I always know he’s listening.”

“You’ve come from the bazaar—you’ve been hearing things,” opined the Judge.

“It’s a bobby’s business to hear,” grinned Crowther, intently regarding the chick which screened one of the doorways, “but never to be overheard.”

With the silence and agility of a cat he suddenly leaped across the room, and with a swift dexterous movement lifted the chick above his head. A glimpse was caught of a couple of hamals scurrying like startled rabbits to their burrows.

“That’s the last of ’em, I fancy,” he chuckled, dropping the chick into place: “now to the point, sir. There’s going to be a general shindy—soon, from what I can gather.”

“It’s been coming for some time,” muttered the Judge: “history repeating itself, what? Well, the obvious thing is to be prepared this time.”

“Then for once, sir, the poor police have done the obvious thing. We’ve warned the Governor, and he’s communicating with Simla by code.”

Mrs. Hastings rose. “When men want to talk shop,” she smiled, “a woman’s only in the way.”

But Crowther stopped her. “No, please,” he said gently, “I should like you to stay, Mrs. Hastings. I think you ought to know, and I’m sure you won’t be frightened.”

“I think you’d better go, Marion,” blustered the Judge. “My wife suffers most unfortunately from nerves, Crowther.”

“But not from lack of nerve, sir,” smiled the other politely: “we settled that point at Dullington, if you remember? The Memsahib and Miss Pamela will come up to scratch all right when the time comes—I’ve banked on it, haven’t I, Mrs. Hastings? But there’s another matter, sir. I was shadowing the church militant the day before yesterday.”

“Ah, you mean that budmash Shādanand Swami, I suppose? Well, I hope you’ve got some evidence against him this time, Crowther?”

“At all events I’ve got a piece of documentary evidence here,” replied the Police Officer gravely, taking a crumpled half-sheet of notepaper from his pocket-book, “which I think you should see, and which ought to hang someone.”

“A native?”

“Of England—yes,” and in a few terse sentences Crowther told the story of the scrap of paper in his hand. “Sooner or later he’ll try to knife me to get it back,” he concluded.

Mrs. Hastings laid her hand upon his sleeve. “Do be careful,” she murmured anxiously, “don’t run any foolish risks—Jim. Oh, here come the advance guard of our picnic party! I must go and meet them.”

“And I’d better get a move on and change, I suppose,” growled the Judge. “I’ll look at that thing later, Crowther. Don’t let the Brahmin’s knife get home,” he paused to add over his shoulder from the doorway: “I should have the greatest possible pleasure in hanging the ‘turbulent priest’ for your murder, but the howl of sympathy at Westminster would be for him, not you, remember!”

Crowther smiled grimly to himself. The risk of the priestly knife troubled him very little, the prospect of lack of sympathy from politicians not at all. What did concern him was the safe keeping of the valuable piece of evidence in his hand. Though no other would have detected it, it was plain to his professional eye that his flat had already been systematically ransacked during his absence. Locked up in the police safe at the office the letter would doubtless be secure enough from the priest’s itching, murderous fingers. But at any moment some hotel register, some stray note, some turn of the wheel of chance, which had so often spun in his favour, might give him the signature for which he was searching, and the incriminating document in his possession must be handy for instant comparison. The Police Officer refolded the sheet, carefully replaced it in the letter-case, and buttoned it up again in the inner pocket of his jacket. He saw clearly that he held a potential key to the identification of the persons in England who were secretly financing the seditionists, and he was resolved not to lose it. What he did not see, his back being turned towards it at the moment, was a dark, evil face peering into the room from the recesses of a clump of oleanders just beyond the verandah.

The normal situation throughout India was epitomized in the contrast between the lurking menace amid the flowers and the light-hearted chatter and laughter of the group ascending the verandah steps. It comprised Mrs. Little, the defeat of her tête-à-tête dinner scheme at Green’s still rankling in her mind, Dolly Kirkby, a girl friend of Pamela’s, Pamela herself, the irrepressible Nicholson, and Commander Bell of the flagship, whose “mud-hook,” despite that officer’s gloomy prophecy, was still embedded in the floor of the harbour.

“I say, Mrs. Hastings,” babbled the young soldier, “Mrs. Little’s got a brilliant inspiration.”

“Then I should hedge,” counselled the lady addressed, sweetly. “Mrs. Little’s inspiration for the Cup Race came in—last, wasn’t it?”

“Last but one, dear,” purred the inspired one, her claws showing for a moment beneath the velvet paws: I thought it so sweet of your husband to back my namesake. No, Mr. Nicholson means that I’ve suggested a better place for our picnic—Elephanta’s so hackneyed isn’t it? I thought somewhere near that cosy little temple in the Thana jungle. My dear, such a lamb of a fakir! He lays curses on people, and all that sort of thing, don’t you know. He’s quite a soul!”

Mrs. Hastings glanced swiftly at Crowther. “It’s rather a long way—twenty miles, isn’t it?” she drawled. “What do you say to this change of plans, Mr. Crowther?”

“Why should Crowther be referee?” laughed Bell.

“I know. Mrs. Hastings is thinking of this ‘unrest’ scare,” opined Nicholson, a cheery optimist just out from England; “but it’s all rot really, you know. Crowther doesn’t believe in bogeys, you bet.”

“Why not?” retorted that officer, a thought gravely for him. “India’s full of bogeys. Anyhow, Mrs. Little has made up her mind, and no mere man, bogey or otherwise, is going to make her change it.” He turned to Mrs. Hastings and Pamela. “Can I offer one of you ladies a lift in the police car?”

Mrs. Hastings, it appeared, was far more nervous of a motor at night than of any bogey. “But if you’ll take Pamela——” she smiled.

“Delighted. Then that’s settled.” He glanced at the girl in triumph; but she saw a sudden need to rearrange a fallen stem of hibiscus blossom, the hue of which—by some trick of light, no doubt—seemed to be reflected in her face, and the glance fell unheeded on the back of her bent head.

“I say, Mrs. Little,” broke in the boyish voice of Nicholson once more, “what a pity you don’t know that weird old bird we saw having tiffin at the Taj this morning. He’d buck up your picnic, wouldn’t he?”

“Wasn’t he quite sweet?” She turned to Mrs. Hastings and the others. “A ducky old person with some friends just arrived by the Australia. He evidently looked on my little tiffin party as something ultra Anglo-Indian in wickedness.”

“We know a dear old thing very like that, don’t we, Mother?” laughed Pamela, looking up from the flowers.

“I was introduced to the old boy,” put in Nicholson delightedly. “Stuffed him up with no end of yarns—told him the Hindustani for ‘How d’you do?’ was ‘Hut jao’. He fired it off on the General five minutes afterwards—oh, my lord!” the lad shouted with laughter at the reminiscence, “you should have seen old Gascoigne’s face when he was told to ‘get out.’ “

“Nemesis will overtake you some day,” smiled Mrs. Hastings, “and it really will serve you right, Mr. Nicholson.”

An account, into which he seemed prepared to plunge, of further tricks played on the elderly tenderfoot by the ingenious Mr. Nicholson was interrupted by the arrival on the verandah of a peon in the Taj hotel livery. The note, of which he was the bearer, was transferred to a silver salver by the chuprassi, who, with the air of a dignitary offering an alm’s dish at the altar, presented it to Pamela.

“Will everyone excuse me?” she asked, as she tore open the envelope.

To Crowther, who was watching her, the effect of its contents on the beautiful, mobile face was bewitching. The rapid changes of expression from curiosity to amazement, from amazement to delight were traced upon it as gleams of sunshine chase each other on a cloudy day across a field of poppies and corn, while the mantling tint of the poppy showed how moved the reader was by the receipt of her news.

“Oh!” she gasped with excitement, “Mother—it’s them! Read this—listen! It’s actually them!”

“But you haven’t told us yet, darling,” murmured Mrs. Hastings, “who ‘them’ are.”

“Oh, Mummie, I could shake you!” laughed the girl: “do sit up and take notice. It’s ‘ they,’ if you like—oh, I’ve no time to talk grammar—they, they, THEY—at the Taj! They’ll be here before we can pull up our socks!”

“But, who?” Mrs. Hastings threw a little comical glance of helplessness at the others.

Pamela sighed, as though exercising patience with a child. “Uncle Benjamin and Aunt Octavia,” she explained at last, with exaggerated distinctness and deliberation.

To all outward appearances the startling information affected Mrs. Hastings no more than if it had been a piece of tea-table tattle. Inwardly she was not a little perturbed as to how the Judge would receive the news of their relatives’ arrival in India at so inopportune a moment, and she glanced involuntarily at Crowther. She might as well have tried to read the thoughts of a blandly smiling native.

“Here? In Bombay?” she murmured absent-mindedly.

“Yes—do listen, Mother.” Pamela consulted the note in her hand. “‘Just a line to prepare you, dear child, for what we meant to be a surprise visit. Your Uncle and I are coming up in a fly after tea’—a fly, how sweet!—‘and will be with you almost as soon as this.’ Fancy those two dear funny old things coming all the way out to India without sending us a word! Why, here they are!”

The girl flew out on to the verandah as a ramshackle gharry a native would have scorned to hire drew up before the steps. Mrs. Hastings followed, with her usual composure and appreciably less haste, while the rest of the party crowded after her in idle, half-amused curiosity. But after his first glimpse of the elderly gentleman descending fussily from the disreputable conveyance, Nicholson beat a hasty retreat into the background.

“Good Lord!” he exclaimed under his breath, “it’s the old buffer himself! I hadn’t the least idea——”

“You’ll be able to say ‘Hutjao’ to him again, what?” grinned Crowther maliciously, as he stooped to pick up the note Pamela had dropped in her excitement.

His first careless glance at it slowly stiffened into a stare of horrified incredulity. No need to ask himself where he had seen that bold, perpendicular handwriting before. Its closely jostled characters were indelibly graven on his memory, and they had been graven there only a day or two before. With one of those freakish and unexpected turns of her wheel which justify her classification among the feminine sprites, Chance had suddenly placed in his hands the clue for which he might have searched vainly for months. But his success, so far from affording him the triumph of which he had dreamed, filled him with dismay. He realized indeed that in the signature now in his possession he held the key for which the Government of India had so long been seeking—the key to the identity of those who were secretly financing sedition. Nor did he lose sight of the fact that his discovery would suddenly make him, an obscure police officer, a persona grata at Simla, that it spelt sure promotion. And it was undeniable that, as a full-blown Commissioner of Police, more than one obstacle to his marriage with Pamela, which lay in his path as Deputy, would be smoothed away.

Yet, by the irony of fate, this stroke of professional luck was worthless to him. Of what value could a promotion be that was earned by the ruin of this kindly couple, whom Pamela adored, and who, for so many years, had devotedly filled the place of her exiled parents? She would not only never speak to him again, but would naturally hate him all the rest of her life. With a muttered word of apology to the still abashed Nicholson, Crowther crossed to the far end of the room, and, taking from his pocket-book the half-sheet of the letter belonging to Shādanand, closely compared the two documents. The wild hope of a mistake that had surged up in his breast was instantly extinguished: by no possibility could the incriminating letter have been written by anyone but Miss Octavia Biddulph. There remained the alternative of destroying it and returning to Pamela her note without comment. Yet, even for her sake, could he betray the service to which he belonged and the Government which employed him? It was the ancient tug-of-war between love and duty, and in his inmost heart Crowther knew on which side of the line the mark on the rope would eventually rest.

After a final moment’s hesitation, he resolutely laid the two scraps of paper side by side in his pocket-book, buttoned it up securely, and turned with his habitual careless smile to greet the new-comers. 080-3202-0286

Chapter XV

The Maharajah Makes a Promise

To the secret disgust of Mrs. Hastings—no one would have suspected it from her gracious welcome—the Biddulphs were accompanied by those outrages to Anglo-Indian society, Messrs. Rampling and Mookerjee. But, since the warm-hearted squire and chatelaine of Dullington usually journeyed with some lame duck or freak of the moment in their train, the appearance of this particular brace surprised her less than it intrigued the rest of her guests. Benjamin and Octavia were amiable cranks and a law unto themselves: if they chose to saddle themselves with impossible travelling companions it was no concern of others. Mrs. Hastings, suspecting no mischief, was content to let it rest at that.

Leaving her brother to settle with the gharri-wallah, and followed by the profusely perspiring newsagent and the squirming Babu, Miss Octavia ascended to the verandah as though she expected to find a cobra awaiting her on each successive step. The entire quartet wore newly purchased solar topees with green puggarees, and carried sun umbrellas—an equipment which, added to a gaping curiosity in their surroundings, gave them the appearance of a Cook’s tourist party personally conducted by Mookerjee.

“You funny old things, not to let us know you were coming out!” exclaimed Pamela, flinging her arms round her aunt’s neck and kissing her, “Anyhow, it’s just too nutty seeing you both again!”

“‘Nutty’! My dear child!” Miss Octavia held the girl at arms’ length by the shoulders, and affectionately regarded her. “But there, if you haven’t lost your slanginess, you’ve at least kept your complexion.”

“You’ve absolutely taken our breath away!” smiled Mrs. Hastings. “Of course you and Benjamin must come here: we’ll send to the Taj for your baggage. Now, come in, all of you, and be introduced.”

Pamela shook hands formally with Rampling, bestowed a slight inclination of the head on Mookerjee, and busied herself in helping her mother to make everyone feel at home and known to each other. “Buck up, Uncle Ben!” she called laughingly over her shoulder, “you’re keeping the stage waiting.”

“Yes, yes, my dear, one moment.” Annoyance, born of an unexpected affront to his dignity, clouded the face of that democratic legislator as he appeared on the verandah. “I trust the cabman doesn’t imagine all Englishmen are swindlers: he seemed to take it for granted in my case! What is the legal fare from the Taj Mahal Hotel?”

“One rupee, eight annas and a kick, sir,” lied Commander Bell genially.

“A ‘kick’?” Mr. Biddulph adjusted his pince-nez, produced a handful of change from his pocket, and examined it with perplexity. “Ah, one of these small coins, I suppose?”

The sailor’s grinning explanation that it was “not the sort he usually gave ’em” was lost in the commotion which suddenly arose outside. Surrounded by the bobbing turbans and gesticulating arms of the servants, who were volubly endeavouring to restrain him, the irate gharri-wallah, whip in hand, rushed up the steps and flung the three rupees Biddulph had paid him at that outraged Briton’s feet.

“Chuprao, chuprao!” commanded Mrs. Hastings sharply: “what means this noise?”

Instant silence fell upon all save the gharry driver himself, who, in the hope of intimidating a damfool touris’-wallah into further munificence, continued to shout opprobrious epithets at him in the vernacular.

“Perhaps I’d better settle him,” came a laughing voice from the background. “Gharri-wallah, pick up thy money, and get out.”

The words were so quietly spoken that they seemed to be drowned in the din of high-pitched abuse. Yet their effect was immediate. Scrambling for his scattered coins, without even waiting to recover a rupee that had rolled to the far end of the verandah, the gharri-wallah leaped on to his box, whipped up his horse, and vanished with the suddenness of a runaway cab on the “movies.”

“Ah, to be sure, Mr. Crowther—again!” exclaimed Biddulph, turning at the sound of the former’s voice, and shaking hands. “I suppose these poor black people are accustomed to that—er somewhat dictatorial mode of address? All the same, I’m obliged to you.”

“A policeman, like a hammer and a five-pound note, is a useful thing to have in a house sometimes,” drawled Mrs. Hastings.

“I trust I may never require the services of the police for anything more serious,” rejoined Biddulph pompously.

“Amen to that, sir,” laughed Crowther.

But beneath his levity the Police Officer was, as ever, keenly alive to the whispering menace about him—alert for the stealthy scratching of the match, watchful for the first spark of arson, full of quiet purpose and resource for stamping out the flame. Thanks largely to his own clever disguises and knowledge of many dialects, the date of the projected rising had been gleaned in the bazaar: here was an opportunity of confirming it from those English sources, the thought of which filled him with burning shame. There was an air of suppressed excitement about this elderly couple which suggested a pair of children bent on making a forbidden bonfire.

“And how long do you and Miss Biddulph think of staying in India?” he asked carelessly, as though making conversation.

“Ah, that’s on the knees of the gods, as you would say,” returned Biddulph shortly: “we haven’t made any definite plans yet.”

“Then, if I know anything of Anglo-Indian hospitality,” laughed Crowther, “they’ll be made for you, sir. Anyhow, you’ll certainly be expected to turn up for the big tamasha at Government House,” he added lightly, though no one would have been more surprised to hear of the forthcoming function than the Governor himself.

“Of course an invitation coming from such a source would be in the nature of a royal command,” observed Biddulph ponderously, secretly pleased at his implied importance. “When did you say it was to be?”

“An unlucky date, if you’re superstitious—next Friday.”

In spite of the underlying warning hazarded in this fiction, the date of the rising was given so carelessly that it disarmed suspicion. Yet Biddulph was visibly disconcerted. A furtive look, entirely foreign to his nature, crept into his eyes, and he fidgeted uneasily with his pince-nez.

“Dear me, that’s awkward—very awkward,” he stammered: “previous engagement, I fear—can’t well cancel—ah!” He suddenly caught sight of Nicholson, who was doing his best to efface himself, and, turning with obvious relief from Crowther, he held out his hand. “My young mentor of this morning, isn’t it? Let me see, what is it again? Oh, to be sure—Hut jao? Hut jao?”

“Very fit, sir, thank you,” grinned the subaltern, with a sidelong glance at Pamela.

“Our young military friend was most kind and helpful to me, Marion,” explained Biddulph, turning to his sister: “a bright example in courtesy to some of his seniors. I ventured to salute the General in the vernacular, and was glared at for my pains as though I’d insulted him!”

“I think it was only cirrhosis of the liver, sir,” put in the now remorseful Nicholson, “he’s quite a good sort really.”

“Very proper and loyal of you to excuse him. Your name is—ah, Nicholson, I believe?”

“John of that ilk, sir. No relation, though.”

“Eh? Ah, to be sure—-you mean the John Nicholson, who was killed in the Mutiny?”

Crowther laid his hand in friendly fashion on the boy’s shoulder. “A name to conjure with among the natives,” he said, “as he’ll find out some day. They believe in reincarnation, and to them John Nicholson was a god. You see, India worships strength, sir.”

The pacifist M.P. was beginning hotly to controvert this distasteful doctrine, when, in a sudden lull in the babble of conversation, Miss Octavia was heard deploring the irreparable loss to the travellers of poor dear Abdullah Khan. Mrs. Hastings’ assurance that India was packed with poor dear Abdullah Khans, and that a dozen substitutes could readily be procured to fill the place of the vanished original, was received with polite incredulity.

“By the way, did you ever hear anything of him after he bolted from Dullington?” put in Crowther, with amused curiosity.

“I prefer to describe his departure less crudely, sir,” said Biddulph angrily. “He was devoted to us, but was terribly homesick, poor fellow. I can well understand his shirking the ordeal of saying good-bye.”

“So can I, believe me,” agreed the Police Officer, glancing in the direction of Mrs. Hastings, who was endeavouring to persuade Miss Octavia to join the picnic party. The latter’s curiosity to see a typical jungle temple eventually proved stronger than her terror of snakes, which, judging from the care with which her ample skirts were tucked about her ankles, she evidently suspected of lurking beneath the sofa on which she was seated. Her decision, eagerly backed by her brother, was applauded with clapping hands by Mrs. Little, who was beginning to think with Nicholson that the addition of this pair of oddities would “buck up her picnic no end.”

“And you will see a most captivating Hindu priest,” she supplemented archly. “Or ought I to say ‘minister,’ Mr. Rampling?”

The local preacher—who had quickly recognized the lady’s social caste as being nearer his own than that of any of the others, and had naturally gravitated towards her—checked the simper that had accompanied his lated “little witticism,” and rearranged his features for the reply.

“No, priest—priest of Baal,” he mouthed with unction. “But, is it quite—quite seemly that we should make merry by night in an ’ea—a heathen grove?”

“Surely that depends on the way you’re accustomed to make merry by night, Mr. Rampling?” she cackled.

“Full marks to Mrs. Little!” laughed Bell, from the background. “Stand by, the guard and band! Here’s the Maharajah rolling up, Mrs. Hastings—just crossing the lawn.”

Crowther glanced swiftly at Pamela. He knew that she and Jaiselpore had not met since the night of the Foreign Office reception in London, and he was anxious to discover how the sailor’s sudden announcement affected her. The heroine of the mid-Victorian yellow-back, with which he wooed sleep, would have “blushed furiously,” had she been interested in the new-comer. The twentieth-century Eve, though doubtless no less prone to be inwardly fluttered by the near approach of Adam, has, as she herself would express it, no use for blushes: and her inexperienced lover drew from the girl’s normally tinted face the comfortable, though wholly erroneous, deduction that the news of the Maharajah’s advent left her entirely cold.

“Yes, he promised to come to our picnic,” explained Mrs. Hastings quietly. “You met him at home, I believe, Benjamin?”

“I did, and I’m delighted to renew the acquaintance.” He turned importantly to Rampling. “A most intelligent native Prince, to whom I had an opportunity of showing some small civility in the House last session.”

“You forget I had the privilege of shaking him by the ’and,” smirked the local preacher. “A perfect gentleman! He really might have been one of us.”

Miss Octavia patted the hand of Pamela sitting beside her. “I thought him a most charming man,” she murmured, with meaning.

“And so he is,” agreed Mrs. Hastings, with an enthusiasm she rarely showed. “He is the type of all that is best in loyal India—good sportsman, good fellow, a soldier every inch of him. Fortunately there are many like him.”

“Yes, they’re the best fellows on earth,” admitted Crowther generously, and the admission did more to raise him in Pamela’s estimation than he suspected.

With salaams, which could scarcely have been more profound had the visitor been the Viceroy, the scarlet-clad chuprassi announced His Highness the Maharajah of Jaiselpore. And it must be admitted that not even the King-Emperor’s understudy himself could have “taken the stage” with a more perfect sense of the demeanour proper to the occasion. To the chuprassi and the bowing native servants as he passed along the verandah he was the powerful, if enlightened and benevolent, ruler of a great state, the descendant of a far-stretching line of autocrats who had held the lives and destinies of millions in the hollow of the hand. To him the salaaming figures represented so many children ripe for unholy mischief, who, reincarnated in their sons’ grandsons, would some day come to man’s estate, but who, while yet in their infancy, must be subjected to a firm and wholesome discipline, obedient to a gesture, quelled by a glance. The gesture and glance were both employed, and with effect, as the Maharajah strode between the instantly parted cluster of servants in his progress along the verandah.

But, once he had crossed the sill of his hostess’s drawing-room, the inherent haughtiness of the Oriental potentate fell from him like a cloak. As though, like an actor playing the composite part of the Corsican Brothers, he had changed his role within sight of the audience, he had instantly become that product of western civilization—the courteous, self-possessed gentleman of easy manners and cultured conversation. His soldierly bearing, which held no hint of swagger, bore testimony to an arduous apprenticeship to, and practice of, the profession of arms, while the indelible hall-mark of Eton and Oxford was stamped upon a personality that proclaimed ancient lineage in every look and tone and gesture. He wore polo kit—jodpores and a light covert coat hanging loose and open, affording a glimpse of the spare, lithe figure beneath: while the cobalt blue turban which crowned his head added materially to his height and seemed to bring a patch of the brilliant Indian sky into the shaded room.

“This is nice of you,” murmured Mrs. Hastings, as she shook hands: “I was afraid polo would have prevented you from coming.”

He bent his head deferentially over her fingers.

“Nothing could prevent me,” he said simply, “when a gracious English lady honours me with an invitation.”

“Very charmingly put, Maharajah Sahib. Thank you.”

His keen dark eyes swept the room, noting all its ill-assorted occupants in one comprehensive glance. Yet, to a shrewd observer, the glance, swift as it was, would have betrayed the half-dozen emotions that passed through his mind. With lightning change it fell in friendliness on Miss Octavia, for whom he had conceived a genuine liking in England: with amused tolerance on Biddulph: on Mrs. Little with indifference. It passed over Rampling with contempt, and through Mookerjee as though directed at the wall beyond. The Maharajah was unaccustomed to meet either type in the drawing-room of an English Memsahib; their presence in Mrs. Hastings’ mildly surprised him, and, as far as he was concerned, the pair did not exist. But the glance rested for an appreciable space on Pamela, ere it flickered for the fraction of a second to the Police Officer standing beside her; and only the girl’s mother caught the wistfulness in the one case and the veiled challenge in the other.

“I am veree sorry,” he explained courteously, his eyes returning to his hostess’s face, “but I shall not be able to join your picnic after all. I have to dine at Government House to-night.”

There was a note of sincerity in Mrs. Hastings’ politely expressed regret. “We must hope for better luck next time, Maharajah Sahib,” she smiled. “I think you know everyone here?”

The little comprehensive wave of the hand which accompanied the remark did not somehow seem to include Rampling and Mookerjee, though Mrs. Hastings was the last to forget that those ornaments of Bloomsbury were her temporary guests. With a conventional word or two of welcome to India, Jaiselpore shook hands with Pamela—who seemed to share his own difficulty in prolonging the conversation—nodded gravely to Crowther, bowed to Mrs. Little and Dolly Kirkby, and settled himself, with a tactful question about her “Friendly Girls,” beside Miss Octavia. But, before that gratified spinster had well begun to traverse the field of young womanhood thus opened before her, Biddulph fussily intervened.

“You haven’t forgotten me, I hope, your Highness?” he smiled.

The Maharajah rose and shook hands. “No, indeed, Mr. Biddulph,” he returned: “I have most pleasant recollections of hearing you introduce your famous Bill in the House last session—‘For the Free Clothing of the People.’ I’m afraid it met with some opposition from the Other People”—a twinkle came into his eye—“who would naturally have had to pay.”

Knowing that, politically speaking, the Other People did not exist in her uncle’s scheme of democracy, Pamela hurriedly forestalled his hectic retort.

“Maharajah Sahib,” she put in, bending forward to address him from the other side of Miss Octavia’s bulky form, “I’m going to ask you a favour.”

“It is you who do me the favour by asking,” he said courteously.

“You were awfully kind in explaining caste to me that night at the Foreign Office. Do you remember?”

“There are some things one always remembers.”

“Well, I want you to say it all over again to Uncle Ben. I’ve been trying to make him understand, but I don’t believe he knows the difference between a Brahmin and a sweeper.”

Mr. Biddulph protested, with some bluster, that he shared that ignorance with many thousands of his countrymen.

“That is unfortunately quite true,” agreed Jaiselpore. “But, though Englishmen may not understand caste, at least they respect it. That is the whole secret of your successful rule in India.”

“I am afraid I must join issue with your Highness there,” smiled Biddulph patronisingly. “I’ve always understood that it’s the dream of enlightened India to abolish caste and to govern by the mandate of the people.”

Jaiselpore’s glance flickered contemptuously in the direction of Mookerjee, who was sustaining his reputation of “irresistible lady-killer” by ogling Mrs. Little. “You mustn’t gauge India by—-that,” he retorted. “Government by democracy may, or may not, be successful in England. In this seething continent of hostile creeds and races it’s—impossible!”

“And there speaks the Wise Man of the East,” grinned Nicholson behind his hand to Bell, who was standing near.

“Let’s hope the old fool from the West will learn wisdom,” growled the Commander gloomily, as the arrival of the first of the cars which were to convey the party to Thana was announced by the khitmagar, and the joint hostesses began to busy themselves in arranging the order of the exodus. In the buzz of animated conversation which followed, Jaiselpore turned to Pamela.

“I must be going,” he said, a touch of sadness in his voice, “and the awakened memory of that night in London goes with me. There I could almost forget I was of a different race from yours: here he shrugged his shoulders expressively—“I am an alien in my own land.”

“Then why not live in England, Maharajah Sahib?” she returned impulsively.

“And shirk my duty?” He shook his head. “No, England taught me the meaning of responsibility: my place is here.”

The admiration that suddenly shone in the girl’s eyes moved him strangely. That he should set such a value on a woman’s approbation reminded him with a pang how foreign he had grown to the traditions of the East. A spark of jealousy, of which he had the grace to feel ashamed, was ignited in Crowther’s bosom.

“You women are awfully puzzling,” he complained irritably. “If a fellow’s duty happens to be picturesque, he’s all right. A policeman is only romantic through area railings.”

“Poor Mr. Crowther!” laughed Pamela. “‘A policeman’s lot is not a happy one,’ is it?—especially in India. You haven’t even the area railings.”

He had something far better, the Maharajah generously reminded her—a reputation for omniscience that struck terror into the heart of every budmash in the bazaar. “And that reminds me,” he added gravely; “if you will excuse us, I should like a word or two of shop with Mr. Crowther before I go.”

As the two men lit their cigarettes on the verandah, Jaiselpore glanced narrowly at his companion. The duel, for which the challenge had been silently given and accepted that December morning in the Row, must be fought out between them, and that soon. Both recognized the fact, yet both knew that it would have to be postponed for a season, that there was graver work immediately before them than the settlement of a private feud.

“About this picnic to-night at Thana,” began Jaiselpore abruptly; “do you think it wise, Crowther, after to-day’s sentences in the High Court?”

“Wise!” The Police Officer laughed cynically. “Good Lord, no. But it’s the same old yarn: I’ve no doubt Noah made himself thoroughly unpopular by trying to stop picnics before the Flood.”

“You have tried, then?”

“With the patriarch’s success, as you see.” He thoughtfully flicked his cigarette ash over the verandah rail. “After all, though,” he ruminated, “I’m not sure it’s a bad move to get the Judge out of Bombay to-night.”

“I was thinking of the others—the ladies.”

Crowther knew, as surely as though he had uttered her name, that the Maharajah was thinking of one lady, and the solicitude on her account annoyed him.

“I think they’ll be safe enough,” he rejoined curtly: “nothing’s likely to happen for a day or two. You see——”

He hesitated. For the first time in their intercourse his professional distrust of the native prompted him to question the loyalty of Jaiselpore. What European could read from the inscrutable mask presented to him the tortuous workings of the Oriental mind, westernised or not? The Mutiny alone furnished a thousand misreadings with their tragic results. His troubled glance sought the Maharajah’s face—and, swiftly as the morning mist evaporates before the sun, all vestige of doubt was dispelled. Who could look into those fearless eyes, eyes which held in their depths the shadow of a great tragedy, and question the honour of the man, who, while no less an alien in the land of his birth than in that of his upbringing, had shown for both so passionate a devotion? With a pang of shame Crowther confessed that he had allowed jealousy, if only for a moment, to prejudice his thoughts of a great gentleman and chivalrous rival, and he knew that he would stand shoulder to shoulder with him in the coming danger, and fight him fairly afterwards.

“You know, of course, that the rising is fixed for the thirteenth?” he whispered.

The Maharajah nodded. “If bazaar information can be trusted,” he amended.

“I had confirmation of it a few minutes ago—from an English source,” said Crowther slowly.

Without turning his head, Jaiselpore shot a swift sidelong glance at Biddulph, who was fussily preparing to accompany the first contingent.

“It would not be difficult to guess the source,” he observed, “but I shan’t ask you for it. Still, I’m uneasy about to-night, Crowther.”

“I don’t think you need be, sir. Metaphorically speaking, I’ve taken off my policeman’s boots: if there’s anything to be heard, I shall hear it.”

“That, of course, goes without saying,” returned the Maharajah pleasantly: “I, too, will keep my eyes and ears open. And don’t forget this,” he laid his hand impressively on the other’s sleeve, “should you ever need them, I have a mounted escort with me. People will tell you that cavalry is now an obsolete arm—we were certainly all turned into infantry in France. But—-France is not India. So, remember.”

“I won’t forget it, Maharajah Sahib,” said Crowther warmly, as the rest of the party came trooping out on to the verandah.

It had been arranged, after much discussion and many changes of plan, that Mrs. Hastings should take the Biddulphs and Rampling in the tonneau of her Napier, with Mookerjee on the seat beside the chauffeur, and that Nicholson, who had been very insistent on the point, should escort Miss Kirkby in his two-seater runabout. Mrs. Little had manoeuvred herself into the position of waiting for the Judge, still loitering in his dressing-room—an arrangement that had been robbed of all its triumph at the last moment by Mrs. Hastings’ smiling discovery that Commander Bell must either accompany them or walk the twenty odd miles to Thana. Pamela, as her mother had already settled with the enraptured Crowther, would follow in the police car, the khitmagar, with Mrs. Little’s khansamah and a few other servants, having preceded the party with the provisions and paraphernalia for the picnic.

After the group had breathlessly watched Nicholson negotiate the rounding of the gatepost on two wheels—a start which seemed to promise ill for the safe arrival of himself and his pretty companion at their destination, Mrs. Hastings paused on the verandah to say good-bye to Jaiselpore before setting out with her own party.

“I am so sorry you are not coming with us,” she said once more, “but I hope you will let Pamela give you some tea before you go—she’s coming along later. You will see to it, dear, won’t you?”

“Of course, Mother.” The girl half turned towards the room, but Jaiselpore made a little gesture to restrain her.

“Thank you,” he said, “but I mustn’t delay you, and I, too, must be going.” Then, noting the shadow of anxiety in the mother’s eyes, he added gently, and in lowered tones, “There is no cause for alarm—yet, Mrs. Hastings, and you are all in good hands. The natives say that Crowther Sahib has invisible eyes in the back of his head. Well, I have only one pair, but when the moment comes,” a note of gravity crept into his voice, “he will find them at his disposal—to do you service.”

The last four words were spoken with deliberation, and, though he addressed the mother, the slight inclination of his head in her direction showed that they were intended for the daughter. As the former held out her hand in farewell, there came over her a sudden realization of the rivalry between the two men, of the loneliness and tragedy of this one’s position on the borderline of East and West, of the greatness of mind which had prompted him to include his rival in the promise of service, and her heart went out to him.

“There spoke the chivalrous knight, Maharajah Sahib,” she murmured with emotion, “and he is rare enough nowadays, even at home. It is a promise, then?”

“It is a promise.”

The words fell from him with the solemnity of an oath. Then, with a military salute, which included all three, he turned and strode along the verandah as he had come, a serene and stately figure between the ranks of the bowing, silent servants.

Chapter XVI

Pamela Changes Her Mind

“Well, we’ve got to wait for the Judge, I suppose,” said Georgie Little ill-temperedly to Bell, as Mrs. Hastings and her party—with the exception of Mookerjee, who could not be found—vanished in the wake of Dolly Kirkby and Nicholson: “I wonder how much longer he’ll be.”

“The Law’s delays, what?” laughed Crowther. “He’s not what you’d call a quick-change artist, is he?”

“And yet you men complain if we are more than five minutes putting on our things.”

“Only till we see the result,” he assured her, with an ironical bow.

Mrs. Little affected to shudder when Pamela spoke of sending one of the servants to hasten her father. “For Heaven’s sake let’s move out of earshot first!” she cackled shrilly. “I know what it is to hurry a man when he’s grovelling under the bed for a collar stud.”

Her further suggestion that the garden was now a cooler waiting-place was agreed to by the others, and the two ladies and the Commander adjourned to the long strip of shade cast by the trees in the level light of sunset. But Crowther still lingered on the verandah. He was in no mood for “Little Georgie’s” inanities, and, like the fox beneath the Spartan youth’s toga, the two notes concealed in his breast pocket seemed to be gnawing at his vitals.

What was he going to do with them? To place such damning evidence of her adored Uncle and Aunt’s folly in the hands of authority would mean instant and irrevocable rupture of his engagement to Pamela, an engagement he had every reason to believe she was on the brink of consenting to. It was even conceivable that in the sudden revulsion of feeling she might throw herself into the arms of Jaiselpore. On the other hand, to destroy or suppress the proofs meant an act of treachery to his service and to India of which he knew himself to be incapable. The time-honoured battle between love and duty was fought once more and—since the blood of stern old Havelock ran in his veins—with the only possible result. He must surrender the two notes to the cold scrutiny of the Law, and, by the irony of fate, the Judge of the High Court with whom he was most closely in touch, and whom he would naturally approach first in such a case, was Pamela’s father. Indeed it seemed that fate had also decreed the moment for the disclosure, for at this point the Judge himself emerged from his dressing-room, and the two men were alone.

“Hullo, Crowther!” Mr. Justice Hastings started, a frown of annoyance on his face. “You going in Mrs. Little’s motor, too?”

“No, sir,” laughed the other—his capacity for shaking off dull care at a moment’s notice was not the least of his many assets as a policeman— “I’m taking Miss Pamela in the police car. I’ll be very careful: you see, I know where all the traps are.”

The Judge’s frown deepened. “My wife’s arrangement, I suppose?”

“No, I think it came off quite of its own accord. Curious how these things arrange themselves, if you only let ’em, what?”


The Judge’s curtness was not encouraging, and Crowther made haste to change the topic.

“By the way, sir,” he said, “it’s unfortunate, don’t you think, that our friends from Dullington should choose this particular moment to come out? The country’s honeycombed with sedition, as you know, and a little ill-judged sympathy from England might bring the whole bag-o’-tricks about our ears before we’re ready for it.”

The elder man stroked his chin reflectively: the petulance of his manner was succeeded by a sudden gravity.

“Are we going to be ready, Crowther?”

“If we can dodge the British Juggernaut.”

“Which one?”

“False Sentiment.”

The Judge took a pace or two along the verandah. “I agree with you,” he said abruptly, “it’s a thousand pities they’re here. My wife’s message as I was dressing didn’t rouse my enthusiasm, I can tell you. We’re handicapped quite badly enough as it is, without having ignorant sentiment from home to tackle on the spot.”

Crowther slowly drew the letter-case from his pocket. The fateful minute could no longer be postponed: in five more he would have burnt his boats behind him, and with their charred wreckage would sink his last chance of happiness. He saw the long vista of lonely years stretching before him, years empty of wife, child, ambition, and he suddenly felt old. Yet the thing had to be done. In spite of a dozen specious arguments for evading it, he had in truth foreseen the grim necessity from the moment he had first read the crumpled extract that ill wind in the bazaar had blown into his hand. Well, the sooner it was done the better, and, with a last aching thought of Pamela, he opened the case.

“I’m afraid it’s even worse than you imagine, sir,” he began gloomily, unfolding the sheets. “You said you would look at these later, if you remember, and it’s important that you should see them. They’re——”

It was Pamela’s voice that broke in on the unfinished sentence, and Pamela herself who came flying up the verandah steps as though it were a mid-winter day in England and she was trying to keep warm. But to Crowther the girl’s interruption spelt destiny, and, accepting the decree of the gods, he hastily returned the papers to his pocket.

“Here he is, Mrs. Little, at last!” she cried over her shoulder. “Father, you’re too awful—I never knew anyone take so long to change their rags as you! The Maharajah’s been here, and all the others have gone too: as for Uncle Ben, he’s quite stuffy with you for not coming to welcome him to India’s coral strand.”

“My fault, Miss Pamela,” put in Crowther, “I kept him talking shop. You won’t let on to Mr. Biddulph, will you?”

“No,” she laughed, “you’ve quite enough black marks against you as it is. By the by,” her eyes searched the floor, “I’ve dropped Aunt Octavia’s note somewhere. You haven’t seen it sculling about either of you, have you?”

The Judge had not. Was it important?

“Not in the least. But the dear old bean declares she wrote ‘gharry,’ and I know she called it a ‘fly.’”

That being the case, Mr. Hastings moodily opined that perhaps he had better lose no further time in appeasing Mrs. Little, and, with this end in view, departed.

For a few tense seconds the man and the girl remained facing each other in silence, both conscious that they had reached a crisis in their lives. The shy happiness in her eyes lit a flame of triumph in his: for he had now no doubt of the answer she had promised that morning to give him, and he knew that his rival was beaten. Whatever might result from the disclosure of the letters in his pocket—and he did not forget that the disclosure had still to be made, she had chosen between him and Jaiselpore, and, even if she refused to marry him, that first choice could never be reversed. A sudden wave of relief, of deep thankfulness, of passionate love swept over him, and he ached to take her in his arms, to crush her to his breast, to rain kisses on the face that had never been far from his thoughts, waking or dreaming, since the moment he had first seen it. But the knowledge of the distasteful duty that lay before him stood between him and his desire. If she did not resent his kisses now, she would abhor the recollection of them when in due time that duty must be discharged. He would at least spare her the humiliation of such a memory. But he would not forego the fulfilment of her promise made in the golden dawn on Malabar Hill.

“You naturally want to prove her wrong?” he smiled, in answer to her reference to Miss Octavia. “Well, is this it? You dropped it when you went out just now.” He took the note from his pocket-book and showed it to her, though still retaining his hold on it.

“Of course that’s it,” she retorted a trifle stiffly. “Why didn’t you give it back to me?”

“Because I wanted you to come and look for it. I wanted you by yourself, Pamela. You promised——”

“I know, to give you a definite answer: I always keep my promises, Jim. But,” she held out her hand with a smile, a little touch of obstinacy at the corners of her mouth, “the note first, please.”

He hesitated. The value of that scrap of evidence was incalculable. By revealing, and consequently drying up, one of the main sources of supply, it was even conceivable that the rebellion might collapse ere it had well started. Possession was nine points of the law, and once he surrendered the note he would have no plausible pretext for recovering it. On the other hand, should he insist on retaining it, he must tell the brutal truth, and so precipitate the catastrophe he yearned to avoid. Well, destiny in the form of Pamela herself had once more taken a hand in the matter: for, even as he wavered, the girl had leant forward and quietly taken the note from his hand.

“Let me see now—where’s the place? Oh, yes, she said——”

“Pamela, be serious, dear”—he took an impulsive step towards her—“the note can wait. I can’t.”

But she pushed him impatiently from her with her disengaged hand, her forehead puckered with perplexity as she scanned the half-sheet held in the other. He wondered at her sudden bewilderment, not yet realizing its cause.

“The note can’t wait, Jim. It is in Aunt Octavia’s writing, yet what?” She stared at it another moment, then frowningly read aloud, “‘. . . proud to have had the privilege for some months past of providing your enlightened priest, Shādanand Swami (whom we hope to convert to Christianity) with funds to organize a glorious crusade of emancipation throughout India. Now, as delegates from the S.E.I., we all come out to share with you the triumphant hour of victory over brutal British oppression, an oppression which . . .’ What on earth is she talking about?”

She dropped the hand with the letter to her side, and sought his face with troubled eyes. With the first words of the extract he had realized what he had done, and only checked himself from swearing in the nick of time.

“I’m hanged if I know,” he answered with annoyance, “but this is your aunt’s letter. I gave you the wrong one by mistake.”

Pamela snatched the note he held out to her, and hurriedly compared the two. “But—they’re both in her handwriting,” she exclaimed: “I don’t understand.” And then, as the truth began slowly to dawn on her, she stood petrified with horror. “Oh, don’t tell me the poor old darlings have been dragged into this horrible native conspiracy!” she wailed.

“I’m afraid it looks like it,” he confessed gloomily, and, seizing the opportunity of her preoccupation, he gently recovered the two notes from her limp fingers.

“I won’t believe it!” she cried passionately, with a stamp of her foot. “You don’t?”

Crowther made a little gesture of distress. In Heaven’s name what else could he believe? And, as he noted her suddenly stiffen with apprehension, for the first time in his career he inwardly cursed his profession.

“Jim,” round-eyed with fear she faced him, “you’re a policeman. Why are you keeping those notes?”

With a feeling that he was signing his own death warrant he explained that he must show them to the Judge.

The girl laughed scornfully. “How utterly ridiculous!” she exclaimed. “Of course you can’t possibly do that—it’s out of the question. Father would have to issue a writ, or a warrant, or something hateful of that sort. Mother’s relations, too—can’t you see it wouldn’t be cricket to put him in such a horribly false position? Jim”—never had she seemed so irresistible as at that moment when, her hand upon his sleeve and her bewitching face within an inch or two of his own, she breathed an appeal for the kindly couple she loved scarcely less than her parents—“you’ll give them back to me, won’t you?”

He turned his head aside, as if arrested by the Judge’s profane efforts across the compound to start Mrs. Little’s hired motor-car.

“What will you do with them?” he asked brusquely.

“What you ought to have done with the first one directly you read it. Burn them, of course.”

He shook his head slowly.

“Why not, pray?”

“They don’t belong to me.”

She stared at him in surprise. “Then who do they belong to?” she demanded ungrammatically.

“The state.”

“How utterly absurd!” Her laugh was music, yet Crowther noted with concern the danger flag flying in her cheeks, the gleam of angry resentment in her eye, “Fancy magnifying a scrap of crumpled notepaper into a state document! That really is funny!”

Funny! He explained, a little bitterly, that he was keeping it at the risk of his life. At which the anger instantly died out of the girl’s face, to be succeeded by concern.

“Oh, Jim,” she cried, “all the more reason we should burn the horrid thing at once! Come,” she dragged him by the arm into the drawing-room, “here are matches and a candle on Mother’s writing-table. ‘Do it now,’ as the War Bond posters say, and give me a chance,” she added softly, “of sleeping comfortably in my bed.”

“Pamela, dear,” he looked at her gravely, as she stood before him, fidgeting with the matchbox in her hands, “you wouldn’t have me show the white feather?”

“I’d have you show a little common sense and—and consideration for me,” she retorted warmly. “This is a purely family matter, and it would be horribly bourgeois to wash our domestic linen in public. It isn’t done, you know.”

He remarked that she was making it very hard for him to do his duty.

“It’s you who are making it hard for yourself,” she told him. “This is the first thing I’ve ever asked you to do for me, and, after all, what is it? Merely to give me a rotten little bit of paper that’s no use to anyone really. Am I so very unreasonable?”

Not more than the rest of her sex, goodness knew! Perhaps he was exaggerating the trouble. “The decision would be the Judge’s business, not mine,” he mused, unconsciously voicing the thought.

“Yes, and can’t you see that’s the very thing I want to avoid?’” she rejoined impatiently. “Father’s as hard as nails where duty’s concerned—he’d sacrifice Mother herself to it, let alone her relations. Promise me you won’t show him that letter, Jim.”

The soft appeal in her eyes and voice tore at his heartstrings, and once more he cursed the ill-wind in the bazaar which had blown this peck of trouble into his life. Yet how could he be less loyal than the Judge, whose standard of duty had been instanced, with such an audible ring of approval, by his daughter? If he himself failed in it, he might please her for the moment by acceding to her request. But she would indubitably, and with true feminine inconsistency, despise him for the rest of his life.

“I can’t, Pamela,” he answered sadly, “and you know it, dear. Listen. A chance in a thousand has put this evidence in my hands. It is of the utmost value to the Government—it may even help them to prevent the massacre of thousands of the sahib-logue in India. In any case, I should be shirking my job if I suppressed it. That’s what it comes to.”

“No!” The girl’s fear of the consequences to her beloved uncle and aunt overwhelmed all other considerations, and her terror flamed out in hot anger. “What it really comes to is this. You must choose between ruining Uncle Benjamin, who has been more than a father to me all my life, and granting the first request I’ve ever made you. If you really loved me——”

He made a little gesture of distress. “Can you doubt it, Pamela?” he asked.

“I must—till you’ve made your choice. There can be no doubt then.”

He turned abruptly, and took a pace or two across the room. “There can be no choice, dearest,” he said, halting once more before her, “and in your heart you know it.”

“I don’t know it—I won’t!” she broke out passionately, the tears of love and pity and disappointment standing in her eyes. “Oh, poor old man—poor old man! Jim, we must save him—we must!”

For a moment they stood facing each other, he holding the two notes listlessly in his fingers as he vainly sought some other way out of the impasse, she with the box of lucifers in her hand, her eyes fixed intently on his face. Then, with quiet deliberation, she softly struck a match.

“No, Pamela.” Her action roused him from his reverie, and, swiftly grasping her fingers, he extinguished the flame in his palm.

Angry mortification gleamed in her eyes, and words he was spared the pain of hearing still hung upon her lips, when the sound of a suddenly started engine, with one cylinder “missing,” reached them from the compound.

“Pamela, we’re off at last!” shrilled Mrs. Little, with ill-concealed exasperation. “You’ll follow with Mr. Crowther, then?”

“No—wait, please,” called the girl, as she turned and descended the verandah steps: “I’m coming with you.”

Crowther hurried after her. “Then—you won’t let me drive you?” he pleaded.

“Thank you,” she returned icily over her shoulder, and without stopping, “I prefer to go with the others.”

“But I thought it was arranged?” began Mrs. Little’s voice, an obvious note of chagrin in it.

As Crowther stopped irresolutely at the top of the steps, the girl’s clear, imperious answer floated back to him across the evening stillness.

“I suppose I may exercise the prerogative of our sex? I’ve changed my mind, that’s all.”

Chapter XVII

“The Goddess Will Veil Her Face”

The Police Officer lingered forlornly on the verandah till the sound of the departing motor had died away in the distance. Then, with a philosophic shrug of the shoulders, he turned, and, reentering the now empty drawing-room, dropped into the nearest chair and pondered the situation.

Taking the two notes from his pocket, he spread them out on the writing-table before him, and mechanically stared at the familiar characters. But his mind was busy with other matters. Pamela, as she herself would doubtless have phrased it, had “given him the chuck”—for the moment at any rate, and nothing was to be gained by bemoaning that sudden thrust of fortune’s sword-point. He accepted the wound with the stoicism of the soldier race from which he sprang, and, though it rankled sorely, set himself resolutely to consider his immediate course of action.

His first not unnatural impulse was now to abandon the picnic, which for him could only be a Barmecide feast with the added torments of Tantalus thrown in. But weightier considerations prevailed. Although he did not anticipate any serious danger before the Friday, a date still several days distant, the Maharajah’s uneasiness about that night’s excursion had communicated itself to him. The Judge in any case, after the day’s sentences, was a marked man; peril might threaten him at any moment, and if the peril came that evening (as well it might) in the distant and lonely jungle, it must involve the remainder of the party as well. And Pamela was of the party. Crowther decided that he would first interview his chief, with a view to concerting precautionary measures, and afterwards follow the party and keep a secret watch over their safety.

With him action ever followed swiftly on the heels of decision, and he was on the point of rising to seek the police car, when his eye fell carelessly on a mirror standing on the table in front of him. It reflected a small panel of the verandah and of the garden beyond, to which his own back was turned, and which included a clump of oleanders bathed in the gorgeous afterglow of sunset. Yet it was certainly no rapture of the artist which instantly stiffened the Police Officer in his chair and caused him to gaze into the mirror with the immobility and intentness of a cat watching a bird.

The dark, evil face he had failed to see forty minutes earlier was again peering at him from the stealthily parted oleanders, and the Police Officer’s first thought was that, with the exception of the whispering, prying servants, all of whom he distrusted, he was alone in the bungalow. Twilight was already dimming the afterglow, and in a few minutes darkness would fall—for the moon had not yet risen—with that disconcerting eastern swiftness which suggests the sudden drawing of a curtain. He had left his revolver in the car, foreseeing no prospect of its need in a lady’s drawing-room; and he realized that safety lay, for the moment at least, in luring this potential assailant into a false belief of security. Tilting back his chair, and idly clasping his hands behind his head— though with a watchful eye ever on the mirror—he began carelessly to whistle the only music-hall ditty he could remember.

As though in answer to the whistle, there emerged into the open first a shaven, tufted head, then a crouching form closely wrapped about with a saffron-coloured robe. For an instant it stood there, swiftly glancing from side to side: the next, like a springing panther, it had streaked across the few yards of lawn between the clump and the verandah, and vanished from the field of Crowther’s vision.

But the Police Officer knew that it would quickly reappear upon the verandah steps, and his course of action was determined with lightning rapidity. In far less time than it takes to write it, he had crammed the notes inside his jacket, dropped his pocket-book, as though by accident, on the centre of the floor, set one of the partition “chicks” swinging to suggest his exit, and in one bound sank from view behind a great water-jar, which held a palm and stood in a far corner of the room.

For perhaps a dozen heart-beats he squatted there upon his haunches, recovering his breath, increasingly conscious of the inadequacy of his hiding-place, tensely waiting on events. The evening stillness seemed to be accentuated rather than broken by the distant call of a native, the whinny of a pony in the stables, the last drowsy notes of the coppersmith bird as that indefatigable craftsman settled himself to roost. But the sound for which Crowther was so intently listening seemed to be an eternity in coming. Yet it came at last—the cautious, stealthy pad of naked feet along the verandah, a sound so sinister that the listener, despite his familiarity with danger, seemed to feel an icy finger tracing the vertebras of his spine.

Lifting his head with infinite wariness till his eyes were on a level with the rim of the great jar, the Police Officer glimpsed through the fronds of the palm a picture which was to be reproduced in his dreams for a long time afterwards. In the centre of the verandah opening, and silhouetted against the fast fading light, stood the terrifying figure of the high priest, Shādanand Swami. Its height, in spite of a slightly stooping attitude, was exaggerated by the luminous background, against which the dark form showed in violent relief; and its absolute rigidity and silence suggested a faulty figure blacked out by the artist upon a painted canvas. Yet there was still light enough for the watcher behind the jar to mark the lust for murder gleaming in the malignant eyes, the glint of the knife which, half-hidden in a fold of the saffron robe, betrayed its owner’s design to commit it. The lithe body was poised in readiness for instant attack or flight, whichever should prove expedient, and the shaven, glistening face was stiffly thrust forward into the darkening room. For the priest, too, was listening, and with ears so uncannily sensitive to the smallest sound that the other listener involuntarily held his breath lest it should reveal his whereabouts.

The Police-Sahib’s sudden disappearance obviously puzzled the Brahmin, who seemed to be debating whether it might not camouflage a trap. Then his eye fell on the pocket-book lying invitingly on the floor: he noted the still swaying chick, and the temptation proved too strong to be resisted. Throwing caution to the winds, he flitted from one to the other with the noiselessness of a bat, peering swiftly through the slats of the chick, pouncing on the book as the bat swoops at a fly. And with the incriminating evidence—as he fondly supposed—safely secured within a fold of his robe, his business was done, and he turned to go.

Even had Crowther been armed, he would have hesitated to spring upon the trespasser in an attempt to secure him from behind. He had had a proof of the priest’s wiry strength in the firelit hall at Dullington, and he realized that a call to the servants would bring aid, not to him, but to the man they feared even more. He decided to go one better than the copybook maxim for children, and to remain both unseen and unheard. The next moment he was congratulating himself on his decision.

For, even as Shādanand turned, a second figure loomed upon the verandah against the panel of twilit sky, and Crowther saw with deep interest that it was Chunder Mookerjee’s. The Police Officer’s new-born fear that the couple might converse out of earshot, or even vanish altogether, proved groundless: for, having peered timorously into the shadowy room, the babu slipped across the sill and profoundly salaamed the Twice-Born.

“H’st!” He laid his finger fearfully upon his lip, a hint of caution the Brahmin received with a low, scornful laugh. “Hail, Holy One! The letter from Biddulph Miss-Sahib—hast thou received it?”

“Ai, it reached me.” As in the hall at Dullington on the night of “Abdullah Khan’s” disappearance, both spoke in the vernacular, though with less secrecy, believing the bungalow to be empty. “An ill wind blew a portion of it into the hands of the Police-Sahib, whom Kali burn! ’Twas the portion whereon the Fool Woman had set down my name.”

Dismay sounded in the babu’s voice. “Thy name! Aree, it may well send thee to the Andamans.”

“Peace, fool! I have recovered it.” With a soft laugh of triumph the high priest tapped the pocket-book in his breast. “The letter is safe.”

“The gods be praised! Since our few stolen words upon the landing-place this morning, I, too, have gleaned news.”

“Quick, then!” The Brahmin glanced uneasily about the shadow-filled room. “One sat here a moment since who would give much to overhear thee. He may return.”

“The Police-Sahib? May he die in torment!”

Behind the water-jar Crowther recalled with a grin the truism anent listeners hearing no good of themselves.

“With much difficulty did I evade the bleating calls of Biddulph Miss-Sahib and tarry here to tell thee,” cringed the Babu with conscious virtue. “Listen, Holy One. To-night, when the goddess veils her face, Hastings Memsahib, and the ever-cackling Mem whose name I know not, give a dinner-of-fools in the jungle near the temple.”

The high priest flung his long arms upwards in an attitude of adoration, as though the image of the goddess he served squatted against the wall before him.

“Then Lakshmi herself hath now ordained the hour of our rising!” he cried ecstatically. “For, if thy cackling Memsahib be the shameless one the sahibs call ‘Little Georgie,’ he will surely be of the party.”

“Thou meanest—her husband?”

The priest spat contemptuously on Mrs. Hastings’ drawing-room rug. “Truly thou art a fool! Of whom should I speak but the Judge-Sahib? He who this morning sent three martyrs to their doom goes to his doom to-night.”

“The gods are just,” observed Mookerjee piously, with a low salaam. “Yet”—a touch of compunction crept into his voice—“Biddulph and Biddulph Miss-Sahib—what of them?”

“Go they also to this dinner-of-fools?” Shādanand reflected a moment. Possibly he again felt in imagination the smarting of the “fire-leaves” on his chest, for there was certainly no hint of compunction in his reply. “Aree, their money hath served its purpose: there is no further need of them. Let them perish with the rest.”

He dismissed the matter with an imperious wave of the hand. But the native timidity of the Bengali prompted Mookerjee to a final weak protest.

“Even so, the appointed hour is not yet. Dare we forestall it?”

“’Tis not we, but the vengeful judgments of Hastings Sahib which have forestalled it. Nor do the gods set signs in the heavens without purpose. The goddess will veil her face that we may strike unseen and in safety. If we at Thana—and, I doubt not, others elsewhere—obey the sign to-night, the rest of our brothers will assuredly strike to-morrow.”

“We are ready,” admitted Mookerjee nervously, “the sahib-logue, as is their custom, unprepared. Perchance, as thou sayest, the gods are on our side.”

“Perchance!” The Babu’s craven doubts incensed the Brahmin, and he hissed the word at him with venomous tongue and outstretched neck as though he were a cobra about to strike. Had it been the snake itself Mookerjee could not have recoiled more hastily. “’Tis well indeed that the work depends not on such bleating wethers as thou, who are ready enough with valiant words while the danger is still afar off, but whose bones melt like wax when it is at hand. Wah!” he fingered the knife in his breast, “I have a mind to strike thee dead!”

As the Babu grovelled in abject terror at the feet of the menacing priest, Crowther half rose, expecting murder to be done before his eyes. But, controlling himself, with a gesture of contempt Shādanand continued:

“’Tis no question of ‘perchance,’ faint-hearted one. Yea success is made certain, since Lakshmi, after four-score years of exile, once more smiles upon her children. Even now they secretly gather in the jungle, awaiting my return for the sign I have promised them. Ai,” he stroked his chin reflectively, and a malicious smile played about the corners of his mouth, “and thou also shalt be there to see it. A motor-gharry awaits me: we will journey thither together, and whilst thou trembleth in the whispering jungle, I will regain the temple by the secret way. Come, ’twere well we tarried no longer.”

The prospect of being dumped down alone—or, at best, amid a ring of invisible prying eyes—in the rustling jungle at night evidently made no appeal to the “irresistible lady-killer” from Bloomsbury, and Crowther nearly laughed aloud at the sight of his consternation. His eyeballs seemed to bulge from his head like the pegs of an ebony hat-stand, while his complexion suggested weak coffee to which milk has been generously added. But the problematical peril of the distant forest paled into insignificance before the very real and present danger of the knife-gripping priest, and, with his knees knocking together, the babu obediently followed his master.

The two birds of ill omen had hardly flitted out of earshot along the verandah, before Crowther silently rose, and with a sigh of relief stretched his cramped and aching muscles. Swift thought and action were once more needed, and for a moment he stood in perplexity as to the first step to be taken. That the picnic party were at that moment rushing all unconsciously into grave peril was now certain; already they were several miles along the road, and it was too late to stop them. The Police Officer reflected with profanity that half of them were unarmed men and the other half women, and that—here he swore aloud—one of the latter was Pamela. That only a few minutes ago she had “turned him down” in no way lessened his great love for the girl and his aching anxiety for her safety. Indeed, if anything, both were intensified by her waywardness; for, with the sympathy of an unselfish passion, he understood that it was dictated solely by a panic-stricken solicitude for her beloved guardians, and he not only forgave but applauded it.

And all the time, as subconsciously as the ceaseless note of the coppersmith bird is heard by those long familiar with it, a cryptic phrase of Shādanand’s kept hammering in his brain. “The goddess will veil her face that we may strike unseen—the goddess will veil——”

Clapping his hand to his forehead, Crowther once more swore, though he was not over-addicted to the habit. “Quem Jupiter vult perdere,” he muttered: “Great Scot, what prize idiots we all are!” For, now that he had a moment’s leisure to think, the full significance of the words suddenly struck him: the curious lapse of memory on the part of so many—though in some cases it was doubtless ignorance—so impressed him that he registered a vow to undergo at the earliest possible opportunity a course of Pelmanism.

In a flash he decided on his line of action. On Mrs. Hastings’ writing-table stood a telephone—an installation designed to avoid the use of her husband’s instrument and the frequent invasion of his privacy, and the awkwardness of which, in the event of visitors, was obviated by the simple method of removing the receiver. Crowther blessed his hostess’s unconscious forethought. Darting across the room, he picked up the mouthpiece and called the exchange.

“Deputy Commissioner of Police speaking,” he announced authoritatively. “I want the Secretariat at once . . . yes, yes, the Secretariat—chello!” Keeping the receiver to his ear with one hand, he fumbled sacrilegiously with the other amongst the feminine litter with which the table was strewn. “Where’s that damned calendar got to?” he muttered impatiently: “I’ll swear I saw it—ah, here it is!” He held it close before his eyes in the fast dying light, blowing the pages apart till he came to the month of April. For a long minute and with increasing difficulty he peered at the footnotes to the page, and, having found what he sought, flung the book down again with exasperation. “By Gad, the swine are right,” he exclaimed, “and we’ve clean forgotten all about it! We deserve——”

A voice spoke through the telephone. “Yes,” he answered, “that the Secretariat? . . . Right: who am I talking to? . . . Oh, good man, Bingham—look here. . . . What? . . . Yes, Crowther—Jim Crowther, got it? Well look here, there isn’t a second to lose—what? . . . I can’t hear you. . . . No, I don’t know what the betting is on ‘Apple Dumpling,’ and, what’s more, I don’t care a damn! . . . Yes, that’s what I said, a damn. For Heaven’s sake listen, man, it’s a matter of life and death! The Judge and his party are at a picnic in the Thana jungle to-night, and they mean to scupper him. . . . What? . . . No, his party don’t mean to, you silly ass—the natives. You must send out a strong detachment of troops by the mail train, and have it stopped at Thana. Are you listening? . . . No, I can’t take my own fellows: every mother’s son of ’em is wanted in the city. But I’m going to motor out now myself with arms and ammunition. For God’s sake don’t miss the mail—it’ll be pitch dark at ten, remember. . . . Yes? . . . I know it’s full moon, but like everyone else you’ve forgotten—damn! They’ve rung me off! “

He angrily replaced the receiver and turned to go. But his keen sight and hearing instantly detected a couple of trifles an untrained observer would doubtless have failed to notice, and once more he stood, silent and motionless, in deep thought. His carefully laid plan must have an alternative: he realized that the original one would now probably be frustrated. For the cane chicks were trembling in the sultry stillness as though stirred by draught, and, like the rub of fingers blotting a letter, the sound of naked feet shuffling their owners into hiding came from the adjacent room on the one hand and from the verandah on the other.

In a word, Crowther realized that his appeal for the troops had been overheard by the listening servants, most of whom beyond doubt understood English. With the uncanny speed and secrecy by which information is conveyed vast distances by the natives of India, the news would be in the possession of the organizers of the rising almost as soon as if it had been telegraphed. That effective measures would instantly be taken to prevent the arrival of the soldiers Crowther never questioned for a moment, and he hurriedly cast about in his mind for the counter-move. But he had already been through a severe strain, and his brain was further handicapped by the pressing need for haste. For the first time in his adventurous career the Police Officer felt the cold breath of panic, for on the nimbleness of his wits hung the fate of the woman he loved better than life itself. And then his eye fell, carelessly at first, on an object lying on a chair just within the room. It was the Maharajah’s riding-cane, laid there on his entrance and forgotten on his departure, and with the realization of its ownership, Crowther saw in a flash the chance for which he had been seeking. Lighting one of the candles referred to by Pamela, he scribbled a note, addressed it, carefully sealed it with a stick of wax from the tray before him, and dropped it into his pocket. Then—to quote the Apocalypse—“full of eyes behind and before,” he crossed the garden, regained the car he had left standing outside the gates, and presently drove off into the newly fallen night.

Almost before he had changed on to top speed, the stealthy, whispering group of natives were back again on the verandah. The khitmagar and one of the hamals, it was true, were by this time unpacking baskets in Thana jungle, twenty miles away. But their places were more than filled by truants from the neighbouring bungalows, the movements and utterances of the omniscient Police Sahib being matters of absorbing interest to every budmash in Bombay.

“Of a truth the gods are on our side, brother,” whispered the mali triumphantly to one of the visitors. “For the Judge-Sahib, with many others of the sahib-logue, has gone to their dinner-of-fools in the jungle, and none are like to return.”

His white teeth gleamed in the darkness as, with true dramatic instinct, he paused to stimulate curiosity. The suggested question was not long in coming.

“Because Lakshmi herself hath ordained it,” he replied impressively. “Lo, word hath but now been brought me from the temple that to-night will the sign be given!”

“It is true talk,” confirmed a neighbouring syce laconically.

The mali felt that his own importance as the alleged confidant of the temple was cheapened by the implied knowledge of the syce, at whom he instantly hurled an opprobrious epithet. In the hubbub that followed the telephone bell rang, and the khansamah commanded silence.

“I myself will see to this matter,” he said importantly. “Many times have I thus commanded fish and other household needs to be sent by order of the Memsahib.”

With the leisureliness of the Orient he strode across to the instrument, and, unhooking the receiver, stopped the impatiently ringing bell.

“Crowther speaking,” he lied, with a laughable mimicry of that officer’s curt tones. But he was careful to commit himself no further, and, having listened to the message, he replaced the receiver in silence.

“Our people have derailed the line,” he announced with triumph, turning to the group who had crowded into the room upon his heels. “Also have they secretly tampered with the vitals of all the sircar’s burra motor-lorries: much time, declareth the Secretariat Sahib, will be needed to undo the mischief. Brothers, the soldier-folk cannot reach Thana to-night!”

The statement was received at first with the usual impassiveness of the East. But as its full significance dawned upon the group, their long pent-up fanaticism burst its bounds, and fierce cries of “Lakshmi ki jai! Lakshmi ki jai!” broke upon the stillness of the night. The pressing need for caution no longer existed. Had not the gods smitten the sahibs with madness? Was not the Judge-Sahib himself even now making merry in the jungle, where their brothers awaited the signal with sharpened knives? The killing—compared with which the Great Killing of their grandsires’ time was as the play of children—would beyond doubt begin that night. Murder was in the air: and, rushing on to the verandah, the group gazed upwards, the whites of their eyeballs and their parted teeth gleaming in the darkness, eagerly seeking—as millions of their brothers were seeking elsewhere—for the promised sign upon the starlit heavens.

Chapter XVIII

A Dinner-of-Fools

Midway between the eastern horizon and the zenith, like a paper lantern poised above the jungle, the great orange moon of India—tonight at the full—bathed the earth in a flood of melancholy beauty. Yet the beauty, as curmudgeons are wont to remind us when decrying feminine loveliness, was but skin deep: for the primeval forest, wrapped in mystery and sinister suggestion even at noonday, becomes by night a theatre of death, wherein the creatures of the jungle play Nature’s immemorial tragedy—the Survival of the Fittest.

Upon a small clearing not far from the village of Thana the moonlight fell with a brilliance that was intensified by the inky gloom beneath the encircling trees. The sun-baked earth was chequered by a network of shadows cast by neighbouring boughs, and, so airless was the night, the tracery seemed to be painted on the ground as upon a stage cloth. A portion of the open space was occupied by a rectangular enclosure, stone-paved and surrounded by a wall some nine or ten feet high; and from the centre of this courtyard there loomed against the moonlit background the pillars and roof of an ancient Hindu temple. The massive wooden gates of the forecourt were set wide open, affording a glimpse of the wide flight of steps leading up to the shrine itself and of the shadowy interior beyond. The latter was illuminated by a solitary red lamp, its rays throwing into lurid relief the same brass idol which, for the past eighty years, had sat beneath the gallery of an English manor-house.

On the chequered space before the temple gates, though at a respectful distance from them, squatted a whispering, patiently waiting native crowd. In their midst, to the accompaniment of a wild minor chant, the throbbing of a tom-tom and the rhythmical clapping of hands, half a dozen youths were dancing round a small brass chatti or jar set on the ground and containing water from the sacred Ganges. But their performance seemed to hold small interest for the onlookers, whose faces for the most part were turned eagerly upwards to the sky—an attitude they would doubtless have maintained for hours, had not their attention been suddenly diverted to the temple. For, from its dim recesses there presently emerged, with an eerie silence and stealthiness that suggested a ghost, the tall draped figure of Shādanand Swami, the high priest.

A stir of expectancy ran through the crowd as he descended the steps, slowly stalked across the forecourt, and, halting in a patch of bright moonlight between the gateposts, haughtily surveyed them with eyes still slightly glazed by the opium, from the effects of which he had but that day awakened. Waiting till the chant had died away and the dancers had squatted beside their brothers, he raised his arm, and in even, expressionless tones addressed them.

“Lo, the goddess hath spoken! Not for naught did I cross the black water to restore her to her own again: not for naught have I lain these many days at her feet fasting, tasting only the blessed drug, the sleep-giver. By her sacred cobra Lakshmi hath spoken.”

Like a field of poppies rippled by a breeze the turbans of the crowd bent towards him in a simultaneous wave of excitement.

“The sign, Holy One,” they cried, “the sign?”

“Listen, then. Thrice did the snake thrust his head in yon direction where the sahib-logue make merry at their dinner-of-fools. Whereupon, as I lay bound by the sleep-drug, the sacred lamp, being long untended, went out.”

A murmur of dismay ran through the audience, but the priest checked it with an imperious gesture of the hand.

“Nay,” he went on laconically, “’twas part of the sign, for not till then did the snake strike. Hear now the interpretation. The cobra means death, the sacred lamp the light of the full moon yonder. Because, as all men know, the goddess of good fortune loves not to look upon death, her sister, the moon goddess, will presently put out her lamp. Then, yet not till then, shall ye strike at the sahib-logue.”

For a moment the cryptic reference to the moon, at which all faces were momentarily turned, bewildered them. Then the long smouldering embers of fanaticism and lust for murder were suddenly fanned into flame by his last words, and the crowd leaped to their feet. A score of brandished blades gleamed here and there in the moonlight, and the outbreak of hoarse murmur suggested the growls of caged beasts ravenously awaiting their food.

“Ai, ai, we obey the sign, Holy One!”

But as the assurance died away in a low rumble, the thin nasal voice of a Brahmin woman fell upon the silence of the night.

“Yet spare at least the Memsahibs,” she wailed, “I would not have ye harm them. For when aforetime I served the Hastings Memsahib as ayah, did she not tend my little son as he lay wasted of the burning sickness?”

“Ai, foolish one, and thy son died.”

The jeering reminder from the back of the crowd raised a general laugh, and the bereaved mother, covering her face with her hands, turned away.

“Heed her not,” sneered Shādanand. “Of what value are the screech of a parrot, a basket at the well, or the words of a woman? See that ye do your work well—let none escape. So shall ye acquire merit.”

Lakshmi ki jai! Lakshmi ki jai!”

“H’st! Choop, fools! Does the cat mew as it watches for the mouse? Back to your brothers in the jungle, who even now draw a ring of steel about the unsuspecting sahib-logue.”

With the stealth of the animal quoted by Shādanand the crowd vanished into the surrounding shadows. The last vestige of loin-cloth and turban had barely been swallowed up by the jungle when the approaching cackle of Mrs. Little was heard, and a moment later she and the Judge strolled into the clearing. The picnic meal—derisively termed by the natives a “dinner-of-fools”— was over, and the party were idly strolling about in quest of an hour’s further amusement before returning to the city.

“Hullo! Why, the place is quite deserted!” exclaimed the lady querulously. “I hoped we should find a tamasha going on at the temple. You heard the shouting a moment ago and tom-toms while we were at supper, surely?”

The Judge admitted that he thought he had, adding cautiously that one could never legislate for India.

“Oh, Tony, how delicious!” she cried, clapping her hands in pretended ecstasy. “You really think the temple’s haunted? Oh, what’s that?”

With a shrill squeal of very genuine fright, she clutched his arm as a native woman furtively glided out of the shadows.

“I praying the Memsahibs go home quick,” whispered the latter hurriedly, with low salaams. “Jungle very bad place to-night.”

“Oh, it’s only one of those horrid natives,” shuddered Mrs. Little, obviously relieved, “they give me the creeps. Send her away, Tony.”

Hut jao, chello!” growled the Judge obediently: “memsahib nai muneta.”

“Huzoor! Huzoor!” persisted the woman, holding out her arms appealingly. Then, seeing that it was useless, she desisted, and, muttering, “Truly it is more profit to draw water in a basket than to talk wisdom to a fool! I would have warned them,” slowly turned and disappeared into the jungle.

Sauntering along in a careless group, their laughter and badinage emphasizing the sinister silence around them, the rest of the party began to arrive in the clearing. All seemed to have gravitated by mutual consent towards the temple, though the Biddulphs were probably the only two for whom it held any special interest: and with his pince-nez poised characteristically between finger and thumb, and still wearing his new solar topee as though fearful of moonstroke, the Member of Parliament, a length ahead of the others, trotted eagerly up to the gateway, and with bird-like movements peered into the empty courtyard beyond. He was followed in more leisurely fashion by Miss Octavia and Rampling.

“Yes, indeed,” the former was purring, “I shall return to my sewing parties at Bullington with renewed zeal. As you say, Mr. Rampling, the lack of adequate clothing strikes one immediately. I positively had to shut my eyes the whole way from the Taj Mahal Hotel to-day.”

“I’m glad I didn’t,” boomed the temperance orator with fervour. He had had just enough champagne to make his legs a worry to him. “The comeliness of the younger women, I confess, was a pleasant surprise to me.”

With a chill stare of reproof, which should have sobered him but didn’t, Miss Octavia made haste to change the topic.

“How exquisite this Indian moonlight is!” she observed stiffly. “It’s like fairyland.”

“Where every prospick pleases and man alone is vile,” leered her companion. “Aha, our poet knew better than to include the ladies in that indictment! But excuse me.”

With a roguish kiss of the hand, which left the outraged spinster speechless, he lurched across the intervening space, cannoned against Biddulph in the gateway, and entered the temple courtyard. The Judge turned from an acrimonious discussion on tea with Mrs. Little in time to see him.

“Here, hi! You, sir!” he called, “you can’t go in there, you know.”

Rampling paused, a thought unsteadily, and regarded him with a glassy stare.

“Why not?” he demanded truculently.

“Because there’ll be a thundering row if you do.”

“Am I right in supposing this a place of public worship?” mouthed the trespasser, with laboured distinctness.

“Quite. But you’re not one of the public they cater for.”

Biddulph took up the cudgels on behalf of his protégé. “We are members, I believe, Anthony, of the great British public who rule India?” he put in pompously.

He was curtly reminded that the British public ruled by respecting India’s prejudices, and that this was one of them.

“I stand on a higher plane,” announced Rampling, as he swayed slightly on the lowest of the flight of steps. “I claim to enter their temple as a Man and a Brother.”

“You may believe in that patronizing doctrine; they don’t,” retorted the Judge contemptuously.

As his niece would have expressed it, this heresy completely put the wind up Uncle Ben. “Let me tell you, Anthony,” he shouted angrily, “that I regard it as very questionable taste to raise these artificial barriers between East and West.”

“Then the taste of Providence must be rotten,” laughed his brother-in-law profanely. “It has set a whole hemisphere and many centuries between them.”

Fortunately perhaps for the Judge the argument, which was fast degenerating into a quarrel, was at this point brought to an end by the cause of all the trouble himself. For, swaying like a run-down top, the rotund figure of Rampling slowly collapsed; and, huddled at the base of the flight, his fat hands sprawled on two successive steps as though he were playing the organ, the temperance orator gently sank into stertorous unconsciousness.

“I’m afraid the poor man’s got a touch of the sun,” confided Miss Octavia anxiously to her sister. “He said a most extraordinary thing to me just now.”

“Then my khitmagar had better pack up the rest of the sun before he says anything worse,” opined Mrs. Hastings with decision. “I’ll go and see about it at once.”

“By the way”—Miss Octavia laid a detaining hand on her arm—“I thought it was arranged that Pamela should come in the police car with Mr. Crowther? What’s the matter with the child? She looks miserable.”

“She won’t tell me—you may be more successful,” sighed the other, a tinge of jealousy in her voice. “India’s cruel to us women. We lose touch with our own children: it’s one of the many tragedies that make up the price of empire.”

“Perhaps one scarcely realizes its meaning at Home,” mused Miss Octavia slowly.

“No. At Home this is looked on as the Land of a Good Time for women. It’s one of the many fallacies about India.”

For a moment the kindly spinster was silent. Then, with a hint of tears in her eyes, she turned to her sister.

“I’m more than ever convinced that Benjamin and I did well to come out,” she said. “It’s a more puzzling country than I realized.”

“And the longer you live in it, dear,” smiled Mrs. Hastings, “the more puzzled you’ll be. We all are.”

One of the puzzles confronted her a moment later when, in quest of the khitmagar, she reached the lately abandoned supper table that had been set within the fringe of trees on the border of the clearing. For, not only had no attempt yet been made to repack the crockery and silver, but of khitmagar or any other servant no trace or sound remained. Their sudden disappearance and silence disquieted her, and she was still pondering the cause and whether she should recall them when the laughing voice of Crowther sounded at her shoulder.

“A thousand apologies, Mrs. Hastings! Bit of a bobbery in the city just as I started. It’s quieted down—for the moment.”

She turned and looked at him, and instantly realized that the situation was far graver than his light-hearted words suggested. Despite his bantering smile and careless, debonair manner, he was appreciably more jaded and anxious than he had been a couple of hours earlier on Malabar Hill. He was dusty and dishevelled, though habitually immaculate in dress and person, and he carried a large haversack which seemed to be bulging with the business ends of golf clubs.

“Better late than never,” she said quietly, adding, with a little grimace at the table, “I’m afraid we’ve finished all the supper, though.”

“But not all the whisky, thank Heaven!” In response to her smile he poured himself out a stiff peg, and she decided that he looked as if he needed it.

“I’m thankful Anthony is out here for a few hours,” she exclaimed. “Could anything be more peaceful than this?”

“The spell of the jungle, what? I’m sure you’re not taken in by its wiles, Mrs. Hastings.”

The significance of the words was not lost on her. “You think?” she began.

“Never—according to Mrs. Little,” he laughed. “By the by, bit hysterical at times, isn’t she?”

“I believe she has her moments of self-control.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “She’ll need ’em to-night. Look here, Mrs. Hastings,” he suddenly became grave, “I want you to watch her—closely. One of her girlish squeals now might break the spell of the jungle for us in more senses than one.”

With a perfect faith in the courage and self-restraint of the woman he was addressing, he told her in half a dozen sentences of the conversation he had overheard between Shādanand and the babu, of the confirmation of the calendar, of the measures he had taken with his chief for the safety of the party in the jungle. “Nothing’ll happen till the eclipse begins in half an hour’s time,” he concluded, “then the band will play. We can’t get back—the cars have gone. Don’t look round: we’re being watched.” He casually lit a cigarette. “Everything depends on our appearing to suspect nothing till the troops come.”

“Thank God they are coming!” she murmured.

“Yes, but ‘through the usual official channels,’” he

laughed sceptically, “and that ain’t exactly a mill race you know.”

Surely, she said, knowing all this it was sheer madness to let them come there.

He didn’t know, he reminded her, till it was too late to stop them. “Then I came along as soon as the worst of the riot in the city was over. With a Judge of the High Court on the loose in the jungle the Chief thought it as well to have at least one bobby on the spot. You’re not afraid of this, I know”—with the dexterity of a conjurer he had slipped a revolver from his haversack beneath the light cloak she was wearing—“all six chambers are loaded, but if the worst comes to the worst,” he looked away from her, “you must keep one in reserve, Mrs. Hastings.”

She nodded comprehendingly. “And Pamela?” she whispered.

“Perhaps you’d better keep two in reserve,” he said bitterly: “I’m afraid she wouldn’t even take the loan of a revolver from me just now.”

“Jim,” she laid her hand lightly on his shoulder, “Pamela has told me, and, though there are many difficulties in the way, I need scarcely tell you it has made me very happy. I know there has been a misunderstanding, but she won’t even tell me what happened this afternoon. She implied that the secret was yours.”

“It’s neither hers nor mine. It’s the state’s.”

“Then forgive me for asking, though what Pamela can possibly have to do with official secrets——”

He told her—in the fewest possible words and with a watchful though seemingly careless eye ever on the jungle around them. That the Biddulphs had been the ready dupes of infinitely more formidable plotters in the background he admitted: that their actions amounted to high treason he did not disguise from her. At first she absolutely refused to believe it. But as the sinister facts began to marshal themselves in her well-balanced brain, the terrible truth overwhelmed her, and it needed all her self-control to keep her agitation within bounds.

“Oh, it’s too horrible to think of!” she exclaimed piteously. “Poor foolish old dears! What is it that prompts people with no knowledge of explosives to tamper with a great magazine like India?”

“The question is, what am I to do?” said Crowther gravely.

Her answer was unhesitating. “Whatever else you do, you must tell Anthony.”

“I knew you’d say that. Pamela thinks otherwise.”

“She may say so, but Pamela’s too loyal to duty herself not to realize you’ve no alternative. It’s a horrible business, and goodness knows poor Anthony has worries enough already. He must be told, all the same.”

Crowther shook his head with conviction. “She would never forgive me,” he said.

“She would never respect you if you were weak,” declared her mother. “Leave her to me, and talk things over with the Judge. But at all costs he must be told, Jim.”

“Then that settles it,” he said, throwing away his cigarette. “And now I think it would be wiser to join the others.”

Chapter XIX


The Judge meanwhile had unobtrusively shepherded the rest of the party into a more or less compact group before the temple gates. Like Crowther he had not anticipated serious trouble before the following Friday, the date known by the authorities to have been secretly fixed for a general rising. But the warning of the native woman, so contemptuously derided by Mrs. Little, had made him uneasy: the more he thought of it the less he liked it, and he decided to play for safety. His task, like that of a shepherd without a dog, had been no light one. His flock, in common with all other sheep, animal and spiritual, had shown a tendency to stray, and his somewhat peremptory efforts to restrain them had roused the resentment of that doughty champion of liberty, Benjamin Biddulph, M.P.

“My dear Anthony,” he fumed, “I’m ready to admit I’ve not been in India as long as you have. But twelve hours have amply sufficed to convince me that all this talk of er—unconstitutional agitation is absurd, utterly absurd.”

The Judge expressed the polite hope that his brother-in-law would be of the same opinion at the end of the next twelve.

“When once I’ve formed an opinion,” rejoined the M.P. pompously, “I’m not in the habit of changing it. I really must remind you that this is not a Sunday-school treat. First you object to my friend Rampling entering a place of public worship, now you won’t let me go and fetch the cigar-case I left on the supper table.”

“Try one of these cheroots, sir,” put in Crowther, producing his own case. “I think you’ll like ’em—they’re some the Maharajah gave me.”

“If I like them half as much as I like him,” declared Biddulph, taking one, “I shall be very grateful to you. Yes,” he went on, lighting up, “on the whole I’m quite pleased with India.”

Nicholson, grinning at his elbow, affirmed with emphasis that he was not. “I think it’s a rotten hole,” he said. “I pay my bearer three rupees extra a month to apologize for his beastly country every morning when he wakes me.”

Before Biddulph could recover his speech at this outrage on Indian democracy he was to receive a further shock from another and quite unexpected quarter. Rampling, who had awakened from his nap like a fractious child, had now rejoined the party, and was staring at the shadowy jungle with apprehension.

“Leftenant Nicholson is quite right,” he snorted: “it’s a damnable country.”

“Mr. Rampling!” Biddulph found it difficult to believe the evidence of his ears. Had he really heard the devoted—well, yes, and highly salaried—secretary of the S.E.I. damn India? The enunciation of such a heresy again deprived him of speech, and the indignant glare that took its place affected the heretic no more than the frozen stare of Miss Octavia had done when he said that other “extraordinary thing” half an hour earlier.

“I don’t care,” he insisted petulantly, “it is. I want to go home. It’s getting curiously dark, and this heathen grove would seem to be haunted.”

“Rats!” laughed Commander Bell.

“No, sir, not rats—evil spirits. I can see——”

“For Heaven’s sake keep the fool quiet someone,” snapped Crowther under his breath, as he moved swiftly yet unobtrusively from Bell to Nicholson, from Nicholson to the Judge. Like bewildered members of an audience through which the smiling conjurer has just passed, each of the three men found himself in possession of an object he had lacked a moment before: and it is doubtful whether the conventional white rabbit would have startled them more than the sudden acquisition of the revolvers now gripped by their tense fingers. With the realization of its meaning each acted in characteristic fashion. The prospect of a scrimmage was received by the young soldier with pantomimic transports of delight: the Commander grinned with the quiet satisfaction of the more matured fighting man; while the Judge, mindful of the peril to his wife and daughter, examined the chambers of his weapon with a grimness that boded ill to any six budmashes who should rashly try conclusions with him.

“There’s going to be a shindy, sir,” whispered Crowther hurriedly. “Better get the women quietly inside the gates—we must hold the courtyard till help comes. I’ve sent for it.”

“Right. Where’s Pamela?” asked the Judge, casting his eye over the group.

“Over there among the trees. I’ll bring her along if you’ll see to the others.”

Mr. Justice Hastings set himself to see to them, and for an appreciable period with indifferent success. For the moon by this time had swung clear of the tree-tops, and her peculiar appearance had attracted the attention of the party. The perfect orb of the satellite, which had pushed itself over the horizon a couple of hours or so earlier, now hung in the higher eastern sky like a glorified saffron bun, a large mouthful bitten out of it by a celestial giant. To a hundred fanatics watching with upturned, awe-stricken eyes in the silent jungle it was the beginning of the promised sign upon the heavens for which they had so long been looking. When that mysterious dark veil had been completely drawn over the face of the moon goddess, when the last glimmer of golden lamplight had vanished, the moment would have arrived for the great killing of the sahibs who, as they had been taught to believe, were grievously oppressing them. As the shadow slowly grew, the edge of many a knife blade was furtively fingered, and many a muttered declaration ran from mouth to mouth that of a truth the gods were just.

It was Nicholson who had first drawn the attention of the others to the phenomenon.

“I swear I’m sober,” he announced, staring up at the sky, “but there’s something jolly wrong with me or the moon, I dunno which.”

“Now you mention it, it’s appearance does seem a little odd,” agreed Biddulph. “Why, God bless my soul,” he turned excitedly to the others, “it’s the night of the eclipse, of course! What on earth have we all been thinking about?”

“Astronomy spelt with a G,” laughed the Judge cynically. “Supper, in fact.”

“Well, it’s just as well some of us did think of it,” cackled Mrs. Little, “or you’d have been a hungry bear as well as a cross one. Anyhow, I call it quite nice of the moon to choose the night of our picnic for an eclipse, don’t you, Mr. Biddulph?”

“A most interesting phenomenon,” he declared. “I’ll get my friend Rampling to explain it to us.”

Mrs. Little screamed her delight at the prospect of sitting at the feet of Gamaliel. “Or should it be Galileo, Mr. Rampling?” she added archly.

“Gamaleo, dear lady, for choice. Yes, certainly Gamaleo,” he mouthed. Clearing his throat, and in his best platform manner, he was beginning to explain—as if to a Sunday-school class—that the phenomenon they were witnessing “might be pleasingly demonstrated by the simple media of an orange, a pea and a candle,” when Georgie Little’s bored glance chanced to fall on a patch of undergrowth newly touched by the moonlight. Mrs. Hastings, who in accordance with Crowther’s suggestion had been narrowly watching her, saw her slowly stiffen in an extremity of terror, and, slightly turning her own head in the direction of the other’s petrified gaze, she was in time to catch a glimpse of a native, a knife between his teeth, peering at them through the brushwood. Mrs. Little’s mouth was slowly opening: in another moment one of her piercing screams would awake the jungle and let loose an orgy of murder appalling to contemplate. Marion Hastings realized the need for instant action. Quietly lifting the wrap hanging on the other woman’s arm, she placed it with a well simulated air of solicitude over its owner’s shoulders.

“I insist on your putting this on, dear,” she smiled: “with this heavy dew you’ll be getting a touch of fever.” As she spoke she tightly drew a fold of the scarf over the wearer’s mouth, and, still smiling, whispered in her ear, “All our lives depend upon your silence. If you scream or struggle, I shall shoot you instantly with this.”

Seeing the revolver barrel peeping from beneath her enemy’s cloak, Georgie Little allowed herself to be led limply into the temple courtyard, whither the Judge had signalled his wife to take her. He had witnessed the episode with an increased disgust for one woman and a newly awakened admiration for the other, and his conscience pricked him sorely.

“Bravo, Marion!” he said quietly, “bravo!”

His wife glanced up at him, a gleam of humour in her beautiful eyes.

“Perhaps I’m not quite so scared of a revolver as you imagined, Tony,” she laughed softly.

Crowther meanwhile had gone in quest of Pamela. The diffidence he would have felt in approaching her after his recent rebuff had now vanished: the peril in which he knew her to be involved outweighed all considerations of personal dignity. But to his surprise no less than to his relief the girl turned to meet him with every appearance of welcome, though he noted with concern the pallor of her face in the sickly moonlight and the agitation she was obviously striving to keep under control.

“What is it, Pamela?” he exclaimed. “You’re as white as a ghost, dear.”

She seized his arm in a tacit claim on his protection which he found very comforting. “Oh, Jim,” she cried, “I was standing over there watching the eclipse when that awful Mr. Mookerjee suddenly came up behind me.”

“Mookerjee!” Crowther swore softly, though very fervently, as he protectingly caressed the hand upon his sleeve.

“Yes, he had a motor waiting in the road. He tried to make me go back with him—said the troops weren’t coming and we should all be killed. What did he mean?”

“The swine! What does he know about the troops?”

“Oh, d’you think it’s true?” The clasp tightened on his arm. “I was too terrified to hear all he said—something about the line being destroyed and the motor transport useless.”

“Then they’ve done us!” he muttered, more to himself than to her. “It’ll take the troops six hours at least to march it.”

“Jim! What is it? What’s going to happen?”

He hesitated. “Whatever happens,” he answered gravely, “I know you at least will play the Englishwoman, Pamela.”

She disengaged her hand from his arm. “You don’t imagine any of us would play the coward?” she said stiffly. “Oh, Jim, it’s not—another Mutiny?”

“God forbid it should come to that: anyhow, it’s bad enough. Pamela, I know you’re angry with me, dear, but promise to do whatever I may tell you to-night.”

“Very well.” Once more she laid her hand appealingly on his sleeve. “Jim?”


“You’ll give me that scrap of paper now, won’t you?”

In spite of himself Crowther could not refrain from laughing. “Oh, Pamela!” he said.

“But think how much blacker all this will make it against poor Uncle Ben,” she insisted. “Jim, you must.”

He made a little gesture of despair. “You know I can’t,” he answered. “What’s more, you’d despise me if I did.”

“I shall hate you if you don’t,” she retorted, and with tears of hot resentment in her eyes she suddenly turned from him and joined the rest of the party in the courtyard.

At all events, within its gates she was safe for the moment, reflected Crowther, as he moodily followed her. The Judge had at last persuaded Biddulph, Rampling and the ladies—though with no little difficulty, the proposition being less obvious than insistent—that they could see the eclipse better from the courtyard than from outside. The remaining three men, their revolvers grasped within their pockets or behind their backs, were carelessly chatting in a seemingly accidental group before the open gateway: and as the Police Officer joined them, the gravity of the situation with five white women to be safeguarded from the fury of Oriental fanaticism struck him like a cold douche, and he heartily cursed those mad mullahs of his own race—dupes of alien plotters though he knew them to be—who had been largely instrumental in bringing it about.

Nor was he the only one whose holiday mood was being eclipsed as surely as the satellite above them. Indeed the whole party, those unconscious of their danger no less than the remainder, were gradually succumbing to the sinister spell of the hour and of their environment. Three-quarters of the moon’s face had by this time become obscured, and the sickly twilight shed by the remnant was subtly different in character from that produced by the normal crescent. There was something uncanny in it, a suggestion of the supernatural, and beneath its ghostly illumination the tangle of woodland looked unearthly. A muffled, rhythmical throbbing of tom-toms, which might have been the heart-beats of the sleeping jungle, added its note of menace—especially for those who knew of the pulsing, invisible life by which they were surrounded: and more than one of them, finding the tension unbearable, prayed that the moment for action might come quickly ere their nerves betrayed them.

It was not long in coming. As stealthily as it had appeared before, the towering white-robed figure of Shādanand Swami—its saffron hue was undistinguishable in the moonlight—suddenly loomed up against the lurid glow of the lamp behind him. For a moment he stood on the brink of the topmost step, watching—with God knows what sombre thoughts—the little group of sahibs clustered about the gateway. Then, swiftly raising his arms, he seized the bell-rope hanging above his head, and clanged out a deafening tocsin on the great bronze bell of the temple.

The effect was terrifying. The reverberations of the bell were still rolling about the leafy caverns of the jungle, when the softly pulsing tom-toms burst into furious thunder, and the twilit, seemingly empty forest gleamed in every direction with steel and with the murderous eyes of fanatical India. Involuntarily the startled women in the courtyard clutched each other, and Mrs. Little, reckless of the threatened bullet, shrieked aloud. But even her piercing voice was scarcely audible above the din of wood and metal, and the need for silence being at an end, Mrs. Hastings paid no further heed to her. The four men outside, their revolvers levelled at the surrounding jungle, fell back upon the gateway, as the panther-like forms of the dusky crowd emerged from the cover of the trees and prepared to spring.

But another fanaticism had been awakened, the equally dangerous fanaticism of the West. Maddened by unaccustomed wine, by the terror of the situation and by the sight of priest and idol, the religious mania of Rampling burst into flame. With a shriek of “Down with the priest of Baal! Down with the Accursed Thing!” he dashed across the courtyard, up the steps of the temple, cannoned violently against Shādanand, and before the latter or anyone else could stop him, frantically tugged at the idol till it overbalanced and crashed from the altar on to the pavement beneath. The impetus of the fall carried it to the brink of the steps, down which it bumped with a clatter and clang of metal, and, continuing its roll down the inclined plane to the centre of the courtyard, finally came to rest at the feet of Pamela.

A moment of tense, dismayed silence followed. Before the avalanche of the idol the ladies had involuntarily recoiled, leaving Pamela transfixed with all her inherited Anglo-Indian horror at such an act of sacrilege, and staring with growing bewilderment at the familiar image before her. The native crowd, appalled at the sight of the fallen idol, and scarcely yet realizing what had happened, paused in the very act of rising for the rush, every eye riveted on the figure of the English girl bending over their outraged goddess.

“Why, it’s Lakshmi!” she wailed, “my own dear Lakshmi from Dullington. Look, here’s the very scratch I accidentally gave her arm with a hatpin when I was doing pooja! How on earth did she get here?” From force of habit, though quite subconsciously, she salaamed the Luck of Dullington, and scores of gleaming eyes noted the obvious sincerity of the action. “How dared you do it?” she cried, turning with suppressed fury on Rampling. And then, as Shādanand came stalking across the courtyard, she impulsively put her hand on his sleeve. “Oh, please put her back,” she sobbed, overwrought by the events of the past few hours. “He was mad! Mad!”

The priest stooped, and, as he had done once before in the hall at Dullington, lifted the idol with straining muscles and bore it back to its place upon the altar. But ere he went his inscrutable glance rested for a moment on Pamela.

“For this,” he muttered darkly, “thou shalt acquire merit—and thy life.”

The crowd had now had time to grasp the full meaning of the episode. Their temple, their priest, their goddess herself had been desecrated before their eyes by one of the sahibs, and their original lust for murder was inflamed a hundredfold by the outrage. With a howl of pent-up fury they now surged into the open, where the four Englishmen calmly awaited them with levelled revolvers.

“The gates!” shouted Crowther over his shoulder. “Close ’em quick, some of you—they’ll be rushed if you don’t! We’ll slip in at the last moment.”

Flinging himself on one of the heavy pair, both of which had been set back against the wall, Biddulph made a valiant effort to swing it forward. But the task was too much for his strength, and he called to Rampling to help him.

“He’s a conscientious objector—he’s taking cover,” laughed Mrs. Hastings in clear ringing tones. “Come along, Pamela—Dolly!”

She glanced contemptuously at one of the stone benches and the collapsed heap of millinery thereon that had hitherto represented her husband’s ideal of feminine courage. It was obviously wasting time to appeal to Georgie Little. But with the aid of the other four ladies—for Miss Octavia had promptly added her useful weight to the task—Biddulph at last succeeded in closing one of the two gates, and the other had been swung halfway on its hinges when the tall lithe figure of the priest streaked across the courtyard and hurled itself violently against its outer side.

“Here, half-time, José!” shouted Commander Bell joyously: “this is our goal now!” From the tail of his eye the watchful seaman had noted the priest’s manoeuvre, and suddenly wheeling round, and crying, “Keep the crowd back, you fellows,” he seized the Brahmin by the shoulders, and with a well-planted kick sent him sprawling into the middle of the courtyard.

“How’s that, Referee?” he laughed, as the gate slowly swung-to within a foot of the other.

“Well played our side!” answered Crowther over his shoulder. “Time the rest of us slipped in now: youngest first—get a move on, Nicholson!”

“I’m damned if I do—civilians first, every time,” retorted the soldier indignantly.

He was standing nearest the opening, and with a backward heave of his shoulder Crowther sent him staggering through it. The Judge slipped inside after him, and the Police Officer was on the point of following, when the Brahmin woman, who earlier in the evening had vainly tried to warn Mrs. Little, rushed with outflung arms to the front.

Sabha, sabha!” she wailed in a tearful appeal to the crowd. “Spare the Memsahibs—remember the avenging of Cawnpore! Would ye be butchers of women like?”

Before she could finish the sentence half a dozen fists had felled her to the ground. The next instant Crowther had darted to her rescue.

“Back, you swine!” he roared, firing his revolver into them. “Sooar ka butcha! Do you fight women?”

For a moment the crowd recoiled before his sudden onslaught. Till then they had been restrained from attacking the party by the four revolver muzzles confronting them, weapons for which they entertained a wholesome respect. But noting that the other three sahibs had retreated within the courtyard, a considerable number of the fanatics slipped past Crowther and made for the gates.

“Come back, man, come back!” shouted the Judge angrily. “Our own women count first—the gate’ll be rushed in a minute! “

“Then shut it, sir—shut it! I can hold my own: with luck we’ll have help soon—I’ll shin over the wall presently.”

“Come off the range,” bawled the Commander. “How can we shoot with you out there?”

“Shut the gate, then, can’t you? Think of the women—not me. I’ve got to see this one through.”

The first of the fanatics were already crowded round the opening, and their numbers were rapidly increasing. Yes, the women had to be considered, and the men inside were reluctantly beginning to close the gates when Pamela rushed up to them and thrust her arm through the opening.

“You shan’t! You shan’t shut him out!” she cried. “He’ll be killed! Jim! Jim!”

At the same moment a man aimed a blow at him with a knife. But the blade tinkled harmlessly to the ground, as the assailant spun round and slowly collapsed, shot through the head.

“Go back, Pamela, go back!” called Crowther without turning, and as quietly as though he had just bowled an opponent at cricket. “Do as I tell you—you promised!”

With a stifled cry the girl dropped her arm, as her mother put her own round her shoulders and gently drew her away. The gate slowly closed, the ponderous bar fell with a clang into its socket, and in the pale radiance of the loop of silver thread—all that was now visible of the moon—the fanatical crowd closed round the Police Officer with howls of fury and a great brandishing of knives. A moment or two later the earth, completely wrapped in her own shadow, was plunged in profound darkness.

Chapter XX


“See anything of him?”

The Commander, seated on one of the stone benches set at intervals round the courtyard, was making a poor pretence at cleaning his revolver in the dull red glow of the temple lamp. His question was flung—with an assumption of carelessness that betrayed his anxiety—at Nicholson, who, an eye glued to a chink in the gate, was trying to penetrate the twilight beyond.

“Devil a button—it’s difficult to see yet. I can hear one thing, though.”


“The heathen have multiplied considerably. They’ll rush us before long—wonder they haven’t before. Sooner the better, I say.”

He turned savagely from the gate and flung himself down beside Bell. The abandonment of Crowther to his fate seemed to him an act of callous treachery, and the refusal of his seniors to entertain his scheme of a sortie to rescue the Police Officer had infuriated the boy beyond endurance. The Judge, pausing in his occupation of patrolling the walls with cocked revolver, laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Steady, lad!” he said. “Remember, if we had gone to his rescue the gates would have been forced and all the women scuppered—or worse.”

“I know, sir.” The boy sprang to his feet, clenching his fists passionately. “All the same, I feel the meanest skunk on earth for leaving him in the middle of that scrimmage. It was like one fellow playing the match while the rest of the team kept goal.”

“We shan’t keep it much longer,” opined Bell grimly. “There won’t be a dog’s chance once they begin shinning over the wall.”

Six hours had elapsed since the party had first been driven to seek refuge in the courtyard, and the strain and tension of the long night had sorely tried the nerves of the little garrison, especially those of the ladies, who had been penned for greater security within the temple itself. The moon had now set. The period of the total eclipse, short as it was, had seemed an eternity to the beleaguered handful of sahibs crouching beneath the walls: for they never doubted that the latter would be scaled during the few moments of complete darkness and while it was difficult to distinguish the crestline of masonry from the background of misty sky. The loss of Crowther, too, was no light one: for not only had he been, till the closing of the gates, the ruling spirit of the defence, but his absence left one man only—for Rampling was worse than useless—to guard each of the four walls. But even those four revolvers had so far deterred the boldest rioter from venturing his head above the wall: in the knowledge that the troops could not now arrive for some six or seven hours at the earliest, the leaders of the mob had presumably decided that the waiting game was the safer, especially as their numbers continued to be steadily reinforced throughout the night. Yet the assault could not be much longer delayed. Help for the sahibs must come eventually, and the first cool breath of dawn was already whispering its warning in the tree-tops.

Biddulph, more bird-like in his movements than ever, fussily descended the temple steps and approached the three men in the courtyard. To him had been assigned the task of keeping an eye on Shādanand, a formidable enemy within the gates the garrison could well have dispensed with. But with this precaution, and as long as the Brahmin lay wrapped in apparent slumber on the pavement before the shrine, the others felt reasonably secure from any attempt at mischief on his part. The worried expression on Biddulph’s face, however, as he neared them roused their fears.

“You fellows seen anything of the priest?” he asked irritably.

“You haven’t let him slip through your fingers, I hope?” exclaimed the Judge with dismay.

“I haven’t ‘let’ him do anything, Anthony. He was asleep on the steps not a minute ago. I may have nodded myself for a few seconds—I don’t say I didn’t. When I looked up he was gone.”

“Well, he didn’t go over the garden wall, I’ll take my oath to that,” said Nicholson. “We’ve had our eyes glued to the top of it all night.”

The Commander affirmed profanely that there was no other way out. He had “gone the rounds” before shutting the ladies in the temple, and there wasn’t a crevice a mouse could creep through.

“The blighter’s a specialist at the vanishing trick,” laughed the Judge grimly: “done it three times this year already—twice here and once at Dullington.”

“Dullington!” So startled was Biddulph that his pince-nez fell with a tinkle of broken glass on to the flagstones. “My dear Anthony, what are you talking about?”

“Shādanand Swami.”

Hopelessly bewildered, the Member of Parliament dropped upon the bench and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Shādanand Swami!” he feebly echoed. “Do you mean to tell me the fellow I’ve been watching all night, that—that ruffian who tried to murder us by jamming the gates is——?”

“Shādanand Swami,” nodded the Judge maliciously.

“But—but surely you’re mistaken? Octavia and I have been in correspondence with Shādanand Swami for months past. He’s the recognized native leader of—of our Emancipation Movement. A most estimable person.”

“Good Lord!” The Judge suddenly became alert. He recalled the whispered conversation he had overheard between Biddulph and the Babu at Dullington. “Then it’s you who’ve been helping to finance the fellow!” he exclaimed.

His brother-in-law blusteringly admitted that he had—for the emancipation of a downtrodden race. Furthermore, that he and his party had come out expressly to attend a big inaugural demonstration of their Society.

“Then I hope you’re pleased with your show, sir!” laughed the Commander cynically.

“I fail to follow you, Captain Bell.”

The Judge lifted his hand for silence. The menacing, nerve-racking throb of tom-toms, the angry buzz of a multitude—so suggestive of a disturbed hornets’ nest— which had risen and fallen without ceasing throughout the night, now burst into a murderous din of drum and clamour and ringing steel. Its incitement to violence, its savagery, the thought of the peril it portended to the helpless women in their midst filled Anthony Hastings with horror, and he rounded on his brother-in-law with a fury that caused that pacifist legislator to recoil.

“Do you hear that pandemonium?” he asked. “Well, he means that’s your demonstration! That’s what your money’s helped to bring about! That’s the outcome of your precious S.E.I.—the deadly peril of our women! I hope, with Bell, you’re satisfied!”

He turned abruptly, his voice shaking with passion, his hands clenched in an effort at self-restraint, for he feared that in the extremity of his wrath he might even be tempted to strike his wife’s brother. Biddulph paled before the outbreak, but with anger, not fear.

“I can’t believe it—I won’t believe it!” he declared. “The aim of the S.E.I. is constitutional reform, not bloodshed.”

“Constitutional reform in India’s a job for experts,” retorted the Judge contemptuously. “When children play with fire they’re apt to set the house ablaze. If we pull through this business—which doesn’t sound likely,” he added, as another furious outburst came from beyond the walls—“I’m afraid things will go hard with you. It would be inconceivable for me, as a Judge of the High Court, to suppress what I know.”

Instantly Biddulph dropped his pompous manner, and his anger fell from him like a garment. “Believe me, Anthony, I’ve no desire that you should,” he replied with quiet dignity. “I’m quite prepared to stand or fall by my own actions.”

“Then I’m afraid they’ll give you a bad spill,” said the Judge, as he walked towards the temple steps, on the topmost of which he perceived his wife to be standing.

The first cold glimmer of dawn had accentuated her pallor, which a few short hours ago he would have set down to fear. Now he knew better, and the hint of remorse—remorse for years of misjudgment—-with which he linked his arm in hers, was not lost on her. He was beginning to tell her—albeit with no little disquietude as to how she might take it—of the unpleasant discovery he had just made, of the still more unpleasant duty it entailed on him, when she quietly interrupted.

“I know, Anthony, but the poor old dear has simply been a tool in the hands of that horrible Babu and others. Poor Jim Crowther told me all about it last night.”

He looked at her, wonder mingled with admiration in his eyes. “You knew about these swine hidden in the jungle, too,” he mused. “I must say you take these things uncommonly well, Marion. Haven’t you been nervous?”

“Nervous! I’ve been horribly, desperately frightened—I still am. But one doesn’t let the natives see it, does one?”

“You don’t, by Jove! That was a fine thing you did last night, Marion.” He affected to examine his revolver. “Has she pulled herself together yet?” he asked curtly.

“Yet? I’ve never seen such an abject exhibition in my life. The others are disgusted with her.”

“So am I,” he snapped. “How’s Pamela?”

“Heartbroken, poor child. But she and Dolly Kirkby and Octavia are splendid. Breeding counts for something, after all.”

A demonstration of the converse was furnished at this moment by Mrs. Little, who ran screaming out of the temple in a paroxysm of terror. She was followed in more dignified fashion by the other three ladies, though they too showed signs of agitation.

“Oh, get me out of this awful place!” she gasped, clutching the Judge’s arm. “I shall go mad if I stay here—it’s haunted, I tell you, haunted.”

Mrs. Hastings took her by the shoulders and shook her. “Be quiet,” she said firmly.

“I must admit there was a most alarming noise,” put in Miss Octavia. “It seemed to come from the cellar— just like burglars.”

“Of course, it might have been rats,” admitted Dolly Kirkby nervously: “they do sound awfully like burglars sometimes, don’t they? Oh, look!”

All turned in the direction she indicated, where Rampling, who had been cowering against the wall all night in an abandonment of terror, was now pointing with shaking hand at one of the flags in the pavement.

“Hullo, Gamaleo’s got ’em now!” sneered Bell. “Thank the Lord our dear brothers outside can’t see this exhibition!”

The next moment he and the other three men had surrounded the spot with levelled revolvers. For the heavy flagstone, which seemed to move on a pivot, was being slowly forced upward, and the head and shoulders of a man appeared in the opening.

“Sahib, sahib,” came a low, mocking voice, “I apologize for my beastly country, sahib!” An instant later the tattered, panting figure of Crowther clambered to the level of the courtyard.

His resurrection was received at first with breathless amazement. Then, dropping his revolver, Nicholson darted forward and seized him by the hand.

“You silly cuckoo!” he gasped, “we damned nearly potted you!”

“Yes, you all seem a bit jumpy, what?” laughed the Police Officer: “you’ll have to take Sanatogen for the nerves. I thank you for your old-fashioned courtesy, sir—I need it,” he grinned, as Bell handed him his flask.

But he was allowed no further time for jesting. With a swish of flying skirts Pamela tore down the steps and across the courtyard, and, naively indifferent to the presence of the onlookers, flung herself in a transport of joy and relief upon his breast.

“Oh, Jim!” she sobbed, and little as it was he seemed to find it enough.

He told them what had happened. By the threat of his revolver he had contrived for a time to keep a clear space about himself and the native woman who was clinging to his ankles, but the mob were already beginning to press upon him, when the moment of total darkness arrived. This fortunately proving too much for their nerves, they promptly fell on their knees and began to do pooja.

“And what did you do?” asked the Judge.

“Did them, sir,” laughed Crowther: “slipped off with the lady. By the time the moonlight was switched on again we’d lost ourselves as hopelessly as the Babes in the Wood.”

The woman’s husband, it appeared, a servant of the temple, had once showed her a secret underground passage to the courtyard that had been made during the old Mahratta wars. Incidentally, observed Crowther, its existence partly accounted for the ease with which Shādanand engineered his mysterious disappearances. But owing to the confused light, to the fact that she had not visited the spot for many years, and to her extreme terror—for by this time the seditionists were in full cry on their heels through the jungle—it was several hours before she was able to hit off what the Police Officer termed “the Shepherd’s Bush end of the Tube.” “I should congratulate myself on having got to earth before they spotted me,” he concluded gloomily, “but for one thing.”

“What’s that?” asked Bell.

“The Holy One seems to have chipped in towards the end of the run. I thought he was safe with you, but he was certainly leading the pack when they broke cover just after the woman and I had separated.”

Biddulph looked uncomfortable. But before he could justify his sleeping while on sentry Mrs. Little uttered another of those piercing shrieks which were beginning to get on everyone’s nerves, and Shādanand himself, a knife between his teeth, leaped from the opening and made for the temple. With a shout of “Yoicks! Tally-ho! Gone away!” Nicholson darted in chase, and for several moments pursuer and pursued dodged each other up and down the steps, the priest transferring his knife to his hand, the soldier fingering his revolver.

“Sure to be more below! Clap the hatch on ’em!” warned Bell over his shoulder, as he went to Nicholson’s assistance.

His forecast proved to be correct. Already two or three heads, each with a knife between its teeth, were protruding from the hole, when the Judge, Biddulph and Crowther simultaneously hurled themselves on the covering stone and, heedless of broken crowns, slammed it back in position and jumped on it.

“They’re too many for us,” panted the Judge, clutching the other two in a desperate effort to stick to the heaving stone. “We want more weight. Where’s Rampling?”

“Yes, he weighs two of me,” grunted Biddulph. “Hi! Rampling, Rampling!”

“Quick! For your own sake, fool, if not for the women’s,” added Crowther. But neither appeal nor taunt could rouse the groaning heap of poltroonery huddled at the foot of the wall, and Biddulph muttered a pious hope that he might at least be spared long enough to kick him. The wit of woman, however, supplied a substitute for his much-needed extra weight. A few yards away against the opposite wall stood an old iron-clamped coffer, a piece of lumber long since discarded from the temple, and Pamela darted across to it.

“Help!” she cried. “Mother! Aunt Octavia! Dolly! The chest—quick!”

But the thing was heavy, and to drag it even the short distance required taxed the strength of the four ladies severely.

“We want another—Mrs. Little! Help!” shouted Pamela.

She might as well have expected the idol itself to respond. Yet in spite of the fact that the lady appealed to, her face buried in her hands, moaned her inability to comply, the other four at last contrived by a prodigious effort to get the edge of the heavy coffer over the stone. For the moment at least they were safe.

“Bravo, all of you!” murmured the Judge, as he stepped aside, mopping his face. “Thank Heaven there are English women of the right sort left in India yet!”

The Commander and Nicholson had overpowered and disarmed Shādanand, though not before he had succeeded in giving another resounding clang on the great bell. While the young soldier knelt on the priest’s back, the sailor picked up the knife, and, severing a length of the bell-rope, secured the prisoner’s wrists behind him with all the seaman’s cunning in the mystery of knots. Biddulph and Crowther strolled up as the Brahmin sardonically sank into a sitting posture on the temple steps.

“Salaam, ‘Abdullah Khan,’” grinned the Police Officer.

“Abdullah Khan!” Biddulph stared incredulously at the mocking face before him.

“Master wanting me take letters to Babujee?” smiled the priest, bending his head in an insolent salaam.

“Good heavens! You—you viper!” spluttered Biddulph. “You bloodthirsty villain! You——”

Words failed him, an unusual experience for the garrulous legislator, and he feebly dabbed his face with his handkerchief.

“You see, this ‘most estimable person’ was at Dullington after all,” said the Judge sternly. “Listen to that!”

With a thunder of tom-toms and fierce cries of “Lakshmi ki jai! Lakshmi ki jai!” the assailants were heard surging round the walls. Half a dozen turbanned heads quickly appeared above them at different points, as their owners were hoisted up by those behind: for the assault had at last begun in earnest, and the defenders gravely realized that the issue was on the knees of the gods.

“Get the ladies inside, sir,” Crowther counselled Biddulph: “that devil’s raised Cain with his infernal bell. It’s what they were waiting for—signal they’d got us in rear. Mark cockatoo!”

Followed by the Judge and Nicholson, he leaped down into the courtyard, and fired at an evil face crowned by a flaming red turban. His aim was good, for there was now light enough to see by, and the “cockatoo” fell backwards with a scream. But though the defenders darted from point to point, firing as rapidly as possible and pausing only to reload, they saw that the courtyard must soon be rushed, for there were but five of them at the best, and Biddulph for the moment was employed in getting the women behind the shrine in the temple.

“Not you—you worm!” he bellowed, hauling Rampling back by the collar. “Get a revolver out of that haversack yonder, and for God’s sake try and play the man!”

“Leggo,” demanded the worm with a poor assumption of bluster: “I—-I disapprove of fighting—on principle.”

“Sound principle,” laughed Crowther, who had overheard him, “when you can get others to do it for you.”

“Oh, let the useless ullage go, sir,” shouted Bell, “we want you here.”

Acting on this advice Biddulph let go, and Rampling, his sudden impetus accelerated by a hearty kick from his disgusted employer, shot headlong into the temple.

Who that saw Benjamin Biddulph now would have identified him with the pacifist crank who had been wont to bore the House with his anathemas against the employment of armed force? The call of heredity was not to be denied, and the conflict in which he suddenly found himself involved had stirred in his veins the blood of a long line of fighting ancestors. The light of battle gleamed in the little man’s eye, and when, as he ran down the steps, a rioter astride the wall flung a knife at him with tolerable aim and cut his wrist, he actually laughed. Which was more than his assailant ever did again in this life. For, having paused for an instant to wrap his handkerchief round the cut, the notorious pacifist used his revolver with such effect that the knife-flinger slowly toppled over into the courtyard and troubled the defence no more.

But even with the welcome reinforcement of the fifth revolver and with a wall between them the defenders found it impossible to keep such overwhelming numbers long at bay. As fast as a native fell on one side of it or the other, two or three more appeared in his place, till the entire summit was presently lined with dark crouching forms, silhouetted against the pale primrose dawn, and awaiting the signal from their leaders for a simultaneous leap into the courtyard. One or two here and there—no more fortunately—were armed with antiquated shot-guns. But, the short range notwithstanding, their aim was so villainous that, beyond peppering the calf of the Commander’s leg and letting loose a flood of sea profanity, no material damage was done. Then, almost before the five sahibs realized what had happened, they instantly found themselves engaged in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle with a horde of yelling fanatics in the centre of the enclosure.

“Play up our side!” squeaked Biddulph valiantly.

“Rotten game—no half-backs—what?” panted Nicholson, as he stunned with his revolver butt a native who was making past him for the temple.

Bell tripped up another. “Not even a ‘muddied oaf’ to keep goal,” he grumbled, firing point-blank at a rioter who was charging him.

“We must keep it ourselves,” shouted Crowther. He was emptying the last of his charges into the little semicircle of assailants confronting him, as with the other hand he dashed from his eyes the blood that was trickling into them from a cut on his forehead. “Back to goal, all! Better chance on the steps than here.”

“Yes,” breathed the Judge, who was being closely pressed. “Remember—if worst happens—women mustn’t be taken—alive!”

“God help her!” muttered Crowther despairingly.

It was obviously their last hope. Biddulph, Bell and the Police Officer himself, each seizing the opportunity as it was afforded him, successively darted back to the flight of steps, a position which promised them at least a momentary advantage over their assailants. But the young soldier, at bay in the middle of the courtyard, was finding it increasingly difficult to follow their example, and Crowther hailed him anxiously.

“Come on, Nicholson!” he shouted. “Nicholson!”

The effect of his call was electrical and wholly unexpected. As if swept by a blast of the devastating gas which petrifies men in the positions in which death has overtaken them, an instantaneous silence and rigidity fell upon the yelling, knife-brandishing crowd. Mouths continued open, arms remained upraised in the act of striking, bodies bent in readiness to spring. The sahibs themselves, so taken by surprise were they, paused breathlessly, their revolvers still levelled at their enemies. Yet only for a moment. The clamour of the rioters suddenly broke out again: but the note of savage fury was gone, and in its place had crept wonderment, awe, terror.

“Heard ye that, brothers? . . . Yea, ’tis Jehan Nikelsahn—come from the tomb to fight for his own people. . . . Of what avail are we against Jehan Nikelsahn?”

Flinging away their knives in their panic they clawed up the walls and gates like cats. The hindmost were still astride the summit, when a distant sound arrested them in the act of dropping on the far side. At first nothing was audible to the less sensitive ears of civilization. Then a far-off muffled thunder began to shake the silence of the dawn, and with infinite relief the Englishmen realized that it was the thunder of galloping hoofs.

“He comes! He comes!” The awe-stricken cry ran from mouth to mouth among the remnant of the dismayed rioters. “Brothers, the saying is true!” An instant later they were gone—swallowed up in every direction, save that from which the dreaded thunder came, by the vast shadowy jungle. In place of the seething inferno of a few moments ago were emptiness and—apart from the distant galloping—silence.

Crowther was the first to break it. “The Campbells haven’t come a moment too soon, have they?” he laughed, dabbing at the wound on his forehead.

“No, close thing—very,” agreed Biddulph fervently. “What did they mean by ‘the saying is true’?” he added though less from a desire for knowledge than from an instinct to cover the emotion born of reaction.

“Oh, the old legend, sir, that ‘his horse’s hoofs still ring from the mountains to the five rivers.’ I told you yours was a name to conjure with, Nicholson.’

Mrs. Hastings, followed by the other ladies, appeared at the temple entrance. With the exception of Mrs. Little, who was still hysterical, they were all perfectly calm and self-possessed, though each showed traces in the reddening dawn of the ordeal through which she had passed.

“What is it? What is it?” asked the Judge’s wife anxiously. And then, as a distant trumpet call rang out on the clear morning air, she turned to the others, a note of mingled thankfulness and relief in her voice. “The soldiers have come!” she cried.

“Why didn’t they come before?” demanded Rampling with the bluster of reaction, as he emerged from the background. “When I get ’ome I shall write to the Press about the scandalous overpayment of the Army in India.”

“Hold your tongue, you—you skrimshanker,” ordered Biddulph angrily, looking up from a clumsy attempt to knot a handkerchief round his cut wrist with his teeth and the fingers of the other hand. “If I had my way with you, I’d——”

What that way would have been was left to the imagination. For Pamela came flying up to him, distress in her face and with a V.A.D. mind bent on first aid.

“Oh, Uncle Ben,” she cried, “you’ve been wounded!”

“Badly, my dear—no, no, not that,” he indicated his wrist, “a little sticking-plaster’ll put that right. I meant—+”

She noted the hint of remorse in his voice, and flung her arms round his neck.

“I know,” she said soothingly. “But, oh! I’m so proud of you, you dear, and of Jim, and—and of all of you, of course. You were just splendid! “

“Nonsense,” growled her father, “we’re men. It’s you”—his eye fell significantly on Georgie Little—“you four who were splendid. Gad, there’s hope for the race yet!”

“Tony,” wailed Mrs. Little, “I——”

“You’d better make Mrs. Little sit down, Marion,” interrupted the Judge coldly. “This hasn’t been a pleasant experience for any of us.”

But the persuasion suggested by the Judge was unneeded. For, with a stifled scream of “Oh, what’s that?” “Little Georgie” collapsed upon the steps in a fresh outburst of hysteria, as a loud knocking was heard at the gate.

Chapter XXI

The Maharajah Keeps His Promise

While Crowther, Biddulph and the Judge ranged themselves with reloaded revolvers—they were taking no risks—before the group of women on the temple steps, Bell and Nicholson crossed the courtyard and reconnoitred the imperiously knocking adventurer through a chink in the gate. Their scrutiny did not last long. In a twinkling the heavy bar was whipped out of its sockets, the gate swung open, and with a whoop of delight the young soldier darted forward and enthusiastically wrung the hand of the man calmly waiting in the dawn outside.

“By all that’s holy—Jaiselpore!” shouted the Commander, as he seized the other. “Good man!”

Above the background of sombre jungle the advance banners of the coming sun were streaming rosily upwards across the primrose sky. Here and there a belated rioter or two darted with a flutter of red turban and white loincloth between the trees, while half a dozen of the Maharajah’s escort, dismounted, fired a few random shots after them to speed them on their way. Splendid specimens of fighting manhood were these Mahratta warriors—troops trained to the last ounce and the finest horsemen in the world. But the most splendid figure of all was the Maharajah himself, as he stood framed by the gateway, his blue turban a blob of brilliant colour against the dark foliage beyond. His glance, sweeping the courtyard, rested for an instant on Pamela, whose hand lay as if in support upon the shoulder of the Police Officer standing on the step immediately below her: and, swiftly divining the situation, he turned with a little sigh of mingled relief and sadness to the two men beside him.

“I am in time?” he asked gravely.

“Thank God,” answered the Commander; “not a moment too soon, though.”

“Crowther’s note reached me at Government House—I was dining there, you know. Then there was a riot—a bad riot in the city. Every sword was needed.”

Floreat Etona! eh, Maharajah Sahib?” cried Nicholson.

“It was a simple matter; still”—a note of wistfulness crept into his voice—“I like to think my old school would approve.”

The rest of the party were now crowded about him, and, after a military salute, which included all the ladies but which seemed specially intended for Pamela, he outlined in a few graphic sentences the events which had shaken Bombay during their absence. There had been an even more serious outbreak at Amritsar: but, thanks to the fearless action of General Dyer—who would probably be strafed for it, added the Maharajah cynically—it had been promptly quelled. Amongst many other sahibs Crowther’s chief, the Commissioner of Police, had, it appeared, been killed in the street fighting in Bombay.

“Oh, poor Mrs. Leslie!” cried Marion.

“Yes, it is the Memsahib who pays the heaviest price of empire,” said Jaiselpore gently.

Miss Octavia gripped her brother’s hand with an emotion she made no effort to conceal. “And to think that we, by our ignorant interference, have helped to bring this about!” she sobbed. “Oh, I can never forgive myself—never!”

“There, there, you meant well,” said Mrs. Hastings soothingly; “you didn’t know.”

But the tender-hearted spinster was not so easily comforted. Turning away, her face buried in her hands, she sank in an uncontrollable fit of weeping on one of the stone benches, till Pamela presently calmed her into a tearful if less hysterical repentance. Jaiselpore, Bell and Nicholson strolled towards the temple: and whilst the Maharajah supplied his companions with the further details of the fighting for which they thirsted, the Judge laid his hand on his wife’s arm and drew her aside.

“Narrow shave, wasn’t it? Hope you’re none the worse, dear?” he asked, a little awkwardly.

“Worse?” She looked at him, a world of relief and thankfulness in her eyes. “I’m happier than I’ve been for years.”

“Well, it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good, what?”

She slipped her hand into his. “It has been no ill wind for me,” she smiled; “it has drifted us together again, Tony.”

“And sifted the chaff from the wheat,” he added with significance, as his eye fell contemptuously on the now gaily chattering Georgie Little.

Yet the others were no less exhibiting signs of the reaction they were experiencing after the severe strain of the past night. Scattered in little groups about the enclosure, they jested and laughed uproariously at absurdities that would have failed to raise a smile under more normal conditions. Their spirits rose with the rising sun, whose golden edge seemed to be cutting its way upwards through the earth beyond the distant tree-trunks; and when someone observed, with reference to the conflagration of a few minutes before, that the sun as usual had put the fire out, the remark earned him a reputation for originality which lasted at least ten minutes.

“Jim,” said Pamela softly, as they stood a little apart from the rest, “I just love you for saving that poor native woman. By the way,” there was a slight catch in her voice, “you—you needn’t worry about that letter. Uncle Benjamin’s admitted everything to Father.”

Crowther gave a low whistle of relief. “By Jove!” he said, “d’you mean to say he’s owned up?”

She nodded, biting her lip to keep back the tears, then turned on him tempestuously.

“He never dreamt that ‘emancipation’ would mean this,” she exclaimed. “Oh, it’s heart-breaking—heartbreaking!”

“Don’t worry, darling,” he said vaguely, his arm round her waist, “we’ll find a way out somehow.”

Biddulph trotted up to them, once more in difficulties with his bandage. “No reflection on your first aid, Pamela,” he explained apologetically. “I just took it off to see if the scratch was healing up, and now I can’t—there, you must fix it for me again, like a dear child.”

“Funny old bird, isn’t he, Jim?” she laughed: “just like a naughty child digging up seeds to see if they’re growing. All right, Uncle Ben, I’ll doss you up again—on one condition, though.”

Nevertheless she was already busying herself with the slipped handkerchief, unwinding it, folding it afresh, rebinding it round the wound with deft and sympathetic fingers. Now Pamela’s sight was certainly as perfect as the rest of her young, unimpaired faculties, yet the task seemed to necessitate the close bending of her face over her neat and practised surgery. It was noticeable, too that she had not waited to state her condition, though that, of course, may have been due to her confidence in its fulfilment.

“On condition that I don’t tamper with it again, I suppose?” prompted her uncle.

“On condition that—you let me marry Jim,” corrected the girl softly.

Biddulph involuntarily threw a swift glance that was tinged with regret in the direction of Jaiselpore, who was still standing in conversation with Bell and Nicholson on the temple steps.

“God bless my soul!” he exclaimed in obviously affected surprise. Perhaps he had noted too much since his arrival the previous afternoon for the emotion to have been genuine. “Barefaced bribery, eh? When you were so high it was chocolates: now it’s Crowther.”

“You dear old thing!” She flung her arms round his neck and kissed him. “It’s all right, Jim! It’s all right!”

I never said so,” laughed Biddulph. “However, I’m tired of standing—been doing it all night. Come over to that bench, you two, and we’ll talk things over.”

Five minutes later they all three rose and joined the Judge and Mrs. Hastings. It was obviously a family conclave: and since Crowther showed no disposition to withdraw from it, and no one seemed to suggest that he should, it is to be presumed that he had adequate reason for deeming himself a prospective member of the family.

While Mrs. Hastings kissed Pamela, and shook hands with her future son-in-law, and murmured her tearful congratulations to both, Biddulph seized the opportunity of whispering in the Judge’s ear that the matter of the unfortunate tea investments should have his careful consideration and practical advice on their return to Bombay. He had not, of course, received his brother-in-law’s cable for assistance, for he had already arrived in India before it was despatched: but he explained that Marion had told him of it, and added, with a brotherly pat on the Judge’s shoulder, that “it would be all right.” The truth was that the kindly little man was filled with horror and very genuine remorse for the misguided philanthropy which had brought about such tragic results: and, anxious to atone for his share in the madness, he had decided that the atonement, like charity, should begin at home.

“Very well, then that’s all settled,” he said, with a little sigh of relief. “The next question is how the Government’s going to settle with me?”

An instant silence fell upon the party, no one seeming to have a comforting suggestion to offer. Biddulph’s anxiety was pathetically apparent in his quick bird-like glances from one face to another, and it was obvious that he missed the familiar play with his pince-nez, which lay in a little wreckage of splintered glass on the flagstones where he had dropped them. He was beginning to realize that he would have to readjust his outlook in more senses than one.

“I suppose this—this folly of mine, Anthony,” he turned nervously to the Judge, “may reckon as er—high treason, eh?”

“Something very like it, I’m afraid,” admitted the other reluctantly. “Of course we all know your intention was good, and we must do our best to prove it.”

But Biddulph would have none of it. “No,” he declared firmly, “I want no one to screen me. I laid myself open to it—I’ll take my licking like an Englishman.”

There was another interval of uncomfortable silence.

Then, her alarm forcing the angry tears to her eyes, Pamela with a torrent of choking words burst stormily into the debate.

“Have you nothing to say, any of you?” she demanded indignantly, “have you nothing to say? Uncle Ben and high treason—why, the idea’s preposterous! Jim!” she wheeled on him so suddenly that he jumped, “you promised me to find a way out somehow—the first promise you ever made me, and now you’ve gone and broken it!”

She collapsed in a flood of tears—everyone was overwrought—and Crowther, half amused, half concerned, took her quietly by the elbow.

“All right, all right,” he murmured, “but you haven’t given me much time, have you? Still”—he reflected for a moment, then turned gravely to Biddulph—“I think I see a way out, sir.”

“You do?” Pamela dried her tears and was instantly all smiles again. “I said he’d never break his promise to me!” she declared, rounding triumphantly on the others.

Mrs. Hastings laughingly placed her arm round the girl’s shoulder. “Those were your very words, darling,” she drawled.

The Commissioner’s death, explained Crowther, had left him acting chief of the police in Bombay. In that capacity he could now wire to the Tin Gods at Simla suggesting that His Excellency be advised to deport with the least possible delay certain undesirable persons from India. “Sorry to have to put it so crudely,” he concluded, “but telegrams are so beastly expensive nowadays, don’t you know.”

Biddulph gaped with surprise. “Do you—do you mean to say,” he stuttered, “that it will be all right if we merely leave India?”

“Not quite. You’ll have to undertake never to come back again.”

The silence of intense relief with which this assurance, noddingly confirmed by the Judge, was received was broken by Rampling who, unnoticed in the tension of the moment, had joined the circle.

“Chrismus!” he exclaimed hoarsely, “I’ll undertake to do that on my ’ead—head. India’s coral strand has been scandalously overrated—I’m blooming well fed up with it.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Biddulph curtly. “But I’m afraid we’re all neglecting our preserver, the Maharajah: I’ll go and thank His Highness”; and fumbling, from force of habit, for his missing glasses, he trotted off, whistling like a schoolboy who has narrowly escaped a swishing.

The others stood watching him as he approached the tall soldierly figure on the temple steps. They noted the grave smile, the courteous deference with which the Maharajah bent to receive the older man, and, recalling tales of his gallantry in France and the promptitude with which he had but now saved all their lives, they felt that here was a splendid type indeed of those loyal Indian princes of whom the British Empire has just cause to be proud.

“Jim,” whispered Mrs. Hastings, gazing a little sadly in the Maharajah’s direction, “he loved Pamela too.”

Crowther nodded. “I know,” he said: “what’s more, she may be proud of it.”

“That’s generous of you.”

He put his arm round the girl’s waist. “It’s easy enough to be generous,” he laughed, “when you’ve got all you want.”

“Well, I warn you,” said her mother, “your ‘all’ is a bit of a handful.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he retorted happily, “I’m used to dealing with unruly characters.”

While Pamela was indignantly resenting the implied classification of her charming self with the budmashes of her betrothed’s acquaintance, Jaiselpore descended the temple steps and quietly walked up to them. His manner was as composed, his expression as serene and unruffled as usual, yet the two women at least were quick to note the deepening of that shadow of tragedy which was always discernible in his eyes.

“Mr. Biddulph has just told me,” he said simply, as he shook hands. “Let me offer you both my most heartfelt wishes for your happiness. Yes,” he went on in a lower voice, his gaze fixed on Pamela’s face, “it is right—and inevitable—that you should mate with one of your own race.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a shout of warning from the temple caused him to look up, and his hand went swiftly to his belt. During the recent stress and its subsequent reaction Shādanand Swami had been forgotten. His arms behind him in the position in which they had been pinioned by the Commander, for the past hour he had squatted on the steps to all appearances as motionless and unconcerned as the graven image above him. The game so far had gone against him. But the wily Brahmin was by no means the type of man to throw up the sponge at the first rebuff of fortune. Throughout that eventful hour he had been cunningly working his wrists this way and that in a continuous effort to loosen the knots and free his hands from the rope, His tireless patience and marvellous dexterity had at last enabled him to accomplish his object, and, seizing the knife dropped by the sailor after severing the bell-rope, he bounded like the human panther he was down the steps and across the courtyard. With a final leap into the air, he was about to drive the blade with a downward stroke between the Police Officer’s shoulders, when a shot rang out from Jaiselpore’s revolver, the knife tinkled harmlessly on to the stones, and, spinning round, the priest fell dead with outstretched arms before the image of the goddess he had served so zealously.

For a long moment no one spoke. Then Pamela convulsively clutched Crowther’s arm.

“Oh, Jim!” she sobbed, “he tried to kill you!”

With his disengaged hand the Police Officer gripped Jaiselpore’s. The action expressed infinitely more than any words could have done, and both men understood that there was no need of speech between them.

“The chivalrous knight has fulfilled his vows, Maharajah Sahib,” murmured Mrs. Hastings with intense emotion.

“I promised you to use my eyes and ears,” he said simply.

“Oh, let us get away from this awful place at once!” she exclaimed shudderingly. “They’re sure to send for us—we can walk to meet the cars. You’ll come back with us, of course, Maharajah Sahib?”

But he sadly shook his head. “Thank you, I think not,” he said. “For me—this is the parting of the ways.”

He shook hands with each in turn, leaving Pamela till the last.

“Oh, I can’t speak—I can’t speak,” sobbed the girl. “We shall meet again some day, Maharajah Sahib?”

“That,” he returned gravely, bending over her hand, “is on the knees of the gods.”

He straightened himself, and after one lingering gaze at her face with eyes that seemed to burn her, strode towards the gates. In the gateway he paused, turned, and raised his hand to his turban in a final military salute. Then, swinging on his heel—soldier, ruler of men, gallant gentleman written in every line of his spare figure—he marched out in fulfilment of his destiny into the flaming sunrise of the Indian morning.

The End