The Tea-Planter

Dedicated to
The Gem of the Sea

Chapter I

‘He cannot last long,’ said the doctor, turning from the silent invalid, who lay apparently asleep upon the bed, to a girl standing near.

In a moment the eyelids were raised, and the keen gray eyes, shrewd to hardness, steadfast to obstinacy, were fixed upon the speaker.

‘What do you say?’ asked the sick man in a clear, incisive tone.

The medical man hesitated, and Henry Stratton, the dying merchant, continued:

‘Speak out; I know that I am doomed, but I am not afraid of facing death if my time has come. Is it a matter of weeks, days, or hours?’

‘Days—possibly hours.’

‘Is that so? Where is Audine?’

‘Here I am, uncle.’

The handsome girl to whom the doctor had first spoken advanced into the invalid’s range of vision.

Her dress, which betokened an ample purse, set off the fine proportions of her figure as she bent over the man who had stood in the place of father and mother to her since she was a child.

‘Send for Goodlad at once, and tell your cousin to come up. I wish to speak to him and to you too.’

‘I can do no more, Miss Stratton,’ said the doctor, following Audine from the room as she went to fulfil her uncle’s request.

‘I understand; his hours are numbered,’ she answered, her beautiful eyes filling with tears.

Ten minutes later Audine Stratton and her cousin Jermyn Marriner stood by the bedside of the old merchant.

‘You two must marry; do you hear?’ he rapped out sharply. ‘I have mentioned the subject before, and you know my wishes.’

The cousins exchanged a glance, but neither made any comment. At last Audine spoke, the colour flying over her delicate skin. Her words came softly and with hesitation.

“If Jermyn is willing, I—’

Something in the attitude of his nephew roused the ire of the invalid, and he broke out impatiently:

‘Do you hear, Jermyn? You must marry Audine, and on that condition you shall have my fortune.’

The young man was at last provoked into speech.

‘You can’t attach those sort of conditions to your money nowadays. The law sets them aside if they are vexatious.’

The invalid’s fingers closed and his brow contracted, but he was still master of himself. He looked with affectionate admiration at his brother’s daughter, and then at his sister’s son. His eyes blazed with scorn and contempt as they rested on the weak countenance of the man who could remain cold and impassive in the presence of such a girl as Audine.

‘I don’t know whether to think you a knave or a fool, Jermyn. Your father was the former and your mother—poor weak soul!—was the latter.’

Audine watched the invalid with increasing anxiety, and made a warning sign to her cousin to be careful not to irritate him. The warning was disregarded, and Jermyn said, with some warmth:

‘Knave or fool, I am not going to marry any woman against my will.’

‘Very well; I am glad to know your feeling on the subject,’ replied Henry Stratton, with a moderation that surprised his niece. ‘You understand that after my death the money will be yours, Jermyn, as soon as you fulfil the conditions attached to it. I am tired; please leave me.’

The cousins closed the door of the sick-room behind them, and Jermyn shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

‘The old man is in his dotage, or he would remember that the time-worn tyranny of making two people marry against their will is relegated to the annals of fiction. It can’t be done.’

‘I am sorry that you have thwarted and vexed him. He will not be with us much longer, and it seems so unkind not to soothe his dying moments as far as lies in our power,’ said Audine, who loved her uncle, in spite of the many angles and corners in his character acquired in the process of building up the fortune he was now leaving.

‘I didn’t mean to vex him,’ protested Jermyn, with sudden compunction. ‘If he so much desires it, and you are willing, by all means let us be engaged.’

The cousins were not in love. Audine, buried in the depths of the country, had led a quiet life amongst the elderly friends of her uncle, and her heart had never been touched by the tender passion. Jermyn had his own private reasons for not desiring to enter the state of matrimony at present, although he was quite ready to engage himself indefinitely. There were no love-passages between the young couple as they thus plighted their troth.

Goodlad, the lawyer, Henry Stratton’s lifelong friend, came at his call, and there was much discussion and signing of papers. When told that, in accordance with his wish, Jermyn had definitely engaged himself to Audine, their uncle summoned them to his side and repeated what had been said before.

‘You shall have the money the day you marry Audine. If you refuse to fulfil that condition, you must not expect a penny.’

The merchant lingered for a week, retaining all his faculties to the last, and insisting on the speedy marriage of the young people as soon as was compatible with decency after his death.

When the funeral was over, Jermyn had an interview with Goodlad, who asked him how soon he intended to marry his cousin.

‘I don’t know. I am not prepared to rush into it all in a hurry. What is to happen if we break it off?’

‘Your uncle has arranged that the money goes elsewhere.’

‘I warn you that I shall dispute the will.’

‘You can’t dispute it until you know its contents.’

‘Those, I presume, you are about to tell me.’

‘On the contrary, the terms of the will will not be made known to you until it is proved. Letters of administration are not to be taken out for three years from the date of your uncle’s death.’

Jermyn regarded him with incredulity as he said:

‘My uncle distinctly stated that his fortune would be mine as soon as I married. If the marriage takes place at all, it will probably be before three years have passed.’

The lawyer smiled, but vouchsafed no further information. At the conclusion of the interview he said:

‘If you will let me know when the date is fixed, I may be able to provide for the fulfilment of your uncle’s promise.’

A month later Jermyn went back to Ceylon—where he had interests in a tea estate—without coming to any decision about the future, except giving a somewhat vague promise that he would return in a few months to marry his cousin.

Audine Stratton, who had a small income of her own, vainly endeavoured to find some occupation in the life which had become empty and colourless with the death of her uncle. In her teens she had been considered an heiress, and as such she had lived in the lap of luxury under her uncle’s roof. It was probably part of his plan of coercion to leave his niece for a period without the means to provide herself with the same luxury in which she had formerly lived. It would make her value the money more highly, and create a readiness on her part to fall in with his desire for a union with her cousin.

Time slipped by, and weeks grew into months, which passed without a sign from Jermyn of his return to claim the fortune or his bride. At length her gentle spirit rose in rebellion against the indefinite waiting for a laggard husband. She was tired of her lonely, purposeless existence, and weary of considering an economical expenditure from day to day. She craved for something to interest her mind. If it could be something that would add to her income as well as divert her thoughts, so much the better. With this end in view, she made attempts to obtain employment that would be congenial, but, so far, none had been successful.

One day she heard of a lady in Ceylon, the wife of a tea-planter, who required a governess for her children. By a curious chance, the family lived in the vicinity of her cousin’s plantation. Here was an opportunity of fathoming the mystery of Jermyn’s behaviour. She consulted Mr. Goodlad, who advised her to apply for the post, at the same time offering to supply the necessary funds for passage and outfit.

Without further hesitation, she wrote to the lady—a Mrs. Angus Smith—and received a prompt reply.

After mentioning the names and ages of the children—Lancelot, aged thirteen; Antonia, ten; and Theresa, seven—described as little angels of sweetness and intelligence, their mother went on to say:

‘I am sorry that I cannot offer you any salary. I feel ashamed of accepting the services of a lady of your talents under such conditions; but I will do my best to make it up to you by giving you all the comforts in my power, and, above all things, by providing you with a happy home. Times are bad with the planters, ourselves among the rest. It is this new tax on tea, following on indifferent seasons and the depression caused by the late war. We just scrape along, and those who are working on borrowed capital will have a difficulty in paying the heavy interest charged by the moneylender.’

‘I wonder if I ought to venture. I may be half starved,’ said Audine to herself, as she stopped to consider the question in its many aspects. ‘I want to see the world—particularly Ceylon, as I have heard so much of its beauty. I should be glad to find myself in a happy home circle among children; and, above all things, I wish to solve the mystery of Jermyn’s queer conduct, and discover why he will neither marry me nor set me free. Yes; I will risk the semi-starvation and go.’

She continued to read:

‘I am so pleased to hear that you know Latin, French, and German, besides the necessary branches of English; also, that you can play and sing. My son has a good notion of drawing, and will be glad to study perspective under you. Lessons in cooking would be much appreciated by us all, and we should dearly love to have some new dishes. Mr. Angus Smith gets very tired of the old menus.’

Audine smiled.

‘It strikes me that there is a possibility of my being overworked rather than underfed. In that case I shall have to appeal to Jermyn for protection; but I shall say nothing of him till I arrive there.’

She turned to the letter again.

‘You will need some pretty frocks and hats. We see a good deal of our neighbours. You will want your tennis-racket, but we have no golf. The valley is too thickly covered with vegetation to admit of the game. If by chance you have such a thing as a saddle and a riding-habit, pray bring both.’

‘That looks better. I should dearly love to be in the saddle again.’

‘If you could put in a few of the newest patterns of skirts and coats it would be a great boon. I haven’t a hat fit to wear, and my frocks are too dreadfully old-fashioned for words. Perhaps you will be able to lend me a hand with alterations, and advise me how to bring them up to date.’

Again Audine smiled, and the smile extended to a hearty laugh as she read the postscript:

‘Please do me a very great favour, and bring me out a pretty cretonne—not an expensive material. Forty yards would not be too much. With the help of a tailor—if I can get one—and your advice, I shall be able to re-cover the furniture. It needs it badly, as the dogs are so destructive.’

‘I am glad that she does not accuse the children of being destructive,’ commented Audine, as she sat down to write the necessary letters to the shipping agent and to the expectant lady in Ceylon.

The Derbyshire slowed down her engines, turning her head towards the entrance of the harbour of Colombo.

Audine’s heart beat quickly as the big liner dropped her anchor and became motionless. The blue eyes of the girl were fixed upon the palm-fringed shore of the island in which she had elected to make her home for the present. Fears and hopes rose simultaneously in her mind, and for the hundredth time she asked herself if she were taking a foolish step.

With the tying up of the ship to her moorings came a little fleet of boats containing friends of the passengers and a number of native merchants with gems and other oriental treasures. Whilst Audine gazed idly at the white-robed figures with their curious wares, a bustling little lady in a large sun-topee hurried up to her.

‘Are you Miss Stratton?’ she inquired; and on receiving a reply in the affirmative she continued: ‘I have been asked by Mrs. Angus Smith to take you ashore and escort you up-country.’

Audine was well content to place herself under the guidance of her new friend, who introduced herself as Mrs. Osterley. The landing was effected with comparative ease and comfort, the lady possessing great command over the vernacular. A carriage was waiting at the landing-stage, and in a short time Audine was seated in the wide veranda of the Galle Face Hotel.

‘I have no time to spare; every moment is precious. You won’t mind if I leave you, I hope. I have told the servants to give you tea, which they will serve here,’ said Mrs. Osterley a little later in the day.

‘Where are you going?’ asked Audine, seeing that she wore the remarkable hat with which she had come on board the ship.

‘I have a lot of shopping still to get through, and I am going into the pettah, to the native shops, where things are cheap.’

She tucked herself into a rickshaw, and promised the man a present if he ran like the wind. She was whirled away in a cloud of red dust, leaving Audine upon the top of the wide stone steps.

The strange sights and sounds of Eastern life filled the English girl with wonder and delight. Parties of travellers from the liners in the harbour came and went in carriages and rickshaws. Men, women, and children were overjoyed to be once more on shore, displaying an eager curiosity over the smallest detail of the marvellous East.

Watchful, insinuating merchants spread their goods on the matting that covered the floors of the verandas, hoping to tempt the idler to buy. The moulded balustrade with pots of palms and ferns, the bright-coloured fabrics and gleaming metal wares with their dark-complexioned vendors, made a picture rich in tone and full of life.

Beyond the white balustrade and green pot-plants a snake-charmer waited under the tall portico. His stock-in-trade consisted of a basket of lively cobras and a restless mongoose attached to a string. The busy little animal prospected for strange snakes ceaselessly, whilst his master prayed the lords and ladies of creation to give his poor show one small moment of their noble attention.

At half-past four tea was brought into the veranda where she sat. Everything she needed was placed close at hand, with a quiet attention that roused her admiration and gratitude.

The air blew in off the sea, passing with a gentle rustle through the long green fronds of the palms. Outside the surf fell in a continuous roar on the yellow sands of the Galle Face, one of the pleasantest marine esplanades of the East. Cocoanut-palms fringed the beach and shaded the grounds of the hotel, which extended to the very verge of the waves.

The sun set, and Mrs. Osterley returned from her shopping expedition in the pettah, pleased with her success and loaded with parcels.

They dined at a small table in the dining-room, the electric fans fluttering their wings above. Mrs. Osterley appreciated the dainties provided for the table d’hôte menu, but Audine was too full of wonder to pay attention to mere creature comforts. Her eyes wandered delightedly over the groups of various nationalities gathered round the tables; over the army of picturesque Singhalese servants, attentive to the slightest desire of the diner; or out of the wide-opened doors, where the fire-flies danced in the dark foliage of the palms.

After dinner they returned to the veranda. The moon had risen, and the rolling waves were lined with silver as they curled upon the shore and crumbled into snowy surf. From the drawing-room came the sounds of music as a group of passengers gathered round the piano. At ten o’clock Mrs. Osterley roused herself from a comfortable doze into which she had fallen.

‘You must be ready to start early to-morrow morning,’ she said. ‘By taking the first train up, we shall get home in time for tea and whilst it is fine. Just now we are having showers in our district after sunset or at night, and it does not do to be too late.’

‘Do you live near Mrs. Smith?’

‘My husband is superintendent on an estate not far off.’

‘Then you have known her for a long time.’

‘We were at school together at Newara Eliya. Alice Jones, as she was then, went to England for a couple of years, and when she joined her parents in Colombo afterwards, she met Angus Smith, and they were married when she was seventeen.’

‘Has Mrs. Smith—’

‘Mrs. Angus Smith,’ corrected the elder lady. ‘She is very particular about the Angus, though I believe it is only her husband’s Christian name. Since her marriage she spells her own name differently—A, l, y, s, instead of in the old familiar way.’

‘Has Mrs. Angus Smith had a governess for her children in the past?’

‘No; unless you call a Burgher nurse a governess. I think that the woman taught them to read.’

‘What is a Burgher?’

‘A country-born person of mixed blood. Useful people, the Burghers, in their way, in spite of their faults.’

‘I hope that I shall be able to fulfil all Mrs. Angus Smith’s requirements.’

Mrs. Osterley laughed good-naturedly as she rose from the comfortable cane lounge.

‘Have no fear on that score. All Alice’s geese are swans. I am wondering what you will think of it, and how you will persuade the children to settle to their work.’

She looked the neat, stylish figure up and down, and noted the regular features and clear complexion. But it was not mere beauty of form and feature that struck the planter’s wife. Ceylon contained its full share of pretty women, her own daughter Ivy being among them. There was something in the ring of the voice, the intonation—something in the dignity and easy grace of manner, that marked Audine as different from the ordinary good-natured, pretty English girl of Mrs. Osterley’s acquaintance.

‘I am sure that I can make the little people like their books,’ replied the new governess with confidence.

‘We shall see. Meanwhile, we must be going upstairs. I am having the bill made out in my name. By that means you are charged at planters’ rates. We shall share the carriages that take us to and from the stations, and you won’t be over-weight with your luggage travelling with me. I have only my purchases and a small bag to take up-country.’

‘You come for the shopping, I suppose?’

‘Periodically; and I just clear my expenses by doing commissions for my neighbours. You were one of my commissions. By meeting you, I saved Mrs. Angus Smith the necessity of coming down to Colombo. Good-night. I will call you to-morrow morning. Don’t give any presents to the servants until I am with you. They are a set of harpies over their tips, the scamps!’

The brisk, bustling little woman with the keen eye to the main chance departed, and Audine closed her bedroom door. Throwing off her dress, she wrapped herself in a muslin dressing-gown, pulled up the blind of her window, and leaned out into the fresh night air. The hotel was still humming with busy life; but above the sound of humanity rose the moan of the sea. She caught a glimpse of its moonlit waves through the glinting fronds of the palm-trees, and followed the path of silvery light on the surface of the water, that led away to the distant horizon.

From the harbour there issued the black hull of a large steamer, carrying its lights oceanwards, and cutting its way through the indigo waves which rolled in from the warm Indian Ocean. The thought that it might be the Derbyshire, which she knew was to sail that evening, crossed her mind. For a brief moment she was overcome with a sudden sense of loneliness. The ship was deserting her and leaving her stranded upon a foreign shore. An intense longing seized her to be back under the white awnings, safe in the keeping of the friendly captain who commanded the vessel.

In another second she had summoned the courage which had so basely deserted her, and had cast all doubt to the winds, busying herself with her preparations for the early start on the following day.

Chapter II

The sun shone obliquely over sea and land, pouring his warm rays on the lightly-clad Orientals, who were already busy at their labours for the day. Mrs. Osterley had taken care to rouse Audine betimes, and to see that she made a good breakfast. The road to the station was still in deep, cool shadow, and the blue wood-smoke hung in the air, awaiting the morning sea-breeze to lift it above the motionless heads of the palms.

The train passed through a tract of rice-land, broken by dense plantations of trees and palms. The river flowed in silent reaches, flooding the land here and there through culverts opened at the will of the agriculturist. As the morning passed, the heat increased, and Audine missed the sea-breeze that had been her constant companion for the last three weeks. The limpid blue air smelt of warm, rank vegetation, and the heavy scent of flowering shrubs. On the horizon the distant hills showed themselves in outline. White, fleecy clouds hovered above them, melting into the blue ether under the rays of the sun.

Later, as the panting engine worked its way up the mountain passes, Audine moved from side to side of the carriage, gazing up at the noble peaks, or casting a fascinated eye down into the depths of the valleys below. A river turned and twisted through the open country, the silence of its reaches broken by the noise of rapids and falls, as it hurried over its steep, rocky bed towards the level rice-fields. The slopes of the valley were covered with tea. Once those cultivated gardens had been dense jungle, the home of the elephant, the wild buffalo, and the sambur. Now there was but little trace of forest, except on the hill-tops. Only a patch of jungle remained in the valleys here and there, or stretched in a long narrow belt up a gorge in the hillside. Under cover of the jungle a mountain stream babbled, hidden behind huge boulders and burrowing through beds of fern.

Never far from the iron rails, the cart-road threaded its way over regular and gentle gradients, a lasting monument of excellent work. Its firm foundation and smooth metalled surface were as good as ever. The strings of carts, drawn by magnificent draft cattle, were no longer to be seen. They disappeared, as Mrs. Osterley related, with the coffee that once grew so luxuriantly, so prolifically, raising men’s hopes, only to dash them to the ground a few years later.

The little woman sighed. Her father had been one of those men doomed to a disappointment which practically killed him. His daughter, who had been born to what was considered to be a certain fortune, had all her life struggled with poverty, and spent her strength in the task of making two ends meet. Many an unrecognised hero and heroine has the island seen, who have patiently fought the battle, courageously persevering, when hope was at its last gasp and despair lurked on the doorstep.

The air, warm and humid among the rice-fields and palms, became cooler as the train mounted the ghât. The rich odour of the flowering trees and shrubs gave place to a sweet smell of bracken. Now and then the breath of a mountain breeze came in at the window, like a dash of cold water, chasing away the lethargy and indolence of warm, sweet Colombo, that seaport town of cinnamon and palms and tropical sea.

Peaks that were passed towered no more, as Audine looked back upon them. They seemed, rather, to be nestling down into the lowlands, shrouding themselves with a transparent sapphire haze. The country towards Colombo lay like a map at the foot of the hills.

The river showed itself as a silver thread, and irrigation pools shone amidst the emerald cultivation. In front rose point after point, some with rounded heads crowned with virgin forest, others rearing bare, rocky peaks above the jungle in steep precipices, upon which the grass and flowers and ferns clung on shelves and fissures at a dizzy height. The lower slopes of the hills were covered with tea, which was carried to the very edge of the primeval forest. Bungalows, with their flower-gardens and out-buildings, sat snugly in the sheltered valleys amongst the tea; and never far off was the factory, its plain roof half hidden by graceful trees of Australian origin.

Audine looked eagerly out at the stations, where the train stopped for a longer period than was customary in England. There was always a busy, chattering throng of Singhalese, Tamils, and Moormen on the platform, their draperies glowing with rich tints in the rays of the sun. Vendors of milk, fruit, bread, and sweets, passed up and down, calling their wares and bargaining with the passengers in the crowded third-class carriages. There were frequent tunnels on the way, wherein the water dripped continually from the roof of living rock, and delicate, fragile ferns clung to the wet walls. The sudden change from the sunlit groups of humanity to the dark, solitary depths of the cavernous tunnels formed a striking contrast, that added to the fascination of the marvellous journey.

At length they reached the point where they were to leave the train. As Mrs. Osterley descended from the carriage, the station-master himself came forward and greeted her. He was a native of good education, and spoke English. The porters were directed to collect the luggage, and it was piled upon the front seat of a roomy waggonette, to which was attached a pair of raw-boned horses.

The driver, a lean native, who matched his steeds in figure, climbed to the box-seat, and arranged his thin legs with some ingenuity in the narrow chinks amongst the portmanteaux and trunks. He intimated to Mrs. Osterley that he was ready to start.

Still attended by the polite station-master, the two ladies took their seats at the back. With many injunctions to drive carefully from Mrs. Osterley, the youth who held the reins pulled first one and then the other violently, with the result that one horse jerked forward whilst the other backed. The whip fell smartly on their bony flanks, and they both plunged forward, only to be pulled up as swiftly, on account of a broken strap. Mrs. Osterley appeared neither alarmed nor surprised. She produced a stout piece of string from her dressing-bag, and handed it to the youth, who knotted up the breach; she repeated her injunctions to be careful as he mounted again to the box-seat.

The second start was more successful, and once out of the station compound, the carriage rolled more smoothly and with greater ease for the horses. The road was a continuous ascent, winding by a regular gradient round the shoulders of the hills that hemmed in the valley. ‘How far is it to Nagaten?’ asked Audine.

‘Nagatenne,’ corrected Mrs. Osterley. We put an accent on the last syllable. The point where we leave the carriage is about seven miles from the station. Then you have three miles of estate paths.’

‘Do I walk the last three miles?’

‘Oh dear no! Mrs. Angus Smith will send a chair or a horse. Can you ride?’


‘When did you learn?’

‘When I was living with my uncle. He kept horses. He was talking of buying a motor-car, but he died before he could carry out his intention.’

Audine felt awkward and uncomfortable under the cross-examination. Her companion had an alert, bird-like manner, which robbed her words of offence, but made her questions none the less searching and insistent.

‘Did he leave you any money?’

‘N-no; what little I have I inherited from my parents.’

‘H’m! Your uncle gave you extravagant tastes, and then left you without the means of indulging them. Now, that’s what I call refined cruelty. It’s bad enough when misfortune plays one that trick, as it did in my case, but when it’s deliberately done by a human being, he ought to be—burnt!’

The word shot out with a kind of snap, which caused Audine to smile. She replied:

‘We certainly might have had him cremated, poor old man! He didn’t mean to be unkind or unjust. He merely wanted to arrange things in his own way.’

‘Wished to live other people’s lives for them as well as his own. How often I’ve said to friends, who have expressed a great desire to set the world straight, “Live your own lives, and pray let others live theirs”! You spoke of “we”—you meant his heirs, of course?’


‘Were they more nearly related than you?’

‘No; they—he bore the same relationship that I did.’

‘Then all I can say is, it is most unjust.’

Audine did not reply. By nature she was reserved as well as self-possessed, having had to act and think for herself more or less ever since her father and mother died. The curiosity of Mrs. Osterley, a perfect stranger, astonished her. She had yet to learn that an English community, living in a foreign country, leads a kind of family life, which requires that each member shall have proper credentials. These being satisfactory, the new arrival is received with open arms into the friendly bosom of the colony, and made one of themselves, without any of the class feeling that tends to divide communities into sets and cliques in England. Audine, having never occupied the position of governess before, had had no experience of the peculiar way in which the governess in England is regarded, not so much by the lady of the house as by her friends. She had not, therefore, noted the entire absence of this attitude in Mrs. Osterley, who was treating her exactly as if she had been an honoured guest just arriving at her friend’s house. That lady’s questions were put with the intention of obtaining the necessary information, which would establish the right of Audine to be received on the same footing as other friends, and were not prompted by idle curiosity.

Possibly she might have pursued the subject further, had not her companion shown an absorbing interest in the scenery.

The air grew cooler still as they mounted, and Audine would have closed her sunshade; but Mrs. Osterley insisted on its being used.

‘You have no notion how dangerous the sun is unless you have a large sun-topee like mine. Though the air is cool, the sun is tropical.’

They passed under spreading trees and over stone arches that bridged mountain torrents. Frequently the road was a mere shelf on the slope of the hill, a wall of rock rising perpendicularly on one side and a deep ravine falling steeply away on the other. A noisy, brawling river could be heard below, but not often seen.

On either side of the valley the carefully-pruned tea, with its glistening, camellia-like foliage and blossom, spread smoothly over the slopes of the hills.

The estate bungalows were mostly near the road, from which they were screened by a luxuriant growth of flowering shrubs and handsome trees. Over roof and porch clambered creepers, orange-coloured bignonias, blue thunbergias, white and yellow jasmins, plumbago, and masses of tea-roses. Even the roadside culverts were thickly fringed with ferns, such as are cherished in glass-houses in England.

Mrs. Osterley had a family history on her tongue for each house that was passed. The tales were mostly of bygone prosperity: of money lent to start a new product in place of the old, which had been a failure; of renewed struggle; of patience, perseverance; and, finally, of noble resignation to a fate that had been too strong. Some, who were deemed fortunate, made a living out of their agricultural efforts; a few had been so far successful that they could afford to leave their estates in charge of superintendents, and retire to England on an income that kept them in comfort; and an occasional man here and there had made a lucky speculation with a new product, for which his land seemed especially suited. But no one had ever built up a fortune in Ceylon that could be compared with the wealth accumulated in other British colonies where minerals, and not agriculture, formed the source of riches.

Beguiled by Mrs. Osterley’s tales, and charmed by the beautiful scenery, an hour slipped away unnoticed by Audine. Frequently, when the driver would have used the whip upon his hard-worked beasts, the planter’s wife sharply bade him put it by. He was quite content to do so, time being no object with the oriental.

Another quarter of an hour passed, and the youth brought the carriage to a standstill.

‘Here I must leave you,’ said Mrs. Osterley, collecting her parcels. ‘I see my rickshaw and coolies down by the river.’

‘Where is your house?’ asked Audine.

‘On the other side of the valley. I have to cross the river to get to it. There is a bridge down by those eucalyptus-trees.’

The rickshaw coolies had discovered the carriage, and hastened up towards it. They assisted in the collection of the purchases of their mistress, with attentive obedience to her many directions, and Audine was not detained long.

‘Good-bye, my dear. I hope we shall see you over at Mahlipatna before long. You have only half a mile to drive. Make the man put you down at the other end of the bazaar.’

Here she broke off, to give the driver stringent orders that he was not to stop until he had gone beyond the boutiques of the Periya bazaar, and was out of reach of the idle crowd that always hung about the native stalls. Then she bestowed a rupee upon him, and informed him that the carriage was to be put down to her account with his master, to all of which he listened with many waggings of the head.

At a given signal, he drove on until he arrived at a point where the valley forked and the river branched.

The road followed the right-hand branch; the Nagatenne estate lay up the left-hand valley, and was accessible only by estate paths from the spot where the carriage stood.

‘Is this Nagatenne?’ asked Audine of the driver, who, having thrown the reins across the backs of his panting steeds, was regarding her with a propitiatory smile. His extended palms left no doubt in her mind as to his immediate hopes.

The voice of an English boy replied promptly to her question.

‘No, Miss Stratton. This is the end of the Periya bazaar. Nagatenne is three miles further up the valley. Hi, there, driver! Get the lady’s luggage down,’ he continued in fluent Tamil, the language of the estate coolie. ‘No present for you until your work is done.’

The man continued to smile in a good-humoured manner, and meekly set about fulfilling the orders.

‘Who are you, my dear?’ asked Audine, in some surprise at the authoritative tone of so small a person.

The boy did not reply, but shouted to a gang of natives, who were looking towards him for directions.

‘Here, coolie people! Come and help with the lady’s boxes.’

As each article was deposited in the road, he tugged at it, as though he would test its weight.

‘Two men to this trunk; one to this; one to that. These two parcels must be carried by one man.’

He portioned out the loads, chattering in the language of the porters, who chattered back at him, protesting that they were overloaded, yet accepting his decision without a thought of rebelling against it. When the final adjustment was made, they all seemed perfectly satisfied, and resumed their joking and laughing, which his summons had interrupted. Then he turned to Audine.

‘Now, come out of this crowd, Miss Stratton,’ he said, waving his hunting-crop towards a group of idlers who had straggled up from the bazaar, curious to see what was going on. ‘You may give the driver his rupee now. Was he civil?’ he inquired, regarding the man with suspicion.

‘Quite. He left off beating his horses whenever we asked him, and allowed them to walk up the steepest parts of the road.’

‘They are brutes where horses are concerned. Yes; he may have the rupee. Now, come along with me, quick, and let’s get out of this bazaar crowd.’

The little figure, dressed in riding-breeches and covert coat, marched off, cracking his hunting-whip at the pariah dogs, slinking at the heels of their native masters.

‘You see, they have small-pox down here—they usually have at this time of the year—and so we must get out of the place as soon as possible. Hi, there, coolie men! come along with the things,’ he cried, looking back towards the box-porters, who were being catechized by the inquisitive idlers.

‘Are you Lancelot Angus Smith?’ asked Audine, as she followed at his heels.

‘Usually called Lance. I don’t allow anyone to call me Lancie. I usually hit out when that happens. As you’re a girl, I can’t hit you; so it would make it easy for both of us if you would just call me Lance, and nothing more.’

It was said in a serious tone, which Audine was careful to imitate, as she assured him that she would respect his wishes. They left the road and took a path that crossed a meadow and descended towards the river. At a turn round a shoulder of rock that jutted out of the rank grass field, they came upon a row of waiting people.

‘Are you Antonia, and you Theresa?’ questioned Audine, as two little girls in very short serge skirts and sailor blouses came forward with extended hand to greet the newcomer.

‘Always called Tony and Terry, please,’ put in Lance.

Audine kissed them both, no easy matter, by reason of their large pith sun-hats.

‘Hi, chair-coolies!’ called Lance. ‘Come here and bring the chairs.’

‘It is very good of you all to meet me like this. If you are walking, I will walk with you.’

‘But we are not. Tony and I are riding,’ said Lance.

‘And you and I are going to be carried,’ cried Terry, who was never content to be silent long. ‘I would rather walk,’ observed Audine, looking at the four bare-legged darkies who were to be her means of locomotion.

They grinned insinuatingly, as the driver had done when he extended his eloquent palms towards her.

‘Better not; the sun is too hot,’ advised Lance.

‘Mother sent her chair on purpose for you, so you may as well be carried.’

He set to work to marshal his caravan in workman-like style. Tony was mounted on her pony, a little country-bred animal that had legs like a cat, and looked as if it could scale a rock or climb a tree at a pinch. Terry seated herself in a small chair fastened to two long bamboo-poles, and was lifted at the word of command to the shoulders of coolies. Audine was invited to place herself in a larger chair, also lashed to two strong poles. As she was elevated to the level of her bearers’ shoulders, she clutched at the arms of the chair.

‘It’s all right, Miss Stratton. Don’t be afraid; the men will carry you quite safely,’ shouted Lance, as he moved off in the direction of his own mount, a huge Australian mare that belonged to his father.

One of the syces was sent back to hurry the box-coolies, who presently appeared in a straggling line.

The cavalcade was started, Tony leading on her equine rat and Lance guarding the rear, taking care that every man was in front of him.

Chapter III

The cavalcade crossed a stream and entered a narrow estate path, which only allowed of the party proceeding in single file. The chair-coolies moved with some difficulty, treading upon each other’s heels, or slipping over the edge of the path into the side-drain.

Still they mounted, dipping here and there, where streams had furrowed the hillsides into shoulders and spurs, but climbing higher with each opposite slope.

The valley contracted, bringing the jungle-covered hill-tops closer. At one point the path led through a narrow belt of forest that stretched down to the very edge of the river. It formed the boundary to the Nagatenne estate. The cool green shade of the trees was a pleasant change from the brilliant sunshine that bathed the long sweeps of pruned tea.

The coolies walked with springing steps, regardless of the steepness of the way. The chair frequently dropped sideways, and Audine found herself again clutching the arms in instinctive self-preservation.

Once, while fording a stream, one of the men slipped over the water-worn boulders, and the chair plunged downwards. The men laughed as they quickly restored her equilibrium, and reassured her in a voluble but, to her, unknown tongue. The slip did not escape the sharp eyes of Lance, who pressed forward on the mare, with warnings to the bearers to be more careful.

They wagged their heads affirmatively as they listened to his admonitions, and jogged along in happy unconcern. Again Audine smiled as the patriarchal tone of the boy reached her ear.

The Nagatenne bungalow was situated on the south-eastern slope of a hill, that reared its crest above the saddle-backs enclosing the valley. A spur of the hill had been levelled into a platform large enough to contain the bungalow, with its kitchens, stables, and outhouses. At the back of the bungalow was a flourishing kitchen-garden. In front a lawn sloped down the hill, with terraced flower-beds intersecting and bordering it. The borders were themselves bound with hedges of roses, that flung long blossom-laden arms into the tea beyond.

As the chair-coolies slowly climbed the steep zigzag path leading up towards the bungalow, it seemed to Audine that she was penetrating to the very heart of the hills. All day long, from the time she had caught the first glimpse of the blue hills from the rice-fields near Colombo, she had been pursuing those azure mountains. On the railroad she wound about their feet and climbed their skirts. By the help of the cart-road she mounted higher, and laid hold of them about the waist. Now at last she had her hand upon their shoulders.

The magnificent jungle-crowned crest that rose behind the Nagatenne bungalow was not proving elusive like the rest. It was permitting her to approach, to climb its very neck; instead of melting away into the sapphire haze, it grew grander and larger with each turn of the path. Towering above, it smiled in the flood of tropical sunlight, its garment the luxuriant tea, its hood the hoary forest. On its lap it held the home of the Englishman, the home which was to be hers for some months, perhaps years.

The coolies passed under an arch of greenery, where pale-blue plumbago vied with primrose and salmon-coloured tea-roses. The hill-crest was lost behind the blue-gums and Australian pines that sheltered the outbuildings.

Tony on her wiry animal had hurried forward to herald the advent of the guest. But there was no need to summon the household. Mrs. Angus Smith, all excitement and anticipation, had been watching for their coming for the last hour. As Mrs. Osterley had said, her geese were ever swans, and her vivid imagination had painted Miss Stratton as beautiful, clever, and possibly rich, since she was independent of a salary.

The coolies lowered the chair from their shoulders.

At the same moment the front-door, which stood hospitably open, was filled with the presence of a smiling matron of not more than thirty-three, who advanced towards Audine with outstretched arms.

‘Welcome, welcome, Miss Stratton, to Nagatenne!’ she cried; and Audine found herself warmly kissed by the gushing lady.

Mr. Angus Smith followed close upon the heels of his wife, repeating her words of greeting, as he shook the hand of Audine heartily. Trailing after the master of the house came two spaniels, overflowing with blundering amiability, a bounding fox-terrier, and a yapping Irish terrier. A Singhalese butler sedately followed the dogs, and a younger manservant arrived on the threshold. Between the bare ankles of the podian peeped cautiously a long-nosed yellow dog that sniffed at the stranger with suspicion. It was the sole exception to the general expression of welcome given to Audine. The little circle was increased by the arrival of the box-coolies, the gardener and his assistant, the cook with his kitchen coolie, and the syces’ wives, who came ostensibly to help in carrying the trunks of ‘the new missie’ into the house.

Audine, in her pretty English hat and smartly-cut frock, with colour heightened from the excitement of meeting strangers, was a pleasant sight. Satisfaction was visible on the countenances of Angus Smith and his wife, as they closely scanned her appearance. They were ready to accept anything in the new governess but downright plainness. Their minds were set at rest by the sight of the regular features and fair complexion of their guest. Terry, who had scrambled out of her chair, took her father’s hand, whilst Tony drew near on the other side. On the faces of the children the approval of their parents was strongly reflected.

‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ said Tony in a discreet whisper, regarding Miss Stratton with open admiration.

‘And I expect she’s a rum un to go,’ added Terry, without any attempt to modulate her voice.

It was precisely the remark made by Angus Smith himself when he first set eyes on Tony’s steed. The child treasured it up in her memory, and now reproduced it with self-satisfied assurance.

‘Shut up, you two!’ said Lance. ‘I have brought Miss Stratton up safely, father, and I kept clear of the Periya bazaar.’

‘Quite right, Lance. Did you have long to wait?’

‘A little less than an hour.’

‘Was I later than you expected?’ asked Audine.

‘Just a little; but you could not help that. You did not allow the driver to press the horses.’

‘You were also detained by setting down Mrs. Osterley. I suppose she met you all right?’ said Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘Oh yes, and took great care of me and my money,’ replied Audine.

‘That I am sure she would do, and no one better. But come in and have some tea. Lance, see that the boxes and parcels are put into Miss Stratton’s room. Oh, Tony, do call these dogs off! Take the twins away. Down, Tinker! Get away, Lord Cork!’

Thus talking and giving her directions right and left, Mrs. Angus Smith led Audine into the bungalow. Her husband, with Tony and Terry, accompanied them. Behind followed the dogs and the servants, and the coolies with the boxes, directed by Lance.

A delicious scent of roses and violets filled Audine’s nostrils as she passed through the hall to the drawing-room. At every turn there were flowers—masses of tea-roses, noisette-roses, tall spikes of penstemon, gladiolus and canna, Brazilian lilies, abutilon, clerodendron, geranium, bignonia, verbena, hoya, pansies, and violets. They were thrust into every description of vase, from iridescent glasses of elegant form to jam-pots and French-plum bottles. No one, however, considered the vase; the glorious blossoms held the eye entranced: they were so fine and so fresh.

‘How lovely!’ exclaimed Audine, as she gazed round in wonder. ‘You must have robbed your garden to make such a show.’

‘Not at all. Look at that blaze of colour out there!’

Audine turned her eyes towards the large French windows, through which she could distinguish noble splashes of pink, white, scarlet, and purple. At the back hung a curtain of blue ipomea, the ‘morning glory’ of the East.

‘The more I cut, the more there seems to be. Appoo!’ she called to the butler, as she heard his step in the hall. Be quick with the tea.’

It was already on the way; and the buttered toast, cakes, buns, and shortbread soon attracted the rest of the family. According to the usual custom amongst planters, the big breakfast at half-past eleven had been the last meal, and by three in the afternoon the household was quite ready for a substantial tea.

Lance, with his quaint mannish way, came in last. ‘I have seen to the boxes, and I hope that everything is there.’ He glanced round at his sisters with an anxious expression. ‘Terry, sit up closer to the table, or you will spill your tea.’ He moved the small low chair, which she had appropriated to herself, closer to the tea-table. Tony, you need not squeeze yourself into Miss Stratton’s pocket. She won’t fly away.’

He drew his sister further from Audine, and Mrs. Angus Smith smiled her approval.

‘Lance is my right hand,’ she said, as she busied herself at the tea-tray.

Angus Smith had thrown himself into a large easy-chair, with a convenient table close at hand. Lance pushed aside a bowl of roses to make room for his father’s cup and plate. At the open door stood the four dogs, the spaniels thumping the floor with their tails, the terriers trembling from head to foot with anticipation. The drawing-room was the only forbidden spot to the dogs, and though exuberant spirits and laxity of discipline now and then caused the rule to be broken, they did not dare to intrude at the present moment. The long-nosed yellow animal was nowhere to be seen. With his usual forethought, he had betaken himself to the drawing-room before the mistress arrived, and was at that very moment safely hidden under the easy-chair occupied by Audine. He was still prospecting, unable to decide whether he should give her a lasting devotion as a friend of the family, or declare war to the knife.

Angus Smith, a big, loosely-made man, with good features and a pleasant smile, began to question Audine about her journey, whilst Lance handed the toast round and passed the cups of fragrant tea. At every turn his mother looked to him for assistance.

‘Is this tea your own growing?’ asked Audine, as her cup was filled a second time.

‘To be sure. Though our estate is not large, we reckon that it produces excellent tea.’

‘But we are getting poor prices just now,’ interrupted Lance.

Angus Smith and his wife both laughed.

‘Lance takes as much interest in the estate as we do, and he is terribly concerned because the last sale gave us the lowest price we have yet had,’ explained his mother.

‘Why should it be so low?’ asked Audine.

‘It is all this abominable tax, which has been put upon the tea on account of the war,’ said Angus Smith.

Lance listened with anxiety written on his thin, intellectual face.

‘I heard Mr. Marriner say that it was pressing hard on him, father.’

‘To whom was he speaking?’

‘To Mr. Nayland.’

Angus Smith laughed carelessly as he replied:

‘Marriner may well look blue! He came off worse than I did in the last sale, and got a still lower price for his tea. Though his place is double the size of mine, it does not pay him so well. It is so heavily mortgaged. I should never be surprised if he were sold up.’

Angus Smith addressed his family circle generally. His wife listened indifferently, but Lance devoured every word. Tony was attentive, but did not understand what he meant by ‘mortgaged’ and ‘sold up.’ As for Terry, she was occupied with her food, and if she had any attention to spare it was devoted to the dogs. Audine listened in some surprise to the open discussion of the affairs of a neighbour before herself, a stranger, and the children.

‘I am sorry to hear that Mr. Marriner is not prospering,’ she remarked.

‘Do you know him?’ asked Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘He is my cousin.’

There was a general exclamation from parents and children as they learned the fact.

‘Dear me! How odd! Mr. Marriner never said a word about your being a relation of his when I mentioned that you were on your way out,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith in an aggrieved tone.

‘Perhaps he did not catch the name; or, if he did, he may not have associated it with his cousin,’ remarked her husband.

‘Probably he was not interested. It is some time since we met,’ explained Audine.

‘How long is it?’ asked Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘It must be nearly three years.’

‘That was when he was last in England. He hurried home on account of the illness of an uncle, who wished to see him. The uncle died whilst he was at home and left all his money to Marriner,’ said Angus Smith, with the confident tone of one who thought he knew.

‘Do you like Mr. Marriner?’ asked Lance.

Before he could reply Tony claimed a hearing.

‘Oh, Miss Stratton, what a pity that Mr. Marriner is your cousin! It ought to have been Mr. Fleetwood.’

‘Who is Mr. Fleetwood?’

‘The Sinna Dorai, or assistant, on Galla,’ said Angus Smith, helping himself to a piece of cake, as his wife emptied the cream-jug into his third cup of tea. ‘The Galla estate is too large for one man to manage properly, so Marriner employs Fleetwood as his assistant, and the coolies call him the “little master.” The assistant usually superintends the estate work, and looks after the weeding, priming, holing, and plucking, whilst the big master, the Periya Dorai, sees to the factory.’

‘Father is the head on Nagatenne, and I should like to be the assistant,’ said Lance.

‘Mr. Fleetwood is just lovely. I wish he was my cousin,’ sighed Terry.

‘I mean to marry him,’ remarked Tony, with a warning glance at her younger sister, to kill any expectation of a like nature on her part.

Mrs. Angus Smith laughed as she said:

‘He isn’t much of a catch, Tony. He draws only two hundred rupees a month, and as far as one can judge in the present period of depression, he is more likely to have his screw reduced than increased.’

Again Audine listened in wonder. The answer given by her hostess to the childish speech of her ten-year-old daughter would have been more suitable in the mouth of a woman of the world who was addressing a girl of twice the age of Tony.

‘We can live on fruit and pumpkins, and curry and rice, like the Osterleys. Ivy Osterley says—’

What Ivy Osterley said was lost in the noise of a sudden disturbance made by Terry. Having finished her tea, she had had time to look around. Her sharp eyes had caught sight of the tip of the yellow dog’s tail under Audine’s chair. Plunging forward in a kind of spread-eagle on the floor, she made a grab at it.

The dog was too quick for her. It bolted out in the opposite direction and made for the door, where sat the spaniels and terriers, still hopeful of fragments from the tea-table. Bewildered by the sudden rush, and irritated by a very reasonable jealousy, they snapped at him as he passed, and trailed after him in a discordant chorus of barks.

‘Oh, the cunning dog! He really ought to be punished,’ cried Tony, following swiftly.

Terry picked herself up, and ran after her sister.

‘Lance, go and look after them. If that little devil and the Irish terrier fight, don’t separate them, but just let them have it out, once and for all. We shall have no peace in the kennels until one or other is master,’ exclaimed his father.

‘Come and see your room, Miss Stratton,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, rising from the table, as Lance left them to do his father’s bidding.

The bungalow possessed no upper story. The bedrooms were situated behind the sitting-rooms, and opened into a wide passage, leading from the entrance-hall to the back veranda, beyond which was the kitchen. Audine’s room was next to what was once the nursery, now the bedroom of the little girls.

Opposite to the door was a French window, which looked upon a deep veranda, where creepers festooned the trellis-work and threw over it a mantle of colour.

The furniture was country-made, but solid and good, with an air of comfort, without actual luxury, about it. On the dressing-table and chest of drawers, as well as on the writing-table by the window, were vases of roses and violets freshly gathered. Audine bent her head delightedly over the blossoms.

‘I am glad you like flowers. We are great gardeners, my husband and I—that is to say, I do most of the actual superintending, as he hasn’t time, but he overlooks it all, and thoroughly enjoys it.’

‘I love flowers,’ said Audine.

‘Then I will keep your vases well supplied. It does the roses and violets good to gather them.’ Mrs. Angus Smith moved towards the door. ‘We dine at seven, so you have comfortable time before you to unpack and dress for dinner’

‘Am I not to have supper with the children in the schoolroom?’ asked Audine, recalling the fact that she was the governess and not a visitor, as Mrs. Angus Smith in her kindness seemed to think

‘Tony and Lance dine with us. Terry has some soup and bread-and-butter earlier, as she can’t wait up so long. But Lance looks after her, and sees that she has what she wants.’

Again the lady made an attempt to leave the room, but Audine pursued her to the door.

‘Oh, by-the-by, please show me the schoolroom before you go.’

‘The schoolroom! I am afraid that we have no such room in the house,’ replied Mrs. Angus Smith, with sudden perplexity. ‘I don’t think that you will want one,’ she continued, brightening visibly at the solution she offered.

‘I can’t teach the children without some place that will serve as a schoolroom,’ replied Audine in some consternation. Perhaps we can have the lessons in the dining-room.’

‘I don’t know, really, whether it will be possible. I always do all the flower-vases on the dining-room table, and they have to be done every day. Then I go over the accounts with the appoo.’

‘Is there a table in the nursery at which we could sit and work?’

‘No, there isn’t. With the children’s beds and the wardrobes and my boxes, there is no room for a table there. I have to keep the house-linen and spare blankets in the nursery, because it is the driest room in the bungalow. No; you couldn’t possibly manage to do lessons in the nursery,’ concluded Mrs. Angus Smith, with increasing perplexity.

‘What about a corner in the drawing-room?’

‘There are no tables that you can write at in the drawing-room. The only place that I can think of is the veranda. But the dogs are always there, and they are such fidgety creatures that you would get no attention from Tony and Terry at all. I really don’t know what we are to do.’

Her sunny brow was puckered in unusual thought.

Audine, though equally puzzled by the dilemma, felt sorry for her. She made a suggestion.

‘Perhaps we had better consult Mr. Angus Smith. He may be able to solve the difficulty.’

His wife smiled at the thought of her easy-going husband exerting himself to think out any domestic problem.

‘Oh, Angus will be of no help in the matter. He will only laugh, and advise you to camp out with the lesson-books under the shade of the orange-trees. It might do in fine weather, but it would be impossible in the rains; and there would be the same difficulty about the dogs. They and the children are inseparable. I had the greatest difficulty in banishing them at night from underneath the children’s beds. Tony took the terriers, Lance the twins, and Terry the yellow dog. However, I had to insist on the creatures being shut up at night in their kennels, and Terry cried herself to sleep for a fortnight, poor little soul! She does love that yellow dog with all her heart, though he is such a mongrel. Well, I must be off, as my husband is waiting for me. He and I usually go out on the estate after tea, having no assistant, like Mr. Marriner. I will ask Lance what he thinks about the question of the schoolroom. He will probably be able to suggest some plan. I wonder where he is, by-the-by,’ she concluded, looking up and down the broad passage.

‘His father asked him to go after his sisters, who followed the dogs.’

‘Ah, yes, of course! When he comes back, tell him that I have gone to Cobra Rock. If there is anything that you want, be sure you ask him for it.’

She hurried to her room to dress for the walk. Audine, closing her door, began to unpack and settle herself into her quarters. Half an hour later there was a knock at her window. She opened the glass door, and was confronted by her three charges and the five dogs. The children were hot and dishevelled; even Lance was excited and warm, whilst the dogs stood with tongues hanging out, tails lowered, and sides panting. The Irish terrier was bleeding in the leg, and the yellow dog had a wound on his head.

‘We’ve had such a chase,’ explained Lance. ‘We and the four dogs chevied the D. down to the factory. He came to bay against the factory wall, and Lord Cork went for him. We held the Twins and Tinker, to give fair play.’

‘And what do you think, Miss Stratton?’ broke in Terry, who could scarcely speak coherently from excitement. ‘The D. fought for ten minutes, and beat Lord Cork into fits, and bit him in the leg, so that the blood is all running out.’

Tony took up the tale, as Terry failed for want of breath.

‘Then Lord Cork tried to run away, and we all chased him through the tea, just as if he had been a hare; and the D. caught him and held him just before we reached the garden.’

‘Where is mother?’ asked Lance. ‘I want some sticking-plaster for Lord Cork’s leg.’

‘She has gone for a walk, and she told me to tell you that she was going as far as Cobra Rock.’

‘Cobra Rock!’ repeated Lance, looking at Tony.

‘Cobra Rock!’ echoed his sister.

‘We must manage by ourselves with an old pocket-handkerchief,’ said Lance, turning away with the injured animal.

‘Oh, Miss Stratton, that was the best dog-fight you ever saw! What a pity you didn’t come too! We shan’t have another for ever so long, not till we get a new dog. The D. has settled Lord Cork for ever, and will always be master now. I am so glad; but I am very sorry you weren’t there. You will never have such a chance as that again.’

With these words, Terry ran swiftly after Lance, to watch the surgical operations that were being carried out in the back veranda, with the help of the syces and any other servants who happened to be on the spot.

Chapter IV

The sun was shining into Audine’s room with level rays. She looked at her watch; it was a little past six.

She could hear the servants stirring, but, with English instincts, she considered that it was full early to be rising. She was about to close her eyes again for another forty winks, when Lance knocked at the door.

‘Miss Stratton, are you getting up? Chota hazri will be ready directly.’

‘Are you dressed, Lance?’ she called, as she sprang from her comfortable bed.

‘Yes; aren’t you?’

‘Not yet; but I shan’t be long.’

‘Be quick; this is the best time in the morning, and we have so much to show you.’

She heard him go towards the kitchen and shout to the butler to bring the coffee and toast and boiled eggs.

Before seven she was seated at the breakfast-table.

No cloth covered the polished board, and the meal was strictly informal. Each member of the house helped him or her self in the order of arrival at the table. The coffee-tray was placed on the sideboard. A large dish of fried bacon, as well as the eggs and toast, stood before the place occupied by Lance. Mrs. Angus Smith had already risen from her seat, and, with garden scissors and basket, was just leaving the room. Tony and Terry were halfway through, and Lance had nearly finished. He jumped up as Audine entered, and, without waiting to ask if she would have some, poured out a cup of coffee, which he handed to her.

‘Breakfast is not until half-past eleven,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, turning at the door. ‘Lance, look after your new friend, and don’t let her starve.’

The boy, who had already played the part of host, needed no telling. He finished his interrupted meal, and then peeped into the coffee-pot. Ringing the bell, he said to the podian, who appeared in answer:

‘Tell the appoo to have some hot coffee for master and some fresh toast made.’

‘Father never gets up early, as we do,’ remarked Tony.

‘He says early rising plays the very deuce with his constitution,’ added Terry.

‘Shut up, Terry, and don’t speak with your mouth full!’ admonished Lance.

‘My mouth is empty; I heard father say so to Mr. Spondon the other day, when he called to ask him if he wouldn’t come out with the hounds sometimes. You have to get up long before it’s light, Miss Stratton, when you go hunting.’

Audine rose from her chair.

‘Go and put your hat on, quick, Miss Stratton, and we’ll take you for a walk. Another morning you must breakfast in your hat; it saves so much time,’ said Lance.

When she presently rejoined them, the boy reverted to the subject of his father with an innate loyalty that met with Audine’s approval.

‘You see, he has no occasion to get up early. He has a conductor, who goes to muster and sends the coolies out. Father’s work is chiefly overlooking everything.’

‘And the conductor sees to the priming and plucking,’ added Tony.

A fresh dewy scent of springing vegetation met her nostrils, as Audine stepped down from the veranda into the garden. There had been a shower in the night, and where the sun had not been long upon the grass the green blades were heavy with scintillating drops.

To the right the lawn sloped upward, passing under a group of orange-trees to a trellised railing festooned with convolvulus. The blossom of the luxuriant creeper turned toward the eastern sun, spreading mantles of purple and pink over the top of the green fence.

In front the lawn inclined downwards. Here were the flowers so beloved by Mrs. Angus Smith; and there she stood with her gardener, Moonaswamy, absorbed in the delicate task of pruning an azalea. Her flower-basket, still empty, was lying on the grass by her side, whilst she held the branches of the fragile bush apart, and pointed to the exact spot where she wished the knife to be applied. The assistant gardener was weeding the border within sight.

Both men were Tamils from the South of India, who had originally come over with other coolies to work amongst the tea. Mrs. Angus Smith had picked out Moonaswamy and his young brother, and with infinite pains had taught them all that they knew of flower-culture. By birth they were agriculturists, the sons of generations of rice-growers, and they took kindly to her instructions, secretly cherishing all the superstitious practices of their ancestors concerning the cultivation of paddy, and applying them to the growth of flowers.

Natives of India and Ceylon cannot believe that anything is done without a purpose, and without some promise of return. Moonaswamy had never been able to satisfy himself as to the reason for his mistress’s love of flowers. He was convinced that she had some deep purpose in her mind. The proud and somewhat scornful Singhalese appoo (butler) had assured him more than once that the blossoms were needed purely and simply for the adornment of ‘the visiting-room.’ But this was not sufficient for the dusky gardener. At the bottom of his heart he believed that she used them for propitiating a secret demon and performing a pujah that would extract valuable information out of the evil spirit. How else should she know how to make the flowers grow with that wonderful powder she sprinkled on their roots? How could she otherwise tell what was best to do in another matter where his assistance was needed?

Mrs. Angus Smith called after Lance.

‘Are you going down to the factory?’

‘We can go if you wish,’ he replied.

‘Just see how the tea-maker is getting on with the last lot of leaf that came in.’

They proceeded to the stables, and spoke to the mare and the Rat. Between the stables and the kitchens was a row of buildings which contained the fowl-house, the dogs’ kennels, and the living-rooms of the servants.

Lord Cork’s leg proved to be much better, and his quick Irish temper was somewhat subdued. Under the circumstances, he was permitted to come out with the others, and go for the usual morning walk.

‘Lance, keep your eye on the D., and don’t let him fight again,’ said Tony, looking sympathetically at the Irish terrier as it limped along behind her.

‘He won’t fight unless Lord Cork attacks him,’ replied Lance.

‘Why do you call him the D.?’ asked Audine.

‘Well, you see, father began it,’ replied Lance diffidently.

‘He always called him “that little devil,”’ announced Terry, without mincing matters.

‘Oh, shut up, Terry!’ cried Lance with annoyance.

Somehow, this morning his small sister’s pertinent speeches, of which he usually took little or no notice, seemed offensive.

‘I shan’t shut up!’ retorted the indignant maiden, straightening herself in her short blue serge frock, until she appeared all stocking-leg and sailor-collar.

‘I’ll tell you how it was, Miss Stratton. Mother heard me teaching the yellow dog to beg. I called him by the name father always used, and she said it wasn’t proper at my age to use the expression of “little devil”; so there was nothing else to be done but call him the D., was there?’

‘Unless you changed his name.’

‘There was no other name that would suit him. He is a little devil; he was born so, and could not help it,’ explained Terry, pleased to find a necessity for using the forbidden word.

Lance was walking on in front, holding back the bigger of the two spaniels, usually dubbed Major, to distinguish him from his smaller companion, Minor.

The boy was on the watch for a hare, and was not paying much attention to the chatter of his sisters.

They had left the grounds of the bungalow, and were pursuing a path that led towards the big hill.

‘What is his breed?’

‘Pi—pure pi.’

‘What is a pi?’

‘A pariah, a native mongrel. He was the mangiest, dirtiest little dev—’

‘—dog,’ suggested Audine.

‘—puppy-dog that you ever saw,’ said Tony, taking up the tale from her sister. If he was touched, he shrieked. Father doctored him with sulphur and oil, and then said that he smelt like the lower regions, and must be killed.’

‘Poor little devil!’ ejaculated Terry under her breath.

She was trotting behind Audine, whilst Tony strode in front.

‘Terry dear, don’t say that word.’

‘All right, Miss Stratton,’ replied the small maid, with a sigh of obedient resignation. ‘But when I am grown up like father and mother, I shall say it all day long,’ she added, as if to herself.

‘Not if I am present, please, dear,’ said Audine.

‘How long have we to love, honour, and obey you, Miss Stratton?’ asked Terry.

Audine laughed.

‘Who said that you had to love, honour, and obey me?’

‘Lance made us promise,’ replied Tony. ‘He says that mother promised father that when she married. If father asks her to leave the garden and go for a walk, she laughs and says she supposes she must, because she promised to love, honour, and obey him.’

‘And she says it generally when he tells her that he wants to go to Cobra Rock,’ added Terry.

‘Shut up, Terry!’ cried Tony, in close imitation of Lance, who was now out of sight.

‘Tell me more about the yellow dog,’ said Audine, breaking a silence that had fallen upon the children.

Tony took up the story:

‘Father ordered the syce to put a stone round the D.’s neck, and drown him in the water-tub by the stables. But instead of doing so, the syce kept him and cured the mange. One day father was going—’ She paused, and Terry filled in the gap.

‘—to Cobra Rock.’

‘—and the D. ran out after the other dogs. Father was so surprised to see him. He had no hair on his body, but he was quite well. All father could do was to laugh and say, “Well, well, to be sure, you little devil! I suppose you must live now.” The D. wagged his poor bare little tail, and the syce said, “Yes, sar. Very good dog this; very clever dog; got good smell.” He meant nose. After that the yellow dog always went out with father, whether he was shooting or only walking over the estate, and when father came home, the dog went back to the stables. One day he caught a hare all by himself, and he seemed to know that he had done something wonderful; he gave himself such airs! Father patted him, and called him a good dog. That was enough for the D. He came home with the rest of the dogs, and put himself to bed in Minor’s box—that’s the smaller of the Twins—and she let him be. Lord Cork was the only one to give any trouble. He has bullied the D. ever since. But yesterday they fought it out, and Lance says that now they will be better friends.’

Ever climbing as they talked, they reached the top of a spur of the hill. Between them and the edge of the jungle the pruned tea spread in an uninterrupted sweep. The giants of the forest were plainly discernible with their moss-covered arms extended high above the dense undergrowth. A wild laugh of ‘Hoh! hoh! hoh!’ rang out across the small valley that lay between them and the jungle.

‘What was that?’ asked Audine, startled.

‘A wandaroo monkey. He must have caught sight of the Twins,’ replied Tony composedly.

‘Are the monkeys at all dangerous?’

The children laughed, and Tony reassured her.

‘We have nothing dangerous in our jungles. Even the cheetahs, unless they are wounded, won’t attack men. We have no bears and no elephants up here, so you need not be afraid of going into the jungle, Miss Stratton.’

‘It doesn’t look as if one could easily enter,’ observed Audine, as they drew near to the verge of the forest.

‘All the same, there are paths through it,’ replied Tony. They are made by the game—the sambur, the wild pigs, and the monkeys—as they go down to the river to drink. One day we must take you into the jungle; it is so beautiful.’

‘I should like it immensely,’ said Audine.

They climbed close up to the jungle. Ferns and strange herbaceous plants grew under the shrubs. Giant brambles threw yards and yards of thorny branches across the undergrowth in their endeavour to reach the warm rays of the eastern sun. At this point the track divided at right angles, skirting the forest on both sides for some distance. Tony did not hesitate, but took the branch leading to the right.

‘Where does that path go?’ asked Audine, as she turned her back upon the one to the left.

‘It goes round the hill to the back, and right away down to the river,’ explained Tony.

‘And it passes Cobra Rock,’ said Terry, with a defiant look at her sister.

‘Does it continue further than the river?’ asked Audine.

‘It crosses the river by stepping-stones like those down by our factory, and it leads on and on through the Government lands, which are all jungle and patna, until you come to Mr. Spondon’s estate. They keep hounds, and hunt. Mr. Mervyn Larch, who lives near them, also hunts.’

‘Does your father never go?’

‘Not now. He says it is too much fag, besides the bother of having to get up before daylight. You have to run with the hounds all the way if you want any real fan.’

‘Couldn’t he ride?’

The children both laughed and pointed to the forest.

‘A horse could never get through that jungle, Miss Stratton. The hunters follow on foot by game-tracks, and the elk comes to bay in the river. Then they stick it with a knife. Mr. Fleetwood likes hunting, but he can’t often get away.’

‘I thought Lance said that your father was fond of sport.’

‘He likes shooting, but running after the hounds tires him to death. The D. is splendid at jungle-fowl shooting. Father puts him into the jungle to hunt. He sniffs and sniffs, and if there is no game about, he just sits still on his tail, and won’t budge an inch. If father whacks him, he goes and hides behind a tree until father moves on. Then he bustles out, and pretends that he has been hard at work beating the jungle for game.’

‘And if there are any jungle-fowl?’

‘Then he just goes for them, and howls for all he is worth until he flushes the birds. Father lent him once to Mr. Marriner, and he brought him back, and said that he was a fool of a dog, and knew nothing about jungle work. He complained that the D. howled because he thought he was lost.’ Tony laughed heartily as she told the tale. ‘You couldn’t lose him, if you tried ever so.’

‘Because he is such a little D.,’ concluded Terry.

A sound of yelping in the distance caused the two little girls to stop short in their chatter.

‘Hark! the Twins have got on to a hare,’ cried Tony, as motionless as a pointer dog. ‘I wonder which way they will work.’

Audine was more interested in the scenery than in the doings of the dogs. She turned and looked down the valley. A magnificent view met her eyes. To the right, immediately below, was the Nagatenne bungalow. Even from this distance the masses of colour in Mrs. Angus Smith’s garden were attractive. Further on and below the bungalow were the coolie lines, situated on a small tributary of the river. On the opposite side rose hills like that on which she was standing, interspersed with saddleback ridges.

In all directions the planter marked his presence by the acreage of tea which covered the valleys. Far away it had the appearance of a closely-shaven lawn of verdant grass. The horizon was bounded by peaks that stood out clearly in a pearly-blue atmosphere against the eastern sky. A few wisps of white vapour hung about the highest, but the rapidly increasing heat of the sun was dissolving the clouds rapidly. ‘How lovely! how exquisite!’ exclaimed Audine, as she drew the fresh mountain air into her lungs.

Her spirits rose, and she was conscious of a buoyancy of heart that was new and delightful. All trouble and anxiety of mind melted away, like the mists on the mountains under the morning rays. It was good to live, good to have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Just now those ears were filled with the noise of the dogs, and she turned her eyes from the scenery to her charges. They were actually trembling with excitement.

‘The Twins are working up the valley towards the jungle,’ said Terry.

‘No; that’s Major leading, with Minor close behind. They are going down to the river. I can hear Lord Cork yapping far behind. Come along, let’s run! Can you run, Miss Stratton!’ asked Tony, with some anxiety.

‘Certainly, if the path is fairly good.’

‘Then, pick up your petticoats and follow on, if you want to be in at the kill.’

Audine had no desire to be ‘in at the kill.’

‘You run on ahead, Tony, and I will ask Terry to take care of me. No fear of our losing ourselves, is there?’

‘You can’t do that as long as you keep in the open. Terry, choose a nice easy way down, and bring Miss Stratton in at the death if you can,’ counselled Tony, as she bounded forward, making all kinds of short-cuts through the tea where it was possible.

Terry, with much pride, took up the rôle of guide.

‘I should love to show you the jungle, Miss Stratton.’

‘Not to-day, Terry; some other time.’

‘You ought to see where the terrestrial orchids grow. They come up every year, just as safely as if they were in the garden, and when they are in blossom we gather them for mother. Lower down by the river there are some lovely tree orchids. Mother sends Moonaswamy for those. But I’m going one day myself. Moonaswamy says that I can reach some of them just as well as he can.’

They took a path that zigzagged towards the river, and now and then Terry made a short-cut, leaping across a narrow, deep, fern-fringed drain, and down a steep cutting on to the path again. Whatever else these strange colonial children had been taught, courtesy had not been omitted. Terry paused at each difficult point in the way to extend a chubby hand with an offer of help, well meant if it was not effectual. At the end of twenty minutes they reached the river.

‘Where is the young master?’ shouted Terry to a tea-plucker.

‘He and the dogs have gone up the hill again. They are catching a hare,’ replied the man in his own tongue.

Terry looked up at Audine, and sighed.

‘The coolie says that they have gone up the hill again. I can’t possibly follow; can you?’

‘No, Terry; let’s go quietly home: you know the way.’

‘It is rather early to go indoors. Mother told Lance to come down to the factory. It is close by. Shall we walk there and meet him?’

Audine consenting, they passed along a broader path, not far from the beautiful, clear river that babbled here and roared there over its bed of pebbles and boulders.

‘Shall I tell you more about the D.?’

‘Please do; there is room now for you to walk by my side.’

So, with the child pouring forth further tales about her beloved animal, they strolled along, following the stream by its many curves and bends. Although the absence of forest robbed the landscape of half its loveliness and all its wildness, the river was still beautiful.

Between the water and the tea-bushes was a band of luxuriant vegetation, where shrubs and ferns and wild ginger flourished. Large boulders lay strewn across the bed of the stream in places, causing the water to boil and murmur. At other points there was space for it to expand into wide pools, and to flow silently over shallow stretches of sand and small pebbles. Here and there the bed-rock showed itself above the water, worn by the flood into holes and pockets and smooth rounded edges. This bed-rock frequently ended in a natural wall, over which the river hurled itself impetuously into a deep pool below. These waterfalls, varying in height, were utilized by the planters for the purpose of obtaining water-power to drive the machinery of their factories. Consequently, the factories of most of the estates were to be found upon the river banks.

Nagatenne was no exception to this rule. On a level space below a fall of some forty or fifty feet the building stood, with the house of the tea-maker near at hand.

The gray wall of rock, over which the river foamed, was framed in green foliage. Wild begonias raised their delicate pink blossoms in the spray of the fall. The bolder ferns pushed their fronds under the scattering drops, bowing their heads as though blown by the wind as the shower fell upon them. Larger-leaved plants struggled with rank ropes of creepers for place and room near the hurrying flood.

‘Come along, Miss Stratton; let’s go inside and sit down in the office,’ said Terry, pulling at her hand, as Audine lingered to gaze at the waterfall.

At this moment the Irish terrier ran up to them, eliciting an exclamation from Terry.

‘Here’s Lord Cork! Poor doggy! He is tired of running with his hurt leg.’

The creature wagged its tail, and limped after them to the factory. Terry opened the office door, and stood aside for Miss Stratton to pass in. Lord Cork followed, and instantly there was an uproar, as a man rose from a chair and the dog flew at him.

‘Down, down, Lord Cork!’ shouted Terry, throwing herself upon the terrier.

Audine, looking across the struggling child and dog, found herself face to face with Jermyn Marriner.

Chapter V

‘You are surprised to see me,’ said Audine, watching the blood mount swiftly in the face of the man. At the same time she held out her hand. He grasped it, and his self-possession returned.

‘Not exactly; for I heard that you were coming to Nagatenne. But just at that moment I must confess you were not in my thoughts, which were occupied with business connected with my estate.’

She scrutinized his features. There was little alteration since she had last seen him. Perhaps he was a trifle stouter. His pale gray eye fell before hers as he said with some hesitation:

‘I ought to apologize for not having answered your last letter. When I heard that you were going to be a near neighbour, I thought that we could perhaps discuss the matter after you arrived, and settle it finally.’

‘I should be very glad to have it settled one way or the other. At some other time we will talk it over.’

Audine glanced towards Terry, who was occupied with the dog.

‘Has Terry brought you here to show you how the tea is manufactured?’

‘No; we are to meet Lance. He is hunting a hare with the rest of the dogs, and Tony is with him. Terry and I were left far behind when they once got away.’

‘Here they come, and Lance has got the hare in his hand,’ said Marriner, looking out of the window.

Terry gave a whoop of delight, and bounded out of the door to meet her brother. Tony was just behind, making much of the D. as she walked along.

‘What do you think, Miss Stratton?’ she exclaimed, as she reached the office; I was in at the death! Oh, you ought to have been there!’

‘Was it a good run, Lance?’ asked Marriner, regarding the boy with friendly amusement.

‘Splendid! It was a picture to see how the yellow dog worked.’

‘Of course, it was the D. who did it,’ said Tony.

‘Darling little devil!’ whispered Terry, under the excitement of hearing so much praise of her favourite, as she fondled his ugly yellow head.

Lance flung himself into a chair, and continued the tale.

‘Those blundering idiots, the Twins, would have lost the scent altogether if it hadn’t been for the D. Lord Cork’s game leg prevented him from running, and Tinker couldn’t stand the pace. The hare doubled back up the hill after coming down to the river. The yellow dog doubled close at its heels. The hare doubled again under my very feet. The D. seemed to know by instinct what it was going to do, and was ready. Twenty yards further on he overhauled it, and I was just in time to prevent the hare from being mauled.’

‘That’s the only fault of the D.; he has a hard mouth,’ remarked Terry.

‘It is a fine young hare, and will make a lovely stew,’ said Tony, fanning herself with her hat.

Marriner laughed with genuine amusement as he said:

‘We shall hear of you following the elk-hounds next, Lance.’

Audine was occupied with the chatter of the children, and Marriner had leisure to look at his cousin. She had altered for the better. When he last saw her, it was at the time of her uncle’s death. Sorrow had cast a shade upon her face and paled her cheek. That shadow was gone. Under the influence of her lonely life and self-dependence, she had developed into a dignified woman, whose bearing as well as appearance commanded attention, and in the masculine mind admiration.

‘How I should like it! Do let Mr. Fleetwood take me with him some day when he is out with Mr. Spondon’s hounds!’ pleaded Lance, his eyes glistening at the thought.

‘We’ll see; but tell me where your father is. I came here hoping to meet him, feeling sure that he would be down at the factory with all that tea about.’

‘Father is up at the bungalow,’ replied Lance.

‘Still in bed, Mr. Marriner,’ added Terry.

‘Oh no, Terry. Father is up by this time, and in the garden with mother,’ corrected Lance. ‘He never visits the factory very early,’ he continued, addressing Marriner.

‘You come instead, I suppose,’ returned Marriner, with a smile. ‘You will make a fine planter, my boy, before you become a public schoolboy. You take my advice, and stir up your tea-maker. He has got a quantity of leaf over-fermented, and it isn’t worth firing.’ The boy’s face clouded over, and he left the office by the inner door that led into the factory.

‘Tony,’ said Marriner, preparing to depart, ‘tell your father that I will walk up to tea this afternoon.’

‘Mind you bring Mr. Fleetwood. We want to show him to Miss Stratton. He’s the very nicest man in the valley,’ was Tony’s reply.

Marriner was by nature fond of children, though he did not enjoy the same popularity with the young people of Nagatenne as his assistant. He smiled as his eyes met those of Audine.

‘We get the plain unvarnished truth from these young people. Good-bye, Audine, for the present. I am very glad to see you looking so well,’ he said, as he departed.

Audine was strangely silent. An undefined feeling of disappointment had swept over her at first sight of her cousin. Now that he was moving away, she reproached herself for her coldness and want of cordiality.

‘Come into the factory, Miss Stratton, and Lance will show you how the tea is made,’ said Tony.

‘I suppose Lance learned from his father,’ remarked Audine, as she followed the children.

‘Indeed he didn’t; he got Mr. Fleetwood to teach him.’

They found Lance, still holding the hare in one hand, while with the other he pointed to the fermenting bins.

An anxious young Jaffna Tamil listened silently as the boy poured out the vials of his wrath.

‘Where is your father, the tea-maker? Why isn’t he here?’ he asked in conclusion.

‘The big master sent him down the valley on other business, and I am only just learning the factory work,’ replied the youth.

‘Is the sirocco ready?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Call the coolies, and get that tea fired at once. The master will be very angry when he sees it.’

The assistant tea-maker set about obeying the orders without further delay. He was manifestly glad to be relieved of the responsibility of doing his father’s work by himself, unaided.

‘Will the young master please stay and see it fired?’ he asked.

There was a note of entreaty in his voice which did not escape the ear of the boy. He was tired after his run with the dogs, and wanted his bath. But the importance of firing the tea without delay was greater than any personal consideration, and he decided to stay. Handing the hare to Tony to carry home, he said:

‘Run across to Galla and see if Mr. Fleetwood is anywhere about. If so, ask him if he will be so good as to come here for a few minutes.’

Tony was fortunate in her quest, the assistant being amongst some pluckers not far from the river.

‘Hallo, little one! what’s up?’ asked Haydon Fleetwood, as the child ran towards him.

‘Will you come to our factory for a minute or two and help Lance? Father must have forgotten that the tea wants firing. The tea-maker is away, and his son is only just beginning to learn.’

As Audine, with slower steps, was issuing from the door of the factory, she found herself face to face with a tall, spare man, who raised his hat and gazed at her with unconscious curiosity, not unmingled with admiration.

‘This is our new governess, Miss Stratton,’ explained Tony.

‘And if you come up to our bungalow this afternoon, we will let you talk to her for a little time,’ added Terry.

‘You are Marriner’s cousin, I believe,’ he said.

Something in the tone, as well as in the words, conveyed the impression to Audine’s mind that he was in Jermyn’s confidence. Oblivious of the fact that there might be a bond of intimate friendship between the two men, she resented the thought, and replied coldly in the affirmative. Her manner checked any further advance on his part, and he stood aside to allow her to pass.

‘Tell father to come at once,’ called Lance after his sisters, as he took possession of his friend and began to relate his troubles.

It was slow work climbing the hill from the river, and it was some time before they reached the bungalow.

Another five minutes were spent in finding the master, who had only just returned from a walk in quite another direction.

Tony reported the over-fermenting of the tea, and gave Marriner’s message. Angus Smith received the information of the over-fermentation placidly enough, but the news of the intended visit disturbed him.

‘I shall be going out directly after tea,’ he said to his wife, as she put the finishing touches to the flower-vases.

‘Send an invitation by Mr. Fleetwood for them both to come to dinner instead of tea,’ was her ready solution of the difficulty.

His brow cleared as he replied:

‘Capital! We can have a good yarn after dinner, and you and I will not lose our afternoon walk.’

He sauntered off in the direction of the factory, whistling cheerily.

At half-past eleven the family assembled at the big breakfast, which with more reason might have been called lunch. Lance had been relieved of his task of tea-making in time to take his bath and dress himself in a cool suit of spotless white duck. His father had not been long in following him back to the bungalow.

‘I showed the assistant tea-maker how to fire the tea, and I am sure that he will be able to manage it. He is an intelligent young fellow, very anxious to learn,’ he said, in reply to his wife’s questions.

‘Was the tea spoilt?’ she asked.

‘I am afraid it was,’ he answered, with a careless laugh. ‘So it really doesn’t matter if the assistant does overfire it. Just as well that he should have something of the kind to practise on instead of better stuff.’

The breakfast-lunch that was spread before them was excellent, and Mrs. Angus Smith dispensed the good things to her guest and family with a liberal hand, lingering at the table after all had finished, as though she was sorry to disperse so happy a gathering. Audine looked towards her with questioning eyes. The morning had slipped away, she scarcely knew how, and it was past noon. Her hostess smiled with sunny good-humour. It was impossible to resist the influence of that warm geniality. Audine had been conscious of it from the first moment of meeting. It seemed to create an atmosphere of enjoyment and content, sanctioning pleasure and ignoring anything in the shape of trouble. As Mrs. Angus Smith enjoyed her flowers, cultivating the choicest and picking out the finest blossoms to adorn her house, so she cultivated all the pleasant things of life, encouraging her husband to follow his inclinations, and indulging her children in the pursuits that gratified them most.

‘Did you bring your saddle and a riding-habit, Miss Stratton?’ asked the lady of the house, her eyes lingering on the masses of dewy blossom that covered the centre of the damask cloth.

‘Yes; they are in the boxes which are being forwarded by the agent.’

‘You have been accustomed to ride?’

‘Since I was Tony’s age.’

‘Then, Angus, you must close with Mr. Grassendale’s offer at once,’ she said to her husband. It is a Waler cob, Miss Stratton, and will just suit you, if you are anything of a horsewoman. Mr. Grassendale, the owner of Periya, bought it for his niece, Georgie Gorleston, who has come out with her mother on a visit to Ceylon and India. He found that the girl had never ridden, and didn’t care about learning; so now he wants to get rid of the animal, and he is asking a ridiculously low price, as the cob wants a little handling. It is free from all vice, but is young and lively.’

‘Just what I should like; it is very good of you to treat me in this way.’

‘Not at all; I told you that we would try to make life pleasant for you. Aren’t my flowers lovely this morning? How do you like the purple pansies with the yellow roses?’

‘They are beautiful; so were your flowers last night at dinner—pink begonias, were they not? What has become of them?’

‘Half of them had to be thrown away this morning. They were two days old. Flowers don’t last long in a tropical climate.’

‘Or are you very fastidious?’

‘Perhaps I am. Now you must go and lie down, Miss Stratton,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, rising from the table. ‘Have you a book to read? If not, Lance will find you one. We shall have tea at three o’clock.’

‘But what about lessons?’ asked Audine, looking at the children, and thinking of the duties for which she had been engaged.

‘We need not trouble about them to-day,’ replied Mrs. Angus Smith indolently. ‘And I really don’t know where you can sit. What do you say, Lance?’

The boy glanced at Audine in perplexity.

‘We might work in here when the breakfast is cleared, but that won’t be just yet, as the servants are having their curry and rice.’

‘Tony and Terry must go to bed now,’ said his mother decisively. ‘They always lie down between breakfast and tea,’ she explained to Audine. ‘You see, we all get up so early that it is absolutely necessary to have a little rest in the middle of the day. Lance is the only one who doesn’t lie down. I think that it would he much better for him if he did.’

‘What does he do?’ asked Audine.

‘He usually sits in the smoking-room—the servants call it the office—and reads, whilst his father writes letters.’ She might have added, ‘when there are letters to write.’

More often than not Angus Smith was occupied with a novel, as he lay back in his comfortable armchair and smoked his pipe.

‘Will you come to my room and show me your books, Lance—your lesson-books?’ asked Audine.

‘I am afraid that I have no lesson-books except the old reader, which Terry has now.’

Mrs. Angus Smith and her husband laughed with genuine amusement and good-nature. They seemed to think it an excellent joke, and Angus Smith cried:

‘There, Miss Stratton! You have discovered the nakedness of the land. No schoolroom and no lesson-books!’

Audine could not help joining in the laugh with the rest, but at the same time she felt bound to make a protest.

‘Really, Mrs. Angus Smith, I am placed in an awkward position. I am a workman without tools, and I shall be receiving my board and lodging under false pretences.’

‘Not at all, my dear,’ replied the lady warmly. ‘It was very good of you to come out at your own expense and without a salary. It really doesn’t matter about lessons. The children will learn a lot from just being in your society, as you are so clever. By-and-by I will send them to England, where they will soon pick up any ground they may have lost; so make your mind easy, and enjoy yourself. Already I begin to feel as if you were a daughter or a sister. Somehow, I can’t think of you as a governess: you are much too pretty and nice.’

Audine received her speech with a laugh and a blush.

It was so spontaneous and unconsidered that it was without offence. The intention to give pleasure by saying pleasant things was natural and unstudied, and Audine did not fail to recognise the easy good-nature that desired at all costs to please. At the same time, she was conscious that the programme sketched out by the mother for the children was not as it should be; and, moreover, it was her duty to upset it, and bring into their lives some instruction.

Angus Smith had retired to his smoking-room, and the two little girls, in obedience to their mother’s command, disappeared into the nursery, the D. insinuating himself through the door with them as they passed in. The two terriers followed the master of the house, whilst the Twins watched Lance’s every movement.

‘Will you come to my room, Lance, and I will read to you,’ said Audine, as Mrs: Angus Smith moved towards the door.

‘That would be very nice,’ he replied, as his eyes brightened at the prospect.

‘Lance!’ called his mother from the passage, ‘Lance! Don’t forget to see to the tennis-court before tea. Nora Hapland is coming over this afternoon, if it keeps fine, and Miss Stratton will be glad of a game after tea.’

‘All right, mother.’

Audine led the way to her room. The warm mid-day air blew in from the veranda upon which the window opened, and the scent of fresh violets, placed on the table that very morning by Mrs. Angus Smith, filled the room. The writing-table and two cane lounges stood near the window.

‘Turn the dogs out, Lance,’ said Audine, looking at the Twins, who had followed at his heels.

He sent them into the veranda, where they obediently lay down, beating the matting with their tails until they fell asleep.

‘You must bring me some of your books, and show me what you would like me to read.’

Lance departed, and presently returned with an armful of old magazines of sport and general literature, and two or three novels. ‘A Woman’s Sin,’ ‘Thrice Divorced,’ ‘Married Too Young,’ she read.

‘I don’t think that you will care about these,’ said Audine.

‘Father says they are fairly good. We must change them the next time the old book-hawker comes round. There are some nice stories of adventure in this magazine which I haven’t read yet. I think that one about bears must be rather good.’

He pointed to an illustration of an article entitled ‘Among the Bears of the Rocky Mountains.’

‘Where are the Rocky Mountains?’

‘I don’t know,’ replied the boy, throwing himself into one of the easy-chairs, and preparing to enjoy himself luxuriously.

He listened whilst she explained, and, without being aware of the fact, he received his first lesson in geography.

‘Who taught you to read, Lance?’

‘A Burgher nurse we had some time ago. Tony and I learned to read and write.’

‘And that is the extent of your learning?’

‘Oh no. I’ve been taught a lot more since then.’

‘By your father and mother?’

‘They have no time to spare for that sort of thing; they are frightfully busy all day long. No; I learn things from Mr. Fleetwood. Whenever I am bothered about anything, as I was this morning over the tea, I go to him. He knows more than anyone else in the district.’

‘More than Mr. Marriner?’

‘Heaps more. He taught me to shoot. I often go after the jungle fowl with the D. when father hasn’t time. Mother is glad of some game now and then for the table.’

‘What else did he teach you?’

‘How to ride, and how to saddle and bridle the mare. And he has shown me how to prune the tea, and how it should be weeded and plucked and everything. He says that I ought to go to school first, and after I have done with study I shall make a very decent planter. He is very particular about all sorts of things besides books, and is always telling me to look after Tony and Terry, to see that they don’t get slack and careless in their manners.’

‘Where do you meet Mr. Fleetwood?’

‘Down by the river. The Galla factory is just on the other side of the river below the next waterfall, and he is there nearly every day, seeing the leaf weighed as the coolies bring it in. For some reason or other, he won’t have me up at the bungalow. He says it is Mr. Marriner’s house, and not his, though he lives there and does the housekeeping.’

‘He is not married, I suppose?’

‘He and Mr. Marriner are both bachelors, and I mean to be the same. A woman makes such a lot of work in the house. Look at mother! I never see her but she says, “Oh, by-the-by, Lance, do this, or just do that.” Of course, I am very glad to help her—it gives father more time to himself—but you’ll find that it will get rather in the way of my studies.’

‘Do you want to study?’ asked Audine, gazing at the pale, refined face of the lad, thoughtful beyond his years, and lined with the anxieties which ought to have belonged to his elders.

‘Yes, I think that I do; but I should like to choose my own line of work.’

‘What would you choose—history and geography?’

‘Those might come in if we had time. Miss Stratton, could you teach me book-keeping and estate account work?’

She had not the heart to say that she knew nothing about the office work of a tea estate. She replied:

‘I dare say we could manage the book-keeping.’

‘Double entry?’ he interrupted eagerly.

‘Yes; we might accomplish even that, though you are rather young. And if you could tell me what else is required, we could but try.’

The eyes of the boy gleamed with pleasure as he said gratefully:

‘You are very good. I will get Mr. Fleetwood to explain. He does the office work on Galla, and can tell us exactly what is necessary.’

‘Why are you so anxious to learn the office work?’

‘To help father. Poor father is so overworked. Whenever you ask him to do anything, or go anywhere, he always says that he is too busy. He gives himself no rest. Lately he has chucked the shooting, which he used to enjoy so much. Now, if I could do what Mr. Fleetwood does on Galla, it would relieve father, and make his life so much easier.’

‘I understood that Nagatenne was only half the size of Galla, and did not require two Europeans.’

‘That may be; but there is a factory to see after as well as the outdoor work. Father often says that he can’t be in two places at once, and so he is obliged to leave a great deal to the conductor, a Burgher, who has no real authority over the coolies, and works with them in all their sly tricks instead of against them.’

‘Does he favour the coolies because he is afraid of them?’

‘He does it because it is so much less trouble to let things slide. Mr. Fleetwood says—’

‘Now I will read about the bears,’ said Audine.

The lines disappeared from the young brow as the boy forgot his assumed troubles in the thrilling adventures of the American hunter among the wild beasts of the Rockies.

Chapter VI

The bungalow had sunk into its usual mid-day silence.

Outside, the garden was asleep under the sun. The flowers, having opened their buds, revelled in the warm air. Within the green depths of the orange-trees the birds sat silently preening their plumage, or idly searching for stray insects. Only the butterflies were abroad, and they were resting with outstretched wings upon the scarlet poinsettias and yellow alamanda blossom, enjoying the sun-bath with the rest of creation.

The estate coolies, confident that the conductor was asleep and the master safe within the bungalow, were taking the warm hours of the early afternoon at their ease, basking in the sun, like the butterflies, or sleepily pursuing their appointed tasks with idle fingers. The weeders had cast aside the regulation wooden peg, and had substituted a forbidden piece of hoop-iron, that sliced off the heads of the weeds without eradicating them. The tea-pluckers, passing over the bushes where the green shoots were not plentiful, devoted their attention to those which had flushed prolifically, and which presented the leaf in quantities that insured the rapid filling of the baskets.

In the tea-factory, the coolies were still occupied with firing the over-fermented tea. The assistant tea-maker had gone to eat his mid-day meal. It was served by his mother, although it had been cooked by his young wife. As the old woman put the dishes down before her son, she turned angrily on the girl.

‘Cannot my son take his food but that you must stand there and cast an eye on every morsel that he swallows? Out of the room, you idle hussy! and clean up the pots!’

David bent over the savoury food, but his gaze followed the girl. At the door she turned and gave him a backward glance. It did not escape the sharp eyes of his mother, who burst into fresh scolding and abuse.

‘Was it for your pleasure or to ease my old bones that we married you to that lazy lump?’ she asked, without anticipating a reply. ‘It is the stick that she wants, and it is the stick that she shall have, even as I had it when I was first brought into the house of my mother-in-law.’

‘The boy—he was but nineteen—continued to eat his food in silence, pressing the rice into neat little balls, which he threw into his mouth. It did not take him long to finish. As the last ball disappeared, his mother handed him a brass pot containing water, with which he quenched his thirst.

‘When does my father come home?’

‘This evening. He will be very tired, as he walks all the way from the railway-station.’

‘Then, I must finish making the tea without him. I am new at it, and it is difficult. If only the master would come down and overlook the sirocco, I should be easier.’

‘Where is the difficulty?’ asked the old woman.

‘In knowing the exact heat.’

‘You have the measuring-glass.’

‘True, but the heat never stays the same five minutes together. Already the tea is half spoilt, so said the Galla assistant, by lying too long in the fermenting-bins; and now who knows that I may not by my ignorance wholly spoil it by overfiring?’

‘Hah, my son! trouble not yourself about the tea. The fortune of the master hangs on something better than the tea that he grows and makes; and so does the fortune of your father. Will you sleep awhile before you return to the factory?’

‘I cannot; I must be off at once.’

‘Here, daughter-in-law! Where are you, lazy-bones? Are these dirty dishes to stand here all day unwashed? She must certainly have the stick, that girl!’

To his mother’s great astonishment, David drew himself up and said:

‘I say that she shall not have the stick.’

‘What! you dare to encourage a rebel in this house!’ screamed the old woman in sudden fury. You dare to defy the authority of your parents! Wait till your father comes home, and then we will give that pretty piece of impertinence the fire-stick, and if you have a word to say against it, you shall feel your father’s staff across your own back.’

David realized that he had made a false step. With a laugh which was far from being mirthful, he said:

‘Mother, I was but joking. What I mean is that I will speak to her myself, and command her to be more obedient, so that she shall not deserve to be beaten. She is young, and she does not understand.’

‘She is young enough to learn, and I will see that she does learn, and that without delay.’

The girl had cleared away the empty platters, and was busy in the yard at the back of the house. David strolled towards her. ‘Woman, pour water that I may wash my hands!’ he said in a loud, domineering voice that reached his mother’s ears. ‘Have no fear, little one, when I speak thus,’ he whispered in her ear.

The blood raced through her veins, and her eyes shone with a suspicion of tears. No one spoke kind words to her now—not even her boy-husband if his parents were within hearing. Only six months ago she was a merry, laughing maiden, playing in her father’s house at Kandy with her brothers and sisters. Then came the wedding, when she was dressed up and made much of, and she saw her husband for the first time.

Afterwards she travelled up to Nagatenne with him and with his parents, and life began in earnest for the sad little bride. It was work, work, from morning till night, and never a laugh nor a game of play, nor a word of commendation when her tasks were well done.

It is but the custom of the Tamil people; most women of that nation, whether rich or poor, go through something of the same kind of ordeal when they are married, though not necessarily so severe. By-and-by, they think it their duty to pass on the treatment they receive to the brides who come after them, when their own sons marry and bring their wives into the family circle.

David had had a liberal education in the mission school at Jaffna, and he had imbibed views on the domestic life which were in advance of those held by his parents. He only needed to be trained to enable him to take a situation as tea-maker and be independent of his father. But the intricacies of tea-making were not to be learned in a day, nor was a situation easily found for a beginner. So he was compelled to remain under the roof of his father, submitting to a species of constraint which was galling, and seeing the wife to whom he was becoming attached in daily misery under the domestic tyranny of his mother.

‘Now a cloth!’ cried the young man harshly. ‘To-night,’ he whispered, ‘whilst mother gives father his supper, come down to the river to fetch water. Ah, careless one! would you upset the water-pot?’ he said aloud. ‘Why do you not learn better sense from my mother? She is the wisest of women and the best of housewives.’

A grunt of satisfaction from the back-door told them that the words were not without effect.

‘There is your reward,’ said David, flinging a ball of yellow marigolds at his wife as he turned away.

The flowers fell on her bosom amongst the folds of her cloth. She gave them a push the better to secure them, and gazed affectionately after the upright figure of the young tea-maker, as he vanished swiftly round the corner in the direction of the factory.

‘Ha, ha!’ laughed her mother-in-law scornfully, ‘you are not the only girl to whom your man has thrown flowers. Cast them away; they tell a false tale.’

The girl turned her back on her husband’s mother, and walked towards the tea-bushes that grew near the house. She made a movement suggestive of the fulfilment of the arbitrary command, but not a petal of the precious gift escaped from the folds of her cloth. As her mother-in-law turned back into the house to settle herself down for her usual afternoon nap, the young wife drew out the marigold blossoms and pressed them passionately to her lips.

‘To-night, to-night, beloved! If it is only for a few minutes, we shall meet. Day and night the mother-in-law haunts us, pursuing, driving, and ill-treating us. When, oh! when shall we be delivered from her oppression?’

Audine finished reading the article about bears in the Rocky Mountains, and laid down the magazine.

The boy, snugly ensconced in the chair, had devoured the words as they fell from her lips.

‘It sounds so much more real, so much more exciting, when you read it, Miss Stratton. I fancy that I can see the bears standing on the rocks high up, and showing themselves against the clear blue sky, when my eyes are not on the print.’

‘Have you any bears in these jungles?’

‘None; they live in the low country, and I think that they must be much smaller and less savage than those you have been reading about. We will ask Mr. Fleetwood; he is sure to know.’

‘Shall we try a little arithmetic now, Lance? It will be necessary for you to take it up if you wish to learn book-keeping and office work.’

He looked at the clock upon her table. It was half-past two.

‘I am afraid there is no time now. I ought to go down to the tennis-court, and see if the net is up properly. I must also tell the tennis podians—the boys who field for us—that they will be wanted.’ Lance rose from his comfortable seat with a sigh.

It had been an exceedingly pleasant time, and the two hours had flown all too quickly.

‘Shall I come and help?’ asked Audine.

‘No, thanks; there is nothing to be done but to see that others have done their work,’ was the old-mannish reply. ‘Have you to see to things in England in the same way?’

‘I fancy that there is less seeing and more doing with one’s own hands in the old country, except for the very rich.’

‘Mr. Fleetwood says that the whole duty of life in this country lies in the use of one’s eyes. The eye of the master makes the horse fat in England, and the eye of the planter makes the tea pay out here, so he says. Do you like tennis?’

‘Very much.’

‘Then we’ll have a good game after tea. We have a ripping court, and I had it well rolled this morning, as there was a nice shower in the night. I shall be in to tea.’

He passed out into the veranda through the window. The Twins, stretching and shaking themselves awake after their siesta, bustled away at his heels.

Audine, left to herself, fell into a reverie. It was a curious world into which she had been suddenly plunged: a happy-go-lucky household, with a good-natured mistress and an easy-going, self-indulgent master; two little girls, who were allowed to follow their own inclinations, as long as they did not transgress the rules of politeness; and this thoughtful boy, old for his years, overanxious, possibly oversensitive, whose only friend was a grown-up man. Lance’s loyalty to his parents touched her. His excuses, made in good faith for what she strongly suspected was mere indolence on the part of his father, his readiness to do the bidding of his mother, his frequent gentle correction of his sisters, his courtesy to herself, appealed strongly to her heart.

But justice was not being done to the boy. He ought to be directing his best energies to studies and games at a good school in England. There seemed to be no lack of money. Why was he not sent?

A knock at the door, and Tony’s voice informed her that Nora Hapland had ridden over from the Puloya estate; she brought the news that Ivy Osterley and her brother Dick from Malipatna bungalow were close by, on their way to Nagatenne.

‘They have come for tea and tennis,’ said Tony, as Audine opened the door and invited her to enter. The child was wearing a pretty frock of China silk. ‘Put on one of your nice new dresses, Miss Stratton,’ she whispered confidentially. ‘They do stare so at people who have just arrived from England.’

‘Rather rude to stare, isn’t it, Tony?’

‘They don’t mean to be rude. They are so interested in the latest fashions and how they are put on. Mother says you may get half a dozen new hats from home, but no amount of money will make them look fashionable, unless you know how to put them on.’

‘All right, Tony,’ replied Audine, with a smile at the worldly wisdom retailed by the small child. ‘I will smarten myself up.’

‘Be as smart as you can, and Lance will like it; he will be so proud of you. The Osterleys have no governess.’

‘Who teaches them?’

‘Ivy has to do it all They are very poor. Tea will be ready in ten minutes.’

Tony ran off, and Audine laughed as she closed the door. She hastily pulled out a costume that she thought would satisfy Lance. Yes, already she was living up to Lance. He, it appeared, by his own showing, was living up to Mr. Fleetwood. Virtually, therefore, she was living up to this stranger, whom she had encountered to-day for the first time, and whom Lance had taken for his hero.

It was too absurd! A feeling of antagonism arose in her mind against Fleetwood. The feminine brain, aided by the imagination, has a trick of jumping to conclusions. Audine busied herself, as she fastened hooks and buttons, with forming opinions that had no substantial foundation. The glance she had had of Fleetwood’s face had shown her a strong-charactered man. It was not surprising that an impressionable lad like Lance should be influenced and dominated. It was probable that older people than Lance would feel the same influence. Suddenly the swift fingers engaged with the laces at her throat were arrested.

‘Can it be? Can it by any possibility be his influence which holds Jermyn back from the fulfilment of his uncle’s wish?’

The tea-bell rang, and she rapidly completed her toilet, thrusting aside all disturbing thoughts for the present.

The party had already gathered in the drawing-room round the tea-table. Mrs. Angus Smith, beaming with genial welcome, was talking to Ivy Osterley, a younger and slimmer edition of her mother, in a neat but not expensive coat and skirt.

Nora Hapland, in a short skirt and jacket, a compromise between a riding-habit and a tennis costume, sat near Angus Smith, amusing him with her incisive but not ill-natured remarks on some of their mutual friends. She was never so well pleased as when she was talking to the opposite sex. A natural instinct, of which she was scarcely aware, caused her to be oblivious of her own sex when anything in the shape of a man was within hail.

The restless, observant eye of Ivy detected the entrance of the stranger, and she had noted the dress and general style of the new governess before Miss Nora was aware of Audine’s presence. Angus Smith himself was well content to be amused, and was in no way averse to receive the attentions of a lively girl with a smart tongue, provided she did not make him ridiculous by any serious flirtation. After the introduction, he claimed Nora’s willing attentions again, and Audine found herself gravitating towards Ivy.

‘Thank you, Lance,’ she said, as the boy pushed up a chair for her. She noted the look of approval, mingled with pride, which he cast at her as she seated herself.

‘We were talking of pumpkins,’ explained Ivy by way of admitting the newcomer into the conversation without losing the thread of it.

‘Do they grow in Ceylon?’ asked Audine politely, as she took her cup of tea from Lance’s hand.

‘To be sure. They are one of our most valued vegetables.’

‘I have not tasted one here yet. You know that I only arrived yesterday.’

‘So mother told us. Mrs. Angus Smith is so fortunate in having a garden full of English vegetables that she probably despises the pumpkin.’

‘You could grow English vegetables just as I do, Ivy,’ remarked Mrs. Angus Smith.

Miss Osterley sighed as she explained the difficulty.

‘One must have the seed from England, and it is so expensive to import, and still more so to buy it in the country. I did try once, but father grumbled at the Beadsman’s bill, and I gave it up. Mother said that I had better fill the garden with pumpkins, chows, tree-tomatoes, and cabbages. So long as one can find a variety of ways of cooking them, they serve the purpose in a large family like ours. What lovely cress sandwiches these are!’

She took another from the dish handed by Lance.

‘I grow the cress from English seed sown on an old blanket sprinkled with silver sand. Terry dear, don’t throw bits to the dogs; it makes them so noisy and boisterous,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith.

Ivy took up the conversation, and dilated at length on an entirely new method of preparing pumpkins for the table, a recipe that made them savoury and appetizing at the smallest possible expense.

Audine’s attention wandered to young Osterley, a lad of seventeen, who had been brought out to Ceylon on leaving school to learn tea-planting. The awkwardness of the schoolboy hung about him, and he was dumb before the stranger, until she put him at his ease with a few inquiries about his work.

When tea was over Mrs. Angus Smith suggested that they should adjourn to the tennis-ground—a spot levelled at great expense just beyond the kitchen-garden.

‘Now, Mr. Angus Smith, I challenge you to pick up a side and beat me!’ cried Nora.

‘Very sorry; I’m afraid I mustn’t waste the afternoon at tennis,’ he replied.

Nora’s handsome face overclouded. Ivy’s brother did not count for much in her opinion, and Lance was a mere child.

‘Busy at the tea-factory, I suppose? That won’t take you long,’ she said.

‘No; I have to go in another direction to see after some work that is being done on the estate.’

‘You should manage better than that, Mr. Angus Smith,’ she retorted. ‘Father gets all his estate work over in the morning by nine. Then he goes to the factory. Between breakfast and tea he does the office work, and after tea he considers that he has fairly earned a rest. From half-past five in the morning, when he goes to muster, to three in the afternoon, is long enough for any man in all conscience, whether he owns the estate or is only the superintendent,’ protested Nora.

‘It ought to be enough,’ acquiesced Angus Smith, assuming a virtue that he did not possess. ‘But in my case there is still more to be done. Miss Stratton, you and Dick Osterley had better play Ivy and Miss Hapland. You can cut in, Lance, when one of the girls is tired.’

‘Perhaps Mr. Marriner will turn up presently,’ suggested Nora, casting a comprehensive eye across the valley in the direction of the Gallo bungalow.

‘I don’t think he will, because he is coming to dinner,’ said Lance.

‘Oh!’ replied Nora thoughtfully.

Angus Smith and his wife left the court without further delay. Five minutes later they passed hastily out at the back of the bungalow, unseen by the tennis-players, and climbed the path that the children had followed in the morning, turning to the left instead of the right, when they reached the edge of the jungle.

‘We must get off earlier than this, if we are to follow up this spec,’ remarked Angus Smith to his wife as they walked quickly towards the hill.

‘How much did you manage this morning?’

‘A fair amount, but not as much as I should have liked. I was single-handed.’

‘You must get up earlier,’ she said, with a laugh.

‘Oh, hang it, Alys! I can’t make such a fag of it as all that.’

Then we must start earlier in the afternoon. I will leave Miss Stratton to give the children tea, and you and I can slip away at two o’clock, without a soul knowing that we have left the house. Did the tea-maker do fairly well?’

‘Four hundred rupees. He is bringing the notes up this evening.’

‘That’s not so bad, Angus.’

‘No; but it might have been four thousand if only—’

‘Hurry on, my dear. It is easier going now that the path is downhill,’ said his wife, as they rounded the hill and descended towards the river.

The path continued to run by the edge of the jungle until the lower slope was reached. Then by a sudden turn it tunnelled into the dense forest by a game-track, scarcely discernible to the inexperienced eye, and disappeared.

Higher up the valley the river fell from a considerable height over a wall of rock into an area of level swampy ground that was hemmed in by the hills forming the valley. Below the fall the stream spread itself out into a double channel that surrounded a lozenge-shaped island. The southern branch of the stream was the boundary between the Galla and the Nagatenne estates. The island, together with the upper stream and a stretch of swampy ground beyond it that merged into jungle as soon as it began to rise, belonged to Marriner. This jungle joined the Government reserves that lay between him and another group of estates higher up the valley. On one of these estates lived Spondon, the owner of the hounds mentioned by Lance.

The swamp was covered with coarse grass and rank herbage. It was useless for agricultural purposes.

The scenery was beautiful beyond description, but the presence of innumerable land-leeches debarred visitors from any enjoyment of the beauties of Nature.

It was Lance’s one anxiety, when hunting with the Twins on the hill, lest they should be drawn down into the swamp in their eager pursuit of a hare, and come back with leeches in their noses. Fortunately, the hares had a preference for the higher ground, and avoided the swamp as carefully as their pursuers.

It was into this leech-infested district that Angus Smith and his wife now disappeared.

Chapter VII

The tennis flagged after the second set, and Lance took Audine’s place, playing an unusually strong game.

Nora’s eye wandered more than once down the zigzag path that led to the valley, but no visitor appeared.

When the third set was finished, Ivy and her brother announced that they must be starting, as they had some way to go. Lance again played the part of host, offering them ginger wine, lemonade, and cake on their departure.

‘Come over and see us soon, Miss Stratton,’ said Ivy, as her chair-coolies lifted their burden.

‘It’s a long walk for a girl,’ remarked Dick.

Much too far for Miss Stratton,’ added Lance. ‘We will lend her the mare if the new pony hasn’t come.’ Ivy called to her men to stop, whilst she mastered the details about the Waler cob.

‘You are lucky, Miss Stratton!’ was her comment, as she gave the order for a fresh start.

‘How soon will your father and mother be home?’ inquired Nora of Lance.

‘Not until after sunset.’

‘Then, let’s have another game. Tony and I will play you and Miss Stratton.’

Nora’s fatigue seemed to have disappeared with the departure of Dick Osterley, and she kept the game going until it was too dark to see the balls any longer.

They left the court and returned to the bungalow, where the lamps had been lit. Nora entered the drawing-room, and sat herself down at the piano.

‘Have you brought out any new songs, Miss Stratton?’ she asked, as she trifled with the keys, strumming an old, worn-out favourite of four or five years ago.

Audine mentioned the names of some of her new songs.

‘I don’t know any of those; do fetch them from your room and let me hear them. You don’t know what a boon it is to get hold of some new music now and then.’

On Audine’s return, Nora, still seated on the music-stool, took the music from her hand.

‘You sing, and I will play the accompaniments. I shall soon pick them up.’

Those that were simple were easily managed by Nora. Song after song was tried and sung, and sung over again. It was nearly seven when Mrs. Angus Smith appeared.

‘Hallo, children! time to dress for dinner. Why, Nora, you here still! You must stay to dinner.’

Nora rose from the piano, protesting that she had been so absorbed in Miss Stratton’s delightful bundle of new music she had not noticed how the time had flown.

With cordial hospitality, Mrs. Angus Smith pressed her to stay; and though she made some demur, on the score of not being properly clothed in a garment suitable for dining, it was only what she had confidently hoped would happen.

‘Your father will not be anxious about you, will he?’ asked Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘Not in the least. I have the old syce to take care of me. I can walk across to the Galla estate with Mr. Marriner, and send the horse round to meet me. I have to pass near his bungalow on my way home.’

‘To be sure; the Galla estate joins Puloya. Come into my room, and I will lend you something to smarten you up,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, as she led the way.

‘Flowers are all that I need, and plenty of pins,’ replied Nora, following her hostess.

When Audine returned to the drawing-room, she found Marriner and Fleetwood there with Nora and the family. The buzz of conversation ceased as she entered. Nora had worked wonders with Mrs. Angus Smith’s roses, deftly fastened on her white cotton blouse in a graceful wreath of buds, blossom, and foliage. But the moment she cast her eye on the London-made frock worn by Audine her heart sank within her. It was the kind of dress she had often longed for, but never been able to buy. It fitted only as the artist in London or Paris can make a garment fit. Its very simplicity put her improvised adornment, clever as it was, in the shade, and made her feel as though she were little better than a flower-stand at a rose-show.

Suddenly she became aware that she was the only one of the party who was not in evening dress; for a moment the assurance which was habitual forsook her, and she repented that she had stayed.

Audine shook hands with Marriner and Fleetwood, and afterwards, refusing a chair offered by the attentive Lance, remained standing near a table on which Mrs. Angus Smith had placed a vase filled with magnificent spikes of gladioli and canna blossom. The background of rich colour and foliage behind the handsome, elegantly clad woman made a picture that did not escape the masculine eye. As she stood there, all unconscious of the impression she created, she replied to Mrs. Angus Smith’s remarks politely, but without any show of interest, resisting that lady’s endeavours to draw her into conversation with Fleetwood.

Nora, who before the entrance of Audine had divided her attention between Angus Smith and Marriner, took up the thread of frothy chatter, addressing herself entirely to Marriner, who replied in the same bantering tone. But as he spoke, his eyes lingered on Audine’s figure, and Nora was conscious that she held but half his attention.

Tony and Lance, who were both in evening dress, had eyes and ears only for Fleetwood and their new friend. Tony was longing to ask his opinion of Audine, but a warning whisper of ‘Shut up!’ from Lance kept her silent. One of the conditions of their presence at late dinner, when guests were there, was discreet silence.

Like all children, before whom their elders speak unreservedly, the young Angus Smiths had learned not to ask questions. Terry, with her overpowering curiosity, was slow to imbibe this lesson, but Tony and Lance both knew better than many people older than themselves how to hold their tongues.

The appoo announced dinner, and the party filed in informally. The food, as usual, was plentiful and of the best, and there was no lack of good wine. The flowers had received an addition in the shape of some fine orchids, which riveted the attention of all.

What beauties! Where did you find them?’ asked Nora.

The gardener brought them in from the jungle. I sent him for leaf-mould for the garden, and he knew that I should like the orchids.’

Tony and Lance exchanged glances. There was only one spot where those particular blossoms were to be found. Had Terry been at table, she would have exclaimed ‘Cobra Rock!’ but the elder children kept silence.

‘We have no jungle near us, as you have, so we can never have such flowers on the table as those,’ said Nora.

‘I consider those orchids as part of my garden,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith. ‘When the gardener gathers them, he is careful not to damage the plants. On the contrary, he clears away any rubbish that may have accumulated round them, that they may grow more freely.’

‘Those blossoms would be expensive to buy in London,’ observed Audine.

‘Ah! I wish we could put them on to the flower-market in England as fresh as that. There would be a lot of money in it,’ said Angus Smith, the light of speculation suddenly kindling in his eye.

‘The roots might be sent home and sold,’ suggested Marriner.

‘The cost of freight is too high to make it pay, and the demand is limited,’ said Fleetwood. ‘It is safer to stick to tea, and put all your energies into that.’

Angus Smith laughed as he replied:

‘Excellent counsel, most excellent! But it isn’t everyone who can resist the short-cuts and stick to the beaten path. Tea in the teapot I enjoy, but tea on the estate bores an active-minded man to death. What is it but the bossing of a crowd of niggers, many of them women and children, from morning till night? I defy the most light-hearted man to get an ounce of fun out of it.’

After dessert the ladies left the room. Lance usually accompanied them, but the presence of Fleetwood kept the boy with the men.

‘Isn’t it bedtime, old man?’ asked Fleetwood.

‘No hurry for me to go as long as I am in bed by ten.’

The assistant glanced at Angus Smith, who only laughed, saying, with more truth than he was aware:

‘Lance will be an old man by the time he goes to school.’

‘When will that be, eh, Lance?’

‘In a year’s time, probably,’ replied his father.

‘Where are you going to send him?’

‘To one of the big schools in the West of England, I hope. It will cost something, of course, but I think that I shall be able to run to it. One can’t shirk educational responsibilities,’ he continued, unconscious of the irony of his own words. ‘Children must have a decent education at one of the recognised public schools nowadays.’

Marriner sipped his coffee, and studied the pleasant, congenial face of his host, as he sat at the head of the table dilating upon the advantages of education. It was a face absolutely without care, although at times an eager light sprang into the eyes—the eager, hopeful light of expectation that is seen on the face of the gambler. Marriner drew the smoke from his cigarette, and blew it slowly from his lips; then, leaning forward, he said:

‘What puzzles me, Angus Smith, is how you manage to get along in such evident comfort in these times, when some of us—like myself, for instance—are so hard put to it to make a living.’ He flicked the ash off the end of his cigarette, and continued, with a suspicion of diffidence in his tone: ‘You must have some other source to draw upon than tea.’

Angus Smith stirred under the close scrutiny of his friend, and helped himself to another glass of port wine, whilst the coffee-cup was pushed aside.

‘You ought not to be doing so badly as all that on Galla,’ he said. ‘It is twice the size of Nagatenne, and yet I manage to make a very fair living out of the place.’

‘You’re clear of debt, for one thing. I have a mortgage on Galla, as you know, and it is round my neck like a millstone.’

‘Lance,’ said Fleetwood, ‘let me see your game-book, and how you have been doing lately with your gun and your dogs.’

The boy ran off to his room to bring the precious volume, a gift from his friend Fleetwood.

‘I thought that you paid part of it off when your uncle died some time ago,’ replied Angus Smith.

‘Not a single rupee of it. The fact of the matter is, I haven’t handled a penny of my uncle’s property up to the present.’

‘Where did the money go, then? You told me that he had a big fortune.’

‘So he had; but he left directions to his man of business that his will was not to be proved for three years, except under certain circumstances, which circumstances have not come to pass.’

‘At the end of the three years, will the money be yours?’

‘I fear not, unless I can prove that the old man was in his dotage.’

Lance returned with the pocket-book in which he kept the record in his stiff, round handwriting of his sporting successes. The hare of that morning, with its weight, made the last entry. Bending their heads over the book, the conversation of the other two men passed without attracting the notice of the boy.

‘That’s unfortunate,’ commented Angus Smith.

‘Your prices, like mine, were low in the last sale, and your out-turn per acre lower than any other estate in the valley. How on earth do you manage to keep your head above water?’

Marriner gazed at him, as though he would read the answer in the handsome face of his host, in the eyes bent upon the end of the cigarette held daintily between the fingers. But his host remained silent; he had no other solution to offer but the one he had already given.

This Marriner, apparently, had rejected.

‘Of course, if you are starting some other speculation, and wish to keep it secret, I must not be inquisitive,’ continued Marriner, finding that his hearer still preserved silence. ‘I know that men prefer to keep their little ventures dark, not because of rivalry, but if the thing is to be a failure it is easier to bear it in secret. The other day an odd thing happened to me. I went to look at that bit of jungle at the end of Galla.’

‘Do you mean that swampy tract where the river spreads out into pools and forms an island?’ asked Angus Smith with sudden interest.

‘Yes, only much higher up the hill, on my side of the valley. The lower part is good for nothing, and the leeches are simply awful. They’d eat one alive. Of course, I wasn’t such a fool as to paddle through the swamp, and I kept high up, above that part.’

‘What were you looking for?’

‘I was wondering whether any of that jungle could be cleared and planted up with tea. It is very good soil.’

‘Ah! but there comes the money difficulty. You can’t open out land without capital. The planter is paralyzed on every hand without capital,’ exclaimed Angus Smith with sudden fire.

‘I wasn’t thinking of opening it up myself. It crossed my mind that perhaps I could sell the best part of it to Lodington, whose estate just touches it on that side. He could work it from his place without any extra outlay, except a few more coolies. I walked out of the jungle on to Lodington’s land, hoping to see him somewhere about and suggest a deal.’

‘Did you find him?’

‘Came right on the top of him, and, by Jove! he was startled, and not a little angry.’

‘What was he doing?’

‘He had quite a large nursery tucked away in a warm corner just below the jungle. There was a stream running close by, handy for watering purposes, and a couple of coolies were laying out two new beds.’

‘What was the product?’

‘That I couldn’t tell you, and I didn’t like to ask. It might have been camphor, or rubber, or gamboge, or sandal-wood, or anything. All I know is that the seedlings didn’t look like tea.’

Angus Smith became thoughtful, and after a moment’s consideration said:

‘You bet, Mark Lodington doesn’t waste either his time or his money. It’s astonishing what handy little sums may be made out of nurseries, if you can only get a little forwarder than your neighbours. Well, did he catch on about the jungle?’

‘No; said he had enough land; hinted that he could get some of the Government reserve at any time if he wanted more, and he was very uneasy until he saw me returning the way I came.’

‘There isn’t much of that jungle land of yours that is worth anything. You had much better leave it alone, and not get rid of it. What are you to do for charcoal for the factory if that goes?’

‘Buy, I suppose, like my neighbour on Puloya.’

‘Then you would be worse off than ever. Now, at any rate, you are spared that expense.’

There was silence between them for some seconds, and the sound of the piano came faintly through the closed doors. Angus Smith was occupied with his own line of thought, whilst his companion could think of nothing but his own financial position. Marriner was the first to speak:

‘Nayland has been to see me.’

‘What did he want?’

‘His money.’

‘The deuce! What did you say?’

‘I told him plainly that I could not raise it this year. He shook his head and said nothing. It would be a bad time to have a forced sale, if the worst came to the worst.’

Angus Smith chuckled grimly as he replied:

‘Possibly Nayland has thought of that.’

There was another pause, and the clear notes of Audine’s voice fell on their ears. Lance spoke, his father having for the moment forgotten his very existence.

‘I am going to take Mr. Fleetwood into the drawing-room, father. I want him to hear Miss Stratton sing.’

‘All right, sonny. You can say that we are coming. Have one more cigarette, Marriner.’

As the door closed behind Fleetwood and the boy, Marriner leaned towards his host and said:

‘Angus Smith, I am going to ask you a plain, straightforward question. Can you lend me what I want, or tell me how I can get it? You seem to be pretty flush with money, and may know of a means of raising the wind which I don’t. If you can do it, for Heaven’s sake help me! It would be awfully hard on me to be sold up.’

The face of Angus Smith slowly suffused with colour. Some deep note had been struck by the urgent appeal of his neighbour. He laid his half-finished cigarette down with a hand that actually trembled, and ran the disengaged fingers through his hair, a trick seldom seen except under severe mental disturbance.

‘Heaven knows that I would help you if I could,’ he protested at last, stirring uneasily in his chair. ‘I can only just manage to keep myself afloat. Thank God! I am free from the hands of the money-lender. To tell you the truth, Marriner’—he hesitated, and then continued hurriedly, avoiding the eyes of the other—‘my wife and I are not without our own anxieties.’

The hopeful look slowly died out of Marriner’s face.

‘What am I to do? Nayland means business; he means to make my misfortune his opportunity. He owns Puloya; the addition of Gala would make a fine property, especially if this new product, rubber, should thrive at this elevation.’

‘I can’t suggest anything unless you can find a friend in England. I wish I could help you; I wish I could with all my heart,’ said Angus Smith with visible emotion.

The other was touched by his sympathy. He held out his hand, but Angus Smith did not take it. Perhaps he did not see it.

‘You must go to England and look round amongst your friends.’ Then, shaking off the seriousness of the moment, he recovered something of his old ease of manner. With a friendly smile, he said jokingly: ‘Couldn’t you manage to pick up an heiress whilst you were about it? That would solve your difficulty at once.’

To his host’s surprise, Marriner did not smile, but took his proposition in earnest. He bent his head over his empty coffee-cup, toying with the spoon as he replied:

‘I believe you are right; a wife with money—’

‘Marriage is no great hardship, man,’ broke in the other. ‘Look at me. I married without money, and every day of my life I thank Providence for giving me a better half. Buck up, old chap! We should be nowhere without the women, God bless ‘em!’

Marriner did not reply; he could not regard the question of marriage With the careless lightness expressed in the words of his friend.

‘You will have to go to England or America to find her. Heiresses don’t abound in this country. There is Daisy Lodington, but no one knows whether she will be an heiress or a pauper. The fair Nora enjoys the historical fate of the milkmaid: her face is her fortune. Ivy Osterley will bring absolutely nothing to her husband but her careful housekeeping and her capacity for getting a hundred and five cents out of every rupee. Georgie Gorleston—well, the man who marries her ought to be made of money.’

Gossiping thus, Angus Smith quite recovered his balance of mind, and hoped that his friend would regain his. In the pause that ensued the clear notes of Audine’s voice could be heard distinctly.

‘There’s your cousin, for instance. I don’t know how she is situated. She evidently has something of her own, and a nicer girl doesn’t exist. If only she had enough, she would be the very one for you.’

Marriner rose abruptly from his chair.

‘We shall lose all the music, if I keep you here any longer listening to my woes.’

‘Then let’s join the ladies,’ replied Angus Smith, opening the door.

Chapter VIII

Audine had been left to play her own accompaniments, whilst Nora was talking to Fleetwood at the other end of the room. Lance, restless at the inattention of the latter to the music, made an appeal to his friend to listen. As Nora’s eye fell on Marriner, she rose and went towards him.

‘What a gossip you two must have had! Talk of ladies chattering!’

‘I assure you that we have been discussing the most serious business all the time,’ replied Angus Smith, with a laugh that conveyed quite a different impression.

‘It is going on for ten o’clock, and I must be moving homewards. Mr. Marriner, will you let me walk as far as Galla with you? I have sent the horse round by the bridge, to wait for me just below your bungalow.’

‘With pleasure, Miss Hapland. I am ready to start as soon as you like. I am sure Mrs. Angus Smith will excuse us. We have to turn in early with muster at half-past five.’

That lady rose at once, but Nora said:

‘I need not trouble you to come. Miss Stratton will light a candle for me, I am sure.’

Audine rose from the piano, but Lance interfered.

‘Mother, I want Miss Stratton to sing one more song. Mr. Marriner hasn’t had a chance of hearing her. You go with Nora, or I will myself.’

‘All right, Lance,’ replied Mrs. Angus Smith good-naturedly; I will go. Come along, Nora. We will look in at Tony, who will be in bed by this time. She loves to have people come and say good-night.’

This was not quite as the girl herself would have arranged it, but she had to submit, following slowly with a backward glance. She noted that Marriner had hastened across the room to the piano, and was bending over Audine, whose attention was absorbed in his words. There was no further sound of music. Presumably he found more interest in her conversation than in her songs, and the desire of Lance remained unfulfilled. When Nora returned, Marriner, Fleetwood, and Angus Smith were talking estate business.

‘The difficulty over labour seems to increase every year that passes,’ Fleetwood was saying.

‘Which means, I suppose, that the coolies are well cared for by the Indian Government. In spite of their famines and plagues, they have no incentive to emigrate,’ suggested Angus Smith.

‘What I complain of,’ put in Marriner, is the jât of coolie we are getting nowadays. He costs twice as much as Lodington paid when he first came out to the country, and the creature can’t do half the work of his predecessor. Don’t you find, Angus Smith, that, unless you watch them every minute of their lives, they idle their time away, so that the work is scamped, and nothing is properly done?’

‘That’s perfectly true,’ acquiesced Angus Smith.

‘The lot I’ve got appear to have gone crazy over gemming. The moment our eyes are off them, down they squat and grub in the soil for cat’s-eyes and sapphires. The other day I came across a man between the factory and the river, who had dug a hole three feet deep. Think of the hours he had wasted—hours that belonged to me—over it!’ said Marriner.

‘What had he found?’ asked Angus Smith.

‘Swore by all his gods that he had found nothing. Of course, I fined him, putting him sick for seven days.’

‘I wonder what makes them so keen on gemming just now,’ remarked Angus Smith.

‘The usual thing—a report of a big find. A month ago a dhoby is said to have picked up a cat’s-eye in the river between your factory and mine, which he sold for a hundred rupees. The man who bought it took it down to Colombo, and sold it for five hundred. It has been cut, and report says that it is valued at a thousand rupees.’

‘Cat’s-eyes are getting very scarce, and the price of them has risen enormously of late years,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, who was listening to their conversation.

‘That stone must have been washed down from some spot higher up in our valley,’ remarked her husband.

‘So the coolies evidently believe,’ added Marriner.

‘Do you really find precious stones in this river?’ asked Audine, also deeply interested.

‘We don’t; but it is asserted over and over again in the bazaars that the dhobies come across them when they are washing clothes,’ said Nora, who had no intention of being left out of the conversation.

‘The dhobies are always gemming, washing out pebbles that they find in the holes of the bed-rock of the river. The pebbles come down after every freshet, so the work is never-ending. They keep your clothes a fortnight or three weeks, pretending that they haven’t had time to wash. The truth is, that nine-tenths of the time is spent in gemming, and that’s what makes them so behindhand in bringing the linen home,’ explained Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘Where do the gems come from?’ asked Audine.

‘Ah, Miss Stratton, if you could tell us that, perhaps our fortunes might be made. Up to the present, the stones have only been found in alluvial deposits. We have yet to ferret out the matrix of the cat’s-eye and the sapphire,’ cried Angus Smith with animation.

‘You should engage a prospector, an expert in minerals. Possibly he might find gold for you as well as precious stones,’ suggested Audine.

‘Heaven forbid!’ exclaimed Marriner. ‘We are essentially agriculturists. It would turn the valley upside down, and ruin the tea industry, to have any sort of mining going on. We should have company-promoters and speculators of all sorts, spoiling mankind as surely as the mining operations would spoil our beautiful scenery. And the planter, being out of his element, would come off worst of all. We should be ruined, every one of us.’

Angus Smith laughed heartily as he said:

‘Well done, Marriner! You and Lodington and Grassendale are of one mind, and I dare say you are right, although at heart I don’t call myself a lover of agriculture.’

They moved to the hall in search of coats and hats, still talking.

‘Your dhoby, Mrs. Angus Smith, is a Singhalese, I understand,’ said Marriner. ‘They say in the bazaar that he is the greatest expert in washing for gems that the island holds.’

‘I am sorry to hear it,’ retorted that lady. ‘You would have pleased me better if you had told me that he was the greatest expert in washing clothes that the island holds.’

‘For my part, I would lay a stick across the back of every man of them discovered gemming, coolie or dhoby. It is a species of gambling, and every bit as demoralizing as gold-digging. It is the ruination of the coolies as well as the dhobies. I know Fleetwood doesn’t hold with such severe measures,’ declared Marriner.

Haydon Fleetwood, who had not taken a part in the discussion, although he had been a listener, smiled as his chief became more excited. He replied lightly:

‘Above all things, be just to the black man.’

Marriner turned to Mrs. Angus Smith and continued:

‘So he wrote that scoundrel down as sick for two days only, when I had promised to make it seven.’

‘There was every reason to believe that the man had only spent one day in making the hole. Most of the work had been done during the night.’

‘When the fellow ought to have been asleep. Come along, Miss Hapland. Take me away before I become violent. I haven’t Fleetwood’s patience with my Aryan friend, the estate coolie.’

The farewells were spoken amidst much chaffing, and the trio departed, preceded by a servant carrying a lantern. Nora, who distinguished clearly between the owner of an estate and his assistant, gave all her attention to Marriner. She knew nothing of his embarrassments, and proceeded to entertain and if possible charm him to the best of her ability.

Fleetwood walked behind, unmindful of the conversation between the other two. He was thinking of Lance’s new friend, of whom the boy had told him so much. It was a good move on the part of the Angus Smiths to provide the children with a companion of that kind. He hoped for their sakes that she would stay.

As he went over the trivial details of the evening, he realized that he had had no word directly with Audine. Lance had endeavoured to bring them together over the piano, but Nora had intervened, appropriating his attention, to the exclusion of all others until Marriner appeared, and then his opportunity was gone.

Now that he came to think it over, it struck him that Miss Stratton had not made herself particularly accessible. She had devoted herself to Mrs. Angus Smith, who was tired from some cause or another, and was glad to be amused. Lance, with characteristic resignation to the inevitable, forsook his friend as soon as Nora took possession, and seated himself near Audine. The pale, eager young face, lifted to hers with a worship worthy of the knights of old, still haunted Fleetwood’s memory.

They reached the Nagatenne factory, and followed the path by the river leading towards the stepping-stones. On one side was the pruned tea, on the other some low chena growing on a narrow strip of waste land between the path and the river.

‘Hallo! who are you?’ cried Marriner, as he came suddenly upon a native, who sprang aside to let him pass. No reply was forthcoming, and he called back to Fleetwood, who was some yards behind: ‘Ask that fellow what he is doing here at this time of night.’ Then, turning to Nora, he continued: ‘He looked as though he had designs on the factory, and was after the tea. However, we need not stop for Fleetwood. Let me help you over the stepping-stones.’

Protesting that she needed no assistance, Miss Hapland held out her hand as she placed her foot upon the first stone. She was quite content to leave their companion behind.

‘Who are you?’ asked the assistant in a low voice, as he stopped in front of the man.

‘The assistant tea-maker, sir,’ was the answer, given in a broken voice.

Fleetwood’s quick ear caught the note of distress.

‘What’s the matter, David? Anything wrong at home?’ he asked in Tamil.

‘Oh, sir, my life is made wretched by my parents; I cannot bear it much longer.’

‘What have they done?’

The man answered readily, knowing that his tale would fall upon sympathetic ears. Now and then his voice broke with emotion for a second, but with an effort he controlled himself.

‘This evening, whilst my father took his rice, I ventured to help my young wife in drawing water from the river. It was dark, and a girl like that might easily fall in with a heavy bucket in her hand.’

‘Certainly; you were quite right.’

‘Perhaps we lingered a little over the filling of the bucket. I lead a busy life, as your honour knows, and rarely have time for a word with my wife. My mother complained that the girl was idle.’

‘Is she idle?’

‘She does the work of the whole house. She cooks our meals, washes the pots and dishes, cleans the rooms, and waits like a servant upon my mother. Yet, to-night—’ He stopped, and his shoulders heaved.

‘Yes, to-night—what happened?’ asked Fleetwood in low, sympathetic tones that opened the flood-gates of the lad’s grief.

‘They turned me out of the house, locked the door, and—and they beat her.’

‘Poor fellow! And you ran away so that you might not hear her scream?’

‘She could not cry out; they tied a cloth over her mouth. That is the custom of my mother, and she says it is only how she was treated by my father’s mother. If I am to hope that my wife is to grow good and obedient, my mother thinks that it is right she should meet with the same treatment. But, sir, I cannot bear it. Though I did not hear her voice, the blows sounded heavy and long. What am I to do? Your honour is wise beyond most men, and has a kinder heart towards the natives than the other masters. Tell me what I am to do.’

The tears were actually falling from the lad’s eyes as he made the request.

‘You must leave your father’s house, and find a home for yourself. Surely you are old enough to do that.’

‘I eat my father’s rice and wear his clothes. The money that I draw is not sufficient to keep my wife and myself. Moreover, according to our custom, as your honour knows, my parents married me so that my mother might have assistance in the house. If only she would be reasonable my wife would be able to please.’

‘You must make up for their harshness by being kind yourself, especially if you are really obliged to remain under the paternal roof.’

‘Your honour does not fully understand,’ he cried in despair. ‘If I speak a kind word to my wife, my parents mock me and jeer, saying that I am a woman’s plaything, and that I shall never gain the respect of my wife.’

‘You spend the night by her side. Can you not comfort her then with a few kind words?’

‘It is impossible. My mother hears if we do but whisper, and she complains to my father that we disturb her. Night and day there is no peace for us, and I must stand aside and see my little wife cruelly beaten because it is the custom of our people.’

‘Where are you going now?’

‘To the factory. There is still work to be done with the tea, and my father is too tired to attend to it to-night.’

‘I am surprised that he leaves the estate when there is important work to be done.’

‘It is by the master’s orders that he goes.’

‘So I understand,’ replied the assistant, putting the subject aside at once. He had no intention of prying into the business of his neighbour, either directly or indirectly, through the workers on the estate. ‘Come to me to-morrow at mid-day after your dinner. You will find me at the Galla factory. I will see what I can do for you, when I have found out how much you know of your business. Not a word to your father until something definite has been settled.’

David placed both his hands together and lifted them to his forehead.

‘Your honour is wise beyond all men, and a way out of my trouble will be found for me by your help.’

Fleetwood went on his way towards the stepping-stones, where the guide with the lantern was waiting patiently. Nora and Marriner had gone on ahead. The horse had been found, and she was mounted and already on her way up the opposite hillside. She had not thought it necessary to wait to bid the assistant good-night, but had left a message to that effect with his chief. As Fleetwood entered the bungalow he was met by his friend at the door.

‘Halo! I wondered what had become of you. Did you find out where that fellow had been gemming?’

‘He was not an estate coolie, and he had not been gemming. It was David, the assistant tea-maker on Nagatenne.’

‘Was anything wrong?’

He is not happy living under his father’s roof.’

‘Those kind of people are always full of complaints, if they think that you will listen. I believe they invent them as they go along to excite pity. You are very easily imposed on, Fleetwood.’

‘Yet I get as much work out of our coolies as any man in the valley,’ he remarked quietly.

‘That’s true. Perhaps if you were not quite so lenient you might get more. But, talking of leniency, I never saw anything like Nagatenne for slackness. It beats me altogether how Angus Smith keeps his head above water. The tea wants weeding and pruning in all directions. As for the plucking, from what I could see from the pathway, the bushes are being ruined!’

‘Certainly, things might look better,’ admitted his assistant.

There was silence for a few seconds, and Marriner broke it by saying:

‘Fleetwood, where on earth does Angus Smith get his money?’

‘I know no more than the man in the moon.’

‘I was told that when he started, he put every penny he had into the place, and his wife brought him nothing; yet they are living up to a good deal more than they can possibly get out of Nagatenne.’

He gazed at Fleetwood, as though he would worm the secret out of him, if he possessed it. But the assistant did not possess any secrets of his own, though he shared one or two belonging to his chief.

‘Ask another,’ said Fleetwood.

‘So I will. Where am I to get the money that Nayland wants?’

‘How soon does he want it?’ ‘It’s six months’ notice, and I received the notice by this morning’s tappal.’

‘I am equally at sea on that subject also.’

‘Then I will tell you: I must marry.’

His companion made no reply. Pulling out his watch, he looked at it.

‘Nearly eleven; time we turned in.’

‘It will make a good deal of difference to you, Fleetwood. You will have to turn out into the small bungalow. I am sorry that it should be so, but it can’t be helped. There will have to be a change in the back premises also.’

He glanced at his companion, who avoided his eye.

‘That can all be arranged,’ said Fleetwood shortly.

‘Come into my room and have a smoke and a drink,’ said Marriner.

‘No, thanks,’ was the somewhat brusque reply, as the other strode off in the direction of his bedroom.

Chapter IX

The cob arrived in due course, and so did the saddle and bridle. Audine, clad in riding-habit and sun-hat, mounted the animal and started on her first ride, with Lance on the mare as an escort. The Angus Smith family and ménage gathered together on the broad steps before the front-door to see her depart.

Riding along the estate paths was very different from the riding of the old days in the English lanes; but with Lance to give her a lead, she managed to get a few gallops. The cob proved quiet and manageable.

After being ridden a few times by Audine, Mrs. Angus Smith was persuaded to allow Tony to mount it, to the child’s great joy.

The rides were taken in the afternoons, the mornings being spent in walking on the estate. These walks in the early hours were a great pleasure to Audine.

The crisp morning air was more invigorating than the warm breezes of the afternoon, and made the exercise pleasant and not too exhausting. The walk she enjoyed most was that which led them up the hill behind the bungalow. The dogs were always their companions, and the prospect of a possible hare never failed to create an interest for the children.

The desire of Lance to learn the art of tea-making brought them down to the factory betimes. Here they were sure to meet Fleetwood, who looked for the coming of the little people and their companion with more eagerness than he was aware of. Audine would have preferred sometimes to have entered the jungle and made the acquaintance of the forest. But hitherto she had yielded to the wishes of the children and remained in the open until it was time to wend their way towards the factory and the river.

One morning, as they reached the point where the path divided at the end of the tea and commencement of the jungle, she said to Lance:

‘Let us go this way for a change.’

‘We never hunt on that side. It is too near Mr. Larch’s estate. The hare would be sure to work down into his tea which joins ours on the south.’

‘We need not look for a hare,’ urged Audine.

Lance regarded her in doubt and perplexity. His natural politeness prompted him to accede to her request, but his recollection of the expressed wishes of his father and mother caused him to hesitate.

‘We can go a little way,’ he said at length, slipping the leather leads on to the collars of the spaniels.

The path skirted the jungle, and they proceeded along it until the ground descended sharply. Lance stopped, saying:

‘Now we will go back.’

‘Can’t we go quite round the hill, by some path that will take us through the jungle, and bring us out on the other side near the turning down to the factory?’ asked Audine.

‘The way is too rough; besides, there is no track into the jungle from this side until we get to the bottom of the hill.’

‘Look there, Miss Stratton! Do you see that rock over there?’ cried Terry in sudden excitement, as she pointed down into the valley.

Audine could distinguish a great rock, rising out of the valley to the west. Its head was upreared fifty feet or more above the forest in which it was embosomed, and the morning sun gilded its bare face with golden rays of light.

‘There, there! Do you see the monkeys?’ continued the child, with increasing excitement.

‘Oh yes, quite plainly,’ replied Audine, her interest aroused.

A distant laugh reached their ears, and the gray forms of the wanderoos could be clearly distinguished, as they warmed themselves in the rays of the sun.

‘That is Cobra Rock,’ announced Terry presently, looking up into Audine’s face with solemn eyes.

‘Where mother has told us not to go,’ added Tony.

Lance, who was holding back the impatient Twins with difficulty, spoke.

‘Come round to the other side of the hill. It is time we got down to the factory.’

Audine turned at once. Mrs. Angus Smith had good reason, probably, for keeping the children away from Cobra Rock. Possibly there were snakes in its vicinity, as its name suggested. Perhaps the monkeys were not as harmless as the children represented them to be. She had no wish to explore any further, and she called more than once to Terry, who lingered behind with the D., casting many longing glances towards the mysterious rook in the valley.

No hare being found, they reached the river in good time, as Lance had desired, and the boy went on to the factory at once.

‘I am going to try my hand at tea-making with David’s assistance,’ he said, as he called the dogs to heel.

‘Do let me come too,’ cried Tony and Terry in one voice.

‘All right; but you must be very good, Terry.’

With many promises, she trotted behind her brother and sister, and Audine was left to her own devices, to follow or not, as she fancied. Knowing that the children were perfectly safe in the factory with Lance, she lingered by the cool murmuring stream. The sweet fresh air was preferable to the hot atmosphere of the tea-house, heavily scented with the tea-making. She stopped under a tree now and then, to gaze back at the jungle-crowned hills that guarded the valley. They seemed to be basking in the morning sun with the rest of Nature, each tree in the forest lifting its head to the blue sky with the same glad vitality that tingled in her own veins. In the opposite direction, where the hand of man had smoothed out the hill-slopes with artificial cultivation, and robbed them of their ruggedness, they stood out in gentle curves against the sunlit sky.

As Audine loitered by the river, lost in the contemplation of the beautiful panorama of the valley, she was hailed from the opposite side. Before she could reply, her eyes caught sight of Marriner’s figure, as he bounded from stone to stone, intent on crossing the river with as little delay as possible. He was obliged to follow the stream a few yards down, before he found a safe foothold over the rocks to the Nagatenne side.

He advanced eagerly towards her, caught her hand, and pressed it with a sudden warmth that was new to her as well as to himself.

‘Audine! alone!’ he cried. ‘This is lucky.’

‘Indeed?’ she replied, regarding him with some amusement.

The rôle of the impatient lover on the part of her cousin was strange and not convincing.

‘Yes. This is the very first opportunity I have had of speaking with you in private, though I gave you a hint the other evening that I should be glad of an interview,’ he said reproachfully.

‘Is it?’ she replied, with provoking indifference.

‘I see you talking to Fleetwood sometimes in the morning, but if I happen to be down by the river you have no eyes for me,’ he said jealously.

‘You men dearly love a grievance,’ she answered, with a laugh. The children talk to your assistant. I pay him very little attention.’

‘Where are they now?’ he demanded, looking round, as though he expected Tony to spring upon him from the tea-bushes, and Terry to crawl out of the river at his feet.

‘They are safe at the factory. Lance has had a lesson in tea-making from Mr. Fleetwood, and he is all anxiety to try his hand at it.’

He scarcely listened to her explanation; it sufficed for him to be assured that the little people were elsewhere.

‘Come up-stream and let’s have a chat. I have a great deal to say. I saw you riding with Lance yesterday.’

‘The new cob arrived ten days ago. It is delightful to be in the saddle again, and reminds me of old times when money was more plentiful.’

His eyes rested on her features with increasing appreciation. She made a pleasing picture, strolling by his side. The thought that she might belong to him rushed into his mind forcibly, stirring his heart from the sleepy dream of ease and lethargy into which it had sunk during his residence in the tropics.

‘Have you bought him yourself?’ he inquired, more with a desire to watch her red lips and hear her voice than to gain information.

‘Oh no; I couldn’t afford it. Mr. Angus Smith is paying for the horse. He is for Tony as well as myself. When I have ridden him a few times he will be quite safe for her. Lance and I went over to the Osterleys yesterday.’

He was not interested in the doings of Lance, nor had he eyes for the purling river that sparkled and danced in the sun.

‘How do you like being at Nagatenne?’ he asked.

‘I am happy—very happy, Jermyn,’ she replied, with sudden warmth. I can’t tell you how kind they all are to me. My only difficulty is the teaching of the children.’

‘Troublesome over their books?’

‘Not in the least. So far, my difficulty has been to get to the books. The programme of the day, as laid out by Mrs. Angus Smith, takes no account of lessons in any form. If I get them in at all, it is as an extra. Last week we had two or three wet afternoons.’

‘Splendid for the tea.’

‘Yes; and I fondly hoped that it would be splendid for the lessons. I really thought that we might get a little work done, as the new lesson-books ordered from Colombo had arrived. But Mrs. Angus Smith insisted on it, that we must help her to cover some of the drawing-room furniture. She said that it was such a good opportunity of doing it. She can never get on long without Lance and Tony. I would have devoted my attention to Terry, but was not allowed.

‘It is quite a misnomer to call me the governess.’

‘Did Angus Smith help too?’

‘No; he went out in a mackintosh, saying that he must work, though it rained cats and dogs.’

Marriner threw up his head and laughed heartily.

‘Work! The fellow is as idle as he can be.’

‘I assure you that you are mistaken. He leads a very busy life,’ replied Audine seriously.

‘Doing what?’ questioned her companion with incredulity.

‘I really don’t know, unless it is planting of some sort. It must be hard work, too, in a way, for he comes in tired after it.’

‘Anyway, it isn’t tea that is proving a gold-mine, if I may judge by the look of the estate down here. However, don’t let us waste time talking about the Angus Smiths. I have been thinking, Audine, that it would be a good thing if we came to some conclusion.’

He slipped an arm into hers, in friendly fashion, as they strolled along the path which followed the windings of the river above the flood-tide mark. They were exposed to the full view of any chance observers on Galla. There were tea-pluckers between the river and the bungalow. Higher up, the gleam of the pruner’s knife flashed in the sun among the tea-bushes.

Marriner’s house stood out plainly in the morning light—so plainly that Audine could see the gardener at work among the flower-beds, and the white draperies of servants moving in the raised verandas and leisurely performing their appointed tasks. But whilst Audine’s eyes lingered on the verdant slope with the bungalow nestling in its midst, the man by her side had no thought for anything but the girl, whose soft arm—faintly visible through the zephyr sleeve of her bodice—he closely pressed with his fingers.

‘I quite agree with you,’ Audine replied readily. ‘We have been—’

She paused in sudden hesitation, and then laughed, as though the absurdity of the situation had forced itself upon her. He finished the sentence:

‘Engaged, Audine—engaged.’

‘Have we?’ she asked, her eyes searching his, which fell before hers for a brief second with a suspicion of embarrassment.

‘Yes, engaged for three years; and you can’t deny it,’ he insisted.

‘Suppose I don’t attempt to deny it. On the contrary, I want to know how the engagement is to end.’

She stopped, and, half turning, faced him in the pathway. Though he had taken her arm at first in cousinly fashion, the warm grip of his hand suggested the lover. She attempted to loosen his clasp, but he resisted. Drawing her impetuously to his side again, he resumed the walk.

‘Did you see Goodlad before you left England?’ he inquired.

‘I did; and I asked him many questions, some of which he answered.’

‘Could you discover what our respective positions would be if we did not marry?’

He spoke with an eagerness which, for the moment, dominated all other emotion, sinking the lover, and leaving only the fortune-seeker.

‘We are to expect nothing.’

‘And if we marry—what then?’

‘He repeated what he told us after the funeral. A sum of sixty thousand pounds will be ours absolutely, to do as we like with.’

‘Audine, supposing that we do not wish to carry out the desire of the old man, can’t we dispute the will, and divide the fortune between us, as his nearest heirs?

The feverish anxiety with which he waited for her reply did not escape her notice. She drew her own conclusions, which were at fault through her ignorance of one or two vital facts connected with his life. There was a touch of severity in her tone as she said:

‘I have not expressed any objection hitherto to fulfilling the very strongly expressed wish of the dear old uncle. It is you who have hung back.’

‘I hate to be driven,’ he cried, with an impatience which he did not attempt to repress. I would rather fight the will.’ Then, with a sudden alteration of tone, he added more softly, ‘And marry you afterwards.’

She looked at him earnestly, as though she would read his innermost soul.

‘Mr. Goodlad gave me to understand that any such dispute would be perfectly useless. Turn back, Jermyn; I must not go too far from the factory, lest the children should want me.’

‘Why should it be useless? The law nowadays is quite ready to set aside any ridiculous bequest which doesn’t benefit the rightful heirs.’

‘I will tell you. The will, which is to be proved on our marriage, or at the end of three years from the time of our uncle’s death, only disposes of a very small portion of the property, chiefly the proceeds of the sale of the house and furniture. This amounts to something under four thousand pounds, and it will be divided between us.’

‘Where is the rest of the money?’

‘When uncle knew that he had an incurable complaint, and that his days were numbered, he transferred the bulk of his fortune to his old friend, Mr. Goodlad, trusting entirely to his good faith to administer the property according to his directions. On the day of our marriage he will make over that fortune to us.’

‘And if we don’t marry, what will become of it?’

He refused to say. His exact words were: “As it all stands in my name, I am responsible to no one but my old friend, and I will carry out his wishes faithfully. I advise you to do the same”’

Audine succeeded in detaching the hand that held her arm. There was a pause. Marriner, with his eyes fixed in deep thought on the ground at his feet, paced by the side of his cousin. She, with head erect, was listening to the note of the green barbet in a neighbouring tree.

‘He will positively hand the money over on that condition,’ said Marriner presently.

‘On our marriage, positively,’ repeated Audine.

‘It is rather hard to force two people into marriage just to please a third, and that person already in his grave! The thing is ludicrous,’ said Marriner, with a sudden laugh, which was not free from vexation.

‘I quite agree with you,’ replied Audine emphatically.

She looked across the river at the Galla bungalow. It had the same air of comfort about it from this distance that the house on Nagatenne enjoyed. Then her eyes sought the master of Galla. The lover had almost disappeared and the procrastinating cousin had returned, with his thoughts fixed on the money and not upon the woman.

‘The fact of the matter is, Jermyn, that you don’t want a wife,’ said Audine, watching him closely, with a puzzled expression.

‘Well, you see, it will make a great difference to Fleetwood. He will have to turn out—’

He ceased speaking, uncertain how she would take it.

‘He is the housekeeper, I understand. The children told me so,’ she added, as he glanced at her with sudden curiosity.

The explanation satisfied him, and he continued:

‘I shall have to engage a fresh set of servants, of course. Bachelors’ boys never work well with a mistress.’

‘Mr. Fleetwood probably does not approve of the change,’ suggested Audine.

To tell you the truth, he—well, he doesn’t think that he—’

Marriner stopped in sheer confusion, being altogether out of his depth, and his brow reddened.

‘You need not explain,’ said Audine composedly. ‘I can see for myself that your marriage will not meet with his approval, if he is in the habit of consulting his own comfort, which seems to be the case. However, we are not called upon to consider him in this matter,’ she continued, with increasing coldness. ‘If he is really your friend, he ought to rejoice in your happiness. I wish I knew what was best to do.’

A little sigh escaped her lips as she murmured the last sentence to herself.

‘Poor old Fleetwood! You mustn’t be too hard on him. He’s been very good to me—nursed me through an illness, and let me have my way sometimes, when he didn’t agree with me in the least or with what I was doing,’ said Marriner. Now, about this matter, Audine—’

‘Well?’ she said, stopping in her walk, and looking frankly into his eyes.

‘Will you marry me?’

He was not in the least anxious or doubtful concerning her reply. It was a foregone conclusion with him that she was simply waiting, and not very patiently, for him to name the day, or allow her to do so. It therefore took his breath away entirely when she promptly answered:

‘No, Jermyn.’

There was no indecision, no hesitation, about her negative, and it fell on his ears like a bomb. He could scarcely believe that he had heard aright. He had been so fully occupied with his own thoughts, and in examining the situation from his own point of view, that he had overlooked the warnings indicating a change on her part. The question of love had, so far, not been broached. His heart was still sluggish and torpid, but the shock it received from her negative caused it to throb with a new sensation which startled him.

‘No!’ he repeated incredulously. ‘You can’t mean that! I gathered from your letters that—that—’

‘That I was desirous of being married,’ she suggested, with a calmness that augured ill for his hopes.

‘That you had no objection to marrying me as soon as I was ready.’

In his agitation he spoke awkwardly, and the consciousness of it added to his confusion. A new emotion, which he did not understand, was sweeping down upon him with cyclonic force. This woman, whom he had neglected to claim because he had only—as he believed—to lift his finger to bring her to him, was suddenly slipping from his grasp. The world of bliss to which he was just awakening threatened to vanish in its creation and elude his eager embrace. He listened with increasing dismay as she proceeded:

‘Let us be explicit. Eighteen months ago I wrote and begged you to release me. There seemed no desire on your part to return to England, as you promised, after your interview with Mr. Goodlad. You replied that I was premature; that, although you were not ready to rush into matrimony, you had a great desire to fulfil the wish of our uncle. You asked me to be patient and wait for you. I waited, and you made no sign. I was tired of living on a small income, sick of the narrowness, the sordidness of making two ends meet. The knowledge of that unappropriated fortune, waiting to be claimed, influenced me strongly, I admit, and I wrote again, this time asking you to put an end to our engagement in the one way desired by uncle, hinting broadly that I was ready to come out to you if you could not get away. That letter was never answered.’

‘And now I say yes, by all means let us marry,’ he urged hotly.

‘You have been six months framing your reply. During that time much has happened.’

‘You haven’t fallen in love with anyone else, have you?’ he asked, searching her face with swift suspicion.

‘No,’ she answered quietly; ‘but I have altered my mind. Coming out into the world like this tends to alter everything—one’s views of life, the objects of life, even one’s principles, seem affected.’ She smiled as she thought of the children and their education, which she had undertaken, and now found so difficult to carry out. ‘Moreover, I have made a discovery,’ she said, turning on him with a little laugh.

For a brief moment his eyes flashed keen inquiry.

‘What have you discovered?’ he asked in a low, vibrating tone.

‘That, whatever you may say to the contrary, you don’t wish to give up your bachelor life,’ she answered lightly. ‘You and Mr. Fleetwood have created for yourselves a comfortable home. Your lives are cast on pleasant lines in this pleasantest of all colonies. No anxieties trouble you. You are the owner of a fine estate, and your life as a planter is complete. Look there!’ She pointed to the Galla bungalow, smiling in its garden and shrubberies. ‘There is my rival—my successful rival. Believe me, that your first impulse was correct. It would be a great mistake to break up that home.’

He had followed with his eyes the direction of her extended hand, at first in doubt as to her exact meaning. It certainly was a pleasant picture, and it was reasonable to regret the breaking up of the complete bachelor’s domicile that he and Fleetwood had made for themselves. She had but spoken the truth when she said that his home on the hillside, with all the comforts and luxuries it contained, was her only rival. Since the moment when his uncle first proposed the marriage it had held him fast and kept him from her.

But Audine was not aware of the shadow that had fallen upon it, of Nayland’s visit and demand, and of Jermyn Marriner’s sore need. If she had known, she would have understood the consternation—in which she only half believed—that appeared on his face when he heard her refusal. A storm of passionate words poured from his lips.

‘I cannot accept your answer, Audine. I may have seemed cold and indifferent, but really I was not. I have never had any other intention than to fulfil uncle’s wish, but—but I—there were reasons, some of which I have already mentioned, why I could not be hurried. Now I am prepared to carry it through; and though you need not pretend to be passionately in love, you will begin with the good foundation of cousinly affection, which has always kept you friendly towards me, and I hope will continue to do so. As for myself, I know now that I shall be a miserable man if you cast me adrift.’

She permitted him to run on with more in this strain. It gave her time for thought. His agitation on her refusal was unexpected, considering the antecedents; and as it increased rather than diminished, she listened with some surprise as he declared his love in the glowing terms of an ardent lover. The love might not be with her just yet, he said, but it was coming. It would come; it would be sure to envelop her whole soul as it enveloped his, and gild their married life, bringing them more solid happiness than a union contracted in a hurry between two people who had not had time to think of the future.

‘You have never said anything of this sort before, Jermyn,’ she remarked at length, as he finished his pleading with another appeal.

He let the past alone, and boldly stepped into the future.

‘I say it now, and I shall go on repeating it, Audine. I want you, and I won’t accept a refusal. You are taking a petty revenge on me for my years of silence. I know I deserve it, but for Heaven’s sake be generous, be kind. I will give you a grateful devotion, an honest, simple love, if you will take me as I am. You shall do as you like with me, manage the house as you please, only say yes.’

He gazed at her with imploring eyes, and Audine, though she would not admit it, recognised the fact that his emotion was genuine. She had never been in love, although she had had her girlish fancies. The love that dictates but one course, that sets reason and rule at nought, had hitherto never touched her. She had not known what it was to have a heart cast at her feet, to hear a storm of entreaty beating passionate wings around her, to feel the hot breath of the flame that will take no denial. She had never felt her own heart leap responsive to the call, eager to take as much as it could give, and ready to yield. She was without the experience which comes to some girls at her age, and wondered if the urgent pleading of her cousin could be the birth of the real thing. Was he, after all, in love with her? Ah, perhaps it had come to him since they had met at Nagatenne. And if it had come to him, why should it not touch her? Still she hesitated, refusing to give the consent he was demanding with so much urgency.

The voices of the children sounded as they issued from the factory. Audine made a move towards them.

‘Must you go?’ asked Marriner, taking her hand.

She drew it away gently, but he was not to be so easily rebuffed. His fingers closed once more upon her arm, and his heart throbbed violently as he felt the warm flesh beneath his grip.

‘Audine, I won’t let you go unless you promise to reconsider your answer. I will come for it in a few days’ time. Think it over; take a week or a fortnight if you like, though Heaven knows that you have had long enough already, and remember how you will spoil my life if you forsake me in the eleventh hour in this way.’

‘Miss Stratton,’ cried Tony in huge excitement, as she raced towards her open-mouthed, ‘what do you think? Lance has made some splendid tea. He took it out of the bins and fired it all by himself. The tea-maker says that it is as good as any that the factory has ever turned out.’

‘And, Miss Stratton, the D. has caught a rat,’ said Terry, who followed close on the heels of her sister.

‘The rat ran round the sirocco, and the dog after it, and they both nearly fell into it, and I nearly fell over the dog trying to catch him, because he is such a little D. He got under my feet, and Lance caught hold of my collar and pulled me out of the way, and—and—’

Terry stopped from sheer breathlessness as usual, and Tony was able to say:

‘Please come; Lance wants you to taste the tea. The water is boiling and the tasting-cups are ready.’

They caught her hands to draw her along with them. She gave a backward glance at Jermyn as she yielded to the impatient children.

‘It shall be as you wish,’ she said, with a smile.

Marriner gave a sigh of relief as he followed them.

‘May I come and taste Lance’s tea, too?’ he asked of Tony.

‘Oh yes, do; but we would rather have had Mr. Fleetwood. He knows such a lot about tea-making. He is teaching Lance and David every day, and he says he will make them both first-class tea-makers before he has done with them.’

Chattering thus, they arrived at the building. Lance, smiling and flushed with triumph, was standing on the threshold.

‘I was only waiting till you came to pour on the water,’ he said to Audine.

The white cups were arranged in a row on the office table. David stood by the stove, where a kettle was steaming. His face was alight with pride, the pride of success. This was no play to him, as it was to the children. It meant emancipation from tyranny, and a home of his own, where he should reign as master.

The joy of being lord of his own castle is not confined to the Englishman.

Have you seen this process before, Audine?’ asked Marriner with amusement, his anxieties having vanished when she consented to reconsider her answer.


David brought the kettle and poured water upon the different samples of tea in the cups. The cups were duly covered with their lids, which served as strainers when the liquid was drawn off the leaves.

Lance stood with watch in hand to give the correct time for infusion. Tony and Terry, restraining the dogs, that had wrongly concluded that it was a question of another rat, were silent with acute anticipation. At a signal from Lance, David manipulated the cups and handed round the steaming coppery-coloured tea-leaves, into which all but Audine poked a prying finger with a look of wisdom, rubbing the sodden leaf between finger and thumb critically.

‘Good colour, isn’t it, Mr. Marriner?’ asked Lance, with a mixture of modesty and boyish pride.

‘It is excellent, my boy. I fancy your father couldn’t do much better,’ replied Marriner, bestowing on him a kind glance, which Lance passed on to David.

‘It’s got a splendid bouquet; it couldn’t be sweeter or thore flowery,’ said Tony, sniffing noisily at the steam that rose from the liquid, and nodding approval at her brother.

‘I want to taste it before I say if it is good,’ said Terry.

The liquor was fanned and cooled by the assistant tea-maker, and handed round for inspection. Terry took a large mouthful, rolled it round her mouth, as if she were cleaning her teeth, and ejected it outside the door.

‘It’s just ripping!’ she cried enthusiastically.

‘Oh, Terry, you should not behave so badly!’ exclaimed Audine, trying not to smile as she met the twinkling eye of her cousin.

You can’t taste tea unless you treat it in that way,’ replied Terry indignantly. ‘You wait till father comes. He will be here soon, and then he will show you how you should smell the tea and taste it.’

‘I am afraid I can’t wait for Mr. Angus Smith,’ said Audine.

‘Besides, there is nothing more to learn, I can assure you,’ said Marriner. ‘We have shown her the whole process, haven’t we, Tony?’

‘Rather! Now all we’ve got to do is to take some home for mother. She will be so pleased.’

I congratulate you, Lance,’ said Marriner, as he left the factory and turned towards the stepping-stones.

‘Tell Mr. Fleetwood to come up to the bungalow this afternoon to taste Lance’s tea,’ shouted Tony after him.

‘He is engaged. He has promised to go over to Periya to play tennis with Miss Gorleston. Shall I come instead?’

‘Oh no, don’t bother. You see, you’re not Mr. Fleetwood, and Mr. Fleetwood is not you,’ was the reply, as Tony ran on to catch up Lance, who was hurrying home with a sample of the wonderful tea.

But Marriner, who had stopped, was looking with pleading eyes at Audine for the answer to his question, although he had spoken directly to the children.

‘No, don’t come to-day. I must have time to think. Besides, Lance and I are to ride over to Periya this afternoon to tea. Come along, Terry; call the D. He looks as if he was hanging back on purpose to have a sly hunt amongst the tea-maker’s chickens.’

Chapter X

The moment the children set foot in the bungalow there was a call for mother.

‘The mistress is still in the garden,’ said the appoo.

‘Let’s find her and show her the tea at once,’ said Tony, catching Audine by the hand.

It was only just ten o’clock, and there was still plenty of time for the toilet and bath. The attempt to settle to any serious book-work before the big breakfast had been given up for the present. Perhaps, when the monsoon broke, something might be done, but so far it had been found hopeless to fight against the combined will of the Angus Smith family. So Audine good-naturedly accompanied the three little people in their search for their mother, the dogs trotting at their heels as usual.

Mrs. Angus Smith was not in the flower-garden, although signs of recent labours were visible in a border of verbenas, where the plants had been freshly pegged down to cover spots that showed the bare soil here and there.

‘She must be in the kitchen-garden,’ remarked Tony.

Passing round the side of the house, they entered the portion of ground set apart for the cultivation of vegetables, and a certain quantity of flowers grown for the purpose of cutting for the table. It was fenced in with a strong park-paling built to keep out the hares. Convolvulus, bignonia, ipomea, passion-flower, and the tea-rose, trailed in rank luxuriance over the wooden fence.

They entered through a small latticed gate, closing it carefully behind them. The beds were made up with rich soil, composed of leaf-mould from the jungle and manure from the stable. If nothing else, thought Audine, Mrs. Angus Smith was a most excellent gardener. At the further end were peach and orange trees; beyond this little orchard the garden ended in a broad row of pineapples. In the centre of this row stood an old forest tree, looking strange and out of place among the highly-cultivated fruit and vegetables of the Englishman’s garden. It was one of those survivals, still visible on many estates, of the period when the whole valley was jungle and patana, forest and grass, the home of the elephant and the sambur, and untrodden by the foot of man.

The noble old giant wore its crown of glistening foliage, but out of that foliage stretched long bare arms of dead wood, hoary with age, fringed with gray lichens, and patched here and there with russet-green moss. It had been beautiful in its youth, when the forest clothed the hillside, and when it bore on its trunk the scented orchid and the delicate climbing fern. It was still beautiful in its moribund old age, although the orchid had given place to the lichen and the fern to the moss.

At the foot of this patriarch was a black stone, reared up on end, so that it leaned against the trunk. The stone was not more than two feet high. Its base was supported by a small platform built of sun-dried bricks. The pineapples, which grew in easy luxuriance round the stone, were not allowed to encroach upon it, and the ground for a foot and a half on all sides was levelled and battened down, and swept scrupulously clean. The stone showed signs of having been lately anointed with oil.

By the tree, with her hand laid on the trunk, stood Mrs. Angus Smith. The habitual expression of good-temper had vanished for the moment from her face. Her eyes flashed, and anger was written on every feature.

Moonaswamy, the gardener, cowered before her, literally trembling in every limb with fear.

‘I have told you many times that no word was to be uttered concerning the work done on this estate,’ she was saying in Tamil, which was incomprehensible to Audine.

The children, however, understood to a great extent, although they were ignorant of the particular offence of which the gardener had been guilty. The unhappy man made no reply, and she continued:

‘Yet you have brought in another man—a man of whom I know nothing, who may be a thief.’

‘The work is heavy—it must be done; and the time approaches for the wedding of my little brother. What could I do, lady of the universe, except find another servant, a substitute? He may be trusted—even as I am trusted—to do the work.’

‘A strange coolie—perhaps a chatterer!’ There was silence, and Mrs. Angus Smith turned to Lance, saying in quite a different tone: ‘Yes, Lance, what is it.’

‘I have been making a small quantity of tea all by myself, mother. I fired it this morning, and I want you to see it.’

‘All right, sonny dear; wait a minute till I have finished with this idiot.’ She turned to the man again, who was casting appealing glances in the direction of Lance, and continued in Tamil: ‘You know the consequences of your disobedience. This tree comes down. Not a day longer shall it stand.’

‘Ah! lady mistress, have mercy! Spare the tree. I have promised the swami that it shall stand.’

‘It was only to stand during my pleasure. I warned you that it should fall if you disobeyed my orders. You have done so, and now it shall be out down. I will send for the Singhalese wood-cutters. They have no more fear than I have of your swami, and they shall clear it away with the stone and rubbish you keep round it. The pineapples will be all the better for more sun.’

‘I will give lady my pay for six months. I will bring lady the rare flowers she loves from the distant forests. I will be lady’s slave—’

He dropped at her feet with a wail of grief, and pressed his forehead to the damp leaf-mould in abject entreaty.

‘What has the gardener done, Tony?’ asked Audine, pity filling her heart for the poor creature in his trouble.

‘Something he shouldn’t, and mother is threatening to cut down his devil-tree. He is in a terrible fright,’ replied the child, not without a tinge of awe.

‘It is of no use begging for pardon. Once before I excused you and spared the tree. Now I will have it down.’

She turned towards Audine with a smile, leaving the unfortunate devil-worshipper prostrate before the stone.

‘Come, Miss Stratton, I have something to show you. One of the new carnations has opened this morning, and its tint is magnificent—much richer than I have ever seen in that particular colour. Bring the tea, Tony; tell the appoo to make some for the big breakfast, and we will try Lance’s manufacture.’

The boy handed the packet to his sister, who followed with Audine. Terry remained behind, with the D. by her side. Lance looked at the man and then at the devil-stone. Something had jarred upon him in his mother’s attitude towards her servant.

‘What is the matter, gardener?’ he asked in Tamil.

The man rose to his feet, and, speaking in a low, agitated voice, as though he feared that the mysterious spirit in the tree might hear him, said:

‘Oh, little master, help me, and save me and the whole house from evil. The swami that lives in this tree is strong and terrible, able to bring good luck and bad. The mistress does not know—she will not believe; but you, little master, who have been born here, to you it is given to know that there is truth where the Englishman sees no truth, and evil where the Englishman says there is none.’

The boy nodded. He had not lived all his life among estate coolies to be ignorant of their beliefs, nor of the strange things that happened, contrary to all rule and reason, to these dark children of the Orient.

‘Why is the mistress so angry?’ he asked, with a judicial patience which he had seen Fleetwood adopt when trying to mete out justice to his coolies.

‘Because of my brother and my uncle.’

‘What have they done?’

‘Next week my brother makes his marriage.’

‘What has that to do with the mistress?’

‘She is angry. But the valluvan has fixed it; therefore he must go and make his marriage without fail.’

‘And why should she be angry? Surely it is but natural that your brother should be married at the right hour,’ replied Lance, unable, so far, to make head or tail of the gardener’s story.

‘It is not the marriage that angers her.’

‘Then speak and explain,’ said the boy, in the authoritative voice which is adopted instinctively by the governing class in the East toward the governed.

‘The work that we do for the master and mistress in the jungle is hard. It is digging—always digging and carrying the soil. That is my part in the daily task, and I must have help to bring all that is required. So I sent for my uncle to take the place of my brother, whilst he goes to his coast to make his marriage, and the mistress is angry.’

‘Oh, I see!’ said Lance, as illumination came.

Moonaswamy gave a sigh of relief, and continued his story with fresh courage. If the little master understood, there was hope.

‘The mistress is angry because the eye of the stranger, she says, destroys the luck. That is true. But this man is no stranger. He is of my own flesh and blood—my father’s own brother. His tongue will be as my tongue, and his eye as my eye, and no harm will come. But if the mistress cuts down this tree and destroys this stone—ah! she does not know!—there will be nothing but evil happen to her house and mine. Little master, plead my cause with her. She will listen to her son, though she turns from her old servant.’

‘I will do as you ask, and will plead with her,’ promised the boy, ‘not because I worship the devil, but because he is your swami.’ He paused, and glanced up into the tree again. ‘I will do it because I do not wish evil to happen to your house or mine.’

Moonaswamy came nearer, and whispered in his ear: The swami is there, little master.’

He took Lance’s hand in one of his and approached the stone. Laying the other hand upon the greasy surface, he cried to his god in the tree, and swore that the tree should be spared. Lance lifted his eyes, defiance and a touch of apprehension in their depths, to its gnarled gray trunk above. The morning breeze was busy among the foliage, and the vivid rays of the sun whitened the rough, weather-worn bark to a dazzling brightness. For a second he seemed to flinch, but he did not lower his gaze, which remained steadfast. The vivid imagination of the heathen had touched his sensitive mind, and conveyed to his brain the meaning of the fear of the oriental.

‘All right,’ he said in Tamil, as the gardener released his hand. ‘Tell your swami that, though he is not my swami, I will do my best to keep his tree safe; and I will explain to my mother that you have not brought the eye of the stranger on the estate.’

The man pressed his forehead with both hands, in token of the gratitude which he was unable to express in words. Having placed the matter in the hands of his young master, he felt relieved of some of the responsibility of safeguarding the tree. He had done all that was in his power to avert the evil threatened by his mistress. It remained only to mollify her anger, and when this was effected he would have to appease the wrath of the demon.

‘I will do the best I can for the mistress,’ he said. ‘To-day I will overlook all the roses and gather together the poochees that eat the buds. That will perhaps please her and soften her heart; and to-night I will sacrifice a large white cock, which will soften the heart of the swami towards her and me. The swami dearly loves blood, and he shall have it.’

Lance walked thoughtfully towards the house, whilst the gardener, still labouring under excitement, departed in the opposite direction. Terry alone remained, with the D. as her companion.

It was strange to see how the child and the dog were influenced by one dominant emotion—curiosity; but it was exhibited in different ways. In the case of the animal its curiosity was all in its nose. Sitting upon its haunches, it sniffed at Lance and the gardener as they looked up into the tree. With a whimper, it gazed into the face of its mistress, as if questioning a superior intelligence, and inquiring what sort of a jungle-fowl sat among the branches.

The curiosity in Terry was centred in her large hazel eyes. She had only partially comprehended what the gardener had said. When Lance was out of sight, she placed herself where he had stood when the gardener held his hand. The dog followed, seating himself at her feet. She fixed her eyes intently upon the green foliage, glistening in the golden sunlight, and then she brought them back to the stone.

‘Lance saw something up there; I know he did. What did he see? And what has Moonaswamy done to make mother so angry?’

The yellow dog wagged his tail, glanced into her face again, and sniffed at the tree.

‘We must find out, you little devil! Hi! in! Fetch it out!’ she cried softly, as she signed to the animal to hunt round the stone.

The dog had no fear of an evil spirit, and was quite ready for sport of any kind. The dominant scent, however, was that of Moonaswamy himself; but this fact the animal was obliged to keep to himself, for the excellent reason that he had no means of communicating it to his little mistress. Having made a thorough examination of the place, he returned to Terry.

‘Good dog! We will find out all about it by-and-by. Down, sir! Now you must come to kennel, and I must go to my bath.’

The anger of Mrs. Angus Smith vanished like a cloud in the morning sun. Wrath was foreign to her nature altogether. She loved ease and peace too well to nurse ill-temper long. By the time she had shown Audine the new treasure she was her genial self again.

‘Moonaswamy is a good servant and an excellent gardener, but, like all natives, he is apt to take liberties. I have a lot of valuable plants, seedlings, and cuttings. They are all saleable in the valley, and a strange gardener might carry off half my treasures before I could find out what was going on.’

‘The gardener himself is honest, I suppose?’ remarked Audine.

‘As honest as such people can be. I have no doubt that his own little garden in the coolie lines is stocked from mine, but that I don’t mind. What I fear is the wholesale robbery of my treasures and exaggerated gossip concerning the products of this place, which would bring thieves and all sorts of people prying about Nagatenne.’

At breakfast the matter was again discussed, and Angus Smith himself had something to say on the subject.

‘You don’t intend to cut the poor fellow’s tree down, I hope,’ he protested, casting an amused glance at his wife across the table.

‘Are you going to take his part also?’ she exclaimed, assuming a severity that was not real. ‘I have already had to listen to Lance, but I make no rash promise. Try some of that soused fish in front of you, Miss Stratton, and give me some. I know it’s good—one of cook’s best dishes.’

‘Well, my dear, I am thinking solely of myself. If that tree is cut down you will certainly let loose a troublesome demon upon my coolies. As long as he lives in the tree, and is under the charge of the gardener, who, in their opinion, knows how to humour and manage him, they are quite easy in their minds. But if they believe that he is sent adrift to wander up and down the valley, I believe they will be frightened enough to bolt. I am already short-handed, and can’t spare a single man.’

‘Is there really a demon in the tree, father?’ asked Terry.

‘No, child, of course not. They have seen a white owl in it, or something of that sort, and they believe that the tree is haunted by an evil spirit. The belief is quite as disturbing to the peace of mind of the coolies as if the demon actually existed.’

‘What do they think he is like?’

Her father was not gifted with imagination, and he was unable to describe the vain imaginings of his estate coolies. Lance undertook to do it for him.

‘The tree-devil has a whitey-gray face, with eyes that stare and teeth that gleam. He looks hungry and wicked.’

Terry’s eyes grew round with awe, and she opened her mouth to speak, but Mrs. Angus Smith forestalled her.

‘Yes, that is the kind of bogey that fills their silly minds, and nothing you can say or prove to the contrary will convince them that it is all arrant nonsense. I should probably be wise to allow the tree to stand, and to forgive my foolish gardener, especially as Lance has explained the matter, and as things are not so bad as I thought.’

‘I am sure that it will be wise not to touch the tree. It will be a great nuisance, just now, to lose the gardener—and he will be the very first to run away—as he is a most useful man and knows his work,’ said Angus Smith.

‘Do all the coolies believe in demons?’ asked Audine.

‘Every one of them, and they all propitiate the devil,’ said Angus Smith. They don’t bother about worshipping a spirit of good. A good spirit will do them no harm, they say, and therefore needs no pujah. But the evil spirit, that works evil for evil’s sake, must be propitiated and pampered and humoured, or else, to use an old English expression, there will be the devil to pay with a vengeance. Queer belief, isn’t it, Miss Stratton?’

‘Just the rule of fear instead of love,’ observed Audine.

‘It has been an admirable thing for me to have the haunted tree in my garden. I have had the whip-hand of the gardener and all his relations ever since I discovered that his particular swami had taken up his abode there,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, laughing.

‘I think that the monkeys as well as the white owls must have something to do with helping the natives to imagine that they see evil spirits,’ suggested her husband.

‘I am certain of it. Monkeys have an uncanny look—sometimes, when they are not aware that they are being watched,’ replied the lady.

‘We saw them this morning on Cobra Rock—such a number! They were sitting in the sun warming themselves,’ said Audine.

There was a rapid exchange of glances between Angus Smith and his wife, as though both were agreed on some understood point.

‘Did you go close under the rock?’ asked Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘No; we saw them from the top of the hill. We went round the jungle a little way, but did not descend on that side.’

‘And the little beggars were sunning themselves, just like native children in the bazaar, were they not?’ inquired Angus Smith, with a smile. ‘You ought to see them closer.’

‘The children told me that you did not wish them to go as far as Cobra Rock, so we turned back,’ explained Audine.

‘Quite right. The largest cobra ever seen in this valley was caught there. We have not many cobras near us, but if them is one to be found within reach, it would probably be on the rock.’

‘Then you don’t object to our going into the jungle?’

‘Not in the least, if you keep on the hill. It is very pretty inside the forest. I wonder you haven’t been during your morning walks, Miss Stratton,’ said Angus Smith. ‘But I wouldn’t go far, if I were you, and I advise you to keep well away from the swampy places.’

‘I don’t wish to meet a cobra,’ remarked Audine.

‘No fear of that up there. Snakes like warmth and shelter, and prefer the dry rocks to the rank vegetation that grows under the trees.’

There was a pause, when Terry said:

‘Aren’t you afraid of the snakes, mother, when you go to Cobra Rock.’

‘Yes, very much afraid, Terry.’

‘Then why do you go so often, mother?’

Again Angus Smith and his wife exchanged glances, and this time they laughed.

‘To look at my plants,’ replied Mrs. Angus Smith, watching with amusement the growing astonishment in the eyes of her young people.

‘What plants?’ asked Tony and Terry in one breath.

‘You must all promise faithfully to keep the secret if I tell you. You are not like the gardener, and have no devil-trees that I may threaten to destroy if you don’t keep my secret, so I must trust entirely to your honour.’

‘We will keep your secret, honour bright,’ declared the eager children.

‘Well, you must know that, down in the jungle, I have a garden for orchids. They won’t grow here by the house as they grow there, and I am hoping to get them to seed, so that I may send the seed home and sell it. One day, perhaps, I will show you my orchid nursery, but for the present you must be content to hear of it only.’

‘Is it near Cobra Rock?’ inquired Terry.

‘Close to it; I might almost say that it was underneath it,’ replied her mother, smiling at the solemn fate of her little daughter.

‘And has your orchid garden got a devil-tree in the middle of it?’

‘No; one on the premises is quite enough. Now, you mustn’t tell anyone, or we shall have everybody growing orchids for the market, and the price will instantly go down,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith.

The appoo entered with a small pot of freshly-made tea, which he proudly placed upon the table, with the information that it was our little master’s ‘facture.’

Lance poured it out, and handed the cups to his father and mother. Their approbation brought a sparkle of pleasure into his eyes, and caused Tony and Terry to glow with pride. As his parents accorded their generous mead of praise, the thought crossed the mind of Audine that the laudation would have been more appropriate had it been bestowed upon their son for accomplishments of a more boyish nature.

‘It is first-rate,’ repeated Angus Smith as he rose from the table to go to the smoking-room.

‘Well done, my son!’ added his wife. Now, children, off you go to lie down. What are you going to do, Lance?’

The boy looked at Audine, who replied at once:

‘He is coming to my room, and I am going to read to him.’

‘You had far better go to sleep, Miss Stratton. You really ought not to be troubled with that sort of thing at this hour—the precious hour of mid-day rest.’

‘Mother, come into the veranda first and see the gardener. I want you to tell him that his tree shall stand,’ said Lance.

‘Very well, sonny; we will set his mind at rest. The fright he has had will do him a lot of good, and keep him up to the mark.’

They went into the veranda on which Audine’s room opened. Moonaswamy was watching for his mistress.

He could neither eat, nor sleep, nor labour, whilst the terrible threat hung over his head. He came forward at once and fell on his knees, seeking consolation, and finding it in one rapid glance at the face of his little master. Pressing his forehead to the ground, he laid his hands upon the feet of his mistress.

‘You are forgiven,’ she assured him. ‘The young master has explained, and made what was crooked straight. The tree stands; it is my pleasure that it shall stand until you offend again.’

Joy was written on the face of the man as he rose.

Turning aside a moment, he possessed himself of a bottle that had once held French plums. As Audine’s eye fell upon it, she could not help laughing. The bottle was full of insects of every kind that preyed upon rose-trees—green caterpillars, brown slugs, spotted beetles, soft spiders, black and gray grubs, a writhing mass of poochees noisome to look at, a mine of wealth to the entomologist, a happy deliverance to the rose-grower. In the opinion of Moonaswamy, he could not present his mistress with a more acceptable peace-offering. He held the bottle towards her in mute propitiation, and she touched it in token that she accepted it. Something was said in Tamil, to which he replied eagerly, and he was dismissed, happy and reassured, to go to his neglected mid-day meal.

‘You can understand, Miss Stratton, with orchids so far from the house, how necessary it is not to have strange coolies about,’ explained Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘Lance assures me that this new man, whom the gardener has introduced, is a near relative, and Moonaswamy answers for his honesty. I suppose I must be content. You are sure that Lance is not troubling you?’

‘Not in the least. If I could say that one hour was happier than another in this house, I should call it this.’

‘I am so glad to hear that you are happy.’

Mrs. Angus Smith spoke but the truth. She might feel it her duty to punish her gardener in her own peculiar way, but there was no doubt that she was far better pleased to have an excuse for letting him off.

The sum total of her own happiness was found in making the happiness of others.

Chapter XI

The Periya estate touched Nagatenne on the east.

There were two ways of reaching the bungalow—one by following the path that led to the cart-road; the other was through the tea, by narrow, winding tracks that took the traveller nearly to the top of the ridge.

Lance and Audine decided to go by the upper route through the tea, and return by way of the bazaar and cart-road, where the carriage had put her down on the day of her arrival.

Audine had no intention of playing tennis, being in her riding-habit. She had not yet learned to adapt the tennis skirt to the saddle, like the girls who had been longer in the country.

It was a lovely afternoon. Down the valley the clouds gathered against the north-east sky. But they held back for the present, taking golden lights on their heavy heads, which by-and-by, as the sun went down, would turn to rich crimsons and purples.

The ride was pleasant, the new horse behaving well.

First they climbed—in places it was a cat-like scramble—until they were high above the Nagatenne bungalow.

They crossed a gully and a swampy little valley hidden in a narrow belt of forest, forming the boundary, and mounted the hill at the back of the Periya bungalow. The view, when they turned to the left to descend, was magnificent.

Immediately below, at the bottom of the valley, was the river, considerably increased by the junction of the Galla branch. Beyond, the right-hand fork of the valley stretched away, until it was lost in a group of mountains, rising one above the other, and each wearing its crown of primeval forest. The sky in the west was cloudless, and the atmosphere had that crystal clearness which is the forerunner of rain. Every tree in the distant forest that caught the sunlight appeared sharp and distinct, showing the gray trunk and gnarled arms that supported its wealth of foliage. A pair of falcons, soaring in the valley over the river, could be seen as plainly as if they were but twenty yards away.

As Audine rode up to the bungalow, Grassendale came forward to meet her. He watched the cob as it advanced and was reined in by its rider, whose neat, trim figure and fresh complexion did not escape his attention.

‘How does he go?’ he asked when they had exchanged greetings.

‘Like a real gentleman,’ she replied enthusiastically.

‘And oh, it is so nice to be in the saddle again!’

‘I am very glad that he is such a success.’

Grassendale was pleased to hear praise of his late possession, and to find that the horse was appreciated.

‘He is so gentle, and his paces perfect, so much so that Tony has already been on his back.’

‘Ah! yes; she is getting too big for that country-bred rat of hers. It’s time she passed it on to her sister.’

‘I wonder that you parted with the cob, Mr. Grassendale,’ observed Audine, as he helped her to dismount.

‘If people don’t care about riding, the best horse in the world is useless. Georgie prefers the chair and coolies as a means of locomotion. She says the chair has the advantage of requiring no special dress, whereas the saddle won’t carry frills or anything but the plainest of skirts.’

‘Mr. Angus Smith asked me to tell you that he was pleased with his bargain.’

‘He said as much when he sent me the cheque, which, by-the-by, came a few hours after the horse was despatched. He was very prompt in his payment.’

‘Is that an unusual trait in the Ceylon planter?’ queried Audine, with a smile.

‘Not at all, Miss Stratton; only just now we are all rather down in our luck. Believe me, the Ceylon planter is a very fine fellow, though I am one myself, and ought not to say so, perhaps. But I can see my neighbours, if I can’t see myself, and you won’t find a better set of men in any of the Crown colonies than we can show you in our island.’

‘From what I have seen of my host and his neighbours, I heartily agree with you, Mr. Grassendale,’ admitted Audine frankly.

The syce led away the horses to the stable, and Audine, accompanied by Lance, went into the drawing-room. It was a prettily-shaped room, but she missed the abundance of flowers that gave character to the rooms at Nagatenne.

She was greeted by Mrs. Gorleston and her daughter with a certain stiffness, which puzzled Audine until she suddenly recalled the fact, which she had well-nigh forgotten, that she was Mrs. Angus Smith’s governess. She bit her lips to keep down the smile, and received her cup of tea with mock humility.

Several guests had already arrived, and were in various stages of tea-drinking. Audine nodded to Nora, who had secured the attention of Mervyn Larch. Fleetwood was occupied with Georgie and Ivy Osterley. As Audine entered, his eye wandered from his companions, and he only half heard the detailed account being given by Ivy of a prospective tennis tournament, which was to take place somewhere down the valley.

Some young men, who were strangers to Audine, were talking sport with Spondon and his wife.

‘You never bring your hounds over on this side, Spondon,’ one was saying.

‘There are not many sambur in your valley, and I don’t like the country. You have a lot of nasty swamps above Galla—’

‘They are on Galla itself, and belong to Marriner.’

‘Then he runs right up to the Government reserves? It would be all right if we could keep in the reserves, but the elk is sure to work down to the river and the swamps, and those swamps are as bad as paddy-fields, or even worse. However, if you fellows would like it, we will bring the hounds one morning in this direction, and see if we can’t give you a run. With luck, we might kill before we got to the bottom of the reserves.’

The proposal was hailed with delight, and more sport was talked.

‘I say, Fleetwood,’ said Spondon presently, can you manage a day with the hounds before long?

The Galla assistant came out of a reverie. He had not been listening to the conversation.

‘Certainly, if you will bring them within reach.’

‘These men want to join, too. If you could put them up for the night at Galla, you might all come on comfortably together the next morning in good time. We must be off early, before it is light.’

‘I am sure that Marriner will be glad to see them,’ answered Fleetwood.

‘Where is he to-day?’ asked someone.

‘At home. We don’t, as a rule, leave the estate together.’

‘He doesn’t care about hunting, does he?’ asked Spondon.

‘Not in the least.’

‘And your neighbour, Angus Smith? He is nearer to us than any of you, but I never can persuade him to come out; says that he has quite enough sport shooting jungle-fowl. Hallo, Lance! I didn’t see you were there. Where’s your father?’ asked Spondon.

‘Busy on the estate,’ replied the boy.

‘In the tea-house?’

Lance’s truthful soul would not allow him to say yes, nor even to find refuge in the vague ‘I don’t know,’ after the confession made by his mother at breakfast. He remained silent, his cheek flushing delicately. Audine saw his dilemma, and came to the rescue.

‘Mr. Angus Smith, being a planter, is very busy—planting, of course,’ she said, with a laugh in which they joined.

‘Oh, so you’re in the know, Miss Stratton! One would think that you were a veteran planter yourself, from the diplomatic way in which you answered Spondon’s question. I suppose it it of no use asking you to tell us what particular new product he is dabbling in?’ said Daniel Grassendale with amusement, as he glanced at the solemn face of Angus Smith’s son.

‘Not a bit of use. Nothing shall drag it from me.’

‘Never mind; we can all of us guess. The news is spreading, and I won’t even whisper the name of our latest gold-mine. I believe it has come to stay, and to save us at the critical moment, when tea is suffering from taxation and overproduction. Fleetwood, has your Chief been dabbling in it?’

‘Not he. Marriner sticks to tea.’

‘Well, I hope tea will stick to him. That’s all I can say,’ said Grassendale. ‘Now, Georgie, it is time you started tennis. Miss Osterley, you and I will play Mrs. Spondon and Larch on one court. Georgie must make up her game for herself. Come along, Miss Stratton; you can look on and encourage us to beat each other.’

They stepped out of the big bow-window into the garden. There were lawns as at Nagatenne, but the flower-beds, chiefly borders, were filled with a rank growth of tea-roses, variegated foliage-plants, red lilies, and common cannas—all beautiful in their way, but not to be compared with the choice plants of Mrs. Angus Smith’s garden.

At the edge of the courts, and raised a little above them, was a roomy summer-house, which afforded shelter from the afternoon sun, and a shield from the wind when the sun had set. Audine seated herself in a chair, and Fleetwood dropped into another by her side. There had been no room for him in the first games just started. But this was rather to his mind than otherwise.

Lance and Dick Osterley walked off together to the end of the court to watch the play with critical eyes. Mrs. Gerleston was still occupied with guests at the tea-table, two or three people having arrived late. Audine and Fleetwood happened, therefore, to find themselves tête-à-tête.

Audine’s manner was not encouraging, and Fleetwood waited for a time without breaking the silence, having nothing but trivial matters to speak about.

He, like Grassendale, found her pleasant to the eye, clothed as she was in her neat riding-habit that bore the mark of a good London tailor in its cut. What was there about her that was different from the girls he had met in the island—different from Ivy Osterley, Nora Hapland, and even Georgie Gorleston, who was in no way colonial? He had felt it before, and found to his dismay that it created the shadow of a barrier between them. Was it reserve, pride, or indifference? He could not say. He was merely conscious of an increasing desire to break through the reserve, to conquer the pride, if it was pride, and annihilate the indifference. She was just such a woman as he would have chosen had he been a marrying man, which he reminded himself he was not. He allowed his fancy to turn upon the thought of how she might be won. It was a dangerous occupation. All unaware of the fact, his foot touched the border of the untrodden ground of love. Already he thrilled at the touch of her hand. His heart leaped at sight of her, and the sound of her voice was music in his ear. Yet the man was still blind to his state, still ignorant that he had entered the charmed regions.

Though her eyes followed the game in its progress, he could see that she was not interested in it—that her thoughts were far away. He drew his bow at a venture, desiring to hear her voice as well as to look at the pleasing curves of her figure.

‘What do you think of our beautiful island, Miss Stratton? Can you make yourself happy in it?’

‘I have been asking myself that question all day long,’ she replied abruptly, and somewhat to his embarrassment.

She turned in her chair and faced him with a steady gaze of inquiry, her thoughts concentrated in a moment.

‘I put the question in idleness, because I thought it was not polite to sit silent any longer, and I expected an answer in the same spirit—something that would just set the ball of conversation rolling,’ he explained, conscious that she had invested his idle query with a personal character unintentional on his part.

‘Then I will leave it unanswered for the present, and ask you another. ‘How far is one justified in building one’s happiness on the wreck of the happiness of others.’

He understood instinctively that she was not treating him as a casual acquaintance, and whilst his heart leaped that she should shake off some of her reserve before he had lifted a finger to bring it about, he was not prepared to be taken into her confidence, for the very excellent reason that he was in the confidence of her cousin, and possessed a knowledge of certain circumstances of which she was ignorant. As he made no reply, she continued:

‘I believe that I know your opinion.’

‘Do you?’ he asked in some surprise.

‘You would say that what has already been made ought not to be marred, and that nothing but pure selfishness would desire to create happiness for itself out of unhappiness.’

He looked at her, uncertain how to interpret her speech.

‘You endow me with admirable sentiments. That is what I ought to think, but I am not sure that I do hold those opinions.’

‘I suppose you know what your sentiments on most subjects are?’ she said.

He gave a little laugh as he replied:

‘It all depends upon whether it concerns myself or others. To go back to your question. Are you sure that the happiness which you have in your mind—understand that I don’t for a moment pretend to define that happiness—need be built on the misery of others?’

‘That is just the question,’ she said quickly.

His eyes sought the distant hills far away at the head of the larger valley, down which the cart-road wound like a pale gray thread, following the checkered blue ribbon of the river.

‘Everything has to be judged by its own merits, by its own circumstances,’ he affirmed. ‘These may even justify the starving thief in stealing a turnip from the farmer’s field. According to circumstances, therefore, the happiness of one may possibly be sacrificed for the welfare of a second and a third person.’

‘For the happiness of those two, the happiness of the third might be sacrificed, you would say.’

He laughed as he replied protestingly:

‘I don’t go as far as that. I am afraid that such a bald doctrine would become the highroad to wrong-doing if it were blindly followed. Every case would have to be judged on its own merits.’

‘I see that you are not to be drawn into giving any definite opinion,’ she asserted, a faint challenge ringing in her words.

‘You just now declared yourself to be in possession of my opinion,’ he returned, responding quickly to the note.

‘Into giving any definite advice,’ she amended.

The players were becoming excited over their games, but their shouts were unheeded by the two, who were still the sole occupants of the summer-house. Mrs. Gorleston had issued from the drawing-room with the last of her guests, but she was strolling about the lawn. Nora, who had stayed to help her with the tea in Georgie’s absence, hastened down to the courts, and took up a position near the particular court in which Larch was playing. From her point of vantage she could exchange a word now and then about the game.

‘Do you want my advice?’ Fleetwood asked in a low tone.

The distant hills with their sunset lights and purple shadows were forgotten, as he looked into the eyes of the woman by his side.

‘I don’t know. It depends on what it is. If I did not like it I might resent it.’

‘Then I will be silent.’

The words were no sooner out of his mouth than, with feminine inconsistency, she desired that he should not keep silence, but speak.

‘I want advice, and must have it. Speak, and risk the consequences, if you are a man of courage.’

‘Then I would advise you to consult your own happiness.’

‘In this matter?’

‘In this matter,’ he repeated, without any pretence at misunderstanding what she meant. ‘And if you think that it will bring about the happiness of another, do not give a second thought to the comfort of the third.’

She was silent for a while. Voices approached from the direction of the garden. Mrs. Gorleaton was leading her friends towards the tennis-courts, and the minutes of the tête-à-tête were numbered.

‘There is one thing more I would say if I dared venture,’ he continued hurriedly.


He fixed his keen, penetrating eyes upon her face, vainly endeavouring to satisfy himself on one point. He would have given anything at that moment to be sure of it.

‘Quick! tell me. They will be here in another moment.’

Even as she whispered the words, Mrs. Gorleston sailed into the summer-house. She was not a lady who would naturally be interested in any governess, and she paid little heed to Audine. As the sister of Daniel Grassendale requested to be informed how the games were going, Fleetwood found an opportunity of uttering one word under his breath. It was the word ‘love.’ She understood, and the colour mounted to her cheek. She was not to marry without love.

Presently the sets came to an end, and there was a rearrangement of the players. Fleetwood drifted away, and Lance seized the opportunity of claiming his ear, telling him the tale of his exploit that morning at the tea-factory, until Georgie cut the story short by claiming the assistant as her partner.

Audine was not left to herself nor to the tender mercies of her hostess. The people of the valley knew all about her, and did not stand on ceremony, introducing themselves in that friendly fashion which is familiar to those who travel on the great liners going East.

Grassendale was an excellent host. Some years ago he had lost his wife. His only child, a son, was in England. His sister, Mrs. Gorleston, had come out to Ceylon with her daughter for a few months. She looked very imposing, seated at the head of his table and bending a gracious ear to a chosen few of his friends. But the distinctions that she drew were not at all to his mind, and he frequently went out of his way to make up for what was lacking in her. The Osterleys were inclined to be friendly, being near neighbours, but Georgie and her mother had quickly fathomed the careful colonials. They put Mrs. Osterley and Ivy down as poor and commonplace, and determined to show them the cold shoulder. In vain Grassendale praised Mrs. Osterley’s energy and courage, which had carried her husband through troublous times, and explained how she had helped to keep the house going with her dairy and fowls. He also spoke of Ivy’s industry, and her goodness to the younger children, who ought to have been at school. The very virtues he lauded in mother and daughter were counted as detractions in the eyes of the fashionable English-women. Mrs. Gorleston’s attitude only had the effect of concentrating the attention of her brother upon the very people she most desired to keep at a distance, and increased the intimacy between the two houses.

When the second set was ended, Nora, who had been playing with Larch, approached the summer-house in search of a chair. She was chaffing him, declaring that he poached all her balls, and vowing that she would never again be his partner. As he regarded her ruefully, she turned from him in pretended anger and addressed Audine.

‘When are you coming to see me, Miss Stratton?’

‘Any time you like. The new horse has arrived, and I am delighting in him. But before we fix anything I had better consult Mrs. Angus Smith, and see what she says.’

‘You must bring the children, especially that young scamp Terry. She’s the most delightfully amusing child I ever met. I will ask Ivy to bring the Osterley kiddies, and we’ll give the children a good time.’

‘You are fond of children, Miss Hapland?’ said the voice of Mervyn Larch behind her.

‘Children and dogs and horses, I love them all—don’t you?’ she replied, turning so that she could meet the eye of the man who was regarding her with amusement.

‘I think that those are the three things I dislike most,’ said Georgie. They give me the fidgets.’

They ought not to give anyone the fidgets if they are properly managed,’ said Ivy, who took a practical view of everything, from high art to pumpkins.

‘They are dear, delightful creatures, all of them—made to be spoilt and played with. I shall stuff Terry with chocolate, and let her put her fingers into every box and cupboard in the house, and she will have a glorious time that will be a red-letter day for ever.’

‘Not very good for her,’ remarked Ivy.

‘I should burn everything she touched with her grubby little hands,’ said Georgie, making a pretty little face of disgust which evoked a laugh from her hearers.

‘What do you think about it, Miss Stratton?’ asked Grassendale.

‘I should be wretched without children and animals. But I agree with Miss Osterley. They all require management, though I am obliged to confess that the children manage me at Nagatenne. Look, there is Lance with the horses. You see, Mr. Grassendale, how I am going to be ordered off before it is dark and taken home in good time by my cavalier.’

The sun had set by the time she was in the saddle, and the road being good, they were not long in reaching the bungalow. Tony and Terry met them at the door.

‘How did the cob go?’ asked Tony.

‘As quietly as a lamb. You must have a ride on him again before long.’

‘Miss Stratton,’ cried Terry, who was bursting with information that she was eager to impart without a moment’s delay—’Miss Stratton, what do you think?’

‘Has the D. had another fight with Lord Cork?’

‘No; he is all right. It’s Mr. Marriner. You know you told him not to come? Well, he came all the same.’

‘He came to see your father, I suppose?’

‘No; he came to see mother. He was talking to her for hours.’

‘Hours, Terry?’

‘Well, all tea-time; and he talked so hard he forgot to eat his cake. I gave it to the D.’

‘Is mother home yet?’ asked Lance.

‘No; she was so late in starting, because of Mr. Marriner. Father went off without her,’ replied Tony.

As Audine entered the bungalow she inhaled the sweet scent of the roses with renewed delight.

‘I wonder if roses grow as well on Galla, as they do here,’ she said to herself, as she leaned over the cool blossoms. ‘I should follow the example of Mrs. Angus Smith if—’ She laughed softly. ‘Is it possible that I am changing my mind? I—yes, I won’t be ashamed to say that I should love to have a garden like hers.’

After dinner that evening, when Lance had gone to bed and his father was half asleep over his cigar in the smoking-room, Mrs. Angus Smith said:

‘I had a visit from Mr. Marriner to-day.’

Audine glanced up from the piece of work that she held.

‘He told me all about the strange wish of your uncle.’


‘And exactly how matters stand between you and himself.’

Still Audine was silent. Mrs. Angus Smith looked at her, thinking for a brief moment that Audine would resent the forcing of her confidence. Having made the plunge, she went on:

‘He begged me to talk it over with you. I hope you won’t think that I am taking a liberty or interfering. I only want to help you in coming to a decision—a decision which I hope will make a happy man of him.’

Kindness of heart and a genuine desire to lend a helping hand if she could were so manifest in the speaker that it was impossible for Audine to find cause for offence. She laid aside her work, and devoted her undivided attention to all that Mrs. Angus Smith had to say.

‘I gathered from Mr. Marriner that, when he asked you to put an end to your engagement by marrying him, you said no.’

‘I did so; but he begged me to reconsider my reply, and let him come later on for the answer.’

‘He was quite right. Although you have been engaged so long, you cannot have looked at the matter from every point of view.’

‘I was under the impression that I had considered it thoroughly, and that my reply was by no means given in haste.’

‘Excuse me; you cannot have considered it thoroughly, because you are not in possession of all the facts that bear upon it. Mr. Marriner is not the right person to tell you what they are. It needs a third to do the pleading for him.’

Audine gazed at Mrs. Angus Smith in surprise as she asked:

‘What are those facts?’

‘When Mr. Marriner came out to Ceylon, he brought a certain amount of capital with him. The Galla estate was in the market. It was larger than he intended buying, and the cost was beyond his means.

However, the land promised great things, and he did what hundreds had done before him. He borrowed the extra money required, executing a mortgage on the estate. The sum he raised was eight thousand pounds. He has been paying the interest regularly on that sum ever since. But in spite of this heavy charge, he has managed to live comfortably, and would have gone on doing so, if the lender of the money had not unexpectedly demanded its repayment. Due notice has been served, and in less than six months Mr. Marriner must pay him back his eight thousand pounds.’

‘Can’t he borrow it from someone else?’

Mrs. Angus Smith sighed as she answered:

‘Unfortunately, times are bad with the tea just now, and every man who has any capital to invest is crazy over the new product, rubber. Galla is not worth what it was when he bought it, even though he has done a good deal to improve the place. He is not of a speculative turn of mind, and he has made no attempt to introduce anything new. He has relied solely upon tea, and has nothing to fall back upon. So, with the present depression, he is suffering as badly as any of us, and his estate is depreciated. Probably the depreciation is only temporary. In another two or three years it will recover itself, partially if not entirely, and there will then be no difficulty in raising the money on it, although eight thousand is rather a heavy charge on an estate of that kind at any time.’

‘Then I am to understand that Jermyn wants money badly, and the easiest way to get it is by marrying me?’

‘My dear Miss Stratton,’ protested Mrs. Angus Smith, ‘you have stated the case with too much severity.’

‘I loathe the idea of being married for money.’

‘Let me put it in another way. There is a fortune awaiting you and your cousin, and you are keeping him and yourself out of it by refusing to comply with the conditions attached to it.’

Audine was silent. Hitherto she had not thought of the inconvenience it might cause her cousin if he were deprived of the money.

‘In my opinion,’ Mrs. Angus Smith continued, ‘he has a claim upon you which you cannot repudiate. He has been remarkably forbearing in not having demanded what he might very well have called his rights. When he asked you to fulfil the promise, his attitude, I gather, was that of a suitor for your hand. He claimed nothing.’

Audine could not deny it. Jermyn Marriner had not availed himself of any argument of this kind. There had been nothing sordid about his pleading; on the other hand, there was a passionate appeal to her heart. She was perplexed, and in her doubt she turned gladly to the kind, motherly woman who was ready to help with advice.

‘Mrs. Angus Smith, do you really think that it is my duty to marry my cousin?’

‘I do; most undoubtedly you ought to marry him, unless, of course, you are in love with another man.’

‘There is no one else,’ murmured Audine.

Her companion searched her face, and in spite of a sudden mounting of the colour to the girl’s cheek, she was satisfied.

‘Lots of people begin married life with nothing more than regard. Yet love follows—the deep, quiet love and devotion which belongs only to those who share the same troubles and the same joys, whose lives are bound together by companionship and sympathy. Have you any wish to remain single?’

‘I had none until I came here, and now you have made me so happy and comfortable that I don’t want to make any change.’

Her little speech, spontaneous and unexpected, took Mrs. Angus Smith by surprise, and sent a warm glow through that lady’s heart.

‘My dear, you mustn’t think of us. We love having you here, and I feel as if the children were taken off my hands entirely, leaving me free to devote myself to my husband. But this life cannot go on for ever, and you must think of the future, and the future of every girl ought to be marriage.’

Audine did not reply, and the elder lady went on:

‘You must have contemplated marriage with your cousin at some time or other in the future, or you would never have come out to Ceylon. The probability of his desiring to end the engagement in marriage, as soon as he had seen something of you, must have been in your mind. You are not like ordinary girls. There is something about you that attracts—it isn’t mere good looks, like Georgie Gorleston—and the marvel to me is that you have not had half a dozen men clamouring for your hand.’

‘As long as my uncle was alive, I had no desire to marry. It is only since his death that I have thought of it, and then only in connection with Jermyn,’ replied Audine.

‘If you undertook this visit to Ceylon, prepared to marry your cousin sooner or later, why have you refused him?’

After a few moments’ silence, Audine said in a low voice:

‘There are others to be considered.’

‘Nora has no claim on him, though she has flirted with him, I admit. But there was nothing in it. She is so full of good spirits that she would flirt with a broomstick if there was nothing better in the way of a man near at hand.’

Audine smiled as she observed:

‘I was not thinking of her.’

Mrs. Angus Smith once again glanced at her with keen scrutiny as she asked:

‘Of whom, then, were you thinking?’

‘Of Mr. Fleetwood.’

‘The assistant! He can’t afford to marry.’

‘You misunderstand me,’ said Audine, laughing at the mistake. ‘When Jermyn asked me to marry him, he gave me to understand that Mr. Fleetwood would be turned out of a comfortable home, and would have to live elsewhere.’

‘Of course, my dear. That is an understood thing. There is a little bungalow higher up, which was always intended for the use of the assistant. Men in his position take it as a matter of course. I dare say there will have to be other alterations, but you need not trouble yourself a moment about those. They are the concern of the men. Now go to bed and sleep on it, and I hope that to-morrow will make a happier man of Jermyn Marriner than I found him this afternoon. He was a most miserable creature to-day when he called to see me. There is no doubt that he is in love with you now, however indifferent he may have been in the past, and you really must marry the poor fellow.’

Audine took the advice offered, and slept on it.

The more she thought over the matter, the more urgently did the claims of her cousin force themselves upon her. She recalled the words of Fleetwood: ‘I advise you to consult your own happiness.’ Then he, too, was of Mrs. Angus Smith’s way of thinking, and did not expect any consideration.

For some time past she had looked forward without much doubt to the fulfilment of the destiny marked out by her uncle for her and Jermyn. The money that was awaiting them both meant a good deal.

Until she had arrived at Nagatenne, she had constantly felt the need of that money. She had caught herself dwelling upon it, longing for it, and resenting the unnecessary prolongation of a poverty that was galling in its pettinesses. There were even times when she had been angry with her cousin, when she had called him selfish for causing the delay which kept her out of what she had come to regard as her right.

Suddenly the tables were turned. It was Jermyn who felt the pinch of impecuniosity. It was she who might be accused of selfishness for refusing to put an end to his embarrassments. Then she thought of the comfortable house on the opposite side of the valley.

The planter’s life in Ceylon, as far as she could judge from seeing the Angus Smiths and their neighbours, was an ideal life, passed amid glorious scenery in a lovely climate of perpetual summer, and among flowers fit for Paradise.

Mrs. Angus Smith had shown what it was possible for anyone who cared to spend the time over it to do, although few followed her example. The soil was there and the climate. The crude raw material supplied from the ranks of the estate coolies could be taught, and a most charming home might be made on Galla if—

The result of sleeping on it was a letter to her cousin the next day, in which she told him that she would be his wife. She sought Mrs. Angus Smith in the garden, and found her revelling in the beauty of some newly-opened irises that had been imported from Spain. That lady received the news with manifest pleasure.

Later in the day she imparted the information to her husband with much satisfaction.

‘Nothing could have suited us better. It would have been appalling if the estate had passed to Nayland. Goodness only knows where his poking and prying and money-grubbing would have led him. Marriner is quite content to stick to tea.’

‘I like Miss Stratton,’ answered Angus Smith reflectively. She’s a nice girl. I am not sure that Fleetwood would not have suited her better.’

To which his wife replied, like thousands of wives before her and to come after:

‘Nonsense, my dear! you men know nothing at all what suits a woman and what doesn’t.’

Chapter XII

The engagement was announced, but the details concerning the prospective fortune were withheld from the public. Mrs. Angus Smith was unable to resist the temptation of hinting that Miss Stratton was not penniless. But this did not disclose the state of Marriner’s finances.

One of the first to congratulate Audine was Nora, who rode over to Nagatenne for the express purpose.

Whatever may have been her ambitions, her nature was too generous to harbour jealousy.

‘I was so surprised to hear that he was your cousin,’ she admitted openly—a true statement on the part of Nora. The further information that Jermyn Marriner had been engaged for the last three years astonished her still more.

‘I don’t know why you should be surprised,’ remarked Audine.

‘He never once spoke of you to us.’

‘He had no occasion to do so,’ replied Audine. Nothing was definitely fixed until a few days ago.’

‘When are you to be married?’

‘In about four months’ time.’

‘The children will miss you,’ declared Nora.

Indeed they will,’ assented Mrs. Angus Smith, and so shall I. The children were getting on so nicely. I don’t think they will ever settle down with anyone else.’

Audine opened her eyes in surprise as she said:

‘I am afraid that we don’t give much time to books.’

‘Oh, but the children learn a great deal from you without their books,’ replied Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘Don’t you see an improvement in Tony, Nora? As for Lance, he has learned quite a lot of history—all about King Alfred the Great, and King John, and the Black Prince, and the burned cakes, and Magna Carta. I can assure you that we don’t like parting with her at all. Our one consolation is that she will be our near neighbour.’

The felicitations of Fleetwood were tempered with more reserve. As he met her by the river, purposely crossing over from Galla to get it done and off his mind, he said:

You have made Marriner very happy, Miss Stratton.’

‘I am glad to hear that it is so, though I think that I can see it for myself. I wish, however, that his happiness could have been secured without turning you out of your comfortable home.’

‘Please don’t trouble your head about me. I hope that you consulted your own happiness as well as his.’

His eyes looked straight into hers with eager inquiry.

‘I think so,’ she replied slowly. ‘My happiness has been in the making of his. Until Mrs. Angus Smith told me, I did not know of the trouble that was hanging over Galla. By marrying me, all money troubles will be cleared away completely, as perhaps he may have explained.’

‘I trust that you have considered other things besides money,’ he said awkwardly and with diffidence, as though uncertain of his ground.

‘Money had to be considered. Jermyn must have it, or he will lose his estate altogether.’

‘Did he say so?’

‘No; Mrs. Angus Smith explained matters to me, and as soon as I understood it was easy to see where my duty lay.’

‘Marriage should not involve the question of money nor of duty to one’s neighbour.’

She remembered the one word which he had uttered when they were disturbed by Mrs. Gorleston.

‘You believe in love, the romantic love which is found in books, Mr. Fleetwood,’ she said, unconsciously sounding a note that was defiant and inimical.

‘I do,’ he answered, his eyes fixed on hers in an odd gaze that caused hers to lower.

‘I don’t,’ she asserted. The tone in which she spoke the words did not ring true in his ears. I am marrying Jermyn without any romantic nonsense—first, that he may come into his own property, and be free from further pecuniary embarrassment—’

‘An unnecessary sacrifice,’ he rejoined, interrupting her protestation with some warmth. ‘If it were only a question of money, the sum required might have been raised in another way.’

His words offended her; they were critical, almost dictatorial. What right had he to express his opinion Jermyn knew his own business best. She replied coldly:

‘Allow me to finish The money was my primary reason for saying yes. There is another reason—one that is growing stronger daily, and which promises to increase until all other reasons are overshadowed by it.’

She paused, but he did not speak. His eyes Atilt sought hers in a vain endeavour to satisfy himself as to the truth of what she so hotly urged. She continued:

‘I am learning to love Jermyn. He is charming and most devoted. You need have no fear for my happiness or his.’

As she uttered the words her heart beat in sudden tumult, and she turned and fled like a coward from the dark, penetrating gaze that demanded the truth.

He remained standing where she left him. The water babbled over the rocks in the river. A pheasant crow cooed in a tree high up the valley. The snake-eagles, soaring in the blue sky overhead, taught their young to soar and scream and dart upon their prey.

Close at hand a green barbet ran up the gamut to his final high-pitched note, on which he harped ‘Kuk-kuk ‘ till he was tired. The echo of Audine’s words rang in the ears of the assistant, and drowned all other sounds of the valley and the river.

Ten minutes later Fleetwood was busy among the tea-planters, overlooking their labours as though the world contained nothing so important as the absence of red-leaf in the tea-plucker’s basket.

When Audine returned to the bungalow, she happened to meet Mrs. Angus Smith, her arms full of flowers, in the garden.

‘Come and see a new orchid just bursting into flower this morning. I am so pleased, as I feared at one time that it was not going to blossom this year. It is out of season, but that doesn’t matter. Next year it will be later and much finer.’

She led her to a large tree on which was fastened with extreme care a delicate tree-orchid. The exact shade necessary was produced artificially by a canopy of coarse matting, through which the rays of the sun filtered with checkered light. A single trail of buds had been put forth, as though the plant had centred all its energies in one grand effort.

‘It has been slow in growing, but it is coming to perfection. Look at the first blossom of the spike. Isn’t that just beautiful? And the scent is as rare and perfect as the bloom.’

It was indeed a flower to make an orchid-grower in England green with envy. Mrs. Angus Smith led Audine round to various nooks and corners where her pet plants flourished, exhibiting each with the pride of an enthusiast. Audine stopped before a border and examined an abutilon, hiding under a show of interest a distracted mind.

‘What a very fine flower! A new variety, I suppose?’

‘Yes; I had it out from Kew last year. Don’t look too closely at the borders, Miss Stratton. They are sadly neglected. Do you see the weeds? Shocking! But the gardeners have been so busy over other and more necessary work that the garden is getting out of hand. As for the kitchen-garden—’

Words failed her to describe its jungly condition, although to the inexperienced eyes of Audine it had seemed in good order.

‘It’s too early to go in just yet, and too lovely. These mornings won’t last. The monsoon is working up the valley, and will be upon us before long. Go and sit under the orange-trees; Lance has put out some chairs.’

It was tempting, and Audine yielded to the temptation.

That’s right,’ cried Mrs. Angus Smith with hearty approval. I love to see people making themselves comfortable. Terry, look at the yellow dog! What is he doing?’

‘Digging up the bones buried by the Twins. Oh, the naughty D.!’

The child ran off after the dog, and Mrs. Angus Smith strolled towards the flower-borders in search of more plunder for her vases.

The scent of the orange-blossom in full life on the trees was delicious. There was nothing overpowering about it, as there is when the knife has been used, and the beautiful waxen blooms are brought into the house to die a lingering death in vases. The rays of the sun scarcely penetrated the camellia-like foliage, and the subdued green light was refreshing after the glare of the morning sun.

The mind of Audine was still occupied with Fleetwood. She was impressed with the conviction that, whatever he might say to the contrary, he was not altogether pleased with the engagement. When she came to think over their conversation, she discovered that he had not offered her any conventional congratulations. On the contrary, he had dared to suggest that she was sacrificing herself in the interests of her cousin.

And though she had declared boldly her budding affection for her future husband, he had distinctly doubted the truth of her words. He had not said as much, for she had given him no time to do so, but she had read it in his eye. That last glance had revealed something to her soul that was of the nature of a bolt from the blue.

A sudden mad consciousness, the mere phantom of a conviction, clamoured for recognition, striking deep down into her heart with a knife-thrust never before experienced. Was it pain? or was it a thrill of exquisite bliss? Down with such delirious dreams! Away with such delusive phantoms! They must be slain and annihilated on the spot.

She roused herself and went into the house, trying to recover her balance of mind in busy occupation. But all day long it was Fleetwood who was in her thoughts, and not Marriner.

In the middle of the day a note arrived from Jermyn, saying that he would be unable to come over to Nagatenne for tea, as he had promised. A friend from some distance down the valley had invited himself to spend the afternoon and evening. He was sorry, but hoped she would excuse him. Although Audine had claimed to be duly falling in love with her attentive suitor, she did not feel it at all necessary that her cousin should be in daily attendance upon her. She was quite satisfied if they met two or three times a week.

Tony and Lance were to ride together that afternoon—Tony on the cob and Lance, as usual, on the mare. Terry had clamoured to be allowed to go with them on the Rat. But Mrs. Angus Smith knew her little daughter too well, and she negatived the proposal, saying that Lance would have quite enough to do to look after Tony.

Of late Audine had presided at ihe tea-table in the afternoon, Angus Smith and his wife departing on their daily round at an earlier hour, as they had planned.

Terry made a great grievance of being left behind. She had set her heart on having the reversion of the Rat, and she might have gained her mother’s consent had it not been for the vein of independence, often amounting to perverseness, that sometimes exhibited itself in the character of the child. Mrs. Angus Smith could not be sure that she would be obedient to her brother on the ride, or even consent to take the route chosen by him.

When Tony with pride and delight ambled off with Lance, Terry burst into tears—a most unusual proceeding on her part.

‘Why, Terry dear, don’t cry!’ said Audine, in sudden concern and pity for the grief of the small maiden. ‘Let’s do something nice ourselves. What would you like best?’

Terry stopped crying, and considered for a few moments.

‘I know what I should like quite the best of all—some chocolate and a walk in the jungle.’

‘You shall have both, dear. We will take the chocolate, and have a little picnic all by ourselves.’

Terry was consoled at once. Her eager face, still wet with tears, became smiling and full of anticipation.

‘May the D. come too?’

‘Certainly, if you will look after him. Put on your hat, and let us start at once.’

Ten minutes later they were climbing the hill at the back of the bungalow. Audine glanced round with fresh interest; she was seeing it now for the first time under a sunset aspect. Heavy clouds had again gathered in the north-east, lifting their golden heads above the hills.

It was warm walking, and she was not sorry to reach the long shadow cast by the trees. Following the path which they usually took in the morning, they skirted the jungle. Instead of striking down the hill towards the factory by one of the tracks that zig-zagged through the tea, Terry pursued her way along the edge of the forest. She marched confidently, the D. close to heel and trembling with excitement. Suddenly Terry darted forward with the dog, and dived into the thick vegetation.

‘Terry!’ called Audine sharply. ‘Where are you?’

‘Here, Miss Stratton. This is the place where we always go in.’

Audine peered into the dark foliage in the direction of the child’s voice, and could just distinguish her face framed in a bower of delicate ferns and creepers.

Gathering her skirt close round her to avoid a long-armed bramble, she followed on the same track, and found herself upon a narrow path.

There was grass under her feet, worn slightly here and there by the tread of coolies in search of firewood, and it was not difficult to move along after the child, who was pressing forward eagerly.

In less than five minutes, it seemed to Audine that she had penetrated to the very heart of a grand primeval forest, far removed from civilization and the haunts of man. Not a breath of air stirred the undergrowth, though the sunlit tops of the trees were gently ruffled by the evening breeze. The birds were silent, and there was a great hush over Nature, which emphasized the sense of loneliness.

Ferns with long fronds and delicate stems grew knee-deep on all sides, and beneath them the ground was carpeted with tropical lycopodiums and mosses of emerald green. Shrubs with magnolia-like foliage and strange blossoms rose above the ferns, shedding a sweet, heavy scent on the motionless air. Over all, the giants of the forest reared their evergreen heads, stretching long arms, bearing tangled masses of orchids and ferns. Here and there a luxuriant creeper threw festoons from branch to branch, or hung a curtain of greenery between the massive gray trunks.

Terry and the yellow dog had no eyes for the scenery, and they did not give Audine much time for gazing round her at the strange beauties spread out by Nature with so lavish a hand. Though the walking was not difficult, it was uneven. Sometimes the path turned aside to avoid a big boulder of dark gray rock; sometimes it descended into a small ravine, where the ground was soft and damp, and where the wild begonia spread its broad leaf and the balsam poised its delicate pink blossom.

There was no danger, apparently, of losing the way, as no other track was visible besides that which they were following; they had only to turn round and walk in the other direction when they wished to return.

Very few words were spoken. Audine was occupied with the wildness of the scene, plucking a flower here and fern there as she passed along. Terry’s attention was devoted to the dog, which she kept close to her side.

Occasionally she incited him to hunt and follow up some scent. From his manner of sniffing, now with his head in the air, now with his nose to the ground, the scent, whatever it was, seemed strong.

They reached a spot where the path widened out into a glade. In the centre a piece of bed-rock protruded above the ferns and moss, and offered a resting-place to the wanderers. Audine seated herself on a corner of it, and brought out the chocolate. When they had eaten it and rested, she intended turning back. Terry, who was never tired, could not sit still long. She and the D. hunted around among the ferns and long grass.

‘Look here, Miss Stratton: here are some ground orchids. Aren’t they lovely?’

She pointed to some tall spikes of delicate-tinted flowers that had pushed their heads above the rank herbage.

‘They are indeed most beautiful!’

‘Shall I gather them for you?’

Audine recalled what Mrs. Angus Smith had said about preserving the wild-flowers of the jungle.

‘No, dear. They are mother’s pet flowers, and when she wants them she can send the gardener to fetch them.’

The yellow dog continued to sniff and fidget about.

‘I think the D. must smell a hare. Shall we go just a little further, Miss Stratton? Do let us go just a little farther; it is so lovely.’

Without waiting for Audine’s consent, the child started on again, the dog, with tall erect and nose to the ground, taking the lead. Audine rose from her seat and followed, calling to Terry to return, as they had gone far enough.

The glade did not extend far, and the path contracted again to its narrow limits, becoming still more uneven, and winding to right and left. On either side the vegetation grew with ever-increasing rankness, the fronds of the ferns being of enormous length, and the creepers more luxuriant in their growth. Audine found it difficult to get along fast, and she needed all her attention to pick her way over tussocks of grass and the many boulders lying in the path. Here and there a thorny branch detained her, whilst she set herself free, or she was obliged to push aside the long arm of a straggling bush, that lay across the track.

Suddenly she became aware of the fact that she was alone. Terry and the dog were nowhere to be seen.

She stood still and listened. There was no sound of living creature, no rustle of leaf nor snapping of twig to indicate the presence of a human being.

‘Terry! Terry!’ she called.

Her voice echoed strangely through the forest, but there was no answer, though she repeated it several times.

Perplexed and troubled, she walked on again, preferring to be moving rather than to remain motionless, enveloped in the impressive silence. The path descended steeply, and the jungle became moister.

Sometimes her feet sank into swampy grass, and twice she crossed a trickling stream, that oozed in glistening drops from a bed of moss and spread itself over a gray rock. With a gentle murmur, it fell over into the depths of the jungle below on its way to join the river.

Again she stopped and called the child, but with no better result. The gun was going down to its setting, and the wood, dense in its damper parts, cast a deep shade. It was broad daylight still in the open, and Audine could see the golden-tipped crowns of the trees here and there above her head, showing that they were still in sunlight; but the gold was reddening, and the orb of day must be near the horizon. Surely the child could not be far ahead.

A sudden thought flashed through her mind. Had she hidden behind a boulder, and allowed her pursuer to proceed on a fruitless search?

‘Oh, Terry, if you only knew what trouble and anxiety you have brought me!’ she cried.

Audine looked back. The way was plainly to be seen, and there was but one path. She determined to advance a little further, and then, if she found no trace of the child, to return as quickly as she could and procure help, if necessary. With this determination she hurried on, always descending, until she reached a point where the path she was following joined another, running at right angles, and came to an end. The forest here was thinner, and she seemed to have arrived at the foot of the hill.

‘Terry! Terry!’ she cried.

There was the soft thud of an advancing footstep from the left. A native carrying a basket came swiftly towards her.

‘Missie!’ he cried in astonishment.

‘Moonaswamy!’ she ejaculated, equally surprised, but immensely relieved. ‘Where is Miss Terry?’

He pointed along the path by which he had come. He knew little English, as his master and mistress always spoke to him in his own language.

‘I want missie,’ explained Audine.

‘Missie arlright with big missus,’ he replied.

‘Take me to her.’

The man hesitated and looked around him. Audine repeated the sentence, thinking that he did not understand; but that was not the reason for his hesitation.

‘Too far and too many plenty poochees,’ he said.

‘Look! Missie’s skirt.’

He pointed to her frock, and she cast her eyes down to the folds of neat serge that enveloped her. Several shining brown creatures with caterpillar forms were striding up in a looping gait, that covered the ground with remarkable rapidity.

‘What are they?’ she asked, without any sign of fear.

She had no unreasonable horror of the caterpillar genus.

Moonaswamy set down the empty basket, which was stained with the black, peaty soil of the jungle, and began rapidly to pick the brown things off her skirt, unmindful of his own legs, which were also the object of their attentions.

Suddenly he took her by the arm.

‘Missie must run up—up—up, I helping missie.’

With small ceremony, he hastily dragged her up the path by which she had come. Breathless, she allowed herself to be borne along; she knew not why. A suspicion crossed her mind that they were fleeing from some danger that belonged to the jungle, and of which she had not heard.

They passed the streams and mossy rocks, never stopping until they reached the glade where the chocolate had been eaten. Here, at last, Moonaswamy called a halt, and Audine was permitted to get her breath.

She was conscious, as she stood there panting, of a slight prick upon her wrist. Before she could exclaim, the sharp-eyed gardener had his hand upon the enemy, had snatched it away and cast it dead into the fern.

‘What are they?’ she asked, a horror suddenly curdling her blood. She had never seen a caterpillar that was carnivorous.

He replied in his own tongue, which she did not understand, and pointed to his own bare legs. Two or three thin streams of blood trickled down his calves, as he picked off the bloated bodies that had attached themselves to him.

All at once she realized what they were, and again her blood ran cold with horror as she uttered the single word, ‘Leeches!

‘Yes, yes,’ replied Moonaswamy. ‘Bad poochees, leechees. Plenty bite down there. Not good place for missie to go.’

She glanced wildly round her, terror written in her face. He laughed at her fears.

‘No more poochees got here. Only got down there. Missie go home now.’

‘But Terry, the little missie!’

‘With master and missus at Cobra Rock.’

‘Cobra Rock!’ she exclaimed in astonishment. Where?’

‘Over them,’ he said, pointing in the direction from which they had come. Missie go home; I go back this way to fetch basket. No more poochees up here; leechees only down there.’

Audine hurried homewards. The jungle had grown dark with approaching twilight shadows. It was still grand in its silence, but weird and uncanny.

Sooner than she had dared to hope she burst out into the glowing light of the afterglow of the sunset. It well-nigh dazzled her with its glorious brightness.

The cultivated tea shone with a living emerald green; the yellow path gleamed like liquid gold, and the hills were clothed in rich purples.

Before she reached the bungalow, the fairyland of the afterglow had vanished, and the landscape had put on its cloak of cool grays, the hills in the west losing their purples in warm browns, and the foliage of the ubiquitous tea sombring into a rich russet.

Lance and Tony had returned from their ride. They met Audine as she entered the bungalow.

‘Where have you been, Miss Stratton?’

‘Into the jungle. Has Terry come back?’

‘We haven’t seen her. How far did you go?’

‘Too far, I fear. I lost Terry in the forest. She ran away, and I followed her down to the foot of the hill into the swampy ground. Them I met Moonaswamy—and the leeches—horrible creatures! His legs were bleeding terribly. I don’t know what I should have done if I had not met the gardener so opportunely.’

‘Oh, Miss Stratton, how naughty of Terry! But did you get bitten?’

‘Yes, on my wrist. Moonaswamy took several from my skirt, and he snatched the dreadful creature off my wrist before it had time to fasten on and draw blood.’

“Haven’t you got any leeches on your ankles?’ asked Tony.

‘I don’t think so. I haven’t felt any bites.’

‘Come to your room and see,’ said the practical Tony.

‘But first I must inquire about Terry, and see if your mother is home,’ said Audine.

‘Father and mother are not in yet. Did you tell Moonaswamy that Terry was lost?’

‘Yes, and he declared that the child had gone to Cobra Rock, and was with the big missus.’

‘That’s mother. She is all right; you need not trouble about her. Come to your room and take off your wet shoes.’

Tony and Lance accompanied her, and it was just as well that they did so, for the sight that met Audine’s eyes as she removed her shoes and stockings was not a pleasant one. Crimson stains dyed her stockings, and tiny streams of blood trickled down her white skin.

Tony ministered to her wounds, whilst Lance brought the welcome glass of wine which sent the blood back to her heart.

Half an hour later Terry returned with her father and mother. The child was subdued, and not a little awed.

‘Has she been bitten too?’ asked Audine, ready to sympathize with the truant now that all danger was over.

‘No,’ replied Tony. ‘She knows all about leeches and how to avoid them. As soon as she came to the leechy part, she ran for all she was worth. The first person, going at a good pace through the swamp, is quite safe. It is those who follow who suffer; Terry knew that, and that’s where her naughtiness comes in.’

‘What tempted her to ran off and leave me?’

‘She wanted to see Cobra Rock and mother’s orchid nursery. She’s full of curiosity; so is the yellow dog. However, mother has punished her.’


‘She has treated her like a coolie, and put her sick for a week. That means, for Terry, staying in her room and having nothing but gruel and slops.’

‘The D. is put sick too,’ added Lance. ‘He is shut up in his kennel with two leeches up his nose—quite enough punishment for him, poor doggy! I shall have a trouble in getting them out.’

‘Did he find a hare?’

‘No; he was never hunting a hare. Terry took him to the devil-stone just before they started, and made him sniff round. He scented the gardener, of course, and ran him down at Cobra Rock, where Terry was only too pleased to follow.’

‘How annoyed your mother will be with me!’ remarked Audine.

‘Not at all!’ protested Lance. ‘Both father and mother have been laughing over your first introduction to leeches, though they are really very sorry that Terry should have led you such a dance.’

Chapter XIII

‘Well, Miss Stratton, so you have made your first acquaintance with the Ceylon leech,’ said Angus Smith, smiling, as she took her seat by his side at the dinner-table.

‘Dreadful! horrible! Even now I shudder to think of them—those innocent little brown caterpillars, as I thought they were.’

‘Were you badly bitten?’

‘Tony says that I got off cheaply, but I suffered quite enough damage. My ankles are swathed in lint. I believe the bites are still bleeding slightly.’

‘They’ll stop by the morning, and you will feel none the worse for it,’ he assured her consolingly.

‘I am so sorry that you have been led into such trouble by that naughty little Terry,’ added his wife. It was sheer disobedience on her part, and she must be punished.’

‘I am relieved to find that you are not annoyed,’ said Audine. ‘I heard you forbid the children to go to Cobra Rock.’

‘Now you know the reason why,’ put in Tony.

‘—but I had no notion that we were anywhere near the forbidden spot. I saw the rock from the opposite aide of the hill, and I don’t understand how I managed to get near it.’

‘The jungle is most deceptive,’ explained Angus Smith. ‘The path, which seemed to go straight, led you round the hill, and then struck down into the valley.’

‘It did not appear to go straight as soon as it began to descend,’ remarked Audine, as she helped herself to some delicious green peas grown in the garden.

‘No hill-path ever does take a bee-line, but it may lead you by its crooked ways almost straight. The track you followed went straight down into the valley, the home of the leech. You were quite close to the river, and not a quarter of a mile from Cobra Rock. However, the gardener was wise not to allow you to come on. You would have run the gauntlet of thousands of leeches, whereas, by climbing the hill, you got away from them at once.’

‘I thought leeches were only to be found in water,’ said Audine.

‘In Ceylon and in India they are to be found on land as well as in the water, and most unpleasant things they are,’ explained Angus Smith.

‘When we go to Cobra Rock—to look after our orchids,’ Mrs. Angus Smith further informed her, ‘my husband and I always go round the other side of the hill, and keep in the tea as long as possible. The little bit of path through the jungle is raised and dry. By passing quickly along, as we do, we run no danger of being bitten.’

‘I suppose that you have been bitten occasionally?’ said Audine.

‘Very seldom indeed; but sometimes, if the weather is very wet, it is difficult to escape altogether.’

‘The gardeners don’t seem to mind them in the least,’ remarked Angus Smith. Moonaswamy always uses the path you took to-day, Miss Stratton, because it is about two hundred yards shorter.’

‘I shall never enter the jungle again,’ declared Audine positively.

Tony and Lance protested that she might safely do so, if she kept to the higher and drier part of the forest. Their father supported them.

‘If you don’t go down into the swampy parts,’ he assured her, ‘you will never see a leech again. Wasn’t the jungle lovely? After the monsoon it will be ten times more beautiful, as the trees and shrubs and orchids will be in full flower.’

‘It was most beautiful; it was more: it was grand and awe-inspiring when it began to darken with the twilight,’ she answered enthusiastically.

‘Ah! we shall have you there again before long, in spite of your unfortunate experience of to-day,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith. ‘You will learn to love it. Did you notice the ferns? Many of those that grow so prolifically are identical with those sold by the florists at home for hot-houses. How often I have wished that I could find some means of sending the roots home for market.’

‘Isn’t it possible?’

‘It is possible, but too expensive to pay,’ put in Angus Smith. ‘It is the same old tale with many other products. Expensive transport often threatens to paralyze a venture.’

‘When the product is perishable,’ added his wife.

‘Now, if we could only grow pearls and diamonds—’

‘As they did in the fairy story, mother,’ said Tony.

‘—the transport would cost next to nothing, and it would give us ever so much more profit.’

‘We are essentially an agricultural colony,’ asserted Angus Smith, as though dismissing the subject. ‘And we don’t desire to be anything else; so we must not indulge in any dreams of fairylands of gems and Eldorados of gold. They are not to be found in Ceylon.’

‘Is poor little Terry condemned to solitary confinement, Mrs. Angus Smith?’ asked Audine.

‘Oh no, indeed! I was very sorry to have to punish her, but it really was necessary to do something.’

Her husband laughed as he said: ‘I think that it is very rough luck on her. She ought to have been rewarded for her daring and her enterprise. That child has the true spirit of the explorer and speculator. She possesses the most original ideas, and carries them out in the face of difficulties that seem insurmountable.

His wife turned to Audine.

‘You see, Miss Stratton, how he would spoil the children if they were left to him. I have to be very firm and stand no nonsense, and I shall take care that Terry is kept “sick” the whole week.’

‘I may go and see her to-morrow?’

‘As much as you please. You will find it a good opportunity for getting some lessons done.’

There was a low growl of thunder, with a long, rolling echo.

‘Hallo! that’s a pleasant sound,’ remarked Angus Smith. ‘It comes from the north-east, which means that the monsoon is not far off; so much the better.’

‘Are you wanting rain?’ asked Audine.

‘We are always glad to see our monsoons safe in and safe over. The wet weather is disagreeable whilst it lasts, but afterwards it is glorious for the tea and for the garden.’

The thunder increased in volume, and flashes of lightning illuminated the valley. The rain descended, and that night Audine lay awake listening to the roar of the downpour on the wooden roof of the bungalow. The thunder died away in the distance, but the rain continued.

The next morning, when she opened her eyes, there was no golden sunshine to tempt her abroad. Gray clouds shrouded the hilltops, and the rain poured in sheets, drowning the roses, beating down the pansies and verbenas, and stripping the azaleas of their blossoms.

She did not lie in bed on the strength of the weather, but got up and dressed, saying to herself that at last her opportunity had come, and she might set to work in earnest with the children over their books.

But she was soon undeceived. Lance, in gaiters and waterproof, went off to the factory directly after the early morning tea, followed later by his father. Mrs. Angus Smith claimed Tony’s help in cleaning her sewing-machine, preparatory to the farther covering of furniture. Audine fell back on Terry, and paid her a visit in her bedroom. Terry was dressed, and seated at the window watching the rain. She jumped up at sight of Audine, crying:

‘Oh, Miss Stratton, I am so sorry I led you all wrong yesterday. It was the D.’s fault.’

‘It is not quite fair on the dog to say that, Terry. You encouraged him to run away, and he knew no better, whereas you did.’

Terry looked slightly ashamed of herself, but she brazened it out and maintained her point.

‘You see, Miss Stratton, he went on in front, and I had to follow, or else I should have lost him. When we came to the leechy part, I just had to run as hard as I could lick. I thought you would stay sitting on that rock until I came back. The D. wasn’t following a hare, after all. He was hunting the gardener, and he ran him down right away at Cobra Rock.’

‘And there, luckily, you met your mother.’

‘She was just coming away from the rock with a big parcel of seeds—orchid seeds, I think they were; only we mustn’t tell anyone, Miss Stratton. She looked so surprised when she saw me. So did father when he saw the dog. He didn’t notice me at first.’

‘I am afraid he was angry.’

‘No, he wasn’t. He just looked at the D. and said, “You little devil! what brought you here?” And I said, “We came together.” And he said, “Well, I never!” Then he told mother that she had better take me and the dog home at once, and he said he would stay behind and see to the turning over of the rest of the soil. So I suppose the gardener was planting some more orchids or something. Mother said, “Be sure you watch the men closely, and see that they do it properly.” Then we began to walk home by the path through the tea, and of course she scolded me. She said that Santa Claus didn’t bring presents to naughty little girls. So she has put me “sick” a week to make me good, and I am getting gooder already.’

‘You forgot all about me. I was alone in the jungle.’

‘I was so frightened, because mother so seldom scolds, and I thought that she would be much more angry if she had known that I had left you all alone. It was so rude of me; I am so sorry.’

‘You must try and keep good, and not do such naughty things again.’

‘It’s easy to keep good in the monsoon. I am so glad that it has come.’


‘Because Christmas always comes after the north-east monsoon. We hang up stockings at Christmas, and the stockings get full to bursting in the night. Last year I hung up one of father’s stockings; but he has a small foot, so I didn’t get such a big lot of presents, after all. Have you got a big foot?’

‘Not larger than mother’s,’ replied Audine, laughing.

‘Oh, then I shall just have to hang up father’s again, I suppose,’ said Terry, relapsing into thought.

Audine brought the books suitable for the small maid, who was soon deeply interested in ‘Little Arthur’s History of England.’ But in half an hour’s time Mrs. Angus Smith appeared at the door, pushing before her an armchair on casters.

‘Miss Stratton, please give me your attention for a minute. I won’t interrupt, really, but just tell me if you think that I might use the stuff this way instead of that. It would cut out so much more economically.’

Audine assured her that one way would look as well as the other, and turned to the history again.

‘Thank you so much. Tony, bring me the scissors. Do you know, I think I will cut it out here, so that I can ask your advice now and then. You can be going on with the lesson all the same; you need not mind me. I love this room for working in. I always used to sit here and sew at the children’s clothes, when it was the nursery. Would you kindly help me a moment, Miss Stratton, just to measure the stuff? It wants holding firmly, and Tony’s little fists are hardly strong enough.’

Thus ended Terry’s lessons for that morning, and for the succeeding mornings also. After the covering of two or three chairs, Mrs. Angus Smith began to cut out and make a warm dress for Terry, with much fitting and discussion as to pattern.

Altogether, Terry’s term of imprisonment passed exceedingly pleasantly, and had it not been for the disgrace of being ‘put sick,’ like a common coolie, it is doubtful if the child would have felt it as a punishment at all.

In spite of the rain, Marriner found his way up to the bungalow every day, if it were only for a ten-minutes’ visit. Mrs. Angus Smith was always most hospitable in her invitations, and he was pressed to stay to tea or dinner, as the case might be.

Fleetwood never came, although the children sent many messages, entreating him to pay them a visit.

Terry was especially eager for an interview, but she steadily refused to give any reason for her desire.

At the end of ten days—Terry’s durance vile being over—the weather cleared, and there came one of those delightful breaks of a few days’ warm sunshine, that tempers the monsoon to dripping vegetation and damp humanity.

In the yard of the coolie lines, the women spread their sodden clothes and blankets to dry, and the little black children, dressed in nondescript garments that looked like the dregs of a rag-bag, played outside once more, busy with their mud-pies, the universal toy of the oriental baby.

The tea put forth pale green shoots, covering itself with the delicate bloom of the ‘flush’ that rejoices the eye of the planter; and the pluckers, enveloped in their blankets, spread themselves over the smooth acreage to gather in the harvest of leaf.

The atmosphere, washed clean by the rain, was as clear as crystal; and the cool breeze, blowing steadily from the north-east, was like long draughts of ethereal champagne to English lungs. Even the sodden flowers in the garden shook themselves free of the heavy drops, and lifted fresh buds to the caressing sun.

It was but a breathing-space, a forerunner of what might be expected a few weeks later, when the clouds had emptied themselves and refreshed the world; and when summer, hiding her face for a brief spell, should return with renewed strength to take the smiling isle upon her lap once more.

Never can fair, sweet summer be long driven away from spicy Ceylon. The monsoons may rage while they last, but their time is limited, and may be counted by short weeks instead of the long cold months claimed by winter in the old country; summer, with her gallant knight the sun, rules for the greater part of the year.

Seizing the moment, Nora wrote to ask Audine to fulfil her promise of coming over to Puloya for the whole day, and she begged that the three children might accompany her. Mrs. Angus Smith hailed the invitation with delight, knowing the pleasure that it would give to the young people. The horses were ordered, Tony riding the Rat, and Terry having to be content with her chair.

They crossed the river by the bridge near the Galla factory. The limpid, murmuring stream had changed into a muddy, roaring torrent, that dashed over its rocky bed in yellow foam, hurling itself over the wall of rook above the factory in a broad sheet of water.

The ferns and balsams and wild ginger were draggled and muddy; some were submerged altogether; it was Nature’s rough way of gardening and top-dressing, which seemed cruel and destructive, but would have marvellous results by-and-by.

As Audine passed the Galla factory, she was hailed by Marriner, who issued from the door and advanced to greet her.

‘Go on, Lance and Tony,’ she said, as she reined in the cob. ‘I will follow and catch you up.’

The fresh air had given her a colour, but it deepened as the sound of his voice fell on her ear. Since Jermyn had been engaged, he had proved no laggard at wooing.

The girl had wondered more than once why he had not played the lover long ago, since he knew the part so well. As she thought of how she had at last brought him to her feet, she was not guiltless of pride—the feminine pride of having subdued the man. But there was no arrogance in her treatment of him, nor was she capricious and condescending, as a girl like Georgie Gorleston might have been. Audine showed her cousin nothing but graciousness and a sweet attention, that only served to enslave him the more. The summons to stop was merely an occasion to speak with her, for a few moments, to look into her eyes, to watch the colour mantle in her cheek, and to remind himself again of the fact that in a few weeks, some time not so very long after Christmas, he should claim her for his own.

Terry’s coolies followed behind Tony and Lance, covering the ground almost as quickly as the Rat.

The path through Galla, leading behind the bungalow and onwards to the boundary of the Puloya estate, was not adapted to rapid locomotion, although here and there a short gallop might be snatched by a rider who was on good terms with his steed. When Marriner released Audine, Lance and Tony were halfway up the hill, whilst Terry’s coolies were approaching the bungalow. Audine put the cob into a fast walk, and slowly gained on the chair.

Just as Terry was level with the house, she spoke to her bearers in Tamil. The men replied with an affirmative wag of the head, and turned off the public estate path into the private grounds.

Pressing the cob into a trot, Audine followed, wondering whether the men had made a mistake in the road.

She entered the compound, and followed a gravelled path that led to an open yard, which divided the house from the servants’ quarters. The chair and the coolies were there, but Terry had disappeared.

‘Where is the missie?’ asked Audine of the bearers.

They pointed to the bungalow, saying something in Tamil which she did not understand.

‘Appoo! appoo!’ called Audine, according to custom.

Instead of a neat butler, there appeared a handsome native woman, a Tamil, dressed in folds of white muslin bordered with gold. She flung open the door of a room adjoining the kitchen, and gazed resentfully at the disturber of the peace of the compound.

‘I want the missie. Go and tell her to come at once,’ commanded Audine.

For reply, Sultana stepped back into the room, and reappeared immediately with two children, one of about two years and the other four. They were fair, handsome boys, something like their mother, but many shades lighter in complexion. The whiteness of their skin was remarkable in Audine’s eyes after being accustomed to the dark skins of the estate coolies.

The woman deliberately pushed forward the two children until they stood in the sunlight, as though she were purposely exhibiting them to the stranger. Yet there was no pride on her face. As Audine gazed at them in simple wonder, the mother scowled upon her, and an evil light came into her large brown eyes.

‘Where is the missie?’ repeated Audine.

Still Sultana did not utter a word or make any sign in reply to the question.

‘Miss Stratton, I’ve got it!’ cried Terry behind her, from the back veranda of the bungalow. ‘Mr. Fleetwood has given it to me for my very own.’

Audine turned in the saddle. On the steps stood Fleetwood, whilst Terry, grasping something in her arm, ran towards the chair, and was lifted and carried off before Audine could ask a single question.

But just then she had no desire to ask the child any questions. Her whole attention was taken up with something, which she instinctively recognised as strange and mysterious. Her eyes sought Fleetwood’s. But his gaze had gone beyond hers, and was fixed upon Sultana and her two children. There was a terrible sternness in that gaze, and the woman in the gold-embroidered cloth quailed before it. Sullenly she withdrew the children into the room; slowly and still more sullenly she withdrew her own handsome face, and closed the door.

Audine, looking at Fleetwood and puzzled by the enigma, saw the blood mount to his very brow, dyeing his face and neck a brick-red tint. It was as though the man desired at that moment that the earth would open an swallow him up. Shame, vexation, anger, struggled for mastery in his countenance.

Suddenly an answering colour suffused her own cheek. She pulled round the cob, and struck it sharply with the whip. The animal scattered the gravel as it bounded away, sending a shower of stones against the closed door that hid the sullen woman.

At the same moment Fleetwood, with a curse between his teeth, turned back into the bungalow and disappeared, without having made a sign of recognition to the uninvited visitor.

Chapter XIV

Nora received the party with a warm greeting, and hugged Terry closely.

‘You dear little kiddie! What mischief have you been up to lately? Something special, I know.’

Tony took upon herself to answer for her sister.

‘Leading Miss Stratton amongst the leeches.’

‘Oh, how naughty!’ cried Nora, pretending to be shocked, but betrayed by a twinkling eye. ‘I hope you were properly punished.’

‘Mother put me sick a week, like an estate coolie, and now I am very good—gooder than I ever remember,’ replied Terry with serene complacency.

‘I am not sure that you are,’ remarked Audine, with a shake of the head.

Her face wore an unusually thoughtful expression, and she was preoccupied—a state of mind which she tried in vain to throw off.

‘You can’t possibly have been naughty on your way up here, unless you have been beating your coolies in which case you will certainly have to go to prison The magistrates are all down on the European who lays a finger on the black back,’ said Nora, pretending to look horrified.

‘It was another case of running away,’ explained Audine. ‘She ordered her men to take her to the Galla bungalow without asking permission, and I had to pursue her.’

‘How shocking!’ exclaimed Nora, enjoying the fun.

‘What did you want at Galla, Terry? I know what a favourite Mr. Fleetwood is with you, so I asked him to come to tea to-day, on purpose to meet you, and you will see him this afternoon.’

‘I—I—wanted to ask him for something,’ replied Terry, putting on the defiant expression that Audine was beginning to recognise as a signal of perverseness.

‘Couldn’t you have asked him for it here?’

‘It would have been awkward. I got it.’

The child nodded her head over the parcel which she still held closely to her bosom.

‘Well, what is it?’

‘It’s his biggest and best stocking; and I’m going to hang it up at Christmas for Santa Claus.’

‘Mr. Fleetwood’s stocking!’ cried Nora. ‘Do let me see.’

She took the parcel and unrolled it, exposing a large knitted golf-stocking. Nora screamed with delight as the article was held up by Terry in triumph for inspection.

‘There, now! Isn’t that splendid! It will hold heaps and heaps of presents—lots more than I got last year,’ explained Terry, burying her arm in it, and spreading out her little fist, as she endeavoured unsuccessfully to gauge its capacious breadth and depth.

‘So it will, dear; and I hope old Santa Claus will stuff it full,’ said Nora with hearty sympathy. ‘But why did you go to Mr. Fleetwood for the stocking?’

‘Because he has the biggest foot in the valley.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I asked father, and he said so. I’ve been looking out for Mr. Fleetwood every day, but as he didn’t come I thought I would slip into Galla to-day as we passed, and get one of his stockings. Lance and Tony can have a pair of father’s, but I shall be the luckiest, you see, because I shall have this. I shall get the biggest presents, though I may not get the most. Just look how wide the top is!’ said the child, stretching the stocking with a supreme effort.

Tony and Lance were looking rather scandalized, much to Nora’s amusement, and Lance said reproachfully:

‘Oh, Terry, you ought not to have gone to Galla without an invitation. You know Mr. Fleetwood doesn’t like it.’

‘You should have asked me to write,’ added Audine.

‘But I wanted to choose for myself.’

‘Did he let you choose?’ asked Nora, with full appreciation of the humour of the situation.

‘Yes; I found him in his dressing-room. He had just come in to get ready for breakfast.’

‘And what did you say?’

‘I told him that I wanted one of his stockings. He pulled out a lot when I asked him to be very quick; and I chose this because it was the biggest, and because it’s got that pretty red colour in it. I think Santa Clans will be pleased with it, don’t you, Miss Hapland?’

‘I am sure he will; it will catch his eye as soon as he flies into the room,’ replied the sympathetic Nora.

‘Did you tell Mr. Fleetwood why you were borrowing his stocking?’

‘I said it was to hang up at Christmas.’

‘Yes; but did you also say that it was because he had a big foot?’

‘No; I had no time to explain. I wanted to get here as soon as the others, and I was keeping Miss Stratton waiting. I can tell him this afternoon.’

‘So you can, dear; and we will see what he says.’

Nora went off into peals of merry laughter, which reassured Tony and Lance as to the harmlessness of Terry’s latest vagary, and she led the party to her room to prepare for breakfast.

During breakfast she and her parents were told the story of Terry’s delinquencies in the jungle, and they were all very merry over Audine’s experiences with the leeches.

The children were happy enough, but Audine found it impossible to shake off the preoccupation that had overwhelmed her mind. Her thoughts constantly reverted to the scene behind the Galla bungalow. At first she scarcely realized in detail what it meant, but gradually the truth forced itself in upon her, and as enlightenment came aversion was created.

She knew that Fleetwood managed the house, and that he held himself responsible for the domestic arrangements of the bungalow. Not long ago she had suggested to Jermyn that she should pay him a visit under the chaperonage of Mrs. Angus Smith, for the purpose of taking a glance round. The suggestion had originated with the latter lady, who was looking forward with pleasant anticipation to assisting in the preparations for the reception of the bride in her new home.

Jermyn had put them off, saying that he should prefer to clear the house first of the assistant and all his belongings before the ladies explored his domicile. As far as he was concerned, he added, it did not matter, but he could not expect Fleetwood to welcome what must be an intrusion on his privacy. The small bungalow was being prepared. It would be ready soon after Christmas, and Fleetwood would move into it some time early in January, when the rains would be over. Then Audine could come up as she liked, and send her orders to the Colombo tradesmen to be put into execution at once.

Now she understood why Jermyn was anxious that his companion should be gone before she appeared on the scenes. And she believed that she also understood why Fleetwood had offered her no congratulations, and had never once uttered a word of welcome.

Whatever he might say as to his desire for her happiness and the happiness of his friend, at the bottom of his heart he hated having to turn out, hated having to uproot himself and his belongings from the comfortable home which he had created on Galla.

Audine felt as though she wished never to look upon his face again. If she could have made any excuse to run away home before the hour when he was expected, she would have done so. The hot blood rushed to her face more than once, as she remembered that she had to meet him that very afternoon. She did not fear that he would seek her out and offer to talk to her.

Lately, unless she had addressed him directly, he had quietly avoided her—conscience-stricken, she said to herself. But after what had occurred she did not desire to be under the same roof with him nor breathe the same atmosphere.

In a short while the acute feeling of aversion for the man subsided, and she asked herself why she should be troubled about the matter; there was no just reason for any emotion on her part, since he was nothing to her. He had a right to live his own life, and create his own responsibilities in the way he might choose, without considering a single soul. His actions did not concern her in the least. What an idiot she had been to penetrate into the private grounds of the bungalow! It was an intrusion, though quite unintentional on her part. She should have ridden up to the front of the house, and ordered the appoo to call Terry; or, having caught sight of the woman, she should have departed at once before there was time for the encounter with Fleetwood.

These and many other thoughts raced through her brain, even while she took her part in the merry chatter round the breakfast-table.

After the meal was over, according to long-established custom, the visitors were given the opportunity of lying down to take the usual mid-day rest. Nora carried Terry off to her own room, leaving Lance and Tony in the spare room with Audine. It was a welcome diversion to Audine’s unpleasant thoughts when her companions asked her to read them a story from one of Nora’s books.

A shout of laughter in the distance now and then told a tale of sleeplessness on the part of Miss Hapland, and further quaint revelations from her little guest.

At three o’clock they gathered round the tea-table in the drawing-room. The Osterleys arrived in full force, including Mrs. Osterley and her husband.

Mervyn Larch also turned up, and whilst they were in the middle of tea in walked Daniel Grassendale.

‘I am much offended, Miss Hapland; I have been obliged to come without an invitation,’ he said severely, as he shook hands with the smiling Nora.

‘Oh dear me!’ she cried in dismay. ‘I asked Mrs. and Miss Gorleston, but I thought you wouldn’t care about it, as there is no chance of tennis. The courts are much too wet.’

‘If it had not been for my shocking curiosity,’ he continued, a smile belying his severity, ‘I should have known nothing about your tea-party. I opened the letter you sent to my sister before posting it on to Kandy—she and Georgie are at the Queen’s Hotel; they found Periya unbearable as soon as the rain began—and I determined to come instead, though you did forget me, Miss Nora.’

‘How nice of you to wish to join us! I hope I am forgiven.’

‘Of course I like to come, just as much as Lance and Tony and Terry and Ivy and all her little people. If you will allow me to play with them, perhaps I will forgive you.’

Ivy blushed, and the children rushed at him with a confidence that marked him as a true friend. While Nora was reiterating her welcome, another guest was announced, and Jermyn Marriner entered, his eye seeking Audine with the happy assurance of the favoured lover.

‘Where is Mr. Fleetwood?’ asked Mrs. Hapland.

‘He begged me to make his apologies. He most kindly offered to take my work at the factory, and set me free to join you.’

A sigh of relief escaped Audine’s lips. The man was not utterly shameless, she thought; and he had shown wisdom in putting off the meeting for the present. It allowed her a little breathing-space, to try to forget what she had seen. There are matters which must be ignored between men and women at all costs; not only ignored, they must be forgotten. Audine felt the conviction borne in upon her that she must obliterate the scene; if possible, wipe it out of her memory, seeing that she had to live on the same estate with this man and have him as her nearest neighbour.

But the task she set herself was not easy; the memory of the sullen face at the back of the Galla bungalow constantly recurred.

After tea the children went into the dining-room for games, the garden being too wet to allow of any amusement on the lawn. Their elders drifted in after them, talking rubber, sport, tea, labour, and the latest telegrams, their conversation being frequently interrupted by the riotous round games promoted by the indefatigable Nora.

‘I say, Grassendale,’ said Larch, who was backing Nora in her encouragement of Terry’s play, do you know of a tea-maker? Mine has gone sick, and I should be glad of a man temporarily.’

‘I can put you in the way of finding one,’ said Lance.

‘You, Lance? What do you know of tea-makers?’

‘Our assistant wants a place, and he is quite capable of doing the work. You ask Mr. Fleetwood about him.’

‘I’d better ask your father.’

‘It is Mr. Fleetwood who has taught him. Father is too busy.’

‘Planting rubber, I suppose,’ suggested Larch, with a good-humoured laugh.

‘Not rubber,’ said Terry, stopping short as Lance uttered the words:

‘Shut up, Terry.’

‘Oh, not rubber, eh, Terry? But he’s planting something, all the same, isn’t he?’ pursued Larch, encouraged thereto by Nora’s approving laughter.

Terry pressed her lips together in her laudable endeavour to hold her tongue and preserve her mother’s secret; but she could not refrain from nodding her head violently in reply.

‘I haven’t told, have I?’ she asked of Nora, as Lance cast a reproachful glance at her.

‘No, darling; you have kept mother’s secret splendidly,’ said the mendacious Miss Hapland, as she exchanged a look of intense amusement with Mervyn Larch over the head of the child.

There was a laugh, and further conversation was prevented by the fun of the game, which was proceeding to its end.

‘I don’t mind admitting that I am having a try with rubber,’ said Grassendale presently, as he lighted another cigarette.

‘You’re too high,’ declared Larch.

‘I’ve got a dip in the estate that gives me at least sixty acres quite a thousand feet lower than this place.’

‘So you have; I forgot that. I don’t believe that it will grow at this height, and Angus Smith can’t possibly be dabbling in rubber. The elevation of Nagatenne is too great.’

‘He may be trying what he can do with ceara or a hybrid,’ said Grassendale. ‘There would be a lot of money in an acclimatized plant that would grow fairly quickly and yield freely at an altitude of three to four thousand feet.’

‘Slow work, experimenting like that. Even if you tapped in four or five years, you couldn’t be sure of your results,’ remarked Osterley.

‘Still, I maintain that the hybrid has been our stand-by in five cases out of six. It was so with cinchona whilst it lasted, and it is equally so with tea,’ asserted Grassendale.

‘In my opinion,’ said Hapland, ‘money is to be made by investing in company shares, and not in fidgeting about with nurseries.’

‘Nurseries are not to be despised,’ maintained Larch.

‘I did very well a few years ago out of tea in that way, and I haven’t chucked the beds altogether yet.’

They continued to discuss the prospects and merits of the new product. During a lull in the shouts of laughter over the games, into which Nora had succeeded in drawing Larch and Grassendale, Hapland observed:

‘Rubber isn’t like a metal which is hidden in ungaugeable quantities in the earth. It is there, or it is not there, and you can go and see for yourself what there is, so that you ought to know all about what you are purchasing when you buy the shares.’

‘That would be all right if you could nail the market price to one figure,’ returned Marriner; ‘but who knows if in ten years’ time—just as we have chucked tea and planted rubber—the price won’t drop from over five shillings a pound to under half a crown?’

‘Or that the long-talked-of substitute may not have been discovered by then? Well played, Tony! You little Angus Smiths will beat the Osterleys this time if you go on like that,’ said Larch.

‘Have you put any money into rubber?’ inquired Hapland of Marriner.

‘Not I! I don’t believe in it. Fleetwood and I have long arguments. He says it has come to stay—for a certain period, that is—and those who are able to nip in at the right moment will make something out of it.’

‘Is he having a flutter?’

‘I believe he is. He had a small legacy left him just as it was beginning to be talked about—it wasn’t more than two thousand pounds—and I think he has done rather well with it. But he is a reserved chap—awfully good to me, I must say—and he doesn’t tell me much unless I ask.’

‘It will bring us one certain benefit,’ remarked Osterley.

‘What’s that?’

‘It will put a cheek to the overproduction of tea in the low country, and give us fellows higher up a chance.’

‘I agree with you there,’ assented Marriner heartily.

‘And if it will do the same for India, so much the better. I believe in tea. Each year that passes we are becoming better known, and Ceylon tea is slowly and surely making its way in the world’s markets.’

‘I, too, am inclined to think that you are right,’ agreed Hapland. ‘The rock ahead of rubber is the lowering of the price and the labour difficulty. Twice the number of coolies are required to work rubber than are needed for tea, and each year that passes it is more difficult to procure them.’

‘We shall have to catch and tame the Singhalese,’ said Osterley, with a laugh.

‘As well try to make the wanderoo monkeys work,’ replied Hapland. ‘Hallo, young people! games finished?’

‘Yes,’ answered Terry promptly; ‘and now we are going to have chocolate.’

She glanced up at Nora with a knowing look that suggested the fulfilment of the promise that Nora had made, about the prying of Terry’s fingers into certain boxes. Mrs. Hapland and Mrs. Osterley, who had remained in the drawing-room to discuss servants and bazaar prices, the dearth of fowls, and the short weights of the butchers, were summoned to eat sweets and drink ginger wine. Hats and cloaks were donned, and farewells were said.

‘Tell Mr. Fleetwood that we were sorry not to see him,’ said Nora, as she shook hands with Marriner.

‘I intended to chaff him about his foot.’

‘What about his foot?’ asked Jermyn.

She told the story of Terry’s visit with great glee, and how Audine had to run her to earth.

‘You will be able to explain to Mr. Fleetwood why Terry wanted his stocking, and preferred it to one of her father’s,’ she concluded with a laugh, in which they all joined.

Grassendale departed with the Osterleys, their house lying on his route to Periya. Larch was invited to stay to dinner, an invitation he seemed pleased to accept. Marriner walked by Audine’s side or within conversational distance.

‘Did you see Fleetwood when you went after Terry?’ he inquired, as they left the Haplands.

She glanced down at him, but his face gave no indication that he knew anything of the incident that had happened.

‘I just caught sight of him in the veranda, but did not stay to speak to him, or to apologize for Terry’s intrusion.’

‘No need to apologize. He said nothing about Terry’s visit at breakfast. I dare say it had slipped his mind. He has been much occupied with his own affairs lately. Perhaps his little rubber flutter is not going so well as we think. Anyway, he will soon be gone, and then you and I can set to work without any further delay. I have already planned out the garden.’

He launched forth into a description of all that he intended doing inside the house and out for her benefit. Audine, in the contemplation of the rosy future, forgot the handsome scowling face, which had so unexpectedly confronted her, and which had haunted her throughout the day; she forgot Fleetwood and his moroseness, and thought only of the beautiful home, so soon to be shared with the pleasant, kind-hearted cousin, whose only object in life seemed to be to give her pleasure. It was wonderful how easily he had fallen into the position of the devoted lover.

The next day there was joy as well as grief in the house of the tea-maker on Nagatenne. Lance sent David hot-foot to Larch, who gladly accepted his services at once, his own man being down with pneumonia. An early date was named for taking up the work.

David secured a lodging near the factory where his presence was required, and straightway returned to his father’s house with the news of his success, and an urgent demand for the services of his wife in his new domicile. The arrangement was violently opposed by his mother, upon whom he had stolen a march. She protested vehemently that she was unable to do without her daughter’s assistance in the house.

Mariamal herself said nothing, but her eye brightened and the corners of her mouth no longer drooped. As she exchanged glances boldly with her young husband, the long-banished smile returned, and David was encouraged to persist in his demands and to assert his rights. Who was to cook for him if he went alone? It was necessary to give his whole attention to the factory, and he would not have time to prepare his own food. His wife had been well trained by her mother-in-law, and was quite capable of managing for him.

The scoldings suddenly ceased, and if Mariamal idled a few moments by the tea-bushes, looking for her husband, or if he lingered over the washing of his hands after the mid-day meal, not a murmur fell from the lips of the old woman. But she was in no way resigned to her fate. She assumed an injured expression, and moved about groaning over vague ailments and weaknesses of body that the family had never heard of before.

But it was of no avail. The hour arrived for the departure of the young couple. As Mariamal made up her bundle of clothes, and put together the odds and ends of her personal belongings, her mother-in-law followed her about, bemoaning the cruel fate which had overtaken her in her old age.

‘It is hard on an old woman to lose her daughter-in-law, just as nice sense is coming, just as she is beginning to do her work well,’ she said.

‘My husband would not have thought of leaving his father’s house, had it not been for the heavy tasks that were put upon me. Even the dhoby donkey must have time to eat and sleep, or he will die,’ replied Mariamal tartly, no longer afraid to speak out.

‘How am I to do the housework with my old bones so stiff and sore?’ wailed the mother-in-law, to whom repentance came too late. ‘And how am I to please the father of my son?’

‘By paying attention to the preparation of his food,’ answered the relentless daughter-in-law. ‘The tiger does not roar unless he is hungry, and you need have no fear of my husband’s father if you cook his food well.’

‘Aiyoh! that it should come to this!’ cried the old dame, putting the corner of her cloth to her eye. ‘And, alas! I have no other son to marry and give me a daughter.’

‘Well for the daughter-in-law if her fate was to be as mine!’ retorted Mariamal, as she folded and packed in an aggressive way that told on the nerves of the other.

‘A stick is necessary if sense is to be learned. Until I took you in hand no one had ever tried to teach you.’

‘Well said, O mother of my husband! I have learned many things at your hands that I shall never forget. Now I would cease to learn, lest too much knowledge should injure my health.’

She laid a stress on the word ‘health,’ and the old woman glanced sharply into her face with sudden suspicion. Before she could put any question, David entered the room.

‘It is time we were off; the rain is not far away, and we have some distance to go,’ he said, speaking to no one in particular, although the remark was intended for his wife.

‘Everything is ready, husband. Help me with this bundle. I cannot lift it on to my head without assistance.’

‘It is too heavy for you. I have brought a woman from the lines to carry the heaviest load.’

He called to the coolie woman, a strong, middle-aged creature, who seemed proud to be chosen to help in the move, and who was all smiles and willingness as soon as she found that the mother-in-law was taking no part in it.

The old woman stood sulkily apart whilst the young couple completed their preparations. The loss of the services of her daughter-in-law angered her the more, knowing that she had brought it upon herself.

Her severity had bordered on cruelty, exceeding what was customary; and no one, knowing the facts of the case, would have much sympathy for her. Young wives, though often hardly worked, and occasionally beaten—until there is a prospect of motherhood—are not persecuted, as a rule, to such an extent.

Without a look, without a word of farewell, David’s wife stepped across the threshold and set out on her journey. The clouds were piling themselves on the horizon; and fragments of vapour, the advance-guard of the monsoon, scurried across the face of the sun.

But Mariamal did not heed the rain. The heaviest downpour was as nothing in the joy and the delight of her first breath of freedom. The clouds on her own horizon were rolling away, and the sun of domestic happiness was about to shine upon her young life.

Carrying a light burden, she led the way, the coolie woman staggering under her load at her heels, and swelling with importance, because the assistant tea-maker had bade her take as good care of his wife as if she were her mother.

David himself stayed behind to say a few parting words to his parent.

‘It is a pity that you have driven us forth from the house of my father,’ he said.

‘I! I have not driven you forth. You go by your own will.’

‘Had it not been for your scolding tongue and the too frequent use of the cruel rod, my wife and I would have stayed—I to serve my father, she to serve my mother.’

‘It was good for her to learn sense through the rod. Who ever heard of a woman, a horse, or a dog learning sense in any other way.’

‘It is not good for girls, who are to become mothers, to feel the weight of the stick,’ replied David impressively.

His mother gasped. She forgot to weep, and could only shriek an interrogatory ‘What?’

‘It is as I say. I am a man now, and I must see that the mother of my unborn son has proper consideration,’ said David, assuming a new importance, which fairly took the old woman’s breath away.

‘Why was I not told?’ she screamed.

‘My wife had too great a fear of her mother-in-law to dare to open her mouth. It is sufficient to speak of it now.’

‘She ought to be under my charge that I may look after her health, and see that she does not undertake tasks that are too great for a woman in her condition.’

‘It is of no use talking of sheltering the horse from the rain when it has been driven on to the next village by blows. She will have peace and quiet where she is going, and not more to do than will be but a pleasant occupation. See! She is already ascending the hill, and I must follow.’

He turned from the open doorway and began his journey. His mother pursued him for a few yards, and then stopped.

‘My son,’ she cried, come back to me! Bring her back to me, that my old arms may be the first to hold your son, the first to lull the new-born to sleep. Come back, my son, or my heart will break.’

David continued his way in silence, not without a certain dignity. There may have been compunction of heart, but he gave no sign of it. He and his wife had suffered much at her hands. Let her now suffer in her turn.

‘Heh, wife! what’s the matter asked the tea-maker, when he came in two hours later to his mid-day meal.

‘David has departed.’

‘It is well for David to stand alone and earn for himself. He is a good son, and I shall miss him, though the young master can do much that is helpful in overseeing the coolies.’

‘It is his wife I shall miss,’ she answered moodily.

‘A lazy hussy you have ever called her, saying frequently that you would sooner be without her,’ he replied, glancing at her tear-stained face with a twinkle of humour in his eye.

‘It was but the usual talk of the mother-in-law.’

‘Foolish talk, then, since it has driven them both out of the house. For my part I found no fault with the girl, and the curries she made were better than this. Your hand has lost its cunning, wife. It often went to my heart to see her beaten. But you would have it so. You were ever a woman to have your own way.’

‘It is of the grandson I am thinking,’ cried his wife, breaking into fresh tears.

His comparison of the curries had quite as much to do with the outburst as the thought of the absent daughter-in-law.

‘Oh, ho! So that is the case, is it? Small use fretting over the empty bowl when you have with your own hand thrown out the buttermilk. Nevertheless, it will be a matter for regret if the son of our only child should be born under a strange roof.’

He lighted his rank, roughly-made cigar, whilst his wife cleared away the dishes, still weeping.

‘There is time to mend matters,’ he remarked presently. The appointment is but temporary. Perhaps we may have the boy back again before long, if he can be assured that his wife will be treated like a daughter, and not like a dhoby donkey.’

Chapter XV

The break in the monsoon lasted only a few days. The sun again hid his head. The hill-tops were shrouded in clean, soft vapour, and the rain descended in long whistling sheets of crystal drops. The wind roared and moaned, and sang fitfully round the bungalow with the freshness of March and April in England.

Wood and charcoal fires burned in all the rooms to keep them dry rather than warm, and to air all kinds of drapery and clothing.

In the evening, when the shutters were closed and the lamp lighted, it was cheering to hear, above the splash of the rain upon the windows, the crackle of the logs upon the hearth. The warmth from the glowing embers of the charcoal, and the flickering light from the yellow flame of the burning wood, created a semblance of winter—winter without the cruel nip that pinches and hurts through the short days and long nights in England.

Outside the bungalow the earth was sodden and the tea dripping with moisture. Pansies, verbenas, phloxes, petunias, with other fragile blossoms, were water-splashed and spoilt. But some of the hardier tea-roses struggled against the weather, and managed to put forth buds under sheltered fences, which buds opened in the warm, dry atmosphere of the house.

The begonias also braved the rain; and the violets, protected by their palm-leaf roofing, refused to give up blooming altogether. So the bungalow was still scented with the breath of sweet blossoms; and though ferns and foliage plants took the place of flowers in some of the larger vases, Mrs. Angus Smith managed to keep a generous floral array that was very acceptable to the prisoners in the house.

Lance went out regardless of the weather, taking the five dogs with him every morning for exercise. He curtailed his walks, giving himself more time at the factory, which he visited in the afternoon as well as the morning. Whilst he was inside the building, the dogs hunted fruitlessly by themselves among the tea or along the river bank, coming in as wet as if they had been through the river, which necessitated their banishment to the kennels on their return to the bungalow.

Two or three times the D. was discovered in Terry’s room, rubbing himself dry under her bed, she being accessory to his misbehaviour. But the strong scent of water-rat given off by his dripping coat and the mark of damp paws on the boards betrayed him. He was ignominiously hauled forth by Lance, and driven into the dry straw of his kennel. Lord Cork always seemed to gloat over the defeat of the yellow dog’s machinations, and there was a disposition during the long day spent in the retirement of the kennels to have another pitched battle. A liberal supply of soup-bones, however, kept them occupied, and warded off a ruction.

Audine succeeded in getting through a little study with the children, but it was desultory and irregular, owing to the constant interruptions. Mrs. Angus Smith, who hailed the monsoon as a dispensation of Providence to enable her to accomplish work for which she could find no opportunity at any other time, utilized every moment of the day. She renovated the furniture, replenished the wardrobes of the children, mended and darned for her husband, and retrimmed and refashioned for herself. She borrowed models from Audine, and begged her help at every turn—help that was willingly given, but with regret for the omission that it involved.

‘If only I were a daughter of the house,’ sighed Audine, as she closed unwritten copy-books and put away blank sheets of exercise-paper at the end of the day, ‘this life would be all that I should desire! But as I am the governess, and not a daughter, it is nothing more nor less than demoralizing. Yet my duty towards my neighbour is not left undone, for I have been employed all day long in work for Mrs. Angus Smith.’

In the evening Audine was called upon for music, a never-failing source of pleasure to Lance. The boy had a good ear, and was quick in picking up the tunes. Frequently his clear treble mingled with Audine’s richer voice in some of the songs that were his favourites.

One wet morning, during a pause in the whirring of the sewing-machine, Mrs. Angus Smith said:

‘I am so glad to have got through all the work in such good time this year. Thanks to your help, I have been able to finish more than I have ever accomplished before in the same period.’

‘How much longer will the monsoon last?’ asked Audine, who was deeply interested in building up one of Mrs. Angus Smith’s old hats into the semblance of a new one.

‘It is more than half over. As soon as the rain stops we shall burst out into all sorts of gaieties.’

‘Here at Nagatenne?’

‘I shall give one party, of course, besides the children’s Christmas-tree; but up and down the district people will be having a Christmas week, and there will be tennis tournaments and breakfasts and picnics and garden-parties, to which you must go, though I may not be present at them all.’

‘Oh, you must come too, Mrs. Angus Smith!’ protested Audine.

‘Well, my dear, I shall see. As soon as the rain quite clears off and the weather settles down, my husband and I must be busy in the jungle with our orchids. Business first, pleasure afterwards.’

‘I shall be very glad to have a ride again before long,’ remarked Audine, as she held up the hat for inspection.

‘How lovely! You have made it look exactly like that picture in the Queen; you have such clever fingers! Do let me try the hat on.’

‘I think it wants another rose at the back, then it will do,’ remarked Audine, as she took the hat from Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘You must learn to ride in the wet weather with proper mackintosh clothing. When you are living at Galla, we shall want you over here, wet or fine. By-the-by, how is the house progressing?’

‘Slowly at present. Jermyn says that the rain has put a stop to everything, inside and out.’

‘Has Mr. Fleetwood moved into the small bungalow yet?’

‘He has packed up all his various properties, but it has been too wet to carry the things across. He will go as soon as the weather is better.’

‘I am afraid he doesn’t like turning out,’ remarked Mrs. Angus Smith, as she put the machine in motion again.

There was a ring at the front-door bell. Tony and Terry started up from their employment of taking out tacking-threads, and flew to welcome the visitor. A shout of delight and a simultaneous gust of wet wind followed their departure. Mrs. Angus Smith rose to see who it was that was so warmly greeted by the children. She found Fleetwood on the doorstep, firmly resisting the efforts of Tony and Terry to draw him inside.

‘Come in at once and shut the door, or we shall be blown inside-out,’ she said, laying her hand on his arm with small ceremony.

‘I am dripping from head to foot; I really ought not to be allowed inside,’ he protested.

‘Nonsense! we can’t talk to you on the doorstep. The bungalow faces east, so we get the full brunt of the monsoon. Besides, visitors are much too welcome to be entertained on the threshold,’ she declared, as she helped to pull off the streaming mackintosh.

'My feet and gaiters are very wet,’ he observed apologetically.

‘Shake yourself on the mat. Get out of the way, Terry, and give Mr. Fleetwood room. Now come into the dining-room, to the fire. We are all very busy, as you see, and have no time to grumble at the weather.’

Tony pulled up her father’s armchair to the fire for the visitor, and threw another log upon the hearth.

'I came to tell you, Miss Stratton, that Marriner is laid up with a sprained ankle,’ he said, as he shook her hand, and then took the offered chair.

‘I am sorry to hear it; how did it happen?’

'He was hurrying up from the factory last evening, and he slipped and fell with his foot doubled up underneath him. He was afraid that if he wrote you would be alarmed, and begged me to walk over and tell you that it was nothing.’

‘How long will he be laid up?’ asked Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘A few days at most. Can you lend me a book for the patient? I must keep him on the sofa until the swelling goes down.’

‘With pleasure. It is very good of you to come over and set our minds at rest.’

‘Very kind indeed!’ echoed Audine in a perfunctory manner.

This was the first time she had met him since their encounter at the Galla bungalow, and though he seemed at his ease, she was not feeling altogether comfortable.

‘It is ever so long since you have been to the house,’ remarked Tony in a grieved tone. ‘Before Miss Stratton came, you often walked up, but now we never see you. You need not be afraid of her.’

‘No, she’s awfully nice; nearly as nice as you are,’ said the irrepressible Terry.

‘We were just talking of you when you arrived,’ Mrs. Angus Smith hastened to inform him, eager to stop any further personalities on the part of her little daughters.

‘Indeed!’ he replied, his eyes turning on Audine for a few seconds.

‘Yes, I was asking Miss Stratton whether you had accomplished the move into the small bungalow.’

‘Not yet; but I am ready to go.’

‘You will feel rather lonely at first, I am afraid,’ she observed sympathetically.

‘Perhaps; but I shall soon settle down.’

‘How will Mr. Marriner get on without you for the next few weeks? You do all the housekeeping, don’t you?’

‘Yes; Marriner is a poor hand at managing servants and such-like kittle-kattle. He says that he has no patience with the Aryan.’

‘What will he do when you are gone?’ asked Mrs. Angus Smith, who was intensely interested in the details of Marriner’s life now that he was engaged to Audine.

‘I am not leaving him stranded altogether. The cook and the kitchen coolie, as well as his own dressing-boy, remain. I have trained the cook in the way he should go, so I shall not have a starving friend on my conscience.’

‘Perhaps the man will do for Miss Stratton. Good cooks are difficult to get.’

‘I don’t wish to deprive you of any of your servants,’ said Audine hastily, feeling that the suggestion, though well meant, was rather in the way of asking a favour of a person to whom she had no wish to be indebted.

‘He is not my servant, though I have the ordering of him. Marriner has always paid his wages,’ replied Fleetwood.

‘It must be three or four years since you went to live with him on Galla. I remember your going,’ remarked Mrs. Angus Smith reminiscently.

‘It is three years this Christmas,’ said Fleetwood. ‘He had been settled two years when I joined him. I found the house in a sad state of confusion and disorder, and he was only too glad to hand over the reins of government to me.’

‘You had to make some sort of a clearance, if I remember right, and he chaffed you about setting his house in order for him.’

‘He certainly had picked up the most unruly set of villains that I ever saw. However, they were sent flying, and I brought my own men in.’

‘So I suppose the servants have always looked upon you as their master?’

‘I believe so,’ he admitted, with a slight smile at the closeness of her cross-examination.

‘And Mr. Marriner is just a lodger in his own bungalow.’

‘Yes,’ he answered, breaking into a laugh, which he checked suddenly as he caught the eye of Audine fixed upon him with a strange look, and remembered how and when they had last met.

He had replied to Mrs. Angus Smith’s many questions in a careless manner, without much thought. Part of his attention was occupied by Tony and Terry, who had seated themselves on the arms of his chair. All in a moment he realized that Audine might possibly draw certain inferences from what he had said about joining her cousin only three years ago, and finding a disorderly household.

Judging by the expression on her face on that memorable morning, he concluded that she had exonerated Marriner of all blame, and laid the burden on his own shoulders. He had been content for her sake that it should be so.

In the gaze now levelled at him he thought that he read an unuttered question—a question aroused by his careless admissions to Mrs. Angus Smith. That question meant on her part a hideous and appalling doubt. At all costs the doubt must be set at rest, once and for all, if her happiness and peace of mind were to be secured. The burden which she laid upon his shoulders from the moment when Sultana confronted her must be fastened there. It might be galling, but for her sake it must be borne. Mrs. Angus Smith, all unconscious of the tragedy which overshadowed the conversation, went on:

‘It is a good plan to make a clean sweep of the old staff, and let the new mistress start with a fresh lot. If the cook does not settle down, he had better go with the rest.’

Fleetwood was silent for a brief space; then he replied deliberately:

I quite agree with you, Mrs. Angus Smith, about the absolute necessity of having a clean sweep, especially in this case, where all the members of the old staff were introduced by me.’

The emphasis on the pronoun was damning. He met Audine’s eye steadily and unabashed. For a few seconds she returned his gaze, as though he held her spellbound. The question in her eyes died away; the spasm of cruel suspicion against her cousin passed, and Fleetwood knew that his end was accomplished. Her eyes fell, and she sat silent, leaving Mrs. Angus Smith to carry on the conversation.

He laughed and talked with the elder lady and her children, apparently in the best of spirits, but his eyes often wandered towards Audine’s profile, silhouetted against the window, as she bent over her needle-work, that seemed to possess an absorbing interest for her. There was something defiant in the attitude he adopted, which suggested to Audine that he was giving her to understand she might think what she pleased of him; he was determined to lead his own life regardless of her opinion. The pain in her heart caused by his words perplexed and disturbed her. Why should she care how he lived?

‘Yes; I shall soon settle in with my crew, and then I must give a house-warming, I suppose,’ he assented cheerfully, after he had described, at Mrs. Angus Smith’s request, the alterations that had been carried out in the small bungalow.

‘Of course you must; you will have to make it a gentleman’s party.’

‘Decidedly; we poor men never feel quite at home with the fair sex in our bachelor dens. We are so conscious of our shortcomings, of our pipes and the smell of tobacco, and the various untidy signs of our single blessedness, that we are not comfortable when entertaining chiffons and frills.’

Mrs. Angus Smith laughed, as she assured him that the genus bachelor would never lose its popularity with the fair sex, and that he need not fear to invite the ladies if he had tooth for them, which she doubted.

Whilst Fleetwood deliberately undermined his own character and saved the reputation of his friend, he was conscious of the bitter smart caused by the fall he must have suffered in the estimation of Audine. There was something suggestive of coldness and distance in her attitude towards him and in her silence. Whilst the gulf widened, whilst he rejoiced that he had saved her from doubt and heartache, and had cleared her pathway of thorns, his own heart throbbed with the absorbing passion that, in spite of all his efforts against it, filled his whole soul. He turned to the children, speaking lightly:

‘Well, Terry, what have you got to say for yourself after the way in which you have treated me?’

She was leaning against his shoulder, with the abandonment of devotion common to little maids of seven when they set their affections on anyone. Mrs. Angus Smith began to laugh and apologize for her daughter, whilst Terry related what had been said at Puloya.

‘Yes, I know; I heard all about it,’ he said; ‘and now I am known up and down the valley as “the man with the big foot”—a nice reputation to give a poor planter!’

‘I don’t think that Terry has kept her promise,’ remarked Tony, who took the delinquencies of her sister seriously.

‘What promise?’ asked Fleetwood.

‘To love, honour, and obey Miss Stratton.’

The colour flew to Audine’s cheeks, but she made no remark.

‘Did you make that promise?’

‘Yes; Lance told us to do so before Miss Stratton came. I have kept it, but Terry hasn’t.’

Tony looked severely at her sister, who did not attempt to dispute the truth of the statement.

‘I’m too young,’ sighed the child. It’s a grown-up person’s promise, and it’s very hard to keep. Nora said so.’

Fleetwood rose to his feet.

‘Will you kindly find me a book for Marriner, Mrs. Angus Smith?’ he asked.

‘Tony, is Lance in?’

‘No, mother.’

‘Let me go and look for a book,’ exclaimed Audine, suddenly rising with a dread of being left alone with Fleetwood, and having out of common politeness to make conversation for him.

‘Please do; you will find several in the smoking-room. My husband is out on the estate, so you need not fear to disturb him. Perhaps you will know best what book your cousin will like.’

Audine returned with a volume wrapped in paper, and handed it to Fleetwood.

‘Any message, Miss Stratton?’

‘None, thanks; I will write.’

He winced at the coldness of her manner; and, as he presently strode away through the rain and the wind, he asked himself, in momentary impatience, why he should thus sacrifice himself and lose her friendship and her respect. The irritation passed as he remembered that the false position had been adopted to secure the happiness of the one woman in the world that he loved.

Chapter XVI

The rain ceased almost as suddenly as it commenced.

The sun came out and began his work of drying up the superfluous moisture and awakening all vegetation.

Birds assumed their courting plumage; and butterflies appeared, fluttering on strong wings over patana, jungle, and garden. The earth, verdant and beautiful before the rain, burst into a verdure and florescence that eclipsed all former efforts.

The forest lost its uniform colour; and trees put on individual mantles of delicate tints, derived from crimson and yellow shoots and creamy blossoms.

Ferns sent up strong curling spirals that spread out into delicate fronds. Even the moss and lycopodium laid carpets of soft velvety green over the ground, competing with surrounding vegetation in brilliancy of tint. Everywhere, bud, blossom, and shoot responded to the warm summons of the sun.

Streams and muddy rivers moderated their boisterous currents, and lost their turbidness in gentler flowing, until their depths became clear again. Along the banks of the river rose a fresh growth of wild ginger, balsams, ferns, and grasses, which hid all trace of the muddy fertilizing flood.

The flower-garden, like birds and butterflies, jungle and river, obeyed the call of the sun, and donned its summer apparel. Rose-bushes covered themselves with a glorious wealth of blossom, amongst which extravagant scissors made no visible impression, and the bungalow was filled with the spoils of the garden.

Plants that had tentatively put forth a bud here and a flower there before the monsoon joined in the riotous profusion of the roses, and contributed lavishly to the kaleidoscope of colour in which Mrs. Angus Smith revelled.

It was surprising to Audine to note how all signs of wet weather disappeared with the rain. Sloping paths and lawns became dry; vegetation shook itself free of clinging drops in the breeze; and summer,—sweet, odoriferous summer—took full possession of the land, undelayed by the winds and frosts of spring in the temperate zone. Showers there were occasionally to help the later buds and shoots to swell and grow; but the clouds rolled away immediately after their duty was performed, leaving the sun to temper the cool wind from the north-east.

Christmas came and went. It was strange to see the small church of the district adorned with roses and carnations instead of holly and ivy; to hear the familiar greeting on all sides, as the little congregation gathered in the pretty churchyard after the service.

Whilst Audine exchanged good wishes for the season with her friends, a hot summer’s sun poured down upon her head, and she was glad to put up a covered umbrella. It was only after the sun had set, and the logs burned upon the hearth, that she could believe that Christmas had arrived.

On Christmas Day Marriner and Fleetwood dined at Nagatenne, and the evening was devoted to the children. The anticipations of Terry regarding the stocking were amply fulfilled. It was crammed to overflowing, and she expressed sorrow for Lance and Tony, regretting that they had not had the courage to invade the Galla bungalow and secure a pair of Mr. Fleetwood’s stockings.

Then came the garden-party and the promised Christmas-tree, with various other entertainments at the houses of their neighbours. In between the preparations for the parties Mrs. Angus Smith was busy helping Audine and Marriner in the renovation of their future home.

Fleetwood had departed. Carpenters and painters stepped in as the assistant went out, and were busy, repairing and altering the rooms. A gang of coolies had worked wonders in the garden, carrying out plans drawn up by Mrs. Angus Smith on the lines of the Nagatenne garden. She was liberal with her gifts of plants, amongst which was included a handsome collection of orchids. She herself superintended the planting and shading of them one morning, going over early and returning to breakfast.

‘It is very good of you to spare time for all this,’ said Audine gratefully, as they descended the hill on their return.

‘I am glad to give you a lesson in gardening. When once you have learned how the plants should be treated, you will find it quite easy to grow them. One may as well have choice flowers as common ones. You will have to send to England for bulbs and seeds; it is worth doing every year, and will keep you up to date.’

‘Miss Stratton will be having her orchid nursery in the jungle, like you, mother,’ remarked Tony, who had accompanied them.

‘The Galla jungles swarm with leeches,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, with a laugh.

‘Then I can assure you that you will not catch me in the swamps, even if all the rarest orchids in the world grew there,’ said Audine.

“There is no need for you to brave the leeches. I can always keep you supplied with plants if any of yours fail.’

Audine thanked her, and asked how the nursery fared after the monsoon.

‘The soil was flooded during the rain, but the floods have subsided, and the terrestrial orchids are promising well. What I want is more labour, and that means more supervision—more work for my husband and myself.’

‘Mother, the gardener has been sacrificing another cock to his devil-tree,’ said Tony, as a pause occurred in the conversation. ‘He has done it because his young brother who went away to be married has come back with fever, and can’t work.’

‘Silly man,’ commented Mrs. Angus Smith. ‘I am sorry now that I threatened to cut down that tree. It seems to have got on his nerves, and he puts down all his troubles to the ill-will of the demon.’

‘He says that the demon won’t be satisfied until he has had more blood, and until you give him something of your very own,’ continued Tony.

‘Nonsense, child! You mustn’t pay any attention to his foolish superstitions. Run into the factory and see if Lance is there. If so, tell him to send up some more tea to the house. We have finished the last lot, and are out of it,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, as they crossed the river and turned up towards the Nagatenne bungalow.

As they passed under the trellised arch that gave entrance to the garden, Mrs. Angus Smith looked round her with delight.

‘This is how your garden ought to be next year, Miss Stratton,’ she exclaimed with enthusiasm. ‘Isn’t the plumbago beautiful? It is the tint of the distant hills, and the roses are of the same colour as the morning sky, just before the sun rises.’

Audine’s heart leaped with pleasure at the thought of owning such a wealth of flowers. Late as it was, they lingered on their way up to the door, to note the fragrance and profusion of newly-opening blossom everywhere.

‘Don’t wait for me,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, as she halted at the foot of the steps. ‘I must tell Moonaswamy to gather a dish of oranges for breakfast. We ought to have some peaches ready for the table before long.’

As Audine disappeared through the doorway, Terry and the D. came running round from the kitchen-garden.

‘Where’s Moonaswamy?’ asked her mother.

‘By the pineapples,’ replied Terry. ‘Shall I call him?’

‘You can take him a message. Tell him I want some oranges at once. Dear me!’ exclaimed Mrs. Angus Smith, examining the border under the drawing-room window. ‘Where is the new Japanese lily? It was there last evening, and I was sure that it would open this morning.’

She examined the ground more closely, and discovered a bare spot, where the earth had recently been stirred.

‘Someone must have dug it up,’ she cried, disturbed and perplexed.

She glanced at Terry as she fruitlessly hunted in the bed for her lost treasure. The child was regarding her stolidly without offering to assist.

‘Run off and tell Moonaswamy about the oranges,’ cried her mother, abandoning the search.

After breakfast she inquired for the gardener, and was informed that he had gone into the jungle. By the time she had had her afternoon doze and was ready to start with her husband for Cobra Rock, she had forgotten all’ about the missing lily. Matters that were of greater importance occupied her mind.

When she returned, the sun had set; darkness hid the bare spot in the garden bed, and she was not reminded of her loss.

At about ten o’clock in the evening Audine retired, as usual, to her room. Closing the door, she crossed to the dressing-table with the intention of turning up the lamp. As her fingers rested on the lever of the wick, she was startled by hearing her name uttered in a whisper close at her elbow.

‘Miss Stratton! Miss Stratton.’

Before there was time for a reply, Tony, robed in her frilled dressing-gown, rose from behind the table, where she had been hiding, and presented a pale, frightened face in the yellow light of the lamp.

‘Tony!’ exclaimed Audine in some alarm. ‘What’s the matter? Are you ill?’

‘No, Miss Stratton; I’m all right. It is something to do with Terry. I’ve been waiting here ever so long to tell you.’

‘Is she ill?’

‘No—at least, I don’t know. She is gone.’

‘Gone! I thought she was in bed hours ago!’

‘So she was; but she is not in bed now.’

‘Where is she?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve looked everywhere except in the drawing-room and smoking-room.’

‘Have you asked your mother if she has seen her?’

‘Mother is busy with father in the smoking-room, and I don’t like to disturb her. Will you come and look for Terry, please?’

‘With pleasure. Don’t be alarmed. It is impossible for her to have gone far. She is playing a trick upon us, and hopes to give us a fright.’

Through the house they searched for the missing child, but no trace could be found. The appoo had already retired to rest; and the other servants, having closed the kitchen, had gone to their rooms. The dogs were shut up in the little outhouse that served as a kennel, and were quiet, showing that they had not been disturbed by a visit from their little mistress.

Audine roused the appoo, but he could give her no information. She was puzzled, and turned to Lance, who had joined them in the hunt.

‘We must go to your father and mother, and tell them that Terry is missing.’

‘Is it really necessary? I am afraid that they will be annoyed,’ said the boy, who would willingly have shielded his mother from vexation and his sister from punishment.

Audine knocked at the door. It was opened by Mrs. Angus Smith. The room was brightly lighted by an acetylene lamp. Seated at the table, with a half-smoked cigar between his lips, Angus Smith pored over something that was spread out before him in the dazzling light of the lamp. He looked up, and, catching sight of Audine, drew a cloth over the object of his examination.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked his wife in sudden anxiety.

‘Nothing much, I hope. We can’t find Terry,’ replied Audine.

‘Isn’t she in bed?’

‘Not at this moment. She was there two hours and a half ago. I saw her and said good-night just as the dinner-bell rang.’

‘She must be somewhere inside the bungalow,’ remarked Mrs. Angus Smith, coming into the central passage.

It was not until she had hunted in all the rooms and verandas herself that she was convinced of the fact that the child was gone. She returned to the smoking-room.

‘I can’t find Terry anywhere,’ he said to her husband, who had not participated in the search.

‘I’ll tell you where the young rogue is,’ cried Angus Smith, springing from his chair with sudden illumination. ‘She’s down in the lines!’

‘Nonsense, Angus!’ retorted his wife incredulously.

‘I’ll bet she is there. The coolies’ children were doing that kollattee stick-dance this afternoon, and she asked me if she might go and see it. I said no. They are sure to have been at it again this evening, and you may depend upon it that she has invited herself to the tamarsha, and is enjoying it hugely.’

He laughed at the thought of Terry squatting amongst the native women and playing the big lady at the entertainment. His wife, however, did not take the matter so lightly.

‘How tiresome of the little puss!’ she exclaimed, not without a trace of irritation in her voice. ‘We must go at once to the lines and fetch her back.’

‘All right, Alys,’ responded her easy-going better half. ‘Don’t be too hard on the child. She’s the only one of the family except myself who has the true spirit of enterprise. I admit that in her case it is not properly directed; but you mark my words, some day Terry will distinguish herself.’

Thus talking, they went out into the moonlit night, Mrs. Angus Smith wrapping herself in a warm golf-cape, as the night air was sharp and cold.

Lance watched them until they were out of sight.

Turning to Audine, he said:

‘I don’t think that Terry would dare to go as far as the lines.’

‘Where else can she be?’

‘Perhaps she is in the garden. Will you come with me and see.’

‘May I come too?’ asked Tony, following Audine to her room in quest of a shawl.

‘No, Tony. Stay here, or in the drawing-room, where the fire is still alight, and watch for Terry’s return.’

Calling the sleepy appoo, she bade him re-light the lamp, and then, accompanied by Lance, she went down the steps into the garden. The boy took her hand and drew her off the path that led to the factory and the lines. It was evident that he had his own suspicions as to his sister’s whereabouts. Audine allowed herself to be guided, and they passed under the orange-trees towards the kitchen-garden. As they approached the little gate of the enclosure, Lance pointed to the tall tree that sprang from the pineapple bed. Its foliage was illuminated by a red glow thrown upon it by flames beneath.

‘She is there,’ he whispered.

‘Terry in the kitchen-garden at this time of night! Impossible, Lance.’

‘Come and see.’

He opened the gate noiselessly, and they entered, moving quietly up the path towards the pineapples.

Ten yards from the tree Lance held his companion back, and they stood in the shadow of some tall scarlet-runner beans.

A strange sight met the eye of Audine. On each side of the tree were grouped some people, amongst whom she recognised the familiar forms of the lower servants of the bungalow, the Tamil cook and his assistant, the syces, the dog-boy, waterman, and gardeners. In addition, there were several coolies of both sexes from the lines. But of the missing Terry there was no sign. The bright light of the moon cast deep, dark shadows, which were fitfully illuminated by the flickering of the fire near the tree. Its flames reddened the gray trunk and the earnest, awed countenances of the devil-worshippers standing on either side.

A small lamp—a floating wick in a saucer of oil—winked and trembled in the night wind before the stone. Over the shoulders of the stone was wreathed a garland of marigold blossoms, whilst, in hideous contrast to the flowers a decapitated cock lay on the ground close by, its plumage smirched with its own life-blood.

The first part of the ceremony was over, and their remained but the concluding ritual. Not a word was spoken by the worshippers, whose eyes were fixed intently upon the stone.

Moonaswamy, turbanless and bare to the waist, stood before it as pujari. In turn each worshipper approached with a small offering, a little sugar, rice, butter, camphor, sandalwood powder, or fruit. The gardener received the offerings one by one, and placed them on the platform, until the space on each side was covered with green-leaf platters containing neat little heaps of condiments and food. As the gift was deposited, the donor folded his hands in front of him in supplicatory fashion, as when the inferior entreats the favour of the superior.

Lastly, Moonaswamy took up the head of the cock and laid it in a conspicuous position before the stone, at the same time chanting in a low voice some propitiatory muntrums.

At this juncture there was a little stir among the servants, and Terry, clad in her crimson dressing-gown, with a white shawl draped about her person in native fashion, issued from their midst. In her hand she bore the missing Japanese lily in all the beauty of perfect bloom. She advanced towards Moonaswamy, who took the flower reverently with both hands, lifting it to the level of his forehead. Kneeling down, he placed it in the beak of the cock, whilst the child, with characteristic temerity, stood a little behind him. She folded her hands as she had seen the rest of the company fold theirs, and raised her eyes fearlessly to the foliage above, where the other worshippers had not dared to look. With the curiosity that dominated all other emotions, she gazed upwards, half hoping that she might see the dreaded spirit to whom she had presented the most cherished flower her mother possessed.

Moonaswamy, having prostrated himself, rose and went to the fire. During the offering of the gifts his brother had been tending an earthen pot on the glowing embers, in which was some boiling oil. Dipping a ladle into the seething mass, the pujari anointed the devil-stone, chanting his muntrums in a low voice, whilst the people muttered under their breath.

There was no tomtom, no loud calling upon the demon, as would have been the case had they been in their own villages on the plains of India. The master, with his family, was supposed to be sleeping in the bungalow. It would not be wise to disturb him or rouse the anger of the mistress in any way, lest she should again threaten the swamy. The propitiation had been complete. Every soul upon the estate had been represented, consciously or unconsciously. Even the scornful Singhalese appoo had been remembered by the cook, who had offered on his behalf some lump sugar, purloined from the afternoon tea sugar-basin; and, lastly, the master and mistress themselves had been fully personated by the little missie, who had been moved, not only to be present, but to bring an offering for the mistress in the shape of her most cherished flower. Surely such complete pujah must propitiate the evil heart of the devil.

At first sight of Terry, Audine made an involuntary movement forward, with the intention of breaking in upon the gathering, and forcibly leading the child away. But Lance’s fingers gripped hers like a vice.

‘Be quiet, please—oh, please, Miss Stratton, keep still, or there will be trouble,’ pleaded the boy in an agonized whisper.

Having no experience of the coolies and their temper under religious excitement, prudence suggested that she should comply with his request. As soon as the pot of oil was empty, Lance went forward, knowing that the ceremonies were nearly at an end. Threading his way through the group of servants from behind, he caught Terry by the hand.

‘Come indoors to bed, Terry. Mother will be so angry,’ he said.

The mention of her mother conquered the impulse to resist, and she allowed herself to be drawn away from the worshippers, who were still watching by the stone in the dim light of the lamp, half-expectant of a manifestation of satisfaction on the part of the demon.

The presence of the little master did not escape the notice of the assembly, but they studiously avoided all sign of recognition, counting it another piece of good fortune that he should be drawn there at such a propitious moment.

Audine hurried the child along the garden path without a word. The little drama she had just witnessed had been so utterly strange that she was dumb with surprise and wonder. As they passed through the gate, the light of the lamp was extinguished and the fire was dispersed. The devil-worshippers seemed to melt away into the moonlit landscape, and there was not a single trace left of the wild scene upon which she had gazed five minutes ago. For a few seconds she looked back at the tree, wondering for a moment if her imagination had played her a trick. The sight of Terry being led by Lance to the bungalow convinced her of the truth of what she had seen, and that it was not a vision.

A little later Angus Smith and his wife returned.

‘The lines were all in darkness, and there was no sign of dancing or of Terry,’ was the information they had to offer.

‘She is here safe and sound,’ announced Audine.

‘That’s all right!’ exclaimed Angus Smith, relieved at the thought of there being no further necessity to hunt for his errant daughter. Turning out into the cold was not to his mind.

‘Where was she?’ asked his wife.

‘In the kitchen-garden.’

Mrs. Angus Smith hurried to the bedroom, where the children were by this time both in bed, whilst Lance stood at the door, wondering how his mother would take the latest vagary of his sister.

‘What have you been doing in the garden so late as this, Terry? I wonder that you are not afraid to be out in the dark.’

‘Moonaswamy and I have been making sakerifice,’ boldly averred the child, without any beating about the bush, at the same time bracing herself up to meet the storm of displeasure which she was conscious of provoking.

‘What?’ cried Mrs. Angus Smith in horror.

‘We have been making sakerifice to the tree-devil. Moonaswamy gave his best cook, and I gave your best flower to save you. He put the flower in the mouth of the cock, and laid it before the stone for the devil to eat. After he has eaten it he will go to sleep, and not bother us again for ever so long; Moonaswamy says so.’

‘I am afraid that I shall have to punish you, Terry,’ said her mother, looking very severe.

‘I had to do it to save you and the orchids,’ replied the child with the sigh of a martyr. ‘I suppose you will have to put me sick again.’

The perplexed mother turned away with a gesture of impatience, saying more to herself than to the culprit:

‘I really must scold the gardener. I have half a mind to have the tree out down. It seems the only way to stop all this rubbish.’

Terry caught every word of her utterance, and replied with startling vehemence:

‘If you cut the tree down, Moonaswamy says that all the luck will go out of the garden and out of the jungle, out of the river, and out of the soil.’

‘Oh, bother!’ ejaculated her mother. ‘Go to sleep, all of you, and to-morrow I shall have to talk seriously to Terry.’

It was all very well to call the folly of the heathen ‘nonsense’ and ‘rubbish,’ and to vow that she would put an end to it by cutting down the tree. Heathen superstitions were not to be extinguished by such drastic measures, and she recognised the fact that it would be highly impolitic to injure the tree in any way.

Terry’s voice again sounded in her ear: ‘I need not be put sick before breakfast, need I, mother?’ she asked plaintively. ‘I am always so hungry after my morning walk. We caught a hare to-day, and it is to be stewed for breakfast. I am so fond of stewed hare.’

The little voice quivered, and the mother’s heart was melted.

‘You need not be put sick at all, you foolish monkey! It is my fault for not sending you home to school,’ replied Mrs. Angus Smith, with a sudden laugh, as the humour of the situation overcame her concern.

She was shrewd enough to be aware that it was best for Terry to forget the incident, if possible, and not to have it magnified by making it an occasion for punishment.

The next day she had something to say to Moonaswamy. He took the scolding undisturbed, as there was no mention made of felling the tree. The deed was done; the propitiation of the devil had been effected, and rough words did not matter. His brother would throw off the fever that afflicted him, and the operations of his master and mistress in the seclusion of the jungle might be prosecuted without fear of further misfortune. Though she did not spare her servant when she poured reproaches on his head, she refrained from speaking slightingly of his swamy and of his ceremonies.

What she wished to impress upon his mind was that Miss Terry was not to take part again, or even be a witness, in the performance of pujah to a heathen demon.

Fleetwood gave his house-warming in January. His small rooms were filled to overflowing, though the ladies were not included in the invitations. He himself was astonished at the hearty response with which those invitations were met. Modest and self-contained, he had no suspicion that he held so high a place in the estimation of his friends. It was a pleasant surprise when they rallied round him, and echoed their good wishes for his welfare.

Marriner came in for congratulations and some good-natured chaff on his approaching wedding. But the tone adopted was not so genial and hearty as that used towards his assistant. Yet Marriner was not disliked in any way, and the men he met were all friendly and disposed to be pleasant. He was in exceptionally good spirits and on excellent terms with himself, having that very morning received a letter from Mr. Goodlad, in reply to one from himself announcing that he and Audine were to be married early in February. Mr. Goodlad asked that a wire might be sent immediately after the wedding. On receipt of the telegram, he promised to pay into Marriner’s banking account the sum of sixty thousand pounds. This would enable Marriner to write a cheque for Nayland any day after the wedding that he pleased.

By the same post the old lawyer sent his congratulations to Audine, and enclosed a draft for a sum of money that would amply cover any expenses she might incur over her trousseau. Up to the present Mrs. Angus Smith, with generous kindness, had insisted on supplementing Audine’s slender purse. The final difficulty was thus removed from the path of Marriner and his fiancée, and his heart was light with pleasant anticipation.

The whole district far and near was taking an interest in the coming event. As for the children, it absorbed their attention day and night, no one having been married within their recollection. There was, however, one thorn with the rose. Their dear Miss Stratton had made a mistake, a terrible mistake, in not having chosen Fleetwood instead of Marriner. How could she have been so short-sighted? Lance and Tony reconciled themselves to the circumstances, since there seemed to be no way of altering them; but Terry, with her enterprise and pertinacity, found an opportunity of laying the matter before Fleetwood himself.

‘If me and the D. led Miss Stratton into the jungle again,’ said Terry, innocent of grammar, ‘couldn’t you pounce out on her like a cheetah and carry her off, and tell her that you would make the leeches eat her if she didn’t promise to marry you instead of Mr. Marriner? The D. and I would help.’

‘I am afraid that it isn’t possible, Terry. She promised her cousin long, long ago that she would be his wife, and now she must keep her promise.’

He picked her up and kissed her, with shining eyes.

‘Oh, do try, and we will get Moonaswamy and his demon to help as well.’

‘Dear little Terry! you mustn’t speak of such things. Promise me that you will think no more about it.’

‘All right; I suppose I must shut up. But it’s a pity.’

And Terry slid down to the ground out of his arms, and went her way with the yellow dog.

The hunt promised by Spondon was postponed by the advent of the monsoon. Now that the rains were over, the men were eager that it should take place.

The owner and master of the hounds was quite ready to meet their wishes. The matter was discussed at Fleetwood’s bungalow on the day of his party.

You won’t be able to put anyone up now, Marriner,’ said Spondon. You must be in a state of transition.’

‘I think that I could manage it, though I warn you that I am not such a good hand at catering as Fleetwood,’ replied Marriner good-naturedly.

‘There is room for a couple of men here, if one of them doesn’t mind a sofa,’ said Fleetwood.

Angus Smith, who was listening, offered a small bachelor’s room to a friend who lived below Grassendale. The offer was gratefully accepted. There only remained to fix a day that was convenient to all, which was done.

‘You must be at the top of the ridge behind the Government reserves not later than half-past five,’ said Spondon.

‘I can lend you a horse,’ remarked Angus Smith to the man he had invited. Fleetwood, you have no mount. Would you like to use the cob?’

‘Thanks, I should be glad, if you’re not riding him yourself.’

‘I am not going to hunt; I don’t care about getting up so early. Don’t put the cob into a wash, as the wind strikes cold up on the ridge. I’m giving him to Miss Stratton for a wedding present. She has taken such a fancy for him.’

‘It’s pretty cold at night up here now,’ observed Marriner.

‘Yes; it will try our young rubber plants,’ said Grassendale.

The mere mention of the word was sufficient to raise a buzz of conversation, and sport was forgotten for the moment. The discussion continued until Fleetwood called for the card-tables, and started his guests at playing bridge. Angus Smith cut in eagerly with the apologetic remark:

‘I don’t often indulge in cards, but a game now and then is a great pleasure.’

‘I believe you really enjoy a bit of a gamble,’ said Fleetwood with good-natured chaff, as he saw the light come into the eye of the other man.

‘You are right!’ he exclaimed. ‘But it isn’t only cards that fascinate me; I’m a born speculator by nature. A planter is the very last thing I ought to have been.’

‘Ah, ha! old man!’ cried Grassendale, ‘don’t pretend that you haven’t had your little fling in rubber. I believe you’re a dark horse, and have got your fist on to something good.’

There was a laugh in which the other men joined, as well as Angus Smith himself. He replied lightly:

‘Perhaps I have; perhaps I haven’t.’

Then the play began in earnest, and rubber was not mentioned again for the space of two hours at least.

It was late when Fleetwood’s guests departed. As they rose from the card-tables and helped themselves to a final drink before starting, the conversation once more flowed to sport and tea, rubber, cardamoms and tobacco, labour and exchange.

‘I say, Grassendale, have your men on Periya been gemming much of late?’ someone asked.

‘Not that I know of. The monsoon must have choked them off. But now that the river is down again, I have no doubt that the dhobies will all be washing out the contents of the water-holes. As far as I am concerned, they are quite welcome to do so, as long as they wash my clothes properly.’

‘Angus Smith, have you been troubled that way?’

‘Not in the least. I’m rather short-handed, and the coolies have enough to do to get through their tasks. Have you heard anything lately?’

‘More tales about finds,’ replied the first speaker.

‘Of what?’

‘Cat’s-eyes and sapphires, and very fine ones too, report says.’

‘Where do the tales originate?’ inquired Marriner.

‘In Kandy, where the stones are sold. I was down there the other day, and I saw a beautiful cat’s-eye, which the owner assured me came from this district.’

‘Who is offering them for sale?’ asked Angus Smith.

‘Natives—well-to-do, respectable natives, who are not of the dhoby jât.’

‘There must be some extensive washing going on up the other valley beyond Puloya,’ said Angus Smith.

‘Have you heard anything about it, Hapland?’

Hapland was engrossed in conversation with Larch, who was suggesting that Nora might like to come up for the hunt. Mrs. Spondon would be sure to go out that morning, as the meet was near her house, and it would be an opportunity for Miss Hapland to join. He thought that he could answer for Mrs. Spondon putting her up for the night.

When the drift of the discussion had been explained to Hapland, he could not help them to a solution of the mystery. For all he knew, there might be a sapphire mine in full working order above Puloya; but, as it was not on the estate he managed, he did not trouble himself about such matters, or whether the reports were true or false.

‘Are there any old workings in this district?’ asked the man who had first started the subject. He had lately arrived from England with his head full of new and original plans for developing the numerous resources of the island, gemming being one of them.

‘I’ve been told that there are any number of old pits on the patana above the Government reserves, where you’re going to hunt. Ask Spondon; he can tell you,’ said Grassendale.

I’ve come across a few here and there, when I’ve been out with the hounds—water-holes they are now; but I should not say that there were a great number,’ replied Spondon.

‘What are they like?’ asked the man, with increasing interest.

‘Just square or oblong excavations from four to ten feet deep, which have been cut in the grass land, and now they are usually full of water,’ said the owner of the hounds. You’ll see some if you come out hunting with us; and mind you don’t fall into one as you’re running after the hounds. Nasty work crawling out of a water-hole on a cold January morning, I can tell you.’

‘The soil from those patanas is washed down through the Government reserves past Galla and Nagatenne,’ remarked Grassendale. ‘Marriner, have you caught your coolies gemming by the river?’

‘Yes, I have; and I’ve punished them, too.’

‘I fancy that they must have begun again,’ said Grassendale.

‘They don’t do any harm,’ interrupted Fleetwood.

‘I take care that the work is not shirked; and if they snatch a little gemming out of hours, it really doesn’t matter.’

‘But I say it does!’ exclaimed Marriner with some heat. ‘I’ll give the next fellow I catch a lesson that he won’t forget in a hurry.’

‘I think that you have made that promise before,’ laughed Fleetwood, as he shook hands with his departing guests.

‘Twelve o’clock, by Jove!’ cried Grassendale, holding out his watch. ‘And most of us have to be up before sunrise. I’m too old to be burning the candle at both ends in this way.’

Chapter XVII

Audine received an invitation from Mrs. Spondon to join the party made up for the hunt. But she declined it. Marriner was not going—a sufficient reason in itself. There were other reasons besides. Parcels had arrived from Colombo which she was eager to unpack.

Among them was the wedding dress and the little bridesmaids’ frocks, all of which required fitting on.

Moreover, since her adventure in the jungle with the leeches, she had felt no desire to penetrate further than the beautiful glade where the terrestrial orchids grew.

Nothing could be more lovely, in her opinion, than the forest at this spot, and she was content to make it the limit of her excursions.

But though she refused for herself, she remembered Lance and his boyish ambition to be one of a hunting-party. She proposed that he should join Mrs. Spondon instead of herself. Mrs. Angus Smith made no difficulty, and it was arranged that he should go with Fleetwood and their guest, ride up to the meet with them, and be handed over to Mrs. Spondon to follow an easier line of country than would be taken by the men.

At four in the morning—it seemed like the depth of the night to Lance—the appoo called him and the man who was staying at Nagatenne for that night. They breakfasted by lamplight, Mrs. Angus Smith appearing in a long, flowing tea-gown just before they finished.

Tony and Terry, hearing Lance moving, also got up, and hastily dressing, crept into the dimly-lighted room, eager to see their brother off.

The boy was too much excited to be able to eat a good meal; but the appoo, careful for his little master’s welfare, provided him with a packet of sandwiches, which would prove acceptable during the wait by the river for the bay.

The mare was ready for the use of the guest. Lance was to ride the Rat, and the cob was saddled for Fleetwood. As they rose from the breakfast-table they heard his voice outside. Mrs. Angus Smith went to the door, opened it, and looked out into the moonlit world.

‘Good-morning, Mrs. Angus Smith,’ cried Fleetwood. ‘You are up betimes.’

He stepped inside, and stood on the threshold of the dining-room, where the breakfast was laid. Tony and Terry ran to greet him.

‘Hallo, little people! you up as well? Are you ready, Lance?’

‘He is quite ready and eager to be off; so are the horses. Where are your friends?’

‘They are all mounted, and have gone on in front.’

The little assembly trailed down the steps on to the gravel walk, where the horses stood champing their bits impatiently in the crisp air.

‘Lance,’ cried Terry, as the boy put his foot in the stirrup, ‘you have forgotten the dogs.’

‘We can’t take them out this morning; they don’t understand this kind of hunting, and the hounds might fight with them.’

‘Oh, poor doggies! The D. will be so disappointed, and I promised him last night that he should go.’

But no one paid any attention to Terry’s remark, all being absorbed in starting or in watching the start.

The three riders clattered along the gravel path leading up behind the bungalow, and were soon threading their way through the tea.

The air was cold, and the moon, just beginning to bend towards the west, cast sharp lights over the dewy foliage of the tea-bushes, the glistening leaves reflecting back innumerable points of silver.

As they breasted the hill, the coldness of the atmosphere increased to a frosty chilliness. It caused the horses to sneeze and toss their heads impatiently, as they felt the restraining bit that controlled their pace to the steady trot necessary on the narrow paths of the estate.

Nagatenne was left behind, and they traversed the upper slopes of Larch’s property. There were lights in the distant bungalow, but he had already set out and was ahead of them. From his land they entered a tract of jungle where the road gave the horses a stiff climb as it zigzagged up the mountain. The track led them out on to a grassy, undulating plateau, intersected by quiet streams of crystal clearness. It resembled a beautiful park, the horizon being bound by magnificent hills clothed in forest.

Here and there a rhododendron bush threw out its rugged gray arms, supporting stiff, sombre foliage that bore masses of blossom of a glorious crimson colour, eclipsing every other flower of the forest. Patches of jungle embowered the mountain streams where they fell away to a lower elevation; but the forest, whether crowning the hills or covering the slopes, never straggled. Where it ceased, it ceased abruptly, the giants standing shoulder to shoulder on one side, whilst they exposed their gray trunks to the patana on the other. The gnarled and twisted branches, laden with moss and ferns and lichen, stretched over the coarse grass land, the ‘old-man’s-beard’ depending in long, unkempt trails that swayed in the wind.

There was a rustling in the grass by Lance’s side. The boy was not nervously inclined, but, remembering the existence of such creatures as cheetahs in the jungle, he touched the Rat, and pushed up to Fleetwood, who was twenty yards ahead.

‘There is some animal following close at my heels. I can’t make out, in the dim twilight, what it is,’ he said.

Fleetwood pulled up, and peered round about him.

The rustling instantly ceased. He waited a few minutes, and one of the syces joined them.

‘Is there a jackal anywhere about?’ he asked.

None, sir; but the little master’s dog is here.’

The man made a dash at something crouching in the grass, and drew forth the D. by the scruff of his neck.

‘How troublesome of Terry!’ exclaimed Lance in a tone of real vexation. ‘She must have let the dog loose after we left, and he has followed us here. Mr. Spondon will be so angry. What shall we do with him, Mr. Fleetwood?’

‘Don’t worry yourself about the brute, Lance. I will take charge of him, and I don’t think that he will give us any trouble. If it had been the spaniels or that Irish terrier, I should not have been so easy in my mind. Come along, or we shall be late.’

They pressed on at a good pace, the country being fairly level and the track good. Though not actually late, they were the last to arrive at the spot arranged for the meet. The moon was beginning to pale with the gray light of dawn appearing in the east. The jungle was still dark and sombre; but the master of the hounds was already busy looking for fresh tracks of deer.

The horses were handed over to the syces as soon as they came up, with directions to lead them to the Spondons’ bungalow, where the animals would be fed, and would wait until they were required for the journey back in the afternoon.

‘You two ladies and Lance must go off at once to the river,’ said Spondon. ‘Larch will escort you and show you the way—won’t you, Larch?’

‘With pleasure; and I will take my two long dogs with me,’ replied Mervyn with alacrity.

‘Under Mr. Larch’s guidance, Miss Hapland, you will have a good chance of seeing a bay and perhaps the kill. I shall do my best to prevent the hounds from running down towards the Galla swamps.’

Larch took his deer-hounds from the dog-boy, and started off at once, Nora walking by his side, and Lance keeping close to Mrs. Spondon. That lady, to her great grief, had no children. Lance was just the kind of companionable boy she would have delighted to have possessed.

As they disappeared into the dimness of the morning, Spondon entered the jungle, beckoning to the dog-boys to bring on the hounds. The main body of the pack were English fox-hounds; but, in addition to these, there were some larger dogs, deer and boar hounds, with one or two Australian kangaroo-hounds. These animals, familiarly known as the long dogs, were held in leash, and were not let loose until the pack had done it work and brought the stag to bay.

Fleetwood borrowed a spare ‘lead’ from one of the dog-boys, and secured the yellow dog, fearing to let him run free, lest there should be a racket as soon as the hounds discovered the presence of a strange pariah amongst their numbers. The dog gave no trouble whatever, and kept close to heel, content with sniffing in the situation without obtruding himself in the least.

At the end of a quarter of an hour there was a whimpering cry from one of the hounds, in which two or three others joined. The horn sounded, and presently the pack broke out into the music that no sportsman can hear without a thrill. Away they went up the sloping side of one of the great hills that bordered the patana.

The men, following after them, took up a steady trot, guided along the game-tracks by the deep notes of the hounds.

The jungle was moist with the dew of the night, and exhaled a fresh scent of opening blossom. Birds began to twitter preparatory to breaking out into song, and the soaring eagle screamed above the rocky peak, where it had built its nest, as it foraged for a morning meal for its young. The sky was changing swiftly from pearly gray to the azure of the tropics.

Larch and his party stepped out briskly in the cool air, not sorry to set up a healthy glow in chilly hands and feet. The route they followed offered no difficulties, and there was no fear of leeches so high up.

But Nora had long ago lost her horror of them, and she had also learned how to clothe herself protectively against their onslaughts.

‘We will go round that hill,’ said Larch presently, indicating a jungle-crowned point in front; ‘and we will make our way to the Amba Falls. With luck, they ought to find in that jungle, and the elk is nearly sure to come down to the river and bay in the pool just below the falls.’

The golden rays of the sun touched the forest, bringing the gray trunks of the trees into sharp prominence, and causing the rhododendrons to blaze suddenly with rosy splashes of colour.

‘Isn’t it lovely, Mr. Larch?’ said Nora in a low voice, as she drew in a deep breath of pleasure.

‘Most beautiful,’ he replied, with the same appreciation. ‘I ride up here sometimes in the afternoon, when my work is done, just to enjoy the scenery.’

‘There is something more than mere scenery to enjoy,’ replied the girl quickly.

‘Yes, I am conscious that there is something else besides the scenery that gets hold of me. What is it?’

‘It is the glorious sense of possession that we feel when we look at all this.’ She swept her hand round towards patana and jungle. ‘For the moment, at least, all this is ours—yours and mine, Mr. Spondon’s, even Lance’s—and no one can warn us off.’

‘That’s it; you have hit it exactly,’ he replied, grateful to her for having given his inward convictions expression. ‘It’s the beauty, the environment, and the sense of possession, that makes us love this island.’

‘A poor place it would be without that environment,’ she continued. ‘It is the chief charm of Ceylon—sweet fresh air, beautiful scenery, a glorious sun, and lovely flowers—they all fascinate us, whether we are up here, or on the tea estates, or down by the warm blue sea and the cocoanut-palms. Life in Ceylon is splendid.’

He looked at the girl, glowing with the vitality of a young, healthy nature, pulsing with appreciation, and revelling in her capacity for enjoyment. As she talked, she moved easily by his side, her kilted skirt swaying in her stride, just showing the dark-blue puttees that bound her neat ankles.

‘Don’t you want to go back to England sometimes, and have a look round at the theatres, the picture-galleries, or even the shops?’ he asked.

‘It would be pleasant to have a peep at them. But I could never settle down in the old country for good. Think of the hedges and boundaries and restrictions, the “Private road,” “Trespassers will be prosecuted,” and “No admittance” boards that hem you in on every side.’

He laughed, encouraging her to go on.

‘Here we are free, and for all purposes of sport we may call the land ours, without the necessity of a gang of gamekeepers to protect our rights,’ she said.

‘We should need to be millionaires to own any sporting rights of like kind in the old country,’ he observed.

‘And in addition to these privileges we have a sense of home in Ceylon which is not felt in any other colony of the East. Did you ever know a Ceylon man who was not full of genuine regret at leaving the island?’

‘Never; and, what is more, after we have fêted the retiring planter on the assurance that he is going for good, and given him a magnificent send-off according to our time-honoured traditions, I’m blessed if the fellow doesn’t turn up again at the end of four or five years, with the lame excuse that he has come back just to have a look round for a little investment that he wants to make!’

‘And quite right, too, when he hears the island call him,’ said Nora. ‘What wonderful air this is! It is impossible to feel tired in it. There is only one thing more that I should desire on such a morning as this.’

‘What is that?’ he asked.

‘A pair of wings; I want to fly. Walking is too tame; even riding—if it were possible over this ground, which it isn’t—would seem slow.’

‘You would dispense with a guide, and follow the hunt independent of a mere masculine escort.’

There was a challenge in his eye as it met hers.

‘I didn’t say that,’ she protested.

‘Then, you would allow me wings too?’

‘Certainly; it would be selfish to monopolize the new attainment. Besides, I am of a gregarious nature; I like company’

‘So do I,’ he responded quickly. ‘Not only is it pleasant in the hunting-field, but I like it in other pursuits. Unfortunately, I don’t get it,’ he added, as she glanced into his face.

‘That, I imagine, is your own fault,’ she rejoined, with a twinkle in her eye. ‘Any day, for the asking, you could have the companionship of a—’ She paused, and, lifting a warning finger, uttered the word ‘Hark!’

High up in the sunlit forest there sounded the deep baying of a distant hound. The long dogs whined, beginning to tremble with excitement in their slender limbs.

‘They have found, and are working down the side of the hill to the river, as we hoped. We must hurry on to our hiding-place before the stag breaks cover,’ said Larch, glancing back towards Mrs. Spondon and Lance, who were about twenty yards behind them.

They, too, had caught the sound, and were quickening their steps.

‘Well?—to finish what you were saying. For the asking, I could have the companionship of—what?’

‘Of a dog; and then you need never complain again of being lonely.’

She laughed provokingly, and ran on in front, taking no notice of the utterance of her name that fell in expostulation from his lips.


Mrs. Spondon and Lance caught them up, and together they descended a steep, grassy slope towards the river. The Amba Falls were about two hundred yards further down. Larch led his little party to a rock that cropped out of the declivity some fifty feet above the river bank. They seated themselves on a shelf, where they were partially screened by a rhododendron bush. To their left was the hill, stretching in broad sweeps up towards the blue sky, its feet clothed in verdant grass, its shoulders and head shrouded in forest. On their right flowed the river, widening into glassy pools that reflected the azure of the heavens and the flaming crimson of the rhododendrons. The gentle thunder of the waterfall was not sufficient to drown the distant note of the hounds.

By common consent, there was no more talking.

Even the long dogs seemed to understand intuitively the necessity for keeping perfectly still, lest the quarry, breaking out of the jungle, should be headed back again.

It was some time before there was any indication that the elk had bethought himself of the necessity of making for the river. He clung to the hill courageously, hoping vainly to throw off his pursuers without having to leave its shelter. But the full meal which he had made in the silver moonlight on the grassy patana began to tell on his wind, and he felt that his powers of fleeing were each moment slowly ebbing away.

The tonguing of the hounds grew louder, and they descended the hill. Lance, trembling with the excitement of the moment, placed his hand in Mrs. Spondon’s, whilst his eye sought hers with eager inquiry.

Nora and Larch—both possessed of the true sporting instincts—were straining their eyes on the edge of the forest, which touched the patana with the customary sharp line of demarcation. All other matters were forgotten in the absorbing interest of the moment.

There was a snapping of twigs and a crackling amongst the undergrowth above the rock where they were seated. Lance made an involuntary movement, but Mrs. Spondon held him fast. The long dogs quivered, and gently raised themselves on to their feet. With a leap that cleared the undergrowth, the stag suddenly burst into view, alighting in the grass, bewildered with the dazzling rays of the sun. For a few seconds he was either too blown or too dazed to move. Then, turning down the valley, he trotted heavily away in a slanting direction over the grassy descent towards the falls.

‘He is badly winded, and won’t last long,’ whispered Larch, as he set free the two long dogs.

They went away in a rapid gallop, pursuing the stag by sight and not by scent. The party slipped from their seat on the rook, and followed behind.

A little later the hounds and two or three more long dogs emerged from the jungle, picked up the scent, and took the same line as the stag. After them came Spondon and other members of the hunt.

The seizers released by Larch quickly gained on the stag as it galloped heavily onwards, and one of them leaped at his head in an endeavour to reach his ear. A sudden thrust of the cloven hoof, and the long dog was hurled back into the grass with a bruised shoulder. The stag put on a spurt, and before the second seizer could act on the offensive, he plunged into the river, and swam for dear life towards the silver cascade that tumbled over the wall of rock. With this wall of rock and foaming water at his back, the noble animal made his stand, fighting his assailants with his pointed hoofs, sending the long dogs back into the water, and keeping the hounds at a respectful distance.

It would not do to allow the stag to recover his wind.

Two or three men approached, wading through the water; and whilst the seizers renewed their attack, the hunting-knife did its work. The stag fell never to rise again.

Gradually the party gathered on the river bank, most of the men arriving in time to see the final act.

Spondon counted his hounds.

‘There are three couple missing,’ he said, as he blew his horn again and again.

‘And the men are not all here, either,’ remarked someone else.

‘The pack probably divided on the top of the hill, and those six hounds have gone off on another scent. What a nuisance!’ exclaimed the master.

‘And the missing men must have followed.’

‘Who is missing?’

‘Fleetwood and young Grey. Hallo! here comes Grey. Where’s Fleetwood? Is he behind you?’

‘I passed him ever so long ago on the other aide of the hill,’ panted Grey as he came up. ‘He was taking a thorn out of the foot of that brute of a pariah he had with him.’

‘I can’t think what induced him to bring a dog like that on an elk-hunt. He is no earthly use in tonguing or seizing or for scent,’ remarked Spondon.

‘Mr. Fleetwood didn’t bring him,’ said Lance, speaking up for his absent friend. ‘My sister let the dog loose after we started; and when we discovered what she had done, it was too late to take him back. I wanted to have charge of him, but Mr. Fleetwood thought that he might be troublesome, and so kept him himself.’

‘Your sister is a little imp of mischief,’ remarked Spondon. with a smile. The Angus Smith children were pretty well known in the district.

‘That’s Terry, I’m sure,’ cried Nora, her eyes sparkling with merriment as they met those of Larch.

‘Miss Hapland, the head belongs to you. Lance, would you like to have the scut?’ asked Spondon.

The boy’s cheek flushed with colour as he accepted the offer, pleased beyond measure to have a trophy of the hunt to carry home. The tired hunters threw themselves on the grass, whilst the dog-boys coupled up the hounds. Spondon took out his watch.

It’s half-past eight. You have nice time to get back to the bungalow, a four-mile walk. I must go and look for the lost hounds.’

‘Let me come with you,’ said Larch. ‘The other men are tired, and I have done nothing.’ He went over to where Nora Was standing. ‘We shall meet at breakfast,’ he whispered.

Slipping the leashes on to the collars of his long dogs, he handed them over to Lance to lead home, to the great delight of the boy, and hurried after Spondon, who was already on his way towards the jungle.

The clock had not struck ten when the hunting-party arrived at the bungalow. Mrs. Spondon dispensed coffee and drinks, with biscuits and cigars. Easy-chairs were in request in the smoking-room, and as the blue spirals ascended the battle was fought again.

Spondon and Larch entered just as the bell rang for breakfast.

‘Don’t wait for us,’ he said. ‘We will be with you directly.’

‘Have you found the hounds?’ asked Mrs. Spondon.

‘All but one, and I have left a dog-boy to look for him.’

‘Which one is it?’

‘Old Merryman; he is getting stupid in his old age, but he will turn up all right.’

‘What happened to draw them off the scent?’

‘As I thought: they followed a fresh scent, and broke away in an opposite direction. The stag—which, as far as I could make out, was a young one—took a line for the Government reserves above Galla. I’m precious glad that we were not drawn down there. As it was, we ran in exactly the opposite direction. By-the-by, has Fleetwood turned up?’

‘No,’ replied Mrs. Spondon.

‘Is his horse here?’

‘I believe so.’

‘Oh, well, he’ll come in soon, I dare say. I’m tired, and I shall be awfully glad of my breakfast.’

Chapter XVIII

When Fleetwood entered the jungle with the rest of the hunt he met with no difficulty for the first half-hour after the find. Some of the men passed him when he breasted the hill to mount over the shoulder. The pace up the steep slope with the rough going told on his lungs in the rarefied air. It was a higher elevation than that to which he was accustomed on Galla.

The D. behaved well, keeping up easily, without making any attempt to break away. They were still ascending when the yellow dog began to limp and hold back. Fleetwood examined the tender paw, and discovered a thorn, which he immediately set to work to remove. It took a few minutes, during which two more men passed him, panting too much to speak. In front of them the hounds, still on this side of the hill, were steadily tonguing; but the music was growing fainter. As the pack crossed the top of the ridge and followed the scent on the opposite side, the sound of their notes was lost altogether.

Fleetwood plunged along the narrow game tracks, crashing here and there through obstructive old nilloo stems that trellised across the path. At the end of another ten minutes he suddenly became aware of the fact that the cry of the hounds was no longer audible. He stopped to listen, wondering if he was taking the right direction.

The jungle, which was now bathed in the full light of the sun, was still and silent. The undergrowth walled him in on every side, so that he had no chance of examining the surrounding country. He had lost the crest of the hill, and could not tell whether he was climbing straight up or was following a slanting line; the numerous dips and gullies were also confusing All at once the voice of a hound rang out on his right, not so very far away. He retraced his steps a short distance, remembering that he had lately passed a game track that branched off in the direction of the tonguing hound. It was not easy going. The undergrowth, chiefly consisting of strobilanthes, the nilloo of Ceylon, was of some years’ growth. The strong stems, thrown up some fifteen to twenty feet in height, stood as thick as willows in a willow-bed. Through this thicket the game tracks passed from upland to river, from forest to the feeding-grounds on the patanas. Occupied as he was in determining his route, he had time to note that the nilloo was not far from flowering. When the strobilanthes blossoms—which is only once in eleven or twelve years—the jungle fowl congregate to feast upon the seed, and afford sport that may be compared with battue shooting in the coverts at home.

Guided by the occasional note of a hound, he persevered, expecting every minute to come up with some of the men who had passed him.

The sun mounted higher, but it did not penetrate through the dense nilloo that surrounded him. Overhead the doon-trees reared their magnificent crowns of foliage; and Fleetwood, looking up, caught glimpses of the blue sky through the interlacing branches and the weeping old-man’s-beard.

The fitful tonguing of the hounds ceased as suddenly as it began, and Fleetwood, ever hurrying along the path which seemed to him to have been chosen by the pack, came at last to a standstill to get his breath. As he stood between the walls of nilloo, enveloped in the silence of the forest, a terrible conviction stole over his mind. He had lost the hounds, lost his companions, and lost himself.

He felt in his waistcoat pocket for the little compass that he usually carried when by rare chance he was out hunting. It was not there, and he remembered that in the confusion of moving it had been mislaid or stolen by one of the servants.

‘It doesn’t matter, after all,’ he said to himself. ‘I can make my way by the sun.’

Taking out his pipe, he lighted it; at least, he might give himself that consolation. Then he looked at his watch. It was half-past seven. He could scarcely believe that he had been travelling through the jungle for nearly two solid hours, and at a steady pace, too, in spite of the stoppages. As he smoked, he strained his ears to catch the note of a hound, but the silence was unbroken save for the barbets, woodpeckers, and pigeons.

The next point to be considered was, not the picking up of the scent again—he gave up all hope of that—but the discovery of a way out of the jungle. His horse and his breakfast were awaiting him at Spondon’s bungalow, and the bungalow, therefore, should be his goal at this time in the morning, if he required two solid hours to walk back to it. It was obvious that he must at once retrace his steps.

But this was easier said than done. Every now and then the track branched where he had no recollection of having seen any branch before. Sometimes it descended and crossed a stream which he could not recall.

At other points it led him under a steep bit of rock—shrouded in the nilloo—that was strange and unfamiliar.

He released the yellow dog, finding that he showed no inclination to stray away, but was content to stick to his temporary master, sniffing continuously in his low-bred pariah fashion. The long black muzzle was pushed now on one side of Fleetwood’s legs, now on the other, as he trod close at his companion’s heels.

Another hour passed in steady tramping. Still the nilloo hedged in the traveller, and the great trees extended their green aisles around him.

‘I ought by this time to be getting near the patana above Spondon’s bungalow,’ he said to himself, as he plodded on. I seem to have descended through as much jungle as I climbed before I turned back.’

At every bend in the path he confidently expected to break out into the open, but the opening never came.

Now and again he stopped to listen for some guiding sound, and to examine the direction of the sun and the wind. At nine o’clock he arrived at a spot where the track once again branched, one path ascending, the other dipping downwards in a sharp slope. Quite sure that he had gone sufficiently low down to reach the elevation of Spondon’s domicile, he took the upper track, and began rather wearily to climb once more.

His steps were arrested by a dismal howl from the D. He stopped and whistled to the dog, without result.

Going back a few yards, he saw the D. sitting on his haunches, wagging his long, thin tail, and performing a kind of step-dance with his fore-feet.

Come on, you brute! I’m not going to carry you, if that’s what you mean,’ he said.

The dog got up, and began to move in the opposite direction.

‘Here! here! Come here, you little D.!’ he cried, turning on his heel in disgust.

He was not going to pursue the animal down a path which was wrong, and he continued the route he had chosen for himself, too tired to care much if the yellow dog did elect to run away.

The result was another piteous howl. Again he stopped. The yellow dog was once more seated on his haunches, wagging his tail furiously, with an apologetic fluttering of the long, pointed ears.

Fleetwood, not in the best of tempers, strode towards him, intending to seize him by the collar and attach the leash, but the dog bounded forward and eluded his out-stretched hand.

Suddenly he recalled the fact that Angus Smith, in days gone by, had taken the D. out shooting. In all probability, this was not the first visit paid by the dog to the jungle. It was possible that he might know his way by some wonderful instinct, and be able to lead his lost master out of the difficulty. He changed his tone to an encouraging ‘Hi on, good dog! hi on!’

The D., stepping gingerly along, with an occasional glance back to be sure that he was being followed, trotted off with tail erect, and an assurance that awoke confidence in the heart of his companion. Down lower and stiLl lower they went, until Fleetwood became sensible that the air was warmer, and that his lungs were no longer feeling the effect of the rarefied atmosphere of the higher regions.

The sound of falling water over a rocky bed reached his ears. He stood still and listened, whilst the D. turned and watched him in doggy anxiety.

‘By Jingo! that must be the river, and these are the Government preserves above Nagatenne, which means that I shall breakfast at home and not at Spondon’s. Hi on, good dog! You’re a better hand at finding your way than your master.’

Fleetwood had no hesitation now in continuing the descent through the jungle towards the purling water.

By following the course of the stream, he could not miss his way again. The ground became slightly swampy, but the fall of the river was too great to permit of any extent of flat stretches. The swamps, as he well knew, were below the waterfall on the Galla estate itself. He would have to cross the river somewhere to reach his bungalow, and to avoid the worst of the wet, leech-infected ground he decided to keep on the Nagatenne side until the tea cultivation began.

Encouraged by the thought that he was so near home, he stepped along at a good pace, the D. still leading, though both man and dog were now at one in the matter of the correct road to be taken. The nilloo had given place to a thinner growth, and here and there a wild magnolia or a purple osbeckia blossomed in the warm rays of the sun.

In front loomed a big rock, rising high above the forest, and from its fern and orchid clad heights rang out the wild laugh of a wanderoo monkey.

A turn of the path round a large boulder brought Fleetwood out upon an open space, where the trees had been felled to let in the air and the sun. A pellucid stream flowed down towards the river, spreading itself into a chain of small shallow pools.

By this stream a group of people were busy, so deeply engrossed in the work they had in hand that they did not perceive the intruder. In the water knee-deep stood three Singhalese gem-washers. They each grasped a round basket, which was partially filled with soil. This soil they washed in the stream with highly-skilled manipulation, circling the basket just beneath the water so as to allow the mud to flow away with the current. The larger stones slipped over the lip of the basket, followed by smaller, until the bushel or more of soil dwindled to a handful of shining pebbles. These were washed and rewashed with extreme care, until they were reduced by about half. The precious remainder were turned out into a basket which Mrs. Angus Smith held for their reception. Carrying them to a flat stone covered with a white cloth, she carefully laid them out in the sun, examining them with an absorbing interest. Her husband, holding a shovel in his hand, watched the proceedings with a keen eye.

Whilst the washing proceeded, Moonaswamy and his assistant came and went, bringing a continuous supply of the gem-laden soil, which was thrown down in a heap by the stream.

The spot was surrounded by roughly-made flower-beds, which formed a sort of protective entrenchment to the gem-seekers. The beds were filled with masses of terrestrial orchids in full flower. On one side the trunks of the felled trees were piled, and upon these were fastened a number of tree-orchids, which were healthily flourishing and in various stages of bud and blossom.

It was a strange sight: the busy little party of gemmers, all unconscious of a spectator, working away in the midst of a wild profusion of cultivated orchids, a tropical fairyland of efflorescence.

Fleetwood had only a few moments to take in the scene. The D., with obtuse canine confidence, ran up to his master, wriggling and grovelling in the delight of finding himself in touch with home again.

‘You little devil!’ exclaimed Angus Smith, considerably startled.

‘Terry?’ cried his wife, looking round in sudden apprehensive inquiry.

‘Not Terry, but a lost hunter, Mrs. Angus Smith,’ said Fleetwood, advancing. ‘I lost myself in the jungle, and if it hadn’t been for the yellow dog, I really don’t know how I should have found my way back.’

He described his adventures: the refusal of the dog to take the wrong turning, and his unerring instinct in following what must have been, in spite of its tortuousness, a direct line; and his own intense relief at being within reach of home after a walk of over four hours.

‘It is half-past ten, and we must have entered the jungle before six,’ he concluded.

Whilst he talked, Angus Smith had time to recover from the perturbation into which he had been thrown by the unexpected appearance of his neighbour. It did not escape the notice of Fleetwood that both husband and wife had sustained a slight shock. He attributed it to the fact that their occupation had been kept secret from the district, and that they were slightly ashamed at being detected in an endeavour to make a short-cut to wealth through a form of speculation that was generally considered to be native in its character—in short, a species of gambling.

‘I hope I did not startle you very much, Mrs. Angus Smith,’ he said apologetically.

Her pleasant, genial smile returned at once, and she replied:

‘I admit that I was startled. It was so very unexpected to see anyone coming from the direction of the jungle. If you had approached from the Nagatenne side, I should not have been so surprised.’

‘There are none so blind as those who won’t see,’ he answered. ‘Let me assure you that your secret is quite safe with me. After I leave this spot I shall remember only your beautiful orchids.’

He glanced round at the wealth of blossom ripening in the warm morning sun towards what the enthusiastic lady hoped would be a harvest of seed, or, at least, a good crop of roots. Both Mr. and Mrs. Angus Smith showed signs of relief as they heard his assurance. The lady replied with warm gratitude:

‘That will be very kind indeed of you, though I scarcely dared to look for it. To tell you the truth, I feared your ridicule. We must have appeared rather foolish when you first caught sight of us.’

‘Not at all. Have you been successful with your little speculation?’

‘Fairly so; but not what we hoped or anticipated,’ answered Mrs. Angus Smith.

Her husband, who up to the present had not uttered a word since he anathematized the dog that had brought the unwelcome guest, now spoke. Concealment being useless, the enthusiasm of the speculator flamed unchecked, and he said:

‘I tell you, Fleetwood, there is money in it. Any day, any hour, we may come upon a big find. So far there has been nothing out of the way; but we have picked up some stones of fair size, which I don’t mind admitting have repaid us for our trouble.’

The light that Fleetwood had seen in the eye of Angus Smith when he had chaffingly called him a gambler over the game of bridge burned there now.

‘I doubt if it will repay you in the long-run,’ he remarked.

Angus Smith turned on him fiercely with impatience that bordered on intolerance.

‘I tell you, there’s a fortune in it! It’s work that fascinates, that convinces. It lays hold of your senses and grips your imagination. I dream of it at night—dream that I am trying to grasp a huge sparkling gem that is lying at the bottom of a pool, or else stones that are being washed out of the basket by a demon washer. Just come and look through this last lot of stones.’

He led the way to the rock upon which was laid the white cloth. Dipping his hand into a pot of water, he passed it over the pebbles with a tender, clinging touch, rolling them out into a thin layer in the sun.

Mrs. Angus Smith drew near, and the three bent their heads over the glistening wet stones. The gem-washers also gathered round, the same eager light of expectancy in their dark eyes. With a pair of jewel-tongs Angus Smith picked out a black stone.

There’s a sapphire. If it is flawless, it is worth forty rupees; but if it has the usual flaw, it won’t be worth four.’

‘It seems more like a piece of coal than a sapphire,’ remarked Fleetwood.

‘Look through it in the sunlight, and you will see the blue ray.’

Angus Smith held it up, and a gleam of deep blue was clearly discernible.

The colour is good—deep and rich—and the stone will cut into a good shape. I wonder if it has a flaw,’ said Angus Smith speculatively.

Is that a sapphire?’ asked Fleetwood, pointing to another fragment of black stone.

‘No; it’s what the Singhalese call dead sapphire—opaque and dull. Look at this sand; it is nothing more nor less than pulverized gems.’

He gathered from off a heap near him a handful of fine stuff, and spread it out upon his palm. It was composed of innumerable grains of the minor precious stones—garnets, tourmaline, cinnamon-stone, sapphires, and fragments of the rayed quartz that yields the highly-prized cat’s-eye. They sparkled in the sun, showing infinitesimal points of colour.

‘Where did you get that sand?’ asked Fleetwood.

‘From the river; there are beds of it. If we could only separate those fragments and weld them into stones, what a fortune we might make.’

Meanwhile, Mrs. Angus Smith, keenly alive to the value of time, put aside, with the help of the Singhalese, the best of the gems. Having gone through the stones carefully more than once, she stored the remainder in a linen bag.

‘I must look these over again at my leisure when I get home. I am becoming quite an expert at recognising the gems,’ she said, smiling at Fleetwood, in the happy belief that she possessed his full sympathy.

The washers went back to the stream and recommenced their work, Angus Smith himself shovelling the soil into their baskets.

‘When this is finished we will go home to breakfast, and while we are away the coolies will bring us a fresh supply of soil, sufficient to keep us busy this afternoon until sunset,’ he explained, as the men began to wash.

‘Where do you get the soil?’

‘Close by. The whole of this level bit of swamp below the fall is, in my opinion, nothing more nor less than what a gold-digger would call a pocket. I firmly believe that it is full of gems, but they are unevenly placed. If we could strike the spot where they lie thickest, we should make our fortunes. Look at the washer’s basket. Do you see how the water works the pebbles to the side as he swirls the water round? The precious stones, being heavier than the rest of the stuff, hang back, like the wheat in chaff, and remain inside the basket, whilst the rubbish is washed away over the edge. Now, it’s my conviction that that is exactly what has happened in bygone ages here.’ He waved his hand towards the river. ‘The stones have been washed down from above into a kind of basin in the rock bed, and they have been disintegrated by the action of the water, the greater part being pulverized in the process. But some remain, settling down like the stones in the basket. An alluvial deposit has been formed over them, and there they lie waiting for the hand of a man who has sufficient faith in his convictions to gather them up.’

He spoke feverishly, running his fingers through his hair as he lifted his sun-hat to cool his head. His wife glanced at him more than once with some anxiety.

‘You may be right,’ replied Fleetwood. ‘But I am still of the opinion that it is a risky speculation, and that it would be more remunerative in the long-run to give the time to the tea.’

‘That’s all very well for a man like you. You are a born agriculturist. But tea bores me to death,’ Angus Smith affirmed, almost fretfully. Anyway, Mr. Fleetwood, you won’t split on us, will you?’ pleaded his wife, with more earnestness than seemed necessary.

‘I promise.’

‘On your word of honour?’

‘I swear on my word of honour that I will keep your secret, Mrs. Angus Smith. And I shall not forget that the secret belongs to a lady.’

A little sigh of relief came from her lips, as she again expressed her thanks more warmly than he deemed the occasion demanded. She added:

‘By-the-by, how did you happen to have the yellow dog with you this morning?’

‘I am afraid that it was Terry’s doing. She must have let him loose after we started.’

‘Oh dear, how full of mischief the little minx is! Then it is due to her that you found your way here.’

‘You can scarcely say that with truth. It is due to the dog that I am not at this moment wandering hopelessly lost in the jungle,’ he replied, as he held out his hand in farewell.

The D. gazed after his retreating figure without offering to accompany him, and then curled himself up in the sun to wait until his real master and mistress were ready to return home. Even a dog may find a long morning’s tramp in the jungle fatiguing.

Chapter XIX

Fleetwood was tired when he reached the small bungalow that was now his home. The servants were not expecting him in to breakfast. However, with the elasticity of the oriental, they rose to the situation, and were not long in supplying him with a hot bath.

When he emerged from his room he found a breakfast prepared which did the appoo credit. With the proverbial hunger of the hunter, he sat down and did full justice to it. The meal was washed down with a bottle of beer, which he felt that he had fairly earned.

More than once, as he consumed his food in leisurely fashion, he thought over his encounter with the Angus Smiths, and he laughed as he recalled the scene.

‘What a chimerical ass the man must be to imagine that gemming in that style can pay!’ was his conclusion. ‘Of course, he may make nice little sums out of it now and then—sufficient to keep him in pocket-money. But if that kind of thing is to bring in any substantial return, it needs operations on a much larger scale. He admits that he has only a “pocket” of alluvial deposit to work upon. He hasn’t got the matrix of the sapphire, any more than the men who have dabbled in it before him. And until it is discovered, these gemming efforts had better be left to the Singhalese. Judging by the appearance of the Angus Smiths when I first came upon them, it serves as a diversion, and is as fascinating in its way as cards. Meanwhile, Lance practically runs the factory.’

He laughed again in hearty mirth.

‘Poor little Lance! the right-minded son of a crack-brained father! For the sake of the boy, I will keep the secret. The reputation of his parents is sufficiently qualified as it is: Angus Smith’s by his indifference to his planting interests, and Mrs. Angus Smith’s by her care for the welfare of her flowers; I should be sorry to damage it further. No need to swear me to secrecy. How funny it was! But I could not laugh or even smile. They were so deadly in earnest, I was bound to take them seriously.’ And again he laughed.

It was half-past twelve when he rose from the table, refreshed and rested, ready for work in the factory or on the estate. He lighted his pipe—cigarettes were not to the taste of this big planter—and sat down at his writing-table.

A note must be sent to Spondon without further delay, explaining how he had arrived home instead of joining the party at breakfast; also asking that the cob might be sent back to Nagatenne.

He gave the letter to the appoo, with directions to despatch it by the garden coolie at once, and returned to his chair for half an hour’s quiet smoke, when Marriner, pale and exhausted with running, burst into the sitting-room and sank down upon a couch.

‘Great Scot, man! what’s the matter?’ cried Fleetwood, his imagination vaulting to one person, and one only.

‘Give me a drink of whisky,’ gasped Marriner.

Fleetwood poured out half a wineglass neat, and held it to the whitened lips of the trembling man.

‘What’s happened? Anything wrong at Nagatenne?’ asked the assistant, putting the glass upon the table.

‘No, no! Give me some more; I feel awfully bad.’

‘Factory burned down?’

Marriner shook his head, and handed back the empty glass with fingers that could scarcely grip the stem. He groaned and suddenly blurted out:

‘God forgive me! I’ve murdered a man.’

‘What? Nonsense, Marriner! You’re off your head.’

‘I’m as sane as you are. I hit a coolie, one of the Nagatenne coolies, and stunned him. He fell into the river and was drowned. His body is lying there now, this very minute, at the bottom of the water. You can see it for yourself if you choose to go and look.’

Fleetwood stood before his chief, regarding him with a mixture of incredulity and dismay. His story was too horrible to credit. But if it were true, the planter knew how hard it would go against the white man who raised his hand on his black brother. Let the circumstances be ever so extenuating, the modern cry for justice for the oriental was devoid of all mercy for the European.

‘Are you sure that the man is dead?’

‘Dead as a door-nail! He has been in the water for an hour at least. God help me and him too.’

There was silence, and Fleetwood’s pipe lay neglected on the table, where he had thrown it when he went to fetch the whisky.

‘Have you had any breakfast?’ he asked presently.

‘No; I can’t eat. I can’t think. I feel stunned, and when I came in I thought I was going to faint.’

Fleetwood brought in some biscuits, and ordered some strong coffee to be made. It was necessary to clear Marriner’s brain and recover him from the shook he had sustained.

Later, the story of the tragedy was elicited. It appeared that Marriner, seizing the opportunity afforded by the absence of Fleetwood, determined to investigate the matter of gem-washing and gem-digging thoroughly, dealing summarily with any cases he might discover, before his more lenient assistant could interpose to save the offenders.

The reports, on further inquiry, all pointed to the finds having occurred either on Galla or Nagatenne, and not in the direction of Puloya.

Walking up the river, he explored the bank carefully, but found no trace of digging in the tea. He entered the jungle that bordered the tea, and still continued his search, passing over a portion of his estate upon which he had never set foot before, having a wholesome dread of the land-leech.

‘When I arrived at the point where the river branches and forms an island—the island and the northern branch belong to me, as you know—I came upon a regular beaten path, worn bare by constant traffic, leading across the two arms of the river by stepping-stones, and over the island towards Nagatenne.’

‘Did you see anyone about?’

‘Not a soul.’

‘Nor hear any voices talking?’

‘Not a sound. I had plenty of time to examine the place. I tell you, it was just a mass of gem-pits. The island was riddled with them. Then the gem-seekers, having exhausted the island, had gone on to the Galla ground. There were excavations in all directions in the flat, swampy land between the river and the jungle. They apparently dug until the water put an end to their operations and flooded the scoundrels out. Then they began elsewhere.’

‘No great harm done, after all, if they confined themselves to the low-lying part. The swamp is perfectly useless to you,’ observed Fleetwood.

‘How do we know that?’ retorted Marriner irritably.

‘It might be utilized some day for a new product. But in its present condition, with gem-pits dug all over it, it is absolutely unfit for any sort of cultivation…. Besides, the gems, if there are any gems, belong to me. It is my land.’

Fleetwood said no more. The memory of the Angus Smiths returned, and he viewed his rash promise under a new light.

‘Well, what did you do?’ he asked, as Marriner relapsed into moody thought.

‘Noticing that the earth had been turned quite recently, I determined to lie up and catch the brutes red-handed. Choosing a rock free of vegetation to save my skin from the leeches, I took up my position, and hadn’t been hidden five minutes when two coolies, with baskets and marmottees, came over from the Nagatenne side with all the assurance in the world, just as if the place belonged to them. I let them be until they had actually begun to dig. Then I went for them. One of them flung down his spade and ran back towards the river. I overtook him on the top of a great slab of rock, from which he was just going to dive. I gave him a smasher with my fist, and he fell over into the water, out of which I thought, of course, that he would soon scramble, as it was not deep. Then I went for the other man, and chased him right away into the jungle on the reserve land without being able to catch him.’

‘What time was this?’

‘About half-past eleven or a little later.’

‘And then what happened?’

‘When I lost the second chap in the jungle, I thought I would go back and have a look for the other. It was rough walking, but I reached the rock where I had caught the fellow. I peered all round, thinking that he might be hidden; then I bethought me of the water, and I wondered if there was any sign of his tracks left on the other side as he crawled out. There was a drop of about eight feet from the top of the rock into the river, but the water was not more than four feet deep, if so much as that. All at once I caught sight of a dead body lying on the sand at the bottom. The head was immediately underneath the rock, and I could not see it; even though I leaned over the edge of the rock. But the body from the chest downwards was plainly visible. Great heavens! what a turn it gave me, seeing it lying there under the water, the yellow palms of the hands turned upwards, the legs extended athwart the stream, and the frayed end of the cotton loin-cloth swaying slightly in the current! I must have stunned the man when I hit him, and he fell into the water like a stone, and was drowned. Fleetwood, tell me in Heaven’s name what I am to do.’

‘At the worst, it can only be manslaughter,’ said Fleetwood at length.

‘I tell you, it’s murder!’ cried Marriner emphatically. ‘They can bring it in murder, though you and I know that I had no intention of killing the man. Only yesterday I was vowing vengeance against all gemmers at the factory. A couple of kanganies, as well as the tea-maker and half a dozen coolies, all heard me talking in that wild, idiotic way that one doesn’t mean. I threatened to do for any of my own coolies that I might catch gemming. Oh, they heard me plain enough, and they will remember it, too; and more, perhaps, of the same sort that I did not say, when it comes to swearing away the life of an Englishman.’

Marriner, whose colour was returning, got up and paced the room.

‘Did the companion of the man see you hit him?’

‘Yes; he seemed paralyzed with fright; and it was only after I had pounded the first that the second began to run. Thank Heaven! I haven’t got his death on my conscience.’

‘The first thing to be done,’ said Fleetwood, after a pause, during which he had been wrapped in thought, ‘is to go and fetch the body and bring it back to the lines.’

Marriner stopped in his restless pacing, and gazed into the face of his companion with renewed agitation.

‘You must? Is it necessary? Good Lord! how awful.’

Fleetwood went out without a word, and returned with some coffee.

‘Here, swallow this, and try to eat a biscuit. Stay here until I come back. I think I will go alone. I can manage all that is needful by myself.’

Marriner was too much upset in his mind to make any opposition. He felt utterly unable to act for him self, and was only too grateful to rely on the superior moral strength of his friend. He accepted the food, and did his best to swallow it.

‘I shall tell my appoo that you are tired, and don’t wish to be disturbed. On no account must you consent to see anyone until I come back, and I shall tell him he is not to admit a soul,’ said the assistant, as he bound on his puttees. ‘Just describe the spot again.’

‘You can’t mistake it. It’s about fifty yards above where the river branches, and you will see the chap’s marmottee and basket lying twenty yards away.’

Fleetwood strode off, taking a short-cut through the tea, and was not long in arriving at the point where the river branched. He followed the northern arm, noting the gem-pits with astonishment. The Angus Smiths must have been busy for some months past to have worked through so much soil.

He found the baskets and the implements, and it was not difficult to trace the fugitive and his pursuer to the rock. There was a mark of Marriner’s boot upon the moss and lichen growing on the rock, and a few fragments of the black, peaty soil gave evidence of the presence of the coolie. He approached the edge of the rock and looked over. The water was limpid and clear as crystal, the stream flowing so gently as barely to ripple the surface. The bed of the river was formed of sand, the sparkling gem sediment which Angus Smith had shown him.

But there was no sign of a dead body to be seen.

He searched the river carefully, crossing over to the island and examining every bend and pool, from the head of the island just beneath the waterfall to another fall that occurred below the island at the commencement of the tea cultivation. The current between the two falls was not sufficiently strong to move the body from its position under the rook. It was obvious, therefore—if Marriner was not the victim of some hideous delusion—that the second man had returned, and that he had found the body of his companion and taken it away.

The next move in the tragedy would be the arrest of Marriner, and all the additional anguish of mind it would entail on him and on another. It was horrible.

He returned to the bungalow.

‘The man is gone. I could see no trace of him, though I found the spot where you pushed him into the river. The mark of your boot was distinct on the rock.’

Marriner gazed at him with haggard eyes as he said: ‘Then it has been discovered, and all I have to do now is to await the coming of the police.’

Fleetwood regarded him compassionately.

‘Are you perfectly certain that you saw the man lying at the bottom of the river?’ he demanded.

‘As certain as I am that you are now speaking to me.’

The other remained silent, thinking how he could best help his troubled friend.

‘Shall I give myself up and confess what I have done?’ asked Marriner.

‘Certainly not,’ replied Fleetwood sharply. ‘Let things take their proper course. The mere assertion on your part that you have killed the man is not sufficient. They will think you mad.’

‘You mean until the body is found.’

‘Even then,’ continued Fleetwood, ‘they will have to prove that it was your blow that caused his death. He may have injured himself as he dived off the rock, and his death may have been the result of accident. After I have seen to the factory work, I will go over to Nagatenne. If there is any fuss or excitement in the lines, I shall hear of it. The coolies will be wailing and tomtoming if the dead man is lying there.’

‘I wish that you would do something else for me. Go on to the bungalow, and tell my cousin that I can’t see her this evening. I promised to go there for dinner. Say that I have sprained my ankle or got fever—anything you like.’

‘I shall not be far out if I say that you have fever, and that I have kept you here to nurse you. I will drop into your house as I pass, and tell your boy to bring up your things for the night.’

‘You are a good fellow, Fleetwood,’ said the other, with a break in his voice.

‘Take my advice and keep quiet. Above all things, don’t go over the bridge until you get there.’

The sun was setting when Fleetwood, having done what was necessary at the factory, once more tramped down to the river, this time taking the longer round by the bridge instead of the usual path leading across the stepping-stones by the Nagatenne factory. By so doing, he would pass the Nagatenne coolie lines.

Climbing the hill slowly towards the Angus Smiths’ bungalow, he stopped frequently to look down upon the long, neatly thatched sheds that formed the domicile of the coolies.

All was quiet as usual. Children played in the sand behind the lines. Women fanned the fire beneath the pot of boiling rice and stirred the steaming curry before their doors. Down by the stream that ran behind the lines some girls were folding cloths that had been drying in the sun all day. There was no sign to indicate that the merest shadow of a catastrophe had overtaken the little community of Tamils.

When he arrived at the bungalow, Audine was standing at the foot of the steps. She had been sitting in the garden whilst the sun shone, but with his setting a cool air had crept over the hills, causing white mists to rise in the valley. By her side was Lance, just come with Nora from the Spondons.

Nora was still in the saddle, as she had no intention of staying long.

‘So you were lost in the jungle, Mr. Fleetwood,’ she cried on his approach.

Her eye sparkled, and her cheek was bright with some recent excitement. Mervyn Larch had ridden part of the way with her, and perhaps he had had something more to say about his loneliness and its remedy.

‘Yes; I suppose I ought to be ashamed of myself,’ replied Fleetwood. ‘It is most humiliating to have to own one’s self lost; but such was undoubtedly the case. I went out without my compass, so it serves me right.’

‘Lance and I had a splendid time with Mrs. Spondon and Mr. Larch.’ And she proceeded to give an animated description of the bay and the kill below the Amba falls.

‘And Mr. Spondon gave me the scut,’ said Lance, holding up the tail with great pride.

‘You have the head, of course, Miss Hapland. Was it a fine head?’

‘Beautiful, and I shall prize it highly. Good-bye,’ cried Nora. ‘I must be getting home, or I shall be benighted.’

She trotted off, leaving the little party before the door.

Up to this moment Fleetwood had been unable to deliver the message to Audine. When she had heard it, she said with more graciousness than usual:

‘I hope he will be all right to-morrow. It is very good of you to nurse him. I know that he feels quite safe in your hands.’

His eye lingered on the refined features, and he wondered how she would take the news of Marriner’s calamity.

‘Come in and sit down,’ said Tony. ‘Father and mother are in. They are home earlier than usual.’

‘I hope the D. didn’t give you any trouble,’ said Lance, with his old-fashioned politeness. ‘It was so tiresome of Terry to let him loose. Miss Stratton, I wish you would speak to her seriously. She really ought to be scolded.’

‘What did she do?’ asked Audine.

Fleetwood explained, concluding with: ‘Don’t scold her, Miss Stratton. The dog brought me safely out of the jungle, and I ought to be very grateful to Terry for providing me with such an excellent guide.’

The boy seemed relieved of a burden of responsibility that had sat heavily on his shoulders all day. He was about to say more on the subject when he was interrupted by Terry. Closely followed by the yellow dog, she came running towards them at breakneck speed from the back of the bungalow.

‘Lance! Miss Stratton! Tony! What do you think? The appoo says that Moonaswamy has run away. The devil in his tree has done something awful, and he and his brother can’t be found anywhere. Mother is looking very serious, and father says it is all the fault of that yellow devil, and he ought to be killed. I didn’t know that Moonaswamy’s devil was yellow, or that he could be killed. Mr. Fleetwood, how do they kill yellow tree-devils?’

‘I don’t know, Terry,’ he replied, with some seriousness.

Meanwhile, the yellow dog sniffed about with blatant curiosity, and wagged his tail at the assembled company with comprehensive good-nature. If he had possessed a particle of human intelligence, he ought to have been covered with shame and confusion for having brought about the revelation of a secret that had been inviolate for many months past.

Fleetwood looked at the dog and then at Audine.

Calamity, widely diverse of its kind, threatened both, and both were equally unconscious of the overshadowing.

Chapter XX

Mrs. Gorleston had been busy all day packing her trunks for her departure. She was going across to India, taking Georgie with her. Three weeks or a month of gaiety at Madras were to be followed by a visit to the hills.

Daniel Grassendale sighed as he made a note of the number of coolies required to carry the boxes down to the railway-station. Not that there was any difficulty over transport. It was the loss of his sister that troubled him. With all her foolish maternal ambition, she had been a pleasant companion; and the presence of petticoats about the house and garden for the last few months had created a desire on the part of the sociably inclined, middle-aged planter for the continuation of the luxury.

‘Dan, I think that you ought to get married,’ said Mrs. Gorleston in between her directions about the carriage of her trunks. ‘Don’t forget that Georgie’s big box will require two coolies.’

‘It will need four; why, it is as big as a piano!’ replied Grassendale.

‘Then let me have four. It will do away with the danger of the box being dropped. Yes, I have come to that decision, Dan. You ought to get married.’

‘I wonder if anyone would have me.’

‘Have you!’ echoed Mrs. Gorleston. ‘The women at home would jump at you—a good-looking, well-set-up widower like you, with only one son. Now, if you had a lot of girls, a nice woman with a little money might hesitate. But situated as you are, you have only to ask and have,’ answered his sister, regarding him with favourable criticism.

‘Do you really think so?’ he said thoughtfully, his eyes lifted to hers in earnest inquiry. ‘I was afraid I was too old to expect another good woman to enter my life and join her fate with mine.’

‘Nonsense, Dan! Old indeed! You are two years younger than I am.’

‘Am I really? It seems incredible.’

‘Now, don’t talk rubbish, but listen to me. I have an excellent plan. You shall join us in June on our return to London. I have a spare room in my little flat in Westminster which will just suit you. I can promise to introduce you to a dozen nice women, none of them penniless, and any one of whom would make you a capital wife.’

‘It is very good of you,’ he answered. ‘You are positively of the opinion that I ought to marry again? What about the boy?’

‘He is safe at school, and as soon as he leaves he will be going out into the world to find a profession, so you need not consider him. Besides, boys usually get on well with their stepmothers. It is the daughter who makes things disagreeable.’

Grassendale remained silent for a few seconds; then he said:

‘I am inclined to believe that you are right. But I must have time to think it over.’

‘Nonsense, Dan!’ cried Mrs. Gorleston, with the air of sweeping all before her. ‘What is there to consider? I have settled it in my mind. You come home in June, and I will find you a wife in less than a month’s time. You may safely leave the matter in my hands. I know better than you do the kind of woman you want.’

Grassendale laughed as he replied: ‘It is very good of you to trouble yourself, but I really must leave the question open. I cannot decide in such a hurry.’

‘I will take no refusal,’ cried Mrs. Gorleston.

If you won’t promise to come home in June, I shall send a girl out. I know a nice woman—she isn’t exactly a girl—who would be most suitable. She is about thirty-five, not bad looking, and has two hundred a year of her own. She would make you an admirable wife, and I know she is dying to get married.’

Grassendale glanced at his sister with a suspicion of uneasiness. Mrs. Gorleston was quite capable, in her love of managing the affairs of her relatives, of carrying out her threat. Even if he refused to marry her protégée, she might place him in a very awkward position.

‘I should prefer to choose the lady myself,’ he remarked in mild protest.

Mrs. Gorleston cast a scornful eye at him.

‘It is the exercise of your right to choose that causes you men to make such a mess of marriage. There would be a great many more happy unions in the world if the choice were left entirely in the hands of the woman.’

‘The choice is to a great extent in the hands of the lady. She has the option of saying no if she doesn’t fancy the man,’ said Grassendale.

‘She ought to have the privilege of making the first advance if so inclined. As it is, she is often tempted to say yes to the man who asks her, and whom it is expedient to marry, when she would prefer the man who remains silent. The ordinary woman under the present conditions is not altogether a free agent. There are strong reasons, rational rather than sentimental, which must influence her in her choice.’

‘The desire of her amiable parents to get rid of her and be relieved of the burden of keeping and clothing her, for instance.’

‘Perhaps, where there is no money,’ admitted the lady.

‘And the girl’s own desire for the independence that is the privilege of the matron.’

‘Yes, certainly; the position of the married woman has its attractions.’

‘Also there is the consideration of the man’s income,’ continued Grassendale. ‘Last and least comes the man himself. Provided his purse is well lined, he doesn’t much matter.’

There was a touch of cynicism in his words which was foreign to his nature, but the worldly attitude of his sister always roused him.

‘Now you are overstating the case,’ remonstrated Mrs. Gorleston.

‘Will those be the guiding instincts of the ladies to whom you will introduce me in town?’ he asked.

‘Not necessarily. If you exert yourself, you can be very charming, and the woman you ask will probably say yes for your own sake if you give her the opportunity of knowing you,’ said Mrs. Gorleston frankly, scrutinizing him with a certain amount of sisterly admiration.

Grassendale smiled good-humouredly, and the shadow of cynicism departed from his brow. His sister was not in the habit of flattering him, and when she expressed her appreciation of his good qualities the appreciation was genuine. He was innocent of all vanity, having a tendency to undervalue rather than to magnify his own virtues, but all the same he was not impervious to a little admiration.

Though keen and shrewd, he possessed the straight-forward nature, common to most men who spend their lives on the plantations in Ceylon, of the individual constantly dealing with the forces of Nature instead of the complex machinations of humanity. Without being either credulous or simple-minded, he was singularly unaffected and open. Had it not been for his reliable judgment, born of a close communion with Nature, he might have been deemed boyish in his mind.

But the responsibility of directing the agricultural operations on the estate, and the autocratic government of the two or three hundred coolies needed for the cultivation of the land, eliminated every trace of youthful irresponsibility without destroying the buoyancy of spirit that is the result of the simple life.

Even in Lance the effect of responsibility had shown itself, but in the boy’s case it had a tendency to overshadow his nature with premature mannishness.

The environment of the tropics has much to answer for in its effect on the character of Europeans. It develops good as well as evil, calling forth the best part of a man who is strong, but offering the weak temptations that might not assail him in the land of his birth.

‘If I exert myself,’ said Grassendale presently, ‘you think that I may be chosen for myself.’

‘H’m, yes, considering that your fortune is not worthy of the name of fortune in these days of wealth.’

‘Let us term it a competence, since it is sufficient to justify me in asking a woman to share it.’

‘A smart, handsome girl like Georgie would not look upon it as a competence. That is why I am taking her to India. I want her to meet men who are not merely just making a living in a colonial fashion. Our friends with whom we shall stay are intimate with the Government House party; and poor Georgie, who has felt a little out of her element here, will be glad to find herself in smart society again,’ said Mrs. Gorleston, running off the line with the sudden cropping up of personal interest.

Her brother rose from his seat abruptly. These were the kind of speeches which brought out his worst qualities and exhausted his patience. He bit his lip to keep back the sharp retort that was on his tongue.

‘You think that you could marry me to one of Georgia’s friends in town if I came home this summer?’

‘I am certain of it. I shall positively look for you in June. Promise me, Dan, that you will come.’

‘I can’t promise.’

‘What is it that stops you?’

‘A matter of—of business.’

‘Can’t you settle it at once, whatever it may be, without waiting?’

He strode to the bow-window of the drawing-room, and looked out over the lawn with unobservant eyes.

‘Perhaps I can. It only wants a little courage, a little decision.’

‘Can I help you?’ asked Mrs. Gorleston indifferently, as she took up her pen and began a letter to the shipping agents in Colombo to request that two berths might be reserved for her and her daughter in the next vessel sailing to Madras.

‘No, thanks; I can manage it myself,’ he said, as he glanced at her well-preserved features and elegant figure bending slightly over the blotter.

Then he smiled, and, leaving the room without further speech, shut himself in his smoking-room to grapple with the momentous business that might detain him in the island.

There was a rattle of hoofs on the gravel; Mrs Gorleston, lifting her head as she finished addressing the envelope, glanced out of the window in which the writing-table was placed.

It was Nora, radiant, full of the joyous vitality that was her characteristic, her cheeks aflame with the reckless gallop across the valley, by which she tried in vain to work off some of the exuberance of her animal spirits.

Mrs. Gorleston left the appoo to answer the door. She had not acquired the habit of some of the up-country districts of hastening to welcome the guest on the threshold. She heard her brother go and exchange greetings. There was an inquiry for Georgie, who, it appeared, was lying down to rest after her exertions of the morning in preparation for her departure on the morrow. Robed in a befrilled dressing-gown, she was comfortably ensconced in an easy-chair with a novel that she wanted to finish before she left the house. She sent out a message to the effect that she was sorry not to be able to see her visitor; she really was too fatigued.

As Georgie was not visible, Nora refused to dismount, and remained in the saddle whilst Grassendale talked and laughed with her for some time.

‘How Dan can tolerate the local gossip of these colonial girls I can’t think,’ was the comment of his sister, as she commenced another letter.

When she had ended it she glanced through the window again. Her brother still stood there, and now he was warmly shaking Nora by the hand. As he did so he said something that brought the roses once more to the soft round cheek. Good heavens! was it possible that he found any attraction in that direction? There was no sort of doubt in Mrs. Gorleston’s mind that the girl was attracted, but that was of no importance as long as Dan was not affected. He would be a catch for the penniless girl, who had a couple of younger sisters just ready to come out to their parents.

What unbounded impudence to come riding up alone and unattended, making Georgie the excuse for her visit. She was glad that Georgie had refused to see her. It was a well-merited snub to Miss Hapland’s forwardness.

She kept her eyes on the unconscious couple. Grassendale held Nora’s hand for several seconds—it might have been half a minute—and as he spoke the girl bent forward with shining eyes and a bold smile that caused Mrs. Gorleston to rise from her seat in positive alarm.

‘Forward young person!’ was her comment. If it had been any other man but her brother, she would have been nothing more than disdainfully amused; but with Dan for the victim of the young woman’s wiles her ire was raised, as well as her fears.

Having urged him to marry, it was essential to guide his choice and save him from the toils of a Nora Hapland. She was on the point of going to the door with the fell purpose of breaking up the dangerous tête-à-tête, when Nora pulled her horse round, and trotted off in the direction of Nagatenne.

Grassendale stood looking after her with a smile on his lips. This was too much for the peace of mind of his sister. She met him in the hall.

‘I was just coming to ask Miss Hapland if she would not have some tea. The appoo has brought it in.’

‘She is going to have tea with Miss Stratton if she is not too late. I am afraid I kept her talking longer than I ought.’

‘I suppose Miss Hapland called to say good-bye. Georgie was too tired to be bothered with visitors after all her packing. I am sending tea to her room. These friends of yours don’t understand the subtle difference between acquaintanceship and friendship, and you were doubtless charged with an effusive message of farewell to us both.’

‘Miss Hapland was too full of her own affairs to remember the fact of your approaching departure.’

‘Too much absorbed in creating a favourable impression on Mr. Grassendale, I should say, from her manner.’

He laughed as he seated himself near the tea-tray, and fell upon the hot buttered toast with the zest of a schoolboy.

‘What did she want?’ asked Mrs. Gorleston, as she poured out the tea.

She was determined not to let the subject drop until she had given her brother the warning that she considered necessary.

‘She came to tell us a piece of news.’

‘Does it concern you?’

‘Not in the least.’

‘Any excuse does for a woman in the pursuit of the unsuspecting male. I hope that you will not allow yourself to be caught by such transparent shikarring.’

‘Nora came to tell us of her engagement to Mervyn Larch, so you need not be nervous on my account,’ he replied, with another laugh at his sister and her admonitions.

‘H’m! most suitable,’ murmured Mrs. Gorleston, confused at finding herself so far afield in her conjectures.

‘I never saw more happiness alight in a woman’s eye than shone in hers. I quite envied Larch his power of bestowing so much joy upon a jolly girl like that. I wonder if I shall be as successful.’

‘Of course you will be,’ replied Mrs. Gorleston, her amiability restored.

She was uncomfortably aware that she had been betrayed into making some disagreeable remarks which were unnecessary. She also knew how much her brother disliked anything of the kind. Being of a scheming rather than spiteful disposition, she regretted having been so hasty in jumping to conclusions.

‘It seems that they came to an understanding at the hunt. I was very pleased to hear the news,’ said Grassendale heartily. ‘I like them both, and I am sure that he will make her happy.’

‘It is to be hoped that the gift of bestowing happiness will be reciprocal.’

‘I’m sure it will be so. I have noticed for some weeks past that he has been attracted in that direction. Give me another cup of tea. I’ve only had two, have I? This will make the second wedding in prospect. They say that events come in triplets. I wonder who will be the third to get engaged.’

‘You, of course, Dan. As soon as you have made your choice, you will fix the date. At your age there is absolutely no need to wait longer than is required for the lady to get her outfit,’ said Mrs. Gorleston, serenely confident that she could order and arrange his future for him in every detail, even down to the choice of the spot where he would spend his honeymoon.

‘We shall see,’ answered Grassendale, looking at her with amusement.

‘When do you expect a reply about the settlement of the business that may possibly detain you?’

‘This evening, or to-morrow morning at latest. The coolie who took my note is to wait for an answer.’

‘Then you will be able to tell me your plans before we start to-morrow, which will be convenient.’

‘Yes, I hope so.’

When tea was over he strolled out into the garden, and wandered restlessly to the deserted tennis-court.

From there he went down to the factory, although there was no work going on that needed his presence. The building stood between the cart-road and the river, the stream dividing his estate from Mahlipatna, the estate of which Mr. Osterley was superintendent.

Below the factory there was a ford by which the coolies passed from Mahlipatna to the Periya bazaar.

An hour later he issued from the factory to meet his messenger, who delivered a note and passed on towards the estate lines. Daniel Grassendale did not open the letter until he was in the office of the factory. There he tore open the envelope and devoured the contents.

As he left the building some minutes later there was in his face the reflection of the light that had illuminated the features of the radiantly happy Nora.

Chapter XXI

Nora was a bold rider. She bustled her horse along at a smart pace, the narrow estate paths having no terrors for her. The family at Nagatenne had already gathered round the tea-table in the drawing-room.

A shadow had fallen on the happy, careless family, rendering them unusually silent and depressed. The master of the house was irritable, and his wife had a harassed appearance which was quite foreign to her nature. Lance, aware that something had gone wrong with his parents, was vaguely anxious and solemn, and Audine was just beginning to feel slightly disturbed by the non-appearance of her cousin and the absence of all news of him. Tony and Terry alone retained their customary good spirits. Finding that no one had anything to say, they monopolized the conversation with a continuous chatter.

The vision of Nora riding up to the veranda steps was like a burst of sun in the middle of the monsoon to the grave little company. At the sound of her voice the children rushed to the door with boisterous greeting.

Their parents rose and followed them, forsaking the drawing-room for the moment in their eagerness to welcome the visitor. They ushered her in with lightened hearts, and the tension was relieved. Under her merry chaff Angus Smith lost the gloom that had settled upon him. He was beguiled into laughing at her sallies, and his retorts provoked her to fresh flights of sparkling nonsense. His returning cheerfulness was speedily reflected in the face of his wife.

Nora told her glad news, and received the hearty congratulations of the whole party.

‘Terry, you darling, you must be my bridesmaid,’ she said.

‘I’ll try first on Miss Stratton,’ replied Terry, unwilling to commit herself by any rash promises. ‘If I don’t like it, you can have Tony instead.’

‘But you are sure to like it,’ cried Nora.

Terry shook her head, unconvinced.

‘I’ve got to wear a new white drew all day long, and I can’t have the D. to play with all the time I’m wearing it.’

‘You shall have pink for my wedding instead of white. It is my favourite colour. And you shall tie up the D. with pink ribbons, and he shall come too. Won’t Terry look sweet in pink, Mr. Angus Smith, with the dog by her side?’

After tea they went into the garden, and Angus Smith proposed a game of tennis, for which, however, Nora was not conveniently dressed. Whilst Audine and the children knocked the balls over the nets, Nora sat with her host, who smoked and forgot his troubles as he listened to her idle chatter.

Seeing that her husband was amused and diverted, Mrs. Angus Smith seized the opportunity to slip away.

Passing out of the bungalow by the back veranda, she took the path to Cobra Rock.

The orchids were a magnificent sight, growing there in the solitude of the jungle. The clear stream, where the gem-washers had been busy, was deserted, and its waters, transparent and undisturbed, flowed in gentle purling towards the river. The deep tones of the waterfall at the head of the island came in rolling cadences from the distance. In the branch of a tree, growing near the river, perched a whistling, ploughboy thrush, that found inspiration in the voice of the murmuring water, and repeated its musical notes in close imitation of the namesake it had never heard. Green barbets, pigeons, woodpeckers, and an occasional jungle fowl cooed and called from every hidden nook in the forest.

Mrs. Angus Smith walked sadly round her flowers, touching a blossom here and a bud there with tender, loving fingers. By-and-by she moved towards the slab of rock where the white cloth had been spread.

Close at hand the baskets of the washers were piled in a heap, and near them lay the shovel used by Angus Smith to keep the washers supplied with soil. The silent inactivity of the scene with all its memories was too much for her depressed spirits. Why had Moonaswamy forsaken her? and why—oh, why—had she been so foolish as to threaten his devil-tree? Her eyes filled, and she could see neither the flowers nor the trees as the tears overflowed and coursed down her cheeks.

‘Mrs. Angus Smith, what is the matter?’ said the voice of Fleetwood at her side.

She turned to him, sorely in need of sympathy, yet terribly conscious that by this time he must have discovered the gem-pits, and be aware of how she and her husband had overstepped the bounds of common honesty.

‘I have lost my gardener,’ she replied, as soon as she could command her voice. ‘It seems foolish to weep over the loss of a coolie, but you know how dearly I love my flowers, and how necessary he was to me in the garden. He has been with me for twelve years, and has more knowledge of the cultivation of plants than any other native in the island. The sight of you coming suddenly upon us the other day must have frightened him, and he has run away. Some time ago I was angry with him, and threatened to cut down a certain tree in the kitchen-garden, in which his particular deity is supposed to live. Ever since then the man has been restless and nervous, and now he has bolted.’

Fleetwood did not interrupt her tale. It was manifest, from what she said, that she knew nothing of Marriner’s encounter with the man. When she had finished, he spoke.

‘Your gardener and his assistant were the two coolies whom you employed to bring the soil for the gem-washers. Do you know where they went for that soil?’

The colour dyed her cheek as she answered:

‘My husband and I never asked any questions. It was wrong—very wrong, I know. We set them to work on the narrow belt of swamp south of the river on the Nagatenne side. Without our knowledge, they crossed the south arm of the river, and began to work upon the island—’

‘—which belongs to Marriner.’

‘I know,’ she replied, with sad contrition, which softened his heart. ‘It was some time before we suspected what they were doing, and when we found out at last, I regret to say that we made no effort to stop them, but allowed them to continue their operations. Moonaswamy did it to please us, although he too was conscious that he was wrong. When he saw you he must have been fearful of the consequences, and the minute our backs were turned he fled.’

‘Considering that he was working under your orders, there was no need to be so alarmed.’

‘I suppose you have told Mr. Marriner, and that is why he will not come near us,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith presently.

‘He knows that gem-diggers have been at work on his land, but I have not mentioned the part which you and your husband have played in it.’

‘You haven’t!’ she cried, relief and joy echoing strongly in her tone. ‘How very good of you to have kept our secret! I was so afraid—’

‘Did I not promise?’ he asked, with some gravity.

‘But surely it must come to the ears of Mr. Marriner in time?’

‘I think not. It will be best for all parties if we can preserve the secret.’

‘Will the washers be silent?’ she asked, with some anxiety.

‘They serve you as dhoby and iron-men, and as long as you continue to employ them and pay their wages, they will have no inducement to betray you. They are all equally implicated in the gemming, and ought to fear Marriner’s displeasure. Can you tell me where your gardener is likely to be hiding?’

He watched her closely as she replied:

‘I have no notion at all. In the lines it is reported that he fell into the river as he was running away, and was drowned. But that report may be set abroad to stop any search and inquiry. His young brother is also missing, and I believe that they have both gone back to their coast to lie low until the trouble has blown over. The wives of the men are living in the lines, and they show no sign of uneasiness. If, on the other hand, Moonaswamy is drowned, his brother has probably hidden, in terror of being implicated in his death as well as in the gem-digging.’

‘Perhaps the brother may fear being accused of causing Moonaswamy’s death,’ suggested Fleetwood.

‘They are foolish enough for anything,’ answered Mrs. Angus Smith with some warmth. ‘I remember two of our coolies who went after honey in the reserve land. One of them fell off a rock and was killed. The other was so frightened that he buried the body in the jungle and ran away to his coast. Some months later he recovered from his panic, and came back. A few weeks afterwards it all came out through the jackals unearthing the corpse. He gave as his reason for his extraordinary conduct that he feared he should be charged with murder and hung if he brought the body home.’

‘History repeats itself sometimes,’ remarked Fleetwood thoughtfully.

He was pondering the matter over. Was it possible that the companion of the dead man had dragged him out of the water and buried him in the jungle, running away to escape the effect of Marriner’s wrath, too stupid to realize that he held a trump card in his own hand?

‘What are you doing about a gardener?’ he asked.

‘I have an estate coolie working in the garden. There is a great deal to do, as we have neglected the flowers and vegetables of late for this business.’

She glanced at the baskets and the stream.

‘Your husband will find plenty to occupy him on the estate,’ remarked Fleetwood.

‘Poor Angus! he can’t settle to anything. He misses the excitement of gemming, and wanders about the house aimlessly, or sits moodily smoking in his room. I can’t get him to take an interest in anything. It will be an immense relief to learn that you have kept our secret, and it will cheer him up.’

‘I am afraid that I am not doing my duty to my chief in holding back the information. But, apart from my promise, I would spare Marriner further annoyance. He was so upset by the sight of the extensive workings on his land that he lost his temper and worried himself over it.’

‘Were they very extensive?’ asked Mrs. Angus Smith, with something like remorse in her voice.

‘I am afraid that they were,’ replied Fleetwood candidly.

‘The gemming had taken such a hold upon my husband that he was blind to every other consideration, and he could not break off. It was like cards or any other form of gambling, with this difference, that with our very worst luck we never lost anything. At least, we always paid our expenses and were not out of pocket.’

‘Except in the matter of the estate. Lance may be able to keep up your average price by his careful supervision of the factory, but the boy can’t stop the leakage that goes on for want of the master’s eye. There are hundreds of pounds of tea made in your factory, Mrs. Angus Smith, that don’t bring you in a penny. It requires an active, shrewd man of business with a sharp eye to see that there is no shirking of duty, no trickery, no robbery.’

There was silence between them. More than once, as they talked together, the tears welled up into Mrs. Angus Smith’s eyes. She was fully alive to the illegality of gemming on the land of her neighbour. But so saturated was she with the East that her moral sense had in a measure become blunt. The sharpest’ pain that pierced her heart at the present moment was not the anguish of remorse, although remorse was undoubtedly there. It was the acute disappointment at having to relinquish the occupation which had fascinated her husband, and had not been without its attractions for herself. She was profoundly sorry for him, and in her regret she lost sight of the moral aspect of his action.

‘What induced Angus Smith to start gemming?’ asked Fleetwood presently.

‘It was my love of flowers. We came down to the swamp eighteen months ago to dig up some terrestrial orchids. Whilst Moonaswamy turned over the soil, he found a large sapphire. The coolies are always on the look-out for stones in this valley, as you know, and he was much excited over the find. In the end he persuaded my husband to do a little washing with the help of the dhoby, and our luck was just sufficient to encourage us to go on. At first we spent only a couple of hours over it in the afternoons. But as we continued to find stones in paying quantities, we gave more and more time to it.’

‘I see,’ commented Fleetwood, nodding his head.

‘If the gems hadn’t been there, I suppose we should have gone on with our legitimate planting operations, and never been tempted to encroach upon another man’s rights.’

‘It is wonderful how we put the blame on our surroundings for our faults in the East,’ he said, as he glanced at the long shadows cast by the hills in the west. ‘I must be going back to my patient. Good-bye, Mrs. Angus Smith.’

‘By-the-by, how is Mr. Marriner?’

‘Better, but still confined to the house.’

‘Miss Stratton is becoming rather uneasy about him. She has heard nothing since you called yesterday evening.’

‘He feels too depressed, probably, to write. Will you tell her from me that there is no cause for alarm?’

‘Do you think that he will walk up this evening to see his cousin?’

‘I am sure that he will not. He has been in his room all day, and is not fit to go out. A few days’ nursing, I hope, will put him right. Please reassure Miss Stratton on this point.’

‘Good-bye, Mr. Fleetwood; the talk with you has done me good.’

‘May I offer you another piece of advice?’ he said, as he took her hand extended in farewell. ‘Go down to Colombo with your husband for a week’s change by the sea.’

‘The very thing!’ she exclaimed. ‘I can do it so easily now that I have Miss Stratton with me. A little later, and she will be gone.’

Fleetwood returned to the bungalow. As he sprang up the steps into the little veranda on which his dining and drawing room opened, he was met by Marriner, whose cheek paled and flushed alternately with unallayed anxiety.


‘No news whatever,’ said Fleetwood. ‘Everything is in its normal condition in the lines of both the estates. There is no sign of excitement nor even of curiosity anywhere. Marriner, are you sure that you saw the body of the man you struck lying in the water?’

‘I’ll swear it. You have asked me that question two or three times over. I tell you again that the fellow lay there under water that was three feet deep, as dead as he could be. Have those two missing coolies come back to Nagatenne?’

‘No; it is supposed that they have run away to their coast.’

Marriner paced the room in increasing disquietude.

‘Good heavens, man! am I to wait in this uncertainty until the scared fool plucks up the courage to inform against me? I tell you, I can’t stand much more of this kind of thing.’

Fleetwood had no answer to give to the hopeless question put by his chief.

‘Have you any letter to send to Nagatenne?’ he asked.

‘No; I can’t write. I can’t bear to think of my cousin and the misery this will bring upon her. What an unlucky beggar I am! How can I think of marriage with this awful thing hanging over me? And if I don’t marry, Nayland will have his grasping fingers on the estate. For the Lord knows where the money is to come from if I don’t get it with my wife.’

‘Don’t you think that you could go down to the factory to-morrow and see to the tea? It isn’t good to be cooped up here all day.’

‘I know it isn’t, but I can’t face those men, the tea-maker and the factory coolies. I should be fancying that they knew all about it, and I should be maddened if they watched me.’

He spoke with suppressed irritation, and Fleetwood glanced involuntarily towards the whisky-bottle. But none had been taken. Whatever else he might be, Marriner was perfectly sober.

‘It leaves a good deal for me to do,’ remarked Fleetwood, hoping to spur him into activity.

‘You must get through it as best you can,’ replied the other, relapsing into the moody condition that alternated with periods of excitement.

‘I met Mrs. Angus Smith this evening,’ remarked Fleetwood.

‘Oh!’ murmured Marriner, scarcely heeding what was said.

‘She and her husband will probably be running down to Colombo before long.’

‘How soon do you think that they will be off?’ asked Marriner, his interest aroused.

‘As soon as they can get away. Mrs. Angus Smith wants to go before she loses Miss Stratton.’

‘No fear of losing her just yet as far as I am concerned,’ said Marriner, with a grim smile of despair.

The last ray of daylight had died away, and Fleetwood called for the lamp. When it was brought, his eye wandered towards the writing-table.

‘Have you written up the books, Marriner? I had them sent up here, as I thought you might like to have some occupation.’

‘I tried to do a little work, but I couldn’t,’ replied Marriner miserably. ‘Whether I am awake or asleep the vision of that drowned coolie comes before my eyes, with the yellow palms of his hands turned uppermost and his frayed cotton cloth floating down the stream. I shall go mad if this state of suspense lasts much longer.’

In utter wretchedness, he flung himself back into the chair from which he had risen when Fleetwood turned up the lamp. He could never rest long in one position, and frequently moved about the room like a caged beast. He watched his assistant as he bent over the estate account books. Suddenly he asked:

‘Have you paid away all that money that was drawn on the estate account for wages last week?’

‘All but a few rupees.’

They relapsed into silence until it was time to prepare for dinner.

‘After dinner I think I shall go for a walk. I must have some fresh air and exercise.’

Fleetwood looked at him for a moment.

‘Shall I come with you?’ he said, although he was dog-tired with tramping about the estate all day in his endeavour to get the work of two men done by one.

‘No, certainly not,’ answered Marriner brusquely.

‘I’ll just take a swinging constitutional so as to give me a chance of sleeping to-night. I feel as if I could walk to Kandy and back. Last night I never closed my eyes at all.’

The moment dinner was over Marriner left the table, and, taking his hat and stick, started away down the hill towards the river. Fleetwood gazed after him as he disappeared in the semi-darkness of the clear star-lit night—there was no moon—and he wondered if he had done wrong in letting the distracted man go forth alone.

Daniel Grassendale was sitting in his smoking-room, having dined with his sister and niece for the last time.

To-morrow he would be alone; but it was not of this that he was ruminating as he lighted his second cigar.

It was later than usual when he joined Mrs. Gorleston in the drawing-room. He found her alone.

You’ve been asleep, Dan,’ she said reproachfully, as he entered.

‘Indeed I have not. I have been indulging in an extra cigar,’ he replied cheerfully.

‘Georgie was so tired that she went to bed.’

‘Quite right, too. She will have to be up early to-morrow morning. What time have you ordered the carriage?’

She told him. ‘I’m sorry to be leaving you, Dan. We have had an extremely pleasant visit,’ she said.

‘In spite of poor Georgie having been out of her element,’ he replied, with a smile.

She ignored the remark, and continued: ‘I shall confidently expect you home in June—not later, as Georgie and I go to Folkestone in July—and that will give you time to see something of the theatres and picture-galleries, as well as look for a wife, before you leave London for the seaside.’

He listened, smiling, as she continued to enlarge on the programme she was arranging. When she ceased he said quietly:

‘I am sorry to disappoint you, but you must give up all hope of seeing me this year. Possibly I may come next.’

‘Oh, Dan, this is very tiresome of you—very weak of you, I might say, to allow anything to interfere with our plans.’

‘Your plans,’ he corrected. ‘I warned you not to take anything for certain.’

‘Then, I suppose that I must wait till next year. I hope you will make a point of coming home then, and I will do my best to find you a nice wife.’

‘Thanks; it is very good of you, but I shall not need your services,’ he replied.

‘Changed your mind and going to remain single? Well, perhaps you are right,’ she said placidly, without the faintest suspicion that he had taken the matter into his own hands.

‘On the contrary, I am quite determined to marry. But, instead of leaving the choice with you, I have chosen for myself, and I don’t think that I have made a mess of it, as you suggested would be likely to happen. I am sure that I have secured the beet-hearted, truest little girl and the cleverest housewife in the district.’

Who is she?’ demanded Mrs. Gorleston, her eyes nearly starting from her head, as she gazed across the hearthrug at her beaming but reprobate brother.

‘Ivy Osterley,’ he replied, enjoying the sensation he was creating.

‘That homely little colonial over the way?’ she inquired scornfully.

He burst into a hearty laugh that reached the ears of his sleepy niece in the retirement of her room.

‘You have guessed right, although I don’t altogether approve of your description of the lady,’ he said.

Mrs. Gorleston rose in dudgeon.

‘Really, Dan, I don’t know what to say. I can’t congratulate you on your choice. A man like you might have done so much better.’

‘That is a matter of opinion.’

‘And when do you propose to make this preposterous marriage?’ she asked.

‘As soon as possible. At my age there is absolutely no need to wait longer than is required for the lady to get her outfit,’ he replied, purposely using her own words. ‘At least, you can wish me well.’

His new happiness lighted up his whole being, and took off at least ten years in his appearance. Mrs. Gorleston looked at him and softened. She was much attached to her brother, and had no desire to be estranged from him.

‘I do wish you well, Dan, with all my heart; and I sincerely hope that the woman you have chosen will prove a good wife. You will make her the best of husbands in the world, for, though you are a bit of a fool where women are concerned, you are a very good fellow.’

She retired to her room, reflecting that men were poor things, but that they could not help it. After all, they were but as God made them.

Chapter XXII

Mrs. Angus Smith lost no time in acting on the advice offered by Fleetwood. Her husband hailed the suggestion with delight. When he learned, further, that, although Marriner had discovered the gem-pits, he was still ignorant of the part played by himself in their formation, his spirits rose and his natural cheerfulness reasserted itself.

In consideration of her husband’s depression, Mrs. Angus Smith did her best to console him with creature comforts. She bestowed more thought and time on her housekeeping. Always a good caterer, she surpassed all former efforts, personally superintending the preparation of some of the dishes.

Nora was invited to stay to dinner, but she had her own reasons for hurrying homewards at sunset. Larch was not a man to let the grass grow under his feet, and she did not return to Puloya unescorted.

It was a particularly good dinner to which the Angus Smith family sat down that evening. The reaction in the mood of the master of the house caused him to be more merry than usual; and in proportion as his spirits rose the geniality of his wife was restored.

By the time the dinner was ended the last vestige of dejection had disappeared. Grateful for his escape from the degradation of being charged by his neighbour with fraudulent practice, he was full of cheery optimism.

‘I was pleased to hear of Miss Hapland’s engagement,’ he remarked, as he offered Audine a glass of port wine. ‘What? You won’t have any? But you must drink to the happiness of Nora and her fiancé. She is a capital girl.’

‘And Mr. Larch is desperately in love with her,’ added Mrs. Angus Smith. ‘Did she tell you when they were to be married?’ she asked of Audine.

‘Some time in May, and they are going home for their honeymoon. I shall probably meet her in London, as my cousin and I think of taking a run home in the summer.’

‘How Nora will enjoy it!’ said Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘I like a girl who has an enormous capacity for enjoyment,’ remarked her husband. ‘It means good-temper, unselfishness, and a genial disposition. The ill-tempered, self-centred people cannot be happy even if they are millionaires. Money doesn’t make men happy.’

‘One can’t be happy without enough money,’ said Audine, remembering how important a part it played in the making of her own and her cousin’s happiness.

‘What is enough?’ asked Lance.

‘What will buy all you want and leave you a rupee or two over, my boy,’ replied his father, with a laugh.

He rose from the table, while his thoughtful son made a mental calculation of what would be sufficient to insure his own happiness.

‘I will have a smoke, and then we will turn in, as we must be off in good time to-morrow morning,’ he said.

‘You ordered the carriage?’

‘I sent a coolie off with the order before dinner.’

He walked away in the direction of the smoking-room, humming an air that he had heard Audine sing.

As Mrs. Angus Smith entered the drawing-room, she said:

‘I hope you don’t mind this sudden departure. My husband and I only made up our minds to go down to Colombo after I came in from my walk.’

‘I think it is so sensible of you,’ replied Audine. It will be the very thing for him.’

‘He has worried himself over the loss of Moonaswamy more than a little, and the sea air will blow away the cobwebs of his vexation.’

‘How long will you be away?’

‘Only a week. If you will excuse me, I will go and put my things together. There will be so little time in the morning to do anything.’

Lance and Tony begged for music, and kept Audine at the piano until they retired to bed. After they had gone she took up a magazine and settled herself in a comfortable chair by the fire. Half an hour later Mrs. Angus Smith entered.

‘Alone, Miss Stratton! I thought my husband was here.’

‘I have seen nothing of him, and supposed that he was packing, too.’

‘Oh dear no. Angus can’t pack for himself. I always do all that for him. He must have dropped off over his cigar. Poor fellow! the last two nights he has slept so badly.’

‘I don’t think he can be asleep; I heard his voice a short time ago.’

‘Probably the conductor has been up to see him, and he has been giving him orders for the week that we shall be away. You are sure that you don’t mind being left in charge of the house, Miss Stratton?’

‘Not in the least. If I am in any difficulty I have my cousin close at hand to help me,’ replied Audine.

Mrs. Angus Smith remained silent for a few minutes. Audine rose, and, closing her book, prepared to go to her room, observing that it was past ten o’clock, and later than she had imagined.

‘If anything should occur concerning the missing gardener and his assistant, will you kindly write to Mr. Fleetwood and not to your cousin?’ said Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘Certainly, if you wish,’ replied Audine.

Something in her voice prompted the other lady to offer an explanation for making the request.

‘I have already told Mr. Fleetwood about the circumstances of Moonaswamy’s disappearance, his fear of the tree-devil, and my rash threat to cut the tree down, and so he will understand better than Mr. Marriner how to act in the matter. Your cousin knows nothing, and—you won’t mind my saying so—he hasn’t the same forbearance with the follies of the coolies as Mr. Fleetwood possesses.’

‘I am afraid that Jermyn is a little impatient, so I dare say you are right. If necessary, I will send Lance over to Mr. Fleetwood. It is quite possible that Jermyn may not be able to get out and about for some days with this low fever upon him, although Mr. Fleetwood gave you a favourable account of him this afternoon.’

Mrs. Angus Smith turned down the lamp.

‘It is time we were all in bed,’ she said. ‘I must go and see what my husband is doing. Good-night, Miss Stratton. Mind you make Lance useful while I am away. You will find him very helpful and capable. I don’t know what I should do without the boy.’

Talking thus, they both moved into the long central passage upon which the sitting- as well as the bed-rooms opened. They met Angus Smith, who issued from the smoking-room, closing the door behind him without shutting it altogether.

‘Going to bed? I suppose it is time we went,’ he exclaimed.

‘Quite time, my dear,’ replied his wife. ‘Turn out the lamp in the smoking-room or let me do it.’

He remained standing before the door as he answered:

‘Give me a quarter of an hour longer, Alys. I have another letter to write.’

‘All right; be quick about it. Dear me, Angus! how many cigars have you smoked, I wonder?’

As Audine went into her own apartment, the elder lady entered the smoking-room with her husband. Before the master of the house and his wife sought their pillows, the girl was deep in the slumber of untroubled youth.

It was still dark at the little bungalow when Fleetwood’s servant entered the sitting-room. The lamp had burnt itself out, and was dying with the usual sputtering and bad smell common to paraffin lights.

On the sofa lay his master, still wearing the dress he had dined in. Fleetwood opened his eyes and sprang up with a startled expression.

‘Halloo, appoo! I’ve been asleep. What time is it?’

‘Five o’clock, sir.’

‘Five o’clock!’ he repeated in astonishment. ‘Why, it is time to get up for muster.’

He was still slightly confused with heavy sleep.

‘The tomtom has sounded first time, sir,’ said the appoo, looking at him with mild surprise.

His master was most orderly in his habits, and had never done such a thing before as forget to go to bed.

‘Bring me a cup of coffee, appoo.’

The man departed to the kitchen to do his master’s bidding. The moment he had gone Fleetwood hurried to the little spare room which he had given to Marriner.

It was dimly lighted by the bedroom lamp, which stood on the dressing-table still alight. The bed was empty, and, from all appearances, it had not been slept in.

‘What a fool I was to let him go out alone!’ thought the assistant, more troubled in his mind than he cared to admit.

He went to his own room, where he hastily changed from his evening clothes to a rough tweed suit. The appoo knocked at his door and handed him a cup of steaming coffee, which he swallowed at once, the warm beverage clearing his brain and making his blood circulate freely.

He had sat up for some time after dinner, expecting Marriner in every minute. The hours passed, with no sign of him, and, overcome with drowsiness, he had thrown himself upon the couch, fully anticipating that the wanderer would rouse him when he came in. He fell into the deep, dreamless sleep of a man who was fatigued by long hours of work in the open air, and he might have slept another hour if the appoo had not entered to draw the blinds and open the windows.

The sound of the second tomtom calling the coolies to muster reminded him of his daily routine of duty. He left the house to superintend the roll-call, and to despatch the crowd of shivering mortals, wrapped closely in their blankets, to their daily tasks. In a couple of hours’ time they would be basking in the warm rays of the sun, independent of their blankets.

Returning to the bungalow, he made his customary early meal, wasting no time over it. Whilst he ate he questioned the appoo, who, however, could tell him nothing. None of the servants had seen Marriner leave the house, and the only suggestion the man could offer was that the big master had returned to his own home.

Thither Fleetwood bent his steps, but the domestics there declared that their master had not been seen on the premises since he left for the little bungalow.

Whilst the assistant hesitated as to his next course of action, he received a message from the tea-maker, begging him to come down to the factory as soon as possible. The superintendent had omitted to give the necessary orders for the despatch of a break of tea, which was ready packed for shipment to England. It ought to be sent off at once, or it might miss the vessel.

Finding himself so near the Nagatenne factory, he crossed the river and looked inside the building. Lance and the tea-maker were in the withering-shed.

‘Good-morning, Lance. Is your father here?’

‘He and mother left this morning for Colombo just before I came down. A carriage was to meet them at the cart road to take them to the station. They have written for rooms at the Galle Face Hotel for a week. Father told me to look after the factory.’

Whilst Fleetwood was amused at the promptness with which the paternal advice had been taken, he mentally commended the boy’s mother for having carried her husband off to the sea without delay.

‘Have you seen anything of Mr. Marriner up at Nagatenne?’

‘No; Miss Stratton said he was ill in bed.’

‘He is better, and has been out fora walk. Has Moonaswamy come back?’

‘Not yet; they are saying now in the lines that he is dead, that he got drowned running away from the devil.’

Fleetwood could not help smiling

‘Not a very likely story,’ he said, turning to go.

‘Wait a moment, Mr. Fleetwood. Will you kindly tell me if this leaf is sufficiently withered? I say that it is, but the tea-maker wants it to remain until the afternoon.’

The old man did not look best pleased as he listened to his young master, and he began to assure the visitor that it was by Mr. Angus Smith’s own orders that the leaf was kept so long on the tats. Fleetwood handled it, and said decisively:

It has been here quite long enough, Lance. Get on with it at once, or you will have it spoilt. By-the-by, where is Miss Stratton this morning?’

‘She went for a walk, as usual, with Tony and Terry and the dogs. They are coming round this way, and will be here presently if you want them.’

‘I am afraid I can’t wait. Good-bye, Lance; see that the leaf is rolled without any further delay.’

Fleetwood strode back across the stepping-stones.

Audine was the last person he wished at that moment to encounter. To avoid all chance of an interview, he climbed to the further extremity of the estate, where his presence happened to be required. From there he descended to the swamp, returning by the river at an hour when he knew that the children and their companion would be in the house.

He did not stop to inquire his reasons for visiting the river again. But as he entered the bungalow, later than usual, he was sensible of a distinct feeling of relief. He had not allowed his thoughts to take any definite form of apprehension; yet the vague shadow of a possible catastrophe haunted him continually.

Marriner had declared more than once that life under its present conditions was intolerable. Recalling his expressions to mind, Fleetwood blamed himself for having given way to fatigue instead of maintaining a watch over the distracted man. The desperation of a weak nature, left to itself, might prompt a rash and hasty act, and add yet another tragedy to the chain of events that had already taken place.

When Audine returned home after her morning walk with Tony and Terry, she inquired if any letter had come for her from Galla. She was puzzled more than alarmed when the answer was given in the negative. Mrs. Angus Smith had assured her the evening before on the word of Fleetwood that the ailment was not serious. Now Lance brought the news that Jermyn had been out walking. She did not understand his prolonged silence and absence after the devotion he had shown during the last two months.

No lover could have been more eager to secure a tête-à-tête, more keen to seize the opportunities offered of claiming her undivided attention. On more than one occasion he had shown impatience when the children demanded their customary privilege of having her companionship; and if two or three days passed without seeing her, he regarded it as a grievance, and expostulated with her on what he had more than once termed her indifference. In addition to their frequent meetings, she received a letter whenever the interval between the meetings extended over the twenty-four hours.

During the day she continued to look for a message or a letter, or the appearance of her cousin himself, but she was doomed to disappointment. As each hour passed, she became more uneasy. At three o’clock she said to Lance, who had just finished an arithmetic lesson with her:

‘I think I should like a ride this afternoon. Will you come, Lance?’

‘I am very sorry, Miss Stratton; I am afraid I can’t. I promised father that I would see the leaf weighed between four and five; and afterwards I promised mother that I would hunt the kitchen-garden for a rat or a wild cat. Something has been at the pineapples and young turnips, which seems more like a rat than anything else.’

‘Would a cat eat fruit?’

‘A jungle-cat eats peaches and pineapples and passion fruit, so does a jackal. And the worst of it is that the brutes spoil twice as many as they actually devour.’

‘Then I shall go by myself. I want a good gallop.’

‘And the cob wants exercise badly. I’ll order the saddle to be put on, so that you can start directly after tea.’

Lance, in the absence of his parents, was quite patriarchal.

Audine changed her dress for the riding-habit, and then dispensed the tea. The cob was waiting for her as she finished, and she started without further delay.

She was not sorry to be going alone. The paths on the estates obliged the riders to go in single file, and when she had a companion there was usually twenty yards’ distance between them; otherwise the gravel scattered by the hoofs of the foremost animal caught the eyes of the horse and rider following.

The cob was very fresh. She trotted him down to the cart road, and then turned northwards up the valley between Puloya and Mahlipatna. On the narrow strip of grass that bordered the road she let him go at will, and he gradually sobered down. The syce hung about the road until she returned, not going further than the boundary between Galla and Puloya.

The atmosphere was cool and invigorating, in spite of the warm afternoon sun. Her spirits rose as she passed swiftly through the air, meeting the north-east breeze; and she, like Nora, thought how good it was to be alive—to feel, to see, and to enjoy the world as it was presented by ‘the gem of the sea.’

Four miles of gently undulating road with more of ascent than descent in it reduced the cob to order, and she set his head homewards.

When she reached the Galla estate she turned up towards Marriner’s bungalow. Although she had been led to believe that he was staying for a few days with Fleetwood, she thought it probable that his servants might be able to give her news of their master’s state of health, and tell her where she could find him, if he was out walking. She had frequently been to the Galla bungalow since the departure of the assistant.

The new appoo, who was to be her servant by-and-by, greeted her with the information that his master had not yet returned.

‘Is he still at Mr. Fleetwood’s house?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know, lady,’ replied the man.

‘Has the drawing-room carpet come from Colombo?’

‘It was brought up from the station three days ago, and by the order of the master I have unpacked it and put it down. Will lady come and see?’

The sun was still well above the horizon, promising at least half an hour more of broad daylight. She slipped from the saddle and gave the reins to the syce.

Entering the drawing-room, she examined the carpet, and expressed her approval. It was a great improvement to the room.

‘You need not wait, appoo,’ she said.

He salaamed and left her. Looking round the room, she mentally arranged the furniture, which at present was pushed on one side to allow of the laying of the carpet.

So absorbed was she in the contemplation and planning of the room that she did not hear the footfall of someone who approached from the hall. A chink of silver anklets caused her to look round. The handsome Tamil woman whom she had encountered on her first visit to Galla stood before her.

‘What do you want?’ she asked in a voice that was unconsciously sharp and inimical

‘Lady, I want my husband,’ she replied in fluent English.

‘Your husband!’ echoed Audine, surprised. ‘I know nothing about your husband.’

‘Yes, yes, you do! You have taken him from me—you have hidden him! He is gone, and you alone know where he is,’ continued the woman, with increasing agitation.

‘You make a great mistake. I think you had better go to Mr. Fleetwood,’ counselled Audine coldly, as she moved towards the door.

At the mention of Fleetwood’s name the woman clenched her fists in sudden rage, and cried with a rapid torrent of words:

‘The Sinna Dorai has always been my enemy. When he first came to live here, he tried to persuade Marriner Dorai to drive me away—me, the wife of Marriner Dorai, the mother of his sons! But he would not listen. His command was that I should remain; and I remained and bore him another son. You have set your desires upon him, and for your sake he at last allowed the Sinna Dorai to order me to depart—me and my two sons. Such is the justice of the English! And because I would not go—because I refused to leave the estate, the Peria Dorai has run away to some place known only to you.’

She paused, and regarded the astounded English girl with eyes that flamed in anger.

‘Mr. Marriner has not run away,’ asserted Audine.

‘I tell you, lady, that he has; and that you know very well where he has gone.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Audine, feeling stunned for the moment with all she had learned.

‘He did not sleep at the little bungalow, and he was not here last night. After dining with the Sinna Dorai he went out alone. The night watchman at the factory saw him cross the stepping-stones by the Nagatenne factory. He told me, though he said, when the Sinna Dorai asked him, that no one passed.’

Audine was dumb. The information poured into her ears by the agitated woman had given her a shock.

She again moved towards the door, anxious only to escape, to have time to think over all that she had heard.

But the woman had not finished. Changing suddenly from the defiant, self-assertive manner which she had adopted as she declared her identity, she assumed a suppliant attitude. Falling on her knees before Audine, she burst into passionate weeping.

‘Ah, lady, do not be angry!’ she pleaded between her sobs. We women of Ceylon can love as well as you women of England. It will kill me if the father of my two children passes out of my life. Give him back to me. Tell me where he is, and let me go to him.’

Her pleading touched the heart of Audine and filled her with pity. She leaned over the prostrate woman and said:

‘I will do you no wrong. Come and see me at Nagatenne; I will try to obtain justice for you from him whom you call husband. From me at least you need not fear injustice.’

The sobs of the woman died down, and she rose to her feet. Taking Audine’s hand, she kissed it.

‘Lady, you are good and not cruel, as I thought. That day when I showed you my sons—my beautiful boys—did you not know?’

‘I did not understand, but I do now,’ answered Audine gently.

She was rapidly recovering her presence of mind, and was astonished at her own calmness under the strange circumstances. For the third time she made a move towards the door. The sun was setting, and it was time that she went on her way home. The woman followed close at her heels, wiping her handsome eyes, and still speaking.

‘Lady does not know where Marriner Dorai has gone?’ she asked in milder tones.

‘I know nothing except that he was at Mr. Fleetwood’s bungalow yesterday, sick with fever.’

The woman was about to reply, when she caught the sound of a booted footstep outside. Quickly drawing back, she opened the door of the dining-room and disappeared, closing the door behind her. Audine passed on, and met Fleetwood on the threshold.

The light of the sun shone full upon her face. He scrutinized her closely as they stood together in the veranda, upon which the windows of the dining and drawing rooms opened.

‘Are you feeling ill, Miss Stratton?’ he demanded, with an anxiety which caused him to be abrupt in his manner.

‘No, thank you; I have been for a ride, and am a little tired. I—I called to have a look at the new carpet. It is very handsome.’

He was not satisfied. Something in her voice, as well as her appearance, indicated to his sharp, sensitive ear that all was not well with her.

‘Have you heard from your cousin?’ he asked.

‘Not a word. I have been a little anxious during the day at his unusual silence. Perhaps you can tell me how he is.’

‘He has left my house, and has gone to Colombo.’

‘Indeed!’ was her only comment.

‘I have just received a wire from him. It appears that he spent the night at Nagatenne, and went down with the Angus Smiths this morning.’

‘Indeed!’ she repeated, but in a different tone, indicating undoubted astonishment this time.

‘You saw nothing of him, then?’ he asked.

‘Nothing. He was not with them when they left the bungalow. How very extraordinary! Now I come to think of it, Mr. Angus Smith was detained an unusually long time in his smoking-room last evening. Jermyn must have been there, and probably slept on the sofa in that room. I wonder why he has behaved so oddly, so secretly.’

Fleetwood did not suggest any solution to the mystery, but continued to give what information he had of his absent chief.

‘Marriner says that he is staying at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo. The telegram was despatched on his arrival there, and he promises to follow it up with a letter.’

The sun dropped behind the forest-covered hills in the west.

‘I must be going home. Will you walk a little way with me, Mr. Fleetwood?’

‘With pleasure,’ he replied, studying her face.

There was no indication of the pleasure that he conventionally spoke of. On the contrary, his firmly-closed mouth suggested that he had undertaken something which was not at all to his mind. He was on the defensive, ready to parry the questions which he expected her to ask.

They stepped out side by side along the smooth gravel path that led down towards the factory, the syce leading the cob behind them. Nothing was said for some minutes. The catechism which had seemed to him inevitable did not come. When they were halfway down the hill, Audine spoke.

‘I think I know why my cousin has gone away without a word to me.’

He waited to hear more before he made any comment. The explanation was slow in coming.

‘He is ashamed,’ she continued.

‘Of what?’ he asked, his thoughts busy with Marriner’s encounter with the coolie in the swamp.

Them was a longer pause than before. Her eyes resolutely avoided his, as she made the effort to bring out the words on her unwilling tongue.

‘Of the woman with the two boys,’ she replied at length.

He caught his breath and remained silent. They descended into the valley, which was bathed in the transient beauty of the afterglow. She did not speak again until they reached the point where the path divided, one branch leading to the bridge, the other going in a direct line to the stepping-stones near the Nagatenne factory.

‘Will you tell the syce to take the cob round by the bridge? I shall walk on, and cross the river by the stepping-stones.’

He did as she desired, and resumed his place by her side without waiting for a further invitation. At the stepping-stones he gave her a hand to help her across.

In the middle of the river she stopped, still retaining his hand, and they stood close together on the same stone. The water murmured all round them, isolating them from the land by its noisy babbling.

A sudden wild desire seized him to pour out the story of his love and worship, to compel her in his strength to rest in his arms. But he resisted the impulse, although the demon of temptation whispered in his ear that she would listen and yield. Since they left the Galla bungalow a miracle had taken place. The gulf between them was bridged; the barrier was gone, and her coldness and reserve had melted into an amazing tenderness that lifted him into a heaven of bliss. Close as they stood on the limited space of the central stepping-stone, in spirit they had been drawn nearer and closer still. It was hard to keep silence, but the time had not come to say what was in his heart. The passionate speech would only have alarmed her, and perhaps have raised the hated barrier once more between them.

‘How lovely it is!’ she exclaimed, her eyes towards the setting sun hidden behind the forest. ‘The water is like molten gold, and we seem to be standing alone in the middle of a golden world.’

He did not trust himself to answer, but his hand tightened upon the fingers that lay in his palm. Was it in truth the dawning of a golden world for him? She moved on, and he guided the last little jump that landed her safe on the bank. She withdrew her hand, and with the action he was brought back to mundane matters.

‘Will you wait for the cob?’ he asked.

‘No; I would rather walk.’

When they had climbed another five minutes, Audine said: ‘I saw her just now at the bungalow. She was speaking to me when you arrived. You frightened her away.’

‘Oh!’ was his sole comment on this piece of information.

Again he searched her face for an emotion that was not there. Why was she not angry? Where was the wrath and the indignation that might reasonably be expected at the revelation of her cousin’s faithlessness?

‘Now you must go back,’ she said, when she arrived at the archway of yellow roses and blue plumbago.

‘It was very good of you to walk home with me just at the moment when I was most in need of a companion like yourself.’

His heart throbbed at her words, and he made no effort to veil the light of passion that sprang into his eyes. The afterglow had vanished, and twilight over-shadowed the landscape, but it seemed to him that the golden glory that so lately enveloped them still clung round his soul. Again he controlled himself, and took refuge in commonplace speech.

‘If you want to write to your cousin, his address is the Gallo Face Hotel,’ he said.

‘So you told me a short while ago.’ She lifted her eyes to his, and he held her hand in farewell. She did not attempt to withdraw it. ‘I don’t think that I shall need the address.’ There was an eloquent pause of a few seconds. Then, her voice altering with a suddenness that bewildered him, she said in a tone of supreme pity, ‘Oh, poor Jermyn.’

The shadow of a smile curved her lips as she uttered the words In another moment she had left him, and was hurrying towards the house.

‘Poor Jermyn!’ Was that all she had to say?

He remembered the day when he had attempted to take the burden off the shoulders of Marriner and place it on his own. There was no pity for him then as there was now for her cousin. What was the meaning of it? Pity was akin to love, but it was not love. Could it be possible that the pity which induced her to promise to marry Marriner had never developed into anything stronger, in spite of her protestations to the contrary? If she had been in love, the knowledge that she had just acquired ought to have hurt her, ought to have roused within her breast a rage and jealousy that should have flamed up into expression, into tears possibly.

Certainly it should have created an intolerance towards her rival which was entirely absent.

But there was neither anger, jealousy, nor intolerance. The beginning and the end of her feeling on the subject was pity, and all she could say was, ‘Poor Jermyn.’

A smile—such as had touched the lips of Audine as she left him—slowly illuminated the face of Fleetwood, and a great gladness lightened his heart.

Once he stopped on his way home and looked towards the west. The heavy forest on the Government reserves stood out black against an opalescent sky that shone with translucent green and flaming crimson. But he was not thinking of the glories of the sun when he bowed his head and uttered the words, ‘Thank God.’

Chapter XXIII

Lance was busy at the factory until past five o’clock.

As soon as he could leave he hurried home, and, accompanied by the dogs, went into the kitchen-garden to look for the marauder. The new garden coolie was also present, being quite as much interested in the proceedings as the dogs and the children.

The kitchen-garden was fenced in with a park paling, as has already been said, to preserve the vegetables from the depredations of the hares. The thief must have entered by burrowing under the paling or by climbing over the gate. As there were no signs of footmarks on the gate or the paling, Lance was of opinion that it was a large rat, and that it had entered by a burrow.

He fastened Tinker and Lord Cork to the leather thongs, which he placed in the hands of Tony. The yellow dog was also put upon a leash, and Lance was about to charge the garden coolie with the care of him when Terry claimed him.

‘Let me hold the D. He will be quite good with me,’ she pleaded.

‘You are not to be trusted, Terry,’ said her brother, regarding her dubiously.

‘Yes, I am,’ protested the child vehemently, tears springing into the eager young eyes as she spoke. ‘I will take the greatest care of him, and not let him pull away from my hands. The garden coolie can help if he is troublesome. But he is such a dear, sweet doggy that I am sure he will be quite good.’

‘Of course, you can hold him all right if you choose,’ replied Lance, handing the leash over with some reluctance. ‘I want to work first with the Twins. They are more obedient than the terriers. But if they can’t manage to turn the beast out, I must try Tinker and Lord Cork. The Twins won’t face a cat, but the terriers will.’

‘So will the D. Can’t he go after the rat, too?’ inquired Terry, jealous on behalf of her favourite.

No, not at first. He rushes in and gets in the way when anything has to be shot or killed, and then Lord Cork loses his temper and goes for him, and there is a danger of the dogs getting hurt.’

Under the directions of Lance, the spaniels hunted the garden systematically, without damaging the young vegetables, beginning at the entrance, and working gradually up to the pineapple bed at the other end.

Nothing, however, was started. The terriers nearly strangled themselves in their endeavours to advance a few inches beyond the limit allowed by Tony. They were devoured with jealousy of the more fortunate Major and Minor, who were having all the fun to themselves, and they growled threateningly whenever the spaniels approached them.

The D. behaved with more patience and discretion, standing quietly by Terry’s aide, merely sniffing and glancing up into her face with mute entreaty to be permitted to join in the chase. By-and-by he whimpered, and as he did so he rubbed himself affectionately against the sturdy, black-stockinged legs of his keeper.

Terry understood the action as clearly as if the dog had been gifted with human speech. She patted him, saying:

‘No, you little D., you mustn’t go. Poor doggy! you would soon find the rat and chaw him up, wouldn’t you, dear?’

The yellow dog quivered at the sound of her sympathetic tone, and whined with acute disappointment.

Lance and the gardener began to beat the pineapple border, in the centre of which stood the devil-tree, with its black stone shining with recent anointment at the hands of the new gardener. Suddenly there was a shout from the coolie.

‘Here—here it is, little master!’ cried the man in wild excitement, as he made vicious punches with his stick beneath the stiff, aloe-like foliage of the pineapples.

There was a sound of scuffling under the leaves, whilst the coolie pursued the creature with continued proddings.

‘What is it?’ asked Lance, running up, but keeping the obedient Twins close to heel.

‘I can’t say, sir,’ replied the man.

‘Shall I let Lord Cork loose?’ called Tony.

‘No,’ replied Lance, with unusual excitement. ‘Hold them both well in hand, and keep them out of the way.’

‘Is it a rat or a cat?’ asked Tony.

But Lance did not answer, being too much occupied in making the Twins come to heel and stay there.

‘There—there it is, sir! It’s as big as a cat!’ exclaimed the gardener in Tamil, as he hit violently at the object, which was still sheltered by the strong leaves of the pineapples.

‘Stop that!’shouted Lance in the language of the man. ‘You will spoil the plants. Let us hunt it out into the open, and then you can knock it over.’

In obedience to the boy’s order, the gardener recommenced prodding with his stick, which was productive of more scuffling beneath the stiff pine foliage.

At this the D.’s feelings were too much for him, and he gave vent to a melancholy, self-pitying howl, looking up into the face of his little mistress with irresistible canine entreaty. It was too much for Terry. Oblivious of the injunctions of Lanoe, she bent over the yellow dog, her fingers busy with the swivel of the leash. The dog seemed to comprehend what she was about. He ceased quivering, and stood motionless as she set him free.

With a leap forward, he bounded to the spot, unerring in his instinct, and hurled himself on the gray moving object which the gardener’s stick had at that moment dislodged from its shelter. The yellow dog opened his strong jaws to give the grip on the neck that is so fatal to the rat. Instead of bolting in terror, the animal became motionless, and stiffened itself defensively to receive the attack.

There was an exclamation of dismay from Lance, which was echoed by the gardener. It was followed immediately by a heart-rending shriek from the D. The yellow dog drew back, staggering and dazed, his head bent downwards in a vain attempt to reach something protruding from his chest. Before he could pluck out the object with his glistening white teeth, he dropped to the ground. There was a flutter of the eyelids; his limbs twitched convulsively; he gave a few gasps for the breath that was fast fleeting, and then, stretching out his long, lanky legs, he lay perfectly still.

‘Oh, Terry! you promised to keep him safe, and you let him loose!’ cried Lance, his attention diverted from the gardener, who had succeeded in driving the animal into a corner of the paling, and was despatching it with a shower of blows.

Tony and Terry ran up to the spot where the dog lay, and the three children bent over the motionless body, whilst Lord Cork and Tinker sniffed suspiciously at their inanimate kennel companion.

‘What’s the matter with the D.?’ asked Terry in accents of alarm.

‘He is dead,’ replied her brother, lifting the head of the yellow dog and examining the glazing eyes.

He passed his hand over the chest as he spoke.

‘What has killed him?’ asked Tony in an awed voice.

‘This,’ he replied, as he drew out the quill of a porcupine.

He felt along the coarse tawny fur, and took out a second, and then a third. Two of the quills had pierced the heart of the dog, and the third had penetrated the lungs.

‘Dead! dead! The D. dead! Oh, Lance, he isn’t dead! My darling little D.! Wake up. Open your eyes, dear doggy! Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?’ And poor distracted Terry lifted up her voice and wailed in her poignant grief.

At that moment the garden coolie returned with triumph written on his dark features. In his hand he carried by the hind leg a full-grown porcupine. The spaniels and the terriers diverted their attention from the prostrate body of the D. to the common enemy of all dogs, barking at it, but not venturing too near.

It was a sad little party that went back to the bungalow, Lance carrying the dead body of the dog, and the coolie bearing the porcupine. Terry sobbed her heart out, and Tony wept gently in sympathetic sorrow.

Even Lance, with all his manliness, was not dry-eyed as he laid the yellow dog down on the floor of the back veranda.

Terry was exhausted by the violence of her weeping, but she refused to be comforted or to leave the dead body of her pet. The appoo, concerned to see the child so overcome, urged Lance to bury the dog at once, and put it away out of sight. With this end in view, he directed the garden coolie to dig a grave for it, going himself to choose a spot in the flower border near the tennis courts.

Audine, returning from her walk from the Galla bungalow, found a melancholy group within the house.

Lance and the appoo hailed her appearance with relief.

It did not take her long to prevail upon Terry to come to her own room, where she succeeded in assuaging the violence of the child’s grief.

Lance and the appoo, with Tony as chief mourner, laid the poor D. to his rest among the tea-roses. The gardener, acting under the directions of Lance, raised a little narrow ridge of earth to mark the spot, and Tony stuck it about with sprigs of orange-blossom. It was quite dark by the time they had finished.

‘It’s a terrible lesson to Terry,’ said Lance, as he walked back to the bungalow with Tony.

‘I am glad that it wasn’t Tinker or Lord Cork,’ observed his sister.

‘That’s what father will say: he never liked the D.; but the yellow dog had his good points, though he was such a pariah.’

In her efforts to comfort Terry, Audine forgot her own troubles. Fortunately, sleep quickly overcame the tired, grieving child, and after a poor supper Audine tucked her up in her little bed in the nursery, holding her hand until she dropped off into sound slumber.

Hastening with her toilet, Audine joined Lance and Tony at the dinner-table. There she made an effort to break the gloom that had settled upon them, and by the time dinner was ended their spirits had in a measure revived under her influence; they no longer had Terry’s misery before their eyes to appeal to their ready sympathies.

After dinner Audine was summoned. by the appoo to see someone who wished to speak with her. She was absent about a quarter of an hour, and when she rejoined them her colour was heightened and her eyes shone with suppressed emotion of some kind.

She seated herself at the piano, and played and sang for the children until it was time for them to retire.

After they had gone, she threw herself into a chair, and sat down to think over the startling events of the day. Perhaps the thing that astonished and puzzled her most was her own state of mind. Why was she not angry and annoyed? How was it that she felt relief rather than disappointment as she realized the fact that what had occurred would put an end to all thought of marriage between herself and her cousin? The fortune would be lost to both of them, but the loss caused her no regret. When she had believed Fleetwood to be the delinquent, a curious wrath had gripped her heart, and she felt unaccountably annoyed. Now she was troubled by no such sensation. She was only conscious of relief—the relief of being free once more.

The realization of this freedom filled her soul with a joy that brought the hot blood to her cheek. She dared not examine her heart too closely and ask why she thrilled with pleasure when she ought to be shaken with wrath and jealousy. Her thoughts went back to her cousin and his passionate protestations of love. But the utmost evoked by the memory was pity.

‘Poor Jermyn! will he dare to return and face me again? I doubt it,’ she said, as the clock on the mantelpiece struck ten, the hour for retiring.

The following morning, when Fleetwood arrived at the factory, he sent a coolie to the lines, requesting Sultana to come to the little bungalow at mid-day, as he had something to say to her. The man brought back the news that the room in which she had lately lived was closed.

‘She is gone, sir, and the door is locked.’

‘Only to the bazaar to buy curry-stuff, I suppose?’

‘She left the lines late last night, taking her two children with her, and engaging a man to help with them and the bundle of clothes.’

‘Is it known where she went?’

‘They say in the lines that she went to the railway-station.’

‘You can go back to your work.’

As soon as Fleetwood entered his house, he called for the post-bag, which had been brought up in his absence on the estate, and, unlocking it, he looked eagerly through its contents. There were business letters for Marriner, and one private note for himself in a handwriting which he knew well.

His chief wrote at full length. He explained that he had gone out that evening with the intention of returning after he had had a good walk over the less frequented portion of the estate. Looking across the valley, he saw the lights in the Nagatenne bungalow, and he was seized with an overwhelming desire to go down to Colombo with Angus Smith and his wife.

Remembering that he had no ready cash by him, he walked over and tapped at the window of the smoking-room. Angus Smith received him most kindly. He confided in him that he was in some sort of trouble, without going into detail—a trouble that he was unable to communicate to Audine. Angus Smith at once offered to lend him what was necessary for his rail fare and hotel expenses, and strongly recommended him to try a change of air. He also offered to give him a lift down to the station in the hired trap, and Marriner gladly accepted. He sat up late, smoking with Angus Smith, and slept on the sofa. The appoo called him early, and he was out of the house before Audine and the children were moving. He concluded his letter with the words:

‘I am already feeling much better for the change, and have almost forgotten that infernal coolie. I shall write to my cousin in a day or two, and tell her that I have thrown off my fever, and hope to be coming back with the Angus Smiths in a week or ten days.’

The last bit of news did not add to the peace of mind of Fleetwood. Certain questions recurred to him frequently. Would Marriner hold her to her promise? And if so, would she consider it her duty to sacrifice herself for his sake, and marry him in spite of his past? Women of her kind were capable of making great sacrifices when they were influenced by love. Were they equally tempted to make heroic sacrifices when they were influenced only by a great pity? The memory of the walk from Galla the evening before recurred to his mind. It brought a ray of the golden glow that had enveloped them both as they lingered hand in hand upon the stepping-stones in the midst of the gilded river, and his heart took courage to hope.

Chapter XXIV

The spacious rooms and the wide verandas of the Galle Face Hotel were crowded with passengers homeward and outward bound, naval men of several nations, and visitors from up-country. Above the boom of the sea falling upon the sand under the fringe of palms along the shore rose the hum of many voices. English, Russian, German, and French mingled with the musical language of the island, spoken quietly amongst the Singhalese attendants. Outside, beyond the porch, the harsh guttural vernacular of South India came from the lips of the Tamil rickshaw coolies and coachmen waiting for their fares.

The north-east breeze, tempered by the warm tropical sun, blew softly through the building. It created an ideal atmosphere for the lounger from up-country craving for rest, and the sea-goer longing for a respite from the unquiet ocean.

Angus Smith and Marriner sat side by side in long armed chairs, their heels at the same elevation as their heads, on the raised veranda that looked up the Galle Face towards the harbour.

Mrs. Angus Smith had spent a happy afternoon since lunch bargaining with a tambee for some embroidered teacloths. A servant approached, and asked if he should bring tea. The lady replied in the affirmative, and at the same time bade him order a carriage to be ready in half an hour.

‘We are going into the fort. You will come with us, won’t you, Mr. Marriner?’

As she spoke she sank into one of the cane lounges with which the veranda abounded, and turned herself conveniently toward the light rattan table placed ready for the reception of the tea-tray.

‘I shall be delighted. You and your husband are very good to me,’ answered Marriner with unmistakable gratitude.

‘I am pleased to be able to add to your comfort in any way. I wish we could do more for you,’ she replied, with a sincerity that was convincing.

‘I want to buy a few clothes suitable for this warm climate to carry me on till I return to Galla. Would it be convenient to stop at one of the shops?’

‘Certainly; we will go to Bargill’s. I have a commission or two to do there myself,’ said the lady, as she poured out the tea.

‘I must go to Buchanan’s office before you begin your shopping, my dear,’ remarked her husband.

She laughed as she replied:

‘You think that there would be little chance of getting to Mr. Buchanan’s office at all if I were permitted to enter Bargill’s. We up-country ladies,’ she continued, turning to Marriner, ‘have so few opportunities of seeing the inside of a shop that it is difficult to tear us away when once we get there.’

‘It isn’t my want of faith in you,’ answered Angus Smith. ‘I have an appointment with Buchman, and must keep it.’

‘What does he want?’ asked Marriner.

‘To tell you the truth, I believe he is going to complain of the Nagatenne tea. Let him talk! I can’t help it. However, I will go and listen, and he will feel better when he has had his say.’

Marriner looked at him enviously as he said:

‘I wish I had your capacity for casting off the petty worries connected with work.’

‘I admit that I did feel hipped just before I came down here, but it is all passing away. Look at these people just coming in! Queer creatures, aren’t they?’

‘Got a strong touch of Malay about them, I should say. Probably they are on their way to or from the Straits.’

Mrs. Angus Smith, dressed in her smartest hat and frock, stepped into the carriage and took her seat.

Marriner followed, placing himself opposite, and refusing the offer made by Angus Smith of the seat next to his wife.

They drove out of the gateway next to the sea and leading on to the esplanade. As the carriage issued from the grounds a coolie darted forward from the group of natives constantly to be seen hanging round the entrance. The man ran along by the side of the carriage, and handed a note to Marriner.

At the same moment the eye of Marriner was transfixed by the sight of a familiar figure standing among the people assembled under the shade of the palms He took the letter mechanically, whilst he continued to gaze at a woman. By her side were two children, who clung to her silk draperies as they watched the rapidly retreating vehicle.

Marriner’s companions, seated with their faces towards the horse, saw nothing of the woman, but the delivery of the letter did not escape their attention.

Mrs. Angus Smith caught a glimpse of the address, and, with some astonishment, recognised the writing on the envelope as Audine’s. She made no comment whilst he slipped the note into his pocket without opening it, unaware that she had divined the identity of his correspondent. He was silent until they arrived at the office of Buchanan and Sons. As the carriage drew up, Angus Smith said:

‘Come in too, Marriner. I have no secrets to discuss with Buchanan.’

‘Thanks; I should prefer to stay here and enjoy the fresh air,’ he replied, coming out of an unpleasant reverie, and looking at the speaker with eyes that had grown strangely haggard and wan.

The moment the door closed on Angus Smith and his wife, Marriner took the letter from his pocket, tore it open, and read it. His comment was a single word which need not be recorded here. Crushing the note in his fingers, he glanced about him with a wild, hunted expression, as though he half expected to see the strong, vigorous form of Sultana advancing to claim him for her own. The sensation was momentary. Pulling himself together, he reread the letter, then, tearing it to fragments, he scattered it to the winds.

Ten minutes later the Angus Smiths returned, with Buchanan in close attendance.

‘Hallo, Marriner! how are you? Glad to see you down here. You don’t often give us a look,’ said the man of business, shaking him by the hand.

‘I’ve not been very well of late, and I thought that a little sea air would do me good.’

‘You certainly look hipped and out of sorts. You planters need a breath of the briny now and then. How is Fleetwood? going strong as usual?’

‘Wonderfully well,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, if we may judge by his appearance. My husband was feeling very depressed when he came down, but a couple of days has worked marvels.’

‘Try a change to the Straits, Angus Smith,’ said Buchanan, with a sly glance at the lady. It would do you no end of good.’

‘The Straits!’ he echoed in some surprise.

‘Yes; I’ve been asked to find an experienced Ceylon planter for some rubber estates just starting under a company. Good terms offered and passage paid. Will you take it?’

‘Mr. Buchanan, how dare you try to entice my husband away from his wife and family!’ cried Mrs. Angus Smith in pretended wrath.

‘Ah, you married men are far too comfortable in your magnificent climate to be tempted to wander further afield, and I think you are right.’

‘It is just as well to know when you are well off,’ rejoined Angus Smith, laughing, as he gave the order to the coachman to drive on to the shop.

Arrived there, his wife at once became absorbed in all that was so temptingly displayed before her unaccustomed eyes, and she recalled to mind a dozen more purchases that she wished to make.

‘If you will excuse me I will go on alone in a rickshaw,’ said Marriner at her elbow. I want to call at two or three other places, and I may be some time before I have finished.’

‘Very well,’ assented Mrs. Angus Smith, her attention more than half engaged with the materials spread out before her on the counter.

‘We shall meet at dinner,’ added Marriner.

Some minutes later he called for a rickshaw, and was being carried back swiftly in the direction from which they had come. His business kept him abroad until it was time to dress for dinner. Mrs. Angus Smith and her husband had been in some time, and were upstairs when the panting coolie drew the rickshaw under the porch of the hotel.

Marriner had directed the coolie to enter the hotel compound by the gateway on the landward side. He glanced nervously about in the dark, and drew a breath of relief as he stepped out of the little vehicle without having seen anything of Sultana.

Had he waited and looked back he would have caught sight of the dreaded figure advancing towards the rickshaw which he had just vacated. Even as he rushed into the lift and was taken to his room, she was in close conversation with the coolie. Entering the rickshaw, she was rapidly taken to Buchanan’s office, where she learned all that she wanted to know from the peons and clerks who were just closing the place. They were of her own nationality, and were ready to serve her in every possible way. Sultana was not the sort of woman to be easily daunted or discouraged. It did not take her long to make her arrangements, for she had determined that death alone should wrest from her the man who was the father of her boys.

Soon after eight o’clock Marriner and the Angus Smiths seated themselves at the small table near one of the wide French windows of the dining-hall. The menu put before them was such as would have done honour to a London hotel. Marriner seemed in good spirits, better than he had shown since his arrival in Colombo, but they were forced. Deep in his breast anger and despair raged and tore at his heart-strings.

‘I really think that you are mending,’ observed Mrs. Angus Smith to Marriner.

‘I am sure of it,’ he replied, with a heartiness that was feigned. ‘Who could help it in such good company.’

They laughed merrily, like children on a holiday.

‘I shall write to Miss Stratton, and tell her that you are already a different creature. I am sure that she will be pleased to hear such good news.’

‘Do,’ rejoined Marriner, the colour mounting to his brow at the mention of Audine’s name, ‘and give her my love.’

‘You are writing yourself, of course,’ she remarked.

‘Of course,’ he repeated in an off-hand manner, as though he would dismiss the subject. Something in his tone rang false, and Mrs. Angus Smith glanced at his white face with curiosity. Was it possible that he and Audine had quarrelled?

‘Shall we go and spend the evening at Mount Lavinia to-morrow?’ she asked presently.

‘I shall be delighted,’ promptly replied Marriner.

‘Come and smoke in the veranda,’ said Angus Smith, when dinner was over.

‘Very sorry, but I can’t. I must go to my room and write some letters. Good-night, Mrs. Angus Smith, if I don’t see you again this evening. Believe me, I am very grateful to you for all your kindness to me.’

‘Say nothing about it, please,’ answered the smiling, warm-hearted woman as she shook him by the hand.

The sea air brought heavy sleep to the eyelids of the couple from Nagatenne, and it was late when they came down to the big breakfast the next morning.

There was no sign of their friend, but this did not trouble them. He had probably breakfasted long ago, and had gone out walking by the sea, or to look up some acquaintance living in Colombo.

The morning post brought a letter from Audine with an account of the death of the D.

‘Poor little devil! A sad ending to his useless life. I am sorry for Terry, but I am thankful that it wasn’t one of the other dogs,’ was the comment of Angus Smith, as his wife read the letter aloud.

‘No news of Moonaswamy,’ she remarked, refolding the note and putting it back into the envelope.

‘He’ll turn up all right in time. Don’t worry yourself, Alys,’ replied her husband.

‘Do you think that Mr. Marriner has any suspicion of the part we played in the gemming?’

‘None whatever. Fleetwood has preserved our secret, and I haven’t given a hint of it.’

‘How do you account for his depression lately? Do you imagine that he has quarrelled with Miss Stratton?’

‘No; I gathered from the vague remarks he made that night he came to us that there was some worry on the estate. He is of a hasty temperament, and he may have knocked a man about, and had a bit of a fright over the consequences.’ He paused in deliberation for a few moments, and then added: Or there may be a woman. There’s no doubt that in some matters Marriner is a fool.’

‘Anyway, I feel that we have partly made it up to him in the cheque you gave him.’

‘Yes, it is satisfactory to feel that we have given him compensation, even though he doesn’t know it.

‘When we get settled again I must come to some arrangement with him—pay him a royalty on our profits or something. I can’t live near that bit of ground with any peace until I have washed every ounce of it. The sight of that gem-laden soil is to me what the sight of a pack of cards is to a gambler.’

His wife let her eyes rest on him with a return of the anxious expression which had vanished since her arrival in Colombo. Her husband noted it, and laughed as he reassured her.

‘Don’t be alarmed, Alys. It shall all be fair and square this time, I promise you.’

‘I don’t think that I could go through much more of that kind of anxiety. I didn’t know that I felt so seriously about it until Mr. Fleetwood caught us red-handed. Even though he didn’t know that we were instrumental in forming the gem-pits on Galla till afterwards, I felt overwhelmed with shame.’

‘Women are too sensitive and too sentimental to keep their heads in matters of speculative business,’ he remarked, with a superiority which his amiable wife was well content to allow him to assume. ‘I have been wondering whether gemming won’t lose half its fun when there is no further necessity to keep it dark.’

After breakfast they strolled into the reading-room to look at the papers. As they passed through the veranda on their way to it, Mrs. Angus Smith pointed out a ship that had just left the harbour.

‘That’s a Straits liner,’ remarked an acquaintance, who was also watching the vessel. She’s outward bound. Did you notice that queer-looking lot with a strong Malay cast of feature who were in here yesterday?’

‘Yes; who were they?’

‘They were Malay Eurasians just returning from a trip “home,” as they call it. People were saying in the hotel that the old chap has made a pot of money over rubber, selling land that was of no particular value until the boom came. He parted to a company, took shares as part payment, and now has so much money that he can’t spend it. Lucky beggar!’

‘The women of his party were doing their best to make it spin with the tambees and the jewellers the short time they were in the hotel,’ she observed, with a laugh.

‘And one can imagine how they must have plunged in London,’ rejoined her friend as he strolled away.

Mrs. Angus Smith idled away the time looking at the magazines and writing a letter to Audine. Her husband dozed over a paper, lulled by the rhythm of the falling waves upon the sand outside. At a quarter to two Mrs. Angus Smith looked at her watch. She went to her husband, and touched him on the arm.

As he opened his eyes, she said:

‘It is nearly two o’clock, Angus. I didn’t know it was so late. Come and have some lunch.’

He followed her into the dining-hall, where the electric fans stirred the warm afternoon air. Glancing round the room, she observed:

‘I don’t see anything of Mr. Marriner. What can have become of him?’

‘Gone across to the club, I dare say, to smoke and talk with some more idle chaps like himself.’

‘He promised to go with us to Mount Lavinia this afternoon.’

‘Forgotten all about it, I bet,’ he replied, with a lazy laugh.

He was saturated with the warm sea air, which had acted as a sedative to his nerves and rendered him supremely indifferent to every other consideration except creature comfort.

‘What shall we do?’ asked Mrs. Angus Smith, as she helped herself to some oysters.

‘Go without him, if you have a great desire to spend the evening at Mount Lavinia. If not, we will take another drive after tea, and call on the Thompsons.’

‘We will wait and see if he turns up.’

When tea appeared there was no sign of the absent man, so they decided to give up the expedition for that day, and make the proposed call upon their friends.

They returned from their drive soon after sunset, and as they passed through the big entrance-hall, the clerk in the bureau asked for a few minutes’ speech with Angus Smith, who went to the window.

‘A telegram has come for Mr. Marriner,’ said the clerk.

‘You had better send it up to his room.’

‘He has left the hotel, sir.’

‘When did he go?’ asked Angus Smith in some surprise.

‘At nine o’clock this morning. He paid his account, and took his luggage with him. We supplied him with the carriage, which he ordered over-night.’

‘Where did he go? To the station?’

‘No, sir; he went to the harbour. The syce who helped to carry his portmanteau to the boat tells us that he directed the boatmen to take him to the ship sailing for the Straits. A peon in the office of Buchanan and Sons told the coachman that Mr. Marriner had gone to the Straits to open out some new rubber estates for a company that has lately been formed.’

‘By Jove!’ was the sole reply made by the listener, whose thoughts flew at once to Audine.

‘What am I to do with the telegram?’ asked the clerk.

‘Give it to me. I will go and see Buchanan tomorrow morning and get the address.’

The envelope was handed out to him, and he hurried to his wife, who was waiting near at hand. He communicated to her the astounding news of the flight of Marriner—he could think of it in no other light—and his acceptance of the appointment offered in joke to himself by Buchanan. Then he opened the telegram. It was from Fleetwood, and the message consisted of but one word:


Whilst Angus Smith puzzled over the enigma, Marriner was cursing himself for his folly, and consigning Sultana—the cause of the latest trouble that had overwhelmed him—to the lower regions. Why had he not taken the advice of Fleetwood and cut himself loose from the tie long ago? After reading the letter from Audine, he was aware that all hope of marriage was at an end, although she did not definitely say so. His one anxiety now was to avoid the woman who had wrecked his prospects, and place himself out of her reach. He flattered himself that this had been accomplished when he stepped on board a ship. He had no scruples in shaking off his responsibilities. Fleetwood would see that she was properly cared for, and when the money which Audine had so foolishly given her was exhausted she would doubtless return to Galla, and take up her abode in the lines as long as the assistant permitted her to stay there.

With impotent rage and unavailing remorse, he walked the length of the upper deck, and stood leaning upon the railing at the end looking down in gloomy preoccupation at the little knot of steerage passengers gathered below—natives of South India and Ceylon going across the Bay to seek for work in a land where wages were high and labour was scarce.

A woman with two children by her side lifted her head, and stared steadily into his faoe with a curious mixture of triumph and entreaty in her eyes.

He started as though he had been struck, and uttered the same expletive with which he had read Audine’s letter. The sight of Sultana filled him with rage and dismay. He lifted his clenched hand as though to strike her and curse her on the spot.

Had Jermyn Marriner been in a philosophical mood instead of a helpless, bewildered rage, he might have realized the truth of the oriental saying that the consequences of a man’s misdoings follow closer at his heels than the most faithful of dogs.

At that moment the elder of the two boys, a chubby little fellow with his mother’s handsome features and his father’s fair skin, ran forward towards the companion-ladder. Steadying himself by the brass standard of the rail, he looked up into the face of the man above, and cried joyously:

‘Daddy, we are coming with you across the big water! I am not afraid, daddy—are you?’

Jermyn was but human. The sound of the clear young voice of his own offspring awoke the paternal instinct, and stirred it to its very depths.

‘No, sonny, I am not afraid,’ he replied, with a smile that sent the blood back to the heart of the watching woman.

Chapter XXV

The Angus Smiths’ week at Colombo extended to a fortnight. At the end of that time they set their faces once more up-country. The warm-hearted couple dreaded the meeting with Audine. After the note written by Mrs. Angus Smith, before she was aware that Marriner had gone, and in which she gave the message entrusted by him, she had been discreetly silent on the subject. She avoided all mention of his name. And although she heard almost daily from Audine, the latter had not said a word concerning her cousin. It was vain to conjecture whether Marriner had left his cousin heart-broken, or whether she had dismissed him with the heart-break on his side.

It was with genuine relief that they caught sight of Audine seated on the cob, and waiting at the point where the carriage should set them down for Nagatenne.

She was smiling and looking remarkably well.

‘Prettier than ever,’ whispered Angus Smith to his wife, as he stepped out of the vehicle and offered his hand to his better half.

‘It looks as if she had given him his congé,’ she said.

‘I’m not so sure of that,’ replied her husband, who observed a certain reticence where the affairs of his neighbours were concerned, and did not think it necessary to inform his wife of every detail in their lives.

Tony was with Audine, riding the Rat. The mare had been brought for the master and the chair for the mistress.

‘How are you, Miss Stratton? But I need not ask,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, shaking her warmly by the hand, and glancing into the bright, happy face that bent over her from the saddle with a welcoming smile.

‘I am very well, and you will be glad to hear that the same may be said of the children.’

‘Where is Lance?’

‘Busy at the factory as usual, and as happy as such a solemn little chap can be.’

‘How is Terry?’

‘Recovering from her grief rapidly, and transferring her affections to Lord Cork, who is responding gratefully, and putting on side on the strength of so much notice.’

They both laughed, and Mrs. Angus Smith said:

‘Poor little Terry! I was so sorry for her; but young people are soon comforted at that age. What news of the garden? I am afraid that I shall find it a wreck, with only that ignorant estate coolie to see after it.’

‘Indeed you will not! Tony and I have done our best to keep it in good order, and I think that we have been successful. Lance set us such an example in his devotion to the factory that for very shame Tony and I were obliged to devote ourselves to the garden.’

‘And the orchids?’

‘Those near the house are flourishing; the plants in your jungle nurseries I have not seen—I dared not face the leeches again—but they have not been neglected.’

‘You wouldn’t have encountered any leeches if you had gone round by Cobra Rock on the other side of the hill.’

Audine laughed, and, shaking her head, answered: ‘You will never persuade me to go to Cobra Rock; it is bogie-land to me.’

‘Come along, Alys,’ shouted her husband, who had mounted the mare and was moving away with Tony behind him.

Mrs. Angus Smith seated herself in the chair, and the men lifted it to their shoulders, following close upon Audine.

When they reached the point where the path branched off to the factory, Lance and Terry met them with the dogs. The grave face of the boy broke into unusual smiles at the sight of his parents, whilst Terry literally screamed with delight, causing the sympathetic Lord Cork and Tinker to bark hysterically together.

The party climbed the hill to the bungalow, and Mrs. Angus Smith directed her men to put the chair down just before they reached the arch. She was longing to see the garden again, and wished to enter it at her own time and pace. In the space of a fortnight so many buds would have opened and so much fresh growth would have been made, but, on the other hand, so much havoc might have been wrought by ignorant hands let loose upon her beloved flowers.

As she passed under the arch, still loaded with its burden of blue plumbago blossom and yellow roses, a familiar figure came forward and made a low salaam.

‘Moonaswamy!’ cried his mistress.

‘You scoundrel! I’ll put you sick for running away,’ thundered his master, who, however, was quite as pleased to see him as the mistress.

But Moonaswamy continued to grin unabashed in his delight at being with them again. He was not afraid that his master would execute his threat after he had been round the garden. Never had it been so neat, so tidy, so full of blazing colour and magnificent blooms.

‘I didn’t know that it was so beautiful,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, with a little catch in her breath, as she inhaled the scent of the tea-roses, and continued to gaze around in an ecstasy of pleasure.

‘I am beginning to love the garden as much as you do,’ said Audine, who had dismounted. ‘Come and see the flowers inside the bungalow.’

There was the same wealth of blossom as had greeted Audine on her arrival. Every vase, every pot was full.

‘How lovely! and oh! how nice it is to come home again! It is worth going away for this pleasure alone,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, whilst her more practical husband called to the appoo to bring the tea.

As they gathered round the table in the drawing-room, the four dogs on the threshold—Terry surreptitiously encouraging Lord Cork to break bounds—a footstep was heard outside, and Fleetwood appeared in the doorway behind the dogs.

‘I have come at the invitation of Lance to welcome you back and to beg for a cup of tea,’ he said, as he exchanged greetings with the party.

After a few minutes’ talk, he turned to Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘There was a pleasant surprise awaiting you on your return, I understand.’

‘Indeed there was! I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have Moonaswamy back again. I was quite lost without him.’

‘Has Miss Stratton given you the story of his disappearance?’

Mrs. Angus Smith replied in the negative, whilst Audine, smiling with eyes that were unclouded by embarrassment, said:

‘There has been no time to go into detail. It was sufficient for her to see him in his place busy with his old familiar work.’

Fleetwood related the history of Marriner’s discovery of the gem-pits and its sequel.

‘I assure you that I had the worst time I ever recollect after Marriner returned that day. He was positive that he had killed the man, and he had every reason to believe it. There was Moonsewamy lying at the bottom of the river when he returned half an hour later from his pursuit of the younger brother.’

‘How did the gardener manage to deceive him?’ asked Angus Smith.

‘After Marriner had bowled him over into the river he crawled out, and waited for his brother. Suddenly he caught sight of Marriner returning. It was the work of a moment to sneak down into the water again, and, with his head pushed close under the rock, he lay on the bottom of the river, his nose and eyes just above the surface, in the full belief that he was effectually hidden. And if Marriner had not gone back to the top of the rock and looked over he would never have discovered the man. But having discovered him, he could not think otherwise than that he was dead.’

‘Poor Jermyn!’ said Audine. ‘What a dreadful time of anxiety he must have had.’

‘And so must you, Mr. Fleetwood,’ observed Mrs. Angus Smith.

‘I was very unhappy about him, I admit, and when I found that he had not slept in my bungalow nor his own the night before he went down to Colombo, I feared all sorts of catastrophes,’ he answered seriously.

‘He was here,’ said Angus Smith.

‘So he told me in his letter written from Colombo after his arrival.’

‘I could see that he was in a very nervous state, and I suspected that he had got himself into some sort of difficulty.’

‘He could not rest for the thought of what he had done. He lived in constant dread of being arrested and tried for murder,’ continued Fleetwood.

‘It would have gone hard with him if he had killed the man. How did you find Moonaswamy?’

‘David, the son of your tea-maker, who is employed by Larch, sent me word that Moonaswamy and his brother were hiding in the lines on Larch’s estate. I went over at once and interviewed them, promising a full pardon if they returned at once, and threatening them with the law if they refused. They were only too glad to come back as soon as they understood that their skins were safe.’

‘Your wire was to tell Marriner that the man was alive, then,’ remarked Angus Smith.

‘Yes; I wanted him to know without delay that he was innocent of the man’s death, and might return when he pleased. I just missed him, however. He had started for the Straits Settlements, as you know. I wrote to the firm after I received your letter, and enclosed a note to be sent after him.’

Angus Smith nodded his head as he replied:

‘I heard from Buchanan that he had taken a billet over there with a new rubber company. But now, perhaps, he will return.’

Audine’s eyes caught those of Fleetwood for a moment as she asked if he would take another cup of tea.

‘I don’t think he will,’ answered Fleetwood, passing his cup to be refilled. He has sent me a power of attorney to act for him in his absence, and he writes as though he had no intention of coming back just yet.’

‘What do you say to all this, Miss Stratton?’ asked Angus Smith, as he and his wife both regarded her with some curiosity.

‘I am quite reconciled to my fate. I received a letter from my cousin, regretting that he was obliged to treat me so badly; and even if he were to come back, which I think is unlikely, I should keep my liberty.’

‘It is all rather startling,’ remarked Mrs. Angus Smith, who could not get over her astonishment at the calm attitude of the disappointed bride.

‘You will have me on your hands longer than you anticipated. There will be no wedding as far as I am concerned,’ said Audine.

‘What a blessing! I shan’t have to be bridesmaid,’ observed Terry with satisfaction.

‘Shut up, Terry,’ whispered Lance in disapproval.

‘But there will be Nora’s and Ivy’s,’ put in Tony. ‘I am to be bridesmaid to both. There will be two wedding-cakes and two new dresses, so you need not be sorry for us, Miss Stratton.’

‘Quite enough to turn your little heads, and I for one rejoice that Miss Stratton’s ill-luck brings us the good fortune of keeping her with us,’ said Angus Smith gallantly.

‘Thank you!’ cried Audine, with an expression of contentment on her face incompatible with the attitude of a forlorn and deserted maiden.

‘Come and have a smoke in the garden, Fleetwood,’ said Angus Smith, rising from his chair.

‘I mustn’t stay long,’ was the reply, as he assented to the proposal.

The children led their mother away to see the grave of the yellow dog, and Audine went to her room to get rid of her riding-skirt.

‘I mentioned that Marriner sent me a power of attorney to act for him in all matters concerning the estate,’ said Fleetwood, as soon as he and Angus Smith were by themselves.

‘That means facing Nayland when the time comes, I suppose. What will you do?’

‘Sell out my rubber shares, and lend Marriner the money. I am going to propose that instead of a mortgage on the estate he gives me a third share in it. I wonder if he will agree.’

‘He will jump at it if he has ten grains of sense. But have you got the money?’ asked Angus Smith in some surprise.

‘I shall have when I have sold out. The shares have done well and quadrupled their original price.’

He mentioned the name of the company, and Angus Smith exclaimed:

‘Lucky chap to have got into that! Of course you will have the money.’

‘But I don’t want to talk about myself or be talked about. I kept your secret, and now you must keep mine. What I want to say is this, and I came up this afternoon on purpose to tell you—the power of attorney enables me to hand over the swamp to you for whatever purpose you like. You can pay a small royalty on your takings in future, and the cheque you gave Marriner will square the past.’

The heart of his hearer gave a sudden leap of joy.

‘Great Scott, man! you are a good chap! You don’t know how I was dreading having to live near that bit of land without being allowed to work it,’ exclaimed Angus Smith, considerably moved.

‘I think you’re foolish to go on with it,’ remarked Fleetwood, with a smile that disarmed the anger that might have arisen at such plain-speaking on the part of a younger man to his elder.

‘It’s my one amusement. I don’t play cards or bet or run horses. This is an equivalent to me for all the rest put together, and I can’t leave it alone,’ replied Angus Smith plaintively, and with an apologetic smile.

‘Then finish it as soon as you can—the sooner the better—and you will be able to attend to the tea again,’ said Fleetwood, in a friendly tone that appealed to the common-sense of the other.

His companion only laughed at the admonition, although at the bottom of his heart he knew that the younger man was right. He answered lightly:

‘It is the fault of propinquity. When the soil is exhausted the temptation to speculate in it will be removed.’

Two months flew by. There was much discussion on the subject of the broken engagement. Some of the ladies professed to be highly indignant with Marriner, whilst the majority of the men were of the opinion that a pretty girl like Miss Stratton might do a great deal better, especially when they observed that there were no signs of wearing the willow on her part.

In a short time matters slipped back into their old groove. Angus Smith and his wife were once more absorbed in their daily occupation of gem-washing.

The children, accompanied by the dogs, spent their mornings with Audine, occasionally hunting a hare amongst the tea-bushes. They invariably finished the walk by calling in at the factory, where Lance was busy with the tea-maker, who was less often absent now that he was not required to carry the proceeds of the washing operations down to Kandy.

Secrecy being no longer necessary, Angus Smith sent the stones direct to a merchant in Colombo, who gave him better prices than he obtained through the tea-maker. Sometimes the washing was well repaid by the finds, but frequently it did little more than pay its expenses. The buoyant hope that sustains the true gambler never failed to support the ardent seekers, whose one regret was the limited extent of the area of the gem-laden soil.

The orchids fulfilled their promise, but the expensive transport and the difficulty of keeping the plants alive on the journey home conduced to failure as far as the pecuniary part of the venture was concerned. As a pleasure and an ornament to a garden that already possessed the reputation of being the most successful in the neighbourhood, the plants were satisfactory in every respect.

Each visitor who came to the house asked to see them. There were sufficient near the house without having to take anyone to Cobra Rock, and it so happened that the secret of the gemming was preserved from the knowledge of the district until months afterwards, when every corner of the swamp was exhausted.

When the tale finally oozed out it was embroidered with the wildest statements of rich finds, and Angus Smith was accredited with having made a small fortune.

Meanwhile Audine did what she could in the way of educating the young people placed in her charge.

There was no trousseau, no furnishing to occupy her mind or afford an excuse to Mrs. Angus Smith for putting obstacles in the way of lessons. She was fairly successful with Tony and Terry, but with Lance it was more difficult. His close attendance at the factory was encouraged by his parents morning and evening. Audine seized upon the precious hours between breakfast and tea, and devoted them entirely to the boy; he was willing enough to learn, provided his mother laid no charge upon him and his father did not ask him to run down to the factory to see that everything was going on properly.

Fleetwood resumed his old friendly relations with the children, and scarcely a day passed without a meeting with them either by the river or on the tennis court, where after work was over he was always ready for a game. Sometimes he stayed to dinner, and joined Lance and Terry as they gathered round Audine for their hour of music before retiring to bed. Since the walk home from Galla after the interview with Sultana, all shadow of restraint and estrangement between Fleetwood and herself had disappeared, and they were the best of friends.

Fleetwood did not attempt to work the estate single-handed. He engaged an assistant, and placed him in the small bungalow, returning himself to his old quarters. It seemed strange to be established in the big house once more. With its many alterations, it was no longer like the bachelor home he and Marriner had occupied together. The rearrangement of the rooms made by Audine, the new carpets and curtains, and the various feminine trifles that had been introduced, created an atmosphere suggestive of a woman’s influence. Considering who that woman was, he did not desire to alter a single detail, but with scrupulous care he left everything as she had planned it.

The correspondence between Marriner and his new partner chiefly concerned business matters, and the name of Audine was not mentioned. In reply to a hope expressed by Fleetwood that he was comfortable and found his new surroundings pleasant, he declared himself to be well satisfied with the change.

‘You may be interested to hear,’ he wrote, ‘that I have sent the two children with their mother to one of the Presidency towns of India, where by-and-by the boys will receive a good education, which will fit them for the lower Government services. They are jolly little chaps, and I think that they will do well. I had some difficulty at first in persuading Sultana to go, but the maternal instinct prevailed, and for the sake of the boys she consented. This is what I ought to have done long ago, you will say.’

Chapter XXVI

At the beginning of April the weather grew warm, and the children flagged under the increasing heat of the sun. Refreshing showers fell now and then, and the nights remained cool. The heat did not inconvenience them, but it showed its effects, especially on Lance.

The boy frequently walked up from the factory between ten and eleven o’clock in the morning, scorning to use an umbrella, which would have been a valuable protection.

One day early in April the post brought Audine a long letter from Mr. Goodlad. She had opened her heart fully to the old man, her uncle’s lifelong friend and a friend of her own as well. Nothing that concerned herself and her cousin had been withheld. Her confidence was rewarded by a warm, sympathetic reply.

He congratulated her upon having discovered how matters stood before she had tied herself irrevocably to her cousin. He further assured her that her uncle would never have urged the marriage had he been aware of how his nephew was living in the East.

‘So anxious was your uncle for your future happiness, which he firmly believed might be secured by your marriage with Jermyn, that he left the bulk of his fortune in my name, with directions that I was to press on the marriage with promises of immediate possession. The will, as I told you before you sailed, concerns but a very small portion of his estate, something under four thousand pounds. The rest of the money is in my sole keeping to dispose of as I choose. Jermyn himself caused your uncle to act in this way by threatening to dispute any will where conditions were attached to the inheritance. The glimpse it gave of his nephew’s character shook his faith in him, and he doubted at the last moment if he had acted for the best in urging on the marriage. He might, of course, have divided his money between you both; but he was very tenacious of purpose, and he placed it all in my hands, with the hope that his desire might be fulfilled. In the event of the marriage falling through I was to do as I thought best with the property, such was his complete trust in my judgment. It has been an anxious charge, and I shall be glad to be relieved of it, although I am responsible to no one but my dead friend.

‘Come home,’ he concluded—‘come home at once: Men at my time of life do not like delays. I have much to tell you, and much to do. I can hand over the whole of the fortune to you in its entirety if I please. I can give it away to a stranger, or divide it between you and your cousin. The decision shall remain with you. I enclose a draft for five hundred pounds, so that you may have ample means to start at once on receipt of my urgent summons.’

The letter with its imperative call startled her out of her happy dreamy life amongst the tea, the flowers, and the children. Later, when she had had a few hours to think it over, she realized that the call, against which she was inclined to rebel, must be obeyed.

Without acquainting Mrs. Angus Smith with the issues involved, she gave her to understand that important business obliged her to go to England for a time.

There was no reason why she should not return later in the summer and resume her happy life amongst them, but it was imperative that she should start at once. Mrs. Angus Smith remained thoughtful and contemplative after the first outburst of regret with which she had received the news. In the evening, after the children had retired, she said:

‘Miss Stratton, would you grant me one more favour with regard to the little people?’

‘With pleasure, as long as it does not delay my departure.’

‘It will not do that. I should like to send Lance and Tony and Terry home with you under your escort. It is high time that they went, though what I shall do without Lance I don’t know,’ concluded the poor lady, with eyes suddenly suffused in tears.

‘I shall be delighted to have them with me,’ responded Audine warmly.

‘I might keep Terry out a little longer, but she would mope without her brother and sister,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, catching at a straw to save herself from the overshadowing heartache which comes sooner or later to every European maternal bosom in the East.

‘I am sure she would. Besides, although she is younger than the other two, Terry stands most in need of an English atmosphere, moral as well as physical.’

‘I know you are right. Good-night, Miss Stratton,’ said Mrs. Angus Smith, suddenly bending forward and kissing her.

It took but a short time to make arrangements, which broke up one of the happiest homes in the island. Yet such are the exigencies of a tropical climate. Even in the hills, where for the most part of the year the cool, invigorating breezes blow, it is not good for the European child to remain. It was high time that Lance’s young mind was brought back to boyish pursuits, that Tony ceased to hear the affairs of men and women discussed before her, and that Terry the lawless should live under stricter discipline.

When Fleetwood was told of the prospective departure of his little friends and Audine he grew thoughtful, but he did not fail to express his approval of the plan.

A morning or two later Audine wandered by the river, Tony having joined Lance in the factory, and Terry being occupied with the dogs outside. Fleetwood, catching sight of her, thanked his lucky stars, and strode across the stream towards the spot where her white skirt gleamed in the morning sun, just as Marriner had done not quite six months ago. The green barbets called ‘kuk-kuk’ in the trees, and the thrush whistled to the murmuring river. Over all shone the warm sun, lavish with his vivifying beams to the ‘gem of the sea,’ but warning Audine that she must not linger too long.

‘So you are off in a week’s time, Miss Stratton,’ said Fleetwood, as he reached her side.

‘Yes; it is short notice, but I have been called home on business, and Mrs. Angus Smith is seizing the opportunity to send the children with me.’

‘An excellent plan. I am going to ask an impertinent question. Is the business you speak of connected with your cousin?’

‘In what way?’ she inquired.

‘Are you—forgive me for my curiosity—are you going to marry him?’

‘No,’ she replied, with a decision that ought to have satisfied him. ‘No; you may be assured on that point. Whatever sentiment Jermyn may have taught himself to feel towards me I am convinced of one fact. He was marrying me for money—the money that was promised to us on that condition—and I—’

‘Yes, you?’ he said, his eyes fixed upon her face.

‘I was marrying him partly in pity, so that I might help him, and partly for the sordid, worldly reason that it would give me a comfortable home over there.’

She looked across the river at the bungalow. ‘Fortunately we were saved from our folly, though we did not deserve it.’

Fleetwood could not repress a sigh of relief.

‘I thought it might be just possible that Marriner had offered to join you at home, and that you and he might make it up.’

‘For the sake of the money? You might indeed believe us capable of such a thing after what has happened. But I know now that I would let twenty fortunes go rather than marry where there was only pity on one side and expediency on the other.’

She spoke with a rising colour and some vehemence.

He smiled as he watched her.

‘You and I are more agreed on the subject of marriage than we were when I congratulated you on your engagement,’ he said.

She turned on him sharply.

‘You never congratulated me on my engagement. You were the only person in the district who omitted to do so.’

‘I was a brute. You ought to have cut me for my rudeness,’ was his contrite reply.

‘Women are contrary creatures. Knowing that I ought to have resented your want of courtesy, I did the other thing—forgave you and behaved sweetly.’

‘The sweetness was there, I admit; but it was not shown to me until sometime later—until certain events had happened. I remember that on one memorable occasion you could barely bring yourself to speak to me.’

She looked up at him with comprehension.

‘That was when you deliberately deceived me.’

‘I did it for your good,’ he said penitently. ‘Am I forgiven?’

‘In pity I forgave you,’ she said, emphasizing the word pity with a distinct challenge in her eyes.

It met with instant response.

‘Pity! For Heaven’s sake let there be no pity between you and me,’ he protested.

‘Yet it was pity for me that led you to deceive me,’ she persisted.

‘I deny it!’ he cried impetuously. It was love—nothing but love—the strong love of a man who would stand between you and trouble; the one love of a lifetime.’

His ardent words made the blood in her veins tingle.

She remained silent, not trusting herself to speak, her eyes bent upon the ripples of the glistening river, swirling seawards over its rocky bed. Her silence caused his heart to sink with a sickening fear.

‘Have you nothing to say? Tell me that I am a rash, head-strong idiot—anything you like—only speak!’ he implored.

‘There isn’t anything to be said,’ replied Audine perversely, ‘except, perhaps, that I—I am glad it wasn’t pity.’

She laughed, lifting her shining eyes at last to his, as she concluded her sentence. A great joy leaped into the strong features of the man before her. But he mastered its promptings, as he had conquered every other emotion, and held himself in check.

‘When are you coming back, Audine?’ he asked exultingly, after a few moments of silence.

There was a proprietary tone in his voice which was new. It sent a thrill through her, and dyed her cheeks with colour.

‘When occasion demands.’

‘The business will not take long?’

‘Only a few weeks. My uncle’s will is to be proved. By it my cousin and I will divide a little less than four thousand pounds between us.’

She said nothing of the money left in the hands of the lawyer, which Fleetwood supposed was lost to the cousins, since they had failed to fulfil the conditions attached to it.

‘Marriner will be glad of the money, though it is not a large sum. He is very anxious to invest out there. Apparently he sees good opportunities now that he is on the spot; and as all hope of the fortune has departed, he is turning his attention to Galla, and the possibility of selling his share in the estate. He has written to Buchanan as well as to me on the subject.’

‘Will the new arrangement necessitate your leaving Galla?’ she asked, with sudden concern.

‘No; I have taken care to secure the superintendent-ship of the place. My income will not be large,’ he said, looking up at the bungalow where a few weeks ago Audine contemplated making her home.

He brought his eyes back to hers. There was a light of inquiry in them which she recognised and answered.

‘I am sure that it will be enough.’ Then, moved by a spirit of mischief, she went on: ‘It will be enough to pay the garden coolie and his assistant. My one ambition is to have a garden like Mrs. Angus Smith’s, and, if possible, to cut her out. I have no other reason—at present—for wishing to live at Galla.’

Though her lips spoke so outrageously, her eyes said something else, and she submissively allowed the hand of which he had possessed himself to lie in his, until Terry and the four dogs were seen in the distance approaching in wild excitement.

‘Then nothing is to be said about our plans for the future?’ he asked, with a shade of disappointment in his voice.

She remained silent for a few seconds, considering her reply.

‘Let our friends know—tell everybody in the district, in the island, if you like—as soon as I have sailed,’ she said.

‘I will,’ he replied, with manifest gratification.

‘You promise, directly the ship moves out of harbour?’

‘Trust me! The news will be too good to be kept to myself,’ he answered joyfully. ‘But there is only a week before you go,’ he continued, in sudden consternation at the thought of the short time they would have to spend together in their new relationship.

‘Quite enough for the kind-hearted individual who has taken pity on a poor jilted girl,’ returned Audine, with a provoking smile.

‘There are so many things I want to ask you, Audine. Do you know that you haven’t yet told me if you love—Oh, confound it.’

‘Hallo, Terry! What’s the matter?’ cried Audine, as the child arrived panting and breathless, stumbling over Lord Cork, as he insinuated himself jealously between his little mistress and Audine.

‘David has come back. Mr. Larch’s man is quite well, and David isn’t wanted any longer over there. Lance says that David is to be tea-maker instead of his father, who will help, and he has learned such a lot at Mr. Larch’s, and he has brought us some lovely mangosteens, and Lance says—’

Terry stopped from sheer want of breath. ‘—that it is time to be going indoors, I should guess,’ said Audine, laughing at Fleetwood’s discomfiture, as she turned to walk towards the factory to pick up Tony.

‘Another time,’ murmured Fleetwood in Audine’s ear. ‘—as the boy said when he failed to get the apple,’ she replied, secure in the presence of the observant Terry.

The river babbled to the flowers and ferns; the birds sang in the trees; the eagles screamed high above in the blue sky; the pheasant-crows flashed their tawny wings in the golden sunlight, echoing the distant hoh! hoh hoh!’ of the wanderoos on Cobra Rock.

As Audine climbed the hill she glanced back at the valley more than once. Never had it seemed so alluring, so beautiful. Perhaps there was reason, for the figure of a man remained standing by the river, his eyes fixed upon the little party until they were lost among the shrubs that formed the outposts of the Nagatenne bungalow.

Indescribably lovely as was the valley in its wildness, it did not equal the cultivated beauty of the garden. Mrs. Angus Smith, just returned from Cobra Rock, was raiding the flower-beds with her scissors.

‘I shall miss the garden,’ remarked Audine, as she joined her.

‘Not more than I shall miss you and the dear children. But I hope to run home in the autumn and spend the winter with them.’

‘They shall stay with me until you come,’ said Audine. Then I think that I shall return to Ceylon.’

‘You will?’ cried Mrs. Angus Smith in some surprise.

‘To Galla.’

Oh, Miss Stratton! I am so glad!’ cried Mrs. Angus Smith warmly, as enlightenment dawned upon her.

Scattering around her the gathered roses, carnations, abutilons, pansies, and other precious blossoms, she flung both her arms round Audine and kissed her.

Some four weeks later the principal of the firm of Buchanan and Sons wrote to Fleetwood, informing him that a purchaser had been found for Marriner’s share of Galla. No difficulty had been made over the price asked. He said that an interview would be advisable, if Fleetwood could make it convenient to run down to Colombo.

He obeyed the summons, and was met with hearty congratulations, which he received smilingly, as he had received the good wishes of his friends up-country.

‘And now about my new partner. I hope he doesn’t want to live on Galla,’ said Fleetwood, coming straight to business, after his usual manner.

Mr. Buchanan looked at him in astonishment.

‘Do you mean to say that you don’t know who it is?’

‘No more than the man in the moon.’

‘H’m! Well, I’m afraid the new partner will want to share the bungalow with you,’ he said, with a sudden and unnatural gravity.

‘Impossible! I won’t accept him on those terms,’ cried Fleetwood with decision.

‘My dear fellow, I can’t help it; I am pledged to it, and so are you.’

‘You had no authority for going as far as that,’ declared Fleetwood, with a dawning of annoyance in his tone.

‘Then I must leave you to write about it yourself and make your own terms,’ replied the other, shrugging his shoulders and bursting into uproarious laughter, as though Fleetwood’s consternation was a huge joke.

‘Give me the address, and I will do so at once.’

The man of business wrote something on a slip of paper and handed it to Fleetwood, who gazed at it in a stunned sort of way, until he too joined in the laughter which still shook Buchanan.

‘Oh, well!’ began Fleetwood, as soon as he could speak. ‘Under those circumstances I can leave you and the lawyers to do as you like.’

‘Miss Stratton said nothing to you about it?’

‘Not a word.’

‘And you did not guess?’

‘How could I, when I firmly believed that she had less money than I had?’

‘Apparently the lady has plenty of money. She has agreed to pay her cousin twenty thousand pounds for his two-thirds, the sum he mentioned to us. Miss Stratton called here before she sailed and arranged it all, subject to a wire from London on her arrival there. You will probably hear all about it in due course of time. Meanwhile, we may proceed with the sale, I presume.’

Fleetwood received the letter of explanation and many succeeding budgets. In his reply he protested that he had not been treated with confidence. The answer was evasive.

‘I can’t quarrel comfortably on paper,’ said Audine. ‘Come home and fight it out. After we have settled our quarrel it will do your heart good to see Lance throwing his whole soul into cricket. There might never have been such a thing as a tea-factory in the world! By the way, keep the little bungalow in repair. It will be convenient for you to have a room there with your assistant in case you and your new partner should find occasion for quarrelling.’

Haydon Fleetwood took her advice and went home, to see Lance play cricket, and to attend to various other matters that commended themselves to his mind.

When he returned to Galla in the autumn his new partner accompanied him. Up to the present Fleetwood has had no occasion to dissolve the partnership, nor to take himself off to the little bungalow.

The End