Chapter I

Joan Mansfield lived at Streatham. Not in one of the roomy, old-fashioned houses standing in the middle of a large garden, that one associates with a prosperous suburb like Streatham, but in one of the more modern semi-detached villas that are to be found now in all the new roads that run from the Streatham High Road down to Tooting Bec Common. Joan’s mother was a widow, she had been left a widow when Joan was fifteen. Mercifully Joan’s brother Gerald had just finished his last term at Cambridge when his father died, so he had been able to go straight into the old-established firm of solicitors, in which his father had been a junior partner. I say ‘mercifully,’ because Mrs. Mansfield was not left at all well off. The firm allowed her a pension of two hundred and fifty pounds a year, and she had about a hundred of her own. But three hundred and fifty pounds a year, since the War, is just about equal to one hundred and fifty pounds a year before the War. So there was not much superfluous cash knocking about in Number eight, Fallowfield Road, S.W.2, and naturally, as a result of this, Joan’s education had to be rather curtailed. Mr. Mansfield had always longed for her to finish her education abroad, he had sensed the charm that lurked behind the square-cut brown fringe, and he knew that a High School, however excellent, is not the place where charm is considered of any account. Prowess in the hockey field—excellence in mathematics—these count in the High School world. However, Mr. Mansfield had died, swept off in an epidemic of influenza, and Mrs. Mansfield, reviewing her slender resources, had seen almost at once that any idea of the finishing year on the Continent was utterly out of the question. So Joan had finished her education at the local High School. But Joan had absorbed, without knowing that she did it, her brother Gerald’s strictures on the girl friends that she brought to the house, and when she was sixteen, and had begun to think about her appearance a little, she suddenly declined to play hockey any more, and began to jeer at cricket. Her life in the Fifth Form was made a burden to her, but she remained firm.

“My brother says that girls who rush about a hockey field thinking that they are as good as men are only parasites,” she said. “They aren’t any good at their own things, and they aren’t any real good at men’s either. They might just as well not be alive at all!”

There was a howl of derision at this frank statement of fact; but Joan, a little flushed, and rather damp round her neck where the curly bobbed hair clustered—stuck to her guns, for she had a last shot left in her armoury. “Anyhow, you were all mad to dance with him at the last show we had here,” she said, “and he wouldn’t look at any one but Betty Firth. And you know how you howled at her because her mother couldn’t afford for her to play games as well as learn to dance, and she chose to learn to dance. And I am going to give up all games and learn to dance really well too.” And Joan Mansfield, surreptitiously wiping the beads of moisture off her short upper lip—for a schoolgirl audience is a very dreadful audience to face—flung the remainder of her books into her satchel, and stalked out of the fifth form class room, to walk home with Betty Firth, whose road lay the same way as hers.

But this had all taken place long ago. Joan was now eighteen: Gerald was married—not to Betty Firth, who as a matter of fact had been the daughter of the proprietor of the largest greengrocer’s shop in Streatham, but to the rather stupid only daughter of the head of the firm—and Joan and her mother were living alone in the little house in Fallowfield Road. And it was dull—deathly dull, almost insupportably dull, Joan had now found it for rather more than a year.

“Darling, if you would only get something to do.” Mrs. Mansfield, herself perfectly content with her morning among the shops, and her rest after lunch, and her tea-party, and perhaps bridge for the early part of the evening, spoke almost querulously. It was like having a big restless dog always in the house, she thought as she looked at the girl sitting by the window.

And as a matter of fact there was something rather like a dog in Joan Mansfield’s face, she had all the twitching eagerness, and repressed energy, and almost the appealing look of anxiety to please, that you see sometimes in the eyes of a spaniel. She was slight, and small, and really very pretty indeed, but her type did not appeal to the type of Streatham youth, who frequented the High Road on its way to Streatham Hill Station, there to embark on its daily excursion to its Bank or Insurance Office. No, Joan Mansfield had been voted “weird,” or “not a bit cheery,” and was therefore studiously left alone at the last dance she had gone to, and after suffering the torments of the damned by sitting neglected for nearly the whole evening—not because she herself minded so much, but because she knew other people would think she did—she had vowed in the privacy of her own little bedroom, clutching a sopping handkerchief, that she would never go to a dance again. Although in her heart she felt it was so unjust, she had lots to say for herself, and she felt somehow that she wasn’t really dull. But when it came to little familiarities, and silly jokes about things like sitting on people’s knees, and kissing, then she couldn’t help showing that she thought they were familiarities, and sillinesses, and the Streatham youth, who knew he was terribly in request because there was only one of him to about ten of the opposite sex, didn’t like being criticised and naturally preferred to bestow his favours where he was sure they would be appreciated at their true value. So Joan was really very dull, and at the time of which we write, about six o’clock on a heavenly summer evening, she was sitting at her bedroom window, staring out on to the thin line of washing that flapped vigorously in the next door garden, feeling that if something didn’t soon happen to break the deathly monotony she would go mad.

“Joan!” it was her mother’s voice at the foot of the stairs.

“Yes, mother: what is it?” Joan’s small face instantly assumed an odd semblance of cheerfulness: she always felt that she was unnatural in her feelings towards her mother: she walked out on to the landing.

“The Brandons have written to ask us if we would go to the Browning Society to-night. It is to be held at their house, and they have a foreigner of some kind coming to read the paper.” Mrs. Mansfield was looking up rather despairingly between the banisters.

“Oh, mother, how frightful!” Joan began to go slowly down the stairs, her hand trailing along the curved rail. “The Brandons are so common!” she said.

“Yes, well, I know they are,” Mrs. Mansfield spoke rather apologetically. “But you know Mr. Brandon gives all his business to the Firm” (Mrs. Mansfield still felt that the Firm belonged to her) “and I do feel that for Gerald’s sake we ought to keep in with them—at least, perhaps that is putting it rather too strongly—but at any rate not offend them. And evidently they are anxious to have a good number at the meeting to-night—” Mrs. Mansfield referred again to the sheet of thick notepaper in her hand—“because of this man who is coming to read a paper on India.”

“India!” Joan’s eyes suddenly became alert. It was the one place she had always craved to go to.


“Mother! let’s go!” Joan’s grey eyes, rather round, were animated.

“Very well, darling, I should thoroughly enjoy it, if you would.” Mrs. Mansfield slipped the expensive notepaper back into its crested envelope, and started to mount the stairs, Joan dodged back along the passage into the kitchen. For some reason or other, she suddenly felt very much excited. The sound of the word India always stirred some sort of unexplainable feeling in her—it was almost as if some part of her had been there before and wanted to get back to it. The Brandons were common, desperately so, and there was a hulking son who made facetious remarks, but to-night he would be in abeyance, because there would be other people there. India! Joan dashed about the kitchen, her short hair lying close to a damp forehead, her passionate little mouth a splash of scarlet in her rather colourless face.

*  *  *

The Brandons lived quite near to the Mansfields, only their house was one of the few beautiful big ones that still remain to fringe the edge of Tooting Bec Common. It stood in what Mr. Brandon liked to call “The Grounds,” the “grounds” being really nothing more than a large and very beautifully kept up garden, crammed with flowers. Mr. Brandon was the head of the Company that own Brandon’s, the large draper’s shop standing at the corner of Fallowfield Road, and he was a self-made man, but Joan had showed the intolerance of youth when she labelled him as ‘common.’ Fat, he was, and his accent was not all that it might have been, and his hands were pudgy and rather red; but he had a heart of gold, and he was a very keen gardener. And no one who really loves flowers, and helps them to grow beautifully, can be called common, in the literal sense of the word.

He stood now, in the elaborate over-furnished hall, welcoming his guests, his wife beside him, a nice smile on his cheerful face. Mrs. Brandon really was very common, so we will leave her here for ever. But Mr. Brandon’s nice face beamed with the truest hospitality as he welcomed each guest individually, and he held Joan’s hand a little longer than he did anybody else’s—there was something in the small face that always attracted him very much, and also reminded him of Joan’s father, and Mr. Brandon had been a great admirer of Mr. Mansfield. He and the scholarly lawyer had had many a talk pacing round the smooth well-rolled gravel paths of the “Turret’s” garden, and as well as entrusting all his legal business to him, he had made him the recipient of all his hopes and ambitions. Brandons was his idol—he thought and planned for the big shop as one plans and thinks for a beloved and only child. He had an only child—a son—but he was more or less of a failure, an expensive education having spoiled him for anything but sprawling about the house smoking expensive cigarettes, and putting in an occasional day at the counting house, and then spending the evening in jeering at the people he had met there.

“Well, Miss Mansfield, it’s very nice of you and your mother to favour us with your company this evening,” he said, and he smiled down at the animated face.

“It’s nice of you to want us, Mr. Brandon,” replied Joan. “I am always madly interested in anything to do with India.”

“Well then you’ve just hit on the very evening that’ll do for you,” said the kindly man. “We’ve an Indian gentleman staying with us at this very moment, a friend of my son Alf, they were at Cambridge together; I’ll get hold of him and introduce him to you, it’ll make the paper more interesting to you if you know the man who’s reading it. Alf!” Mr. Brandon beckoned to a stoutish youth crossing the hall, “Where’s Mr. Mohammed Khan, I want to introduce him to Miss Mansfield.”

‘Alf’ advanced, a cigarette hanging from his lower lip. He did not trouble to remove it as he bowed exaggeratedly low in front of Joan.

“Mr. Mohammed Khan is having a bath,” he said.

Joan flushed scarlet.

“What do you mean, Sir?” Mr. Brandon was an old-fashioned man and he was angry.

“What I say, Dad.”

“But Mr. Mohammed Khan is reading a paper to us to-night.”

“Oh, yes, he’ll be ready to read that all right,” said Alf, standing with his feet rather far apart, and smiling down on to the top of Joan’s cropped head. She was deuced pretty, that Mansfield kid when she blushed, he was thinking. Pity she had that way of taking you up so quick—didn’t do nowadays.

But Joan had turned to her mother, standing talking to Mrs. Brandon.

“Mother, let us go and sit down shall we?” she said, “then we shall be able to get nice and near the front.”

They moved off together, Joan’s heart hot within her. This was the sort of thing they had to put up with, she thought, a sort of dreadful being of all this commonness, and yet knowing all the time they were really quite different. Sometimes she thought that her mother didn’t mind it, for Mrs. Mansfield was already settling herself quite happily into a seat next to Mrs. Brandon’s sister, and Mrs. Brandon’s sister was just as common as Mrs. Brandon. And she was evidently now very much worked up about something, and glad of a listener, because directly she saw Mrs. Mansfield’s settling skirts she turned and began to talk. Only she talked in rather a low voice so that Joan could not hear what she said, unless she leaned a little forward.

“Yes, you know, wasn’t it unfortunate—Mabel, you know, my sister—always so enjoys a little piece of roast pork—just nicely done with a little apple sauce, you know, and with the crackling—one enjoys it oneself, I don’t mind admitting to it. But to-night it was most unfortunate; the parlourmaid, you know, Emily, she had only just put the joint down in front of my brother, and my poor sister all unconscious, just tapped it with her fork and nodded across at Mr. Mohammed Khan, and said as she does wanting everything to be pleasant, “There, Mr. Mohammed Khan, you don’t often see a pretty little piece of pork like that in your own country, I’ll be bound,” and he got up from his seat, and laid down his serviette, and walked straight out of the room.”

“But why?” Mrs. Mansfield was quite at a loss.

“Why, because he is a Mohammedan, of course. They think a pig an unclean animal in India. My poor brother was so upset. And he wouldn’t come back to the table at all, and I believe he’s been having a bath ever since, at least so Alf says, and he’s been up two or three times to see, and the bathroom door is still locked.”

“But aren’t we going to have the paper about India, then?” Joan, a little breathless, was leaning across her mother and speaking.

“Why, it’s little Miss Joan! Yes, my dear, the paper will be read all right, Mr. Khan called out to my nephew that he would be down at half past eight, and it’s just on that now. But such an upset, and such a nice dinner spoilt, too, because the pork went out from the table just as it came in, my brother wouldn’t have it touched. ‘Leave it for the servants’ hall—’ those were his very words.”

“Dear, dear!” Mrs. Mansfield’s voice was sympathetic.

“But supposing Mr. Khan won’t read the paper after all!” Joan’s eyes were wide. She suddenly felt that she would not be able to bear it if she did not see this saintly man. Just fancy having your religion so close to your heart that you would forego a meal rather than transgress its slightest rule. And what horrible things they ate. It was suddenly borne in on Joan that English people almost lived on pork! They themselves, for instance—it was their idea of a nice breakfast to have bacon and eggs. And for lunch, sausages, with a hump of mashed potato in the middle. And for supper cooked ham from the confectioner’s; why, it was pork the whole time. And somehow there wasn’t anything else, at any rate for breakfast. . . .

“But what does Mr. Khan have for breakfast?” she said. “He never comes down for breakfast,” said Miss Brandon. “Has something that he calls ‘chota hazri’ in his room. Tea, and toast, and a little butter and marmalade. But here he is. Look, Mrs. Mansfield, don’t you think he is a good-looking man?” Miss Brandon was whispering excitedly. “Such a presence, as I say to my sister. And I daresay he is a Prince, you never know with these Indian gentlemen. . . .”

There was a flutter of intense interest among the prosperous members of the Literary Society as Mr. Mohammed Khan walked into the big drawing-room followed by his host, and his host’s son. He had evidently recovered from his little upset, as he was smiling. He was a tall man, and his coal black hair was brushed straight back from a rather low forehead. His eyes were very large and very black and they gleamed out of an olive face. His mouth was very red and when he smiled he showed two rows of dazzling teeth. He was clean shaven.

Mr. Brandon sat down at a small table, and Mr. Mohammed Khan dropped with a sinuous motion into a chair by his side. As Mr. Brandon made his little opening address he stared round the room, and one of the first people he saw was Joan. And his slumbrous Eastern eyes absorbed the sensitive passionate little mouth, and the square fringe close down on to the wide innocent eyes. And he made up his mind that as soon as this stupid meeting was at an end and they adjourned for supper, he would get to know her. Young Brandon would introduce them. . . .

“And now I will ask Mr. Mohammed Khan to give us his most interesting address”; Mr. Brandon was smiling hospitably round the room.

Mr. Mohammed Khan got on to his feet amid a subdued murmur of interest. There was something in the lithe sinuousness of the dusky figure in evening dress that struck at the very vitals of the stodgy middle-class suburban audience. Fat women in tight evening dresses stirred in their chairs, over-fed tradesmen settled their collars and stared. But Joan leant forward in her chair, and held the arms of it, and gazed out with eyes that held the wonder of the world in them. Mr. Mohammed Khan saw her, and he met her gaze and gave his lecture to her, and only to her. And as he lectured very well, he soon had her entrapped, and she followed him blindly through a maze of colour and mystery, blazing moons, dark mysterious nights, all teeming with an unspoken romance and glamour of their own, until she breathed quickly, and forgot entirely where she was. Then she came back to earth with a bump—Mrs. Mansfield was tapping her on the hand with her fan, and smiling.

“Why, you’re almost asleep, Joan!” she said. “Come along, Miss Brandon wants us to go with her and have a little supper.”

Joan got up almost stupidly. Where had she been all the time? The rather commonly furnished room suddenly closed in on her again. She had been standing under a star bespangled sky, held by a hand that was possessive in its grasp. Whose hand was it, and where had she been? She suddenly felt she must cry out . . . “Mother! I want to go home!” the words were on her lips.

But Mrs. Mansfield had turned, and she was smiling at Mr. Alfred Brandon who was treading his way skilfully between the rows of slowly emptying chairs. He brought someone with him—someone who only stood and looked, but whose eyes were like glowing caverns. Joan stared up like a trapped bird, and held out a little hand that shook, and Mr. Mohammed Khan took it, and his grasp was like the grip of a snake when it first curls itself round its prey. But he spoke excellent English, and Joan smiled up reassured.

“How do you do?” he said, “I am very pleased to meet you.”

*  *  *

Supper was a great feature of the meetings of the Browning Society. There were no rather dried-up sandwiches curled up at the edges, or imitation meringues with white of egg inside them instead of cream, or plates of indifferent sugary cakes that had spent the last few days languishing on a sloping counter in the full glare of the Streatham sun. No, Mr. Brandon believed in having things nice, so that the mahogany sideboard in the ornate dining-room was loaded with really good and substantial things—a couple of humpy glazed tongues—a slab of pink salmon lying voluptuously amongst its green trimmings—several highly-coloured and wobbling creams in cut glass dishes, creams that wobbled as the people walked to their places at the little tables dotted about the room. Joan always looked forward to the supper, it was the one bright spot in what she considered a thoroughly uncongenial evening. But to-night all her appetite seemed to have deserted her, and she followed Mr. Mohammed Khan into the already crowded room with an odd feeling of hollowness in the region of her ribbon waist-belt. It was the sort of feeling that she always got when she went to the dentist, she thought, her visits to that business-like gentleman being of so rare a character, that she never lost the terror of them. But Mr. Mohammed Khan forged ahead with complete assurance; he must be hungry, thought Joan, fixing her grey eyes on the tail of his immaculate dress coat, he had missed the most substantial part of his dinner, of course—so she followed him with complete docility, not bothering to wonder why he walked ahead of her—it all seemed so natural somehow.

“You will have . . .?” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, bending his lustrous eyes on her; they had sat down at a small table for two.

“Oh well . . .” Joan was peeling off her gloves. She stared at the sideboard. Tongue . . . was tongue all right? she thought. A pig didn’t have a tongue, at least, if it did, you never heard about it.

“I will have tongue, please,” she said.

“And I also.” Mr. Mohammed beckoned to a hovering maid. Joan heaved a sigh of relief; tongue had been all right then.

“And to drink?” Mr. Mohammed Khan spoke again, as the maid waited.

“Lemonade please.”

And I also.” Mr. Khan smiled as the trim figure disappeared. “Our tastes are similar,” he said.

“Yes!” Joan gripped her hands together under the table. She had suddenly wondered if she liked Mr. Mohammed Khan after all. When he smiled his red mouth seemed to spread all over his face. And his teeth were so very white, more like artificial ones than real ones. And his eyes . . . you couldn’t see through them . . . they were like cows’ eyes, sort of opaque . . . no getting through them to the spirit at the back of them. But as she was thinking this, Mr. Mohammed Khan stopped smiling, and looked at her again thoughtfully. “You have been to India?” he said.

“Oh, no!” Joan dimpled. “I have never been anywhere. I would rather go to India than anywhere in the world.”

“And why?”

“Oh, because it is so full of everything that you can’t see. Don’t you know, in England everything is sort of there. In India it is all hidden, mysterious. Don’t you know . . . like you were telling us . . . about the Indians believing that trees marry. The mango tree marrying the jasmine tree. Fancy anyone believing that. Why, you can’t believe it possible. . . .”

“And would you like to marry a mango tree?” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, his opaque eyes on the eager face in front of him.

For some reason or other Joan flushed scarlet.

“Well, I don’t know that I should,” she said, and then wished that she had said that she wouldn’t mind. There was something about Mr. Mohammed Khan that gave an uncomfortable feeling in the region of her waist-belt. It was a feeling of fear, coupled with a feeling almost as if she was not properly dressed. It was a most extraordinary feeling, a feeling that she had never had before. Joan leant back in her chair and tried to analyse it.

But Mr. Mohammed Khan, who had the almost uncanny intuition of his race, saw that he had made a mistake and he steered the conversation on to abstract subjects. And as he was a very clever man, he soon had Joan thoroughly interested. By the time that the tongue on the two plates had been despatched, she was leaning over the table her eyes alight with mischief.

“I adore hearing everything that you are telling me,” she said. “But wait half a minute. Do you think it would be frightful to have salmon now? I do love it so, and I forgot to choose it when you asked me what I would have. She’ll come and take our plates in a minute. Say if you think it would be awful to have it after tongue!”

“Not at all,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan who was now thoroughly enjoying himself. Joan was quite different from any other girl that he had ever met. She had the complete insouciance of a child, coupled with the most delightful and unusual intelligence. “We will both have salmon,” he said. “I too have a partiality for that excellent fish. Miss,” he beckoned to the maid, who as a matter of fact spent most of her time in staring at him, thinking he was a Prince, “we will have salmon, bring it at once, please.”

“How brave of you to ask,” said Joan admiringly, as she crunched the exquisitely cut cucumber between her little square teeth.

“But in this world those who do not ask do not get,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan quietly, his dark eyes on the white parting that ran like a clear furrow through the brown curls.

Chapter II

Gerald was the first to hear of it. And he did not hear of it first from his mother as he ought to have done, but from an anxious red-faced man who sat in the comfortable room lined with black japanned tin cases, and leant over the table, a look of real distress in his honest eyes.

“I wouldn’t have had it happen for anything in the world, Mr. Gerald,” he was saying. “And it began at my house, on the night of the Browning Society. And unknown to me the wife seems to have encouraged it. Asking Miss Joan just to drop in informal like to meals, don’t you know. As a rule we don’t see much of her, not that we are not glad to see any of your dear father’s children at any time, but we know our position, and with the exception of the Literary Society, when we are proud and glad to give of our best, having the big rooms and all, we keep ourselves to ourselves.”

“But does my mother know anything about it?” said Gerald Mansfield, looking, as kind Mr. Brandon thought to himself, uncommonly like his father.

I think she does know, Mr. Gerald,” said Mr. Brandon, feeling terribly uncomfortable.

Gerald Mansfield put the tips of his fingers together and swung round a little in the revolving chair. This was intolerable! His sister and a native!

“Do I understand you to say that this Mr. Mohammed Khan is a Mohammedan?” he said.

“Yes, Mr. Gerald. As black as your boots. He was at Caius College with my Alf. A clever fellow, took Honours and what not. But there is something about them Indian fellows what fair sticks in my gizzard,” said Mr. Brandon getting a little excited.

Gerald nodded once or twice. “But you know they do well in the Law,” he said.

“Yes, I don’t gainsay that they do,” said Mr. Brandon, “and this Mohammed Khan here, he’s going out to practise as a Barrister in Karnmore, I think he said. And I don’t doubt that he’ll do well. But when it comes to a proposal of marriage to a white girl, and to a girl like little Miss Joan . . . so sweet and innocent and like a child with her pretty ways, it’s more than I can stand,” said Mr. Brandon, getting up and beginning to walk about the room.

“A proposal of marriage!” said Gerald Mansfield, also standing up only not knowing that he did it.

“Yes.” Mr. Brandon came back to the table and leant on it, his big hands trembling. “When I got back from the shop last night, I found them all of a twitter, the wife and my sister and Alf. Miss Joan had been to tea, and after tea they had strolled out into the garden, she and Mr. Khan. And just before dinner Mr. Khan came in alone, and said that Miss Joan had gone home. And then it all came out—he had proposed marriage to Miss Joan, and she had run home all in a flutter, not knowing what to say.

“But how did it come out?”

“Mrs. Mansfield came round after dinner, and told the wife,” said Mr. Brandon.

“But it’s intolerable,” said Gerald Mansfield, and there was a sharp ring in his voice. He thrust both hands into his pockets, and walked over to the window, and stared down at the mass of humanity streaming down Water Lane. It was nearly five o’clock, and the offices were emptying. Oddly enough, at that very moment, two Indians holding one another’s hands were walking together down the other side of the road. Law students probably—Gerald Mansfield followed them with darkening eyes. Estimable fellows doubtless, but the idea of one of them as a husband for his own sister. . . . He swung round and walked to the table and sat down again.

“But, as you say that my sister went home to think it over, there is still hope that she will come to her senses,” he said.

“That is so, Mr. Gerald. But if I might make so free as to suggest it I think that it is very desirable that you should come out to Streatham at once and speak to Miss Joan yourself. I should be very glad to give you a lift in my car if you cared to avail yourself of it,” said Mr. Brandon.

Gerald Mansfield thought for a minute. He had promised to be home early as his wife was having people to tea and badminton. But this washed all that out—Edie would be the first to be appalled when she heard about it. She was very fond of Joan—not that she saw much of her—Pinner was right on the other side of London to Streatham, and lately there had been a new baby, and all that sort of thing. But she would be fearfully upset at anything of this kind. He pressed the electric bell, let in just under the edge of his writing table.

“Just ’phone to Mrs. Mansfield that I shall not be home until late,” he said to the clerk who came into the room, “and tell her that I have gone out to Streatham, would you please?”

“Very good, Sir.” The clerk, well-trained automaton as he was, turned and went out again, but as he walked to the telephone in the corner of the room, he winked to a man sitting at a table. “Found out about Miss Joan and blackie, I don’t think,” he remarked. “My sister saw them on the top of a tram the other day. Thick as thieves. My sister’s in the haberdashery at Brandon’s and she hears a lot. Bad look out, I call it, I’ve no fancy for those black fellows myself.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” The man at the table was keen on foreign missions, and he was annoyed.

“Well, I spent four of the bloodiest hot weathers that I ever hope to live through in Umballa with the Territorials, and I do know,” said the clerk tersely; “marriage with a blackie means a brood of whitey brown kids, and a lot of other things, too, that I won’t upset your young mind with as you’re a sensitive fellow. And I know that I wouldn’t have my sister do it for something either,” he concluded, as he rang the telephone bell viciously.

Chapter III

The little house in Fallowfield Road looked very small as Gerald Mansfield walked down the road towards it. Mr. Brandon had put him down at the corner, next to the shop, the elder man feeling sensitively that if he drew up in the big car outside the house where Joan and her mother lived they might feel uncomfortable. Not that he had the least fear of Gerald telling them that he had been the informant as to how matters stood between Joan and Mr. Khan; as a matter of fact, he felt pretty certain himself that Mrs. Brandon knew he disapproved of the friendship between her daughter and the Indian. But he did not want to be there to witness their discomfiture, so to speak.

Joan opened the door; she had a big blue pinafore over her dress and her face was flushed.

“Oh, hullo, Gerald!” . . . there was the faintest hint of a hesitating pause as she stood, the door handle held tightly in her fingers. “Come in, mother will be awfully pleased.” She led the way into the narrow hall.

The house smelt of cooking. Gerald hung up his hat and felt glad that he did not live in a semi-detached house. His house at Pinner was a nice solid one and stood in a big garden. But then Edie had a little money of her own. . . .

“Why it’s Gerald!” Mrs. Mansfield had heard voices and she opened the dining-room door, and looked out. “My darling boy, how nice to see you,” she clung to her only son and kissed him affectionately. She saw so little of Gerald. Somehow she and her daughter-in-law seemed to have nothing in common. And it really was more than a day’s journey from Streatham to Pinner. But to see him now so late was very extraordinary she thought—was there anything wrong with Edie or the baby? she wondered. She asked him anxiously.

“No, no . . . I only thought I would run over and see how you were, and old Brandon was in at the office and offered to give me a lift. By Gad, that’s a topping car of his. . . .” Gerald sat down by the open French window, that gave on to the strip of garden. There were children evidently in the next door garden. Someone kept on kicking the tall palings that lay between the two exactly similar strips, and someone screamed in rather pronounced Cockney from an upper window.

“Cheerful neighbours, what?” Gerald stretched his long legs out in front of him and felt for his cigarette case.

“Yes, they are very bothering sometimes. Joan minds them more than I do.” (Joan had vanished.) “But I feel glad we have any garden at all and I like the company. But now for you, my boy . . . you will stay and have something to eat, won’t you?” said Mrs. Mansfield feeling just a little anxious all the same. She and Joan had a hybrid meal that they called high tea. It was an easy meal to prepare, something like pressed beef or fish went well with tea, and bread and butter and jam to end up with, but men never liked it, she thought helplessly.

“Oh well, I don’t know . . . yes, perhaps I will. But as a matter of fact I came over with something rather important to talk over . . . will Joan be coming back, mother?”

“No, not for a moment or two, she is frying the fish.” Mrs. Mansfield spoke quietly but her heart gave an uncomfortable twist. Gerald suddenly looked uncommonly like his father. He was going to say something about Mr. Mohammed Khan she felt sure. Mr. Brandon had told him, and he did not approve of it.

“Brandon tells me . . . I could scarcely believe it, but he assures me that it is so—that Joan has got to know some native friend of his son’s, and that they are very friendly. Is that so, mother?” said Gerald Mansfield.

Mrs. Mansfield blushed painfully: “Joan met Mr. Khan at the Brandon’s house,” she said.

“Yes, so I believe, and by now Mr. Brandon is heartily sorry that she did. But I cannot imagine that Joan . . . Joan, could ever admit an Indian into anything approaching intimacy. I mean to say . . . the idea is simply too awful. . . .” said Gerald Mansfield getting up and walking to the mantelpiece.

“But why awful?” Mrs. Mansfield was terrified of what she knew would very soon have to come out, and she tried to cloak her terror under a semblance of indignation. “After all, Gerald, all that idea of their being an inferior race and all that sort of thing is absolutely done away with now,” she said, ending up, however, more feebly than she had begun.

Gerald Mansfield leant his elbow on the edge of the marble mantelpiece and looked down at his mother. “Would you like to have a black grandchild?” he said.

Mrs. Mansfield got painfully scarlet. “Really, Gerald!” she exclaimed.

“Well, that is what it would probably mean,” he said.

“Not of necessity, surely?” Mrs. Mansfield now felt a little more able to tackle the situation now that she knew that the awful task of breaking the news of Joan’s engagement was not to be hers. Someone had done it for her, Mr. Brandon, evidently.

“Well, give it the benefit of the doubt and call it blacky white,” said Gerald, still looking down at his mother, and letting the smoke of his cigarette trail unheeding up the chimney.

“But supposing she did not have any children?”

“Joan would be certain to have children,” said Joan’s brother, hating to have to discuss his sister in this way.

“But supposing she didn’t?” persisted Mrs. Mansfield with weak obstinacy.

“Well, granting that she didn’t,” said Gerald Mansfield, flicking a little of the ash off the end of his cigarette. “Have you any conception what her life among the Anglo-Indian community in India would be, married to a native?”

“No . . . but I know that a great deal of the ignorant prejudice against the Indian is being done away with,” said Mrs. Mansfield resolutely.

“On the surface, yes,” said Gerald Mansfield. “Deeper down—no. You must remember, mother, that I do know what I am talking about. And I have been at Cambridge, too. And I have met scores of men like Mr. Mohammed Khan, in business as well as at college. And I know that the feeling against mixed marriages is just as strong as ever it was. I don’t say that the Indian isn’t an excellent fellow in his own way. But he wasn’t meant to marry a white girl, and the best men among the Indian community are the first to admit it, too.”

“But Joan is so” . . . Mrs. Mansfield began to pant a little. Gerald looked strangely like his father. She began to feel like she had always done when she had begun to argue with him . . . all the things that she had had to say sounded futile. She would leave it to Joan to settle . . . Joan, although she looked such a child, had a very decided will of her own . . . “Let us have our supper quietly and then you can see your sister alone,” she said. “After all you are more of an age, and she will be more likely to listen to you. And Mr. Khan is not coming in to-night . . . he had some engagement in town . . .” Mrs. Mansfield stumbled over the last part of the sentence and wished the moment it was out of her mouth that she had not said it. Gerald would be angry if he thought that Mr. Khan had the freedom of the house.

But Gerald had heard the rattle of a tray and he guessed that his sister was on her way to the dining-room. He guessed, too, by what his mother had just said that Mr. Khan was in the habit of dropping in whenever he liked, and it did make him exceedingly angry. But he was determined not to lose his temper unless he was obliged to; losing your temper was a fool’s game, his profession had taught him that.

“All right, I will talk to her after supper, mother, if you will leave us alone,” he said. “Don’t say anything about it now. Come on in, Joanie,” he said, speaking in the voice that he used to use to her when they were boy and girl together, and walking over to the door and opening it. “Gad, what a whopping tray for a little snip like you to carry,” he said as he took it from her kindly.

“Yes, but I’m used to carrying trays,” said the girl in the big blue apron. “And Gerald, you’ll simply loathe the muddly meal mother and I have—fish . . . and a sort of jammy ending up with tarts. Do go round to the Brandons, they’d love to have you, and they’ll have a proper dinner there.”

“No, I’d far rather be here . . . and I had a colossal lunch at the Cheshire Cheese with a client, so a little starvation won’t do me any harm.”

“Oh well, if you really won’t hate it too awfully . . .?” but Joan began to move round the table with a rather heavy feeling at her heart. Gerald had come over to say something about her engagement, she knew he had. And her mother, who up to that moment had been quite pleased about it, would now begin to find all sorts of reasons why it wouldn’t do. . . .

Joan, moving mechanically between the sideboard and the table, jerked her head rebelliously.

Gerald, watching his sister, saw the jerk and wondered what it meant. He felt strangely touched at the sight of that small diligent figure, slogging away to get the meal ready. He felt all of a sudden that they ought to have done more for her, he and his wife. But somehow she and his wife didn’t seem to hit it off too well. Edie liked the things most women liked, he thought vaguely, things like a day’s shopping in town . . . and a morning of sewing and having a good talk about all sorts of things. But Joan didn’t care for that . . . he suddenly remembered a really rather uncomfortable week that she had spent with them soon after they were married. And her one wish had been to pack up a little lunch and go off for the whole day. But since then there had not been another visit—one baby had followed another rather quickly—and Edie was almost always immersed in a whirl of going out and coming in or giving baby a bath because the nurse was out, or angrily running to the top of the stairs because the nurse hadn’t come in—anyhow there never seemed any time for the Streatham people either to come over or to be visited.

But now the brother, who had a good deal of his father in him, sat in the rather shabbily furnished dining-room (the Fallowfield Road houses only had two sitting-rooms) and felt his heart yearn over his sister. She was so awfully pretty . . . pretty in a special sort of way, pretty in the wondering brief shining way of a mermaid that suddenly comes up to the surface and pushes the wet hair out of her eyes and stares round surprised.

“Nearly ready” . . . Joan laid two table napkins in silver rings down beside the plates, and smiled at her brother. “I’ll get you a clean one, and then bring in the fish. You’d like to wash. You know the way to the bathroom. Half a second—I’ll get you a clean towel at the same time. . . .”

Joan went out again, her heart hammering. Why had Gerald come? she thought bitterly. It wasn’t as if he would come again for years and years . . . but it had just upset everything now. She had been quite fairly happy—not absolutely happy, that is, but happy enough to be just content to go on her own way feeling that she knew what she was going to do. But now everything looked different . . . she walked along the narrow hall into the kitchen with head bent. But in the kitchen her common-sense reasserted itself. The frying pan was not to be found—it was not on the hook where it ought to have been and that in itself was an irritation. Then when it was found, half behind the copper, it had to be scraped because Matilda had put it away dirty. Then when that was done the dripping jar was found to be much more empty than it ought to have been. That and the final hunt for matches to light the gas stove brought Joan back to her usual condition of exasperated intolerance with the acute discomfort of a life lived under such conditions. It wasn’t even as if you were getting anything out of it, as she thought—this was only just to keep things going; if you didn’t do all these maddening, fiddling, stupid things you actually remained hungry!

“By Gad . . . it’s like the exhaust of a car!” Gerald coming into the tiny kitchen met the cloud of blue smoke and stooped his head with his hand over his eyes. “Pooh, let’s open a window or something! By Gad . . . talk about a fried fish shop!” He stumbled to the little scullery door.

Joan laughed. “You go out, Gerald, it’s awful if you aren’t used to it. And if you smell this smoke for long you won’t want anything to eat. Go into the dining-room, I shan’t be a second now.”

Gerald obeyed. But as he went he wondered. When in his own well ordered house he sat at the head of the table and saw at his elbow, lying on a nice white paper mat thing in a silver dish, a couple of beautifully browned slices of fish, had this dreadful exhaust process to be gone through first? If so, how could you ever get anyone to be a cook? And in the summer, too—and it was summer now! Joan, his pretty little sister . . . he went back into the dining-room with a very definite feeling that things had got to be altered.

“Must Joan spend her life grubbing about in that filthy kitchen, mother?” he said as he sat down in a wicker chair as close to the French window as he could get.

“Which filthy kitchen, dear?” Mrs. Mansfield spoke with a faint reserve in her voice. She was very proud of the Fallowfield Road house. “I trust that the kitchen is not filthy,” she said; “if it is I shall speak very severely to Matilda when she comes in the morning; or I may get Joan to speak to her for me perhaps.” This last with a swift recollection of the one time when she had taken upon herself to reprove Matilda, and the consequent acute discomfort as Matilda had declined to come for a week.

Gerald moved to his feet impatiently . . . why hadn’t it all come home to him like this before?

“Sorry to have been so long.” Joan without the blue apron came round the door with a little burst, and with a silver dish in her hands. Gerald, you must be ravenous. Mother, come along.”

Mrs. Mansfield beamed. Her two dear children! What a difference it made having the boy about! And how different Joan looked, too. Lately it had been such a mature almost stern Joan, professing happiness in the attentions of the tall Indian certainly, but all the same, not looking at all happy. And now perhaps Gerald had come over just in time to make Joan see reason. For mention of a black grandchild had made Mrs. Mansfield very seriously uneasy, and she would not have liked to have suggested that possibility to her daughter—she could not mention anything of that kind to her under any circumstances whatever. All the rest of the affair had sounded so nice—and Mrs. Brandon had more than once half hinted that Mr. Mohammed Khan was of noble extraction—ancestral home on the frontier. . . . And certainly there was something very weird about his eyes; Mrs. Mansfield always felt very uncomfortable when she caught the glance in them; it was as if they were looking at you from behind a guard, almost like having on coloured glasses . . . you couldn’t in the least see the soul that lay behind them. But Mrs. Mansfield caught her thoughts up with a jerk—of course, that was what Gerald had come over to talk about, and it was getting late . . . she must make an opportunity for the brother and sister to get away alone.

“Now that we’ve finished,” she said looking rather nervously across the table, “you two children will like to have a chat. Joan, I will clear away, dear—leave it to me. Gerald, won’t you smoke your cigarette in the drawing-room?”

Gerald rose to the occasion and pushed back his chair. But Joan sat still, and all the blood rushed in a flood to her forehead. This had been arranged beforehand. Her mother and Gerald had already talked her over . . . it wasn’t fair. . . .

But Gerald was smiling kindly at his sister. His heart was very warm within him, his nice little Joanie—looking little more than the child who used to swing off to the High School with a mountain of books strapped on to her back. He would have a good talk to her and put everything right. He got up.

“Yes, come along into the drawing-room, Joanie,” he said, and he slipped his arm affectionately round her waist. “I’ve heaps of things I want to say to you. Come along and sit with me while I smoke . . . there’s a nice child.”

And Joan went. But she went unwillingly, and with all the small white teeth in her head pressed tightly together. This was a ruse—a ruse to get her to give up the idea of marrying the man she was determined to marry. But nothing was going to make her do that. She had made up her mind to do it, and she was going to stick to it. So she walked out of the rather fishy little dining-room, her head held uncompromisingly high.

Gerald saw the set of the little head and the uncompromising angle at which it was held, but being a very clever lawyer as well as an anxious and affectionate brother, he did not take any notice of it. He held the white painted drawing-room door open for his sister to pass through, and then led her to a little Chesterfield sofa and dropped his long length on to it, drawing her down beside him.

“Joanie, I have been frightfully worried by hearing that you have got mixed up with some native friend of the Brandons,” said Gerald, going straight to the point, and trying not to see Joan’s suddenly rigid profile turned abruptly to him. “I know you must think it’s no end of cheek for me to come and poke my nose into your affairs, but in a thing like this I simply must. After all, you see, mother doesn’t know anything about a thing of this kind. She never did know anything about the world, poor old mater. So I feel that it’s rather for me to take the thing up, don’t you know,” ended Gerald Mansfield, laughing, but without any mirth in his voice.

“But why need anyone take it up?” said Joan turning a little as she sat.

Gerald Mansfield drew on his cigarette a little more deeply than he generally did. This was going to be a fight; he could see it in the tilt of his sister’s chin.

“Joan, you cannot possibly marry a native,” he said.

“And why not?”

“Because the very idea of your doing such a thing makes me see blue murder,” said Gerald Mansfield, taking the cigarette out of his mouth and pitching it into the fireplace.

Joan moved again a very little and Gerald Mansfield knew that he had made a false start. Here was hostility flaming between them—just what he had most wanted to avoid.

“And why should it make you want to see blue murder?” she asked.

“Because . . . because . . . Oh hang it all, Joan. Joanie darling, they aren’t like us—I mean to say I am sure this Mohammed Khan fellow is a very decent chap in his way and all that, but as a husband for you . . . I mean to say it’s absolutely out of the question. You can see it, dear, can’t you? I mean to say, one meets them in business and all that, one has to, but as for anything else—I mean to say it simply isn’t done; you can see it, dear, can’t you?”

“No, I am afraid I can’t, Gerald,” said Joan Mansfield turning round, “and frankly I don’t see that you have made out anything of a case against it. All you have said is that it isn’t done. Well, it is done—heaps of English girls have married Indians; I am going to marry one. I am absolutely resolved on that point. I will, and it isn’t the faintest use for you or mother, or anyone else, to say a word against it.”

Gerald Mansfield stood up, but Joan went on feverishly.

“I’m going to say straight out now what I really feel. It will sound hideous and unnatural to you I know, but I don’t care. Look here, Gerald, mother and I live here, don’t we? You see the sort of life we live. That’s what it’s like always. I don’t mean to say that there’s anything sordid about it really; nothing is sordid if you have your soul in it. I mean to say that even if we were much poorer than we are and I had to do it because it made mother happy or anything, I should feel that there was some reason in it. But it doesn’t make mother a bit happy, she and I don’t see eye to eye in anything. She loves all the little pottery things that I hate, she and Aunt Belle like the same sort of things, and are dying to live together really. I am only in the way. I am stuck here . . . I hate doing things about a house. I feel as if I should stifle and die. There isn’t anything that has got to be done . . . do you see what I mean? It’s all so useless and futile. And what does it end in? I shall go on living here, probably for another ten years. And then what good am I? I shall be nearly thirty then. Or perhaps I shall marry some Streatham young man. And then I shall live in another road like this, and perhaps have a baby, and take it out in a pram in the mornings while the servant gets the dinner ready. Or perhaps I shan’t be able to afford a servant, so the baby will have to stay in the front garden in its pram while I tear about the house just trying to keep up. Not getting ahead or accomplishing anything, but just keeping up with what absolutely has to be done. Just doing things because if I don’t we shall literally be hungry. It seems to me that it isn’t a life at all . . . And I can’t lead it. I’ve got a chance now to get away from it all . . . into a world that is a world . . . where people do things, and see things, and are something.”

Gerald interrupted. “How have you got that chance?” he said.

Joan flushed. “Because I have met a man who sees beyond the ordinary little, suburban rut. Someone who realises that there is a life for a woman beyond the maddening little everyday domestic round. Someone who understands . . . who has great ideals, who sees the people of his country labouring under a great injustice, and longs to put it right. Someone who wants to take a woman from this country and set her at his right hand and work with her to raise the women of his own country. Someone who wants to show the ignorant prejudiced English people living in that country how sunk and steeped they are in prejudice. To drag them out of it. Someone . . .”

Gerald interrupted again. “And this great fellow is Mr. Mohammed Khan, is it?” he said dryly.

Joan’s eyes were gleaming. “Yes it is,” she cried. “And although he may be . . . dark” (she had nearly said black) “he is far, far above all these stupid conceited Streatham youths with their mad ideas of their own importance, and their wretched tuppenny ha’penny tennis clubs, and the fuss about the line down the middle of their trouser leg. He is a man if you like . . . he is . . .” is Joan was almost crying.

“Oh, Joanie, Joanie!” Gerald Mansfield suddenly felt a lump at the back of his throat. His little sister! “Joanie, there are Englishmen who have some decent ideas. Don’t lump us all together like that!” he said pleadingly.

“No, well . . . I don’t mean you,” said Joan laying a swift hand on the serge knee. “But you know, Gerald—what I say is true. And it fills me with a sort of mad fury. And I see a chance now of getting out into something bigger. And I’m going to take it,” she ended up, half under her breath.

Gerald sat down again. “Look here, Joan,” he said. “Admitted that what you say about the sickening dullness of the ordinary suburban life is true. There are worse things than being dull. Marriage is a tremendously tough business. Mohammed Khan may have all these go-ahead ideas very near to his heart, I don’t say that he hasn’t. But it’s extraordinary what a man will say and do if he wants a girl for his own. And as a rule the idea of the average native is to keep his womenfolk very much to heel. As I say, Mr. Mohammed Khan may be an exception to that rule, but frankly I shall be very much surprised if he is.”

“He is an exception.”

“Very well, we will say that he is. Now have you any idea what the opinion of the English community in India is on the question of mixed marriages?”

“I know that it is hopelessly unenlightened. That is one of the things that we want to alter. It can only be altered by people like us showing that we do not care what public opinion says on the subject. What do a handful of ignorant conservative frivolous English people know about a thing like that? Nothing.”

Gerald got up again. “When you speak of a handful of ignorant conservative frivolous English people, Joan, you don’t know what you are talking about. And if Mr. Khan speaks of them in that way, too, he doesn’t know either. I have never been to India, I know that, so you won’t think that I’m qualified to speak. But I only know this. I came across a good many of the Lahore Division in France in 1915 and a more gorgeous collection of superb men I never saw in my life.”

“And what about the Indians in that Division,” flashed out Joan.

“The climate was against them,” said Gerald simply.

Joan was silent. What was the good of arguing with her brother? Her lover had prepared her for this. The deep-rooted unjust prejudice against a coloured race. Prehistoric, antediluvian. She sat still.

Gerald sat down again, and then got up. Somehow he felt that he must keep on moving about. Joan must be dragged away from this mad determination to wreck her life. But how was he going to drag her? She was steeled against him. He could feel it in every fibre of her. He thrust in his hand in search of his cigarette case.

But Joan spoke first. “Look here, Gerald,” she said. “Don’t let’s discuss this any more, it only makes me wretched, and you angry, and it doesn’t do an atom of good. I am going to marry Mr. Khan, I have absolutely made up my mind on that point. And nothing that you or mother can say will make the faintest difference to me. As a matter of fact, until you came mother was quite keen about it, and if you don’t say any more against it she will probably stay keen. So leave it alone. After all you and I hardly ever see anything of one another, and it can’t make any difference to you whom I marry. You needn’t see him at all.”

“And what about the black kids that you will bring home in a couple of years, eh, Joan?” said Gerald Mansfield roughly. This was no time to mince words. Joan had got to be jerked out of this ostrich-like condition into which she had got herself.

Joan stood up, and the colour flamed slowly scarlet all over her face. “It’s frightful of you to speak like that,” she said “ and you have no business to. But if you want to know I don’t care a bit if my children are black. Black’s just the same as white really, it’s only an idea that it isn’t. Besides, perhaps I shan’t have any children—lots of people don’t. And if I do, I don’t care what colour they are. You’ll think I’m pretending when I tell you this—but I tell you I m not. It’s true.”

Gerald put his hands in his pockets. “Joan, are you mad?” he said.

“No, I am not a bit mad; I am perfectly sane about this. I know that what I have just said sounds fantastic and far-fetched, and I know that you won’t believe it. But I do believe it, so there it is. Let’s drop it, Gerald, and talk about something else; this only makes us feel as if we hated each other. Let’s go back to mother, and then I’ll see about getting your room ready, and we’ll play poker patience or something. Come on, Gerald, don’t look like that,” Joan spoke pleadingly.

But Gerald Mansfield twisted his shoulder out of his sister’s grasp and walked over to the door without speaking. “I can’t stop,” he said, “I . . . I feel as if I wanted to break something. Tell mater that I’ve gone to the Brandons.”

And Gerald Mansfield, his usually cheerful face distorted with anger, wrenched open the white-painted door, thereby sending a tremor through the diamond-leaded panes, twitched his hat off the fumed-oak hat-stand, and slamming the artistic front door behind him went down the wobbly flagged path at a run.

Mrs. Mansfield, feeling the reverberation, laid down the dish-cloth and put her head out of the little kitchen and saw her daughter—very white, with a mouth that was drawn straight across her face, crossing the hall on her way to the foot of the twisty stairs.

“What, has Gerald gone, Joan?” she said, and she took a step or two forward.

“Yes, he has.” Joan took the polished knob of the banisters between her cold fingers. “He has gone to the Brandons, and I hope I shall never see him again. He has said the most insulting things about Mr. Khan. I loathe him. . . . I simply loathe him. . . .” The small face under its straight fringe was quivering with anger.

“Oh dear!” Mrs. Mansfield felt like she always did when Joan lost her temper. The house seemed to be heaving. “What, doesn’t he like the idea of your engagement then?” she asked helplessly.

“No, he doesn’t,” said Joan curtly. “But I don’t want to discuss it, mother. I have made up my mind about it and let us leave it there. You don’t mind, mother, do you?” Joan stepped back off the lowest step and looked up pleadingly into the rather stupid face. She suddenly felt that she must have sympathy from someone or she would die with despair. Gerald had called her Joanie to begin with, too—just like old times. And now. . . .

“Well, dear, I don’t know that I wouldn’t rather he was white,” said Mrs. Mansfield doubtfully. “But still I suppose God made us different colours for some good reason. Not that I shouldn’t be upset if I had a black grandchild. . . Mrs. Mansfield said this last in rather a low voice—she wanted Joan to hear it and yet she was dreadfully afraid of making her more angry. “But perhaps I shouldn’t have one,” she ended more hopefully.

But Joan did hear: “I don’t suppose we shall ever have any children, mother,” she said, “so dismiss that fear from your mind for ever. Now I am going to bed. Do you mind locking up just for to-night?”

“No, of course I will.” But as Mrs. Mansfield watched the small erect figure wind its way rather drearily up the little staircase, she had a feeling very akin to awe in her heart. How did Joan know that she would never have any children? In her day such a thing would never have been mentioned. But it was all so different nowadays. Was it for the better?

*  *  *

Mr. Mohammed Khan was coming along Fallowfield Road. He always enjoyed the little walk from the end of the road where the tram stopped to the little house set so neatly in amongst the other little houses. Being an Oriental he adored being stared at, and he was stared at in Fallowfield Road enough to please even him. Everybody stared—the servants sweeping down the wobbly paths and the little steps, the mothers bending over the big frilly prams standing outside the little front doors; the errand boys with big oblong black hat-boxes slung across their backs, with ‘Brandon’s’ sprawling over them in gold letters. Even the two men in uniform on the box of the motor delivery van bearing the transcendent name of Jay’s stared.

Everyone always felt a little self-conscious when this van swept into Fallowfield Road because it always stopped outside the same house. And that house had not the sanction, so to speak, of Fallowfield Road. It seemed to stand alone with its exquisite curtains, and its little front garden crammed with flowers. And no one ever saw anyone go in or come out of it, only at about tea-time sometimes a big beautiful car with a steel end to its pointed bonnet would come quietly up to the little gate and throb for a minute or two and then a man with a hat just a little over one eye would step out, walk very quickly up the wobbly path, and vanish into the embrasure of the front door. And that was all. No one ever knew any more about the house than that. But to-day as the Indian came along, one resplendent man in uniform nudged the other one, and Mr. Mohammed Khan saw the nudge and was very pleased indeed. And he went on his way with a renewed swagger.

Joan was dusting the hat-stand when she heard him ring, and she immediately shut the duster up in the flapped pocket place that divided the two hollows where you put the sticks and umbrellas. Mohammed Khan did not like seeing her dust, she had found that out almost at once.

“Oh, hullo,” she said unemotionally as she opened the front door and saw him standing there. But she flushed pink with joy.

“My little fragrant lotus flower,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, stooping over the curly head, and forgetting in his emotion to take off his hat.

“Oh, how heavenly to see you. It’s been simply awful since you were here last.” Joan pressed her face into the hollow of the striped serge shoulder. “Oh do come in and sit down. It seems such ages since you were here. I have heaps of things to tell you . . . Mother’s out—tea and bridge this afternoon, and lunch at the Army and Navy Stores first, so she won’t be in for ages. We’ve got the house all to ourselves—except for Matilda, and she doesn’t count. Oh, it is nice to see you . . .” Joan was flicking round her lover as he took off and hung up his hat and settled his tie with a swift glance into the rather spotted piece of looking-glass that surmounted the fumed-oak hat-stand.

“My sweet little lotus flower!” Mr. Mohammed Khan slipped a sinuous arm round the soft little figure and drew it close to him with an entirely unpoetic squeeze. “My little fragrant Rose of Sharon.’

“Oh, what heavenly things you call me! “ Joan wriggled delightedly.

“Not more heavenly than you deserve,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, taking the small face between his rather chill brown fingers. When Joan had first shaken hands with him she had particularly noticed the nerveless india-rubber-gloved feeling of his hands. But now she had got used to it. It was all part of the wonder of him . . . any ordinary person could have tough grippy sort of hands.

There was a sort of scuffle at the back of the hall, and Matilda, very self-conscious, peeped round the corner of the kitchen door. She smirked and bowed when she saw the tall brown figure.

Mr. Mohammed Khan raised a couple of long fingers to his forehead. “Salaam,” he said.

“Ow, Salaam,” Matilda retired crimson and bridling with excitement, and as she went Joan looked up at the impassive face.

“How good you are,” she said fervently.

“Not at all.” But Mr. Mohammed Khan spoke with a certain amount of complacency notwithstanding. He intensely disliked this enforced salutation to what he considered an entirely objectionable menial. But Joan had begged for it. “You see, darling, your being here—although mother and I simply adore it—makes a great deal more for Matilda to do . . . things like washing up and cooking. You do understand, don’t you? And it makes it much easier for me if Matilda is in a good temper. And that keeps her in one. She thinks you most frantically wonderful, which you are, and she simply swells with pride if you take any notice of her. You do understand, don’t you? . . .”

And Mr. Mohammed Khan, who did not understand at all, except that part about his being wonderful, because he came from a country where if a servant did not do as he was told he was well cuffed over the head, smiled and bowed and stooping over the eager little mouth kissed it rather more violently than he generally did. And somehow Joan had not liked it . . . but that was some time ago. Now she had got used to it, it was all part of the dark wonder of him. When her lover kissed, he kissed with a sort of silent persistence. Not saying anything, but just kissing . . . And Joan, who in spite of her emancipated ideas was almost childishly innocent about men, did not discern the beast that lay behind the silence. But now she tugged the lapels of his coat with an almost childish excitement.

“Come and tell me all about last night,” she said, “how did the meeting go off?”

“It went off A.1.” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, walking into the little dining-room, his arm still round the slim waist. “There was an immense amount of enthusiasm and a crowded hall. And it was wonderful to see the people respond to what they heard. Mr. Shunkeram had a wonderful reception, people falling down and kissing the hem of his robe. Wonderful .. . wonderful!”

“But why did they fall down and kiss the hem of his robe?” asked Joan.

“Because he speaks as a saviour of his people. He hears the cry of their starving souls—‘Deliver us from this oppression, this grinding of us under the oppressor’s heel. Save us! Help us! Come over and deliver us from the arrogance, the insolence, the callous indifference to our misery. Come over before it is too late and we sink broken and tormented into the slough of everlasting despair!’” Mr. Mohammed Khan had begun to wave his hands about and his voice sounded like a chant.

“But how perfectly frightful.” Joan sat down abruptly on the sofa. How ghastly it was! And to think that the only connection in which one heard India mentioned was as a place where one went to play tennis and dance and flirt with somebody else’s husband. And one collected special clothes to do these things. Almost like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned. Dressed up! Callous! But to think that the great opportunity was coming her way; to try and relieve the suffering and misery to which to their everlasting shame the rest of her country-women turned a deaf ear! . . . It was glorious. “Oh, how I long . . . simply long to begin to do something to help, Mohammed,” she cried fervently. “You and I together. And surely other people will join in when they see how much in earnest we are? People like missionaries. Missionaries, Mohammed, you haven’t said anything about them. Surely they can’t be so unjust and cruel?”

“Missionaries!” There was an undercurrent of venom in the voice of the Asiatic.

“You are a Christian, aren’t you?” asked Joan abruptly. Somehow it had never struck her until that moment. Of course her lover was a Christian. He wore English clothes. And he smoked. Someone had told her that a Mohammedan did not smoke. Nor drink. He did not drink, but then so many men have given it up since the war. But somehow she wanted to hear him say it. “You are a Christian, aren’t you, Mohammed?” she repeated.

Mr. Mohammed Khan got up and walked to the French window. He wanted a little time. Then something he had heard in his undergraduate days flashed across his memory, and he turned round again.

“Your God shall be my God,” he said, and he took the little figure into his arms.

When Joan emerged again her eyes were wet, and there was a look of almost fanatical devotion in their depths. If only people knew . . . if Gerald only knew what he was. Selfless, without guile, possessed of only one passionate desire, and that to help the people from whom he had sprung. He was a king among men and she inestimably blessed in having been chosen to sit at his side. . . . She drew in her breath with a little sob.

Mr. Khan drew her down on to the sofa again by his side. He, too, was very much moved. For some reason that he could not explain even to himself he was very deeply in love with Joan Mansfield. There was something so virginal about her; it was like holding a spirit in your arms. And she was clever, too. Of course she was foolish . . . like a woman . . . there had been a good deal of what was very foolish in things she had said. Things about having children, for instance . . . but he had smoothed all that down. What he had said he had really rather forgotten, but it had pleased her. And when it actually came to marriage—well of course that was a different thing altogether . . . and the thing was to hurry things along; because if he was not very much mistaken that conceited brother of hers was beginning to make himself objectionable. Alf Brandon had hinted at something of the kind. And he couldn’t have anything coming in to prevent it now . . . he wanted this little white flashing, sparkling thing for his own . . . and you never knew with an arrogant brother and a foolish mother what might not happen when they got together.

“Little rose of my life,” he said. “Let us cease to talk of others but now think only of ourselves and our love. When will you come to me to be my wife?”

“Oh, Mohammed!” Joan was genuinely taken aback. All her soul and spirit had been one vast yearning over a down-trodden people. And now marriage! Suddenly sprung at her like this! . . . She gazed without knowing that she did it.

Mr. Mohammed Khan was looking at her. “Soul partners in a great work,” he said.

“Of course,” Joan’s breath came evenly again. Just for one moment she had forgotten . . . This was going to be different from all other marriages—one of the spirit entirely—themselves forgetting, of the world forgot. Was that right? But what she meant was that they were not going to think of themselves at all. “Of course!” she clasped her hands in an ecstasy. “Whenever you like, Mohammed,” she breathed. “And I think, you know, Gerald is not very pleased about it. And perhaps if he says anything to mother, she might . . . Nothing could come between us, but . . .”

The rest of the sentence was obliterated. The red mouth was hunting round the little pale face. Joan was gasping. This was what always surprised her a little; in the midst of saying something almost ascetic her lover was subject to these sudden onslaughts of—what was it? Passion? No. . . . no . . . ten thousand times no. He was above all that, actuated by one motive only—the love of his people. Not exactly love for her, not love in the ordinary sense of the word, that is to say . . . but Love. The East . . . that is what it was, the East! People from the East were not the same as they—a kiss was a symbol. A symbol of something infinitely high. . . .

Chapter IV

But things did not go quite as smoothly as they might have done. To begin with Mrs. Mansfield, in spite of her championship of Joan’s lover, had been more impressed by what her son had said than she liked to admit. It was the thought of the black grandchild that worked on her mind. Although she was unimaginative, she realised what she would feel if by any chance Joan brought it home when it was small, and she, as the Grannie, had to take it out in its perambulator along the Streatham High Road. People would look so surprised when they saw the little black face on the big white pillow. Instead of the soft yellow clustering curls that she remembered of her own children, there would either be tight black frizzly curls or the stiff straw-like hair of the Japanese doll. As a matter of fact there would have been neither—but Mrs. Mansfield was not versed in the different grades of colour; to her, anyone coloured was the same, a sort of cross between a negro and an Indian, with a little of the Chinese thrown in. But it preyed on her mind, all the same, and she was not made happier by a day spent at Denmark Hill, whither she wended her way—-a dreadful cross-country journey spent in trams and trains and omnibuses—to talk over the whole thing with Aunt Belle.

Aunt Belle was very definite. She sat and looked at her sister a little contemptuously; Marion was so weak, she thought, and as she sat there gasping a little—the walk up from she station had been steep—she looked unusually ineffectual.

“You ought never to have allowed the affair,” she said. “Joan is a pretty girl, and if she should find a man who could appreciate her, and understand her, she would very soon marry well. But a native! The idea is dreadful! What are you thinking about, Marion?”

“Oh, I don’t know!” Mrs. Mansfield felt inclined to burst out crying. She had thought Belle would understand, especially as she always looked forward to a time when they could live together. And now even her only sister had turned against her . . . it was hard. . . . She began to cry a little quietly.

Belle was moved when she saw her sister in tears. But all the same she thought it a good thing that Marion should be really upset; she would be more likely to do something. “Just send the young man about his business, Marion,” she said briskly.

Mrs. Mansfield shook her head hopelessly. “He would not go, Belle,” she said.

Miss Fortesque got up.

“Now listen to me, Marion,” she said. “You remember when I was on the Committee of the Universal Zenana Mission? I shall never forget the state of excitement we were in when we heard that one of the younger Missionaries we had sent out had become engaged to her munshi—the munshi was the Indian who taught her Hindustani. It seemed really quite a great thing to us, and we passed a resolution wishing her all happiness. There was only one woman on the Committee who dissented, she had a son in the Indian Civil Service, and she was very indignant at our attitude and resigned her seat on the Committee shortly afterwards. Well, it ended in this way. A couple of years later this girl arrived home bringing a coal-black baby with her. She came without her husband—as a matter of fact he proved not to be her husband at all, as he already had a native wife living, whom he had married when he was quite a child.”

Mrs. Mansfield sat still: “Was he a Mohammedan?” she said.

“He was,” said Miss Fortesque. Mrs. Mansfield moistened her lips with her tongue. A coal-black baby, and not even a husband to account for it!

“Belle, what shall I do?” she burst out.

“Do, Marion! “ she said. “Just be firm. Appeal to the best in Joan. Tell her how her father would have disliked it. Try to make her see the folly of it.”

*  *  *

It all sounded so easy at Denmark Hill; but when Mrs. Mansfield got back to the little house in Fallowfield Road, and found her daughter settled happily in the drawing-room, Mr. Mohammed Khan on the sofa beside her, she felt her heart flutter despairingly within her. How could she say anything? How could she be firm? Gerald had been firm and look at the result! What was the good of it? Belle didn’t understand. . . . So she just said a word or two and nodded and smiled, and then went out of the room again, closing the painted door carefully behind her. She had noted the swift look of apprehension that had flickered into Joan’s eyes when she saw her come in, and it made her sad. So Mrs. Mansfield went slowly upstairs to take off her things, and made up her mind once and for all that she would not interfere with her child’s love affair. She felt much happier as she went downstairs again, this time without her hat, and with a little soft lace collar round her neck to make her simple evening dress look a little lighter. . . . Mr. Khan was going to stay to supper.

The two were beaming as she came into the dining-room. Joan had dreaded the result of this day with Aunt Belle, but she could see by her mother’s face that Aunt Belle had not prevailed. It was odd though how she took for granted that her aunt would have objected to her engagement, and it was still more odd that she did not stop to analyse the reason why. But the fact remained that she could see that her mother had come back untroubled, and so her heart was light—the more so as she herself had had rather a worrying quarter of an hour the night before, and she felt she could not stand very much more of it. It had been just as she was going up to bed. Her mother had already gone, and Joan had waited behind to lock the front door. As she stooped to slip the chain into its proper place, she had seen the gleam of white in the letter-box. It was a very thick note she found there, a very thick envelope with a pointed uncut flap to it, and it smelt strongly of scent. There was no signature to the few words inside the envelope which Joan read under the small lamp that hung from the ceiling on a wrought iron chain.

Nice little girl with curly hair,” it ran, “don’t marry a black man.”

That was all. No signature. Joan took the note into the kitchen and read it again under the gas jet in the scullery. She was afraid that her mother might look over the banisters and ask what she was reading. She read it twice over before she quite got the gist of it. Someone, then, knew that she was going to marry an Indian, and wanted her not to. . . . But who could it be? Someone in this road who had seen them walking along together? But who would care? Everyone was so absorbed in their husbands and babies and the struggle just to keep up. . . . There was only one house where you never saw a baby or a pram or a rather tousled day girl, sweeping down the wobbly path, and that was the mysterious house where Jay’s van came to anchor. . . . Perhaps someone stood behind the beautiful thick curtains all unseen, and watched what went on in the road. But what was it to do with them? . . . Joan suddenly felt a gust of anger and she tore the expensive notepaper into shreds. She would forget about it, for ever. . . . But all the same it was not so easy, and therefore Joan was doubly thankful when she saw her mother’s untroubled brow, and heard her answer cheerfully when her future son-in-law offered to carve her some tongue. As a rule Mohammed Khan did not care about exerting himself at meals, but to-night he was in excellent case. He had practically made Joan promise to marry him in a month’s time, and he was feeling very triumphant. It fitted in excellently with his plans; it was July now, they would be married in August, they could spend the month of September at Joan’s home, and in October they could sail for India. He would be going to Karnmore, and by the time they arrived there it would be quite cool—the rains would be well over and the cold weather just beginning. So he beamed on his future mother-in-law—whom he did not, in reality, at all care for—and he smiled tenderly at the girl that he did genuinely love—as love is understood by the Asiatic. And Joan felt happy—happier than she had ever been. This all seemed homey and natural—like it had been when her brother came—nothing strange or weird about it. . . .

A little further up the road, in the house with the beautiful curtains and the garden crammed with flowers, two people sat in the exquisitely furnished little drawing-room and discussed it, the woman with the tragic painted face, and the man with the weary lines round his mouth.

“It’s awful, Tom . . . he’s a pukka native. And she’s the dearest little innocent thing, with a mouth that knows nothing yet and has the possibilities of knowing everything. Something ought to be done. But what? I’m outside the pale—they wouldn’t listen to me. I did put a note in her letter box, but of course she would tear it up. . . .”

“Why don’t you go and see her?” The man with the tired eyes spoke with a drawl.

“Because I daren’t. I know who they are, you see. Her aunt, Miss Fortesque, was one of our Committee in the old days. Don’t laugh, Tom, it hurts. . . . There were tears in the eyes of the painted lady.

“Sorry, old girl. But I can’t help it. It’s the idea of you as a Missionary. . . . By Gad, it’s distinctly humorous, that.” The man with the tired eyes shouted with laughter. He was evidently very much amused.

So the lady with the painted face tried to be amused, too. Men didn’t care for you to show your feelings, she knew that only too well. But as she dabbed her eyes and blew her nose she felt the old old feeling again as if someone was turning a knife in her heart. He had just begun to talk—the funny little dusky thing with the big opaque black eyes. Where was he now? Had they been kind to him in the big Home with the clanging gates? Or had they scolded him, perhaps, the first night when he cried in bed? . . . The lady with the painted face suddenly felt that she must scream. . . .

Chapter V

The month of July flew. The Sales were in full swing and there was a white Sale at Brandons, so Mrs. Mansfield was in her element. She drew thirty pounds out of her Post Office Bank account, and regularly gave herself up to the purchasing of Joan’s trousseau. Thirty pounds is not much to spend on a trousseau nowadays, but Miss Fortesque, seeing that the thing was coming off whatever she thought or said about it, came to the rescue with the promise to pay for two evening dresses. Gerald, with a very stiff note, sent a cheque for twenty pounds. So Joan felt that she was rich indeed, and the little house in Fallowfield Road hummed to the tune of the sewing machine, and Joan and her mother were at more unity than they had ever been in their lives before. Joan had a fair amount of presents—the Brandons sent her a beautiful fitted dressing-case. Matilda came forward with a set of crocheted ends for towels. Miss Fortesque gave a pair of silver shell butter dishes in a velvet-lined case, and Alf Brandon gave Mr. Mohammed Khan a set of enamel waistcoat buttons with which he was unfeignedly delighted. He displayed them to Joan with many exclamations of pleasure.

“They are really veree smart,” he said.

“But when do you wear them?” Joan was looking at them with her head on one side. “They look more like the sort of thing that you would put in a blouse,” she said.

“I shall wear them in my evening waistcoat,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan. “Probably as you are a bride we shall be asked to dine at the Residency; they will be the very thing for that.”

“Oh will they?” Joan was still looking at them. “Then people dress more gaily in India than they do here, don’t they?” she said.

“They do not.” Mr. Khan spoke a little huffily. Sometimes Joan irritated him with her frank way of speaking—almost a critical way of speaking. “In your sheltered life you have not mixed in large assemblies,” he said. “In India we go in very largely for such things. Men blazing with decorations, women scintillating with diamonds, high officials radiating the insignia of their office.”

“And barristers stuck all over with blue enamel buttons,” put in Joan, laughing with her mouth open so that all her little pink tongue showed.

There was a little silence. This was what Mr. Mohammed Khan did not like. This sort of free repartee showed so very clearly that Joan did not realise her position as one of an inferior sex. Not in any disagreeable sense inferior, but just that—inferior. The women of England did not realise it—this was not the first time that it had been brought home to him. But afterwards he would be able to make it more clear, quite gently and kindly, of course, but none the less forcibly for that.

“Funny little, sweet little Rose of Sharon,” he said indulgently.

Being called a Rose of Sharon always roused Joan to a trembling sense of rapture.

“Oh, Mohammed,” she breathed, “Oh, Mohammed. Won’t it be simply heavenly? You and I together in that wonderful country? Think what we shall be able to do, think what we shall be able to do! The people we shall be able to help. It’s too much . . . it’s simply too much!”

*  *  *

There was only one more hitch and that was the attitude taken up by Gerald. He realised that it was quite hopeless for him to try to put a stop to the whole thing; it had gone too far for that. But with his legal knowledge he was determined to safeguard Joan as far as he could—not that he could do much in that way because Mr. Khan knew as much about English law as he did, and he also had the priceless advantage of knowing Indian law as well. But he would do what he could. So with this idea in view he wrote a short note to Mr. Khan at his chambers, asking him if he would be good enough to call round at the office some time whenever it was most convenient, and rather to Gerald’s surprise the Indian had replied that he would call the following afternoon. Now the following afternoon had come; and Gerald sat at his big beautifully equipped writing table, in the luxurious room, and stared out at the rather dark cobbled street, the office had been for over a hundred years in the same street (one of those that run down from the great artery of Fleet Street to the river), and wished that the interview was over. However, he would do what he could now . . . he swung round quickly as the door opened and a clerk stood at his elbow.

“A gentleman to see you, Mr. Gerald,” he said.

“Show him in, Simpson.” Gerald Mansfield took the card, and then laid it down on his blotting pad. ‘Mr. Mohammed Khan, Barrister-at-Law, L.L.D.’ Swab!

Mr. Mohammed Khan was entirely unconscious that the relations between him and his future brother-in-law could possibly be anything but entirely cordial. He came in with a breezy swagger, his cheroot still in his mouth.

“How do, Mansfield,” he said, and he smiled, and removing his cheroot he laid it down, still smoking, on the polished edge of the desk.

“How do you do, Khan?” Gerald Mansfield got up, and held out his hand. But as the chill india-rubber palm lay against his, he was conscious of an uncontrollable spasm of aversion. How could Joan! . . . He pushed over a heavy brass ash tray.

“Oh, thank you verree much,” Mr. Khan picked up the cheroot and laid it on it. But not before a trail of smoke grey ash had fallen on the carpet. Gerald noted it with annoyance. It seemed to him to be significant of more than just cheroot ash falling on the carpet. It seemed to embody a sort of carelessness of everybody else’s feelings. The fine grained edge of the desk was singed, too.

“As you are going to marry my sister, I thought it would be as well that we should meet and have a talk about things,” said Gerald Mansfield, trying to speak cordially. “The wedding will be on us before we know where we are. I have not heard from my mother which church has been chosen. I suppose it will be St. Leonards.”

Mr. Khan drew out a large and flamboyant silk handkerchief.

“Your sister and I, with the sanction of Mrs. Mansfield, have decided to be married at a Registry Office,” he said, and as he spoke he wiped a few beads of perspiration from his upper lip.

Gerald looked up sharply. This was something new.

“But I understood that your banns were being read at St. Leonards,” he said.

“That was to have been the arrangement. But we came to the conclusion, your sister and I, that a little more reticence was seemly. You see, Mansfield, my being an Indian makes things a little different. There is a prejudice—I maintain a very unjust one—but there is a prejudice against mixed marriages. So that being the case we think it wiser not to obtrude our union; and Mrs. Mansfield quite agrees with us.”

Gerald Mansfield leaned back and put the tips of his fingers together. “You are a Christian, Mr. Khan, are you not?” he asked abruptly. Somehow he felt that everything that Mr. Khan had just been saying was a lie. But how was he to prove it?

“A Christian? Most certainlee, Mr. Mansfield.”

“Do you mind—I am sure it must seem very impertinent of me, but you must put it down to a brother’s natural anxiety to see his sister safeguarded in every way—do you mind telling me when you became a Christian?”

Mr. Mohammed Khan’s opaque eyes became more opaque.

“I was born of Christian parents, Mr. Mansfield. My father is now labouring in the Mission Field. He relinquished a vast and rolling estate on the North West Frontier, to take up Mission work. ‘Take up thy cross,’ the Saviour said.”

Gerald Mansfield suddenly felt sick. That this man was an accomplished liar he now had not the faintest doubt. But how was he to make Joan see it, or his mother? He suddenly got up and began to walk about the room. Mr. Khan watched him.

“Which registry office do you propose to be married from?” he asked abruptly.

“That is not yet decided,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan. “But we will let you know as soon as it is decided.”

“I should like to be at the wedding,” said Gerald Mansfield. “And I should also like my sister to come in here immediately afterwards and sign her will. So you had better go somewhere near here—there is one in Treadweather Street, just off Ludgate Hill.”

Mr. Khan ignored the last part of the sentence.

“You speak of a will?” he said.

“Yes,” Gerald Mansfield had sat down again. “There is no money to speak of,” he said, “but Joan will probably come into a thousand pounds or so when her mother dies. And I wish to secure that to her absolutely. So as you probably know as well as I do she must make her will directly she is married. That will insure that the money, in the event of there not being any children, will come back into our family. That is also usual, as you doubtless also know.”

“I do not know it at all,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan. “In our country all that a woman possesses belongs to her husband.”

“Yes, but it’s different in England,” said Gerald Mansfield bluntly. “We’ve gone ahead a bit, you see.”

Mr. Mohammed Khan was silent. But underneath the rather low forehead his brain was working swiftly. . . . It would be perfectly easy to get Joan not to put her signature to any such will, he thought. So he would not risk a quarrel with this aggressive and exceedingly objectionable brother of hers.

“And now as to a marriage settlement,” went on Gerald Mansfield. “You will wish to see Joan’s future secured, of course. You have perhaps already had one drawn up. If not I shall be happy to do it for you.”

“Thank you,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan stiffly.

“When will it be convenient for you and my sister to come here for that purpose?”

“I will discuss it with your sister and let you know,” said Mr. Khan.

“The time is getting short, you know,” said Gerald Mansfield.

“Yes, I am aware of that,” said the Indian, and he began to smile.

Gerald Mansfield felt the blood rising to his forehead. The man was being intentionally insolent. “Well, shall we say Friday?” he said, trying to speak easily.

Mr. Khan crossed one foot over the other, showing a good deal of mauve sock and the beginning of a brown leg.

“I should prefer, Mr. Mansfield,” he said, “first to talk over all these matters with your sister. As you have just so wisely said, you as a nation are further advanced in your views on the rights of women than we are. Therefore it is only fair that your sister should have an opportunity of stating her views, before any definite decision is come to.”

This was one up to Mr. Mohammed Khan and Gerald knew it. He meant, of course, to prevail upon Joan to have nothing whatever to do with any will, or settlement or anything, and he would very easily do it. But Gerald made one more effort.

Won’t you and Joan lunch with me on Friday in any case?” he said. “Then we can talk things over together.”

“Thank you very much, Mr. Mansfield,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, and he got up out of his chair. “But I should prefer to discuss everything with your sister before I accept any invitation on her behalf. Good day to you.”

Gerald Mansfield also got up. He had done nothing by this interview—less than nothing, because he had made an enemy of his sister’s future husband. But he held out his hand notwithstanding.

“You will be good to my sister, Khan?” he said.

“Most assuredly, Mr. Mansfield.” Mr. Khan’s handshake was more clammy and fish-like than usual. But the glance that he gave his future brother-in-law made up in warmth for anything that the handshake lacked. It was vitriolic. “Most assuredly, Mr. Mansfield,” he repeated.

The moment the door had closed behind the sinuous figure of Mr. Mohammed Khan, Gerald Mansfield sat down and wrote to his sister.

“My dear Joan,” he wrote,

“Khan has just been here. Joan, the man is a cad— and not only a cad, a liar. You’re making a fool of yourself. I know you will loathe me for writing like this, but sometimes men can see things that women can’t, and I feel that I must stop you somehow from doing this insane thing. Put it off anyhow until I have had time to make some enquiries about him—find out something about his people, for instance. After all we know nothing—the whole thing has been so rushed. Wait a year—I will try to make the year a happier one for you. I know I haven’t done what I might. And then you may feel differently. Don’t show him this letter, he detests me enough as it is!”

Joan’s letter came by return. She wrote it in her bedroom, passionately sweeping the things off the top of the chest of drawers to make a place for her blotting pad. Her lover had spent the evening there and as she had let him out, the postman had dropped this letter from Gerald in the box. She had known it was from Gerald by the shape of the envelope, and somehow all the evening she had felt sure it was coming, too. How dared he . . . how dared he!

“My dear Gerald,” she wrote,

“Mohammed has been here so I have heard all about this afternoon. If you thought that you would separate us by abusing him to me, you are mistaken. He is terribly hurt at your attitude. I am not hurt, I am furious. You know nothing whatever about him; I do. The whole thing is because he is a native. You think that because a man is dark he must of necessity be a cad and a liar. I know that he needn’t be. And I am going to show that I know it by marrying someone dark. I shall sign no document whatever. Mohammed has told me about that part, too. Nor do I wish him to settle anything on me. I haven’t the faintest fear in going to the other end of the world with him. He is going to take me into a life that will be a life, and where I may be of some use. So that’s how I feel about it. And let’s leave it at that, or we shall quarrel for ever. And I don’t want to do that if I can help it—it’s so awful when there are only two of us.”

Gerald Mansfield got the latter as he was going out to lunch the following day. He took off his hat and turned back into his room again. When he had read it, he put on his hat again and walked out of the office his hands shaking. Oh to get at his throat . . . the black swine . . . the black swine! . . .

*  *  *

So now everything went along swiftly to Joan’s wedding day; and it was her last night in her own house. She had seen her lover for the last time till they met at the little dark registry office in Threadweather Street the following morning, and she had clung to him as they said good-bye under the wrought iron lamp chain. It all seemed rather frightful now it had actually come to the point—sort of desolate. After all she had done this thing so utterly on her own. No one had wanted her to marry Mohammed Khan. And suppose it wasn’t a success after all—no one would be sorry for her either. But it would be a success . . . and she had a great work before her. . . . But somehow. . . .

She sat down in the wicker chair beside Mrs. Mansfield’s and took up her work. She was conscious that her mother was not quite at her ease either; she moved her feet on the little wicker footstool, and kept on laying down her work, and hunting in the wooden workbox that stood on a table beside her, for something that she apparently could not find. But she kept her eyes on the sewing in her hand, a chiffon veil that she was hemming for the journey to-morrow; somehow she felt that if her mother began anything like a sort of ending- up talk she would die.

But Mrs. Mansfield was determined to say what she wanted to, although she found it dreadfully difficult.

“Joan dear,” she said. “I want to say something to you before you are married. It is not easy, because I think mothers find it very difficult to speak about intimate things to their daughters. I don’t know why it should be so but it is. But I feel that I must. I want you to tell me——”

Joan interrupted suddenly, her face flaming.

“Mother, please don’t,” she said. “I think I know what you’re going to say. But I know all about everything. Please don’t go on. I hate that sort of thing. I don’t mean to be unkind, but I do. Mother . . . please.”

But Mrs. Mansfield was unusually determined, although her unimaginative face was flushed with the effort she was making. Joan should not go, as she had gone, out into the Unknown, totally unequipped, as she felt quite sure that she was.

“Darling, I know exactly how you feel,” she said, and she began to hunt feverishly in her work-box again. “But although I understand I feel that I must say just one or two things to you before to-morrow. After all you are not marrying an Englishman, Joan, and it makes a little difference.” Mrs. Mansfield’s lips trembled. Oh, how she suddenly remembered the yearning tenderness of her own bridegroom many years ago!

“But I know everything.” Joan’s little teeth we grinding against each other. What did she know, so that she could stop her mother? She cast desperately round her mind. People . . . people. She suddenly felt that a great yawning chasm was opened in front of her. What was there to know? Why was her mother suddenly so nervous, and unlike herself? What was there to know? Yes . . . yes . . . of course! Joan almost cried with the relief of it. Of course—a Baby! The frilly pram outside almost every front door in Fallowfield Road! That was what her mother was trying to get out.

“I know that when you are married you generally have a baby,” she said, and she held her head proudly up although her face was scarlet. “But you see that does not matter to me because I have settled not to have one.”

“Oh, Joan!” Mrs. Mansfield’s eyes were suddenly tender. Her little girl, not much more than a baby herself.

“Joan, darling,” she began, “let mother tell you. . . .”

But Joan got up. “Mother don’t!” she said.

Chapter VI

Joan’s wedding day dawned as fair and filmy, and heavenly a morning as it was possible to imagine. There was a beautiful look of fine weather in the air, a faint haze hung low over the tree tops on the common, and as Joan breathed in the exquisite coolness of it all, the haze was deepened by a trail of smoke that rose from the narrow cutting through which a train fled screaming. She had not slept particularly well. But, as she argued to herself, you never do sleep well when anything exciting is going to happen the next day. That was all it was—a sort of seething feeling inside that kept you awake. And it being her last night in her own home was disturbing, too. Somehow she felt an affection for everything in the little bedroom under the roof that she had never felt before. She had gone through so much in that little room . . . it had been such a refuge. When she had felt that she could not stand any more of Streatham, she had come up here and flung herself on the bed and vowed with clenched hands that she would get out of the narrowness of it somehow. And when the opportunity to get out of it had come—such an opportunity as she had never dreamed would come her way, an opportunity of actually getting out of this country, into a new one, a huge mysterious untrodden new one, with endless possibilities of work, and of doing good, it was to this little room Joan had fled again, and with burning hands and face had lain face downwards on the friendly little bed, and had vowed that whatever she felt about Mr. Khan, this was the opportunity of her life and she was going to take it. For in her innermost soul Joan did not like Mr. Khan being a native. She tried to subdue it, she flew out in a passion if anyone voiced this feeling, she told herself over and over again that it was a wrong feeling. But she had it all the same. And all night it had tormented her, and she had turned and twisted, and watched the little blobs of light that were always cast on the wall by the lamp post at the corner. But early in the morning she had slept; and now as she leaned out of the window, and breathed in the beauty and fragrance of the air, she felt reassured. It was all going to be all right, it had been ordained that she should do this thing. And in a way it made other people happy, too, because her Mother would adore having Aunt Belle to live with her, and she would now be able to, and it also would mean that she would be better off. So Joan collected her sponge and towels feeling very much happier. If a thing made other people as well as you happy, then it must be right, she argued, and she wended her way down to the bathroom humming under her breath. Matilda had come—she could hear her lumping about in the kitchen, and Joan liked to hear the friendly sound. Besides, she had felt very much drawn to Matilda lately, Matilda envied her, and amidst a chorus of criticism a little envy has a very leavening effect.

Breakfast was a sad meal. Mrs. Mansfield’s face was rather pale and although she made valiant efforts to be talkative and cheerful, Joan knew they were efforts and therefore was correspondingly depressed. They breakfasted very early; the wedding was to be at nine at the Registry Office in Threadweather Street. Only Gerald was to be there. He had insisted on coming, and the Brandons were lending their car to Joan and her mother to go up to the City in. This was very kind of them; it made it seem more like a wedding, Joan felt rather forlornly, as she pulled the little grey velour hat low over her eyes and stood for the last time in front of the rather shabby dressing-table in the small bedroom. She was being married in a coat and skirt, grey, and very pretty, quite one of Mrs. Mansfield’s greatest triumphs in the Sale line, and Joan looked very beautiful, and gave a last polish to her small pink nails. Her luggage had gone on ahead to Euston; they were going to the Lakes for their honeymoon, so there was only the suit-case to be finished now.

Joan walked down the twisty stairs with a lump in her throat. The end of this part of her life! Why did she suddenly feel that she hated leaving it? Why did the sight of her mother standing in the narrow hall in a new hat bring the tears into her eyes? Why did she suddenly get that mad feeling in her throat as if she wanted to scream out, “I can’t go, I can’t go . . . Mother! do something so that I needn’t!” Joan gripped the knob at the front of the stairs and gritted her teeth together. Everyone felt this, when they were going to be married; she must wrestle with herself.

“Well, darling?” Mrs. Mansfield’s lower lip was quivering. She forced a smile, more pathetic than tears.

“Yes, I’m quite ready, mother.” Joan turned quickly. “I’ll say good-bye to Matilda in the kitchen,” she said.

Matilda was wiping a red and weatherbeaten hand on the roller towel behind the scullery door; she hurriedly settled her apron as Joan went in.

“Well, good-bye, Matilda. Look after Mrs. Mansfield.” It was all Joan could manage without bursting out crying. “Good-bye,” she said again.

“Good-bye, Miss.” Matilda’s face was also working. Weddings and funerals, they both brought the ready tears. “Good-bye, Miss, and I’m sure I wish you all happiness. Such a noble man, as I always says to my Bert. Such a presence! Not that ’e will ’ave it, ’e’s that sharp with ’is tongue. ‘Not ’arf,’ ’e sez, ‘no niggers for me—give me a white man every time.’ But then, as I tell ’im, ’e’s that set up with ’is five years in the Territorials, there’s no ’olding ’im.” Matilda, all unconscious, held out an enthusiastic hand.

Joan took it, her tears all scorched up. Here it was again, the injustice of it! She walked out of the kitchen all on fire for her lover.

*  *  *

Threadweather Street is narrow, and the big car had its work cut out to steer its way between the two pavements. But it drew up noiselessly, and successfully at the dark entrance, and Joan and her mother got out, handed out by Gerald, who stood waiting on the pavement, rather pale, but very slim and well-dressed in a grey lounge suit.

“Yes, Mr. Khan is here,” Gerald answered the unspoken question in his sister’s eyes, and he held her hand a little more tightly. What a child! and how pretty she looked! He led the way into the dark office, his nostrils quivering.

Mr. Mohammed Khan was wiping the moisture off his upper lip as the little party came in, but he put his gay silk handkerchief away as he walked from the littered office table. He greeted the girl who was to be his wife with real emotion. “My little Rose of Sharon,” he said quietly.

Somehow that well known and much-beloved term of endearment did more for Joan than anything else could have done, and she held her head high and stood with entire peacefulness while the funny little man like a dejected penguin gabbled through a form of words. As she stood there there rang out on the dusty air a voice of heavenly beauty, cleaving through it like a sword of gold—‘For He shall feed His Flock’—what was it—and where was it coining from? It was just as if they were being married in a Church after all. Then she remembered—a little further up the street was the Cathedral choir school, the boys must be practising. And as the divine melody rose and fell, all her soul suddenly surged up in a passion of longing;—was she doing right in this marriage, was God pleased about it? She hadn’t even thought of God in connection with it before, somehow there hadn’t been time, it had all been so fussing. But now—what happiness could she expect if He didn’t think it was the right thing to do? And as the dejected penguin hissed ‘ring,’ and Mr. Mohammed Khan hunted desperately in every pocket but the right one for it, conscious all the time that the brother-in-law that he detested was staring contemptuously at him, Joan flung out all her soul in prayer to the One ‘Who is always more ready to hear than we to pray.’

“Lord,” she prayed, staring desperately at the shaft of light that struck straight down through the one dingy window on to the dejected penguin’s bald head, “Lord, I suddenly have a feeling that perhaps I am not doing the right thing about this. But I beseech You to stand by me: even if You think I ought not to have done it.”

As Joan’s little hand fell to her side again, carrying with it the symbol of eternal love, or what ought to be the symbol of eternal love, but is generally the symbol of something very much the reverse, Eternal Love Incarnate came near and stood very close to her side in that dingy office. But He smiled a little pitifully notwithstanding.

*  *  *

Mr. Mohammed Khan had selected the Lake District for his honeymoon. It was a long way to go and an expensive journey, but he had very pleasant recollections of a very delightful holiday once spent there, and also he wanted to show the district to Joan. But it was principally the recollection of the holiday that had drawn him back there . . . it had been such a very delightful holiday. For he had thrown in his lot with a community of people, mostly young, who had their holiday headquarters in a glorious old manor house that lay very close to one of the principal lakes. There they discussed the glaring problems of the day, socialism, equality of the sexes, free love. The last, Mr. Mohammed Khan found, when he had got accustomed to hearing the opposite sex let itself go without any regard to the sex of the person to whom it was talking (he was younger then and in the country from which he had come the women didn’t do it) provided a very promising foundation for flirtation, and Mr. Mohammed Khan availed himself of it fully. On the whole the women were not physically attractive: they wore strange garments, square, hanging straight from the neck, and did their hair badly. Some affected bare legs and sandals, too. But there was one who was fair and slim and beautiful, and did none of these unpleasant things, and with her Mr. Mohammed Khan fell violently in love. She called him her Prince of Darkness, which intrigued Mohammed Khan enormously, and things came very near to a definite declaration. But the Oriental is always very wary of committing himself definitely, and so it was left like this, that they should meet in London and carry on their friendship there. They met—the girl sweet and dewy, and flushed with the romance of it all, and Mr. Mohammed Khan very debonair and gay as to the tie. And all went well until the girl in the flush of her happiness begged him to come out and take tea with her parents. “They will be so proud, Mohammed, you are so splendid, my dusky king.” And Mr. Mohammed Khan went, and found the parents, dear simple folk, in their little parlour behind the grocer’s shop in Peckham High Road. And that was the last that Peckham High Road ever saw of the dusky king.

But this was different, Mr. Mohammed Khan knew that Joan was socially just as good as he was—besides she was his wife now. So he was in excellent humour, and he spoke very kindly to her as she sat beside him in the taxi, wiping away the tears that somehow would fall although she tried to choke them back.

“Do not cry, my little Rose of Sharon,” he said, frowning over her head in the effort to see how much the taxi registered; they had been held up at the corner of Chancery Lane.

“No . . . all right,” Joan made a little snort like a child that is trying to control itself. “It’s all right . . . only, don’t you know . . . it’s saying good-bye to one’s family. Somehow I feel as if I hadn’t been fond enough of them. And mother looked so . . . so sort of alone.” Joan began to cry again.

Mr. Khan had found out that the taxi only registered one and tenpence, so he turned a benevolent, although rather chastened glance on his bride.

“But these tears are very strange,” he said; “tears at the very outset of a wedding journey. I do not understand them. Do you perhaps not feel very well?” He looked closely at Joan. How different she looked when she had been crying. All the radiance blurred and smudged away.

Joan saw the glance and understood it, and she rallied to it and blew her small nose, by now a vivid pink, and drew a couple of swift sobbing breaths in a desperate effort for self-control.

“I am sorry I cried,” she said; “I think it was the newness of it all, and the feeling that I might have been nicer to Mother while I was there. . . .”

“Well, well . . . the journey will restore you, and the change of scene.” But Mr. Khan spoke vaguely as he stared out of the window. Yes, they had come along well—Endsleigh Gardens, and a total of only half a crown. Without another stop two and eightpence ought to do it. It did; they slid down the cobbled slope and drew up at the entrance crowded with porters as the eightpence clicked into view.

“That’s right.” Mr. Khan stood, his Malacca cane tucked well under his arm and watched the few pieces of luggage being unloaded. He then counted some change out of his waistcoat pocket and handed it to the taxi driver. “Come,” he said to Joan, “we will now go in search of your luggage that is, I believe, in the left luggage office.” He led the way into the waiting hall.

But Joan was standing watching the face of the taxi-driver. He had a nice face, brown and good-humoured, and he looked like an old soldier. He was showing the coins in his palm to a porter who was lounging against the wall, and both were laughing, half contemptuously. “Wedding journey, too! Picked ’em up at the Threadweather Street Registry Office. Nice look out for the lady, eh?”

“Pooh!” the porter put both hands in his pockets and lurched himself upright. “Didn’t you see me dodge taking on his blasted luggage? Just home from the bloody country myself, know ’em too well!”

“That so? Well, cheerio!” the taxi-driver clicked down the flag, let in the clutch, and steered carefully out of the station-yard again.

But Joan, watching him go, put her hand up to her throat, and followed her husband into the glazed waiting hall. What had she done? When she got on to the platform, however, her fears receded a little. The guard was obsequious, he walked along beside them to their carriage and opened the door of it himself. And to her intense relief Joan saw that it was a first-class carriage. She had had a dreadful fear after the incident of the taxi-driver that perhaps they would be travelling third. Not that in itself she in the least minded the idea of travelling third, in fact she and her mother had never travelled anything else. But she knew that on your wedding journey you always did things better than at any other time, and she felt that to have to feel that Mohammed Khan wasn’t doing what he ought to do, would be more than she could bear. But Mr. Khan was always ready to be generous when he got anything for it, and he dropped half a crown into the ready palm with an air, and smiled condescendingly as the guard turned the carriage key in the lock. Then as the guard turned to walk down the platform he looked down at Joan. She had regained her sweet freshness, he was glad to see. But there was something about her that he could not quite fathom; such an almost boyish freedom from self-consciousness; it was almost unnatural under the circumstances; surely there should be averted glances, and gentle bridling. Mr. Mohammed Khan felt that he was being done out of something that was his due.

“My little wife,” he said gently.

Joan looked up and smiled: “ Yes, isn’t it odd?” she said “ and I don’t feel an atom different, do you? Except that I am most frightfully hungry. When shall we be able to get something to eat? Oh, there is something, some of those heavenly Bath buns all sticky.” Joan made a dive at the window.

Mohammed Khan followed her. Hungry? and for a horrible thing like a Bath bun! But he paid for two notwithstanding, and smiled, although with an effort when Joan asked him to hold them. “Only for a second,” she said, “while I get out a bit of notepaper to lay them on.”

“We shall be having tiffin on the train,” said Mr. Khan, with a faint note of reproof in his voice, as Joan rummaged in her despatch case.

“Oh shall we? what frantic fun.” Joan lifted a flushed face. “Here you are, now let me take them. Yes, I thought we should be having something to eat later, but I am so desperately hungry now. You see we had breakfast so frightfully early. What time is it now, Mohammed?”

“Five minutes to ten . . . and the train leaves at ten.”

“Oh, let’s have a paper then, look, there’s the boy. Quick, or he’ll be gone.” Joan dodged out into the corridor, followed rather more slowly by her husband. This was all very irregular. A paper! Reading on one’s honeymoon journey! It was not at all his idea. However . . . patience . . . especially at first. “The Daily Mirror—may I have that. And the Sketch? Oh but the Sketch is a shilling,” said Joan, looking up rather anxiously.

This was more the attitude. Mr. Khan squared his shoulders magnanimously.

“No matter,” he said and drew out a two-shilling piece. “I shall require change to the amount of elevenpence,” he said to the shiny-faced infant with the tray slung round his neck.

“Get it for you, Sir,” said the infant and vanished.

Mr. Mohammed Khan hung out of the window almost to his whole length. This was intolerable. It was almost a certainty that he would never see the horrible little creature again. What a country! Several people loitering on the platform saw the heavy scowling face and wondered. Two men especially, talking, with a couple of suit-cases on the ground between them.

“My aunt, Heriot, look at that.” The shorter of the two spoke.

“What?” The tall lean man with eyes almost startingly blue turned slowly round. He surveyed the train and then withdrew his eyes. “Don’t, it’s too early in the morning,” he said, and his teeth flashed suddenly white. “Besides, we’ve got away from that for a bit. . . . Gad, doesn’t it remind you?”

There was quite a little stir on the platform as the dark head projecting from the window turned furiously from side to side. The guard, walking down the length of the train for the last time, stopped. “Anything I can do for you, Sir?”

“My change. That budmash of a paper boy has gone off with two-shillings of mine. It is an intolerable state of affairs.” Mr. Khan’s voice was shaking.

“He’s bound to come back, Sir.” The nice guard was smiling. “Yes, here he is.” He went on his way to the van as the child dived through a crowd breathless.

“Sorry, Sir, but they ’adn’t any change at the main stall.” He crammed the silver and coppers into the outstretched olive coloured palm.

“Intolerable, disgraceful!” Mr. Khan continued to grumble under his breath as he turned back into the carriage.

Joan glanced up from the Daily Mirror. “What’s happened?” she said.

“That horrible paper boy”. . . Mr. Khan had flung himself back into the padded corner.

“Why, didn’t he bring your change?”

“He did, but only at the last moment. Tried his utmost to rob me of it.”

Joan laid down her paper. This was odd. “Why, I have never known such a thing happen,” she said. “They are generally absolutely honest. Why did you think he was trying to rob you of it? Would a paper boy do that in India, Mohammed?”

But Mr. Khan was on his guard again. It was not necessary to tell Joan that honesty for the sake of honesty is a thing unknown to the Asiatic. So he only smiled.

“My little Rose of Sharon,” he said silkily.

The long perfectly hung train swung on its way to the North and Joan leaning back in her comfortable corner began to feel quite at ease and happy again. Mohammed had apparently gone to sleep; his head hung a little on one side and his red mouth was slightly open. But Joan was not thinking about Mohammed Khan at all just now, she was thinking of how wonderful it was to be really launched on something new.

“First lunch,” a man in blue uniform thrust in his head. Mr. Mohammed Khan waked abruptly. “Come,” he said, and they joined the single file of swaying people who were lurching along the corridor. Joan was vastly entertained, she would rather have died than confess it but it was the first time that she had ever had lunch in a dining-car. She and her mother had always had to study economy, and when they had gone away anywhere—it was a very rare occurrence—they had carried little packets of sandwiches with them; and since to make a sandwich tolerable it has to be lined with masses of butter, and there never were masses of butter in the Fallowfield Road manage, the sandwiches were always rather terrible.

“Table for two. Sir?” They had arrived rather breathless in the first-class dining-car, and the attendant met them half way down the aisle.

“If you please.” Mr. Khan beamed. He had thoroughly enjoyed walking through the third-class car and seeing all the English people sitting there. He was first-class, one of a very few. Only a couple of men, clean shaven and studious looking, and a very grand lady with a glorious string of pearls round her neck.

Joan sat down, her face radiant. She smiled all round the car, showing her little teeth. This really was life, life with a capital L. Both men looked at her, and then at her companion, and then said something to each other. But Joan did not notice, she was absorbed in thinking, except for seeing her mother again, how thankful she was that she had left Streatham for ever.

Lunch was very nice, and as it progressed Mr. Khan became more talkative. He had really been very hungry. And Joan was looking beautiful . . . so animated, and her mouth was so scarlet. Mr. Khan’s slumbrous eyes glowed. Yes, he had done well in his choice. Coffee came, and with it the bill. Mr. Khan sighed. But in a first-class car it was inevitable. And also they would probably have to have tea there. He laid two coppers with the other coins.

The journey began to come to an end. Joan was tired, very tired, the day had been an exhausting one. But the enchanting beauty of the country through which the train cut its way was to her a revelation. Heaving moorland, purple with heather. Hills rising one behind each other, blue with the blueness of twilight. The exquisite chill of the air, chill with the chilliness of iced champagne. Joan drank it all in, in an ecstasy of enjoyment. Somehow she almost forgot about her husband. He had only reminded her of his presence once after lunch, and that was rather an uncomfortable incident which she preferred to forget. They had returned to their compartment, and Joan had settled into her corner with a sigh of happiness.

“Oh, it’s heavenly,” she said; “Mohammed, you are a dear to give me all this.”

“Not at all,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan graciously, and he smiled down at her, and then walking to the door he proceeded to pull down all the blinds.

“What are you doing?” said Joan.

“I wish a little privacy,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan.

“Whatever for?” said Joan, and her grey eyes were wide.

But Mr. Khan did not answer, he was trying the door to see if it locked from the inside. Satisfied, he turned, and sat down by Joan, and then as she looked up at him, he dragged her roughly to him.

But there was something about the deliberate way in which Mr. Khan had drawn down the blinds that made Joan uneasy. She could not have explained what it was but it had a sinister effect—like the way a dentist moves between the chair and the dreadful little cupboard where he keeps his instruments. So she cried out and pushed him indignantly with her hands.

“Don’t,” she said. “Don’t . . . you are squashing my hat. Besides, the train isn’t the place to kiss. Don’t, Mohammed. I tell you I don’t like it.” Joan made frantic efforts to disentangle herself.

Mr. Mohammed Khan desisted, and let her go. But there was a very evil look on his mouth as he got up from beside Joan and let up the blinds with a jerk. This was not at all the behaviour of a dutiful wife. But still . . . he could afford to abide his time. . . . He sat down again in his corner and took up his paper.

Joan was breathing rather quickly as she straightened her hat; being only kept on by a piece of elastic under her short curly hair, it very easily got out of the straight. And Mohammed certainly had been rough. But she could not help laughing inwardly. He had been going to have a kissing attack and she had warded it off. But how cross he looked now!

But all that had taken place after lunch. Now it was after tea, in fact it was a little past six, and they had changed at Penrith, and were making the last stage of their journey towards Keswick. They took the Hotel omnibus from the station to the hotel to which they were going. It was the best hotel on Lake Derwentwater. Mr. Khan liked to be comfortable, and he didn’t mind paying for a thing when he got it, and he knew he would get it there.

The wide hall of the Cataract Hotel seemed to Joan, rather bewildered with all the different things she had seen during the last nine hours, dreadfully full of people. Tall brown men in Burberry coats, women in short tweed skirts with felt hats. Everyone was talking, and here again everyone looked cheerful. She felt stupid and self-conscious, especially as when she and the tall Indian walked in among the crowd everyone seemed to stop talking.

“Number twenty-one and twenty-two.” A smart attendant took possession of two keys from the young lady in the office and led them up the wide stairs. Mr. Khan had already written his name in the big calf-bound book. “Oh, how perfectly heavenly,” Joan uttered a cry of joy as the attendant flung open a door, and she ran across and stood by the open window. It certainly was heavenly; the large window gave on to an expanse of lake and wooded hill, and there was the roar of tumbling water in the air. “Oh, whatever is it?” Joan stood, her head on one side.

“It’s the Ladore Falls, Miss. They’re in spate, we’ve had a lot of rain lately.”

Mr. Khan stood looking on a little disapprovingly. He did not care for this free and easy way with servants. “Show me my room, please,” he said.

The attendant flung open an adjoining door, bowed, and vanished. Joan followed her husband into the room. “Oh, how tiny!” she exclaimed. And it certainly was. A small single bed stood in the far corner. There was only room for a chest of drawers and a wash-stand. The window, very small, gave on to a stable.

Joan’s heart was full. How good, how good he was! She flung to him her eyes full of tears. All this for her—the beautiful journey, the expensive lunch, the palatial bedroom. And for him—this miserable little room, nothing more than a cupboard really. She looked round it with dewy eyes. “Oh, it’s too small for you!” she said. “It’s not fair to give me so very much the best.”

Mr. Mohammed Khan was stooping over a suit-case, so Joan did not see the laugh in the opaque eyes. He straightened himself out a pile of clothes, and looked down at her.

“But you see there is a door in between the two rooms, so perhaps you will allow me to come into your more spacious one sometimes. . . .”

“Oh, yes, of course. . . But Joan spoke uncomfortably. People didn’t walk in and out of each other’s bedrooms . . . at least men and women didn’t. But still . . . perhaps they did. She opened the door and walked into her own room, shutting the door carefully behind her. After all, married people . . . she began to think. Gerald and Edie, for instance, they had one room—and a dressing-room. But then they had a baby . . . that in some mysterious way was mixed up with it. But they hadn’t had a baby at first, and she and her mother had helped to arrange the house while they were on their honeymoon. Joan suddenly felt a stab of quite unreasoning terror; what was it that made her feel like that? It was as if . . . She shook herself a little and walking over to the looking-glass she lifted the soft hat from the curls. She was tired—that was what it was—she was tired. . . .

Dinner was quite a success. Mr. Mohammed Khan ordered a pint bottle of champagne, and drank nearly all of it himself. Joan was surprised because she had never seen him drink before, but he laughed and said that he was not married every day, and that it was to celebrate the occasion, and that she was to celebrate it, too. So Joan had just half a glass of it, and it made her feel better, and not so conscious of the curious glances that were being levelled at them. Because people did stare, there was no doubt about it. And not only did they stare, but they seemed to look hostilely at them, and Joan knew why it was. It was the same wicked prejudice that had dogged them in Streatham, and it was wicked and unjust as well. So it warmed her heart towards her lover, and she smiled at him and made little sallies, and Mohammed Khan was highly delighted, and as soon as dinner was over he suggested an adjournment upstairs. And Joan, who had been intensely dreading having to remain perhaps in the lounge, to be the target for the curious eyes of all those bronzed men and well-dressed women (for the short tweed skirt had given place to something infinitely more feminine), agreed with alacrity, and they went up the shallow padded stairs together.

“But I don’t think I can talk,” she said, yawning at the threshold of her room, and showing her pink tongue and regular teeth. “Do you mind, Mohammed . . . just for to-night? I am so frightfully tired.”

“Not at all,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, his eyes on Joan’s white throat.

“Well then . . . good night,” said Joan, and she held up her face to be kissed, like a child.

“Good night,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, but there was a red glow at the back of the slumbrous eyes as his lips met Joan’s. Joan did not see it. She smiled again like a happy sleepy child as she went into her room and shut the door behind her.

It did not take Joan long to get undressed. But before she finally tumbled into the big bed with the black satin eiderdown laid so arrogantly on it, she leant her arms on the window-sill, and stared out into the night. It was so quiet . . . only the ceaseless roar of falling water broke the stillness.

She was just dropping off to sleep, when something made her open her eyes again. What was it? . . . Someone moving. . . . But of course, in an hotel someone was always moving. She settled her face in her pillow again. But then again it happened, a movement—this time rather louder. Joan started up, the sheet dragged up to her neck. What was it? It sounded like someone stealthily opening a door. How stupid of her, she ought to have locked it. In hotels you always locked your door; and she had left her wrist watch on the dressing-table. “Who’s there?” she said loudly, her heart thumping. There was no reply, only a sort of furtive creeping sound on the carpet. Joan’s throat was dry. The person, or thing, whichever it was, was in the room. What should she do? She clutched the sheet closer to her.

“Who’s there?” she said again.

There was the sound of a little click and the electric light flooded the room. Joan blinked stupidly; for a second or two, she could not see anything. Then she saw. Mr. Mohammed Khan, very tall and sleek as to the head, clad in striped silk pyjamas, stood under the light.

“Mohammed!” Joan’s first sensation was one of utter bewilderment. What was he doing there? Could he be walking in his sleep? Was he perhaps intoxicated? He was not used to champagne, and it might have gone to his head. What should she do? She lay down again to think. Perhaps he would go away again. She turned her curly head a fraction on the pillow so that she could see what he did.

But Mr. Mohammed Khan had not the faintest intention of going away again. He was thoroughly tired of this boyish attitude of insouciance, and he walked up to the bed and stared down at Joan.

Joan flushed scarlet. But how dreadful! Was this how they behaved in India? She remembered now how she had heard that they walked about with very few clothes on, and had a meal that her husband called ‘chota hazri’ sitting on a verandah in a kimono. But this—this was England . . . besides, it was bed time. She gripped her hands under the blankets.

“Mohammed, go away,” she said. “People don’t come into your room in England unless you are properly dressed. Please go away. It makes me feel most frightfully uncomfortable.”

But Mr. Mohammed Khan only stared, and somehow as he stared Joan’s heart gave a great leap in her breast with terror. What did it mean? What did it mean? “Joanie darling, let mother tell you . . .” why did the words come back into her mind? She bit her lip to stop the cry that rose to them.

“Mohammed,” but Joan’s voice was quavering. “Mohammed, please go away. You don’t realise, but it makes me feel most awful—this. Please go back to your room. Or if you want anything very particular, would you mind just going and looking out of the window for a minute, and I will put on my dressing-gown.”

This appealed to Mr. Mohammed Khan. He took a couple of steps towards the window, and then as he heard Joan’s bare feet pad on the carpet he turned round again. And she had not quite reached the wardrobe before he caught her. . . .

“Don’t!” it was a scream of anguished terror that broke from Joan’s lips. “Don’t, I tell you, I’m not properly dressed. Let me go, I tell you.” She fought blindly like a baited animal.

“Be quiet.” Mr. Mohammed Khan laid a clammy hand over the frantic mouth. “Someone will hear, and it is not seemly.”

“But of course it’s not seemly.” Joan, worn out and half mad with terror, began to cry wildly. “What is the matter with you?—you’ve quite altered. Of course it’s not seemly. There was never anything less seemly than going into someone else’s room when they’ve only got a nightdress on. But then why do you do it? Go back into your own room, or . . . wait as a sudden recollection of the meagre proportions of Mohammed’s room came back into her mind—“wait, you can have mine . . . it’s much bigger, and there is an eiderdown too.”

“But I am content to stay where I am,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan.

“But we can’t both be here,” said Joan, backing very, very slowly. Another step or two and she could get at her dressing-gown.

“But I do not see why,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, his inscrutable eyes on the scarlet mouth.

“But I know we can’t,” said Joan, and as she said it she knew why. That was the deadly, deadly horror of it, it came over her like a wave of sickness. They were not the same colour, she and Mohammed Khan. There was something unnatural about it. It was awful anyhow to be in a room with a man when you were not properly dressed, but if it had been one of those lean brown men that she had seen at dinner so well groomed in an immaculate dinner-jacket, she could have borne it. Besides, he would never have stayed if she had asked him to go, an Englishman never would. . . . “Please go back to your own room, or let me get my dressing-gown,” she said.

But by this time, Mr. Mohammed Khan was a thoroughly exasperated and aggrieved man. “I shall do nothing of the kind,” he said. “This is all too ridiculous. I come as any man would come, to claim his wife, and I am met with abuse. I tell you I will not tolerate it. Come to my arms as a dutiful wife should. Come!” He held out long pink-striped arms with the brown hands looking like gloves at the end of them.

“No,” said Joan, backing against the wall, her grey eyes dilating.

Mr. Mohammed Khan came nearer. “You will be very sorree if you do not,” he said.

“I would rather die,” said Joan, knowledge coming to her in a sudden blinding flash. If only she could get out into the corridor; one of those lean brown men would help her. “I would rather die,” she said again.

“Then take this,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, and with a lithe movement he caught at the fine muslin at her throat and tore it to the hem.

Joan fell on her knees. “Put out the light,” she breathed. “But I prefer it up,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan.

Chapter VII

Everybody liked the Kemps. They were typical Anglo-Indians, both of them. Not Anglo-Indians in the new sense of the term, forced on us by a Government that when it gets paternal is apt to get senile at the same time; but Anglo-Indians in the true sense of the term—men and women who have given their best to a country that in the opinion of many does not deserve it. But as a matter of fact the Kemps loved India, they made friends wherever they went, and they numbered among their friends many Indians, too, and they were proud to call them their friends. So life was a cheerful thing to them, and when they were on leave, as they were at the present moment, they were able to enjoy it to the full not being haunted, as most people are, by the thought of return. But Mrs. Kemp at the present moment was feeling rather distressed, and she touched her husband’s brown-booted foot with her own excellently made brogue, as a small figure came slowly down the staircase.

“What is the matter with that child?” she said.

Colonel Kemp raised his eyes from his paper without moving his head.

“Obvious, I should think,” he said, and he let them fall again.

“But how do you mean?” Mrs. Kemp was trying to watch Joan without being noticed.

“My dear Kitty, you’re very dense all of a sudden. Oh, you women! Can’t you read a paper without turning it inside out, and back to front?” Mr. Kemp was struggling with the Times that Mrs. Kemp had adjusted to suit her own particular scheme of reading a little earlier.

But Mrs. Kemp was still looking at Joan. She was standing on the big mat at the front door staring out into the rain that was drifting in perpendicular sheets through the beautiful valley. Mrs. Kemp’s kind heart was wrung with pity for the look of leaden misery on the small pale face. Yet as a matter of fact Joan was feeling, for the first time since she arrived, a little less miserable. It had happened like this. The night before, she had been awakened from her fitful, terror-haunted sleep by the feeling of a convulsion by her side. Mr. Mohammed Khan always slept entirely covered up; his face was never visible; like a large cocoon he lay swathed in blankets and sheet. But until the early morning of this day the cocoon was shaken from time to time by violent tremors, and Joan, after the first terror had passed that he was waking up, had come to the conclusion that he must be sneezing. And he was, for the next morning, when Joan, her pale blue flannel dressing-gown buttoned high up to her throat, stood by the side of the bed, the tray of early tea in her hand, a puffy face with sodden eyelids gradually emerged from the untidy heap.

“Oh, Oh!” Mr. Mohammed Khan slowly sat up and pressed a hand to each side of his head, “Oh, I am sick . . . verree sick.”

“How do you mean ‘sick’?” said Joan, laying the tray down on the table by the bed, and looking round wildly.

“When I say sick, I mean sick,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, and he sneezed again twice, with the nose of a maturing cyclone.

Joan turned to go. It had to be. After all, she had promised. ‘In sickness and in health . . .’

“Where are you going?” said Mr. Mohammed Khan. “Come back.” He spoke angrily and with an injured dignity. “Hand me my tea, perhaps it will revive me.”

But it had not the desired effect, for when Joan returned fully dressed from the bath-room, she found her husband still in bed, and this time uttering occasional muffled groans. “Oh what is the matter?” she said, peering down into the heap of bedclothes.

“I am sick, very sick. In fact I feel that my end is approaching,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, who was, like all his race, panic-stricken at not feeling quite so robust as usual. “I am ill in every fibre. In my head, in my limbs, in my very soul. And the moment you have finished your breakfast, in fact before, I shall require you to telephone into Keswick for the best doctor that such an antiquated town can produce.”

“But are you as ill as all that?” said Joan, to whom the visit of a doctor meant that things were very bad indeed. After all, her husband had done nothing more so far than sneeze. And a sneeze only meant a cold, unless it was coupled with a rash, when it meant measles. But measles was a child’s thing. “Are you sure you are as bad as that?” she repeated. “A doctor will charge a great deal for coming out here from Keswick.”

“What is money compared with a life?” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, and he subsided again under the bed-clothes.

So Joan, after she had run the comb through her short ripply hair, descended to the office, and after consultation with the book-keeper there telephoned to Dr. Crawly, whom the book-keeper described as the most modern and up-to-date doctor in the neighbourhood. “And he’s a case at Grange,” she said, “so he’ll be along early.”

When Dr. Crawly first saw Joan he imagined that she must be the patient, and he prepared to administer a very sharp reproof that she was up, and walking about the hotel. But Joan laughed at his snapped-out question, and led the way into the spacious bedroom. “Oh, no, it’s my husband,” she said, “I am quite well.”

Dr. Crawly, with the perspicacity of his brotherhood, was not quite so sure of that, but he made no comment, and followed Joan to the side of the bed, where nothing was visible but a mound of bed-clothes. He turned to the girl by his side: “But there is nobody here,” he said.

And somehow that simple remark coupled with the look of dismay on the clever face struck Joan as the most exquisitely funny thing that she had ever heard. Her face began to twitch, and her lips were drawn back from her small even teeth in spite of her wild efforts to control them. She began to laugh, at first quietly, and then wildly. Dr. Crawly seeing, looked round, and then picked the small figure up in his arms, and carried it through the half open door into the dressing-room. And he set her down on the bed and sat down beside her. “Don’t try to control yourself at all,” he said, gently, “just let yourself go.”

Joan, not knowing what she did, clutched the capable brown hand in hers, and sobbed and cried and laughed, and sobbed again until with a shattering breath she came to herself. Then she groped wildly for her handkerchief, and looked up at the kind face, and spoke with a sob in her throat: “It’s taken away that mad feeling in my head,” she said piteously.

Dr. Crawly smiled: “I thought it would,” he said. “And it’s just between you and me. See? And now when you feel quite yourself again, we’ll go in and see that husband of yours.” But as they walked back into the big room, Dr. Crawly was thinking with all the force of his active brain what was it all about? And when, in response to a gentle touch from Joan’s hand the hump at the side unwound itself, he knew, and although he spoke quietly his eyes were fierce.

“Well, we’ll just go into this very thoroughly,” he said, “will you be kind enough to leave us for a moment or two, Mrs. Khan?”

Dr. Crawly made a very exhaustive examination of Mr. Khan. He hung intent, stethoscope clipped into his ears, over Mr. Khan’s prostrate and terrified body until that worthy dripped with terrified perspiration. He made him say “Ah,” again and again and yet again. He felt with dreadful searching expert fingers the ribs, and just below them. He laid two light but determined finger-tips on the chest and tapped with other fingers. He stripped off bedclothes, and struck sharply below the knee and grunted when the leg that at a rapped-out command Mr. Khan had obediently crossed kicked out wildly. In fact he did almost everything that a clever doctor who means to frighten a patient thoroughly can do. And he succeeded. When Dr. Crawly drew the sheet back over Mr. Khan, there was not much spirit left in that worthy.

“To begin with, there must be absolute quiet,” said Dr. Crawly, and he sat down in a low chair by the bed and laid the tips of his fingers together, “absolute quiet and freedom from excitement. Warmth is essential, the chest needs care. Light but nourishing food. But quiet . . . above all, quiet. And to ensure that I should recommend a change of room. That room is attached to this, I believe?” Dr. Crawly nodded towards the communicating door.

“It is,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan in a husky whisper.

“Very well, then, I should suggest that you move in there. And as there will be a certain amount of nursing to be done I will see about getting a woman to come in for the day. There is a woman who takes cases of this sort for me and she lives in one of the cottages in Grange, so that will be very convenient, and will save the expense that having a nurse in a place like this always involves.”

“A nurse!” Mr. Mohammed Khan’s lips became pallid. “Is there danger?” he said.

“No more than there ever is in cases of this kind,” said Dr. Crawly bluntly. “But in these days of influenza and its kindred evils it is always well to be prepared. Although, I think, we will not mention the word influenza in the hotel, as it is apt to cause alarm.

A groan rose to Mr. Khan’s lips. “My wife!” he said.

“She must be out in the open air as much as possible,” said Dr. Crawly, getting up. “And I will tell her so. Good day to you for the present.” Dr. Crawly’s keen face was rather grim as he went in search of Joan.

So that was why Joan was feeling rather more cheerful Dr. Crawly had sought her out, as she stood staring out of the window in the next room, and had explained briefly what he had explained rather more elaborately to Mr. Mohammed Khan. And Joan’s heart flung itself out in a passion of thanksgiving. God had sent his angel to deliver her in the shape of this kind man with a face like a hawk.

“Will he stay in the other room?” she said, trying not to let her lower lip tremble.

“He will,” said Dr. Crawly, flapping one dog-skin glove across the other.

“But he hasn’t any pain, has he?” asked Joan, feeling a demon of unnaturalness that she did not mind more this laying low of her husband.

“Nothing perceptible,” said Dr. Crawly. “But of course a heavy cold is always troublesome. And as I do not want you to catch it too, I have told your husband that I do not want you to be in the room more than is absolutely necessary. See? I want you to get out as much as ever you can. A very nice woman is coming in to look after him so she will do everything that is necessary. See?” said Dr. Crawly again, smiling.

“Yes, I see,” said Joan, and then she caught suddenly at the brown hand: “I feel quite different since you came,” she whispered.

“Well, I’m very glad to hear it,” said Dr. Crawly, “because I think there was room for improvement! And now I must be off. I’ll send nurse along in about an hour, and then you will have nothing to do but just to get out and about in this beautiful scenery. And I will drop in to-morrow at about the same time to see your husband again.”

So Dr. Crawly had gone on his way, and now nurse had come, and Joan, after tidying the vacated room—somehow had not felt able to put out her few little personal things before—was standing staring out into the rain, wishing that it would clear up.

“It can rain in this part of the world, can’t it?” Mrs. Kemp had got up from her chair and had joined Joan on the big mat.

Joan started. Then as she met the friendly blue eyes she smiled: “Yes it can,” she said. “What do you do when it goes on like this?”

“Well, if you are not afraid of getting wet you go out,” said Mrs. Kemp, laughing. “But of course you need a pair of very stout boots and a very watertight mackintosh. But I think it will clear at about twelve. Come and sit down here beside me, and tell me who you are and where you came from. You remind me so much of a little niece of mine. She is younger than you and still at school, but there is something about you that is the same.”

Joan followed Mrs. Kemp and sat down beside her. She felt frightened lest Mr. Kemp would talk to her, but he didn’t, he only just nodded and smiled very kindly. “Just you keep my wife quiet,” he said, “she has a habit of talking to me when I want to read the paper.”

Mrs. Kemp soon found out all she wanted to know about Joan, and what she did not find out she guessed at. She was very sympathetic about Mr. Khan’s sudden illness, and said that she was quite sure that when he was well enough to see visitors her husband would like to go and see him: “You see we are proud to rank Indians among our friends,” she said, “and my husband and yours will have many things in common to interest them.” And somehow that touched Joan’s heart as nothing else would have done. She dared not stop to analyse her own feelings about her husband; that she felt with an awful fear would have to come presently. But just to have him spoken of without the usual undercurrent of criticism . . . it helped . . . it was like oil on a burn; it seemed somehow to restore her self-respect, and she revived under it.

“Why, do you know anything about India?” she said, and she lifted her little head like a flower that has been beaten to the earth by a hurricane of rain, and then feeling the warmth of the sunshine, responds to it.

“I should think we do,” laughed Mrs. Kemp. “My husband and I have both spent the best part of our lives there. He, you see, is in the Indian Political Service, so he knows it through and through. And this cold weather we go back for the last time: I can’t bear to think about it.”

“Why? do you like it so much then?” asked Joan

“We simply love it,” said Mrs. Kemp. “To begin with it is nearly always fine. And I love the sun. Then one has many many friends; people get very intimate in India; you see, being in a foreign country we all hang together. And that helps to make it a happy friendly life.”

“I wonder if I shall like it,” said Joan slowly.

Mrs. Kemp stooped to pick up her handkerchief. She had been very much hoping that she would hear that Mr. Khan had an English practice, but evidently he had not and this sweet little girl was going to be pitchforked into the midst of that most terrible of all communities, an English community in an alien land, angry and intolerant that one of their number should have formed an alliance with an alien. . . . But Mrs. Kemp was tactful, and tact means tender thought for the feelings of others. “Of course you will like it,” she said.

Long afterwards, when Joan could bear to go through the happenings of her honeymoon day by day, that walk stood out in her mind as one of the things that had helped her to keep her sanity—that and the visit of Doctor Crawly. So as Joan walked, her head up, swinging a little cane that Mrs. Kemp had lent her, into the shelter of the Jaws of Borrowdale, she began to stir a little in her slough of despond. It was so beautiful, so entrancingly beautiful: the sun shot aslant the misty cloud-capped hills, making them gleam with a green that was greener than the greenest emerald.

She and her husband had had one or two walks during the time they had already spent at the Cataract Hotel. Mr. Khan did not care for walking really; he liked to go a little way and then sit down. So the beauty of the Borrowdale Valley was still a closed book to Joan, and Mrs. Kemp found it the keenest pleasure to show it to anyone so appreciative.

“You shall come some really long walks with us,” she said. “Generally about four of us go together, and we take our lunch with us, so that we can get a really long day. You will be able to do that now, as the doctor has given orders that you are to be out in the open air as much as you can.”

Joan smiled, and not knowing how to express her gratitude for this hand held out to her in her extremity, gripped at the warm living hand that hung down close to her side and squeezed it passionately. “You are kind,” she said, not daring to say more for fear of crying.

The postmistress at the Grange post office was friendly and delightful, as North country people generally are, and she brought out all her stock of picture postcards for Mrs. Kemp and Joan to look at. Joan chose four—and then remembered.

“I haven’t any money,” she stammered, “I forgot. . . . I must come another time.”

“But I have heaps of money for both of us,” said Mrs. Kemp easily, and she jingled it in the pocket of her Burberry. “And when you have quite finished here, we will go into the farm next door, and have some milk.”

But as she led the way into the beautiful farm house, with its garden that sloped down to the hurrying river, and its low flagged hall full of priceless old oak furniture, she wondered what was to be the end of this sweet child’s disastrous marriage. For Mrs. Kemp had the conventional horror of a mixed marriage, although she did not let Joan see it. And also although she had never seen Mr. Mohammed Khan either, she loathed the very thought of him. He must be a cad and a brute, or Joan could not look as she did. . . . But she kept all these thoughts in her own mind, and did everything in her power to amuse and divert Joan, and she succeeded very well, and Joan leaning back in her rush-bottomed chair, suddenly burst out laughing.

“Oh, you do say the most excruciatingly funny things,” she said, and the dimple just above the curve of her top lip showed enchantingly.

“Do I!” twinkled Mrs. Kemp. But as she looked at the illuminated face her own face was clouded again. One week only . . . and yet long enough to wipe every spark of happiness from it. She loathed Mr. Mohammed Khan more than ever.

But Mr. Kemp, to whom she confided her feelings as she dressed for dinner that night, was more tolerant. He stood in front of the glass in his dressing-room, twitching carefully at the ends of a black tie.

“Granted,” he said, as Mrs. Kemp flung herself down into a low chair beside him—she was dressed very beautifully although perfectly simply. Mrs. Kemp’s clothes were always a feature of whatever Indian station she went to— “Granted that what you say is correct, although how you know it all beats me, as you say that the child had told you nothing. Granted all that, you have no right to label the man as a cad and a brute. You seem to forget that Mr. Khan is an Indian. His whole outlook on life is different from ours. Even his religion, that should be the highest thing about him, denies the woman a soul. Well, what can you expect? He marries a girl and naturally expects her to be his chattel. She doesn’t like it of course because she is an English girl. But that’s her fault, not his. She shouldn’t have married him. And I cannot believe that she did it blindfolded; somebody must have tried to stop her.”

“All the same, I say he is a brute and I loathe him,” said Mrs. Kemp obstinately.

Mr. Kemp burst out laughing. “Oh Kitty!” He got into his coat and then stood over her as she lay back and looked up at him. “You sweetest thing,” he said, and drew her up into his arms.

Mrs. Kemp lay there without speaking for a minute, then she drew back and wiped her eyes with a wisp of a handkerchief that she dragged from the front of her dress.

“Jim, Helen would have been just about the same age by now,” she said. “I think that’s why I mind so much,” and one bitter tear, that would not be denied, ran straight down, and lost itself in the beautiful string of pearls that ringed the white throat.

“My darling,” said Mr. Kemp, and he held his wife very closely to him.

On the whole Mr. Mohammed Khan rather enjoyed being in bed. To the Asiatic, movement of every kind is a thing to be avoided. To him, to be on foot is a sign of inferiority. And he will resent it greatly if he is not offered a chair when he comes to see you, although nowadays he will walk into your house with both head and feet covered, a thing he would not dream of doing to one of his own caste—nor to you either a few years ago. So far Mr. Mohammed Khan was really enjoying himself, especially as he was allowed to eat practically what he liked, and had someone specially to look after him. Mrs. Thwaites was a typical North-country woman with a soft musical voice, and she looked with a certain amount of awe at the dark face and shining head as they lay on the white pillow.

“I am sure he must be a Prince of sorts,” she said to her husband, as they met on the dark road that lay between the Cataract Hotel and the tiny hamlet of Low Ghyll. Mr. Thwaites, who was the local carrier, always came to fetch his wife.

“Prince be danged,” said Mr. Thwaites. “He’s nowt but a nigger, and I don’t like ‘em. Fine carryings on there was ’ere, at yon holiday house, two years agone. And t’post mistress says that she’s not so sure that it’s not the same one—took a registered letter there th’other day and saw yon in the garden.”

“Eh, but I’m sure it can’t be,” said Mrs. Thwaites, who although she had a sturdy and grown-up son, still had a vast store of unexpended romance in her heart, and who was lavishing it all on the prostrate Mohammed Khan, quite unconscious that he for his part regarded her exclusively as rather an expensive menial. “And Mrs. Khan, she’s that quiet like a little mouse she is in and out, and hardly a word to say for herself.”

“And I don’t blame her for that,” said Mr. Thwaites, who had a vivid recollection of sundry ‘lifts’ offered to and accepted by someone suspiciously like Mr. Mohammed Khan, on the long road between the Holiday House and Keswick. “Not so much as a ‘thank you,’” as he had grumbled to a compatriot, “let alone a couple of coppers!”

But Mrs. Thwaites was silent. She liked her little romance . . . it reminded her of a lovely story she had once read in a magazine, where a poor girl out of a teashop had married Prince, and had gone out to India, and lived in a palace made of marble, with nothing but black servants to fan her and to fall down in front of her wherever she went.

But Mr. Mohammed Khan was not interested: “If Mr. Kemp is a member of that arrogant Service, the I.C.S.,” he declaimed, “he is no friend of mine. They are all without exception intent on the repression of the Indian and without conscience.”

“Oh, but I don’t think Mr. Kemp can be!” exclaimed Joan eagerly. “Because he said that he would so like to come up and see you, if you would care to see him.”

This was a different matter altogether. Mr. Kemp was Commissioner of one of the Northern Provinces, and therefore a person to be cultivated. So Mr. Mohammed Khan smiled graciously and sent a message by Joan that he would be very glad to receive Mr. Kemp whenever he could find it convenient to come up. And to Mrs. Kemp’s indignation Mr. Kemp was rather favourably impressed with Mr. Mohammed Khan.

“He’s a darned clever chap,” he said to her that night as they sat together in the lounge; Joan had just said good night and gone. “As seditious as they make ’em of course, but with a head on his shoulders. And he ought to go far in the law. But, of course, he ought never to have married that girl. To begin with, he must be many years older, and also he is evidently a very loyal follower of the Prophet. And that means trouble.”

What?” Mrs. Kemp turned her head swiftly. “Why, Joan told me that he was a Christian,” she said.

“Of course he isn’t,” Mr. Kemp laughed. “Why, look at the man, you can tell he isn’t a Christian. And if he told her that he was one, it can only have been because she asked him point blank and he was afraid of her backing out of it if he told her the truth.

“Jim!” Mrs. Kemp’s lips were white. “Jim . . . he may be married already . . . or if he isn’t he may take another wife. Jim . . . it’s perfectly awful for that child . . . we ought to do something.”

Mr. Kemp drew heavily on bis cheroot: “Kitty, it’s absolutely nothing to do with us,” he said, “and don’t you begin to interfere. Besides, I may have made a mistake, and he may be a Christian after all. Where were they married, do you know?”

“At a registry office,” said Mrs. Kemp, with her eyes on her husband’s.

Mr. Kemp stooped suddenly with a muttered exclamation. A shower of grey ash had fallen on to the lapel of his coat. He brushed it off impatiently.

“Do you think that means that he isn’t a Christian,” insisted Mrs. Kemp.

Mr. Kemp did not answer for a minute or two, and when he did he answered deliberately, keeping his eyes on the glowing end of his cheroot, from which a blue spiral of smoke curled slowly upwards:

“I don’t think anything at all about it, Kitty,” he said, “because I know that it is nothing to do with me. And I want you to remember that, too. After all, although you have got to know the girl well here, she is practically a stranger to you. Leave her affairs alone. Do all you can to make the time pass happily for her here, I don’t object to that, but don’t let it go any further. See?”

But impulsive Mrs. Kemp suddenly wrung her hands: “But suppose it turns out that he has got a wife already?” she said.

Mr. Kemp got up, and walking to the door, he threw the smouldering end of his cheroot out into the darkness. Then he came back and stood in front of his wife:

“It might be the very best thing that could possibly happen,” he said.

Chapter VIII

Mr. Mohammed Khan had now been in bed nearly a fortnight, and even Dr. Crawly, much as he had Joan’s welfare at heart, could hardly keep him there any longer without doing gross violence to his conscience.

But Joan could only stare out into the beauty of the morning and wonder why she had ever been miserable about anything at Streatham. Things like not being able to find the frying-pan, for instance, or having to get up and let in Matilda in the morning because she had forgotten the key. They weren’t things that mattered, those things. They were things like . . . like . . . like having something in your eye when you might be blind, having a tiny back ache when you might be helpless on a sofa for the rest of your life. . . .

As Dr. Crawly went on his way into the green leafiness of the beautiful valley, he gnawed at his lower lip, and consigned to perdition the damned fools responsible for the collection of obsolete and antiquated laws, that made possible such a marriage. But Joan, left alone in the empty hall, still stared out at the lapis lazuli and emerald, and as she stared her mind slowly began to work. Words began to form themselves in her brain, words over which she seemed to have no control. Over and over again they came—“For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory . . . For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory . . . for ever and ever, Amen.” Something else, though; something else came first . . . Joan wrinkled her forehead. Ah, yes, that was it, “Deliver us from Evil.” Of course! “Deliver us from Evil.” Joan shut her eyes, the lids hurt as she pressed them together, and folded her hands over her knitted jumper. “Deliver us from Evil”. . . if she began from there it would do, otherwise Mohammed would be wondering why she was so long downstairs. . . .

Mr. Mohammed Khan was highly delighted at being able to get up again. Being in bed, even if you are allowed to eat as much as you like, becomes monotonous after a time, besides it annoyed him to see Joan enjoying herself so much.

Also she had regained all her prettiness—her face was round and pink, and her eyes laughed. And last but not least, it was an expensive luxury to have a nurse to wait on you, especially as she only did the things that it was obviously the duty of your wife to do, and your wife would of course do them for nothing.

Joan’s heart gave a terrible torturing leap when he opened the communicating door between the two rooms and beamed at her as she ran the comb through her curly hair—the big booming gong had just sounded for lunch.

“Again I am restored to health, my little Rose of Sharon,” he said.

Joan turned: “Oh, yes, so you are,” she said, and stooped to pick up the comb that had fallen from her trembling hand.

Lunch did not take long . . . Nearly everyone was out. For the last week the weather had been divine, and everyone was anxious to take advantage of it. The Kemps had gone to Grasmere for the day in a car with friends of theirs from the Derwentwater Hotel, so the hall was still deserted when Joan and her husband came out from the big dining-room. Mr. Mohammed Khan lit a cheroot and sank into an easy chair with his eyes on Joan.

“This is very delightful,” he said, “and contrary to the prognostications of our estimable Dr. Crawlee I feel as well as I have ever done in my life.”

“Oh do you?” said Joan. Somehow she did not seem able to think of anything to say that didn’t sound stupid. Her brain felt as if someone had sat on it, and squeezed out all the part that you think with. “Oh do you?” she said again.

“Yes I do,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, but he frowned a little. Such apathy as to his well-being was not seemly in a loving wife, he thought indignantly. A woman of his own race would have been anxiously crouched over her little fire cooking him succulent messes. A really hot curry drowned in ghee . . . how his soul yearned over it. After the tasteless colourless dishes placed before him by the proprietors of this English hotel it would be like a glimpse of heaven. It would be like the caresses of a woman of his own race after the trembling shrinking submission of Joan, thought Mr Mohammed Khan, suddenly letting go of his own thoughts. He was tired to death of this foolish attitude . . . it had got to be altered. He got up.

Joan saw him get up and she got up too. “Half a minute while I just see if the post is coming along the road,” she said, and she walked out of the door into the beautiful front garden. As she stood, her hands twisted together, her heart beating so that she could feel it all over her, dreadful vibrating beats that thumped in her head, she prayed that the post might come so that there would perhaps be a delay while Mohammed Khan read a letter—anything. Or if a motor would suddenly come to grief outside the gate—no one killed, but just something to happen. Anything! “Lord, Lord!” prayed Joan in her extremity. Then from just behind her, down the shallow steps trotted a sheepdog, and disregarding Joan he padded down the drive, and met with an ebullition of joyous barking, a short, rather stout figure dressed in black, carrying a basket, that had just turned in at the gate. Joan, trying not to look as if every atom of her life was screaming out with tortured anxiety, went rapidly forward to meet her: it was the postmistress from Grange, she recognised her.

The postmistress from Grange was laughing: “That dog, he’s fair human,” she said. “He must have heard me coming before I turned in at the gate. It beats me how they do it.”

“Have you got a letter for me?” asked Joan, trying to control her lower lip.

“No, not this time, Miss,” said the postmistress, who had never seen Joan except with Mrs. Kemp, and then only buying picture postcards.

“Oh!” said Joan, and she turned away.

But the postmistress was fumbling in her pocket, “I’ve a foreign telegram here, Miss,” she said, “and it’s addressed to someone of the name of Kahn. But the only people of that name here spell it different, K.H.A.N., so I brought it along myself instead of sending the boy. Do you know it there is two parties of that name in the hotel?”

“No, only one,” said Joan, and she took the telegram in her hand.

“Can you point me out the gentleman?” asked the postmistress.

“Yes, I can, if you will come in,” said Joan.

The sheepdog lay on the mat, his muzzle flat on the brown fibre and watched the little group of three. The tall man with the olive fingers had once caught hold of his pink lolling tongue and given it a torturing nip, and laughed when the white teeth came together, very gently, but too late. The soft female thing with the small fingers that caressed, and the stouter female thing with the thicker harder fingers that also caressed but not so nicely. All were talking.

“But this is an intolerable state of affairs,” Mr. Mohammed Khan was saying. “It means an immediate departure. I must immediately prepare for the journey.” He started excitedly along the hall.

“Mohammed, the postmistress wants you to sign this,” said Joan desperately, not knowing what her husband was talking about, and running after him with a slip of paper in her hand.

“Presently, presently,” Mr. Mohammed Khan waved her impatiently aside, and then beckoned. “Come upstairs, and let the woman wait,” he said. “Wait!” he said suddenly, facing round, and scowling.

“Very well, Sir,” said the postmistress meekly, answering at once to the touch of brutality in the arrogant voice. As she said to Mrs. Thwaites a few days afterwards, “Such a presence; ’e might have been t’ Sultan of Turkey hisself.”

Upstairs in the big bedroom, Joan turned with trembling hands to the man by her side. He was looking angrily round the room in search of something: What was it? “Pencil . . . be quick,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan. “I must immediately reply. ‘Returning next mail, hold over till arrival,’” he muttered, as he wrote on the top of the chest of drawers, Joan standing by him.

“Returning . . . where?” asked Joan, mechanically taking the paper held out to her, but searching her husband s face with straining eyes.

“Where? where? to India, of course,” replied Mr. Mohammed Khan, opening the door into his dressing-room, and walking over to the window. “My suit-case . . . holdall” . . . he began to count out loud.

Joan followed him. “But what about me?” she said.

But Mr. Mohammed. Khan was still counting: “suit-cases . . . holdall . . . the station ’bus. It will be sufficient and it must be ordered. When you have returned from giving the receipt to the woman, order the station ’bus for seven o’clock to-night,” he shouted over his shoulder, then started angrily at the touch on his sleeve. “And why are you delaying?” he snarled.

Joan’s face was pale. “Mohammed, what about me?” she said. “You say you are going back to India, and you seem to be going to start off somewhere to-night . . . Yes. I’ll take it down in a minute, but just tell me first. Am I going? Would you mind just telling me that, and then I won’t bother you about anything else.”

He put his arm round her: “You will not be able to accompany me,” he said, “there is no time. But you will follow me in a couple of months’ time. I will arrange it. And meantime we will approach the estimable Commissioner and his wife to see if they will be willing to allow you to remain with them here until the end of the week, when they also, I understand, return to town.”

“Do you mean that I stay here without you?” breathed Joan.

Fortunately Mr. Mohammed Khan did not see the look in Joan’s eyes: he was again stooping over the suit-case.

“Yes, it is inevitable,” he said. “This is an affair of a lawsuit, and cannot be disregarded. But now you will please hasten to deliver the message about the ’bus, and return the receipt, and reply-paid telegram to the woman who is waiting.”

But Joan was already walking towards the door. There was a funny feeling in her knees though, they seemed to quaver as she walked down the stairs. As she went, she spoke out loud, the same words whispered again and again: “God, You are good, God, You are good,” she said, and she clenched the flimsy paper with trembling hands.

Mr. Kemp thought it was most infernal cheek and said so frankly; but Mrs. Kemp, touched to the core by Joan’s look of rapture as she met her in the hall and confided the abrupt change of plans to her, had not the heart to do anything but applaud the scheme and say that both she and her husband would be only too delighted to do what they could for Mrs. Khan, and hand her over safely to her relatives when they all went up to town together.

“But mind that he pays her bill before he goes,” she said, as she stabbed the long diamond brooch into the front of her frock.

“I like that!” grumbled Mr. Kemp. “You get tied up with all these queer people, and then expect me to say impossible things like has he paid his wife’s bill? I tell you I’m not going to do it.”

But there was no need for anyone to do it, for Mr. Khan, very conscious of his magnanimity, handed a blank cheque to Mr. Kemp, as that embarrassed gentleman stood reading the local evening paper in the smoking-room before dinner:

“There will be the week’s board and lodging and doubtless extras,” he said grandly.

“Extras? what sort of extras?” said Mr. Kemp, feeling vaguely that Joan must be a paying guest under his own roof.

“Excursions, and such like,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan blandly.

“Oh, I see.” Mr. Kemp smiled. “No, there won’t be any extras,” he said, “at least not of that kind. Only her fare up to town. So we’ll get the office to make up her bill now and include that. Come along now, we have time before dinner.” Mr. Kemp, very distastefully, stood by and heard a not very dignified wrangle about reduced terms. But he did it for his wife’s sake because he knew she was fond of Joan, and because he also knew that her heart was very often desolate. But he disliked the job exceedingly, and he expressed himself forcibly that night as they stood together on their balcony overlooking the lake.

“The man’s a bounder,” he said decidedly; “and I stake my Sam the greasy brute hasn’t given her a pi for herself. I wish now I’d taken his damned blank cheque.

But Mr. Kemp was wrong when he took for granted that Mr. Mohammed Khan had not given Joan anything for herself. He had—a couple of very new one pound notes, and he gave them with a condescending smile on his olive face:

“Do not squander them, my little Rose of Sharon “ he said.

“But how long are they to last for?” asked Joan, getting very red. She felt that, although she hated it, she must get some money out of her husband before he left her for so long. After all, there were loads of things—washing—and things like stamps, and if she went for an excursion with the Kemps it would be awful not to be able to offer to pay, even although she knew they wouldn’t let her. Then there was all the time till she would be able to join him again—she couldn’t absolutely plant herself down on her mother, and pay nothing. “Mohammed, I shall want more than two pounds for two months,” she said with an effort. “I promise I will be awfully careful of it. But you see there will be things like washing, and then perhaps I shall go up to town on a tram. And then perhaps I shall want to wash my hair, I am sure to want to wash my hair twice if not more times, and that will mean that I shall want a shampoo powder. And then my hands may get rough, and I shall want some sort of creamy thing . . . and then tooth-paste. . . . Oh there will be lots of things,” said Joan desperately, conscious that a very heavy cloud was gathering on her husband’s brow.

“And will there be no allowance from your home for these little incidentals?” asked Mr. Mohammed Khan coldly.

Joan stared: “But doesn’t your husband give you money for these things when you are married to him?” she said.

“It depends,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan. “In our case, I should say ‘No,’ as we are to be so far away from one another.”

Joan’s heart gave a sudden dreadful twist. Then this was how it was—she had really forfeited the right to the hospitality of her old home, and the man to whom she belonged declined to give her anything unless he got something for it. What was she to do?

“What about my fare to London, and my passage out to India?” she said briefly.

“The former I have arranged: the latter I shall settle with your brother when I get to London,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan.

Then Joan suddenly made up her mind. Rather than beg for money from her husband she would throw herself on the pity and love of her mother: she would not turn away from her. Joan’s heart suddenly swelled—her mother, whom she had very often thought stupid. And there was now, and always had been, that heavenly precious love waiting for her. Not the sort of love that calculated or wanted something back, but just love that gave, and gave, and gave again, and very often in the giving lost its value in the eyes of the recipient, because it was given so easily. The tears suddenly flooded her eyes. “Two pounds will be plenty,” she said.

But Mr. Mohammed Khan saw the tears, and thinking that they were because he was going away, he was pleased. And being pleased he suddenly became generous, and he pulled his pocket book out of his waistcoat pocket, and drew out two more notes. “Do not weep, my lamb,” he said, holding them out.

Then Joan had one of the hardest fights that she had ever had with her conscience. He thought that she was crying because he was going away. It was as bad as pretending that you had a dying child when you were a beggar, to make people sorry for you so that they should give you more . . . what should she do?

But Mr. Mohammed Khan settled it, by suddenly seeing by the watch on his wrist that it was time he started. And as he drew Joan into his arms a passage from a delicious book she had once read flashed into her mind. She couldn’t remember it exactly, but it was apropos of a girl who had run away from her husband with someone she thought she liked better, but had come tearing back before anything wrong had happened, and before her husband had really realised that she had gone. And it read like this: “Then something prevented Jane from making that most fatal of all mistakes, a clean breast.” Those weren’t exactly the words, but that was the idea. So Joan took the notes, and held up her face: “Thank you very much,” she said.

Chapter IX

The Kemps were delighted with Gerald Mansfield. He stood, very well knit and well groomed, on the platform at Euston as the long train slid in between the two platforms and he kissed his little sister quite unaffectedly as she stood rather shyly between her two new friends. “Gerald, I don’t know what I should have done without them,” she said, and her eyes filled with tears. Gerald Mansfield wondered if there was more behind the words than appeared, but of course he did not say so, and he returned Mr. Kemp’s cordial handshake with warmth, and said that he would be delighted to look both Mr. and Mrs. Kemp up at their hotel in Buckingham Palace Road.

“And then we can fix up a time for us all to meet,” said Mr. Kemp, and there was a message in the keen eyes that met the younger man’s.

Then Gerald knew that they wanted to see him alone, and he felt very uneasy, but he hid it and smiled, and said a cheerful word or two, and then he and Joan went off in search of the car that Mr. Brandon had sent to meet the bride, and the Kemps got into a taxi:

“Jim, I told you that child’s people were sahibs,” said Mrs. Kemp, as the car slid out of the crowded station yard into the traffic of the Euston Road.

Joan was excited as the luxurious car steered its way perilously between the big trams that make motoring between Westminster and Streatham a nightmare to the highly strung:

“Gerald, it all looks so absolutely heavenly,” she cried. “Look, the Bon Marche, just the same, and St. Matthew’s that always makes me think of Samson pulling down the pillars. Oh, and look! they have finished the cinema!” Joan was in the wildest state of excitement, and her eyes shone like stars. “And we had the loveliest journey, absolutely easy, and lunch and tea on the way, the Kemps would pay for me . . . and oh, yes, of course . . . did you see Mohammed before he went?”

There was a little pause after this, and then Gerald smiled quite naturally:

“Yes, I did,” he said, “and he asked me to give you his love.”

“Oh, thank you.” But somehow Joan’s spontaneity left her abruptly, and the rest of the way to Fallowfield Road was passed in silence. Then the car left the High Road and turned down the well known turning, and there they were, the same wobbly paths, the same mullioned windows, the same little front gardens.

And then Joan was in the hall, and in her mother’s arms . . . . “Mother! Mother! Mother! Mother! Mother! MOTHER!” Joan was sobbing, choking, the tears streaming down her face. Mrs. Mansfield, not at all understanding, drew her daughter close to her, and Gerald, feeling, on the contrary, that he understood quite well and wished that he didn’t, pushed his way past them and went into the little drawing-room and blew his nose angrily and stared out of the window. Then Miss Fortescue came down the little twisty stairs and Joan lifted a smudged blurred face and groped wildly for her handkerchief.

“Oh, it’s awful of me . . . but I don’t know . . . I somehow can’t help it. Aunt Belle, how awfully nice, I’d forgotten you were here. Hallo, Matilda! Mother, how grand; do you have Matilda all day?” Joan, trying not to, spoke with little sobs. It was home, home, HOME! How had she ever left it?

“Pleased to see you back I’m sure, Ma’am,” blurted out Matilda, blundering back into the kitchen and sniffing violently. As she confided to the recalcitrant Bert later, “It was more like a funeral than a comin’ back after a nunnymoon. All the lot of ’em crying, Miss Joan the worst of the lot.” But—as usual—Bert was not sympathetic, and he only shifted his Woodbine to the opposite corner of his mouth, and said he didn’t wonder, “married to that bit of black sealing wax.”

Miss Fortescue was the first to take the situation in hand; she patted her sister on the shoulder, kissed Joan, and told her that she was going to take her up and show her her new room. So Joan went up the little flight of stairs, and passed the open door on the half landing, her old room, next to her mother’s. There were two attic rooms at the very top of the house, standing alone at the top of a flight of stairs; Joan had always coveted one of them, but she had never felt it was right to have one because it would have meant that her mother would be alone on the first floor below. But now, of course, it was all right, because Aunt Belle was there—Joan had forgotten that, although her mother had mentioned it in her letters.

“Aunt Belle, you have made it too beautiful for me.” Joan turned and walked slowly back to where her aunt stood playing rather nervously with the strings of her funny little alpaca apron.

“Why, dear, I am so glad you like it,” replied Aunt Belle, squeezing the small damp hand in one of her hard ones. “I thought you would like to be among your own things again, and you see I furnished my own room myself, so all your things were to spare. Now you will like just to wash your hands, won’t you, and then we’ll go down to supper. Matilda stays till nine o’clock now, you see, so we live in style—no washing up, or horrors of that kind.”

But Joan could only cling to the kind hand and sob. “Aunt Belle . . . it’s home . . . it’s home,” she cried. “Don’t you think it funny of me to cry—you’ll think I’m unhappy or something. I’m not, really I’m not . . . I’m not a bit, only it’s . . . it’s just that . . . You see, I don’t expect you’ve ever been away from home like I just have. Don’t you know . . . when you come back, it all seems so . . . so . . . Aunt Belle, let me be part of it again, will you, don’t you know, as if I really belonged to it?” Joan’s wide open eyes were streaming as they sought her aunt’s.

Miss Fortesque cleared her throat gruffly. “Why, you are part of it, dear, and nothing can ever make you not be. Why, your dear mother’s one thought has been for the time when you would be back with her again. Now don’t cry any more, Joan, but wash your face and come downstairs. It’s not good to be alone after a long journey.” And Miss Fortesque stumped out of the room blowing her nose violently.

*  *  *

Joan never saw her mother again after that brief stay in her old home. But all her life she looked back on it as one of the happiest and most peaceful times she had ever spent. Mrs. Mansfield seemed to expand and grow younger with the love that surrounded her; her sister Belle had always been very fond of her in a rather pitying and contemptuous way and now Joan clutched at every opportunity to show how she did really love and value her mother. So the little community was a very happy one, and when, about six months later, she heard in a letter from her brother that her mother had just slipped out of life—as quietly as she had lived in it—an unexpected weakness of the heart after a rather too extensive day of shopping at the July Sales—there was very little bitterness in the tears that Joan shed from eyes bleached and grown weary in the shedding of tears doubly distilled from bitterness.

Everyone tried to make Joan’s last two months in England happy ones; the Brandons frequently lent their car; and there were heavenly shopping expeditions to Kensington High Street, for Joan’s outfit for India had to be considered; and although Mr. Mohammed Khan had not considered it necessary to make any provisions for this, her mother and Aunt did.

“I have been calculating that I have about fifteen more pounds in my Post Office account,” said Mrs. Mansfield one evening, when Joan had gone rather early to bed, and she and her sister were sitting over the dying embers in the dining-room grate.

“Don’t be so stupid, Marion,” said Miss Fortescue, briskly. “You never know when you may want it. No, by far the better plan is for me to lend you a little, you can easily pay me back in a lump sum if I need it.”

“But how can you afford it, Belle?” said Mrs. Mansfield weakly.

“That’s my affair,” said Miss Fortescue; “and as accounts are not your strong point, Marion, if I may say so without being unkind, I should advise you to leave the financial side of Joan’s outfit to me.”

So it was left like this, and Mrs. Kemp, who paid one delightful and auspicious visit to the little house in Fallowfield Road, proved of the greatest help in advising Joan what to take and what to leave behind.

“And when do you start?” asked Mrs. Kemp. She was anxious to know this because she did not want to travel in the same ship as Joan. She would do all she could to help Joan if Joan were in need of help, but the idea of practically chaperoning her out to India under the circumstances was very repugnant to her. Feeling was so acute about mixed marriages, and the Kemps stood high in the official world.

“My brother went to the P. and O. offices the other day,” said Joan, stammering a little—she also had been dreading this question—and he found that my husband had taken a berth in the Nerona that is sailing on October the sixteenth.”

Mrs. Kemp was a clever woman, but she had her work cut out to prevent herself from showing the annoyance that she felt. Mr. Mohammed Khan had done this on purpose, she felt sure; he was probably ambitious, and thought that the arrival of his wife under the auspices of the Commissioner of his own province would be a good thing for him. However, she smiled quite naturally.

“Splendid!” she said. “Then we shall be able to look after one another.”

But Joan knew that Mrs. Kemp was not speaking the truth, and she made an excuse to see her to the end of the road. And when they were outside the little house she burst it all out, her face flaming.

“Mrs. Kemp,” she said, “I feel most frightful about my passage. I know—at least I sort of feel—how you feel about it. You don’t want me about, at least you do, but not all the time—I mean not with you. I told Gerald so . . . he couldn’t quite see why, but he did what I asked and tried to get a berth in another ship. But there aren’t any, the man said that it was the full time of the year, and that it was quite hopeless to expect to get another.”

Mrs. Kemp smiled: “Little goose!” she said. “Of course I like to have you with me. But perhaps . . . You are travelling first class I expect? There are two classes, you know, and many people go second in these dreadful days.”

Then Joan knew for certain that Mrs. Kemp did not want her, and it stabbed through her soul like an excruciating pain. It was true then: she had made herself an outcast by her marriage.

“No, I am travelling first class,” she said slowly.

Several people stared at Mr. Kemp as he strolled down Water Lane that afternoon. He had the ingrained bronze of the Easterner, coupled with the keen legal appearance of the man who hurries through the gardens of the Inner Temple. The clerk who came forward spoke with deference—some eminent K.C., he thought, fresh from his summer holiday.

“Yes, Mr. Mansfield is disengaged, Sir. But I rather think he is expecting a visitor.”

“I expect I am his visitor,” said Mr. Kemp smiling pleasantly. “Ah, how do, Mansfield?” for the polished door in front of him suddenly swung noiselessly open.

“Come in, Sir.” Gerald Mansfield led the way into his room, and pushed forward a leather chair.

“Well, I’ve been to Treadweather Street and I can find out nothing wrong there,” said Mr. Kemp. “They were very obliging and let me have a look at the register. And I saw Hazel yesterday at the Yard again; he had nothing more to tell me really than what I told you before. Khan has been practising as a barrister now for three years, and apparently has always led a decent life—that is to say he has not been associated with any of these seditious affairs, that is, not in any actively aggressive way. He attends the meetings, of course, they nearly all do. As to his private life, that does not concern the police, and they have no reason to suspect that he is married to a woman of his own race. But of course, as to that,” said Mr. Kemp, averting his eyes, and feeling terribly uncomfortable, “you can’t possibly find it out unless you are in India yourself. And even if you were, you wouldn’t be able to do it. These people keep their wife, or wives, as the case may be, penned up in a zenana, and probably, Mr. Khan’s home is in some remote village on the frontier.”

“But I thought he came from Karnmore?”

“So he does. But his wife probably lives with his parents; that would be his home, you see, his father’s house, and he visits it occasionally. Of course if he is a Christian it is a different matter. But I somehow don’t think that he is.

“You don’t think that he is!”

“No, I don’t,” he went on, mentally cursing the day that his wife ever set eyes on Joan Khan, “I don’t think you have enough to go on to warrant your interference in the matter. Your sister has married the man, therefore she must go out and live with him. Khan would not hesitate to bring legal pressure to bear on the matter, if he got annoyed. And you know well enough—far better than I do in fact—what that would mean.”

Gerald Mansfield got up and walked across to the window. Then he came back and sat down again. “It makes me feel absolutely desperate,” he said. “I mean to say . . . it’s so . . . so . . . appalling to think of one’s own sister . . . he broke off abruptly.

Mr. Kemp reached for his hat and got up, too, and walked over to the window. “You know, Mansfield,” he said, “it’s incomprehensible to me how such a thing could ever have happened. Didn’t you warn the child? Didn’t you make any effort to stop the marriage? For that she did it with her eyes shut I am convinced. No girl could possibly have looked as she did when we first saw her, if she had known what she was doing.”

“I did try to warn her, but she would not listen,” said Gerald Mansfield, “and of course it is difficult for a man even if he is a brother . . . I mean to say—I thought that my mater . . .”

“Well, well,” Mr. Kemp held out a hand; “well, we will look after the child as much as we can on the voyage, anyhow,” he said; “and if at any time she needs our help, she can rely on having it—tell her that, will you, if you can do it without frightening her? And, oh—look here—if she has any money, however small an amount, tie it up with the tightest knot that the law can tie.”

Gerald Mansfield let his eyes fall on to the blotting pad, and he picked up a penholder, and twisted it in his fingers. “I have done so,” he said, “and that is what has frightened me most. Before, my sister flew into a passion at the very idea of such a thing. Now, she jumps at it.”

Chapter X

Joan never forgot the morning that she started for India. It was just beginning to get light when she waked, and for a moment or two she couldn’t remember where she was. Always now she waked with the feeling of something horrid crouching in the background, undefined, but there. For Joan knew now that in her marriage she had made a mistake, a frightful and irrevocable mistake. But with the philosophy of which she had rather an unusually large share she was determined to make the best of it. After all, she argued, she had not yet seen her husband in his own country. Even English people went on funnily in other people’s countries. In this way Joan became a little comforted, and Mr. Khan wrote quite nice letters by every mail, and spoke of a reception at Government House to which he had been asked, and of a dance to which he had not been asked but had slipped in through an oversight of one of the A.D.C.s. He spoke of the Governor by his surname only, which sounded very grand, and he spoke of his ‘servants,’ which to Joan sounded very lavish and regal too, accustomed as she was to the ministrations of one servant only, and sometimes not that. So altogether Joan felt a little happier about her future. But it was the thought of leaving home and her mother that hung over her so terribly, and on this last morning when she got out of bed, and looked out of the window on to the little strip of garden, the tears welled up into her eyes and ran despairingly down her face till they lodged in a little lake on her upper lip.

It was all so . . . so agonizing, this feeling that it could never be the same again. It all seemed so dear and familiar: the faint haze over the Common, the little spirals of smoke curling up from the hundreds of chimneys, the shrill scream of an engine as the seven-thirty train from Victoria fled to Brighton along the wooded cutting. Joan knew it was the seven-thirty, because she always used to get up by it when she was going to the High School. All so dear and familiar, and all going to be left behind her. And in their place—what was she going to get? A new life certainly—that she had always craved for. And possibilities of helping others . . . Joan still had a certain amount of faith in Mr. Mohammed Khan. But for herself: none of the selfless love that had shielded her from her youth: none of the eager interest in the tiniest detail that concerned herself: none of the excusing self-effacing disregard of petty discourtesies that would never have been shown by anyone but a mother. “Mother, Mother!” Joan stared in front of her and cried aloud in anguish. It hurt her like a physical pain, this torment in her heart. But soon she wiped her eyes with her soaking handkerchief and began to move about her room. It had got to be gone through, this parting; and to steel herself for the last breakfast, the last words, she must try to pull herself together now. So she stole down to the bathroom and turned on the hot tap—hot being a courtesy title only. But oddly enough the water came out in a steaming bubble. Then Joan tied the cord of her dressing-gown round her again, and slipping her feet into her black velvet bedroom slippers, new for the voyage, she fled down the stairs. She found her in the kitchen, looking rather distracted in a boudoir cap that Joan had always mocked at because it tied under the chin:

“Mother . . . mother!” Joan was suffocating with sobs as she clung to the thin figure. “Mother . . . I simply can’t go . . . I cannot. If anything happens to you. . . . Think of all the times when I . . . Mother! Forget them.” Joan gripped her hands together and bowed herself, weeping.

Mrs. Mansfield rose to the occasion, as rather feeble people very often do when anything great is demanded of them.

“Joan,” she said, “my own precious, precious child. Come, you and I have got to be brave now. Don’t think of this as a long parting. We shall meet again. And we shall write to each other, think of the joy of that. And if things seem strange, and perhaps not altogether happy just now, remember this . . . often the first year of married life is not the happiest one. You and your husband will grow closer together as the years go on, I am sure of it. And now, darling, just trot up and turn off the bath, and you and I will have our tea cosily by the fire together.”

So Joan wiped her eyes, and gave her mother a hug, and ran back up the twisty stairs. And as she ran she sent up a little prayer of thanksgiving. God had been good . . . her mother had not the least idea of how she really felt about her marriage. That helped her more than she could have thought possible.

It was Miss Fortescue who eventually pushed Joan into Mr. Brandon’s car and stood with the difficult tears raining down her face as her niece clung to her. But she detached herself as soon as she could and smiled and waved, and then ran hastily back into the little drawing-room where Mrs. Mansfield lay back in an easy chair with blue lips. “Did Joan know, Belle?” were the first words she said.

“Not an idea,” said Miss Fortescue, gruffly. “I told her that you felt that the actual good-bye would be too sad for both of you. And she was relieved, and came straight down from her bedroom and out of the front door. She said breakfast had been so happy, she would like to remember that as the last time that you and she had had together.”

Mrs. Mansfield made a dreadful sound between a groan and a sob:

“Belle, I shall never see the child again,” she said. “And I might have stopped the marriage if I had had more strength. That time I came back from spending the day with you . . . I meant to. And then it was just like it always has been with me . . . I was weak when I ought to have been strong. And when I see Harold, as I am sure I shall soon . . . he will reproach me. Belle . . . Belle . . . how can I bear it?”

Miss Fortesque blew her nose like a trumpet:

“Don’t be foolish, Marion!” she said briskly. But her heart gave a great twist. Harold was her sister’s husband who had been dead for years. What did Marion mean? “Marion, what did Dr. Mason say when you saw him the other day?” she said.

“He said that I might live for years,” replied Mrs. Mansfield with a funny smile.

*  *  *

It was raining when they got to Tilbury, fine drifting rain that blotted out the ships anchored in the dock, and made them look like great crouching monsters. Gerald stood beside her very cool and collected, too, outwardly, but inwardly, very much the reverse; for he was terribly afraid of showing what he felt at parting from his sister. But Joan had got over the worst of her misery. The drive from Fallowfield Road with kind Mr. Brandon had been the very best thing for her; he sat solidly and sympathetically listening to her sobs, not trying to console her, only saying: “There, there,” from time to time. And when she had finally wiped her eyes and lifted a small face ravaged and swollen with tears to him, he had choked a little and had thrust a fat hand into his pocket and had drawn out two new and exceedingly crackly five pound notes and pushed them into her hand.

“But you’ve already given me a present!” Joan was gasping with surprised joy. “The nicest thing I have, a heavenly dressing-case.”

“Ah, well . . . these may come in useful for a little girl to buy some sweeties with,” said kind Mr. Brandon, and he clenched his teeth so that his voice should not tremble. For he knew what his old friend would have thought of this marriage of Joan’s. His only and beloved little daughter journeying to an alien land, and quite alone!

Presently Joan stood by her brother’s side as her luggage was weighed and labelled, and then took her place in the dingy train that after about half an hour screamed and decided to wend its way through surely the most miserable of all the outlying misery of London. She felt her heart grow lighter. The worst was over—now she could look forward. Firstly to the joy of coming home again. . . . Ah, the unutterable joy of that! And then to the beginning of a new life, because it was going to be new. All that terrible horror of the Lakes was over. That was something to be thrust out of remembrance for ever. Something like a dreadful thought that came and leered and grinned at you when you were in Church. Something like the feeling you would have if you were drowning in a well, clutching . . . clutching at the slimy walls with slippery fingers. . . .

“Joanie, we’ve got to say good-bye here. They look at your passports, and then you have your medical examination.”

Gerald was speaking and Joan looked up with a start. They had got to the end of one of the long sheds, and people were saying good-bye to their friends. No one could come any further, then. It was like Death, thought Joan, with a terrible twist at her heart, panic settling on her like a pall again. No one at the other end of her journey but the man she called her husband. No English person to whom she could fly if she wanted to . . . “Gerald!” It broke from her lips in a low cry.

But Gerald Mansfield was almost at breaking point himself. Joan looked so small in her grey woolly coat and skirt and big coat, and he stooped and kissed her almost abruptly:

“Good-bye, old girl,” he said. “Hang on to your passport, and don’t get in a stew. It’ll all pan out all right. Here’s your porter. Good-bye old thing.” . . . Gerald was gone, and Joan, sobbing out loud, was pushed through a little turnstile into another shed, where a woman with a kind face held her wrist for about three seconds and then smiled again and nodded her onwards. And then there was a scowling man at a table who whipped open Joan’s passport, scowled at it and then at her, and then presumably having found some likeness between the sodden mass opposite him and the wan caricature pasted on the cardboard sheet in his hand, slapped it to again and scribbled something in a book, and Joan was hustled on again. Then she found herself stumbling upwards along a gangway, people in front and behind all hurrying and stumbling, and then she nearly fell over a brass door rail and was only prevented from going headlong by a tall bronzed man in white uniform who caught hold of her and smiled at the uplifted and tear-smudged face.

“Number eighty-two, Miss. To the right, then. Hurry up there please.” Joan found herself in a narrow corridor, smelling of new paint, crowded with people all looking for their cabins. Joan was utterly bewildered. She clutched her despatch case and made herself as small as possible. How could she ever find her cabin, or luggage! Who would ever attend to her! No one apparently. She essayed a timid question as to the whereabouts of her cabin to a passing steward, at least she thought he was a steward, but he only looked at her vaguely and hurried on again looking very worried. She stepped over the brass door rail into the cabin in front of her and then darted out again, a man was there and he looked up and stared—she had thought she recognised her tin cabin trunk under the berth, but it was evidently not hers. The curtain of the cabin door was dragged across behind her with a rattle of brass rings . . . how awful!

“I say, you look rather at sea. Can I tell you anything?” It was a jolly feminine voice that spoke to Joan, and she looked up again with a grasp of relief. She felt as though a lifebelt had been suddenly thrown out to her as she struggled in deep waters.

“I can’t find my cabin . . . at least I don’t know how to begin looking for it . . . I have never been on a boat before.”

Joan coloured with pleasure at being spoken to, it was like the first person that took notice of you when you first went to school: you felt that you would adore her for ever.

“Oh, that’s easy enough. What was the number on your trunks—you know, on the labels they sent you? That is the number of your berth. Eighty-two, shabash! I’m eighty-one.”

“What, do you mean you’re with me!” Joan’s eyes were shining.

“Yes, apparently so and it’s a stroke of luck for both of us, because we’ve got a Eurasian, very fat and muddly, and she’s already entirely filled the place with her kit so that I can’t get into the door!”

“What, do you mean there is someone else in the cabin as well as us?”

“Rather! Why it’s a three berth cabin. Didn’t you know?”

“Three people in those weeny little rooms?” Joan’s face was a study in expression. Why, there had hardly been room for the one man in the cabin she had blundered into by mistake! Three people, all undressing and dressing and doing their hair at the same time!

“Yes, and worse luck we’ve all come round by sea: generally you have your cabin to yourself till Marseilles. But we shall settle down all right, only the Eurasian is rather a jar because she’s sure to be frightfully untidy. And she’s sure too to cover herself with scent. But with two of us we ought to be able to stop that. We’ll start off by sniffing and saying what a frightful smell and what can it be.”

“Oh, but can we?” Joan felt dreadfully uncomfortable as she followed her companion along the corridor. How awful this voyage was going to be! And what did eighty-two shabash mean? She made a little running step and asked:

“Oh, how awfully funny!” The girl in the big fur coat was laughing. “Shabash is an exclamation, a Hindustani exclamation. It means ‘Hooray.’ How funny. Eighty-two shabash, it sounds like an address as you said it!”

Joan laughed, too. There was something very attractive about this girl. What was her name, she wondered. She asked.

“My name? Norah Lane. What’s yours?”

“Joan Khan.” Joan said it with a tightening of the throat.

“Carne . . . Carne? I know some Carnes. Awfully nice people, we were in the same hotel at Mussoorie once. Are they any relation to you?”

“No, I don’t think so.” The palms of Joan’s hands were dripping.

“Oh well, we’re sure to find mutual friends sooner or later. People who go to India always do. The number of people I met at the Army and Navy Stores! . . . Now here we are, hold on when you get the first blast of chypre.”

To Joan’s first sight the cabin seemed to be entirely filled by a stout middle-aged woman stooping over an open trunk. But her eyes only lingered on her vaguely, her whole soul was absorbed, engulfed in contemplation of the thought that had seized on her after her companion’s last words. Khan! But it needn’t be Khan. Carne . . . Carne. But the Kemps would give her away . . . no, not if she could let them know before the ship sailed. Oh! There was hope, hope!

“Is there time to write a letter before we start,” she stammered.

“Yes, rather, heaps.” Norah Lane stared at Joan rather curiously. How white she had suddenly got. But Joan had gone, flying along the corridor as if Death were in pursuit.

“Where do I write a letter?” she gasped the question at a passing steward.

“Straight along, Miss, in the saloon,” he turned accommodatingly and pointed the way.

Joan fled on; a good many people were writing letters, but there was one table vacant. She sat down and snatched up a pen. Oh, pray, pray that Mrs. Kemp would understand. “Lord, make her,” she supplicated, her lips moving.

“My dear Mrs. Kemp”—she wrote.

“I have got an idea, you may think it a wicked one, but I beseech, I beseech you not to. Don’t tell anyone whom I have married. That sounds awful and you won’t understand but I have that feeling. It is all so small here—at least it isn’t small really but you can’t get away. Suppose people are angry with me because I haven’t married an Englishman, it will be terrible. I can scratch out my labels, and none of my boxes are written on. I do pray you will do this for me. I know people must know some time, of course. I am writing this just before the ship starts. Oh, I have just come back from my cabin, I flew to get a stamp and to see . . . Mrs. Kemp, I feel I must kneel down in front of you and implore you. The name on the label on my cabin door is spelt CARNE. Oh do help me not to let people know—at any rate not yet. . . .”

Mrs. Kemp got this letter just as she was going out to dinner that night. She read it in silence and then handed it over to her husband:

“What shall we do, Jim?” she said.

“Do? Do what the child asks, of course. Poor little wretch! The iron’s begun to enter into her soul all right! You see, her brother taking her passage has led to the mistake being made. And I daresay he didn’t trouble to correct it, if he knew it. No, do as she asks. And I’ll Marconi the poor little thing, she is probably in torment, and we shan’t see her for a week.”

“But would it be right?”

“Yes, perfectly right. After all, although we have undertaken to look after the child, it is not necessary to go round telling everyone whom she has married. And the voyage will be hell for her if it’s found out. You know what the average sticky first class lot are. Just don’t say anything about it. And if eventually it comes out, take it for granted that people knew. By then she will have made her own way.”

Joan got her Marconigram as she leant over the rail straining her eyes towards the lights that gleamed far away to port.

She walked to an electric light, and stood underneath it, reading the telegram which the steward had handed her. How methodical of them to put it in an envelope, she thought vaguely.

Then Joan became conscious that the deck steward was still standing there and looking at her, and she knew that he must be wondering why she didn’t open the envelope. She wondered what he would say if she suddenly thrust it into his hand and said, “Tell me how the name outside is spelt, because I daren’t look at it myself.” Then she pulled herself together and dropped her eyes, and there it was on the envelope C.A.R.N.E. O blessed relief!

Chapter XI

The first three days out at sea are always uneventful ones. People are getting to know one another, talking excitedly and confidentially to total strangers and then wishing they hadn’t. Finding out with great dexterity what people are by profession and then either avoiding or cultivating them, as the case may require. But Joan settled down in a condition of quiet rapture; to her, accustomed to a very simple life, the space and luxury of a first class passage in a Peninsular and Oriental liner seemed almost too wonderful to be true, and she revelled in every detail of it. The long elaborate dinners, the perfection of waiting at meals, the deep hot bath with the funny little black man like a monkey to get it ready in the early morning, all were a source of intense joy to her. This was life as she had always imagined it could be, flaming with incident and interest, and Joan lived every instant of it to the full.

But Nora Lane was rather derisive of Joan’s enthusiasm; she had made several voyages and they had lost their charm for her, also her heart was ravaged with a fierce craving for the baby she had left behind her. But in the effort to conceal this she became more than usually cynical:

“I think the whole thing is absolutely disgusting,” she inveighed; “and as for that creature in our cabin, she is a positive outrage. It isn’t the least rough, and she has simply collapsed into bed because she is bone lazy. Have you seen the huge plates of curry and rice that the stewardess brings her? She guzzles it up and then collapses again, and we can never leave the cabin properly swept. I am sick of it, and if she doesn’t soon pull herself together and make a little effort, I shall complain to the purser.”

“But what could he do?” said Joan timidly. Surely, she thought, even that apotheosis of authority would have his work cut out to tackle that mountain of bedclothes.

But Nora laughed: “He’d find a way if he wanted to,” she said. “Get the doctor to cut her gram. That would get her up all right.”

Joan also laughed, but timidly. She was a little frightened of Mrs. Lane, although she admired her enormously, and she had a sneaking sympathy with Mrs. Fitzgerald. She had such a soft voice with such a pretty foreign accent; and her eyes were so dark and luminous, like a cow’s eyes. And her voice was sweet, there was no getting away from it. But Nora Lane was more than ever derisive when Joan expatiated on the charm of her voice.

“Sweet! It makes me want to scream. It’s chi-chi, my child, chi-chi, as flagrant and unashamed as you can hear it. And don’t go about this ship saying that you think it’s pretty, or you’ll find yourself in the soup!”

Joan, very meek and not understanding at all, promised that she wouldn’t. But all the same when Nora was not there she tried to make up in little ways for the brusqueness of her friend. After all, no one could stay in bed unless they were really unable to get up, she argued sweetly, not in the least grasping the unlimited capacity of the average Eurasian for unlimited repose.

“Will you just run along to the stewardess and ask her to let me have a little kungie and biscuits, dearee,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald one day plaintively, as Joan popped her head in to the cabin to fetch her fountain pen on her way to the writing-room.

“Kungi and biscuits? all right. But haven’t you just had breakfast?” asked Joan, her eyes on the litter of plates on the camp stool beside the lower berth.

“Yes, I have,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald. “But it’s this sinking in my stomach that’s so bad. Nothing seems to touch it but curry, and that the doctor says I mayn’t have. He was along this morning when you and Mrs. Lane were at your baths—‘sent by the stewardess,’ so he said.”

As Joan continued her way to the writing-room—for after a little consultation she and Mrs. Fitzgerald had decided that perhaps as the doctor was in attendance it would be better not to ask for anything in between meals—her eyes laughed. Nora had complained, then, and the process of gram cutting had begun! But however had Nora dared! But Nora had obtained her desire, for the following morning Mrs. Fitzgerald, followed by the deck steward with an armful of rugs, stumbled up on deck and dropped her ample proportions into a deck chair. There, for the rest of the voyage, she was always to be found, flanked on both sides by people with soft voices and cow’s eyes. And the topic of their conversation was nearly always the arrogance of the military and their wives. . . .

After two never-to-be-forgotten days in the Bay, the Nerona settled down again, and began to plough her way onwards with a dogged regularity. People began to appear again and the empty chairs at meals began to fill up; little groups began to form themselves on deck; people began to make friends with other people, and dragged their chairs about so that they could sit next to one another. Games were mooted, and energetic people ran about the deck carrying rings of rope, and threw them over a stick stuck on a board. Everyone was friendly, especially the Captain—he had noticed Joan almost at once, because she was very much like a little girl that he had left at home with her bobbed hair and short upper lip. So he always hailed her in the mornings, and laughed with her when he went his rounds—and one day he called her up and told her that her cabin was untidy. When Joan, scarlet and faltering with consternation, apologised with trembling lower lip, he smiled again and then cleared his throat, and that afternoon a beaming Quartermaster presented a parcel and note from the bridge. And Joan found a gorgeous box of sweets and a tiny scribbled message. “Only a joke about your Cabin, Mrs. Carne.” All this was like champagne to Joan, it was something so entirely different from anything she had ever experienced before, and she throve, and grew younger, and flung off the memory of the horror of the past and the terror of the future; and, dimpling, became the care-free child that she ought to have been at her age. This was going to be a perfect three weeks, she told herself, and she was going to drink to the dregs the joy of it.

And now on this fourth day out from home, she stood a little in front of the smoking saloon and stared on the lower deck. She always loved doing that—there was always something going on. Sailors padded about barefooted doing extraordinary things with pieces of rope. Men begrimed to the eyes came out from dark hatchways and flung themselves down on the boards. Joan snuffled it all in in a rapture. And then as she drew her handkerchief from the pocket of her jersey coat to wipe the spray from her face, her eyes fell on a heap lying very close to the side of the ship. It had moved . . . had it, or hadn’t it? It was a heap she had noticed before, in fact now she remembered it had always been there. A heap of clothes, not exactly clothes, but things like a rug and a padded quilt, huddled very close to a coil of rope, now not moving at all, but lying still—still with a sort of significant stillness. Joan suddenly felt an extraordinary chill through her hair. She was not alone standing watching that bundle, something or someone was beside her—also watching—calculating. Without stopping to think she flew down the iron ladder that led to the lower deck and threading her way through the coils of rope that littered the deck, she flung herself down on her knees beside it. She fumbled with the fringe that covered the aperture through which she now saw a tuft of grey hair sticking, and fumbling she cried out loud:

“It’s somebody dead . . . quick! quick!” she cried.

A native stoker was leaning against the iron door of the engine room. He glanced across to where Joan knelt, guessed at what she was saying, spat into the sea, and vanished.

“Somebody must do something.” Joan got up desperately. Who would help? Ah, she darted across the hatchway to where the Quartermaster, red-haired and intent, bent whistling over a job of splicing.

“What’s the matter, missy?” The jolly man pushed his cap a little further on to the back of his head. “Somebody dead, eh? Well, we’ll ’ope not. Show me where.” He dropped the rope with rather more celerity than his words, and jumped like a cat across the obstacles that lay between him and the silent heap that Joan pointed out with a trembling finger. “No, not dead, but pretty near it. Run, little Miss, will you, to the doctor, it’ll save time if you’ll excuse the liberty.” The Quartermaster lifted his head and spoke to Joan, who vanished like a streak of lightning.

“Quick, there’s somebody dead, at least very nearly dead.” Joan, breathless, flung herself through the curtain of the doctor’s cabin. “Come at once, or you won’t be in time.”

“Dead! Where?” The ship’s surgeon was a young man, and this was his first voyage. Visions of intricate quarantine regulations with which he was not familiar skimmed through his mind. “What sort of a person? Which deck?” He spoke as he groped in a corner cupboard.

“Down below, quick!” Joan was shivering with impatience. How long he took grovelling in cupboards and bags. Ah, he was ready. “Now,” she led the way with a rush.

The doctor followed her with a certain amount of dignity. Although he was young, he took his profession very seriously. Doctors did not rush about when they were called to a patient, he told himself. But he found himself infected with Joan’s eagerness in spite of himself and he quivered with relief when the old grey head stirred, and the heavy lids, so leaden in colour, lifted themselves slowly from eyes sunken with exhaustion.

“Who is it, do you know?” He stood up and spoke to the first officer who had joined the little group.

“I think he must be Major Heriot’s native servant. He came on at Tilbury, so the Purser says, I’ve just been along to him. Major Heriot gets on at Marseilles, and they nearly always send their servants on ahead because of the plague regulations at these foreign ports. But apparently the old man has been lying ill here for days and has apparently nearly died from exhaustion, at least, is it exhaustion?” the first officer looked at the doctor uneasily. Plague, the bugbear of the crowded liner! It would be the limit if it was found to be that.

“No, he hasn’t any fever,” the doctor answered the unspoken question in the older man’s eyes—“in fact the poor old boy is almost stone cold. I’ll have him taken along to the galley and I’ll stay with him myself till he’s pulled round a bit. Yes, some sort of sloppy thing, please. Oh, yes, he’ll be all right.” This in answer to Joan who was pressing eagerly nearer.

“Can I just look at him—-he looked so awful when I first saw him . . . I want to see.” Joan’s lower lip was trembling, and the doctor, who was young and susceptible, had to crush down a mad longing to seize her violently in his arms.

“Yes, yes, of course you can—he’s looking quite chirpy, I’ve filled him up with the best brandy. Here, let the miss-sahib look”—this to two powerful Lascars, who were lifting the little body in a hammock lined with blankets.

And Joan, tiptoeing shyly closer, met the keen shrewd gaze of the old Mohammedan with tears in her own greeny grey eyes. Such a tiny little man, with such bushy eyebrows. And he had nearly died. Oh how many times Joan sobbed out her thankfulness to God that he had not died. But then that dreadful future was a closed book to her, and she only wiped her eyes boyishly with the back of her hand and smiled weakly.

“I am glad you are better,” she said.

And Nazir Ali, bearer, understood faintly what the miss-sahib was saying. And with the almost uncanny intuition of the Oriental he recognised that it was to Joan that he owed his life. To that little white hand had been given by Allah the power to thrust back that gaunt figure that with shrouded face had been leaning over the railing of the upper deck watching him—for had not Nazir Ali seen it clearly? And drawing a trembling breath he raised his wizened hand to his forehead:

“Salaam Huzoor,” he said.

For the next two days Joan did not see Nazir Ali at all. But she made daily pilgrimages to the doctor’s cabin to ask how he was; somehow she felt that she must know, there had been something in those shrewd keen eyes that had gone straight to her heart. She knew that he was a native and that therefore—oh, the ghastly pang the whole thought gave her!—that, therefore, she was not supposed to associate exactly on an equality with him. Not that he wasn’t her equal really, but there was a something that just divided them, more of his making than hers. But she wanted to know how he was—that he was not going to die—and she asking the question with trembling lip, and the doctor having found out that she was married answered briskly and rather coldly.

“Die? No, rather not. He’s going to get up to-day. He’s mad to get to his sahib’s cabin to get his clothes unpacked. But, I shouldn’t concern yourself about him, Mrs. Carne, they’re an ungrateful lot these natives, and he’ll only try to get something out of you if he sees that you’re sorry for him.”

“Oh, do you think he would?” Joan’s eyes were very wide and trusting. “Would anyone as old as that be horrid like that, do you think!”

“Sure of it.” The young doctor had been really upset at finding out that Joan was married, and he saw everything through a faint yellow haze. “Sure of it,” he repeated.

“Well, I’m sure that he wouldn’t,” said Joan with soft but eager violence, and she walked out of the little surgery with her curly head held very high. He was a horrid young man: he had an aroma of Streatham about him: she would make a point of avoiding him for the rest of the voyage.

But the doctor was really a very nice young man, and a conscientious one too, or he would have tried to start a violent flirtation with Joan, married or not married, so he only shrugged his shoulders and smiled a little ruefully, and went off to help carry the old Mohammedan out into the sun. For Nazir Ali craved for the sun, accustomed all his life to a heaven of brass the grey skies of England were a terror to him, and it had only been his unswerving conviction that his sahib would come to complete and permanent grief without him that had persuaded him to make the hated journey across the evil and heaving waters to the country where the skies were always grey, and where if it did not happen to be raining, a wind like a kukri cut you in twain. . . .

The next day, Joan, hurrying along to her cabin, passed another that had always before been entirely empty, a cabin that she had always looked at and envied because it only had two berths in it. She thrust her head round the curtain, and there he was, the little old man, spotless in baggy white trousers and a huge flaunting turban that almost eclipsed his face, and a long brown serge coat that reached to his knees. He heard the rattle of the brass rings, and turning he saw it was Joan. Then, because he was still rather weak, the tears stood in his old eyes, and he raised both hands to his forehead, and then stooping laid his face on her brown shoes. Joan felt the tears rush to her own eyes, and she groped for his old hand, and dragged at it feverishly.

“Don’t, don’t kneel down,” she cried. “Don’t, it makes me feel most awful! Besides, I haven’t done anything. So stand up, you aren’t well enough to kneel down either. Are you better? . . . . at least, you can’t understand English, of course, but do you feel . . . attcha?” Attcha! Of course that was the word, it was one of the first that the missionary had read out of the little book that she always studied as she waited for her bath and it meant ‘all right.’ “Are you attcha?” she said, all her little teeth showing in her delight at this feat of learning.

But Nazir Ali was one of nature’s gentlemen, so he did not smile as he felt inclined to do. Nor did he reply in English as he also could have done, because he thought it might hurt Joan’s feelings. So he only bent his old head again and raised his trembling hand to the rim of the white puggaree:

“Hain! Abhi attcha hai, ap ki mihrubani,”1 he said quietly.

“Oh, I am glad. And what are you doing here?” asked Joan, sitting down on the lower berth.

“I getting ready for Sahib,” said Nazir Ali.

“Oh, you can talk English then!” Joan burst out laughing. “What must you have thought of my Hindustani.”

But Nazir Ali did not smile. He could see that Joan knew nothing about the country she was going to, or she would never talk and laugh with a servant, so he knew that because of this all the more respect was due to her. He only inclined his head very respectfully and remained silent.

But Joan wanted to know more: “Who is your sahib?” she asked.

A look of wonderful devotion shone for a moment or two in the opaque eyes. “Major Heriot sahib,” he said.

“An old sahib or a young sahib?”

“Middle sahib.”

Joan burst out laughing again. “Oh, how funny it sounds,” she said. “‘Middle sahib.’ Do you mean sort of thirty-eight or thirty-nine?”

Nazir Ali inclined his head again. But how much longer was the Huzoor going to sit there, he wondered, his old knees knocking against one another. And why had she laughed? He caught hold of the brass bar of the upper berth.

Joan saw and jumped up: “Sit down,” she cried, “you are not fit to stand.” She caught hold of his elbow. “Sit down here,” she tried to force him down on the lower berth.

But Nazir Ali struggled, very respectfully, but still, he struggled. “Not sitting with memsahib here,” he said. “Not good that. Memsahib going, then my sitting.”

“Why, does it matter?” asked Joan. “I never thought of it. Why of course I’ll go, then. But in England I always sat with my servant. And once if not twice I had tea with her in the kitchen.”

But Nazir Ali could not follow this, besides he could hardly see Joan for the film in front of his eyes. And directly she had left the cabin he stumbled forward and leant his old, lined forehead against the cold brass bar. What was this cold breathless feeling that left him shivering? This feeling that had seized him as he stepped from the gangway at Tilbury—as if the heart in his breast was going to burst out of it? It must be something to do with the climate, thought the old man, and he took one or two long trembling breaths and steadied himself against the top of the upper berth until he could stand firmly again.

“Here, don’t you go mucking up my clean counterpanes!” It was the vibrant voice of the stewardess, recently promoted from second class, and feeling thereby rather above herself, that broke through the dreamy stillness that seemed to surround Nazir Ali as with a cloud.

But Nazir Ali did not answer, for he knew by the quality of the voice that the speaker was only of the menial class, and Nazir Ali had had enough of menials in England. They showed you no consideration and they wanted everything done for them. Consideration was only to be met with at the hand of the sahiblog, Nazir Ali had proved that many times over. So he only waited until he could draw his breath evenly, and then turned a dignified gaze on the be-starched female in front of him:

“Hence!” he said. “This cabin is the cabin of my sahib, and until the arrival of my sahib I remain in charge of it.”

Jane Pigg flamed a vivid scarlet: “Hence indeed!” she interpolated, “I’ll teach you to ‘hence’ me, you impertinent nigger! Here, Simon, you just fetch along the chief steward. I’ll see to this myself. Hence, indeed! I’ll settle you!” Jane Pigg took up a defensive attitude, hand on hips.

Joan strolling back from her cabin, heard the words and stopped, peeping in round the blowing curtain: “What has happened?” she asked.

“He’s giving me some of his back-chat, Ma’am,” said the stewardess, “and I’ve sent for the chief steward to get him to forbid him the cabin. They don’t know their place nowadays, these black fellows.”

Nazir Ali heard the words and his old face turned a little grey. Forbid him the cabin! Then what about the shaving water at the exact temperature that his sahib desired it! And the sock turned at the precise angle at which it had been turned for the last eighteen years! And the tie slipped in under the tape ever since soft collars came into vogue! Nazir Ali’s heart began to beat with dreadful vibrating strokes. He knew so well the discipline of board ship, it would only need one word from the chief steward to banish him for ever from the upper deck.

But Joan did not care for the stewardess. She and Mrs. Lane had already had a little breeze with her because she had once or twice sent the Goanese steward with their chota hazri instead of bringing it herself. So she stayed where she was and waited for the chief steward to arrive, which he very soon did, a couple of Goanese stewards close on his heels.

“Here, what’s all this about! Come out of there!” The chief steward stepped over the brass door rail and took hold of Nazir Ali by the collar. Nazir Ali shrunk. He was old, besides he knew he hadn’t a fighting chance with the stewardess against him. But he lifted his old hands as if in prayer. “Marf karo!” he breathed.

Joan stepped forward: “Mr. Hazel,” she said—Joan knew that the chief steward liked to be addressed by his proper name, having done it before, and thereby won his allegiance for ever—“Mr. Hazel, this old man wasn’t rude at all. I heard it. The stewardess called him a nigger, and told him that he was untidying the berths. He wasn’t: he is only unpacking his master’s things, and if he was touching the berth at all it was only that he must have been leaning against it because he is weak. You know, he was the one who nearly died.”

“Oh, is that so?” Mr. Hazel smiled at Joan. “Thank you, Mrs. Carne.” He turned to the stewardess. “You get along to your work, Miss Pigg, and leave the old man alone,” he said. “And what’s more . . .” he took a few steps along by her side, as she started to flounce down the corridor, and spoke in her ear, “what’s more, if we have any more of this sort of thing on this side, you’ll go back to the second class where you belong. Miss. And don’t you forget it! And you remember this too! We’re refined on this side, do you ’ear? We’re refined! None of your ‘niggers,’ or such like. It isn’t done. Do you quite understand me?”

Nazir Ali, left alone with Joan, fell on his knees, and laid his old face on her shoe. “Again thou deliverest me, O Protector of the Poor,” he breathed.

Chapter XII

Joan first saw Peter Heriot through a blaze of early morning sunshine. All her life she associated him with that, with the radiance of the dawn after blackest night. For the getting into Marseilles had been really very unpleasant: the weather off the coast of Portugal had been as diabolical as the weather off the coast of Portugal can possibly be, and that is saying a good deal. Her cabin companions had been prostrate—Nora Lane resentfully and furiously, because she detested being laid low with Mrs. Fitzgerald near at hand—Mrs. Fitzgerald despairingly and completely, adding to the general misery by howling at intervals that she knew the ship was going down.

“But it isn’t really going down, you know!” Joan, pitying, slipped from the upper berth and bent over the heaving mass of bedclothes below her. But only groans came from under the bedclothes. So Joan, feeling that sleep was out of the question, for although she felt quite well herself, the noise of creaking timber and labouring engines prohibited it, suddenly got the idea of going up on deck to see what it all looked like. She couldn’t do anything to help Mrs. Fitzgerald, and Nora did not like being spoken to when she felt ill. But it would be heavenly to get out in the air a bit. So she tied the cord of her woolly dressing-gown securely round her, and slipped her feet into the black velvet slippers and crept out into the corridor.

It was all so still: still, that is, from the noise of human beings. But it was as if the elements had taken possession of the ship and everything in it. Joan hung on to the seat that stood just outside the companion door and gasped with the joy of it. Right in the midst of black tumbling water down at an angle of nearly forty-five degrees at one moment, flung sky high the next. She felt inclined to scream and shout with the joy of it. She was just making up her mind to let go of the seat and make a dive for the rail so that she could see better, when a cheery whistle sounded close beside her, and the burly figure of someone in oilskins whom she recognised as the quartermaster came round the corner of the smoking saloon.

“I say . . . I say, this won’t do! “ He drew up short with a start as he nearly ran into Joan. “Down below, Madam, please!” He spoke with a note of authority.

“No, no don’t send me downstairs.” Joan lifted her small face. “It’s Mrs. Carne, you know, and I tell you this makes me feel absolutely mad with joy. Don’t send me down, it all somehow gets into my soul! Oh isn’t it all simply glorious!” there was a great sob in Joan’s voice.

“Glorious, you think it, eh?” The quartermaster smiled and flung out a steadying hand. “Well, and I should think you are the only lady in this old ship that thinks so, Ma’am. But if you really want to see it you come up forrard with me, but only for a minute now.”

So they went together and stood in front of the music saloon, in the little narrow alleyway so convenient for a couple of deck chairs, and Joan stumbled backwards and gasped as the salt spray whipped her face.

“You’re getting very wet, Ma’am,” said the quartermaster reprovingly, shouting the admonishment through his cupped hands.

“Yes, I know, but I don’t care. I’ll go straight back to bed when I’ve seen a little more. Oh, look, look, a light there, straight in front of us. Do you see—there”—Joan pointed excitedly.

“Marseilles,” shouted the quartermaster through the scream of the wind. “We shall make her by dawn. Lighthouse—outside the harbour.”

“Marseilles! And dawn . . . . Was it something prophetic that quivered through Joan’s soul like the wing of a darting bird? And Light—Light when everything seemed at its blackest.

*  *  *

So Joan first saw Marseilles through the “clear shining after rain,” and she and Nora Lane hung over the rail of the first-class deck, and examined with enormous interest the jostling crowds on the quay. It was so frightfully important who came on at Marseilles, so Nora said, it made all the difference to the rest of the voyage. “Because everything sort of starts at Marseilles,” she said. “Up to now we have only muddled about. Now we shall begin to have dances— and sports and things. Awful fun it can be, too, if you get the right lot of people.”

“What sort of people?”

“Not too many High Court Judges, and Generals. They generally want to be quiet, and object if the band goes on too late at night. At least their wives do. What we want are a good many military people, although I says it as shouldn’t, with a fair sprinkling of civilians to prevent it becoming too cliquey. And I pray there aren’t any natives.”


“Because their manners are so frightful,” said Nora briefly.

“What sort of manners?” asked Joan, feeling that she must know although it killed her to hear.

“Oh well . . . it’s rather disgusting . . . but they s.p.i.t. into the sea as a rule, but sometimes they forget.”

“Oh.” But it took Joan a minute or two to come back. She had gone—into the terror world that for the last week had got fainter.

“But we’ll hope there won’t be any. I don’t see any anyhow, and we should have done by now, they are always seen off by stacks of people. Oh, do look at that fat person flying to the telegraph office. See her ayah bundling along behind her. She’ll be first class if she can afford an ayah.”

The film over Joan’s eyes cleared, she clenched and unclenched her hands. Not yet!—another fortnight yet! . . . “Yes, isn’t she fat?” she said, “and the ayah is fatter. She and Nazir Ali will be able to make friends with each other.”

“My dear, Nazir Ali wouldn’t look at her. She s only a sweeper caste. Why, probably if her shadow fell on the food he was eating he would throw it all away.”

“Would he?”

“Yes, of course he would. You’ve no idea of the feeling between natives. We don’t understand it in the least.”

“But that lady has her for her servant,” said Joan, crinkling up her eyes in the vivid sunlight.

“Yes, of course she does. But to the native, we are just as unclean as a sweeper,” said Nora laughing.

“Are we?” Joan tried to grasp it. “But they like us,” she said.

“Oh, yes, of course they do—at least some do. But in anything that touches their caste, like eating, they are most frightfully particular. For instance, they wouldn’t dream of cooking in our cooking pots—saucepans, I expect you call them.”

“Wouldn’t they?” But Joan fell stupidly silent after this last brief question. Why had they started this sort of conversation? she thought frantically.

But Nora did not want to continue it. The native did not interest her, and she loathed ayahs, after one awful incident that had befallen her first baby, an incident that she could never even now recall without a scream of despair in her soul. So she smiled, and pointed again, laughing:

“There’s your old friend,” she said, “do look at him, he’s gone right down on his face on the stones. He’s rather a dear really.”

Joan strained her eyes through the glare. Two men in big coats stood on the wharf, one of them laughing; and in front of the one who was laughing, Nazir Ali lay, practically at full length, a vivid smudge of white against the dark stones.

“It must be Major Heriot,” she said quietly, but as she said it her heart gave a mad leap. Why did it matter so that it should be Major Heriot?

“Oh, is that whom Nazir Ali belongs to? I wondered who it was.” Nora was still staring. “Is that the Heriot who writes books about the frontier? I rather think it must be. If it is he’s desperately good-looking; I’ve heard about him. Yes, it must be, he’s taken off his cap. My dear, what an adorably shaped head.”

But Joan’s heart was thundering so that she could not answer. He had taken off his cap to a lady who had just come out of the Custom’s office, and the lady was Mrs. Kemp, Mrs. Kemp who knew everything. Oh, terror! terror again grinning. Supposing Mrs. Kemp told—supposing Mrs. Kemp told!

But Joan need not have been afraid, for as Mrs. Kemp had looked round the dining-car in the P. and O. express, carrying in its be-plushed embrace a good deal of the official world of Northern India, she realised again the torment of a voyage for Joan where people knew that she had married a native. So a little later, when she met Joan in the corridor of the hurricane deck—Joan had been desperately hanging about there, dreading unspeakably the first meeting yet feeling that she must get it over—she took her very kindly and affectionately by the hand:

“Why, here you are, dear, I have been hoping I should see you. And it’s quite all right about that little matter you wrote to me about, you know. . . . You got our Marconi, I hope? My husband quite agrees with me, far better to leave it—you know—later it will not matter so much. At least . . . Mrs. Kemp flushed a little, she had not meant to convey quite what she was now afraid she had conveyed.

But Joan’s grip was convulsive and trembling in its intensity.

“I should like to lie down on the ground in front of you like Nazir Ali did in front of Major Heriot,” she said, her voice shaking. And she turned and fled along to her cabin.

But as Mrs. Kemp in her own cabin stooped over the despatch case that she was daintily unpacking—Mrs. Kemp, did most things daintily—her kind grey eyes were rather troubled. “Already she knows that it was Peter Heriot,” she said to herself. “How can that be, I wonder?”

In another cabin on the deck below, a small starched figure with tears streaming from its eyes wept over a brown hand that it held pressed tightly against its lined forehead: “Again I see thee, O Sahib and Light of my eyes,” it sobbed.

Peter Heriot smiled, though very kindly: “Here, what’s it all about?” he said. “Dry up, Nazir Ali! What did you think was going to happen to me? Die? No, I never felt fitter in my life. Here, hurry up, because Robertson Sahib will be along with all his kit in a minute.”

So Nazir Ali made one gigantic sniff, and bent to his task.

“Who’s your little friend with the snub nose and the adorable dimple?”

Peter Heriot, very brown and lean and smooth as to the head, stretched his long length in a deck chair and glanced round at Mrs. Kemp who was sitting beside him working.

Mrs. Kemp did not answer for a minute or two. But her heart gave a great leap. It was Joan’s death sentence that she heard. If Peter Heriot once set his eyes on a woman, he never took them off again until he had got what he wanted. And, eternal shame to her own sex, he got it so dreadfully, dreadfully easily.

“Oh, that’s a Mrs. Carne,” she said, “just lately married and on her way out to join her husband.”

“Really?” But Peter Heriot chuckled in his throat. That was a gentle hint and no mistake!” Who’s Carne?” he asked.

“Well—I think he’s something in the law,” prevaricated Mrs. Kemp, feeling terribly ashamed of herself.

“Oh, really. Where does he practice—do you know? Do you mind a pipe?” Peter Heriot’s eyes were mischievous as he groped in his pocket.

“No, I don’t a bit. Do smoke it. No, I don’t really know where Mr. Carne practices, Karnmore, I believe my husband said.”

“Oh?” Peter Heriot shaded a match with a very well-kept hand, drew heavily on the pipe between his teeth, put his foot on the still smouldering match, and blew out a cloud. Then he laughed out loud. “You dear! Don’t look so frightened,” he said.

Mrs. Kemp got scarlet: “I’m not in the least frightened,” she said indignantly.

“Then why do you look it?”

“I don’t! At least . . .” Mrs. Kemp’s eyes softened.

“Peter, do leave Mrs. Carne alone,” she said.

“Now, I like that!” Peter Heriot spoke with mock resentment. “I simply ask who your little friend with the snub nose is, and you ask me to leave her alone. What have I done to deserve it? I ask you!”

“Well—you know what you are! At least—that sounds unkind. I don’t mean it unkindly, Peter. You can’t help it, but you are awful where women are concerned. I know they are the stupid ones really for being taken in by you. But you do lay yourself out when you needn’t. Don’t take any notice of Mrs. Carne. She’s very young, and I expect dreadfully impressionable.”

“And you’re afraid she’ll succumb to my charms, eh?” Major Heriot’s smile was very pleasant as he took his pipe from between his teeth.

“Yes, to be quite frank I am.” Mrs. Kemp laid her work down in her lap, and laughed. “I know it’s very hard for you to be told so, Peter,” she said, “but you are dreadfully attractive and you must know it.”

“Not at all.” But Major Heriot’s eyes laughed. There was nobody quite like Mrs. Kemp, he thought. “You’re very solicitous for me all of a sudden,” he said.

Mrs. Kemp took up her work again: “Not for you but for the girl whose welfare I have at heart,” she said, and there was a note in her voice that had not been there before.

Peter Heriot looked up: “You’re really worried,” he said quickly.

“Yes I am. You see, it’s like this. I can’t explain it exactly, but Joan Carne’s circumstances are rather different from other people’s. She has lived a very secluded life. And I don’t know that she is particularly happy in her marriage—don’t breathe it, but I have that impression. So if anyone like you comes across her path she might succumb easily.”

“You are very flattering.” But although Peter Heriot spoke mockingly his eyes went suddenly grave. His old friend was really upset—how odd of her! And why was it that his own mind had concerned itself so persistently with Joan Carne since he had first noticed her the day before? He had been coming back from his bath and she had passed him on the stairs; and as he had brushed by her, purposely not taking any notice of her, in case she might feel shy, although as he could see out of the tail of his eye she looked uncommonly sweet in a blue dressing-gown and cap to match, she had made a little gasp and turning had bolted down the stairs again. Like a little terrified rabbit, thought Major Heriot turning and looking after her. And now there was all this about her from his oldest friend—odd, to say the least of it. “Well, I promise you I won’t bring up my reserves of fascination without giving you due notice, will that do?” he said, and he smiled with a flash of white teeth

“Yes, that will do,” said Mrs. Kemp. Then she gave a little sound of impatience. Joan was approaching, coming straight for them. How utterly unfortunate—now she would have to introduce them.

“I’m so sorry,” Joan was stammering and very red. “I’m interrupting you but it’s your old servant—he isn’t very well”—she spoke to Major Heriot. “Oh, how do you do,” as Mrs. Kemp murmured something, “I forgot I didn’t know you, I feel as if I did quite well, though, because of Nazir Ali. No, it’s like this, he gets these funny attacks and goes quite cold and I happened to be passing your cabin and I felt sure you would want to know. I could see him leaning against the top berth, I saw him do it once before, so I knew it was that.”

All the time that Joan was speaking Major Heriot was looking at her. What an exquisite mouth! “I’ll come along at once,” he said, and turned to go with her. “It’s most awfully nice of you to concern yourself with my servant,” he said as they walked down the deck together. “He raves about you—says you saved his life, and I don’t know what else. And I really am very grateful to you, because I don’t know what I should do without the old man.”

“But I simply love him,” said Joan, and there was a soft mistiness in her eyes. “I don’t know what it is about him but I have a sort of feeling that I have known him before in another world. Do you know? And do you know that I rather have the same feeling about you?”

“Have you?” Peter Heriot turned his eyes, blue as lapis lazuli, on the girl at his side.

“Yes, it’s very odd.” They had reached the companion door and Joan halted and looked up at the man beside her. “Now, for instance, as I am standing beside you I feel that it is only a continuation of heaps of times that I have stood beside you before. Do you know the feeling? No I expect you don’t . . . .” Joan suddenly got scarlet. What was she saying to this man who was a total stranger? He would think she was mad.

“Don’t stop,” said Peter Heriot.

“I’ve finished what I was saying,” said Joan shivering.

“You’re cold.”

“No, I’m not.” Joan gripped her hands together. When would this man stop looking at her? She suddenly felt that she was looking in at a furnace door and that one of the blue flames from its white hot hearth had leaped out and seared her. She shivered again.

“Well, we’ll get along, shall we?” Major Heriot removed his eyes from the quivering face at his side, and began to descend the stairs that led to the hurricane deck cabin. Joan walked along beside him. What was the matter with her, that she suddenly felt like this? It was like being flung into ice cold water when you were burning hot. You had to grip your teeth together to prevent them from chattering. . . .

“Hullo, Nazir Ali—what’s all this about?” they had reached the cabin at the far end of the corridor, and Major Heriot stepped over the brass door rail, leaving Joan outside.

“Bimar? Kya?”2 He spoke in the vernacular.

“Nahin, Sahib!” Nazir Ali salaamed rather reproachfully. Bimar when he had his sahib’s work to attend to! “Kubbi nahin!”3 he said.

“Oh . . . he says he’s all right.” Major Heriot levelled his keen eyes on Joan. Was it an excuse to get to know him, he wondered? He hated himself for the suspicion as he saw the sensitive face flame.

“Why . . . you must have thought that I did it on purpose,” she stammered.

“Not at all, why should you? No—what has probably happened is that he was seedy for a minute or two, and he won’t say. But I’ll get the doctor to overhaul him again before we get to the Red Sea. I’m afraid that that is what is amiss with the old man—his heart is groggy. I rather suspected it was once at home, and then as it didn’t recur I thought I was mistaken. But I hope it isn’t so—he’s such a topping old chap.”

“Are you fond of him?” asked Joan. She had again forgotten where she was, and stood in the corridor leaning against the wall.

“Yes, very,” said Major Heriot, his eyes again on Joan’s face.

“Oh.” Joan fell silent again. Then she looked up “ Don’t stare so,” she said, and her lower lip began to tremble.

“Why not?”

“Because it makes me feel most frightful,” said Joan.

“But why should it?” Peter Heriot had thrown all his scruples to the wind. He wanted this girl and he was going to have her. She was delicious with her baby’s face and bobbed hair. And after all, it was only for a fortnight, no real harm could be done. As for the stupid, stodgy, probably middle-aged, husband fuddling about in the middle of a lot of stupid briefs, it was up to him to look after his wife if he valued her. No wife of his should ever make a voyage alone, resolved Major Heriot, remembering many voyages of his own, and firmly determined, partly because of them, never to marry. “Why should it?” he asked again.

“I don’t know,” said Joan, and her eyes were riveted on the blue ones as if they had been fastened there. They swayed a little forward and there were deep shadows under her eyes: “You’re holding me,” she said, “it’s cruel of you . . . let me go.”

Major Heriot smiled a little and straightened his back. He looked over her head. “Yes, I value him very much indeed,” he said, “there is nothing in this world like the devotion of an old servant.”

Joan’s eyes slowly detached themselves, and lost their sleepy look. Then she laughed a little, falteringly.

They walked together along the deck to where Mrs. Kemp still sat knitting. Joan waited, lingering, rather uncomfortably. Wouldn’t Mrs. Kemp ask her to sit down, she thought? She always made it rather a point of not forcing herself upon what she gathered was rather an officially important little clique, but now she had a mad feeling that she must become one of it.

But Mrs. Kemp spoke—very kindly, but none the less determinedly: “Your friend, Mrs. Lane has just been asking for you, dear,” she said. “Over there.” She made a little gesture with her beautifully dressed head.

So Joan had to go. But she went with a set face, and thumping heart. Mrs. Kemp had been kind to her in the past—she had, and of course she was not going to forget it. But why shouldn’t she have stayed and talked to Major Heriot?—he would have liked her to—she knew he would. There was something about them that was the same—as if they had been joined by a live wire. Joan’s heart was bitter and resentful as she sat down again by Nora Lane: “Why did you send for me—or rather, tell Mrs. Kemp you wanted me?” she asked.

Nora Lane went straight to the point. “Because I am fond of you and I don’t want you to make a fool of yourself over Peter Heriot,” she said. “Heaps of women do—he is sort of magnetic, I don’t know what it is about him, but even I can feel it and he isn’t a bit my type. But you’re just the sort of person that he would like to play about with—small and trusting, and all that.”

Joan tried to be dignified: “You seem to forget that I am married,” she said.

“Married!” Nora Lane laughed scornfully. “Being married doesn’t prevent you from falling in love with someone else, you hopeless little goose! Besides, Peter Heriot doesn’t care for unmarried women, he says they are insipid.”

“How do you know?” asked Joan furiously.

“Everyone knows about Peter Heriot,” returned Nora Lane calmly. “He writes beautifully and he is a magnificent soldier, but he is a devil where women are concerned. Mrs. Kemp knows it too, I saw her look after you both when you went down the deck together and she was frightfully fed up at it. You’ll annoy her awfully if you let him hang round you.”

Joan tried to keep the fury she felt out of her voice: “Do leave my affairs alone,” she said.

“All right.” But Nora Lane flushed in spite of herself. “Only don’t expect me to be sorry for you when it’s all over and you are trying to put an end to yourself,” she said.

Chapter XIII

By the time the Nerona steamed into the shelter of the long breakwater at Port Said, Joan Khan had got thinner. Her small face was smaller, and her big eyes were bigger. Both Mrs. Kemp and Nora Lane saw it, and both raged inwardly. But both were utterly powerless to do anything, for the troublesome part was that there was nothing to take hold of. After one day of taking a good deal of notice of Joan Carne, Major Heriot had suddenly become entirely taciturn and had left her rigorously to herself. As a matter of fact his feelings had undergone a violent revulsion. There was something about this trusting pathetic little figure that attracted him very seriously. There was no longer any desire in him to make violent love to her—get all he could out of her, and then fling her aside. No; to his acute annoyance he felt that he wanted to take care of her, to do little things like help her choose books out of the ship’s library, carry her soup to her at eleven o’clock, fish her chair out of a stack of others, always a very bothering job—and carry it round the deck until he had found just the very spot where she would get all the sun when she wanted it, and all the breeze when she wanted that. And as Major Heriot recognised these desires as symptomatic of a state into which, up to the present, he had never had the folly to drift, he withdrew entirely to himself, and even sat a little way from the Kemps, giving as an excuse the fact that he wanted to make notes for his new book. Major Heriot’s books on Frontier life were rapidly becoming famous, so his desire for solitude was respected, and he spent his mornings, and most of his afternoons, entirely alone.

But Joan was in despair. This man had swum on to her horizon like a wonderful new star suddenly swims into the little silver circle of the telescope at which a patient and expectant astronomer has spent many weary years, waiting. This was what she had been waiting for—this was what it all meant, the sort of feeling she had had after tea in Streatham when she had gone out on the Common, and watched the trains tearing by. And she thought that the feeling would have been stilled by marriage. Marriage! Joan rolled over on to her face and bit her pillow. Marriage! in her case a horrible chaining of herself to a person that she loathed. There, it was out! She hated him. She despised him. What was she to do? What was she to do? She got down from her berth and began to move about the cabin. Somehow she felt that if she did not move about she would go mad.

“Hullo! Sorry! I didn’t know you were in the cabin.” Nora Lane with an armful of books pushed through the curtain, and then backed half out again. “Some well-meaning person has lent me all these,” she said ruefully, “and I wanted to get rid of them. But I’ll come back again.”

“No, don’t go.” Joan held out a trembling and detaining hand. “If you go away and leave me alone, I shall throw myself out of the porthole,” she said.

Nora laid down the books: “Don’t be a little fool,” she said, brusquely. “Tell me about it—although I expect I know it already. Here, I’ll come up beside you; give me a hand. Mother Fitzgerald is snoring in a deck chair, so we’re safe for a time.”

The two girls sat facing one another on the long white berth. Nora curled her legs up under her. “Carry on,” she said, and she spoke very kindly—Joan looked ghastly.

Joan choked, then caught her breath: “I won’t tell you that I have fallen in love with Major Heriot,” she said, “because you know it already, and you were the first person to tell me not to. But I want to tell you that my husband is a native.”


“Yes, I know. But don’t kill me, Nora!” Joan broke into the most awful sobbing.

“But” . . . Nora Lane had whitened.

“Yes, I know. But Nora, how could I tell? How can any girl tell who has been brought up like I was? We hadn’t any connection with India, I mean to say all our people were lawyers and things like that. And we were awfully poor—we didn’t mix with people who come from abroad—there were heaps of them in Streatham, but we never met them. And so I just did it not knowing.”

“But didn’t your people mind?”

“My brother did, but I wouldn’t listen to him.”

“Good heavens!” Nora fell silent. How perfectly appalling! In spite of her violent efforts to control it she felt a shuddering abhorrence for Joan. “Does anyone know?” she asked.

“Only Mrs. Kemp, and she promised not to tell anyone.”

“But what about your name? It’s spelt like an English one.”

“It ought to be K.H.A.N.,” said Joan, shivering.

“Well! “ Nora Lane stared rather absently about the cabin. Why had Joan told her?—she thought angrily. It seemed so brutal to drop her like a hot coal. And yet what else was there to do? Supposing, for instance, they should ever happen to be in the same station?” What is your husband?” she asked.

“A barrister.”

“Oh.” Probably a third rate pleader, thought Mrs. Lane, whose uncle had been a High Court Judge.

Joan felt the chill in the cabin and she flung out shaking hands: “Nora, you’re not going to have anything more to do with me?” she cried, and there was horror in her voice.

“Well,” Nora Lane uncurled her legs from under her and prepared to get off the berth; “well, it sounds most frightfully brutal, but I think I am,” she said. “You see, I liked you awfully, and it’s sort of turned me up. We can’t ever be real friends after this, and I don’t care to have someone who’s only half a friend. It would always be coming up between us—something that we couldn’t discuss. You don’t understand it, but then you’ve never been in India. It’s full of it—things Indians do, and think and feel. And English people almost invariably do think and feel the opposite things exactly. So how could we be friends? We couldn’t. It’s impossible.”

“But then, what is to become of me?” said Joan, livid.

Nora dropped lightly on to the little square of carpet: “You’ll have to try and make friends with someone who doesn’t feel quite about the Indians as I do,” she said. “You see, my husband is in the Army—in the Indian Army, and he knows the enormous gulf that is between us. They prefer it so—the fine ones. They resent one of their own sort marrying one of us, as much as we resent one of our sort marrying one of them. And you’ve done the unforgivable thing from both points of view. I know this sounds brutal, but I never can put things mildly when I feel them badly, and I feel this frightfully, I don’t mind telling you so.” Nora turned and walked out of the cabin.

Joan saw her go with a numb stupid feeling in her brain. Her first friend made in this gorgeous wonderful new life of hers! That hadn’t lasted long! And this was only the beginning.

Nora came back into the cabin just in time. It was such an awfully easy way to go, Joan had thought. Heaps of room if you squeezed, and by the time they found out that you had gone you would really have gone.

“Joan!” Nora screamed in spite of herself, and flung herself on the crushed skirt. Joan was half way through, and fighting to get right through. “Help!” She turned her head and screamed into the corridor.

Major Heriot, strolling down to wash for lunch, heard the scream and flung himself through the blowing curtains. With one foot on the lower berth he thrust his lean hands through the small brass bound circle and fastened his fingers on Joan’s shoulders. He drew her back into safety.

“Nearly gone that time,” he said. “And it’s an odd thing, but it’s the second time I’ve had to do that. A kiddy on the last voyage dropped its teddy bear out of the window while it was supposed to be having its nap, and I came by just in time to see a pair of fat legs waving. Gad, my heart absolutely stopped beating. And the only thing the little beggar could do when I’d got him in again was to batter my face with his fists.” Major Heriot laughed a little breathlessly.

The two girls hid their faces in their hands. Joan began to sob out loud.

“Well, I’ll get along to lunch,” he said, and he thrust his hands into his pockets. There was some frightful mystery here, he thought, and he would find it out later, but at present the only thing was to keep it quiet.

Left alone, Nora stood on the lower berth and dragged at the trembling hands that Joan held rigid over streaming eyes: “Joan, I’m sorry I was such a brute,” she cried; “I came back to tell you. Oh thank God! thank God that I did!”

But Joan lay passive in the penitent arms. As a matter of fact she felt only half conscious of what had just taken place. “Oh Nora, do let me go to sleep,” she said. “Shut the door, there’s an angel, and tell them that I don’t want any lunch.”

So Nora covered her tenderly over with the folded blanket that always lay at the foot of the white berth, and she reached up and very carefully unhooked the little brass chain that held up the thick slab of glass. Then she turned the electric fan round so that it should blow straight on Joan, and she went out and shut the door quietly behind her.

Major Heriot was waiting for Nora when she came up from lunch.

“I want to have a little talk with you,” he said. “Do you mind? By the way, we’ve never been introduced, but I know who you are. And I expect you know my name, do you? People on these old tubs always find out who everyone else is.”

“Yes, I know you quite well,” said Nora smiling.

“Oh, well then, that’s all right. Well, it’s about Mrs. Carne—look, here we are, well out of everyone else’s way. It’s about Mrs. Carne. Tell me, will you, as much as you can about her.” Major Heriot was leaning back, his head resting on his linked fingers.

Nora hesitated:

“I think I’m entitled to know, you know,” he said, his eyes, very blue, on her face.

“Well.” Nora spoke, flushing deeply. “I don’t really know very much more than you do,” she said, “except that she is married to a native. That was what caused that awful scene before lunch. She told me, and I was a fiend and turned on her.”

“She is married to a native!”


“But . . . how unspeakably ghastly!” Major Heriot unclasped his hands from behind his head and got up.

“Yes I know. And I think she is beginning to know it, too. And that’s what made her suddenly feel that she couldn’t live any longer,” said Nora simply.

Heriot sat down again. “Does anyone else in this ship know it?”

“No, I don’t think so. You see, her name has been entered as Carne, and that has given rise to the mistake,” said Nora.

“I see. . . . Who is he, do you know?”

“A barrister, I believe.”

“And where are they going to? Or rather, where is she going to join him?”

“I don’t know for certain. But at the very beginning of the voyage, before I knew that she hadn’t married an Englishman, she said something about Karnmore,” said Nora.

“Oh!” Major Heriot got up. “Good God!” he said.

“Yes, I know.” Nora clasped her hands round her knees. Then she glanced up quietly: “Why is it so awful?” she said. “I feel it just like you do. But why should we feel it like that? Heaps of them are quite nice. And my husband thinks the world of his native officers. And one’s servants! Look at that dear old man of yours, for instance. He worships you, and you are probably devoted to him. Why is it that one has this awful feeling of horror when one hears of anything like this marriage of Mrs. Carne’s? If they are the same as we are, which everyone is always telling us they are, why does it matter if we marry them?”

“Because they are not the same as we are really.” Heriot pushed his chair a little further away from the rail and put one well shod foot on the first rung of it. “They want to be, and perhaps one day they will be; that remains to be seen. But at present they are not. And why we get that feeling of horror when we hear of the marriage of a white girl to one of them is that we know their idea of womanhood. You don’t probably, no woman does, and if you did you wouldn’t understand it. It will take years—centuries of civilization—to beat into their brains the true idea of woman; something precious to be taken care of, cherished, loved.” He dragged a penknife out of the pocket of his blazer and began fiercely to scrape out his still smouldering pipe.

Nora looked up and stared, then she dropped her eyes into her lap. Major Heriot had met her amazed glance.

“Yes, I know,” he said; “you’re thinking, I expect, that this comes rather oddly from me. I know of course that I haven’t always been what I ought to have been. But perhaps,” he said, and he smiled a little whimsically, as he said it—“perhaps there’s a certain amount of truth in the old adage, ‘Give a dog a bad name . . . ‘ Anyhow, that’s not the point now; the point now is, what are we going to do to try and make Mrs. Khan happy?” There was a boyish, almost pleading look on the clear-cut mouth under the short moustache.

Nora still stared at her lap.

Major Heriot sat down again, and clasped his hands loosely between his knees. He could guess what was going on in Mrs. Lane’s mind. “I’ve knocked you all of a heap,” he said smiling quietly, “and that’s the result of having an unsavoury reputation. But do believe me, I only mean now what’s fair and square. If any harm came to Mrs. Khan through me, I should never have a happy moment again.”

But Nora still stared on, for all her being was one chant of joy. It was suddenly clear to her. Major Heriot had fallen in love with Joan. He didn’t know it, nor, of course, did Joan. But he had . . . and this was how it would end: Joan would marry him eventually. Something would happen to Mr. Mohammed Khan . . . he would die, or fall out of a train or something . . . anyhow he would be cleared off the scene. And then Joan would find the happiness she had so terribly missed. Nora’s morality suddenly lost itself in a whirl of romance.

“I believe you absolutely,” she cried, “and I think that if you take Mrs. Khan under your wing for the rest of the voyage it will be the best thing that can possibly happen to her. Take her on shore at Port Said to begin with.”

Major Heriot’s smile showed in a brief flash of white teeth. What strange creatures women were, he thought, as he looked at the glowing face of the girl opposite him, all aglow as he knew perfectly well, with the idea that he might, given sufficient opportunity, fall permanently in love with Mrs. Khan. No thought of the present husband, no, he was undesirable, therefore he must die, or somehow be cleared off the scene when the right moment arrived!

And then the curtain of his cabin door was suddenly agitated, and Joan herself stood in front of him.

“I want to speak to you,” she said.

“Certainly.” Major Heriot got up, and unhooked his coat from the end of the berth. “I always work without a coat,” he smiled, but he kept his eyes turned from Joan. What a pathetically ravaged face!

“Can I say it here, and then go away again!”

“Say anything you want to here, by all means but don’t go away again,” said Major Heriot, turning round and facing Joan.

“I am the wife of a native,” said Joan with bursting throat, “and just now when you dragged me back I was trying to throw myself out of the porthole. I don’t think I really meant to but I was doing it. And my name is spelt a different way from what I pretend it is. I pretend it’s spelt C.A.R.N.E. It isn’t, its K.H.A.N.” Joan broke into wild sobbing.

“What makes you tell me?” said Peter Heriot.

“I don’t know . . . that’s just what I don’t know—because it kills me to do it. But I feel that I have to because afterwards, if you . . .”

“Yes? . . .”

“If you ever got so that I should be your friend, and then found out by yourself, you would loathe me for ever,” said Joan with wide open streaming eyes.

“And what makes you think that I should ever be your friend?” said Peter Heriot, taking the two small clutching hands in his.

“I feel it here . . said Joan, and because she could not free her hands, she carried one of his brown ones, and laid it on her bursting heart.

There was a little silence. Peter Heriot looked out over Joan’s head to where the coast line of the foulest city in the world stretched and lost herself in a hazy distance.

“It was brave of you to tell me,” he said. “And I thank you very much for doing it. Although as a matter of fact I already knew, because Mrs. Lane told me. No, I made her,” as Joan flung up her head; “ it was only right after what happened just before lunch. And that reminds me; have you had any lunch?”

Joan had dropped her head again; she shook it without speaking.

“Well then, you go and have some at once, said Peter Heriot.

“I couldn’t eat it,” choked Joan beginning to cry again.

“Yes, you could. Especially if I came and sat by you. Couldn’t you now?” There was a twinkle in the blue eyes.

“Oh, yes, I could then,” said Joan, smiling like a child through her tears.

But when they arrived in the dining saloon Joan bent her head and ate her lunch in silence.

“’Shun.” Major Heriot was watching her.

“What? . . . why?” Joan laughed shyly, stammering.

“‘Shun’ means ‘Attention!” It’s a word of command to troops when they need to be called to order. And when you let your thoughts get hold of you you need to be called to order, too. Now you’ve finished, and you feel better, don’t you?” His eyes were on the small face.

“Yes, I do, thank you very much for sitting with me,” said Joan, faintly flushing.

“And now—what are you going to do with yourself for the rest of the afternoon?”

Joan twisted herself round in the revolving chair, and put a cold hand on one of the white pillars that ran tapering from the dining saloon to the lounge above it. “I don’t really quite know,” she said. “But I shall be quite all right. I couldn’t bear you to feel that because of what has happened to-day you have to bother about me. I expect I shall go to sleep again,” she said suddenly, and her soft mouth suddenly lost itself in a yawn.

“The very best possible thing.” Peter Heriot laughed aloud. “After tea we shall probably be in Port Said. And then if you would care for it I will take you on shore.”

“On shore! With you?”

“Yes, why not?” But although Peter Heriot laughed and nodded and took the little hands held passionately out to him and squeezed them cheerfully, he felt a little uneasy as Joan vanished radiantly down the long corridor. Was it wise, this? He wondered as he stretched himself at full length in his deck chair. He had begun it out of kindness of heart really, touched to the quick by the abandonment of despair that had made Joan Khan try to put an end to herself. Peter Heriot moved uneasily in his chair. He must talk it over with somebody—Mrs. Kemp—no, she would be certain to be resting. Major Heriot glanced over to where she sat beside a heavily sleeping husband, her hands moving wakefully over her knitting. Some unspoken message passed between them, and she glanced across, and smiled faintly. Then she got up, dropping the mass of beautifully coloured silk into the bagging canvas of her chair.

“You wanted to speak to me?”

“Yes I did, badly, but I didn’t like to come across because of the Commissioner.” Peter Heriot got up. “Sit down here, it won’t be wanted until after tea anyhow.”

Mrs. Kemp sat down: “ We haven’t seen much of you lately, Peter!” she remarked whimsically.

“No, well, the fact of the matter is this: I feel your disapproving eyes on me and it makes me nervous,” said Peter Heriot.

“You! Nervous!” Mrs. Kemp laughed musically.

“No, really. You see it’s like this.” Peter Heriot groped in his pocket. “Do you mind a pipe? Thanks! Well, it’s like this. You know you asked me not to have anything to do with Mrs. Carne. Well, I did honestly try not to, at least after one day of talking to her I did. I admit I let myself go for one day as you probably saw, and I am very sorry I did now. However, that’s neither here nor there. This morning she tried to throw herself out of her porthole. Mercifully Mrs. Lane got there in time and gave tongue, and as I happened to be passing it was all right. Well, then Mrs. Lane and I had a little talk and she told me about her marriage. Then Mrs. Carne came herself to my cabin and told me herself (don’t look so horrified, I was quite properly dressed—I was working, as a matter of fact). Well, of course she was fearfully upset and all that, and I hustled her off to have some lunch. And then she went off to go to sleep, the best possible thing, and I came up to do the same. But somehow it doesn’t come off,” he ended with a twist of his lip.

“No, of course it doesn’t,” Mrs. Kemp laughed rather shortly. “Your conscience is awake, Peter, and it is a pity that it didn’t wake up before. Why should Mrs. Carne suddenly try to throw herself out of her porthole? It is nothing new for her to realise that she is married to a native.”

Peter Heriot shifted a little uneasily in his chair. Mrs. Kemp was going to give him a lecture, and somehow he felt singularly disinclined for it. However—he stretched out his long legs and waited.

“You see, the fact of the matter is this, Peter. If you see a good looking woman about you cannot leave her alone. It’s happened thousands and thousands of times before. How many voyages have you made without carrying on a desperate flirtation with someone? Not one, I am convinced. And now, you see, you have come across something rather different in Mrs. Khan. She is young, and impressionable, and has of course fallen desperately in love with you, and I don’t blame her for that.” Mrs. Kemp burst out laughing as Heriot bowed neatly. “But the fact remains you are morally responsible for Joan Khan as long as she remains in this ship, and I hope you realise it, that’s all.”

Peter Heriot got up and leant a straight back against the rail, and looked down at the woman in the deck chair beside him: “How did you first come across Joan Carne?” he asked.

Mrs. Kemp hesitated, then she clasped her hands loosely in her lap, and stared straight in front of her. “It was in the Lakes, when she was on her honeymoon,” she said. “And it wasn’t possible for me not to take some notice of anyone who looked so—so—so—profoundly wretched,” said Mrs. Kemp, suddenly flushing scarlet. “Jim said afterwards that I oughtn’t to have done it. But I had to. But now I wish I hadn’t. And all the time I knew that it was a deadly mistake for her to travel out to India in the same ship as you.”

“And why?”

“Because she is just the type of girl that a man of your age almost invariably makes a fool of himself over.”

“But wouldn’t you rather like to see me make a fool of myself over someone?” asked Peter Heriot quietly.

“Not over anyone like Joan Khan, because she would suffer so frightfully, too,” returned Mrs. Kemp. “I don’t mind a bit about you—it would do you good. But that sweet little soft thing—I can’t bear to think of it.”

“You’re very hard on me all of a sudden.”

“No, I’m not. But somehow this worries me fearfully. I feel all embroiled in it somehow. It’s tragedy—there’s nothing funny about it.

“Be nice to her, of course; we all will. But don’t lay yourself out as you know you can; it will only make it the more cruelly hard for her afterwards. She has got to live this dreadful life that she has chosen for herself, and the more she sees of men like you, the more intolerable it will be to her.”

Peter Heriot was silent for a second or two. Then he stooped and rapped out his pipe on one of the lower rungs of the rail. “I should have thought you would be rather relieved to see me well tied up with someone I couldn’t marry,” he said. “It would make me thoroughly wretched, and surely that would rather amuse you? You seem to think that’s about all I’m capable of, the harrowing up of the female heart for my own gratification.”

Mrs. Kemp laughed as she laid a beautifully manicured hand on the blue sleeve: “No, I don’t want you to be wretched, Peter; I should be a fiend if I did, I am much too fond of you. But I must confess in this case I am thinking far more of Joan Carne than of you. You can take care of yourself, she can’t. Look at her marriage, for instance, surely that shows that plainly enough. I do think that there is heaps more in you than the ordinary flirtatious side that you usually display on a voyage, but the point is this: are you going to show it? If you are I can trust Joan Carne to you with perfect confidence, but if you aren’t I shall warn her against you, I shall indeed.”

“And then what?”

“She will avoid you, I hope.”

“And supposing she doesn’t?”

“Well, then it is her own fault,” said Mrs. Kemp.

“Well, is she trusted to me or is she not?” asked Peter Heriot after a little pause during which his blue eyes dwelt on the faintly flushing face in front of him. He loved Mrs. Kemp, she was the best and truest friend he had ever had.

“Yes, I think she is,” said Mrs. Kemp and she let her hand slip down on to the brown one that lay on the rail. “But, oh, Peter, if she withstands you, she has a heart of stone.”

“Well, we’ll hope that she has,” returned Peter Heriot cheerfully. But although his voice was cheerful his eyes were not.

Chapter XIV

The dying sun was stabbing the evening sky with a thousand blades of crimson as the Nerona finally came to anchor behind the long breakwater. Port Said looks at her best in the evening—the fading light is kind to the tawdry houses and to the dirty unkempt Egyptians that plaster the quay and swarm over the little bobbing flat bottomed boats that cluster round the big liners.

“Sahib, sahib!” the cry came from fifty hoarse throats as the weird figures in their flowing djibbahs stared with black glancing eyes up at the unromantic, typically English faces that stared back, some with curiosity, some with boredom, over the rail of the Nerona. Joan’s was one of the faces that stared with curiosity. If the people and the surroundings all looked so different here, at Port Said, only the Gateway of the East, how much more different would they be in the East itself. So she beamed, and chuckled, and shouted out with excitement when a couple of little boys with bodies gleaming like bronze suddenly clapped their hands and dived, reappearing in a moment or two with coppers held between their flashing teeth.

“Oh, how wonderfully they do it! Do let’s throw them some more. No, don’t you bother—I’ve got some.” Joan was grabbing in her coat pocket.

“No, I’ve got some. Look!—Gad, they are quick.” Peter Heriot’s brown face was all alight as the brown figure came up to the top again like a cork blown out of a bottle. The glistening face grinned and blew the water from between the teeth that held the silver coin. But suddenly it ducked and dived again, a couple of bigger boys were swimming towards it.

“Oh, will they take it away from him?” Joan was hanging over the side greatly perturbed.

“Not they! You wait and see where he comes up.” Peter shaded his eyes with his hands. “There, you see?” he pointed.

Do you mean that little boy running down the road?” Joan gasped with astonishment. For a tiny figure like a brown monkey had hoisted itself out of the sea, clambered up the side of the wooden shed where the waiting boats lay bumping against one another, gathered to itself from somewhere an unspeakably filthy garment, and was tearing down the dusty road that skirts the harbour looking neither to right or left. “How much was it?” asked Joan with awe.

“A shilling. Worth hanging on to, to a child like that. Now then, what do you think? Shall we go on shore?”

“Do you really want to?” Joan’s eyes were suddenly doubtful again. After all, what was the good of it all? And there would be letters to come back to: wouldn’t it be better to stay on board and get the horror of the letters over? She wanted to hear from home, of course. But from India? That would help to make it all so real, and so near. And her name would be on the letters, written properly. Joan suddenly went cold all over. Everyone would know who she really was. Joan was suddenly agonizedly certain that they would take no more notice of her at all, and the thought was like the blade of a knife in her soul.

“What is the matter?” Peter Heriot, rather jaded as a man always is by anything in the nature of a scene, suddenly felt that he could stand no more of it. He had already taken part that day in what might quite fairly be called ‘scenes’ three times, and he felt that he had had enough. His voice betrayed him, and Joan pulled herself up as if she had been struck from behind.

“Nothing is the matter,” she said.

“Oh good! well then, let’s get off at once, otherwise we shan’t have any time. It’s after six now. Hullo Forsythe!” A tall clean-shaven man had come to a standstill beside them.

“Hullo.” Captain Forsythe lifted his hat to Joan. “I say, complimentary to you, isn’t it, Cox’s man will have it that these are yours. I took the lot away from him and told him that I would ask you myself.” Captain Forsythe beamed cheerfully at Joan. He and his wife rather admired her, she was such a neat pretty little thing. He held out a packet of letters.

Joan’s lips trembled. “They are mine,” she said, and she took them.

“Oh.” But over Captain Forsythe’s usually rather cheery manner a wave of something glacial had passed. Peter felt it, and he cursed inwardly. But Joan did not feel it. She was past feeling anything, the palms of her hands were dripping.

“Oh, sorry.” Captain Forsythe lifted his hat again, and moved away with a nod to the man who stood beside Joan. But he went straight back to his wife, who was sitting in the music room making herself very agreeable to a missionary who was going to look after her baby while she went on shore herself. “I say,” he said. “What do you think, those letters are for Mrs. Carne after all.” Captain Forsythe had rather a loud voice.

“What letters?” Mrs. Forsythe spoke absently. She was trying to scoop a large glass bead out of her son’s mouth.

“Wiry, those letters addressed K.H.A.N.; you know I had them here, took them from Cox’s man; you saw me take them, Betty.” Captain Forsythe’s voice was rather peevish, he had wanted to create a sensation.

“Well, what about them?”

“Why, they are for her after all.”

“And did you say that her name was spelt K.H.A.N.?”

“Well, I think I did,” returned Captain Forsythe feebly. “But that means that she must have married an Indian,” said the missionary lady.

“Does it?” said Captain Forsythe weakly. He could see that he had put his foot in it—his wife’s face showed him that plainly enough.

“Of course it does,” said the missionary lady, “and I consider that it is most wrong of her to have deceived us for so long.”

“But why wrong?” suddenly chipped in Mrs. Forsythe who had gathered her baby firmly on to her knee so that it would not pick up anything else that was going; “and why deceived? We never asked Mrs. Carne how her name was spelt. And supposing she has married an Indian, why wrong? I thought you thought that they are just as good as we are?” she said, suddenly relinquishing all idea of going on shore, and conscious of a throb of relief as she did so. Something would have been certain to have happened to Baby if she had gone.

The missionary lady peered through her glasses with an odd expression on her face; “We are all equal in the sight of God,” she said. “But whether we are meant to marry one another is another thing.”

She would have been thankful if her cook had asked her to marry him,” burst out Mrs. Forsythe as the missionary lady sailed off down the deck without renewing her offer to take care of the Forsythe Baby. “But Walter, she will tell everyone. What possessed you to come and blurt it all out like that? It will be ghastly for Joan Khan. She is such a nice girl, too. Oh, Walter, how awful, a native; and he must be a Mohammedan to have that name.”

“Yes, it’s pretty thick, isn’t it?” said Captain Forsythe, feeling profoundly depressed.

“Well, of course the only thing we can possibly do now is to rally round her, just we few who really know how nice she is,” said Mrs. Forsythe. “You and I, and the Kemps. And Mr. Robertson will if we tell him, too. And Major Heriot will, of course.”

“Why, of course?” asked Captain Forsythe.

“Why, because he is in love with her, of course,” said Betty Forsythe, who although she fraternized with Members of Council and High Court Judges and their wives (her husband’s position ensured her that repute) had an extraordinary passion for scenting out romances, illicit or otherwise.

“Betty, you really are the limit. Mrs. Khan is a married woman,” said Captain Forsythe, who was genuinely shocked.

Yes, well I know she is; isn’t that what we are all so worried about?” exclaimed Betty Forsythe, ducking her face into the baby’s neck.

“Be quiet, Betty,” said her husband. Really his wife’s tongue ran away with her to an extent that was almost criminal.

“Well, I feel awfully worked up about this,” returned his wife, and she half buried her face in the baby’s soft hair. “It’s such cruel bad luck, and she’s in for such a ghastly time. And that wretched woman with a face like a horse has gone off to spread it all over the ship, I know she has. And half the ship will cut Joan Khan and the other half will gossip about her. Harry, why couldn’t you have waited till we were by ourselves to tell me?”

“I don’t know,” replied Captain Forsythe with exasperation. “How did I know that you’d take it like this? I thought you’d probably be disgusted, too.”

I, disgusted! With that sweet little thing with a mouth like a flower, and eyes like a spaniel’s under that brown fringe of hers? Harry! I feel now that I want to be with her all the time to make it easier for her!”

Speech came first to Joan: manlike, Peter could think of heaps of things to say, but dismissed them all as either futile or unsuitable.

“I wish you would go away and leave me quite alone,” she said, and there was a kind of heavy terror in her voice.

“And why?”

“Because, don’t you see what it’s going to be like. Everyone is going to avoid me, to sheer off gradually. Even that nice Captain Forsythe. Didn’t you see his face?”

“Don’t be a little fool!,” Peter spoke roughly, but there was something in his voice that made Joan feel that if she could fall down and kneel in front of this man it would not express what was in her heart. He was going to stand by her, to do what no one even did for the King of Kings, stand by her in her hour of extremity.

“God sent you on to this ship,” she said, hoarsely.

Major Heriot was very much astonished, but he did not show it. “Well, if He did, then don’t you try to push me off it,” he said lightly. “Now then, let’s get a move on, or we shan’t have any time to see anything. Look here, how would it be if we gave up the idea of seeing the ordinary sights?” he said. “As a matter of fact Port Said is a terribly overrated place, and there really isn’t anything decent to see except the Casino Palace Hotel. Let’s just get into a gharry and drive out a bit and sit down on the beach. And then when we’ve had enough of that, we’ll come back and have a quiet dinner at the hotel, and then go back to the ship. How do you like the idea of that?”

Joan lifted heavy eyes: “Yes, I should like that better than anything,” she said.

“Very well then. Hi!” Major Heriot lifted a couple of fingers and whistled through them. “A low trick, but a handy one on occasion,” he laughed, as the large pair horse lumbered up, a cloud of dust behind it.

They got in together. Joan sank back in a corner and clasped her hands loosely on her lap.

They had not gone far when the turbaned Jehu hoisted himself off the box and fumbled with tattered straps that secured the hood to the back of the carriage.

“Hullo, it’s going to rain,” said Peter, “See that big cloud?” He smoothed his hair impatiently as the unwieldy mass of fusty leather lurched over their heads. And as it settled down into creaking and unaccustomed grooves, one big drop fell on the leather top of it and splashed there. “He’s done it just in time. But it won’t last. These tropical storms blow over as quickly as they come up.” The carriage began to move with a grinding of rusty joints, the driver was leading it into shelter of a battered brick wall that lay between them and the sea.

“Gad!—that was a flash.” Major Heriot laughed as a jagged streak of light tore across the sky.

“Oh, I can’t bear thunderstorms.” Joan put her trembling hands up to her neck.

“Wiry? It won’t hurt you, we’re perfectly safe in here. It won’t last.”

“Yes, but I tell you I don’t like it!” Another streak if light cut the sky and showed Joan’s face white and trembling with wide eyes.

“It’s perfectly all right—there now, it’s raining, now nothing can hurt us,” Major Heriot shouted cheerfully as he struggled with the ill-fitting glass window trying to hoist it into place as the rain flung itself against it with the rattle of artillery. “Let me do yours,” he leant across her, and adjusted it skilfully. “There now!” he leant back again, tossing his hat on to the opposite seat.

But Joan was gripping her hands together: “I’m afraid,” she said. “I can’t help it, I am. Oh! don’t let it do it!” She shrank back into her corner crying out.

“But how can I help it?” Major Heriot laughed as he turned a little on the seat. But his eyes were very kind as he put out a brown hand.

Joan felt it near her, and she caught hold of it as a drowning man catches at a plank as it floats by him: “Oh! Oh!” she cried, and she held it to her throat.

“But there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Yet although Peter Heriot spoke reassuringly he knew that there was. Joan was very small and sweet in her terror—and he was only human. And they were very much alone. He slipped an arm along the shabby cushion. “You darling little thing—don’t be afraid with me here,” he said, and he pulled her close to him.

He could feel Joan draw back, and he knew that she was staring at him through the darkness.

“But I am the wife of somebody else,” she said, and her voice shook.

“Of course—thanks for reminding me,” said Peter Heriot. And he sat back suddenly in his corner.

There was a short silence as Joan shrank back into hers. There, she had done it! He had said the words that she had longed, agonized and craved to hear him say, that she had imagined him saying, lying sleepless in her berth. And now she had struck them off his lips, so to speak, listened to them and flung them back down his throat. What had she done it for, what had she done it for? From an insane feeling of pride, conscience, what was it? It wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t wrong, it couldn’t be wrong to hear a glorious clean splendid man like this say things. If that was wrong, what was the terror of her honeymoon? Blackest, most hideous wrong, not to be spoken of. . . . “Oh,” she cowered back again as another stab of flame cut the sky across.

“I expect that will be the last.” But there was a tinge of frigidity in Major Heriot’s voice and Joan heard it and even in the midst of her terror she shrank under it.

Then there was a sound like the crackling of a maxim gun, and the near horse suddenly reared and plunged and the carriage lurched wildly and began to drag crazily across the road. Heriot dragged at the strap that held up the dilapidated window, and thrust his head out.

“Go to their heads, you blithering old fool! Half a second. It’s all perfectly all right.” He dragged up his collar and wrenched open the door . . .

“Don’t get out!” Joan had flown at his arm and was clutching it. “You’ll be run over. I tell you, don’t get out,” she screamed out like a child.

“Be quiet, you little goose,” Peter Heriot began to laugh. “I shall be perfectly all right only I want to see what the old fool is doing.” He shook himself clear of her and stepped back out of the door, keeping his hand on it and running with the moving carriage. “Here, you,” he sent out a flow of Hindustani.

“Attcha Sahib!” With unusual intelligence the Jehu had gone to the horses’ heads, and was soothing them with weird guttural chirpings. They stopped snorting and tossing their heads in the middle of the road.

“All clear!” Peter Heriot put a foot on the iron step and swung himself back into the carriage. “He’s not such an old fool as he looks. There you see, still alive!” He laughed, the little excitement had banished his feeling of annoyance. “Now we’ll wait just a minute to let them calm down a bit and then we’ll go back to the hotel and have some dinner. Ah, that’s right,” as the creaking and groaning of the carriage showed that they were being drawn under the shelter of the wall again.

“You’re wet . . . frightfully wet,” Joan was feeling the soaking coat tremulously. “Take it off, you’ll catch cold.”

“Catch cold! My aunt!” Major Heriot threw back his head with a shout of laughter. “If I do, it’ll be the first time I’ve caught it this way!”

“No, do, do, to please me. I’ll shake it, and scrub at it with my handkerchief,” Joan was tugging frantically at his sleeve.

“Very well.” Joan could see the white smudge of a shirt as Major Heriot dragged out one arm and then followed it with the other. “Happy now?” He laid the coat on the opposite seat.

But Joan was down on her knees on the floor scrubbing for dear life. It was, as he said, only wet on the outside. In the darkness she worked, her soul in her eyes, and then suddenly she laid her face down on it and broke into the bitterest tears.

“I say, where are you?” Peter Heriot, perplexed by the silence, groped on the seat beside him. “Good heavens, what are you doing on the floor?” In the darkness, his hand rested on her hair.

“Don’t touch me—let me die—let me die! . . .” Joan was strangling with tears. “Leave me alone, I tell you. Why didn’t you let what fell down kill us? I tell you I don’t want to live any more.”

Peter put his arms round the soft struggling heap and lifted it resolutely on to his knee. “I haven’t the faintest wish to die,” he said, “and nor have you really. Now tell me what is wrong. Yes, you are to,” as Joan shook her head violently, still struggling. “And don’t try to get away from me because you can’t . . .”

“I’m too heavy for you,” escaped from Joan with a wild sob.

Heriot laughed in his throat. “I think I can just manage it,” he said. “And,” he felt with fumbling fingers, “take off your hat. What a funny hat, it hasn’t any pins in it”— he was feeling round the soft crown.

“No, it fastens with elastic under the hair.” Joan sat up and dragged quickly at it. “There,” she dropped it on the seat.

“Now then,” Peter leant back, and stretching out one long leg he wedged his foot against the opposite seat. “Now that’s all right.” With a brown hand he pressed Joan’s cropped head back into his shoulder. “Now, tell me all about it from the very beginning,” he said.

“Is it wrong to be in your arms like this?” whispered Joan tremulously.

“Not very.” But there was a guilty look in Peter Heriot’s eyes notwithstanding, although in the darkness of the carriage his teeth shone white. “Not desperately wrong,” he said. “It isn’t quite right . . . if I am to be strictly truthful I must say that. But it isn’t so wrong that you need mind doing it.”

“Anything so heavenly must be wrong,” said Joan, and she began to cry again.

“Not if I say it isn’t,” said Peter Heriot, and he pressed Joan’s curly head a little closer to him. “Desperate diseases need desperate remedies, and I want to get at the bottom of what is troubling you. Now, out with it, and you needn’t mind what you say, because it’s dark.”

And then out it came. For about half an hour they sat, Peter Heriot with his blue eyes fixed on the tiny ray of light that flickered on the wall from one of the lamps that moved from time to time as the horses heaved in the creaking harness. And as Joan’s childish voice went on and on, sometimes broken with sobbing, the blue eyes got very stern, and once he caught his lower lip between his teeth. And at last it was over, and Joan moved her head from under his hand and sat up:

“And I have to go back to it again,” she said, “and I feel that I can’t, I can’t.”

Peter Heriot was silent. Silent, because there was nothing to say. It was just one of those malignant ghastly strokes of fate that sometimes befall the most innocent people. Joan was suffering for the tolerance of others. And suffering she had got to bear it alone.

“Look here,” he said. “Thank you more than I can say for telling me. But let’s try and forget it, at any rate for the present. You’ve got ten more days at least before you get to India. Make the best of them. Don’t think about the future at all. And by the time you get to Bombay you may feel differently about things. Anyhow, don’t let’s think about Bombay now, it’s a long way off.”

But Joan was a woman: she hadn’t the priceless and inestimable gift that a man has, of banishing the future and living in the present:

“But Bombay is sure to come,” she said. “And how can I ever think differently about things . . . all I can ever do is to dread them more.”

“Not with me there,” said Peter Heriot with his eyes on Joan’s profile. He could see it faintly outlined against the dim light from the carriage lamp. The little nose, ever so slightly turned up—the short upper lip. And the lower lip was trembling. . . . “Not with me there,” he said again.

“But you won’t be there,” said poor Joan.

“But I’m here now,” said Peter Heriot, and he sat up a little and the arm that held Joan tightened.

“Yes, I know you are.” But Joan suddenly trembled. “I think if you don’t mind I should like to get off your knee now,” she said.

“Very well,” said Peter, and he let her go. For he still had the remnant of a conscience left, and Joan was small and she trusted him. “Put on your hat,” he said, “and we’ll get along.”

“You’re not angry with me?” asked Joan, almost weeping again.

“Not the least atom.” But Peter Heriot’s face was grim as he groped for his own hat.

Nowhere in the world is the setting for a dance so perfect as on the deck of an East bound steamer as she throbs her way through the Suez Canal. The desert, stretching away on either side, a limitless mystery of sand; the soft caressing splash of the following wave as it slips up the yielding banks of the narrow water and then loses itself again in the mother stream; the solitary light at the masthead, like one great beautiful star, still and brilliant, all tend to make the Suez Canal the most romantic place in the world. Joan felt her soul all aglow with the wonder of it, and on the afternoon of the day after they left Port Said—they had not been able to leave as early as they expected owing to some port regulation—she hung over the side and drank in the heavenly beauty with an ecstasy of enjoyment. The day that was now half over had been a very happy one; instead of the knowledge of her marriage having alienated people, in some mysterious way it had seemed to make them nicer. One or two people looked oddly at her—Mrs. Fitzgerald was one of them, but Nora had confided to her that at Suez Mrs. Fitzgerald was going off, so it really did not matter at all. Also the Kemps and the Forsythes all seemed in some mysterious way to have drawn nearer to her—like a bodyguard, thought Joan, laughing at the folly of such a thought. And the letters had not been disturbing; her husband wrote very briefly, stating that he would not be able to come down to Bombay to meet her, he could not leave his work, but that Cox’s Agency would do everything. And her aunt wrote fully, telling her all the little details of home news that she loved to hear, and her mother also wrote, only not quite so fully, saying how she had already begun to look forward to the time when she would have her home again. So Joan felt that the Terror had drawn back a little, and she forgot that your adversary only draws back when he either knows that his case is hopeless or when he knows that his next thrust is going to bring you to your knees.

The whole of the upper first-class deck space was hung with flags. The jolly quartermaster and a couple of apprentices had been hard at work decorating since about four o’clock in the afternoon. And it certainly all looked delightful. The bright white lights had been veiled in deepest pink—this was a touch introduced by the third officer, who had a romantic soul, Joan thought, watching them scrambling about the deck grinning. It was a gay scene and as the transformed people streamed down to dinner, Joan sat in her place and enjoyed it to the full. She lost the little feeling of breathlessness that Major Heriot always gave her when she was near him—her place was some way away from his, at another table altogether, next to some rather dull people who seemed to keep entirely to themselves. So she could sit and enjoy it all, and she caught the appreciative glance of the Captain once or twice, as he stared round the room, well pleased. He thought Mrs. Khan looked perfectly delicious in her fancy dress, and as the Purser had confided to him earlier that day her pathetic history, he looked at her with a new interest. But Captain Newland felt a twinge of sadness as he mentally shrugged his own shoulders. Mrs. Khan was so deliciously pretty, and such a child with it all. . . . However . . . perhaps . . . Captain Newland’s wind-swept eyes focussed themselves suddenly on a more distant table. He certainly was a magnificent looking fellow . . . no doubt about it. . . .

“Well, are you prepared to dance for four hours on end?” Peter Heriot met Joan at the top of the brilliantly lighted stairs that led from the saloon. He took a cigarette from between his lips. “Can’t manage it with this beastly thing on,” he said, and he dragged the mask off suddenly.

“Oh—how much nicer you look!” Joan gasped with relief. There had been something sinister in the upstanding blackness of the disguise on the face. Now in the scarlet dress of Mephistopheles Major Heriot looked only like a flame—nothing awful about him. Compelling and overwhelming of course; he was always that, but not horrible. Only perfect . . . Joan suddenly closed her eyes.,

“Well, what about it? Or will you wait till I’ve finished this—I shan’t be a minute,” Peter scrubbed suddenly at his own close cropped moustache. “That filthy gum has got all over it,” he said; “do you mind if I go and wash?

“Not a bit.” But as he took the stairs two at a time Joan watched him with fear in her eyes. Why hadn’t she been sensible enough to say straight out that she could not give all her dances, she thought? She let him walk over do what he liked. . . .

“Why! What a sweet little Apache!” Mrs. Kemp passing laid a gentle hand on the black satin shoulder. “Jim look at Mrs. Khan, doesn’t she look a dear?”

“She does!” Mr. Kemp diverted from the manipulation of a rather unwieldy disguise stared with sudden unfeigned admiration at Joan. “Gad, I don’t blame Heriot if he comes a cropper over her,” he confided to his wife later. “Those legs! she ought to live in trousers.”

And although Mrs. Kemp laughed reprovingly, she echoed in her heart what her husband expressed openly. Joan Khan had looked exquisite, like a little streak of something vivid. And she laid her own fancy dress away with a sigh.

“Now then let’s get going.” Peter Heriot came blithely up the stairs again. “I suppose you know all these new gyms,” he said, and he spoke rather breathlessly. Joan went to his head.

“Yes, most of them. You see, I went out very little, but I used to watch what people did when I did go. And then I used to practise with our servant, she danced awfully well.” Joan suddenly blushed and felt ashamed. What would Peter think of her saying that! But Peter looked away from her for a minute. “Lucky servant!” he said, turning back again.

Joan laughed, a delightful chuckle, and settled the velvet cap again on her cropped head. “It’s sure to get crooked,” she said confidingly. “Tell me when it does.” But her eyes laughed, and were alive. “He does like me . . . a very little,” she thought.

They danced twice, Joan’s curly head just reached Heriot’s shoulder, and a good many people watched them as they danced, especially a lady like a horse who expressed herself forcibly to a compatriot.

“It’s sin,” she said firmly.

“Is it?” The companion of the Horse, who was in the same profession, only she lived what she professed, smiled rather mischievously. “It’s very beautiful sin anyhow,” she said “Look at that little head against that scarlet shoulder. And the look in the child’s eyes . . . it’s indescribable.”

The Horse did not think it was, and she used an ugly word to describe it.

The little lady flushed: “I don’t think you have any right to say so,” she said indignantly. “I am sure the friendship is an entirely innocent one.”

“And I am sure it is not,” replied the Horse. And she got up and walked away, her heart screaming out in passionate envy of Joan. For even women with faces like horses have feelings. And there is not a woman in the world, unless there is something very seriously wrong with her, who does not crave for the savagery of a man’s arms.

“Shall we rest a little now?” Joan’s breath came in little gasps, and she was white. She would scream or cry, she thought desperately, if she did not stop for a minute or two. And Peter’s arms—they were possessive. “Let me go,” she panted.

“Sorry! Have I gone at it too hard for you?” Heriot slid into a corner, his arms still round her. “You dance so awfully well I couldn’t help it. I say . . . I have,” he spoke repentantly, there were little painted shadows at the root of Joan’s nose.

“No, it’s all right . . . only give me a minute.” Joan breathed heavily and leant her slim weight against a coil of rope. “Get somebody else if you want to go on directly.”

“Not a bit of it—-we’ll go away somewhere, and I’ll have a cigarette if I may.” Heriot stared out over the desert. They were just passing one of the little leafy settlements that cluster close to the Canal banks—what a life, nothing to do but to watch other people passing by! . . . He suddenly felt profoundly sorry for Joan, too—the sort of sorrow a humane sportsman feels when he hears a wounded hare scream. Put it out of its misery if you can—if you can’t, clear off so that you can’t hear it. . . . Major Heriot suddenly wished from the bottom of his heart that he had never met Joan Khan. “I say, I will get somebody else if you’d very much rather,” he said, and he spoke without looking at her.

Joan’s heart suddenly stopped. “Yes, I would like you to,” she said. She heard the words from a long way away—she wasn’t saying them.

“All right then—you cut off to bed—you certainly do look done to the world.” Peter tried to avoid the brown eyes that looked as if they had suddenly been struck blind; he cleared his throat.

“All right, I will. How shall I go, so that I don’t meet everyone?”

“Come along this way, then you can go down the stairs at the end, there’s never anyone there.”

He led the way silently, Joan followed, stumbling a little. Her feet felt suddenly as if she could not lift them. They reached the top of the stairs.

“Good night,” she said vaguely, lifting a face in which the tears lay like black wells.

“Good night.” Major Heriot spoke abruptly and turned swiftly on his heel. He felt a fiend, but it was far the kindest really. . . .

Joan reached blindly out in front of her, and began to grope her way down the steep stairs. Why . . . why, why had she tried to throw herself out of her porthole before? she wondered—why, she was happy then . . . this was something quite different. This was torment—hell! She swung a little against the white painted wall. In a book he would come after her—but things didn’t happen like books in real life—you had to go on by yourself, even though you felt that you only had a gaping wound for a heart. Besides, he didn’t care either, he wanted to dance with somebody else, so she was degraded as well as in torment. . . .

“I’m just coming down to get a cheroot,” the scarlet figure was suddenly beside her again. Peter Heriot cursed himself for a fool but he couldn’t help it. And he had seen the little lurching figure, and it stabbed his heart.

“Oh!” Joan was capable of no more, she lifted her hands to her neck.

There was a little dark-alley way at the foot of the stairs, Peter Heriot turned swiftly to it, and picked Joan up in his arms. He lifted her over the step on to the little planked way that ran round the steel hull, and he held her there under the stars.

“I am going to kiss you,” he said, “I must.”

“No, no!” Joan had strength for so much, though her spirit lay at his feet.

“Yes, I must.” He stooped a dark head. “I don’t care a damn if it’s wrong,” he said, “don’t tell me it is because it won’t make an atom of difference. I love you, and I want you. And you needn’t be afraid, because I’m not altogether a cad. . . . But your little soft face I’m going to have on mine if I die for it,” he said, and he stooped again and kissed her savagely.

Chapter XV

The sun blazed down out of an absolutely cloudless sky. The double awnings heaved and flapped with entire apathy, and then settled into complete stillness. The sea lay immobile like a sheet of blue glass under the brassy heavens and only parted noiselessly and closed again with the same noiselessness as the great steel hull cut through it.

“Oh, I say, it’s hot!” Joan coming out through the open companion door pushed all her short hair off her forehead.

“Yes it is; where have you been since breakfast?” Peter Heriot heaved his straight back from against the rail, and flicked a little of his cigarette ash into the sea. He had been watching that door for the last hour.

“Oh . . . just muddling about,” Joan’s eyes moved restlessly under the steady gaze that held them. “I can’t always be with you,” she said, and her voice trembled a little.

“And why not?”


Peter Heriot tossed the still burning end of the cigarette into the tub of water, “All right, don’t start analysing,” he said, “we agreed the other day we wouldn’t. Come along round to the chairs, I’ve got a perfect place for them, bang in the only bit of breeze there is.”

“However did you manage to get it?” Joan looked round in amazement. Both deck chairs, with their own footrests lay close together in a shadowed corner. A small table, with a brown hide despatch case stood beside them.

“I told the chief officer that I must have peace and quiet to do some work,” said Peter laughing openly. “And he was a trump, so he set one of them to do a bit of painting, and they’ve stuck up a Wet Paint notice, and there you are!” He put both his hands into the pocket of his silk suit looked at Joan, his head a little on one side.

“But are you really going to work?”

Heriot suddenly looked a little grave: “Yes, I simply must,” he said, “I got a stack of proofs at Port Said, and I haven’t touched them. I must post at Aden, and we shall be there to-morrow.”

“Then you don’t want me. . . .’’

“Yes I do . . . don’t be a little goose. Look here . . .” Peter Heriot glanced swiftly round, “Good morning,” he said.

Joan caught one brown hand as it left her face: “Peter!” She pressed her mouth suddenly against it.

“Now then . . . that’s enough!” The look of something akin to despair in Heriot’s eyes were instantly quenched in a laugh. “‘Stern daughter of the Voice of God,’ don’t you know it? Sure to be horrible if it’s anything about duty, but I must say the old boy made out quite a good case for it. Shun!” He stopped laughing and caught his lower lip between his teeth. “Joan,” he said, “for God’s sake don’t start that, unless you want me to put an end to myself.”

Joan dragged at her handkerchief, and then stuffed it back into her sleeve. “All right,” she said, “I’m sorry. Show me proofs, I like to see them. And what about ‘Stern daughter of the Voice of God?’ I like the sound of it.” Joan sat down in her deck chair, and slung her work bag over the end of it. She leant her chin on her hand to stop the trembling of it.

“Well, it was Mr. William Wordsworth. A person who quotes poetry is a public nuisance, but when you get the chance, read his ‘Ode to Immortality.’ Divine!” Major Heriot’s eyes suddenly fired as he unclipped his despatch case.

“Say me a bit of it.”

“Can’t be done,” Peter twinkled mischievously as he turned back again.

“Oh, well . . .” Joan twisted round to unhook her work bag. “Will you some day?” she asked wistfully.

“We’ll see . . . perhaps sometime when it is dark. Now then, don’t speak unless I do—do you mind?”

“Not a bit . . . I like you to say.” Joan leant back in her chair, and closed the eye-lids that suddenly felt as if they had been starched. She passed her handkerchief over her mouth and then bent resolutely to her sewing. She would work; just lying and thinking drove her absolutely frantic. . . .

“Good! “ Major Heriot spoke with satisfaction and sat back. “Now for a pipe,” he stretched out a long leg and groped for the matches.

“What are the squigs?” Joan was leaning forward, scanning the long galley-strips with curiosity.

“The squigs, as you so disrespectfully term them, are corrections,” said Peter, and he smiled at Joan, his still unlighted pipe between his white teeth.

“May I see?” Joan held out a timid hand.

“Yes, of course,” Peter detached the first slip from its nickel fastener, and handed it across. Then he unrolled his oil-skin tobacco pouch, and began to fill his pipe, pressing down the tobacco with a very deliberate thumb. He suddenly felt shy: supposing Joan didn’t like it?

“May I have another?” Joan’s eyes were still on the strip she held, she took the second one without raising them. “I’ve done these,” it came again in a short space of time.

“Take them all.” Peter Heriot handed over the whole roll and lay back in his chair. It was the greatest tribute he had ever had: Joan was utterly unconscious of him. He watched her as she read: a little pulse beat in her neck—under her soft muslin blouse a narrow strip of blue ran across her shoulder, she was dear—inexpressibly dear—the whole of her.

“I must go there.” Joan suddenly laid the bundle down in her lap, and spoke, forgetting where she was. Then she remembered him: “I forgot you were there,” she said.

Peter Heriot lay back in his chair, and blew a great cloud of smoke upwards. “Yes, I know you did,” he said, “and it is the greatest compliment I have ever had paid me in my life.”

Joan was silent for a minute or two, watching him, then she spoke: “Tell me something about it,” she urged, “what it is like and everything, where you live in India. You see, I don’t know anything about it at all. Is it really like this?” She picked up the paper roll and held it to her breast.

“Yes, fairly like that.” Peter crossed one long leg over the other. “Not quite so nice, of course, but the British Public likes to have its information jammier than it really should have it. As a matter of fact it’s pretty average hell,” he suddenly said quietly, and uncrossed his feet again.

“Tell me how it is.” Joan’s eyes hung on his.

“Well, to begin with, it’s infernally lonely. You see, I belong to a regiment that’s always on the frontier. And there we are, just a handful of officers, and a couple of hundred men stuck away in a fort. If I didn’t write, I should go absolutely dotty, I must say that does help enormously. But there we are, and nothing happens, unless one of these old johnnies gets a religious fit on, and then he comes and dances round the Fort with a lot of others, and we pot at him, and he pots back, and there you are.”

“It doesn’t sound dull!” Joan’s eyes were wide.

“No . . . well, it has its lively side,” said Major Heriot, and he laughed.

“But how do you get there?”

“Oh, we go under escort, men on horses, you know, beside us with rifles. And we have overhead railways, a sort of car thing slung on wire cables. And to the nearer post you can sometimes get in a car, but I am right away at a place called Wai which can only be reached on horseback. You can get as far as Fatwar in an ekka, but then you have to take to your feet.”

“But how do your wives get there, then?” asked Joan, wondering.

“Wives?” Peter Heriot threw back his head and laughed tumultuously. “Good heavens, Joan, you don’t think women are allowed there, do you? Of course not! Women aren’t allowed further North than Palghai. Wives! Englishmen are only allowed one each, you know,” he said, and he twinkled across the small space that separated them.

And then the twinkle suddenly died in horror. For out of Joan’s eyes leapt a terror greater than any terror that Major Heriot had ever seen in any man’s eyes.

“Joan . . .” he said, and then his tongue was so stiff that he could not say any more.

“But could it be like that?” Joan was crouching lower in her chair.

“No, no . . . of course it couldn’t.” Peter caught the hands that were held out as if to ward off a blow. “No, no, Joan . . . don’t.” He stood up and tried to draw her out of her chair.

But Joan shrank away from him.

“There’s a horrid name in the Bible that you call them when there are more than one,” she said, shivering.

*  *  *

Mrs. Forsythe was really the one amongst Joan’s more immediate circle who took the whole thing most to heart. With the wholesome sanity of the perfectly happy married woman she was able to look at it all impartially. Mrs. Kemp was not; to begin with she had feared that it would come to pass from the very beginning, and when that is the case there is always a certain element of ‘I told you so’ to mar the mental outlook. Also, she was Peter Heriot’s greatest woman friend, and there is not a woman in the world who likes to see her greatest man friend become a lover to somebody else. Also, she frankly thought that it was wrong.

Nora Lane thought it was wrong, too. She had never quite been able to shake off the feeling of repulsion that she had had when Joan told her that she was the wife of a native, and it prejudiced her against the whole thing. So Nora left Joan rather more to herself than she had done at first, and it was easy, because now that there was not a third to consider in the tiny cabin, Nora and Joan were able to arrange times and seasons so that they hardly ever occupied it at the same time except at night. And as Joan now very rarely came to bed until Nora was asleep that did not matter.

But Betty Forsythe saw with the truest and most complete sympathy: “Yes, I know it’s wrong,” she said, in answer to her husband’s rather lengthy diatribe—they were stretched side by side in deck chairs close to the rail, trying to catch the furtive puffs of wind that picked up the blue water and fluffed it into little frills of white—“at least it’s wrong according to our stupid ideas of wrong. But when you look at it like this it isn’t wrong. There’s Joan Khan, the sweetest, dearest and most innocent little thing that ever breathed, eighteen years old. She lives the dullest, stodgiest life imaginable. She has all the possibilities of an intense passion for a man—look at her, you can see she has them. Well, she never sees a man at all. Then she suddenly does—black one—and to people at home very often that is attractive, especially when it is coupled with a very nice figure, which in this case I daresay it was. Well, she falls in love with him—she doesn’t really, as a matter of fact, but she feels she does because—” here Betty Forsythe turned impressively to her husband—“because she suddenly finds a place to anchor all those gropey, desperate, unfinished feelings that a girl always has when she is growing up, without knowing what to do with them. Then—yes, wait a minute—then she marries him. And then—” Betty Forsythe flushed—“then she finds out that he is a beast and she promptly hates him. And all this time all the gropey, desperate feelings have grown and grown because they have been twined round something, and now they are loose and floundering,” went on Betty Forsythe, getting excited and mixing metaphors. “And then Major Heriot comes along with a face and body like a god and she flings them all round him like a lasso, and then she gets frightened and tries to get away and can’t, and I don’t wonder,” ended Mrs. Forsythe abruptly.

So Betty Forsythe completely understood, and she was always looking out for a chance to say so. At last it came as things always do come when you know how to look out for them properly. And she bent over Joan as she leant over the rail staring out at Aden where Peter had gone in a military launch to register his proofs himself at the General Post Office, and she squeezed her hand when Joan suddenly turned a wan face to her:

“I wish you’d look upon me as a real friend of yours,” she said. “Not the sort of person who tells things, but the sort of person who really understands and craves to know, and who will keep everything sacredly locked in her heart for ever. And who won’t tell her husband—really won’t,” she added, knowing the one real bar to post-marriage confidence.

Joan trembled, and gripped the little ringed hand and began to cry in dreadful suppressed racking sobs. So Betty Forsythe took her to a quiet unfrequented corner and the girls sat together, and Joan unburdened her soul with the first real sense of safety and freedom that she had had since she was married.

Betty Forsythe groped in the pocket of her white tweed skirt for her cigarette case, lighted one with a hand that trembled a little, shook out the match, and then sat forward.

“Look here, Joan,” she said. “I can’t tell you how I thank you for telling me everything like that—and I can’t tell you either what I feel about it. It’s no use saying—it won’t help at all—either of us. But all I can say to comfort you is this, I am perfectly convinced that in the end you will marry Major Heriot. He’s desperately in love with you—really in love—not the usual sort of thing at all—-the sort of thing that makes a man lose his head for a time.

Joan flung her hands out over her knees and dropped her head on them. “Betty,” she cried, and her eyes were tortured, “Betty, but I have got to go back to it first. Think what that means! Even if in the end I do marry him, I’ve got to go back to it first. I’m somebody’s wife! And it may be years! And people don’t wait on and on for people—I mean to say Major Heriot may love me now. . . . Oh, he does, he does.” Joan’s wide open eyes streamed. “But he can’t always be lonely just because he can’t have me, can he? . . . can he? Why should he after all? He’s frightfully well known, and famous, and he sees thousands of people. And then, when he thinks it all over he may feel that I’m sort of horrible, revolting, because I have been the wife of a native. Betty, Betty, I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it. God is too cruel to make me, I can’t.”

The tears were running down Betty Forsythe’s face, too, and she was not in the least ashamed of them. But she flung out a protecting hand and took the clenched one in hers: “Look here,” she said, “you’ve just got to set your teeth and go through with it, Joan. It’s ghastly, it’s hell for you, but you’re going to get your hell over all at once. And it isn’t God’s arrangement at all, He doesn’t do that sort of thing. He is sorrier far for you than I am. And in the end He is going to make everything come right. But you see He doesn’t interfere like people think He does; He does when He is asked, but perhaps you didn’t,” said Betty Forsythe rather shyly. “And——”

“But perhaps He is angry because we have kissed each other,” burst in Joan, and she looked at Betty with a new terror.

Betty Forsythe flushed a little, and then looked out to sea again. “That depends so frightfully on the kiss,” she said; “somehow I don’t feel that with you He would be. And He knows exactly what is going on in Major Heriot’s mind too, so that’s all right. Don’t let’s worry about God any more,” she said naively. “But there is something that I want to tell you if you don’t know it already, and somehow I feel that you don’t. Do you?” Betty Forsythe looked narrowly at the girl beside her.

“What sort of a thing?” Joan turned, and put her drenched handkerchief back into her sleeve.

“Well, it’s rather difficult to explain, I’m not good at that sort of thing. But I feel I must. . . . Look here, Joan”—Betty Forsythe turned a little more on her chair.

*  *  *

The last night of the voyage came at last, as things always do come however we may hold out feeble, protesting pushing hands to try to stop them. Joan had spent a good deal of the day in packing, it had to be done, and there was going to be a dance to celebrate the end of things that evening, so she knew that there would be an opportunity to say goodbye then. For Major Heriot was to start off by the Postal Express the next day, and Joan was to travel by the ordinary Punjab Mail a few hours later. Peter Heriot felt that there was a limit to his endurance—to see Joan claimed by a native would have been more than he could have borne without instantly committing murder. So he did away with any chance of it by choosing another route. But he hung about the deck in the hope of having a word with her, and when he saw that it was hopeless, he made up his mind to do a thing he meant to do before leaving the ship anyhow, that was to have a word with Mr. Kemp. There were one or two things that he must know, and Mr. Kemp was the only man who could tell him, in fact he was the only man that he could possibly ask, and he loathed asking him more than he could express. But it had to be done.

“I say, may I have a word or two with you?” Wandering he met Mr. Kemp coming out of the smoking room.

“Certainly. Where shall we anchor ourselves?” Mr. Kemp spoke without looking at him. Heriot had made a damned fool of himself, he considered, but the man looked ghastly, so there was no point in rubbing it in.

“Oh, anywhere where we can be to ourselves. Look here,” Major Heriot sat down vaguely on the end of a long chair that belonged to somebody else, “I want to know if you can tell me anything about Mohammedan law. Don’t waste time—in telling me what a damned fool I am, or cur, or anything else that you and Kitty think—I know I’m all of them, but I’m in hell as well, so perhaps it washes them out. Can Joan Khan be got away from her husband or can she not?”

“No, she can’t.” Mr. Kemp spoke abruptly: he thought it was kinder. “I went into it all at home with her brother. She was married at home by English law and it stands good out here. Of course questions of matrimonial law are always difficult and obscure, especially when a conflict of law is brought into it. Khan is allowed by his religion four wives as you know—it’s horrible, but it’s a fact so it’s no use shirking it. Of course as a matter of fact in this country each case——”

“But is Khan not a Christian, then?” Heriot raised a livid face from his hands.

“I should say certainly not—she thinks he is but I very much doubt it. He stipulated for marriage at a Registry office, and that to my mind is convincing. However,” Mr. Kemp cleared his throat, “as I was going to say, in this country each case is judged on its own merits. Supposing, for instance, the facts that led up to the appeal of the English wife for nullity were particularly revolting, the Court might exercise its jurisdiction, and declare the marriage void, but that, of course, depends entirely on the circumstances surrounding the case. And of course, as you can imagine, the publicity and squalor of the whole thing would be unspeakable. Heriot,” Mr. Kemp laid a very kind hand on the serge shoulder, “get a pull on yourself and shake yourself free from the whole thing. Don’t think me a brute, but you have been in love before. You’ll get over it.”

Peter Heriot stood up: “I say, don’t if you don’t mind,” he said, and his lips were a little drawn back from his teeth. “It’s kind of you, but I don’t feel inclined for it. Now, you say you saw Mrs. Khan’s brother. Was there mention of settlements, or anything of the kind?”

“Mansfield has arranged that at his mother’s death any money that shall come to Mrs. Khan shall be placed in the hands of English trustees, with instructions that the interest accruing therefrom shall be paid direct to wife only,” said Mr. Kemp stiffly. He was angry with Peter Heriot, he was more of a damned fool that he thought he was—taking the whole thing seriously.

“Oh, thanks. . . . Then at present Mrs. Khan is entirely dependent on her husband?”

“I believe so.” Mr. Kemp got up also and looked round. Thank God the voyage was nearly over, he thought irritably; he couldn’t do with this sort of thing. His wife in such a state of mind the whole time, and Heriot looking like a man who has received his death sentence; it made the whole thing so damned unpleasant.

But Peter Heriot had seen Joan come out of the companion door: “Thanks very much, Kemp,” he said, and swung away down the deck, long and lean.

*  *  *

There is a limit to the capacity for suffering, and when at about midnight Joan and Peter Heriot stood under the stars on the alley-way—the upper deck was still dotted about with groups of people talking and laughing—they had reached it.

“Peter, I can’t, can’t say goodbye to you.” Joan’s voice was odd and stifled. She had her tiny lace handkerchief forced against her mouth.

“Darling, you must.” Under the bright starlight Heriot’s bronzed face showed drawn and grey. He breathed as if he had been running. “Keep a stiff upper Up, Joan, it’s the only thing.” He swallowed, his self-control was going, he knew it was, and it would make it harder for her. “I shall be off before you are up in the morning, Joan, I must, and Cox’s man will look after you. If you want me, you know where I am—Wai, N.W.F.,4 is enough, you remember, I told you. And for anything else, King’s will have my instructions. Now—Joan—goodbye—Beloved,” he held her strained against his heart.

“Peter . . . I love you so . . . how can I?” Joan lifted a ravaged face. “Sometimes I haven’t been kind . . .” she clung to him desperately, rent with awful sobs.

“You have always been perfect. Joan, don’t, you’re killing me.” Peter put a finger inside his collar. “Go now, darling, or I can’t . . .”

Joan broke from him with a last moan and vanished through the dark doorway. Peter, left alone, walked to the edge of the little alley-way and leant his hand against the steel hull. Surely he couldn’t go on feeling like this, he thought stupidly. Ah! . . . he stooped and picked up something small and white: her handkerchief, still wet. He held it against his mouth and the difficult tears forced themselves through his shut eyelids and ran down into the tiny folds of it.

But Fate has an odd way of keeping you on the rack if she thinks it will be good for you, especially if she has something very nice tucked up her sleeve to bestow at some distant date; she wants to see if you really deserve it. So the next morning, when Joan, very late, came up on deck she saw a lean figure standing by the notice board, and she promptly dropped quietly into a chair and forced her head down between her knees—someone had told her once that that was the thing to do.

“Good morning.” Peter had seen her drop, and he came up quietly. “All right again? Yes, I got a Marconi to report at the Brigade office this morning, and that knocked the Postal Express on the head.” He spoke almost coldly. It was a piece of fiendish cruelty on the part of Fate, this, he thought. Now they would have to travel together—that is unless he deliberately chose another route—which it would not be really easy to do, at the last minute. Not in the same carriage, of course, but within touch of each other, so to speak. And he would have to see that dirty swine claim Joan! No, No, no, no, his whole soul rose up in protest.

“I am sorry, because I know how you must feel about it.” Joan too spoke coldly.

Suddenly they seemed like strangers. It was too much for him, this. He felt resentful of her because she made him suffer so.

“Don’t be with me this morning,” she said timidly. “Cox’s man will do everything fro me, and I shall be perfectly all right.”

“I can’t be with you even if I want to,” said Major Heriot. “Those thrice accursed fools at the Brigade Office want me. But I will see you at the station: and I’ll have a word with Cox’s man when he comes on board. Now, come along and have your first look at the East,” he said, and he led the way to the rail.

Even in the midst of her newly awakened despair Joan saw the beauty of it. Bombay, looking out of her early morning shroud of mist, amethyst and palest, palest rose. The Taj Mahal Hotel, shadowy and vague, the Yacht Club long and squat in her shrouding of trees. The harbour, alive with every type of craft, from the long lean gun-boat, to tiniest native skiff.

“Well, I’ll see you at the station.” Peter suddenly swung a little on his heels. He had work to do that morning, and he must keep himself fit for it. “I’ll see Cox’s man, so all you’ll have to do is to present yourself at the Customs with your keys, and get to the Station. And as a matter of fact he’ll really do all that for you only—you will just have to be there. Goodbye, Joan,” he held her eyes suddenly with his ‘Goodbye.’

Joan watched him go, swinging down the companion stairs. Out of her sight . . . but not for ever—yet!

Victoria Terminus was a dark humming abyss of human beings; eight long platforms lying grey and loaded with human freight below whirling electric fans; engines blowing off steam, or snorting deliberately backwards with dignified mien, or uttering a long-drawn-out scream and then sliding out of the darkness into the sunlight, bearing behind them a caterpillar-like trail of brown coaches.

Joan arrived bewildered and breathless, and very late. She had been held up at the Customs, she told Peter, who left the side of an official in white uniform and came up to her side, lifting a white Hawkes topi as he did so. “And I had to say goodbye to the Kemps, and the Forsythes, and Nora Lane, and it all took so much longer than I thought it would. And oh, I don’t think I have been so hot in my life—Look! Joan displayed a coal black handkerchief.

“Where are the Kemps, and the Forsythes and Mrs. Lane?” Peter looked over Joan’s head down the platform and paid no attention to her last remark. “Good God, I thought you were going to miss the train.”

“Well, I did rather, too, but at the last it all got over quicker than I thought it would. He took my ticket for me, here it is.” Joan held it out.

“I’ll look after it for you.” Peter put it in his pocket. “Have you got everything with you that you want in the carriage?” he asked.

“Yes, I think I have; my holdall and a suitcase, and another hat to wear when the sun goes down, that is what Mrs. Kemp told me.”

“Yes, all right; but where are the Kemps?” Peter was still staring down the platform.

“Why, they’re going the other way, you know there is another railway to Delhi, at least they said there was.”

“Are the Forsythes and Mrs. Lane going that way, too?” Peter’s voice was rather sharp.

“Yes, they are.” Joan flushed painfully. For some reason—oh, what could it be? he was angry that she was alone.

Peter Heriot turned round and walked back to the man in white uniform. “Are you perfectly certain that there’s absolutely nothing else?” he said urgently.

“Absolutely nothing, Sir.” The man in white uniform had a nice face—he looked like an old soldier. “As a matter of fact it’s only just this minute that this coupe here has fallen vacant,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for that, you and your young lady would have had to wait for the next train, and that won’t fetch up anywhere near Karnmore, nor Palghai neither. But you’ll find it quite comfortable, Sir, a bit cramped like, but you’re sure to have it to yourselves.”

Peter Heriot could have laughed out loud. “Can’t you put on another carriage?” he said. He had to ask it, for her sake.

“Not just for you two, Sir, I’m afraid. That’s why I asked you if you might be by any chance expecting friends.”

“Oh! Well, then we shall have to put up with the cramp, shan’t we?” Peter Heriot nodded pleasantly, and walked back to Joan. “It’s nearly time to start,” he said. “Get in. Here, put the memsahib’s things in here; he spoke to Cox’s Agent, who stood with a couple of suitcases beside him, waiting to be told what to do.

“There are somebody’s things in there already,” Joan timidly.

“Yes, I know there are.” Peter Heriot spoke shortly his eyes on the clock. There was still another five minutes. “Get in, Joan,” he said.

So Joan got in. But her heart swelled: this was a new Peter, distant and dreadful. She had somehow terribly offended him: she sat down and tried not to choke. If a man did get in, she could perhaps get out again before it was time to go to bed, because you had to go to bed in trains—Mrs. Kemp had told her. But she would not worry him about it.

“Thank you very much, Sir,” the nice station master was touching his peaked cap as the sound of a whistle shrilled along the train. There was the flick of a green flag and Peter Heriot took hold of the brass rail, and swung himself slowly on to the footboard. He held the door of the compartment half open and stood there until the train had drawn out clear of the platform, and then he stepped slowly in, shut the door behind him, and held out his arms. . . .

Chapter XVI

Night comes down swiftly in the East. No sooner has the sun sunk in a flaming glory, then everything settles in to rest. There is no gradual coming in of night, it drops, a dark enveloping shroud, over trees and hills and water, all in the space of about half an hour. So by six o’clock the Punjab Mail that had left Bombay in the blare of a noonday sun was tearing along under a dark inverted bowl of blue stabbed with stars. They had travelled a long way since they left the humming terminus; first through the outskirts of Bombay, rivalling in squalor the wretched dinginess of the surroundings of Liverpool Street; then through green watered country, creeks on which queer lopsided boats sailed; and little patches of vivid green which Peter pointed out to Joan as rice: then a long gradual ascent to the foot of the Ghauts. And there Nazir Ali appeared outside the carriage and told them with a look of adoring proprietorship that tiffin was ready.

“Where?” Joan had smoothed out the smutty look that she had had when she had arrived at the station, and with a good deal of hunting in suitcases had managed to abstract a clean cotton frock, with which she vanished into the little bathroom, giving Peter the sweetest of shy looks as she did so.

But he saw her go: “I say, don’t wash in the basin,” he said, “have mine,” and he reached up and took a leather covered bowl from the rack. “It’s not safe in this filthy country,” he said, and unfastened it.

“Have you washed in it?” asked Joan watching the strong hand busy with the straps.

“Loads of times . . . why, do you mind?”

“Mind!” Joan’s fugitive smile was a caress in itself. She caught it to her heart and vanished.

But left alone Peter Heriot dropped his head in his hands and drew a breath perilously like a sob. This was a stiff bit of road that lay in front of him. Fate had struck him on a gridiron with a vengeance. However, now it was lunch time—something to do, which, when your heart is beating like an automatic riveter, is a mercy, and he stepped out on to the platform and helped Joan out after him, gripping her little round elbow.

“You stay here, Nazir Ali, and look after the kit,” he said. “And look here, if they come to check the tickets, here they are.” Heriot took out his leather letter case.

“Attcha Sahib!” Nazir Ali took the case with a profound salaam, and watched the two figures, one so small, the other so tall, wend their way along the blazing platform to the dining car that lay at the back of the train.

“I call it fun, don’t you?” The novelty of it all had laid the Terror again in Joan’s spirit, and she smiled across the table.

“Yes, rather tremendous fun!” Peter reached up and put his white Hawkes topi in the rack. He picked up the menu: “What will you drink?” he asked.

“Water, please.”

“No, you won’t, not in this country. Anything else but that . . . Whisky and soda?”

“Oh, no!” Joan laughed deprecatingly.

“You won’t say it like that in a couple of years time! No, seriously, you mustn’t have water, anything else but that.”

“All right then, a lime squash,” she said.

And the lunch over, the train stopped at the station at the top of the Ghauts, and they went back to their compartment and Nazir Ali rose up quietly from the floor and stepped out on to the sun-flooded platform and said a quiet word to Major Heriot, who glanced at the man in white uniform standing by the carriage door, and then at Joan and told her to get in out of the sun.

“What’s the matter?” he said, and frowned under the pith helmet.

“I’m very sorry, Sir, that I must excess you on one of the tickets,” said the Eurasian guard. “You are travelling first class and one of the tickets is for second class.”

“Oh, I see.” Major Heriot moved a little further away from the door. “Excess it as far as Karnmore, will you please,” he said, and he put his hand into his breast pocket.

“What is the matter, do we have to pay as we go along?” said Joan anxiously. She had seen the roll of notes pass hands, and she knew that each one was probably for ten rupees. And she had so little money left: the tips on board had been very heavy.

“No, it’s all right, there has been a mistake about my ticket,” said Peter, lying quickly. And yet, as he thought afterwards, had it been a lie? Was she not his? every atom of her? What is the body after all when the spirit is yours ?”No, it’s quite all right,” he said. But his heart burned within him. Oh to get the swine round the neck and beat his brains out for his parsimony! Second class, when she was coming to his arms! . . .

“You don’t look very well,” said Joan timidly. They were on their way again, the little affair of the ticket settled—Nazir Ali safely installed in the servants’ compartment next door. It was a good deal cooler, the damp heat of Bombay had given place to a dry crispness.

“I’m perfectly all right.” Peter Heriot was wiping his forehead with a gay silk handkerchief, and he put it away again. “Now, this is the time that all sensible people go to sleep,” he said, “and I’m going to tuck you up in your berth, and let down mine, and then we’ll snooze until tea time.”

“Oh, what a waste of time,” Joan’s lower lip quivered.

No, it’s not really. You’ll be dead tired by to-morrow, you have no conception what travelling on and on in this country means. Now, do what you’re told.” Peter Heriot was busying himself with his holdall; he dragged out a couple of pillows and settled them on the wide leather seat. “Now,” he said.

Joan lay down. “For so long I shan’t see you,” she said, and her lip trembled again.

“Only an hour and a half, and I’ll hang my hand down over the edge so that you know I’m there!” He suddenly knelt down on the floor, and brought his face close to hers. “For my sake, Beloved,” he said, “try to sleep.”

“All right, I will.” Joan turned her face into the pillow. Then she lifted it again: “Peter, isn’t it rather funny our travelling alone like this?” she asked.

“Well, it isn’t what people at home would approve of,” he said, and he held one small hand against his heart. “But of course out here things are rather different. And in our case if we hadn’t done this, one of us would have to have been left behind. I couldn’t have been or I should have been court martialled for over-staying my leave, and I couldn’t possibly have left you in Bombay alone, so you see there was nothing else to be done.”

“Oh, I see.” Joan pondered. “I’m glad it had to be like this,” she said.

“Yes . . . well, for some things I am, too,” said Major Heriot, but he got up from his knees. “Now, sleep!” he said, “until I tell you that you may wake up.”

So Joan turned her face from the window and closed her eyes obediently. But Peter Heriot, as he climbed up to the top berth, first letting it down very carefully for fear any dust might fall on Joan, lay and stared up at the Lindcrusta ceiling with a look of haggard despair in his eyes. And then he looked over the edge of the leather seat, and met Joan’s eyes, as he knew he would, round and beseeching.

“You never hung your hand over,” she said, and her lip trembled.

“No, well, I thought it might keep you awake,” said Peter Heriot, and he settled his soft collar with a hand that was not quite steady, and slid down on to the floor beside her. “Tea! See old Nazir Ali with it? Up you get! you’ll be glad of it.”

So they had tea, sitting side by side on the lower berth and then Peter pushed the tray under the seat, and got out his pipe, and filled it slowly, trying not see how Joan was watching him like a cat watches a mouse—wasn’t he going to kiss her at all? Her heart throbbed out the question despairingly. And Joan sat, her hands gripped damply in her lap, wondering if this could be the same man that she had known on the Nerona with the stern hard profile seen faintly against the grey square of the window.

Then came dinner, in the brightly lighted dining car, everyone in ordinary hats and the men in dark suits; Peter had also changed, emerging from the little bathroom spick and span in a grey flannel suit that Joan loved—he had worn it on board. And she slipped in and put on a silk coat and skirt, tussore, with a soft blouse, open at the neck, and a little felt hat that came down low over her eyes. The lady like a horse watched them from a distant table, and in the intervals of trying to persuade the courteous dining-car manager to let her have most of the courses at half the scheduled price, she made remarks in an undertone to her neighbour, not the other nice missionary who had gone to Poona, but a woman as jaundiced as herself who was going to be matron at a school in a hill station.

“I can say without any hesitation that I have never seen more flagrant behaviour on any voyage that I have made,” said the lady like a horse. “And when I say that I say a good deal.”

And the other lady nodded and gloated, and made a mental note of Joan’s face in case she ever met her again. For of course it would be a useful thing to know about, a journey of twenty-four hours in a coupe with a man who had made systematic love to you for the whole of a voyage. . . .

Then dinner was over, and Peter sat down with his brown hand curled round the little glass of liqueur brandy, and stared at the glowing liquid; as the train gave a long warning scream, he drank it off slowly, and got up; “Come along,” he said. Nazir Ali met them at the door of the carriage and salaamed profoundly, and Peter stood outside and finished his cigarette. “Bring chota hazri at Walrai,” he said, “if we’re punctual, Nazir Ali.” And Joan got in and looked round the little compartment, it was just like a cabin, she thought, the two berths arranged so neatly, with the blankets folded over at the foot. Then the big bell clanged, and Peter Heriot raised his brown hand to his forehead, returning his servant’s salute, and pitched his still smouldering cigarette on to the permanent way, and swung himself slowly into the carriage, shutting the door behind him with a shove of his straight back. “Off,” he said, quietly.

Joan was down on the floor, grovelling in her suitcase. “Do I undress?” she said, and she flushed up to the roots of her short hair.

“Well, no, not entirely,” said Peter Heriot, and he looked over her head up on to the rack above his berth, in which Nazir Ali had carefully propped a bottle of soda water and a glass. “Put on a dressing-gown or something like that. And if you don’t mind I’ll shed a collar—no hurry—just whenever you’ve finished. . . .”

As Joan moved quietly about the little bathroom, so funny, much bigger than one on an English train, she tried not to see the things that belonged to him. The hair-brushes with their ivory backs, the safety razor with its funny flannelly case, very old, the strop, hooked up by its little cord loop to a jutting out bit of the pipe of the shower bath. Those were the things that tore her asunder to see—the little intimacies of life in which she had no share. Joan suddenly held her throat and leant against the tiled wall. It was licking its lips at her, the Terror. “Can’t you be content to know the name of the shaving soap that your husband uses?” she could almost hear the words as if they had been said aloud.

“Well, you’ve been very quick.” Peter tried not to see how white Joan was as she came out into the compartment again. In her pale blue crepe kimono, and bare feet thrust into heedless slippers, she did not nearly reach his shoulder. “You settle in and I’ll put the shade thing over the light,” he said, “then I won’t disturb you again.” Joan suddenly felt round her mouth with a funny stiff tongue. That was what it was then, he was tired of her. He resented this enforced intimacy, and he was disgusted with her because she did not feel the awkwardness of it more; that was why he did not take any notice of her, any loving notice, that was. Of course, he would always be courteous whatever he felt.

“Yes, all right.” Joan stood looking up like a child “Good night, Peter,” she said.

“Good night.” Peter Heriot closed his eyes suddenly as the blood rushed in a drumming flood to his head and back again. “Good night, sleep well,” and he took the little face between his hands, bent it down a little and kissed the white parting.

“Not any more kiss than that?” Joan’s soft mouth was working uncontrollably, as she lifted her face to his.

“No, not now, darling.” Peter Heriot thrust his hands suddenly into his pockets. Brutal, senseless words, when he could have swept her to his heart and never let her go. “No, I want you to go to sleep, and you won’t if I kiss you; don’t you remember on board how you used to tell me that it kept you awake?”

“Yes, but . . .” Joan gripped her hands together. No, it was not for her to remind him that this was almost the last time that he would be able to kiss her. She gathered the kimono round her ankles, and stooped her head to climb on to the wide seat.

Peter Heriot watched her with his soul in his eyes. Such a little cropped head with the hair tumbling over the small ears. A brief flash of white feet as she dropped her heelless slippers on the floor behind her.

Left alone, Joan rolled over on to her side and dragged the sheet over her face. This was misery beyond anything that she had ever imagined, because now the torment to come would be trebly enhanced by the thought of the barrenness of the parting. He had already begun to think less of her! his real life was beginning now, in which she had no part. On the ship it was different, there he had had nothing to do . . . now he was a man with a career and a profession and they had already begun to grip him again. And she . . . she had to go and begin a new life. Peter Heriot came very quietly out of the bathroom, closing the door very carefully behind him. He tiptoed about, stooping down beside the suitcase, and Joan in the darkness of the lower berth watched him, He thought she was asleep, asleep, when her very soul was praying, supplicating that he would take her in his arms. . . . But Peter Heriot knew that the breaking point was not very far off with him, so he did not even glance into the darkness of the lower berth, and Joan soon felt the gentle yielding of the leather seat as he put a careful foot on it and hoisted himself on to his own bunk. And then after a little soft creaking there was silence, only the spurt of a match and the fragrant stealing of the smell of tobacco showed that he was smoking.

One of the wooden shutters of the windows had fallen a little, and above it Joan lay and watched the landscape as they fled by it. It was a starlight night, thousands of stars that really twinkled, hung in a sky of darkest blue. Every now and then the sky line would be broken by a desolate peak of hill that seemed to stand alone in a desert of flat country. Joan with damp hands, and heart beating all over, watched, lying with eyes tightly shut, knowing that it was coming, the climax of horror. And then there it was, sprawled all over her throbbing consciousness: “Where will you be this time to-morrow?” “No, No! No!” Without knowing that she did it she struggled up on to her knees. “No, No.” She tried to whisper it quietly, as if she was reasoning with somebody. Nobody could expect her to do that—“You see I love someone else,” she whispered that too, very low. But the Terror, knowing that he held the field, enjoyed a little rapier play. “Ah, but you see, unfortunately, that has nothing to do with it. You are the lawful wife of somebody else.” And now Joan was crouching with her hands over her ears. “Yes, but you see I don’t love him”—her teeth were beginning to chatter. “Nothing to do with it at all”: the Terror flung away his rapier, it was waste of energy when he had her so completely in his power. “You belong legally to another man and he will see that you remember it.” And then the train slowed up with grinding of brakes and a shriek of a warning whistle, and they began to crawl slowly over a huge suspension bridge; and as they crawled Joan still knelt and her brain repeated the same words over and over again, stupidly: “You see nobody could expect me to bear that, and so when we get to the other side I will say it, and God will understand why I did.”

And so, a little later, Peter Heriot, flung on his face, heavily asleep after hours of agonized wakefulness, felt Joan touch him and waked instantly.

“Yes, what is it?” he said, and sat up.

“I want to say something to you.” Joan’s cropped head was just on the level of his eyes; almost without knowing he did it, he put out his hand and laid it on her hair.

“Yes, well, what is it?” He kicked himself clear of the blanket and swung his feet over the edge. “Don’t stand there, you’ll get cold. I’ll come down. Gad, no wonder it’s cold, the shutter’s half down;” he dragged it up quickly.

“I’d rather stand,” said Joan, and wondered whose voice it was.

Peter Heriot steadied himself with a lean hand on the upper berth, as the train lurched round a curve. “Well, what is it you have to say?” he said, and Joan could see even through the shrouded light the arresting blue of his eyes. They were a sort of steely blue as if he were fortifying himself with some inward strength. And as a matter of fact he was, because he suddenly knew what Joan was going to say, and he knew that alone his strength would not be sufficient.

“I have suddenly come to the conclusion that I can’t go back to my husband,” she said, and there was an odd formality in her voice. “I don’t love him, you see, and so I know that it would kill me. So, I want, I want . . .” her voice tailed off suddenly.

“Yes?” Peter Heriot was looking at her closely.

Joan gripped her hands together. “I want you to . . .” she stopped and brushed the hair out of her eyes. “It’s more hard than I thought it would be,” she said, in a voice faintly surprised, like a child’s.

“Well, come into my arms and say it,” said Peter Heriot, and he sat down on the lower berth, and lifted her on to his knee.

“When I feel you, I have the most awful feeling as if my heart was going to break,” said Joan, and she suddenly flung her hands over her mouth to stop a cry.

Peter Heriot pressed her head back into his shoulder with a hand that shook. “Don’t,” he said; “tell me what you want to say. I want to hear it.”

“I want you to . . . I want you to . . .” Joan suddenly broke into the most awful sobs that came strangling up from the depths of her. “Don’t you see I must belong to you altogether,” she cried. “And there isn’t any other way. Then you could take me away with you, hide me somewhere—I don’t care where it would be. Peter, I can’t go back, I tell you I can’t go back. Don’t make me—don’t make me. . .” Joan suddenly drew back from him and stared up into his face with eyes devastated with horror. “You’re going to refuse,” she said.

“And if I am, it’s because you have no conception how I love you,” said Peter Heriot, and he put his hand over his mouth so that she should not see how it was trembling.

“Joan, don’t,” he said, as she tried to wrench herself out of his arms, “besides, you can’t, so it’s quite useless.”

“I’m degraded . . . hideously . . . for ever . . . let me go,” she said, and fought to be free.

There was a gleam of a laugh in Peter Heriot’s tortured eyes, as he held her pinioned.

“There is no degradation in love,” he said; “besides, you have done nothing to degrade yourself. You have only offered yourself to a man who is not fit to touch you in any event. Joan . . . don’t . . . you have done nothing . . . nothing that doesn’t make you doubly dear to me. Stop crying. . . . Beloved, listen to me,” he pleaded. “Don’t you know that it has been torture—hell—to me to lie here all night knowing that you were so near? And that if I didn’t love you in a way of which you have no conception it wouldn’t have been possible. It is just because I do love you like that that it is. You see, to me you are just that—the girl whose honour is to me more sacred than my own life.”

“Not now—not now!” Joan was crying tumultuously.

“Yes, more than ever now”; one slow tear was making its way out of the dark blue eyes. “Just because I know how much you really do love me. You really do love me. And Joan, if you do love me, try to stop crying: it kills me to hear you.” Heriot’s face showed grey under the dim shrouded light.

Joan caught hold of her throat. “I will, I will;” she turned her tear-soaked face into the brown neck.

“And now, while we’re talking I want to say this.” Peter Heriot’s voice came rather muffled as he buried his mouth m the cropped hair. “I have a feeling that in God’s good time we are to meet again. I don’t know how, or when, but I feel that we shall. And I want you to remember that, when things seem too hard for you, and I shall try to do it too. And if at any time you want any money you know how to get it. And you will . . .” And then it all came over Peter Heriot; the despair, the hideousness of it, the hideousness of what lay immediately before her, and he let her slide gently from his knee on to the berth on which they sat, and dropped his head into the pillow that she had lately left, and gave way to the awful difficult tears of a man, tears that always seem as if they were being dragged up from the very depths of despair. And the sight of that dear head bowed did more for Joan than anything else could have done, and all that was maternal in her surged up to the surface, and she caught it to her breast.

“I shall be all right; “ it came out with a rush in a frantic longing to comfort. “I know I shall, I feel it here. Peter . . . dearest, most precious, don’t. It is my fault, it is all my fault. I have no right to say what I did—it was unspeakable, hideous of me. I love you . . . Oh, I do love you . . . and we shall meet again, I feel we shall, too, somehow. Peter! be happy!”

Peter Heriot lifted a haggard face. “Yes, all right,” he said, and he brushed a trembling hand across his eyes.

“Put your dearest head on my heart, Joan, and try to go to sleep. Then I can remember it afterwards, how you trusted me enough to do that . . .”

Joan laid her cropped head on the white shirt, and flung one hand across him, and lay with her eyes obediently shut, as a mother would do to a child that she wanted to pacify. Peter Heriot lay, one foot kicked out and resting on the suitcase, thinking with a sort of dumb resentful despair that perhaps this was going to be accounted to him for a certain amount of righteousness. And yet, why should it be? It was surely only a negative virtue to behave decently when you had an opportunity to do otherwise.

Then rather later, when the steely twinkling stars were beginning to lose their steeliness in a flood of amber light, Major Heriot stood on a chill deserted platform, Nazir Ali, his funny little bent figure heavily muffled in a chuddah, feverishly counting the different pieces of luggage. But the blue eyes that were watching the red tail-light swiftly vanishing round a curve were the eyes of a man stricken to his soul. And the torpid refreshment room attendant roused himself with unusual alacrity to fetch the brandy and soda that the tall lean sahib with the scarf round his neck asked for in a voice of such unusual ferocity. An unusual request from a sahib at five o’clock in the morning, he thought.

And in the dim compartment, Joan stood still for a minute, and then fell stumbling on to her knees.

Chapter XVII

Bazaar ‘gup’ always filters through to the civil community of an Indian station sooner or later, and so about a month after Mr. Mohammed Khan had returned to Karnmore it became common property that he had married an English wife, and that she was going to follow him out to India in the autumn. But the news only seriously affected two people. One was the Commissioner of Karnmore, who, being the senior official in the station, felt that everything that concerned the welfare of it was his business, and the other was the Civil surgeon who had once had to attend the English wife of a Mohammedan who had had her first baby in purdah. He would never have been called in had the usual processes of putting a charcoal brazier under the bed and the deafening beating of tom toms outside the door been quickly effectual, but in this case the girl had been possessed of a very tough constitution and she fought for her life.

So the Civil surgeon heard with a good deal of distaste that Mr. Mohammed Khan was expecting out an English wife, and he made an opportunity to approach the Commissioner on the subject—they had been playing a hard single of tennis together at the Club.

“Yes, I know.” The Commissioner was watching the gassy bubbles of the soda in his glass wriggling upwards. “Yes, fill it up, ‘boy’—yes, I know, and feel very much as you do about it. But in this case it may not be so bad because this Mohammed Khan has been Home—to Cambridge, I believe. And therefore he must have absorbed a certain amount of English ideas. He’s not a pukka Mohammedan in his tastes, I mean to say he affects European habits and style of dressing.”

“Yes, but of course he is a Mohammedan by faith, Sir.”

“Yes, I know, but still, a great many Mohammedans are very enlightened. Although, mind you, I don’t want to stand up for the man. To begin with he’s damned seditious I happen to know that very well.”

“But his faith allows him more than one wife, Sir.” The doctor was engaged to a girl at home, and he had ideals.

The Commissioner shrugged his shoulders: “Yes, I know, but Mr. Mohammed Khan has strivings and he is getting together a very excellent practice here. He would not therefore be likely to obtrude before an English community any particular tenet of his religion that would prejudice them against him. If he has other wives, he won’t keep them here.”

So two people awaited Joan’s arrival in the little up country station of Karnmore with misgiving, the others either did not know, or if they did know they did not care. Life in an Indian up country station is very much like life in one large good-humoured family, interests are common to all. The common meeting ground is the Club, where over the ‘peg’ or the short drink, the most intimate details of everybody else’s business is discussed, sometimes ill-naturedly, but generally with the most broad-minded good humour. For you are all members of one community, and your eyes are all on the same goal, Home, with enough to retire on! But there is no room for an alien—you have got to be of the pack, or the pack will have none of you.

But Joan did not know this, and as she stood in the full glare of the midday sun on the platform of Karnmore, for there is no place that can dazzle like an Indian railway station at midday, she did not feel the stupefaction of misery that she expected to. To begin with her emotions were dulled, you cannot live at fever heat for three weeks without feeling it. And also when you have a tooth out you do not really begin to feel the pain of the cavity until some time afterwards. Also, the sight of Mr. Mohammed Khan was like the sight of something from another world; he did not come in to the focus of life as she now knew it, he was like a speck of dust on the lens of a field glass, something that must be hurriedly brushed off so that you could really see properly. . . .

But Mr. Mohammed Khan did not feel in the least like a speck of dust on the lens of a field glass, he felt that he was the most important figure in a very affecting picture, and he hoped that Joan would at last realise it. “My little Rose of Sharon,” he said, and stooped and kissed her.

“And have you had a pleasant journey?” Mr. Mohammed Khan looked up a little uneasily at the door of the first class carriage outside which they stood. An error, and a very expensive one, unless Joan had had the necessary foresight to barricade herself in the bathroom when the tickets were checked. However, Mr. Mohammed Khan felt magnanimous at getting back his wife. He could afford to be generous, and would therefore, for the moment, say nothing about it.

“Oh, yes, very, thank you,” said Joan still vaguely. “I have some things in the van, and my holdall is still in the carriage.”

“I will see that they are obtained.” Mr. Mohammed Khan jerked his chin at a coolie, who was staring vacantly. He did not care for handling the baggage of Indians, although he was an Indian himself. “Fetch the things from the van,” he jabbered in Hindustani as he shifted his cheroot from one corner of his mouth to the other; “we will come outside and wait in the gharry, Joan. It will be cooler than this.”

Joan’s eyes were hot and wavering as the fierce sun beat down on them. She had never imagined such sun, it seemed almost to shine upwards from the ground. And there was such a noise. They were passing the third class waiting-room enclosure. Little groups of natives sat together, all talking. Children climbed in and out of their mother’s arms and lay kicking, stark naked on the ground, fat little shining brown bodies, delicious to look at, thought Joan. Hungry emaciated pariah dogs prowled round each group, famine eyed, and in many cases horribly diseased. Strange wild looking men with flaming chuddahs and henna dyed beards sat hunched up with their arms round their knees. And all had luggage beside them; little gaily painted steel trunks; huge bundles from which knobby excrescences bulged; kerosine oil tins full of odd articles like saucepans and palm leaf fans.

“Oh, do let us stop and look!” Joan’s eyes shone excitedly. This really was the East. But Mr. Mohammed Khan swept her on.

“It is not seemly to stop and stare at such people,” he said. “They are not of our class.”

“No, I know they aren’t, but they are so awfully picturesque,” said Joan. But Mr. Mohammed Khan was not of the same opinion, so he proceeded resolutely ahead. And they came to the barrier, where a Eurasian ticket collector stood yawning, his peaked cap pushed to the back of his head. But as he was busily occupied in talking to a friend he only jerked his head as Joan and her husband passed through, and did not even put out his hand for the ticket which Joan held damply in her hand. For when earlier in that day she had at last gone blindly into the bathroom feeling that perhaps if she put her face in cold water it would lessen the feeling of a steel band round her temples, she had found it there, on the shelf of the looking glass, done up in a little packet, with the excess ticket check with it, and also two hundred rupee notes, and two rupees twelve annas in silver. With it a little pencilled note: “In case you are ever short of cash, darling. And have a good breakfast and don’t forget to tip the ‘boy.’ And don’t be hard on me for not telling you about the ticket, I couldn’t, because I knew you would try to pay me back. And now, God bless you and keep you for ever.” So Joan had taken the little packet and put it in her soft leather bag, and had only kept out the ticket and the excess check.

“This is our gharry.” Mr. Mohammed Khan made a self-satisfied gesture of his hand, and Joan followed it with her eyes. How very odd; evidently an Indian gharry was different from anything that you had at home. This was like nothing so much as an old sedan chair, only much bigger, and instead of people holding the shafts, they were stuck on to wheels with a man on the box, and a very thin horse. And the man on the box had on a very old khaki puggaree, and a coat like a Tommy’s coat with brass buttons. But the horse!

“Oh, does it have enough to eat?” Joan was staring at it with pitiful eyes.

“Does what have enough to eat?” Mr. Mohammed Khan made a clacking noise of intensest irritation with his tongue.

“The horse.”

“I am sure I don’t know.” Mr. Mohammed Khan was venting his irritation on one of the station coolies who was hoisting the luggage on to the roof of the gharry, by poking him with his stick.

“But if it is ours oughtn’t we to find out?” Joan looked at her husband doubtfully. He looked so funny in a topi, not a bit the same as he had done at home. And if he belonged to the country did he need to wear a topi? None of the natives on board had done so. But the horse; it was lolling its tongue out. “I believe it is thirsty,” she exclaimed. “Let us wait and let it have a drink before we start.”

“Get in.” It burst from Mr. Khan in a frenzy. So much about the horse, and so few words of welcome, for him, the husband! Joan had better mind what she was about; this was not in England with its lax morality and the free and easy equality of the sexes. Here he was master, of the body as well as of the soul, and Joan was going to be made remember it, too, if she seemed in danger of forgetting it. But here his anger cooled a little. She looked very sweet, his little wife, such a small foot, and a gently curved little breast. And she was new to it all—she would soon get accustomed to the sight of overdriven tortured horses—also to the idea that he was master, if he began the way that he meant to go on.

Karnmore shared in common with most up-country Indian stations the look of having been built by mistake. Houses stood about anyhow, in big compounds. There was no scheme of roads with houses on either side of them, they just appeared. All were one storied and nearly all colour-washed the same colour, a deep creamy yellow. Joan looked out of the side of the gharry with much interest.

“We are now passing through the Civil Lines,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan with the air of the showman. “Beyond are the cantonments. Karnmore now possesses two regiments, an Indian and an English. Both are entirely unnecessary, but owing to the partiality of the British Government for squandering, they are maintained here at a heavy cost.”

“But would it be all right without them if there was a rising, then?” asked Joan. Her school days were not so very far behind her, and she remembered the Indian Mutiny, with its history of hideous treachery and undying gallantry.

“A people who are justly ruled do not rise,” said Mr Mohammed Khan succinctly.

“Don’t they ever?” asked Joan, crinkling her brows and trying to remember.

“Never,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, settling it once and for all.

“Oh!” but although not convinced Joan did not carry on the discussion. Something told her suddenly that they would never agree on this point. Besides, the gharry swayed a little like a railway carriage, and it had been like that before when a khaki topi bag had swung gently out from the wall and the light had come out very faintly from under the green shade.

“You are not feeling well?” Mr. Khan turned abruptly as Joan leant quietly back against the cushions.

“Quite well.” But Joan spoke stupidly. What was it that made her feel as if she was not there at all, as if all this was only a dream, unreal?

“Well, sit up and look about you,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, his dark, rather polished-looking face alert. “We are now approaching your future home; just one more turning, and we shall be there.”

Joan leaned forward. They had now left the white road along which they had been crawling, for mercifully the coachman knew the capacity of the horse, and left it at that, and were traversing a sort of cart track. It cut across a bit of waste land, part of which was evidently used as a dumping ground, for it was strewn with odd things like broken galvanised iron tubs, and battered kerosine oil tins; Joan wondered vaguely at the number of kerosine oil tins she had seen already, for she had yet to learn that they are a thing much beloved by the native, and that he often lives in a house built entirely of them.

“There is the gate of our house;” Mr. Mohammed Khan pointed it out excitedly.

Joan followed the direction of his wavering finger. Across the bit of land, right in the comer, she saw a couple of bright blue gateposts. Beyond, on the other side of posts were trees, close together, green and shadowy.

“Oh, I am so glad there are trees,” she exclaimed. “It all seems so fearfully, fearfully dazzling, so far.”

Mr. Mohammed Khan was pleased, and justified, too, because only the morning before, he had had words with the Civil surgeon whom he had met out for his morning ride. He had waved his riding whip in the direction of Mr. Mohammed Khan’s house, and had said objectionable words about the trees: “Better have them thinned a bit before your wife arrives, Khan. It’s not healthy in this country to be so shut in.” And Mr. Khan had frowned and had said stiffly that he preferred the trees, and that he was sure his wife would too, and the Civil surgeon had galloped away impatiently. And now, you see, he had been right, because Joan did prefer them. So he entered the gate in the highest good humour and he moved a little closer to Joan in the gharry like a coffin set up on end: “ My little wife returns to the arms of her husband,” he said.

But Joan did not hear: it was odd, she thought stupidly, how everything sounded as if it belonged to another world and was being said across a wide chasm. Besides, they had trundled through the blue gateposts, and were bowling up a rather narrow drive.

The first thing that struck her was its blueness. It was bluer than even the gateposts. Blue all over, picked out with white. It was a single storied bungalow, with a long dark verandah running the whole length of the front. The verandah was very dark, it could not help being so, as it was so completely closed in with trees. Four pillars held up the thatched roof, each bluer than the other. And the verandah was so dark that coming in from the glare of the sun you could not see if any rooms led off it. They did, as Joan found out later, but at present she could see nothing but a long black oblong.

“Welcome home, my little wife,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, B.A., LL.B. The blue gatepost bore this inspiring inscription in large white letters, but to Mr. Khan s disappointment, Joan had not noticed it. He handed her out with empressement.

They walked up the little flight of steps together, Mr. Khan’s india-rubber-glove hand holding hers. The whole house was absolutely silent. Even their footsteps made no sound on the coarse grass matting, over which Joan tripped her foot in a big rent in it.

“Carefully! Where is the butler?” Mr. Khan spoke with exasperation. “Koi hai!” it went rolling and echoing through the house.

“Hai, sahib!” an incredibly dirty native servant, puggaree hanging in a long wisp down his back, precipitated himself through one of the dim doorways. “Salaam!” he saluted Joan.

“You son of a pig!” Mr. Khan was evidently put out: he pointed with his stick towards the gharry. “Bring it all in,” he commanded.

But the butler was not going to do that. He waited until Joan and Mr. Khan had gone inside and then clapped his hands quietly. Another figure, dirtier than his own, appeared round a corner.

The butler spat. “Bring in the baggage,” he said in the vernacular, “and be quick about it.”

The sweeper, most menial of all servants in an Indian household, stooped to shoulder the trunks littered about the gravel at the foot of the steps. With the help of the coachman they were borne laboriously into the echoing bedroom where Joan was standing, staring as they came in. It was a very large, almost unfurnished room. In the middle stood two wooden beds close together. On the poles that reared their gaunt lengths from each corner hung a very large mosquito curtain. It was not quite clean and there were one or two holes in it, but it was large enough to cover both beds at once. The walls were whitewashed and very lofty, and at the top were two ventilators. A funny flat animal ran across one of them as Joan stared.

“Oh, whatever is it?” she exclaimed.

Mr. Khan laughed indulgently as he looked up and caught the flick of the little tail. “Only a lizard, my darling,” he said.

“They don’t bite, do they?” asked Joan timidly.

“No, they do not,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, and he moved suddenly nearer to Joan. The servants had gone, and she had taken off her hat, and her small face looked very fresh and young under the short curly hair.

“Oh, I’m glad.” But Joan had turned and was continuing her scrutiny of the room. Against one wall stood a very lean cupboard lurching out a little into the room. Beyond it was a curtained doorway. The curtain was not on rings; it hung on a string and sagged. She pulled it aside and walked through the doorway. Here was another smaller room with a dressing-table in it. And beyond yet another room, rather an odd one with a stone floor, part of which was intersected by a tiny division of cement and on the stone floor stood a galvanized iron tub, and beside it was a huge earthenware basin of water. “Oh, what a lovely thing!” Joan was staring at it with intensest admiration. It was like the big bowls with brown insides that you kept bread in at home, only nicer.

“To what do you refer?” Mohammed Khan had joined her. He liked to be close to her, his little wife.

“That tiling.” Joan pointed out the gurrah.

“Why, that is only a water gurrah!” Mr. Khan laughed contemptuously. “And now we will go and have a little breakfast,” he said, and he encircled her waist with his arm.

“Breakfast!” Joan closed her eyes suddenly. But she had had it . . . in another life.

“Yes, it is fully time.” Mr. Khan glanced at the gold watch on his wrist. “We will call it tiffin as it is now two o’clock,” he said.

The dining-room led out of the bedroom, separated by a door, also with a sagging curtain. The table cloth was of some funny coarse stuff that looked like towelling, thought Joan, feeling it surreptitiously. The table napkins were quite limp, and a bluey colour. And in the middle of the table was a blue vase with a bunch of flowers in it, flowers of all different colours with their heads very squashed together. There were no ordinary table appointments, like salt cellars and pepper pots, only three glass things with ‘Cerebos’ written on them, and containing salt that stuck in the neck of it and wasn’t Cerebos at all, and pepper that also tried to stick, and some other sort of pepper, red.

The butler waited. He had put on a rather better coat, long and quite tolerably clean.

“It is a matter for much regret that I must return to the Courts,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, splashing energetically in a brass finger bowl. “But I shall return at about six. Ahmed will bring you your tea at whatever time you require

“Half-past four,” said Joan, dully.

“Very well then.” Mr. Mohammed Khan repeated the order in Hindustani. “Good-bye, my lamb,” he said, and getting up he walked up to her and began to hunt round her face with his mouth.

“Oh, no, not now,” gasped Joan, pushing him away hurriedly.

Mr. Mohammed Khan smiled meaningly. “Presently, then,” he said, and picking up his hat he ran down the steps.

*  *  *

Twilight came even earlier in the blue house shrouded in trees than it did to the outside world because it was so dreadfully dark there anyhow. So by the time Joan had had tea, brought by Ahmed in his dirty shirt, on a carved wood tray covered by a dingy tray-cloth, she had almost to grope her way round the sparsely furnished room. She had slept a little after the late breakfast, and had waked feeling less stupefied, and with the lessening of the dulling of her feeling, had begun an odd little pain in the region of her heart. So with a sort of instinct to keep this feeling at bay for as long as she could, she dressed hurriedly and started out on a tour of inspection.

Behind the bungalow a wide verandah ran the whole length of the house, like it did in front, and there was a table there, and a basin of quite thick dirty water, with bits of food sticking to the side of it, and a couple of dish cloths, also quite black. Beyond the verandah, a little way from the house, was a tiny brick shed, and as Joan saw smoke issuing from a hole in the side of it, she concluded that that must be the kitchen. Round the whole of the ground behind the house ran a row of brick sheds all joined together, and built in a square, with a space in the middle, and outside the houses native women lolled and chatted to other native women, and a couple of naked babies rolled and sprawled in the dust. She walked out on to the front verandah, after peeping under a sagging curtain that hung over a door leading out of the dining-room, opposite to hers. This must be her husband’s dressing-room, because there was a safety razor on the dressing-table, and at the sight of the safety razor Joan held her heart, and walked on. Now she was out on the verandah; it was darker than ever, and on the heavy trees that overshadowed it were gathered numbers of crows. They were all cawing, and fluttering their wings, and staring, curiously with black eyes like boot buttons at the little figure that had appeared on the verandah. They were preparing to settle in for the night, and Joan got rather to like the hoarse sounds they made, though in after life she could never hear the cawing of a rook without catching her breath and paling a little. But now it was all new to her, and for the first time she smiled, showing her little white teeth. And then she walked down into the garden: it was an odd garden, so many things in pots, and the water ran along funny little channels intersecting the beds. Where was it running from? she wondered. So she walked on further, and then suddenly she came on a well, with a long ramp of beaten earth, and two bullocks with mild eyes swaying their way down it; they stopped swishing their tails, as the leather mussack came up out of the echoing abyss with a bubbling splash. As it came up, the man at the head of the bullocks gave vent to a funny musical howl, and the water dashed and cascaded down the channel and ran away through the little gutters that had been made for it. Then the bullocks backed away up the ramp again and the whole process was repeated.

As Joan stood still there watching, a funny little wizened man like a monkey stopped grubbing in the earth, and salaamed very low in front of her.

“Oh, whoever are you?” Joan jumped at this sudden apparition.

“Ham mali hai.”5 The little shrewd eyes took Joan in with one sweeping glance. This was a real memsahib who stood in front of him, for Bunoo mali had always taken service with English people until this last attack of rheumatism that had prostrated him.

He beckoned with one claw like finger. “Come,” he said.

Joan followed. And when she came to the big tree and saw, very dimly, because it was nearly dark, the blue carpet, and when the heavenly scent rose and enveloped her, something within her seemed to break. She fell on her knees and stretched out her hands and began to cry, at first quietly, and then more loudly, crying with dreadful tearing sobs. Bunoo crouched down on his haunches and watched her: he had seen an English lady do that once before; it had been at a garden party, and she had come into a very secluded part of the compound with a sahib, and they had talked, at first quietly and then more violently, and at last she had laid her hands on his arm and seemed to plead with him, and he had pushed her angrily aside and turned away. And as he had gone, forcing the bushes aside with his hands, Bunoo had seen that he also wept as he went. “Strange!” thought the old man amusedly, wondering what it was all about. But this was something more serious, and she was crying out loud: “God, I want him,” she was saying, “I can’t, I can’t live without him. Peter, Peter.” Something within the little wrinkled old man told him that he was not meant to hear, and he got up and stepped quickly away. But when he had got just out of earshot he squatted down again. There was only one entrance to the violet bower and he would guard it. Bunoo was shrewd, and he had seen a good deal of the world, and he knew that when memsahibs fall on their knees and stretched out their hands calling another sahib’s name, it was as well that the sahib whose name it was not should not be within hearing. So when the grinding of wheels and the sliding of iron feet gave warning that Mr. Mohammed Khan was again within his own precincts, he stepped softly back again, and spoke very quietly.

“Sahibs came, memsahib,” he said.

Joan struggled up on to her feet and dragged at her handkerchief.

“Sahib calling memsahib,” said Bunoo quietly.

The evening was one long drawn out nightmare. Dinner was very much like lunch had been, horribly served, and tasting in some obscure way of kerosene oil and a dirty dish cloth. A lamp that smoked a little replaced the vase of flowers with squashed heads, and Ahmed waited, with the same mysterious clappings of hands at the back. Mr. Mohammed Khan, his day’s work well over, began to spread himself a little; not the luxurious spreading of himself of an English gentleman who has a bath, and perhaps shaves again, and emerges from his dressing-room immaculate in dinner clothes, and sits down at the table and eats with a sort of reticent enjoyment; but the spreading of himself of a man who likes to get down to his food and doesn’t care how he swallows it. So Mr. Mohammed Khan’s dark face began to shine, and he opened his red mouth wider than was necessary, and drank before his mouth was empty, and from time to time made odd choking sounds that Joan had always associated with a too full baby that has not yet learnt manners. At first she ignored them, then at last she turned and frankly stared.

“My little Rose of Sharon,” responded Mr. Mohammed Khan lusciously, thinking that she stared because she was feeling fond of him.

Joan returned her gaze to her plate: then he didn’t know that it mattered. That was a thought that took some tackling; for Joan had yet to learn that in Indian circles unless you show unmistakably that you have eaten until you can eat no more, your host takes it as a slight. So dinner came to an end, and Mr. Mohammed Khan, who had excellent teeth, and meant to keep them so, proceeded to take steps to do so—noisily. And at that Joan rose, with a sort of young dignity that looked odd on the little face under the cropped hair, and said that she was going outside.

“Do so, dearest, and I will come with you,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan affectionately, and he got up and came round the table and put his arm round her waist.

The verandah was rather dark, and round the hanging lamp a couple of huge moths with fat bodies blundered and whirred. The compound was pitchy dark, and in the distance a frog croaked monotonously. Mr. Khan sank into a wicker chair and held out his arms. Joan held the arm of the chair near which she stood. So had he held out his arms, with the white smudge of the dress-shirt showing faintly, and sometimes too she had seen the flash of white teeth, when he smiled, because he knew she was so sure to come. But she used to pretend sometimes that she wouldn’t come, and then he used to take her, fiercely, possessively, and when she used to feel that savage kiss, she knew that heaven was this—to be in the arms of a man who had got you down. Not he at your feet, but you at his; and being there, and he in his man’s strength knowing it, who swifter to lift you to his heart? But as all this sped through her mind, Mr. Mohammed Khan became tired of waiting and he got up and came towards her. “Come to my heart, little dove,” he said.

It leapt out of Joan’s mouth like the fang of a cobra: “Never,” she said.

There was a palpitating silence, then Mr. Mohammed Khan drew a long breath. “Aha!” he said quietly. For somehow, although he had not confessed it even to himself, he had been expecting this.

“Aha!” he said again with his eyes on Joan’s.

“If ever you come near me I shall kill you,” said Joan.

“What with?” enquired Mr. Mohammed Khan suavely.

“My soul,” said Joan, and terror flared all over her. “You had no right to marry me, knowing what you do about it,” she said. “You must have guessed that I didn’t know.”

“You were very glad to get me at the time,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan evilly. “And I gather that you took no steps to seek enlightenment beforehand. Besides, we have discussed that in all its bearings already; it does not affect the situation at all; any further discussion would be tedious. You are my wife, and I shall take steps to make you remember it. And in fact I am very sick of all this.”

But Joan was past caring for anything but her own immunity from the caresses of the man she loathed, and desperately she fell on her knees in front of him. “Mohammed, if I tell you that I don’t love you in that way” she gasped. “I will love you in any other way—the sort of way that will make me try to have the house nice . . . and pretty things on the table . . . and nice things to eat,” she said, remembering the meal that had just passed.

“There is only one way for a wife to love her husband,” replied Mr. Mohammed Khan with finality.

“But I tell you that I can’t do it like that,” said Joan, beginning to cry piteously. “It isn’t as if you could make that sort of feeling come . . . I would have it if I could, because it would be much happier for me. It’s awful for me to feel like this . . . a sort of creeping terror all the time . . . it’s awful, I tell you.” Joan began to wring her hands. “Mohammed, if you are kind to me I shall get fonder of you, I know I shall. Leave me alone just at first . . . and I will try, I will try. You see it’s all so new . . Joan began to cry with great gasping sobs: “It’s all so new, and I am so frightfully tired.”

“If you felt, as you so insultingly express it, a creeping terror for me,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, “why did you come out to India?”

Joan had lost her head; she was bewildered with terror and fatigue. “I didn’t feel it then,” she said.

“Aha!” Mr. Mohammed Khan came nearer, getting up out of his chair like a cat prepared for business. “So this feeling has come on since you left England, has it? Then you have met another man. Who is it?” he shot out a black hand and took Joan by the throat.

“Mohammed!” Joan stumbled backwards. She clutched at the sinewy wrist with her small hands.

“Who is it?”

Mr. Mohammed Khan was shaking Joan like a cat shakes a mouse before it finally despatches it.

“Mohammed, let me go!” Joan’s breath was coming in gasps. Was it real, this? Was it she who was being held in a damp strangling grasp with a black face close to hers? She was small, and she was a woman, and you didn’t do these things to women. But perhaps you did in India. “Mohammed”. . . she sagged a little sideways.

Mr. Mohammed Khan relaxed his grasp a little.

“Tell me his name,” he said.

“Whose name?” Joan’s face was grey, and her breath came in great labouring sobs.

“The name of the man with whom you travelled from Bombay,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan. It did not need a man of Mr. Khan’s astuteness to pick out that little bit of incriminating evidence. That the man was not still in the compartment on the arrival of the train at Karnmore meant nothing at all. No man, unless he was a hopeless fool, would have been.

“It was a man I met on board,” said Joan painfully, and she put her hand up to her throat where he had hurt her. “And he was very kind to me . . . and there was no room in the train at all except just that one compartment. So he paid extra for me to travel in it. But it isn’t like what you think it is,” ended Joan, and her head fell a little forward. It was surely very dark, and the frogs’ croak was getting louder and louder . . .

“Tell me his name.” Mr. Mohammed Khan sat down in his chair, and drew it close so that his knees touched Joan’s.

“No, I don’t want to.” Joan spoke falteringly, like a child. But although she spoke like that, her mind was beginning to clear, though it still went round and round like a mouse in one of those wire spinning cages. If she told Major Heriot’s name it might get him into trouble: people like her husband might try to make money out of it. Joan was too innocent to realise that it might prove the way to freedom. “I am not going to tell you his name,” she said.

Mr. Mohammed Khan sat back and put the tips of his fingers together. Inwardly he was relieved to hear Joan say this. For what would be the good of knowing his name? If he got, as he now suddenly felt quite sure he would, deadly sick of Joan in a couple of months, it would be perfectly simple to get rid of her. The Faith to which he belonged mercifully had not the same hysterical idea of the sanctity of marriage as the Christian Faith. But of course a refusal to reveal a name was a very serious thing, and would be made into very valuable capital.

“Tell me the name,” he repeated.

“No.” Joan gripped the arms of her chair with damp hands and wondered dully what he could do.

But it was getting late and the best of his fun was yet to come; besides, Mr. Mohammed Khan did not really believe that there had been anything irregular in the relationship between his wife and some fool of a lanky subaltern, whoever he was. He knew Englishmen; with a few exceptions they spent their silly lives walking miles with their guns, or hitting an entirely ineffectual ball through miles of spear grass. Also, he knew Joan, or thought he did. A girl who went on in the ridiculous way that she had done on her honeymoon would take some getting—and three weeks wasn’t long enough. He held out two limp hands.

“For the sake of the life that we are now to begin to live together,” he said, silkily, “I will overlook any little strayings from the path of strict integrity that you may have committed during the past three weeks.”

“But don’t you mind?” Joan’s eyes were wells of horror.

“Not in the least.” Mr. Mohammed Khan got up and came closer. “Come, sweet little flower of my heart,” he said. “You are weary and it is time to retire.”

“But what about you?” Joan had both hands at her throat.

Mr. Mohammed Khan smiled, and just raised the palms of his hands.

“But I told you that I would kill you, if you”. . . a writhing moth fell whirring on to Joan’s bare neck: she brushed it off shuddering.

“And again I enquire, what with?” said Mr. Mohammed Khan smoothly.

“My soul.” Joan’s eyes were wells of terrified supplication.

“Damn your soul, a woman hasn’t got one.” All Mr. Mohammed Khan’s Oriental brutality surged up in an overmastering tide. This pale, shrinking slip of a girl to set her puny insignificant will against his! And he had forgiven her stupid futile little flirtation. Now she should have it, have it with every tiny bit of ingenuity and refinement of torture he could devise. What would drag down her fool pride most?—behind the rather low dark forehead the keen brain worked swiftly. Ah, to be hounded to submission, chased round and round until her befogged brain ceased to act, and she fell a whimpering nothing at his triumphant feet.

He made a dash at her; and as he knew she would, she dodged and fled. Then began the cruel chase. The bungalow was all locked up at the back, and the wire doors in the bedrooms also latched, and Mr. Mohammed Khan took the precaution to fasten the dining-room door securely behind him as he went in. And as he felt more at home without his shoes—he had kept them on this evening, because he knew that Joan would resent seeing him barefooted—he kicked them off. Then he stalked like a cat into the dressing-room where he guessed Joan would have gone, because it was the furthest away. She was there, and she broke out from round the curtain with a scream and fled into the dining-room. Round and round the table they went, Mr. Mohammed Khan showing his excellent teeth in a wide grin, and Joan with labouring breath. Then back into the bedroom, round and round the horrible looming white-curtained thing like a meat-safe standing gauntly in the middle of the room, till Joan began with her failing breath to scream out with terror and agony of mind. For she knew that Mr. Khan could catch her at any moment if he liked, this was being done deliberately to torture. And then at last her girl’s strength gave out, and she tripped on the coarse matting and fell headlong, and he saw it coming and dodged back again towards her and caught her in his arms.

“Let me go,” laboured Joan, struggling with her puny strength to force away his dark face.

Mr. Mohammed Khan was also out of breath, and he took a second or two to recover it, but when he did speak he spoke reflectively. And as he spoke he felt for the little white ear, and held it gently between his very excellent teeth.

“But surely you owe me something for declining to answer an entirely simple question?” he said.

Chapter XVIII

Betty Forsythe often thought about Joan, and that with an odd feeling of disquiet. So did Mrs. Kemp. And Peter Heriot got a little greyer above the temples. There were two or three new lines round his mouth, and in the old fort that stood like a great drab sentinel with vacant eye-sockets, staring sightlessly over that barren, broken country that surrounded it, scored here with gaping ravines, thrown up there with treeless peaks of rock, he sat and tried to work, he paced up and down his long echoing room, hands behind him clenched, wondering how long it would last, this ceaseless torment of mind and spirit. For he could get no news of Joan, he had written once, and had an answer: and then in reply to his second letter had come a hurried scrawl asking him not to write again, because she could not rely on getting her letters safely. For one day, Joan, pacing about the compound, knowing that to-day would be the day on which she would hear from him, had seen the postman go into the servant’s portion of the compound, instead of coming, as usual, to the front verandah. When she called to Ahmed the butler, to ask if there was a letter for her, he had replied curtly that there was not, and he spoke insolently, as he nearly always did now. Then, later that evening, after her husband’s return from office, she had found it, quite by chance, lying on the dining-room table. And with a dry mouth she had turned it hurriedly over; would she find the seal intact? She did—the neat hard pool of scarlet, with the clear impress of the lion rampant was unbroken—but it very easily might not have been. So Joan wrote quickly to say that the writing to one another must stop, she would manage somehow to do without it. But the unbroken silence turned Major Heriot’s hair greyer, and his brother officers wondered at the sudden transformation of a man who had always been the best of good company, to a man who really said very little, and who spent most of his time sitting at a beastly typewriter. It was hardly fair, they grumbled, when there were only three of them, the least the Commanding officer could do was to be cheery, however filthy a business it might be to be stuck at the end of nowhere as they were at Wai, desolate outpost as it was, between lawlessness and civilization. But Major Heriot now held a little aloof from his two junior British officers, only seeing with his genius for detail that the lives of his men were one ceaseless round of activity from morning to night. For he knew that idleness breeds discontent, and with discontent comes inefficiency. He conferred at length daily with his Subedar, a magnificent bearded Sikh officer, and as Subedar Wazir Singh worshipped the ground he trod on the life in the Fort went on with entire placidity.

But the doctor, who was the senior of the other two officers, and who had never cared for Major Heriot, grumbled a good deal: “What’s the matter with the man?” he said irritably to his companion, a chubby boy of about twenty-five, as they stood in the sun-flooded enclosed square at the back of the mud-coloured Fort, watching a regimental team at hockey.

“Perhaps he’s keen on some girl”, replied the boy reverently. For although he dared not say so to the doctor—because they were so dependent on one another’s society, that if he got his back up it would be very unpleasant—he worshipped Peter Heriot.

The Regimental doctor burst out laughing. “Keen on some girl! My dear boy, Heriot’s had almost every good looking woman in the Punjab after him. No, it’s far more likely that he’s got into some scrape with a married woman and doesn’t know how to get out of it.”

But Bobby Darrell somehow didn’t think so. However he kept his own counsel, largely because he did not at all care for the doctor, and also because he did not think it was cricket to discuss your C.O.’s private affairs.

So life in the Fort went on uneventfully. The postal runners under their armed escort brought bundle after bundle of proofs, and Peter Heriot corrected, and made little signs in the margin, and tried to forget that Joan had called them squigs, because it was those little stupid rememberings that tore his heart in half. And he began a new book, but somehow the old spirit seemed to be gone, and it stuck and read flat and stupidly, so he flung it aside.

In Karnmore, Joan just lived. She lived principally for mail day, because it brought a breath from the outside world. In reply to the letters from her mother and aunt, she wrote carefully worded ones back. They must never know, she was quite resolved on that point. And in reply to the letters from Mrs. Kemp and Betty she wrote to say that she was getting on quite all right, and that no one need worry about her because it was all much better than she had thought it would be. And she spoke of a dinner at the Commissioner’s, at the Residency, and she did not say that she had sat in a damp terror the whole time lest her husband should disgrace himself with his lack of manners. She sat very still and white, with rather a sullen look on her small face, and anyone who did happen to remark on her afterwards said how bad-tempered she looked, and that they did not envy Mr. Khan although he was certainly an unutterable bounder. And Mr. Mohammed Khan, who had had rather a good time in the dining-room, as he considered—the port was good, the cigars excellent, and he had sprawled a good deal, and talked more, and had finished by clapping the Civil Surgeon on the shoulder and hailing him as Hazeltine, to that worthy’s frigid distaste—had come into the drawing-room to find Joan sitting palely more or less alone, with a feeling of maddened annoyance. For he was an ambitious man and he counted on his English wife to bring him more into the public eye. Moreover, although he had tried to think it was not so, his presence in the dining-room had undoubtedly acted as a check on the conversation. He had wanted to hear, to find out; for there had been a very considerable ebullition of disquiet in one of the larger native cities, a couple of English policemen foully done to death, and Karnmore had been reinforced with police, and it was important for Mr. Khan to know exactly what the reinforcements had been. He looked at the new police officer who, oddly enough, happened to be there that night, with a scornful certainty that directly the port had circulated a little freely he would find out what he wanted to know; for the new police officer had a pink and white face and a moustache that looked as if it wouldn’t grow because its owner was too young. But the new police officer was not quite as young as he looked, and though he drank quite a lot he said nothing at all, only from time to time when Mr. Mohammed Khan was not looking, he cast a bland childish look over the dark face opposite to him. So although Mr. Khan had been quite kindly received he had not got what he wanted in any sense of the word, and he vented his rage on his wife, as they drove home in the pale moonlight in the coffin set up on end.

“Can’t you speak when you go out, you little fool?” he snarled, as the muffled figure on the box made odd chirruping sounds to the skeleton ambling along in front of him.

“I did speak, Mohammed.” Joan had got to the cringing stage. It had become a sort of monomania with her that her husband would cut off her nose. She thought about it in the night. It was the sort of thing that he could so easily do, with one of those sharp pointed table knives that they used at meals. He would tell people that she had done it herself: ‘You see my wife is very careless, and she was running and tripped on the matting; she was going to cut some flowers, and she cut off her nose instead. And even if people did not believe it—“No, my man that is not good enough, we don’t allow that sort of thing, you must go to prison for three months”—her nose would be gone, she would be disfigured for life. In the compound there was a thing of horror like that—the dhobie’s wife. She had brought the clothes one day, and Joan had seen her, and had only just not cried out with terror. She had asked her husband afterwards why she looked like that: was she a leper or anything? Mr. Khan had smiled and said that was what wives were made to look like when they let their eyes stray from their own husbands. Somehow his opaque eyes had seemed to linger on her, or Joan imagined that they did and she had slunk away trembling to her dressing-room, and had leant against the wall, and had had a sudden feeling as if she was going to be sick. So she had become servile, and Mr. Mohammed Khan traded on it, and Joan’s life was one long hopeless degradation. She refused to go out at all, and when the Commissioner’s wife returned her call, she found her as she thought, ridiculously stand-offish for a girl in her anomalous position, and took no more notice of her. And as what the Commissioner’s wife does in a station everyone else does, too, Joan might just as well not have been alive, so far as any social existence was concerned. Mr. Mohammed Khan resented it, and when he spoke, as he did now angrily, Joan was terrified and abject: “I had quite a lovely time,” she quavered, and she felt out for the black hand that lay on the knee beside her.

But Mr. Mohammed Khan was beginning to get tired of Joan. So her pitiful attempt to divert his anger by rousing his feelings failed, and he shoved her hand off his knee, and wished he could shove her out of the gharry and have done with her for ever. If she had shown any sign of bearing him a child he would not have felt quite so violently about her. But there was no sign of such a thing—-of course there would not be, he thought; Joan was hopelessly devoid of any of the natural instincts with which the women of his own race were so amply and blessedly endowed. Mr. Mohammed Khan leant back on the fusty cushions and began to think and to calculate, and when at last they had bowled up the green tunnel, and stumbled up on to the verandah which was only faintly lighted by one lamp that was on the eve of going out (for Ahmed thought Joan a hopeless fool and stole all the oil that he could lay hands on), he went straight to his dressing-room, and fumbled under the lid of his roll top desk. He always kept the desk carefully locked; there were many things of importance under its crumpled lid, and the last letter from his determined old mother was one of them. It had been actually written by his father—strictly purdah, his mother could neither read nor write, but she ruled the household in the little tumble-down mud house in the far distant frontier village, and she dictated the letter that Mr. Mohammed Khan now held in his hand. It was a short letter, but it told him news that he had been hoping to hear for some time, and after he had read it he lay back in the swinging chair, and thought of the big brown lash-shaded eyes, that he had now not seen for more than five years. But she was yet too young, not quite yet thirteen—and although Mr. Mohammed Khan was a brute, he had a certain amount of feeling of what was due to the exquisite little olive coloured creature who had looked at him with worshipping languorous eyes, and who had fallen so rightly at his feet when he had happened to enter the room in which she was sitting and doing her embroidery. Now, he wished with all his heart that he had never met Joan; she was nothing but an incubus and an expense. He had only been attracted by her sort of puckish charm, and since that had so entirely disappeared—in fact he wondered if it had ever been—she was nothing but a sort of necessary evil that had to be fed, and therefore cost money.

“I have been thinking,” he said, “it is strange that after so many months, you bear me no child.”

“Is it?” she said. “Do people generally have babies so soon after they are married?”

“It is not soon,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, “we have now been married altogether six months.”

“Yes, but some of that time I was at home,” said Joan, a funny distant part of her mind beginning to work all by itself.

“Only two months,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan.

“Well?” said Joan, beginning to experience that terrible feeling of an inner shivering that always turned her lips a little blue. And as she shivered she prayed wildly: “God, if you have any pity left, don’t let him guess . . .”

“Well, it seems to me that there must be a reason for it,” replied Mr. Mohammed Khan.

A dreadful cunning came to Joan, sunk as she was in a slough of hopeless misery. “Well, Mohammed, I have been thinking the same thing,” she said, and she came nearer, and twisted one of the blue enamel buttons on the white waistcoat, for the Commissioner’s dinner party had be good opportunity to show them off. “And if you wouldn’t mind I should like to go and see the Civil Surgeon about it myself. He did call, you know, and we have taken no notice of it. Don’t you think if I just ran over to-morrow morning and consulted him? . . . perhaps I want a tonic or something.”

But Mr. Mohammed Khan was as cunning as Joan, and his suspicions were aroused: “It would not be seemly at all,” he said. “It is for me to go. To-morrow morning will be impossible, I have a case that will occupy the whole morning, but I will make a point of going in the evening.”

“I would rather go myself,” said Joan dryly, her throat felt as if it was closing up.

“And I would rather you did not,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan with finality.

But the Civil Surgeon had never forgotten that wasted damp white face under the cloud of hovering flies, so he hedged the next evening when Mr. Mohammed Khan tried to pump him, and said that he would far prefer to see Mrs. Khan himself before giving an opinion on the matter. “And I’ll run in this evening,” he said. “I shall be round that way.”

“Unfortunately this evening will not be convenient for me,” said Mr. Khan grandiloquently, “I have a meeting of our Lodge which I must attend.”

The Civil Surgeon laughed pleasantly. “But that doesn’t matter a bit,” he said. “A doctor is a privileged person, you know. And Mrs. Khan will be more likely to be frank if I see her alone. Just tell her that I am coming along—-or—no, don’t if you don’t mind, it will be better if she is unprepared, she will be more likely to be natural.” For the Civil Surgeon suddenly thought that here was a chance to find out how things really were in the blue house smothered in trees.

Mr. Khan agreed with alacrity. A chance for Joan to be caught out, he thought venomously, for the more he thought about it the more sure he was that his suspicions were correct. So that evening, Joan, standing looking down on the sea of blue, the torturing tears rolling down her face, for Bunoo’s violet bower was the only place where she felt secure to let herself go, lifted her drowned eyes to a concerned kindly face under a soft felt hat that was instantly lifted.

“Who told you that I was here?” It flamed out of Joan’s trembling mouth.

“Your funny little mali. I know him quite well—he used to be at the next station to this when I was quite a chokra6 there.”

“He had no right to do it.”

“Well, he and I are old pals; perhaps he thought I could be of help to you,” said the Civil Surgeon, aching with pity for the broken figure in front of him, and knowing to the innermost detail at once how things were in the blue house smothered in trees. For the Doctor had seen a good deal of life, and knew despair when he saw it.

“What have you come for?” said Joan, holding her handkerchief in front of her trembling mouth.

“To try and see if I can buck you up a bit,” said the Civil Surgeon boyishly. “Your husband came across to see me about you last night, and I promised I would come across.”

“I know why he came,” said Joan, and the same look of cunning crept back into her swollen eyes.

“Yes, well I expect you do,” replied the Civil Surgeon, and he switched his brown canvas gaiters with his riding whip. “But as I should like to hear a little from you first about things, I thought I would come over myself. Can’t we sit down here, and have a talk? By Jove, how divine the violets smell,” he stooped to a fragrant earthenware saucerful.

Joan still remained standing, and as she stood, she stared at the broad back turned to her. Could she trust him? Doctors had odd ideas about things. He might turn on her and tell her that she was unnatural. And as she stood and thought all this, he also turned and met her gaze.

“Mrs. Khan,” he said earnestly, “I am here as your friend, not as an enemy. And you know the seal of the confessional is on anything you may be able to tell me. A doctor and a priest—you know . . . they often work together.”

Joan put her handkerchief again up to her mouth. It had been a doctor who had come to her rescue before. She made a little stumbling step backwards.

The Civil Surgeon saw, and looking round found an old Tate sugar box that Bunoo used to put over his choicest blossoms to retard their growth. He dragged it towards them—first looking carefully underneath to see that no snake or scorpion lurked there—then he took firm hold of Joan’s elbow and sat down on it. “Now,” he said, “I’m going to hear it all. And do you mind if I smoke while you’re talking?”

Joan only cast one more trembling glance at the keen profile turned to hers, and then burst into low impassioned speech. The Civil Surgeon heard her to the end, biting the stem of his pipe rather more fiercely than he need have done perhaps, but otherwise not showing in the least anything that he might have been feeling. When she had quite done, and had drawn a long trembling breath, and had let her white face fall into her hands, the Civil Surgeon began to knock out his pipe on the edge of the wooden box, and he took quite a long time about it. When he spoke, he spoke very kindly.

“Look here, I can’t thank you enough for being so frank with me about everything,”, he said, and his nice honest face flushed. “But it’ll make it easier for you in the end. I’ll see your husband to-night—I ought to be at that Lodge meeting myself, as a matter of fact, and I’ll ride round that way now and have a talk with him. I think you are perfectly right . . . perhaps I ought not to say so, but under the circumstances I do, so don’t worry yourself about that. And remember that I am always there if you want me, see? Keep a brave heart, Mrs. Khan—it isn’t easy I know, but still, it helps if you take it standing up, doesn’t it? And now, good-bye for the present.” The Civil Surgeon held out a warm comforting hand.

Joan took it in both of hers: “Thank you,” she said.

“Not a bit!” The Civil Surgeon smiled mischievously.

“Both aliens in an alien land, you see,” he said, “and that makes a bond between us that nothing can break. Now I’ll get along and interview your husband, I’ll take him in and give him a drink.”

So a little later, Mr. Mohammed Khan, who was rather a big bug at the local Masonic Lodge, felt himself shrinking rather rapidly, as he sat in front of the keen-eyed doctor and answered a few quietly put questions. But his opaque eyes flamed with wrath—she had been giving him away, the little devil—he would make her suffer for it. But the Civil Surgeon was more astute than that—he knew what Mr. Khan would think, and with a few well-chosen words he dismissed that idea from the Indian’s mind, and Mr. Mohammed Khan was left with the impression that he was really rather a martyr.

“You see, Khan,” said the Doctor, and he stared thoughtfully at the tumbler in his hand, “unfortunately we’re dealing with a type that has its limitations. But I see no reason at all why in the future your very natural hopes should not be realised, if you do exactly what I tell you.”

And cursing inwardly Mr. Mohammed Khan had to be content with this. Soon after the coffin had made its stumbling way back through the green tunnel up to the blue house in the trees, Joan, writing a mail letter in the dining-room, was disturbed and astonished to see a gaunt wobbling edifice with a trailing mosquito curtain being carried from her bedroom into her husband’s dressing-room.

“What is happening?” she exclaimed, feeling her heart surge up into her throat with a wild hope.

“What is happening is this,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, and his dark face was heavy with rage. “Not content with making my life a burden to me with your whims and fancies and your perfectly unreasonable objection to a perfectly normal state of existence, you must needs become ill with it. So for the present we shall live entirely separate lives. But I warn you that it will not continue beyond the limit of two months, and that if at the end of a reasonable interval I find that you are still in your present, to me, quite inexplicable condition, I shall take steps to get rid of you.”

“How?” asked Joan, beginning to tremble. A sudden vision of herself disfigured and tortured, came over her. Wandering . . . wandering, not daring to die, and yet unwanted by everybody. A hideous thing, that a child would scream at.

“Yckkkk,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, reading Joan’s thoughts, and drawing his long black forefinger straight down from his lowering forehead to his upper lip.

*  *  *

You cannot always be thinking of possible horrors, and the relief from a bondage worse than death was so overwhelming to Joan that in a sort of negative way she was happy. She still lived the life of a complete recluse, but somehow she did not mind it. She spent hours in the garden, and under Bunoo’s tuition became quite an excellent gardener. The oddly assorted couple crouched together side by side under the great banyan tree, Joan in her cotton frock, for it was beginning to warm up, and Bunoo in his little short coat of coarse linen material and flapping dhotie and little woollen mali’s cap with its red line and blue tassel.

So there was a certain amount of content everywhere, that is to say, except in the mud coloured Fort that blinked towards Afghanistan, and in the heart of Mr. Mohammed Khan, who got to detest Joan more and more every day. He now spent hours at the roll-topped desk—he went there, immediately on his return from Court, and he sat there the whole time when he was in the bungalow, sometimes having his meals carried in there. He filled the bungalow with other natives, who came in loose coats made of stuff like coarse linen, and wore white caps shaped like a convict’s. After a week elapsed Mr. Mohammed Khan had gone back to the habits of the people to which he belonged. That is to say immediately on his return from Court he would shed his European clothes, and emerge from his room barefooted in a soft loin cloth, and white shirt, collarless, and hanging outside. Then he would spend two if not three hours of the evening in chanting his prayers, a low monotonous howling chant, that at first intrigued Joan enormously, and then got to terrify her with its weird monotony. He went always on Fridays to the Mosque, and he observed, for him, wonderful abstinence on the different fast days. But somehow it all ceased to worry Joan. She was free, for a time, from what had made life a hell to her and she snatched thankfully at the sort of negative happiness that she was experiencing now.

Mr. Mohammed Khan was not at all happy, and he began literally to hate Joan. She was a clog on his freedom. She was always there, so to speak, and he could not fill the house quite as lavishly as he would have liked with his friends and the people with whom he was working. So he began to plan how he could get rid of her, and underneath his low forehead his mind worked evilly. He knew that if he tried to put an end to her in any aggressive way he would have the Civil Surgeon immediately on his track. In his own little frontier village it would be a different thing altogether, there a little consistently administered powdered glass in the daily allowance of food would soon settle things. But you have to have a reason for banishing your wife and getting her slowly murdered. So he began to think what he could do, and after a little while Joan provided him with a reason. For to be told by your wife that she hates you, is surely enough reason for banishment and death.

One day Joan was sitting out in the compound in the cool of the evening, just staring quietly in front of her, and thinking with a sort of hopeless despair of the man she had once loved, and who was now probably married to someone else or very soon going to be, when a little trail of animals ran across the path in front of her—a string of them, little soft furry things. First came a big one, and just behind it one a little smaller, holding the tail of the first one in its mouth, and then four more, all with the tail of the one in front of it held securely between its tiny jaws. Joan screamed excitedly to Bunoo, who was, as he always was when anywhere about, close to her side. He got up laboriously, and smiled, as the hindmost disappeared into the bushes.

“Mongoose,” he said, “my bringing one for memsahib.”

And sure enough the next evening Bunoo, very twitching about the lower lip, for he knew Joan would be pleased, deposited in her lap, as she sat working under the big banyan tree, a little bundle of fur, that shot out a pointed rubbery nose, and scrambled in her palm with an odd black foot that somehow looked as if it ought to be webbed. And with the coming of Munjee—for so Joan for some reason nicknamed him, it sounded somehow soft and cuddly—began a new era for Joan. Here was something on which she could vent the tearing torturing pain that she always had at her heart.

But Mr. Mohammed Khan did not like Munjee. Perhaps he had reason for his dislike, because it was a destructive little thing, and twice it had upset his ink. It had a passion for upsetting things, and also it did not like Mr. Mohammed Khan for some reason or other. So it always did all the damage it could in his room while he was out, and at last Joan found this out, and she made frantic efforts to keep it away, because she knew her husband’s vindictive temperament. Munjee would never allow itself to be caught by Mr. Mohammed Khan, only once had the dark clammy hand held it, and Mr. Khan had dropped it like a hot potato. But one evening, when Joan had gone, as she sometimes did, to post her English mail in the little post office that stood at the corner of the road that led to cantonments, Munjee created more havoc than usual on Mr. Mohammed Khan’s writing table, and was so intent in nosing the empty ink-pot round the soaked blotting pad that it did not hear the soft bare foot on the matting behind it. A little later, Joan, having whistled in vain for about half an hour, came into the lamp-light of Mr. Mohammed Khan’s office room, and asked timidly if her husband had seen her mongoose.

“Not for about three-quarters of an hour,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan brutally. “It was here, on my writing table, and I handed it over to the sweeper to despatch as soon as possible. Drown it in boiling water—those were my orders and I have no reason to doubt that they have been carried out.”

“What?” Joan’s voice came in a shriek.

“Drown it in boiling water,” repeated Khan, jerking his fountain pen impatiently.

“But I loved it.” Joan’s eyes were wide and fixed.

“I can well believe it,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, “it is the sort of folly of which you would be quite capable.”

“If you have had it drowned, I will kill you,” said Joan edging nearer, and staring at her husband with eyes in which insanity seemed to be suddenly born.

“Get out of my room, you damned fool,” returned Mr. Mohammed Khan, who was both anxious and harassed about affairs concerning which Joan knew nothing, and in comparison with which the death, however painful, of a mongoose seemed to be a very small affair indeed.

But Joan was nearly mad with despair and horror, and she suddenly stooped, and peered up under the hand with which Mr. Mohammed Khan was trying to write.

“You are a devil,” she said. “Your have killed the only thing I loved. And when you die, which I pray God could be now, it will come and torture you. I can see it nibbling your feet.’ Brute! fiend!” Joan began to scream hysterically. “It must have cried for me—it must have wondered why I didn’t come and save it . . .” Joan broke out of the echoing matted room, and fled screaming into the compound.

Within the badly lighted bungalow, Mr. Mohammed Khan had quite made up his mind. A wife who told you that she wished you were dead, and that she hoped when you were dead the ghost of an unclean animal would come and nibble your feet, was more than any man could put up with. He put away the file that lay under his hand, and drew his writing pad towards him.

Bunoo, outside, got tired of waiting. So he crept out of his little quarter, and padded his old way to the violet bower. She would be there, perhaps, his beloved memsahib. He dared not go to the bungalow for fear of the servants, for there had been an uproar when Bunoo had set upon the sweeper, and old man that he was, he would have been killed had it not been for the excellent pruning knife that he always carried—a relic of departed glories in the Collector’s household.

“Take, memsahib,” he said, pressing the furry body against Joan’s heaving side, for the blessed tears had come when Joan had smelt the heavenly scent of violets again.

Joan lifted up her voice again and made a dreadful groaning sound.

“Bunoo, Bunoo!” There were no words to express what she felt. “I will give you anything,” she stammered, her voice stifled.

Bunoo salaamed in the twilight. He hated the sweeper, and it had been a chance to wipe off old scores.

But Joan had begun to think—her pet would never be safe now. She must put him where he would be out of danger for ever, and only death would mean real safety. A happy peaceful death—her friend, the Civil Surgeon.

The Civil Surgeon sat on his verandah, his feet upon the long arms of his long chair. A blurred figure suddenly stumbled into the range of light that fringed the little bungalow. “What is it, Mrs. Khan?” he said, getting up.

Joan, bursting with sobs, told him. The Civil Surgeon listened, and prayed passionately in the depths of his soul that Mr. Khan would soon implicate himself in the net that he was trying to spin for others, that he would overbalance himself, and go headlong to the gallows. But he was afraid that it would take some time, and to his experienced eyes Joan did not look as if she would last much longer. So he took hold of her hand consolingly.

“If you really think it is best,” he said, “I can put the little animal quite painlessly to sleep. But think it over well first, because you see, when he is once gone, he is gone forever.”

But Joan was quite sure that she wanted Munjee to die. Life would only be a terror to her with the thought of an ugly death hanging over him. Her husband, with the servants at his back, would be sure to get him sooner or later. So she only nodded speechlessly and the Civil Surgeon took the little animal in his hand, and went away to his surgery. When he came back she had gone, he could hear footsteps as she tore down the narrow compound path and flung herself out of the gate. And as he walked quickly to the edge of the verandah to try to call her back, he saw her far off, under the pale moonlight, running for her life, wringing her hands that she held high over head, and wailing out loud.

Chapter XIX

The mud coloured fort with the sightless eyes lay quivering under a brassy sky. In the big courtyard at the back of it only one figure showed, the figure of a postal runner who had handed in his precious burden and was now wending his way to his quarters to enjoy his well-earned rest. Inside the Fort the British officers lay in their rooms in various stages of déshabille—Bobby Darrell was already fast asleep in vest and shorts, his young mouth turned up open to the punkah that swung monotonously above his head, the Regimental doctor had tried to go to sleep and failed, and was now deep in the Lancet that had come by the morning’s dak, also under a punkah, and Major Heriot had made no effort to go to sleep because he knew it was not of the faintest use, and was lying at full length in a long chair reading a copy of the weekly edition of the Times, a lime squash wedged in the arm of the chair. There was a beaten tennis court at the back, within the thick walls of the Fort, and when the sun had sunk a little from its vertical flaming, the three Englishmen, with the India Subedar-Major to make a rather inadequate fourth, would adjourn there to dash about for three-quarters of an hour in the rapidly fading light, and would then sink into long chairs to enjoy the first whisky and soda of the long day. Subedar-Major Wazir Singh would decline the whisky and soda with the same radiant flash of teeth that he always gave, and sometimes Peter Heriot would smile too and say, “Well, I don’t know that you’re not right, Subedar-Major, I’ll join you in a nimbu soda,” and the two men, both so different, but both soldiers to the very fibre of them, would smile at one another over the edge of the clouded glasses, and drink to the continued health and prosperity of the other one. Somehow in these days of inward ache and ceaseless anxiety, Peter Heriot turned mentally far more to his Indian officer than to his two British officers. Subedar-Major Wazir Singh had the silent imperturbability of his race brought to a pitch of perfection. He could sit for hours simply staring in front of him. He knew the temper of his men to the faintest shadowy gradation of feeling. And he could, in some mysterious way, sense the temper of the wild tribes that crouched all around them in the shaggy hills that bound them round on the North and on the South. It was almost as if he could hear them speaking, thought Peter Heriot, as he listened to the Indian officer one day as they sat together in the shadowy suffocation of the big echoing room.

“Sahib, there is trouble coming,” said Subedar-Major Wazir Singh, and he laid his great hand on the arm of his commanding officer’s chair.

“What sort of trouble, Subedar-Major?” asked Peter Heriot, with a smile on his clear cut mouth.

“Bad trouble. It filters through, from the South, the unrest and dissatisfaction. They consult together, these men. Here we stand, a living reminder to them of the power that they detest. To exterminate us—it is their prayer. It is to them indeed of the nature of a prayer—a holy mission.”

“You think, then, that we’re on the eve of one of these religious affairs again, do you?” asked Major Heriot, drawing heavily on his pipe.

“I do, most assuredly,” replied Subedar-Major Wazir Singh earnestly. “And I would welcome it, were it not for the fact that the hot weather is advancing very rapidly, and it might unsettle our men. That would indeed be a disaster.”

“Well, well, we’ll hope for the best, although as you know Wazir Singh, I have enormous faith in your—what shall we call it?—clairvoyance. But as for a scrap, Gad, I’d give my head for it!” Major Heriot got up abruptly out of his long chair, and began to walk about the room.

The native officer watched him closely, then he fingered his beautifully curled black beard.

“Does the Major Sahib sleep as well as he should?” he enquired respectfully.

Heriot coloured in spite of himself. Was it then so apparent, he thought uneasily, his mental torment? “Oh, yes, I sleep quite as well as I need to at my age,” he replied easily, “but I think this weather takes it out of you a good deal. And I consider that you’re wonderful in the way you keep the men up to the mark,” he went on, anxious to lead Wazir Singh off the personal track.

The Sikh knew, and instantly responded: “Ah, but they are fine fellows,” he said enthusiastically. “And the way they play their hockey is to me a marvel in this heat. But they are devoured with zeal for it—and—if you will excuse me, Sir, I will now withdraw, the game is shortly going to begin.” The Subedar-Major raised his great hairy hand to the edge of his puggaree and saluted.

“Certainly.” Major Heriot nodded and smiled and also lifted his right hand a little, and as the tall Sikh strode out of the room, turning at the door to click his heels and bring his hand again up to the salute, he watched him go with a depth of admiration in his eyes.

And as he lay in his long chair, and stared at the punkah and mused, Nazir Ali, a little whiter and more bent, came from his quarter, that lay a stone’s throw from the door of his sahib’s office room, and salaamed profoundly at his feet. “Salaam, Sahib,” he said.

“Salaam, Nazir Ali.” But Major Heriot moved his feet a little on the arms of his long chair. When the old Mohammedan came and salaamed for no special reason, so to speak, he wanted something. “Well, what do you want?” he asked.

“Sahib giving littly leave,” said Nazir Ali.

“Damn you, I can’t,” said Major Heriot angrily.

“Attcha, Sahib!” Nazir moved breathlessly away.

When the Light of his Eyes said ‘damn,’ it meant that he was better left alone. So he gave a few silent but effectual touches to the littered dressing-table in the adjoining room, and then withdrew quietly to his quarter. Once there, he shut the door securely, felt on a very crowded shelf that hung above his string bed, took down a spectacle case, and fixed a pair of tortoise-shell rimmed spectacles on his nose. The spectacles had been a gift from his sahib during the last leave to England.

“My dear brother . . .” Nazir Ali had drawn a letter, written in very bright green ink, from an inner pocket of his coat, and was bending his old head over the weird hieroglyphics that sprawled over the crumply paper: “My dear brother, it is now six months since you returned from the Vilayat, Allah be praised that you were preserved in that perilous undertaking. All are in excellent health here. Last week we returned from Tawah, where, thanks to Allah, your house and land are in excellent condition. We attended the marriage celebrations of Fazal Khan, it was a goodly feast, an only son, and the dowry that he obtained with his bride was ample. Merchant Mohammed Khan was present—a prosperous man indeed, the betul leaf traffic is now resuming its normal conditions—and he spoke lavishly of the profits he has made. It is rumoured that the English girl that his son took to wife is now under his roof, but such rumours are idle, and we pay little heed to them. May Allah preserve your health, dear brother. Greetings from all.”

Nazir Ali let the paper fall, and fixed his old opaque eyes on a lizard that was peering from behind a little piece of cracked looking glass. “It is rumoured that the English girl that his son took to wife is now under his roof.” Nazir Ali got up, and opening the door of his quarter he shaded his old eyes with his hand, and peered out over the barren landscape: ravines, broken spurs of hill, stripped bare of any vestige of vegetation. Three days’ journey to Tawah, and two of those under armed escort. A costly journey—Nazir Ali cautiously closed the door again, and dragged a little tin trunk from under his charpoy. It lay done up in little neat bundles of notes, his pay for the last three months: one hundred and five rupees—enough, but it was his all. But the little white memsahib she had rescued him from death. Also she was the chosen of his sahib. . . . Nazir Ali felt contentedly sure of that. And it had been common talk amongst the servants in the liner that she was wedded to a Mohammedan, and Nazir Ali had resented it for his sahib’s sake. But now she was in deadly danger of her life, if it was indeed true that she was in the house of her mother-in-law. For Nazir Ali knew the reputation that Tara Mohammed Khan bore in the little village of Tawah, stuck in a treeless waste; and he knew Mohammed Khan, the prosperous merchant, too, and he had heard him breathe forth terrible curses when he spoke of his son’s marriage with an infidel. So it must be leave, even though it meant calling down the terrible and dreaded wrath of the master he adored, thought Nazir Ali, as he drew forth the starched coat that he would soon require for the dinner hour, and settled his puggaree anew on his old grey head.

But Major Heriot had regretted saying ‘damn’ to his old servant before he had been out of the room ten minutes, and as the Mohammedan moved about the echoing room, lifting the different garments that he had shed before getting himself into his Mess uniform, he spoke to him kindly.

“Nazir Ali, what do you want to go on leave for?” As he spoke he gave a sweep to the short hair above his ears, hair that showed a good deal whiter than it had done six months before.

“Sahib, I have a business of much magnitude to perform,” replied Nazir AH, and he spoke with such eagerness that his grey beard quivered.

“Yes, but what sort of magnitude?” Peter Heriot was smoothing the double row of ribbons with a rather impatient hand. They stuck out at the end, he must give the tunic to the regimental durzi. “What sort of magnitude—can’t it wait? Has your beastly old house fallen down, or a bit of your land been pinched by somebody else?”

“Even so, Sahib,” returned Nazir Ali joyfully. He was not good at making up things, and the Light of his Eyes had done it for him . . .

“But which disaster is it?” There was an amused gleam in Peter Heriot’s eyes. What consummate liars they all were! Probably the old villain wanted to get married again. And yet it was not like Nazir Ali to put his own convenience before his master’s.

“Both, Sahib,” lied Nazir Ali fluently.

“Well then, I suppose you’ll have to go,” said Peter Heriot reluctantly, and he stooped to pick a piece of cotton off the white overalls. It was a damned nuisance but it would have to be put up with. “How long do you want to be away?” he said.

Nazir Ali calculated swiftly. “Fourteen days,” he replied.

“Well, I’ll see about an escort for you, then. But, mind you, Nazir Ali, you’ve got to be back to time. It’s an infernal nuisance having to spare you at all, and if you’re late back I’ll sack you, do you understand?”

“Attcha, Sahib,” replied Nazir Ali. And he looked with worship at the tall man who stood smiling at him, hands on hips. Sack him—Nazir Ali, who knew to a nicety every little tiny detail of the innermost life of the man whom he worshipped more than life itself! Not possible. But Nazir Ali smiled quietly. Allah would give him strength for what lay before him.

*  *  *

When Joan stumbled more dead than alive from the Intermediate class compartment in which she had made the journey from Karnmore to Tawah, she had to steady herself against the rickety post that held the kerosene oil lamp which flickered yellowly over the beaten earth platform. She had been travelling for twenty-four hours, under the most cruelly uncomfortable conditions. Mr. Mohammed Khan, having made up his mind to get rid of his wife, had also made up his mind to do it as cheaply as possible. Intermediate class is a little more expensive than third class, but it is not fit accommodation for an Englishwoman, and the instant Joan saw it she realised it.

“Mohammed, I can’t possibly travel in here, she said indignantly. “There are no cushions or anything, and I shall be travelling all night.” For she had enough spirit to speak indignantly, although her soul was glad at the thought of getting away. In imagination her mind lingered over the thought of her husband’s mother. In any event a mother would have some sort of kindliness about her, she thought—it couldn’t be the utter callousness of the treatment that she now received at the hands of her husband that would be meted out to her. And there would be a father, and a little sister of about thirteen—Mr. Mohammed Khan had mentioned the last with a certain amount of diffidence but Joan had jumped at the idea of the companionship of a little sister. So as far as the idea of the change of scene and surroundings was concerned, she welcomed it. But to travel under these conditions was intolerable, and she stared indignantly from under the brim of her shabby hat at her husband, as he stood in his soiled office suit at the door of the compartment.

“The accommodation is sufficiently commodious for you,” said Mr. Mohammed Khan, and he began to grope in his pocket for his cheroot case.

But now Joan, outraged at the way in which her husband was treating her, looked round the dim boarded compartment with a feeling of horror in her soul. A stout native woman sat in one corner, her feet curled up under her, a bidi in her mouth. Two Eurasian girls, heavily scented, leant out of the narrow window exchanging jokes with the Eurasian ticket collector. The compartment was reserved “for Indian and Eurasian Females,” so they were secure from the invasion of male natives or Eurasians. But when you had said that, you had said all, thought Joan, a feeling of nausea in her soul. For it was the utter disregard of her that was so awful—the being treated as something of utterly no account. This was the end of something—something, that Joan felt vaguely, would never be renewed again. Another bit of road was beginning in front of her. She did not trouble now to ask God to make it a nicer bit, God also belonged to the other life and could not be approached with the same old freedom. But she did feel a kindling of indignation at the way she was being made to travel, and as she remembered she still had one hundred rupee notes left and could have paid for accommodation in a superior class, if she had known in time. However, the engine had given its long warning scream, and the guard had walked back to the rear van, his green flag in his hand.

“Good-bye!” Mr. Mohammed Khan did not manage to lift his hat but he waved with a sort of airy friendliness.

“Good-bye!” But Joan could only smile vaguely from behind the two tousled heads that protruded and screamed in flagrant chi-chi, and as the train curled out of the long station yard she sat down and wondered that she was not feeling anything. It all seemed so blurred, the things that were going on around her.

But as the journey went on, and they screamed and roared their way through jungle and barren country, and the wooden compartment rocked and creaked as if it would disintegrate itself and leave them on the ballast, and the oil lamp got fainter and fainter, and gradually only winked and spluttered bluely, physical discomfort became uppermost, and Joan first sagged a little sideways, and then beat a hurried retreat into the miserable bathroom where she was hopelessly and devastatingly sick. Then at noon they reached the big junction, and the two Eurasian girls got out, and Joan with the stout native woman was left to make the rest of the journey alone.

The scenery had changed; Joan, weary as she was, looked at it with a certain amount of interest. The landscape was flat and barren, with only the rarest patches of cultivation. It was hot, terribly and scorchingly hot, and the sun beat in at the unshuttered windows, and the native woman unrolled herself and basked in it, not even glancing at Joan who shrank into the corner furthest from the sunny side, and fanned herself with her hat. For with the change of scene had come the terror of being seen. At the junction there had been Englishmen in topis, with dogs fawning round their heels, and they had emerged from first-class carriages in the train in which she was, and had gone in hungry groups to the refreshment rooms, for there was no dining car on this train. But Joan felt that degradation could go no further than to be seen in this condition by any of her own kind.

And now the journey was at an end: the native woman had got out two stations before, and Joan stood, her holdall on the beaten earth platform, leaning against the rickety lamp post, staring at the waste of country that lay on each side of the little station. She stood entirely alone, and the man who was staring at her stared as though she was the first English person he had ever seen.

“Is there any one here to meet me?” Joan had walked up to the native station master, who was taking the tickets at the barrier.

“I beg your pardon?” The babu was rather proud of his English.

Joan repeated the question, at the same time catching sight of her trunk that was lying on the beaten earth platform, looking very much alone. “Is there anyone to meet me?” she said. “I am coming to stay with a Mr. Mohammed Khan, and I expect he will either have come or sent.”

The babu stared. Then it began to dawn on him hazily. There had been talk of an English wife of the son of the rich merchant. Then here she was, and although the Babu was a Brahmin, and therefore of a very extreme and great holiness, he felt a pang of compassion for this very young Englishwoman. For once the Babu had been Assistant station master at a cantonment station further South, and he was accustomed to seeing English women accompanied by brown muscular sahibs, who shoved coolies aside lest they should touch their memsahibs, who saw off these same memsahibs to the Hills when it began to be hot as it was beginning to be hot now, and who demanded large lumps of ice to be placed in the compartments to keep the air cool for these obviously very precious ones. And here was a memsahib—for the babu knew a lady when he saw one—standing alone asking for a Mohammedan, and an inferior one at that; for Mr. Mohammed Khan Senior, although a wealthy man, was only a son of the people.

“The house of Mr. Mohammed Khan is an hour’s journey from here in a tonga,” said the Babu. “If you require it I will obtain one, and place your luggage beside you, and I will send a station coolie to direct the driver.”

“Oh, thank you very much,” said Joan, and she watched as the tonga was obtained, and loaded with her two pieces of luggage. The station coolie, his head very much tied up, mounted on to the driver’s seat with the weird individual who called himself the driver, and they started with a mad plunge down the bazaar street. Joan had only time to call a hurried ‘thank you’ to the babu, who stood watching them go from the steps of the ticket office.

Tawah was a typical Northern village with its narrow streets and shadowed houses. It was a scattered village, for after they had left the main street, they passed little isolated flat dwelling houses, lying back from the cart track that had now replaced the road on which they had first embarked. And now they were out in the open country, stars all round them: Joan felt exactly as if she was under a pudding bowl stuck full of them. Then at last, through the inky darkness, she saw the twinkle of a little light, and the tonga lurched down what she thought in her alarm must be the side of a precipice, and they drew up with a wild scraping of badly shod feet outside a low flat dwelling.

“Salaam bhai;” a bulky figure suddenly stood between them and the light. It stood in what appeared to be a well of blackness.

“Salaam bhai;” the driver and the station coolie got down from the front seat and a long murmured colloquy took place between the three natives. There was a good deal of waving of hands, Joan began to be able to see a little, and she was conscious of a sudden wave of terror. Was it is some dreadful plot that she had fallen into—brought to the wrong place perhaps to be murdered? She stepped out on to the ground.

“I have come from Karnmore,” she said. “If there is any mistake, please let me know and I will drive back to the station at once.”

All three men stopped talking at once; Joan could tell that they were staring at her. Then one of them spat, and the other two after asking what sounded like a question went back to the tonga and began to unfasten her trunk.

“Am I in the right place?” said Joan again, her heart beginning to beat in awful sickening throbs.

The bulky form behind her did not reply, it only turned and made a sort of grunting sound into the interior of the pitch dark house. And in response to the grunt a tall native woman emerged from the obscurity, and stood in front of Joan.

“Wah!” she said and she pushed a black heavy face close to Joan’s and stared at her.

At this all Joan’s frantic terror found voice, and she shrieked and broke away. “Don’t unfasten my trunk,” she screamed, “this isn’t the right place. Here, put it back again.” She had dodged down on to the earthen sort of platform that surrounded the house again, and was groping her way towards the tonga; the steel bit of one of the ponies was rattling and it served as a guide. But as she groped she suddenly felt a sinewy hand on her wrist.

“Aie!” it was a venomous hiss that she heard as she felt herself being dragged back again.

“Let go of me!” Joan was fighting and screaming. Deathly blackness all round her—people moving noiselessly at her side whom she could not distinguish. She was demented with fright.

But Tara Mohammed Khan was a muscular woman. With a swift jerk of the arm she flung Joan behind her.

“Where am I?” Joan made a butting motion with her head as she dived forwards in a mad effort to get out again.

But her voice was drowned in the noise of her trunk being set down on the open brick verandah. And there was a jingle of harness and a clattering of hoofs as the tonga lurched up the steep bank again.

A damp hand smelling of garlic was smeared over her mouth. “Cup rao,” came hissing out of the blackness in a venomous undertone.

Chapter XX

Mr. Mohammed Fazal Khan’s house was extremely badly lighted. A native prefers to grope rather than to deal directly with a thing, so Joan, as she stood still breathing heavily, took some time to absorb her surroundings. But when she eventually did, she found that she was standing in a low room without any furniture in it, as she understood furniture. There was a cluster of brass cooking pots in one corner, and on an open hearth beside them a little charcoal fire burnt brightly. There was a string bed in one corner, like the string beds that she had seen outside her servants’ quarters in Karnmore, and a heap of bedding on it. From the room in which she stood another room appeared to lead, and at the door of this the native woman was standing.

“Come,” she said, in the vernacular, and beckoned.

Joan dug her heels into the ground. It was beaten earth, and her rather high heels stuck in it.

“Come,” said Tara Mohammed Khan, and she came a little forward.

Joan backed, and as she backed she touched something that moved. Mr. Mohammed Fazal Khan met her terrified gaze as she flung round. “Go,” he said, in English.

So she followed her mother-in-law, as she now guessed this woman must be, in an apathy of terror. They crossed a courtyard open to the sky, Joan breathed in the cooler air with relief. The stars were still shining brilliantly, and seen through the open square they seemed more numerous, thought Joan, as she stared desperately upwards.

Tara halted at a doorway that gave on to the courtyard, and grunted. Joan saw a room very much like the first one she had stepped into, square and low, and devoid of furniture except a string bed. Then a female servant, dressed in an old red sari, appeared from somewhere, and said something to her mistress in an undertone. Tara replied swiftly and the woman disappeared. In a moment or two she reappeared dragging Joan’s holdall. Then there was another short interval and she and another woman came in, carrying Joan’s trunk between them. “Thik,”7 said Tara Mohammed Khan as it was set down on the beaten floor.

Joan looked round with an odd feeling of amusement coupled with despair. The home of her husband’s parents! The home, if Joan had only known it, of people of tremendous wealth. For Mohammed Fazal Khan was a merchant of no mean order, only modern education and civilization had not gripped him as it had gripped the younger generation, and he was content to live, as his ancestors had lived, simply and without outward show. But oddly enough, he had not been content that his only child should live like that, for when with an awful despair he had seen his first-born son die, and then his second son, and then—only this was a matter not for so much regret—his third child, a daughter—he had made up his mind that if Allah were to send him a third son he would freely lavish upon him every modern advantage that money could provide. And so Mohammed Khan Junior had been sent, first to an excellent school at Simla, and then Home, to the University. And in Karnmore he sprawled, the finished product.

“Is this my room?” Joan spoke very slowly in Hindustani.

“Hain!”8 Tara nodded.

“It is too hot.” Joan was gasping, she held her throat.

“Sleeping outside”; the woman servant who had first come into the room had been eyeing Joan for some time. She spoke now laboriously in English.

“Oh.” Joan was relieved, that would make things more tolerable.

“Somewhere to hang up my clothes.” Joan turned to the native servant who still lingered. Tara had vanished.

“Not got,” she grinned, showing pan-stained teeth.

“But I must have somewhere to put my things.” Then it occurred to her, why should she have? She would require nothing but the barest necessities for such a life, she would leave them where they were, in the trunk. She had her night-things and bedding in the holdall. She stooped to it.

The servant, Ramai, had once been an ayah in a Parsee household, and she could tell from the look of Joan that she was a lady. Also she knew with a certain amount of confidence that her days were numbered. So she asked with a mixture of servility and insolence for her keys: “I keeping memsahib’s clothes very neatly,” she said, “other servant very much thieving.”

Joan, in her desperate relief at hearing her own language spoken however indifferently, handed them over. After all, as she reflected, if she got on the right side of this woman she might be invaluable to her. For this brief sojourn in the house of her husband’s parents could only be looked on as a jumping-off place, she decided. Her husband wanted to get rid of her and he thought this was a good way of doing so, to send her to this Frontier village.

“Dinner ready”; Ramai had come back.

Dinner was eaten in the courtyard under the stars. Mohammed Fazal Khan, as is usual in an Indian household, had partaken first. Tara sat on the ground, a large brass tray in front of her, on which was heaped rice. A beautiful brass bowl held curry, Tara helped both with her fingers, and Joan’s was pushed to her along the ground, mixed, on a brass plate.

But Joan was occupied in staring at the girl who sat next to her mother-in-law. She was the most exquisitely beautiful little creature that she had ever seen. Very fair, for a native, with enormous eyes, and lashes that lay darkly on the olive cheek, and seemed to sweep it. She ate, apparently quite undisturbed by the presence of the English girl, as did also Tara, neither of them speaking even to one another. That was what struck Joan as so very extraordinary; after all it must be rather odd for people like this to have a visitor, and to have an English visitor was more extraordinary than anything. But neither of them seemed to be in the least put out by it. Her arrival too had been so odd, she had been violently dragged in by her mother-in-law as if she had been a prisoner. But now the demeanour of both of them was quite amicable, and in fact almost friendly, for Tara now raised her eyes and seeing that Joan was not eating she made a motion with her head. “Eat,” she said in the vernacular. So Joan fell to. And as she was accustomed to curry of varying degrees of potency it did not strike her as so fearfully hot, and as she was very hungry she thoroughly enjoyed it.

A sort of sugary sweetmeat came next, and when that had been despatched a bowl full of water in which they all rinsed the tips of their fingers. Then Ramai, very noiseless with her padding bare feet, removed all signs of the meal and brought native cigarettes, and a box of Austrian matches. The two native women smoked, the girl with the most languid and beautiful gestures of her tapering fingers, Tara with a look of determination on her dark face. Joan sat and watched them and wondered what her people at home would think if they could see her squatting on the ground in an enclosed courtyard open to the sky, with a couple of native women in saris smoking in front of her. And after a little while Tara clapped her hands and Ramai appeared.

“Bring the beds,” said Tara.

So presently the three string beds with their heaps of coloured rugs lay also under the moon, and Joan wondered what she was expected to do. Did they undress? She would watch and take her cue from them. But neither Taj nor Tara undressed. Taj climbed, a sinuous sweetness of flowing black hair and slender limbs, on to the low bed and curled herself up like a young panther; Tara settled herself with a grunt, and instantly became only a heaving mass of clothing. And Joan after a minute or two clapped her hands and waited for the native servant to come.

Ramai was very helpful. She knew the sort of house that a memsahib like this would be accustomed to, and she was apologetic as she explained its various deficiencies. But she would do what she could to remedy them, she said. So presently Joan emerged from her dungeon of a room washed and ready for bed. Sleep was out of the question, it was too hot, also although Ramai had arranged the padded quilt so that it formed a sort of mattress and thereby lessened the discomfort of the sagging string, the bed went down most dreadfully in the middle, and it was almost impossible to get at all comfortable. Also it was much too short, and when she tried to put her feet out straight they stuck hopelessly out over the end. So Joan gave up trying to go to sleep, and lay and watched the two softly breathing figures at her side, envying them their capacity for curling up, for even the rather bulky figure of her mother-in-law showed itself a circle on the bed that was no longer than Joan’s. Then her eyes lighted on the graceful curves of Taj—how pretty her husband’s sister was! she thought. It must be his sister, he had spoken of one. And how extraordinary all this was! Joan suddenly raised herself a little on her elbow. Fancy if anyone at home saw her now, lying out in the open air with two native women beside her, they would not believe it. And she herself hardly felt able to believe it. Fancy, once upon a time she had gone up to Westminster in a tram, and bought clothes at a Sale, and made a voyage. Ah, made a voyage, that seemed to wake something up. Joan sat upright, and put a hand over her heart. Something was beginning to stir within her, something that had been dead for months. There had been people on that voyage, people who had been kind to her, where were they all now? They had written to her, and she had barely answered. But now . . . now that she had got away, now that she had shaken off the hideous shackles that had chained her down to the earth, now . . . why! it came over Joan in a flood of almost incredulous rapture; why, she would write to them! . . . get in touch with them! Mrs. Kemp, kindest of all friends, Betty Forsythe, whose sympathy had come so wonderfully close to her just when she wanted it most. And—Joan sat up under the stars—and she could write to Major Heriot, of course she could. She was away from it—away from the ceaseless treacherous spying on her correspondence. She flung her hands suddenly over her face. Get into touch with him again! Why! it didn’t bear thinking of . . . why, it made life suddenly a thing of flaming possibilities. He would write to her, perhaps tell her that he still thought of her. Why, she would write to him now! . . . pour it all out while it was surging up within her. She struggled off the uncomfortable bed, on to the beaten earth ground, and as she stood there, her short hair falling down over her glowing face, she held her hands up above her head and thanked God for bringing her here. It was uncomfortable, it was primitive, but it was heaven compared to the misery she had left. So she crept into her stifling room, and groped for her despatch case, and then she struggled to relight the miserable little kerosene oil lamp that stood on a rickety shelf. At last she did it, and then she crept out under the stars again, and set the lamp on the ground and sat down beside it, and poured it all out, her love and her longing, and her prayer for forgiveness that she had not written for so many months, when her heart and soul had been stupefied with misery and fear. “You see, Peter, I always had the terror in front of me that he would cut off my nose, and then you could never have borne to look at me again. But he hasn’t, and oh, perhaps one day we shall meet again.” And then she shut up the written pages in an envelope, and stuck on a stamp, oh, with such trembling joy, and then climbed again on to the string bed, and fell sweetly—asleep. But in the morning, the flame of joy had burnt a little low again. It got hot very early in the morning, and Joan was awakened by a shaft of sunlight in her eyes. Both her companions had gone, only a miserable looking pariah dog, and a few fowls, were prowling round the courtyard. Also, by daylight everything looked much more sordid, the house was frankly built of mud, and mud entirely uncamouflaged. But Ramai suddenly appeared with a cup of tea in her hand, and that seemed to bring a little brightness into things. Joan had not expected to be waited on at all.

“Drink quickly, memsahib,” said Ramai, stirring it briskly with a tin spoon.

“Why? And I hope you have not put sugar in it I don’t take it,” said Joan, holding out her hand for the cup

“No sugar, memsahib,” said Ramai watching her with bright eyes.

“But something crunches, there is sugar,” said Joan tipping the empty cup a little and looking at the bottom’

“No sugar, memsahib,” said Ramai. And apparently there wasn’t, as it was not at all sweet. But Joan felt cautiously round her mouth—something had gritted; she hoped sincerely that the stopping of a tooth wasn’t beginning to give way: this would not be at all the place to get one filled again; Joan looked round and laughed at the thought. The laugh seemed to clear things a little, and she got up and went into her dark room. Ramai followed her, and watched her closely, at the same time helping her, as well as she could, to get dressed with as little discomfort as possible. But it all made Joan more determined to get away from it, as soon as possible, and when she was dressed she sat down again on the ground and began to write, using her despatch case as a writing table. But later, when with the three letters in her hand she went out on to the front verandah with her topi on, prepared to walk to the post office, a set back awaited her. Tara was there, it was the first time she had seen her that day.

“Where are you going?” she asked in the vernacular. Joan explained.

Tara laughed scornfully, and clapped her hands. “Explain to the memsahib,” she said as Ramai appeared. “It is not possible to walk so far.”

As Ramai explained, Joan staring out on to the molten horizon, began to see the reason in it. They were, as she had imagined, utterly cut off from everywhere. The isolation suddenly gave her a feeling of sick terror. If she could communicate with no one, what would become of her? And how could she communicate with anyone. Probably none of the women folk ever went into the neighbouring village. Her father-in-law would go to carry on his business, but how could she ask him to post her letters? As she was thinking this he appeared suddenly from the back, and as it was hot, and he was in the bosom of his family, he had not troubled to dress except for a loin cloth.

“What is it all about?” he asked.

Tara explained, with a good deal of gesticulation. And then Mohammed Fazal evidently said what she had been afraid he would way, that he would post the letters. So after a little hesitation Joan handed them over: after all, letters were sacred, surely even a native would respect them.

But none of Mohammed Fazal’s female relations had ever been able to write, and he considered it a foolish form of recreation, so later he took the letters out of the loin cloth into which he had tucked them, and sucked off the stamps, which were not quite dry, and then used the letters to start the fire which he was lighting to dry some rather green baskets that he wanted quickly for his betul leaves.

The long burning day wore on. Joan stumbled into her dark cupboard of a room, and gasped and held her throat, and wondered how long she would be able to five under these conditions. Then the night came, and her father-in-law came back from his journey to the neighbouring village, and there was the same meal, and the same guttering lamp and smell of kerosene oil, and the same climbing of the sinuous figures on to the string beds. Joan lay and stared up at the stars, and knew now with certainty of death that she was prisoner for ever. If she tried to escape under the cover of night she would be certain to be brought back; even if she got any distance away, one of the hovering pariah dogs would bark, or one of the apparently slumbering figures would see her start. For Joan, though she had only been under Tara Mohammed’s roof twenty-four hours, knew her to be a woman of extraordinary cunning. The two other women in the house were completely under her thumb; any idea that Joan had had of bribing Ramai to do things for her had already completely vanished; she would give her away to her mistress at once. Even the beautiful Taj bowed her luminous face, and ran to do her slightest bidding. Joan sat upon the bed, gripped her hands together, and rocked herself to and fro in despair of the thought. And as she bent, a fearful pain tore her across and she screamed again and again and a couple of rats, who had been wondering if they should settle on the end of her bed, thought better of it, and scuttled back into a corner.

“My inside, my inside!” Joan had rolled off the bed and was clutching at her stomach, as she struggled on the earthen floor. “Oh, it’s coming again! My inside! it’s cutting, it’s cutting! Help me somebody, give me a drink of water,” Joan screamed again and again.

Tara heard the screams and sat up. This was quicker than she expected. She lay down again. Taj also heard but did not sit up. Her mother-in-law had told her that she was to make no sign when she saw the English girl beginning to die. And Taj was quite content to make no sign. She resented the thought that Joan had been first in the arms of her wedded lord, and she was glad that she was going to die. And when she was dead she would have the nice green canvas trunk and the little leather case with the pens in it.

Joan, realising that no one cared, even if they heard her cries, staggered up and out into the middle of the courtyard, and bowed herself to the ground, and then flung herself back to the sky. And then she felt the awful nausea rising up into her throat, and she lurched away into the shelter of her own room and propped herself up against the wall and prayed to God to let her die then, not to have any more of this torture. But crushed glass poisoning takes some time, and it is very convenient because it leaves no trace, so dawn still found Joan wandering, and lurching and screaming, holding her stomach.

Tara Mohammed got impatient at the noise. “Hold thy peace,” she commanded, thrusting her head into Joan’s dark and suffocating room, where she stood propped up against the wall, the tears streaming down her small face. Her hair had not been brushed that day and it stood out wildly round her straining eyes.

“But I can’t, it hurts so frightfully . . . I think I must have got a chill or something,” Joan bent again and then raised herself. “Haven’t you any sort of a thing that, you can give me, ginger, or brandy, or anything like that?” she said, her voice broken with supplication.

But Tara Mohammed only snorted and then spat vigorously. “Wah!” she said, and then withdrew, a grin on her brutal face.

*  *  *

The beaten earth platform of Tawah station was blazing under a mid-day sun when Nazir Ali stepped out on to it. But the old face was grey with fatigue, and he fumbled anxiously in the pocket of his rather grubby white coat for a one-anna piece. “Tea,” he said in the vernacular, to the sweetmeat vendor. The sweetmeat vendor was one of his own caste, and a garrulous man at that, so as he stirred the nauseously sweet compound in the tea receptacle, he began to talk. Nazir Ali encouraged him, for it was for that purpose he had asked for the tea.

“Truly, truly,” he said, nodding his old head.

The sweetmeat vendor became very mysterious. “Even now do they say she lies a-dying, the accursed one. Tara Mohammed is a woman of great determination, although she lives behind the veil. And has she not always hated the knowledge that her only son was wed to an infidel? And the child wife that he took before he crossed the great water, is she not now of surpassing beauty, and of an age to be taken by her husband? Truly it is a good thing that the accursed one should be got rid of.” The sweetmeat vendor spat viciously.

This was what Nazir Ali had wanted to find out, when Joan had arrived at Tawah.

“An ugly sight indeed,” he responded, “and when did this take place?”

“At the new moon,” said the sweetmeat vendor, turning his face up to the sky.

Nazir Ali calculated—a week ago—would he be in time? He drank the remainder of his tea in a gulp. I must depart,” he said, “I have urgent business on hand.”

“Thy house and lands, they need supervision?” queried the sweetmeat vendor.

“Even so, the upper verandah of my house shows sign of collapse,” replied Nazir Ali, who had barely recovered from a terrible bill for setting the whole of the said house thoroughly in order.

“Aha! a sorry affair,” responded the sweetmeat vendor sympathetically, and he pulled Nazir Ali’s empty cup towards him, and proceeded to clean it by the simple expedient of swirling the dregs round the sides and then wiping it on his dhotie.

But Nazir Ali was already outside the station. He was torn with anxiety, for now that he was within reach of Joan he had not the least idea how he was going to rescue her. He knew Fazal Mohammed well, but that meant nothing. In a Mohammedan household the female portion of it is entirely inaccessible to the ordinary male. But he prayed as he hoisted his aching frame into the tonga: the chosen of his sahib, she must be kept from death, even though he, Nazir Ali, were to die for it.

The flat mud hut under the brassy sky was in complete silence as Nazir Ali approached it. Only a pariah dog yapped at his heels as he got out of the tonga. It was the hour of the siesta: Tara and her husband and her daughter-in-law had partaken freely of the midday meal, and they now lay curled up like boa constrictors on their string beds. Ramai and her fellow servant were having their belated midday meal in the servants’ quarters at the back, chattering vociferously. And Joan lay like a withered crumpled leaf on her string bed, her grey shrunken face deep in the almost black pillow case.

“Memsahib!” It came hissing from under Nazir Ali’s white beard. Allah had indeed heard his prayer.

“Nazir Ali!” Joan knew him at once: the devoted servant of the man she loved.

Nazir Ali knew then that this must be a bolt for freedom. He reached up to the verandah and dragged her down on to the ground before him, and clutching her round the waist he hauled her up the steep bank. Joan put forth all her little strength to help him, but she could do very little because she was so weak. But because of her weakness she was very light; and so she did not hinder the old man much, and with skinny hands he half pushed and half hauled her into the tonga. “Drive,” he said imperiously to the gaping tonga-wallah, who stumbled sleepily up at their approach, having settled himself comfortably down under a mud wall to sleep for a couple of hours. “This is business of the Sirkar. And keep thy mouth shut, unless thou wishest to swing for it.” The swaying tonga, a couple of pariah dogs noisily at its wheels, went off with a wild lurch down the cart track of a road, but nobody heard in the flat mud house, they were sleeping far too heavily They fled along under the molten sky, and Joan, clutched within the trembling shelter of the old arm moaned and swayed, and as she swayed Nazir Ali, held her tighter, and trembled, for surely this was death on the beloved face. Then they rattled into the village of Tawah, and the sleeping dogs sprawled in the middle of the road scattered with wildest barking, but as in the flat mud house out in the wilds, so in the village of Tawah the inhabitants were sleeping off the effects of the mid-day meal, and no one even came to the front of the little tumbledown houses to look. At last the tonga drew up at the door of his own house, and Nazir Ali fumbled in his pocket and drew out the key of it, and flung it wide open and then drew Joan very tenderly from the back seat of the tonga, and carried her up the tiny flight of stairs that led to the upper chamber.

When the sun had sunk a little from its mid-day fierceness Tara Mohammed stirred on her string bed, and sat up, the perspiration running down her black face, and then she rolled off the wooden frame and went and thrust her heavy jowl into Joan’s stifling cellar of a room. But the little bed was empty, and she turned furiously and screamed for Ramai.

Ramai, who had had to do it before in her life, lied furiously: “So did it happen,” she said salaaming deeply. “While the huzoor lay slumbering upon her bed, the accursed one called to me. Weakly she spoke. ‘Ramai, the end is near,’ she said, ‘give me food, and I will eat it and before the torment seizes me, so will I die.’ And I replied, ‘How wilt thou die?’ And she replied, the infidel, ‘ I will go forth and fling myself into the well.’ And I replied, ‘Not into the well from which my master and mistress drink.’ And she said, ‘No, into the disused well that lies to the east of the compound.’ And so I let her go,” finished Ramai complacently.

Tara shot a swift glance at the brass plate by the bed, only one chupattie lay on it. So Joan had hastened her end herself; it was excellent work. And in the well she would be safe from discovery. When enquiries were set on too, they would be able to say that Joan had wandered out and had tripped over a plank and gone headlong into the well in the darkness of the night. She had no reason to doubt the word of her servant—and in fact her action had been commendable. So she smiled broadly.

“It is well done,” she said; “now give me the keys of the trunk, and we will see what it contains. And the small despatch case—and the roll of bedding . . .”

But that night as the flat mud house lay under the white moonlight, twice had Fazal Mohammed to get up and throw a stone at the dog that howled incessantly. It lay and writhed, tearing at its body in torment. And as the first flood of amber light streamed out over the desolate country it dragged itself to the edge of the verandah and died, staring with desolate eyes at the miserable hovel that it had called its home.

Joan very nearly died. But her enforced starvation had saved her, also Nazir Ali had come across this form of slow poisoning before, and he knew roughly how to tackle it. So for a week he never left her—with the most wonderful skill and tenderness he watched by her day and night, stooping his bent old figure, lifting her, and crouching beside her holding nourishment to her lips. Joan, lying like a grey shadow of her former self on Nazir Ali’s bed, for there was only one, sobbed out her love and gratitude to the old native who had saved her life.

Nazir Ali sat on his old haunches and looked at her shrewdly.

“Sahib very fond, I too very fond,” he said with complacency.

He covered her tenderly with the brightly coloured chuddah, and then sat a little way away, and rested his old head on his hands, and thought, and thought with a terrible persistence. For what was going to happen next?—that was the thought that never left him day or night. He could not leave Joan here, nor could he communicate with her husband, nor could he tell his sahib anything about her. For if he did, thought Nazir Ali with a certain amount of scorn, he would immediately think it his duty to communicate with her husband. And Nazir Ali knew that was the worst thing that could possibly happen. No, he, Nazir Ali, must remain the only one who knew where the little white memsahib was. But how could it be ensured so? Nazir Ali groaned aloud as he racked his brains.

To begin with his leave was nearly at an end, and he dared not exceed it, the armed escort would be waiting him at the little terminal station on the day appointed for it to be there, and there would be terrible trouble if it returned without him. Then, as the sun was even then just beginning to sink in the West, Nazir Ali, seeing that the memsahib was still sleeping, picked up his little prayer carpet, and took it out on to the flat roof of the room below, a room that jutted out by itself and was accessible by two stone steps from the room in which they now were, and bowed himself again to the shafts of rose and amethyst that were beginning to stab the sky, and sent up a quite unconscious prayer that Allah would guide him in the right way—unconscious, because the ordinary Mohammedan prays according to rote.

And as the old grey head lay humbly, with its scanty hair lying on the sinewy neck, the great idea flashed suddenly into Nazir Ali’s mind, and he trembled with the sudden onslaught of it. Could it be thus? . . . could it be thus? he raised his head and searched the flaming heavens with eyes that were suddenly wide.

Nazir Ali got up like a man in a dream, “Coming memsahib,” he called softly in reply, and went in.

Joan was standing, weakly smiling, by the side of her bed. She held out shaking hands.

“Look, Nazir Ali, I can stand,” she said, “now I shall be able to do things for myself a little. Oh, Nazir Ali, when I think what you have done for me, I oughtn’t to have let you, but how could I help it? I should have died if you hadn’t done them.” Joan in her weakness began to cry again.

Nazir Ali made little grunting sounds under his beard, and laid a very respectful hand on the thin shoulder and pressed her down on to the bed again.

“Memsahib very much weak,” he said, “and memsahib very young memsahib. Nazir Ali very old man, so can look after memsahib very nicely. And now Nazir Ah telling memsahib very great plan, memsahib listening very carefully to Nazir Ali . . .”

He spoke until the little upper room above the narrow bazaar street lay a blur of darkness, and Joan lay on her bed and listened. Then the moon sailed suddenly up from behind a bank of mist, and thrust a long stabbing finger across the string bed, and Joan raised herself on her elbow and stared into the heart of it, her face deadly white in the fierce light

“Nazir Ali, shall I see him?” she breathed.

Nazir Ah nodded his wise old head several times. “Memsahib seeing,” he said, “but memsahib never telling. Womens not ’lowed in Forts,” said Nazir Ali with the assurance of one who knows what he is talking about.

Chapter XXI

No one saw them leave the little house with the upper room, the little bent old man and the slender youth beside him. Nazir Ali had chosen the midnight train, because he knew that this was going to be the most difficult part of the business. He was known in Tawah, and most people knew that he had not a relation so young. But so far things had gone well, the disguise had been obtained with no difficulty whatever, and Nazir Ali had sat chaffering with the merchant in the little shop at the corner of the street, as he chose the two new pairs of baggy trousers, and the two white puggarees, and the short white coats. “Truly the Fort of Wai is an accursed spot,” he declaimed, “there is no good bazaar street such as we have here,” and he had drawn out his terribly depleted purse and paid out the twenty rupees with a pang at his heart. For his money was getting terribly low, and he had a certain amount of expense still in front of him, because the memsahib’s ticket would have to be paid for. But in the event of an urgent call in the future, the sahib would always be willing to give an advance, only Nazir Ali brooded ceaselessly over the thought of the hundred rupee note left in Joan’s purse which she had been too exhausted and taken by surprise to think of when she had left. To have left it in the possession of those devils, it was a terrible thought to Nazir Ali. Joan regretted it bitterly, too, except that nothing seemed really to matter now she was free. It began to come back to her foggily—there had been a letter from Gerald with something about money that had come to her now that her mother was dead. The question was how could she get hold of it, since no one must know where she was. No, she must leave it for the present, but that Nazir Ali must be adequately repaid for all he had done for her was beyond question. Not that he ever could be repaid: with a heaving breast Joan realised that it was devotion beyond money and beyond price.

The Station was fairly deserted, as Nazir Ali had hoped it would be, only in the narrow wooden compartment into which they got with their little pieces of luggage, a couple of natives followed them. One, a tall Mohammedan, accosted Nazir Ali with much salaaming, and a flash of glorious teeth.

“Hail brother,” he said, “and I did not know that thou wert in this part of the world. Thou dwellest for the best part of the year in territory far removed from this. And the youth with thee, who is he?”

Nazir Ali could gladly have stabbed the man who spoke to him. But he replied courteously.

“The son of my younger brother accompanies me,” he replied. “An afflicted youth and a sickly one withal. From his youth dumb, and subject to the falling sickness. Even now have I lifted him from a bed of sickness, and so will I dispose of him upon the seat,” said Nazir Ali, who knew that Joan would find travelling third class very dreadful, especially as she was so weak. He settled his humble collection of bedding as comfortably as he could on the hard bench, and motioned the boy to lie down upon it.

Joan obeyed, everything swimming in front of her eyes. She felt so desperately weary, the excitement of putting on the disguise had shaken her to her very vitals. In the blurred darkness of the upper room, two days before, Nazir Ali had fully laid his great plan before her. He would take her to Wai as his nephew, the servants’ accommodation there was ample; they could live side by side in adjacent quarters, Nazir Ali had two at his disposal. After a time she would have to be got back to civilization, but the thought of that could be left for the present, Nazir Ali’s mind was now only terribly occupied with the thought of getting safely to Wai.

“Hast heard that the son of Fazal Mohammed Khan merchant has taken to himself an English wife?” said the tall Mohammedan conversationally, as he drew heavily on the hookah that was filling the compartment with heavy fumes.

Nazir Ali wished that it was within his power to fling the lanky fellow opposite him to the dogs on the platform, but he settled the chuddah over Joan’s emaciated body, and turned courteously. He was terribly afraid that Joan would understand what was being said; she knew a certain amount of Hindustani although she could not speak it at all well. As a matter of fact Joan had grasped what the Mohammedan had said, and was waiting with straining ears to hear what Nazir Ali would reply to him.

“The news has been conveyed to me,” replied Nazir Ali, bending his bushy eyebrows over his bright eyes, and accepting with a salaam the mouthpiece of the hookah that was handed across the little space which separated the two narrow seats.

“And a shameful thing too, when the daughter of the landowner Wali Mohammed awaits the pleasure of her lord in the house of her mother-in-law,” replied the Mohammedan. “Taj Mohammed, a sweet child before she entered the purdah, and now I believe of a rare beauty.”

Nazir Ali felt the little figure under the chuddah move. He was sitting at the end of the seat on which Joan lay, and very gently and respectfully he laid his wrinkled hand on her feet. “Sleep, my son,” he said soothingly. Joan knew it was a warning. But the whole of her being had surged up into her throat. Then Taj, that exquisite child with the skin like softest suéde was her husband’s wife! Joan gripped her hands together and felt that she must scream. His wife—his wife long before she had been! Then what was she, what was she? A foul thing, foul enough before, but now foul in the sight of the world. And foul, unspeakably foul in the eyes of the man she loved, because even now when she had met him she had been a thing of no lawful claim. And now what was she and what could become of her? Nothing but an abyss of shame lay in front of her. As she thought this a terrible haunting horror of a thought crept into her mind. Perhaps Peter had guessed that was how things were, that was why he had made love to her. But there was the train, the train, he had had an opportunity then . . . and he had not availed himself of it. Ah, but perhaps he hadn’t wanted to: perhaps he felt that she was foul, because she had lived with a native who wasn’t really her husband. And at that awful thought Joan could no longer control herself, and she screamed and sat up.

Nazir Ali was at her head in a moment: with the wonderful divination of the oriental he had an idea what was passing through her mind. He nodded warningly across the compartment: “The falling sickness,” he said, “it approaches, do not move for your life, the paroxysms are of great violence.”

But the Mohammedan did not care for the idea of the falling sickness in so small a space, and he began hurriedly to collect his belongings. “Come,” he said to his companion, “we will descend while there is yet time,” and both men tumbled hastily out on to the beaten earth platform.

Left alone, Nazir slammed the door to, and filled the whole of the barred window with the top part of his old body. He did not care what he did as long as they could keep the compartment to themselves.

“Memsahib screaming, tell Nazir Ali, why?” speaking as he would have spoken to a child.

Joan sat up again. “Nazir Ali, tell me, was it true what that man said about Taj being my husband’s wife?” she said, and her lips were blue.

“His wife indeed,” he said calmly, “but memsahib not minding. Good thing, memsahib can go ’way, memsahib eating now or getting very sick.”

So Joan ate and drank and then lay down again. After all, as she thought wearily, did it matter so very much? And as the train rattled its way along under the stars she slept a little fitfully.

They reached Palghai at five in the morning, and Nazir Ali waked Joan again. There was a tap in the small lavatory that adjoined the compartment in which they were, and Joan, astonished to feel herself so much more able to get about without the awful weakness of the last week, went in and splashed a little water over her face. Somehow now, the great adventure of the whole thing struck her more forcibly. There was no glass in the lavatory, but as she looked down at herself the completeness of the disguise was borne in on her. She wore very full white trousers very much after the style of jodhpur breeches, a full collarless white shirt, a short white coat coming to just above her knees, and a huge white turban that covered all her hair and both ears. As a matter of fact very little of her face showed, simply her nose and mouth, and a little of both cheeks, and all that did show was a pale brown colour, and there were new lines at the corners of her mouth and at the corners of her eyes; it was no longer the face of a very young girl, it was the face of someone who had suffered frightfully and who shows it.

“Unfastening end of puggaree, memsahib, very hot sun,” said Nazir Ali, when, her brief toilet finished, Joan came back into the compartment again; and he unfastened one end of the white wrappings and let it hang down at the back of her neck.

A tonga stood outside the little station, and a couple of mounted sowars on chargers were clattering up and down beside it. As Nazir Ali emerged, his box and roll of bedding on the head of a coolie, they grinned a welcome, showing flashing teeth. But they stared with frankest astonishment at Joan, as she stood looking over the desolate landscape.

“The son of my youngest brother,” explained Nazir Ali again, “an afflicted youth and a sickly one withal. From his youth dumb, and subject to the falling sickness.”

So they set out, Joan in the back seat of the tonga, Nazir Ali beside the driver in front, the two sowars clattering beside them, their rifles slung across their shoulders. First they passed the Fort of Palghai—women were allowed there, thought Joan, remembering what Major Heriot had told her on the ship. It stood frowning and desolate high above the road, and Joan wondered what women felt there day after day with only that awful bare landscape in front of them. But if they had husbands they liked it would be all right, she reflected, thinking what even that little flat mud hut in the sandy waste would have been if she could have had the man she loved with her there. Then they left the Fort behind them, the last trace of civilization except a little blockhouse on a rocky hump of earth, and set their faces towards a low range of hills—they had to go through a pass in them, Nazir Ali explained to her, with elaborate signs. For he had carefully impressed upon Joan that she must never speak; if she did her true identity would be discovered. Only when they were alone with the door of the quarter shut could she allow her voice to be heard.

So they went on and on, and it got hotter and hotter, and Joan shifted her position as often as she could, her back ached so frightfully. There was food, of a sort, but no more milk, only water, but somehow Joan felt wonderfully stronger, and she ate the brown chupatties and drank the water, and then she tried to prop herself up so that she could sleep, lying half across the seat. Joan got a sort of half light-headed feeling that she was not really there, as if this was part of a dreadful nightmare, like her arrival at the blue house smothered in trees five months before. However, the day wore on, and the sun began to go down, and lay in long flaming shafts on the desolate hills, and the stars came out, and then they halted for the night; it was not safe to continue their way in darkness on the desolate road. This was what Nazir Ali had been dreading for his memsahib, the total absence of privacy, but he made a great to-do about the likelihood of one of these terrible fits, if proper rest was not procured for the afflicted youth, and he rigged up a sort of shelter with a couple of rugs against the tonga wheels, and left Joan there, praying that the conversation of his companions and their general behaviour would not be too repugnant.

Dawn was a flaming glory of green and gold when Joan waked. The little encampment was astir, and the smell of wood smoke blew into Joan’s face, as she turned on her elbow. And then, with her renewed health, for she had slept beautifully, the thought came over her that in a few hours from now she would see him, and she fell on her knees, and for the first time for many months she flung out her soul to God, and seemed to get back in an instant the old consciousness of a visible presence. He was there—God. He had only been waiting for her to call Him.

“Salaam, Memsahib.” Nazir Ali, with a warning cough, came round the draped wheel with a steaming cup of tea, and a dish of biscuits.

Joan sat up, her puggaree very much askew. “Salaam, Nazir Ali,” she said, “oh, I feel so much better. Sort of all glowing inside, don’t you know.”

Nazir Ali beamed, but he held up a warning finger notwithstanding. “Memsahib speaking very quietly,” he said, “not forgetting, please memsahib.”

Joan promised, and she ate and drank with intensest appetite. Then the ponies were harnessed again, and the sowars swung clattering into their saddles, and they were off. The same barren desolation, the same treeless waste, only the little tonga bowling along a white road that seemed to unroll itself out in front of them as they went. But at last Nazir Ali touched her arm, and pointed, and there the white road seemed to come to an end, and there was a medley of camels and tongas and natives all jostling together. This was one of the halting places on the road from Afghanistan, Nazir Ali explained elaborately, and the tonga drew nearer and then eventually stopped. Nazir Ali helped Joan carefully out of the back of the tonga, and then he spoke to the driver of it, and with a good deal of whistling and chirruping he unharnessed the two ponies, and tipped the tonga back on to its back seat, and Nazir Ali signed to Joan to sit down under the shelter of it.

Joan stuck out her thin legs in front of her, and dragged her puggaree a little lower over her eyes. The glare was terrific, but the wooden floor of the tonga made a splendid shield from the sun. She ate and drank what Nazir Ali brought her: she was hungry; although it was very hot, there was a dry tang in the air, and it gave her a feeling of increased vitality.

The sun was now at its highest, and after a little while Nazir Ali came to Joan and told her that there would be a halt now until about four o’clock, when the three hours’ march would be made on foot, and that she must sleep. And suddenly the spirit and the adventure of the whole thing seized on Joan, and she made strange little grunting sounds, and pointed with a small brown finger. Was that the direction in which they were going? she tried to convey.

“Hain,” Nazir Ali wagged his old head. “No seeing Fort yet, getting over hill seeing,” and he pointed to the hump of low rocky hills that lay ahead of them.

“Then in about five hours perhaps I shall see him,” thought Joan, lying down under the patch of black shade, trembling. “Nazir Ali, what is my name supposed to be?” she whispered.

Nazir Ali thought a minute: “Roshan,” he said.

“Will the sahib call me that?” she asked tremulously.

Nazir Ali was suddenly alarmed. “Sahib not seeing memsahib,” he said; “memsahib staying always in Nazir Ali’s quarter. Sahib seeing memsahib, sending ’way.”

“Can’t I ever see him?” asked Joan her eyes filling with tears.

Nazir Ali swept his eyes over the quivering face in front of him. Who would ever know it for the child’s face of the girl in the big ship, he thought with a pang. Stained a dark brown, roughened, heavily lined round mouth and eyes. And the hands, the wrists bony, and the brown fingers thin to emaciation. And the body—utterly disguised in the full Indian dress. He nodded again: “Sometimes seeing,” he said consolingly.

One of the sowars was a kindly fellow, and as Roshan stumbled and fell, and then got up again, and then fell again, clutching at the rocky earth with blindly gripping fingers, he called cheerily to Nazir Ali, who was stumbling along by Roshan’s side trying with his old strength to help ‘him’ over the difficult bits of the steep cart track, and bade him put the youth on his horse. “For he is indeed a sickly youth,” he said with rough concern, “and we do not wish to carry a corpse with us on our return into the fortress of Wai.”

But Nazir Ali was too spent himself to help Roshan up into the saddle, only as the sowar gripped the thin figure kindly between his two powerful hands and lifted him he shivered with terror lest the close grasp should divulge the secret that their lives depended upon keeping intact. But the sowar did not imagine that north of Palghai there could be a woman, certainly not an Englishwoman, for even among the varied crowd that had strewn the ground at the halt there had not been one woman to be seen, so he only chirruped cheerfully to the drooping figure that leant exhausted over the neck of the big horse, and tried to cheer him on his way. “Courage, little brother,” he said, “our journey is even now drawing to an end. One short hour more and thou wilt see the walls of thy new home.”

So they came near to the grey Fort fairly cheerfully, and Joan, when Nazir Ali called to her to look up, lifted her eyes, and then she dropped them again, and the tears poured down her thin cheeks. He was there, in that great grey Fortress, which stood as it always stood, sightlessly staring over the expanse of desolate country towards Afghanistan. He was there, the man she loved! Oh wasn’t the torment going to be too great to bear? How could she see him, and he not to know that it was she! For a minute Joan wished that she had not come, for it would stir it all up again, the agony of longing for him to touch her, to speak to her, or tormenting—exquisitely tormenting—thought, for him to kiss her. But she must put all that away from her now it was all done with—that heavenly, never-to-be-forgotten time. Now she just had to live through the next month or two, and then her people must be told what had happened, and she must somehow get home again, shamed, smirched with a never-to-be-forgotten shame, a nameless outcast. And then as she thought that, a stab, fiercer than any stab that Fate had so far dealt her, pierced through her heart. Who would she go to when she did get home? Where was the welcoming, all excusing love that would have taken her all smirched as she was, and tenderly cherished her until she could bear to face the world again? Gone, gone for ever, gone into a dreadful blank silence from which there was no return.

Chapter XXII

“I say, Meredith, I wish you’d overhaul my servant one day, will you?” Major Heriot swung round a little in his chair, and glanced up at the Doctor, who had just come into his big office room to give a report.

“Most certainly I will, Sir.” Captain Meredith twisted his face in a half smile. “What do you think is the matter with him?” Captain Meredith sat down in the chair next to the office table, and nodded his thanks over the box of cigarettes that his Commanding Officer held out to him.

“Well, he’s altered. He looks years older to begin with, at least I think so, and then he’s altered in other ways, too. He used to be that rare product, a servant who is always on the spot. Now he is very rarely in the room, except when he is actually wanted. I don’t mean to say that he neglects me; Nazir Ali would never do that, but several times lately I have had to send for him from his quarter. It’s so extraordinary for him to be like that, that’s why I think there must be something wrong with him. I know his heart is in rather a dicky state, he had two goes of it on the way out.”

“I will overhaul him with pleasure, and the best way for me to do it is just to take him unawares. And now I come to think of it,” said Captain Meredith, flicking a little of the grey ash from the end of his cigarette on to the floor, “I haven’t seen him outside lately. He used to be rather a sociable old chap, but since he came back from leave this time I have hardly caught sight of him.”

“Yes, there you are, you notice the same thing. Well, there must be something to account for it.” Peter Heriot lit himself a cigarette, shading the match with a very brown hand. “You see, I value the old man immensely, and if there is anything that you could do to buck him up, Meredith, I should be very grateful to you. Catch him on the hop, as you suggest, and you may get to the bottom of the whole thing.”

“I will with pleasure. And now may I just consult you about this, Sir? “Captain Meredith became the junior officer again, and drew his pocket-book out of the pocket of his khaki tunic. . . .

So a little later in the day, Roshan, his thin arms curled round his knees, his small teeth gleaming in his brown face, and his little body swaying from side to side in wildest merriment, was struck into a frozen terrified rigidity by the door of the quarter being suddenly unceremoniously opened.

“Ari!” Nazir Ali in his terror started to his feet. “Ari!” he looked wildly round at Roshan, and then remembering, jerked his thumb upwards at the boy.

Roshan rose to his feet, and steadied his puggaree with a shaking hand.

Captain Meredith came a little further into the room, stared in astonishment at the slim boy’s figure that had risen to its feet, and turning he spoke to Nazir Ali in the vernacular. “Hallo! I didn’t know that you had anyone living with you,” he said; “that’s something new, isn’t it?”

“Hain, sahib.” Nazir Ali’s heart was thumping so that he could hardly breathe. “The son of my youngest brother,” he said. “To the great sickness my younger brother succumbed while I was on leave, and his dying prayer was this that I should succour his afflicted child. Deaf and dumb from his birth, and sadly afflicted in every way is the boy,” said Nazir Ali, and then remembering he cursed himself. He was not talking to a layman now. Perhaps the doctor would want to examine the boy and see if anything could be put right. He shivered with cold, although the sun was coming down on the little quarter like a stream of molten brass.

“Oh, well, he looks healthy enough,” said the Regimental doctor carelessly. For he did not care much for medicine, it did not interest him, he liked to get going with a knife. “But it’s you, Nazir Ali, the sahib does not think you’re quite up to the mark. Slip off that shirt of yours and let me have a look at you, will you. No, nothing to be alarmed about,” for the old man shrunk back, livid.

Roshan understood a little of what was being said, and she knew what had brought the livid look to Nazir Ali’s face. It was the old Mohammedan’s one terror, that anything like this should happen. His constant care was to guard her from the carelessly spoken word of a servant, or from rough association with the native sepoys or anything that should seem to lower her from her high estate. So she slipped noiselessly out of the quarter into her own.

But once there, she stared with distended eyes into the tiny broken piece of looking-glass that was propped up on two nails hammered into the brick wall. What would happen to her if anything happened to Nazir Ali?

The same thought occurred to Nazir Ali, and after the Regimental doctor had concluded his very exhaustive examination, he sat crouched in the corner of his quarter staring into the shaft of sunlight that struck down from the tiny barred window. For the doctor had been roughly outspoken, he thought it was better under the circumstances. “You may last a number of years, Nazir Ali,” he had said, “but on the other hand with a heart like yours, you might go out at any moment. And if, as you say, that boy is dependent on you, you had better get into touch with his relations and get someone to come and fetch him. Or there may be a draft going down in a couple of weeks’ time, and you could send him along with it.” So Nazir Ali sat, his hands clenched between his knees, and as he sat he thought, and as he thought, he breathed deeply and made up his mind.

When Roshan knocked carefully at the wooden door, and then came in, he found the old man busy with the preparations for their afternoon meal, a combination of tea and dinner.

“What did the doctor Sahib say?” he asked crouching on his haunches. It was odd how soon you got accustomed to crouching on your haunches, he thought, and how comfortable it was.

“He said, memsahib, that the great death will soon claim me,” replied Nazir Ali placidly. “And that I must make my bundobast. And I have made it,” continued Nazir Ali, carefully measuring the tea into the little brown teapot.

What! Roshan’s face between the sweep of the white puggaree was suddenly frozen.

“We all must die,” said Nazir Ali calmly, “and my life has been a long one.”

“But what about me—-you are the only person who cares for me!” Roshan fell face forwards on to her knees sobbing wildly.

“Weep not,” returned Nazir Ali tenderly—this was a tribute indeed that the memsahib should take his approaching demise so much to heart. “For the time of my going may yet be far distant. But to guard against any possible mishap I have bethought me of this very excellent plan. Drink thy tea, Oh Light of My Eyes, and I will reveal it to thee.”

As Roshan sipped the fragrant tea, and munched the deliciously made chupattie, and scooped with it, from the aluminium plate, the perfectly made egg curry—for Nazir Ali always made her eat first—she listened with heart first incredulous, then beating to suffocation. For Nazir Ali’s plan was this. To make her indispensable to his sahib, he would train her as his personal servant. She would then become part of the household indeed. And in the event of his, Nazir All’s death, she would slip into the place that he had filled for so many years. As the Major Sahib had cherished him, and made his well-being one of his chief cares, so would he do for the nephew of his old servant.

“But Nazir Ali, he might find out who I was, gasped Joan blinded with the joy of the thought that in this way she would be able to be near the man she worshipped.

“Not so, not so,” replied the old man smiling indulgently “The memsahib is well disguised, and the skin is well darkened.” And in his old mind, now very near to the Valley of the Shadow, he thought peacefully that it would be the very best thing that could possibly happen, if his sahib did find out who she was. Then he could extend still greater protection over the memsahib that he loved, the protection of his life and name. For Nazir Ali did not take much into account the Mohammedan husband. He knew the family of Fazal Mohammed Khan, and he had also heard rumours of the dabblings in politics of the educated son. And he knew that such dabblings often end in sudden murder or the scaffold.

But Roshan sat, his arms clasped round his knees, the little dark quarter illuminated in a very blaze of rapture. To be near him—to touch him perhaps—to wait on him, be his servant! Not to speak to him, no, never that, that would betray. But to be near him. It was too much . . .

*  *  *

“Hallo, Sir! so you’ve taken on the boy that belongs to your old man!” Captain Meredith had turned into the big office in response to a cordially extended invitation from his superior officer.

“Come in and have a drink, Meredith. Gad, is’nt it hot!” For Peter Heriot was sick of being alone with his thoughts, and even the doctor was somebody to divert them from persistent musing. He lay in a long chair without a collar.

“Yes, it’s damnably hot. But I’m interested to see the boy working. From what the old man told me I gathered that he was more or less dotty.”

Peter Heriot laughed. “Yes, so did I,” he said. “But he’s very much all there. He’s dumb apparently, but not deaf, at least I don’t think he’s deaf. He seems to hear when I come into the room, or anything like that. And he’s getting awfully sharp about my clothes, and he darns like a dream. That’s the oddest thing; I asked Nazir Ali about it and and he said that he couldn’t go to an ordinary school, so some missionaries befriended him and taught him to sew.”

“Really?” Captain Meredith, his tumbler between his fingers, was following Roshan’s thin figure about the room with rather thoughtful eyes.

“Yes, and it’s a darned useful accomplishment,” said Peter Heriot laughing ruefully at the pun he made. “Shows it must be hot to descend to that,” as he said with a smile at the man in the long chair by his side.

“Yes, it’s fearfully hot, but not as hot as it was, I think. I suppose the old man put his son on to save himself a little,” said Captain Meredith still staring at Roshan.

Yes, I think your report put the wind up him a little. And he hasn’t put in an appearance at all to-day. I tried to find out from the boy what was wrong, but I can’t get anything out of him.”

“May I try? I’d be rather interested to see how much he can make himself understood. If it’s only an ordinary case of tongue-tie, I might be able to do something,” said the doctor with professional zeal.

“Do by all means. Here, Roshan!” Major Heriot clapped his hands. The boy turned swiftly from the office table heaped high with papers, that he was dusting. “Come along over here,” he beckoned imperiously.

Roshan came, but more slowly than he generally moved, his heart was thundering in his ears as his bare feet moved reluctantly over the matted floor. He was terrified of the doctor, doctors could tell things that ordinary people couldn’t.

“Nothing to be alarmed about,” Major Heriot was looking at the small figure kindly; what a wretched looking little specimen he was, he thought, half-starved looking.

“Don’t take the boy into the surgery, he will probably have a fit and die,” said Heriot as the doctor rose from his chair.

Roshan heard, and trembled, hot and cold. What were they going to do to him? Fancy if they ordered him to take off his clothes! Men thought nothing of just slipping off a shirt.

“Now then,” the doctor took hold of Roshan’s shoulder and drew him a little nearer to the light; open your mouth young fellar, and let’s have a look at you he understands a certain amount of English, doesn’t he, Heriot? That’s it, wide. Now then” . . . and full in the light from the closely barred window the Regimental doctor bent to his scrutiny. The minute he saw the gold crown at the back of the row of small white teeth, he knew, and Roshan knew that he knew and swayed a little. But the doctor did not mean to let Roshan know that he knew, so he proceeded to camouflage, and he did it so well that even Roshan was reassured.

“I don’t see anything very wrong,” he said, and he let go of Roshan’s shoulder and gave him a good humoured little shove, “but it’s evidently an incurable case. In these cases of dumbness from birth you have to take so many things into account. There’s ——— and ——” here the doctor used a couple of technical terms quite unintelligible to both his listeners, “and so generally one has just to regard it as incurable. But if you don’t mind I’ll have him into the surgery one day, and thoroughly go into the whole thing—one day when you can spare him.”

“Do by all means,” replied the soldier in the long chair, looking with amused eyes at the cringing trembling figure in the baggy trousers and loose shirt; “Gad, you’ve put the fear of Hades into him, Meredith.”

“Yes, he looks as if he’d had a jar,” replied the doctor, carelessly; and as he strolled across the room he watched the retreating figure closely. Yes, even the full trousers did not quite disguise the knock knees. But who on earth is she? he wondered.

*  *  *

It was midnight when Roshan started upright wide awake with the feeling that someone had called her and someone was standing near at hand waiting. She slipped off the bed, groped for her shirt and puggaree and put them both on with trembling hands. Then she opened the door of her quarter, and slipped out. The moon rode high in the star be-spattered sky, it flooded the courtyard with a heavenly white radiance. She rapped carefully at the door of the quarter next to hers.

“Nazir Ali!” She dropped in panic on her knees by the side of the still figure.

The shrunken face bathed in moonlight turned a little. “Sahib!” breathed the lips that were beginning to stiffen.

Along the deserted verandah, in at the wire door, unlatched by a trembling finger pushed through the mesh, down the long corridor, and through the heavy teak door, half together. And a little later they both knelt by the side of the narrow bed, in the quarter lit only by the white moonlight.

“I’m afraid he’s nearly gone, Heriot.” The doctor had forced a little brandy down the knotted throat, but Nazir All’s eyes were closing.

“Nazir Ali, I say, old fellow,” Peter Heriot was not in the least ashamed of the tears that were running down his face. Joan had loved him, too, it was another link gone. “I say, can’t you do anything, Meredith?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t;” the other figure in pyjamas got up again on to his feet.

“But he may rally again for a minute or two, and if he does, he will probably like to have you to himself.” For the doctor suddenly thought that Nazir Ali must know who Joan was, and he might want at the hour of his death to tell his master. So he drew Roshan determinedly out of the dark quarter and closed the door behind them.

Left alone, Peter Heriot took the skinny hand in his, and held it to his striped chest. Somehow at this great moment he felt that all distinction between him and his faithful servant was at an end. Nazir Ali had loved him, and given him a wealth of devoted service. He stooped over him, his glass again to his lips. And the old Mohammedan gasped and then the falling lids lifted a little.

“Sahib,” he said, and Peter Heriot had to stoop his head to hear. “Sahib, my child very young child. Soldiers very rough mens. Night-time my child sleeping in old dressing-room near Sahib. Boxes there but not mattering. Sahib taking child near—soldiers very rough mens!”

“All right, Nazir Ali, I will certainly,” Major Heriot spoke in a low comforting voice and put his arm under the shrunken shoulders. But Nazir Ali was at peace now, his memsahib would be safe from the fear of rough discovery, and the old head dropped back with a fluttering sigh. To depart this life in the arms of your sahib, what better end? His old face lay serene in the white moonlight.

“Had he anything to say, at the last?” the two men stood and looked at the still figure. Behind them Roshan propped against the wall, her head in her arms. Somehow the tears wouldn’t come. He had gone for ever, her faithful protector and friend, and now what would become of her? . . .

“No nothing. Except that apparently he is anxious about the boy sleeping out here alone, and he wanted me to promise to have him in that empty dressing-room of mine. Which of course I said I would do; the boxes can easily be moved.”

“Really?” The eyes of the Regimental doctor were on the sad clear-cut face. Did Heriot know and was the whole thing a ramp? he thought, his mind suddenly a flood of evil suspicion.

“So he may as well come along at once. Here, Roshan fetch your bed and come along with me,” said the tall figure in striped pyjamas.

But Roshan shrunk back against the wall. It was coming over her in an awful wave, the despair—the desolation. She flung out her arms and began to sob.

“Here, don’t cry.” Peter Heriot laid his hand with rough consolation on the heaving shoulder. “Your uncle was a splendid fellow, and no one minds more than I do that he has died. But we will have everything seen to properly for him as he would have liked it. And he was anxious about your sleeping out here alone, so I promised that you should come into that boxroom place of mine. Bring your charpoy now, and you can get off to sleep and you will feel better in the morning.”

“I’ll bring the charpoy.” Something suddenly stirred in the doctor’s heart at the sight of the sobbing little figure.

“Oh, thanks, it’s awfully good of you, Meredith.” Major Heriot was touched; fancy Meredith putting himself out for a native chokra. “All right, we’ll go along ahead, then.” The two walked along the echoing corridor together, the top of Roshan’s tall puggaree just level with the striped shoulder.

Somehow, although he tried to stamp it down, Peter had the feeling that Joan was walking along beside him. And yet what madness of folly to have such a thought. Not a word from her for months, and the last letter returned through the dead letter office. It had come that morning, and it had driven him to a pitch of almost madness. For he had written regularly now every month, and a letter had never been returned before. An answer he did not expect, because she had told him that it was difficult to write, but it was a faint consolation to know that every month she would know that he still remembered her. Peter Heriot did not know that the last four letters that he had written had never got further than the servants’ quarters of the little blue house smothered in trees, because Ahmed had been violently sworn at by Mr. Mohammed Khan each time he had presented the thick envelope with the pool of scarlet at the back, so it had proved to be easier and more pleasant to stuff them straight away into the little cavern of burning charcoal.

“Now, dump the bed down in there—thanks very much, Meredith.” The three stood together in the big airy boxroom. “He’ll be all right here, and to-morrow I’ll have the boxes carted out. I can understand Nazir Ali’s anxiety about him, I never saw such a pathetic little rat of a chokra.’

“Yes, he’s not much to look at.” The doctor was staring at Joan. How much did she understand? he wondered.

The tears were still pouring down Joan’s face. Her best and most faithful friend gone for ever. And now what lay in front of her intimate association with the man she worshipped with no chance of his ever being able to find out that it was she. For in her soul she shrank from his ever knowing she was so vile in her namelessness, she had been the plaything of a native. No, he must never never know. But how was she going to bear it, how was she going to bear it? And how was the whole thing going to end? thought Joan with a terrible sinking fear in her heart. Doctors knew things that other people didn’t, and she had a deadly fear of Captain Meredith. Perhaps he already knew by something different in the look of her mouth that she was an English woman. And he would feel it his duty to inform his Commanding Officer if he did know it. Then she would have to go, and apart from the misery of that, there would be the undying shame of her position. Peter would despise her, he would probably think that she had followed him to Wai on purpose—Nazir Ali was not here to tell him how the whole thing had come about. And her lover would probably get into trouble, too, and thus she would be the means of bringing disgrace on him. Joan began to think of doing away with herself as a means of getting quit of it all. There was only that way when things got too bad, she thought to herself hopelessly.

“Well, I’ll turn in again. Night, night, Meredith, and many thanks. Here, Roshan, curl up on your bed and stop howling. Yes, what is it, Meredith?” the tall lean figure turned to the doctor who had opened his mouth as if to speak.

But Captain Meredith shut his mouth again. No, he would wait a bit before saying anything. “No, nothing,” he said, “I was only thinking what a loss the old fellow would be to you.”

“Yes, it’s a bad business.” Peter Heriot caught his lower lip between his teeth. “However . . . that’s life! Good night, doctor.”

“Good night, Sir.” The heavy oak door swung to, behind the rather stumpy figure. Damn them, what are they doing now? the doctor turned and faced the blank piece of wood, with a look of terrible malignancy in his eyes. Somehow with all the evil of which he was capable, he felt perfectly certain that Peter Heriot knew that Roshan was a woman. One of his flames smuggled up here by his faithful servant, eh? A fine piece of information for Army Headquarters. But he would make perfectly sure first—it would be fatal to act before he had proper information. But he swore horribly as he walked back to his room, for Captain Meredith’s past had not been entirely free from incident, and he felt a burning envy of his Commanding Officer.

Chapter XXIII

Now began a time of almost perfect happiness for Joan. Her grief for her old friend and protector was still there, but it was drowned in the rapture of living in daily association with the man she loved. And he was so kind and good to her. She slaved for him; the other servants jeered at the little noiseless figure that pattered about the kitchen, securing the thinnest and best browned pieces of toast, the teapot warmed to perfection, and the tea served fragrant and hot under the chintz cosy. The spotless traycloth, and the gleaming spoon—nothing was too good, nothing could be done too perfectly for him. No one took any notice of the dumb boy, natives do not concern themselves with the affairs of their own kind, and Joan led a life entirely apart. She cooked her midday meal in the deserted quarter outside, the rest of food she obtained from the Mess, and that in a great measure helped to secure her isolation from the other servants. For anyone who would eat the food that lay on the dishes that came out from the Mess was in their eyes nothing more or less than an outcast, it was as a rule either given to the dogs or flung into a receptacle for the sweeper. They excused it to a certain extent in the dumb fragile nephew of the man they had all respected and liked, but all the same it made a great bar between him and them, and Joan was thankful for it.

But one day about a week after Nazir Ali had died the blow fell that she had been dreading, and she gathered herself up to meet it. She was dusting the littered office table and she heard the few words that passed between the two men.

“Would it be convenient for you to let me overhaul that boy of yours this morning, Major? I have been watching him, and it seems to me that anything there is wrong could easily be put right. I mean to say, the boy is mentally all there, and he is obviously not deaf.”

“Do, by all means.” Major Heriot glanced across the room toward the little figure for whom he was beginning to have an odd sort of liking. He was such a top-hole servant and like a mouse in the noiseless way he scuttled about the room. “Take him along with you now, only don’t kill the poor little wretch with fright. He’s got the nerves of a hare, starts at the least thing.”

“No, I’ll be quite gentle with him,” the doctor laughed briefly. “Tell him, will you, or he may do a bolt; I don’t think he cares for me.” The doctor was looking at Joan, and his face was cruel as he noted the dilated eyes.

“Here, cut along with the doctor Sahib, Roshan,” Peter Heriot lifted his head from a stack of office papers.

But in spite of herself Joan could not help it; she made a mad rush and flung herself down by the side of the long chair.

“Get up, you little fool!” Peter Heriot was touched although he spoke roughly. “The doctor Sahib won’t hurt you. Here, lug him along with you, Meredith;” he gave the clinging hand into the grip of the man beside him.

They left the room together, the thick-set figure and the trembling little one. The surgery was at the very end of the long corridor.

“Now then,” the doctor was shrugging himself into a white overall. He talked quietly to himself. “Now I think a drop of nitric acid ought to do it, just in the middle of the tongue. It will burn the poor little chap of course, but still it’ll soon be over.” He fumbled in a corner cupboard, white wood with big plate glass sheets let in it. “Then a little snick with the surgical scissors, and I think he ought to be able to talk with the best of us . . . But first of all . . .” He turned to where Joan stood staring at him with eyes wide with terror under her big turban, “First of all we’ll just see if he’s sound all over. Just take off that shirt affair.”

Joan still stared.

“Just a little deaf evidently,” the doctor came nearer. “Take off your shirt,” he said. Joan shrank back half stooping. “God, tell me what to do,” she screamed in her soul.

The doctor took hold of the loose blouse and dragged a little roughly at the top button. “Off with it,” he said. Then as Joan still stood staring wildly, he caught hold of both her hands. “I’ll do it for you,” he said, and he held both her hands imprisoned in one of his, and began to unfasten it.

“No, no!” Joan cried out hoarsely.

“Well!” The doctor stood back and began to laugh “Well, that hasn’t taken long,” he said. “Well, now let’s hear who you are?” he stood, his hands on his hips, looking

“I shall not tell you!” Joan had her hands over face and was gasping.

“Yes, you will.” Captain Meredith’s voice was threatening. Then he spoke quietly with a sort of smooth menace in his tone. “Don’t forget that I have you utterly at my mercy,” he said. “No one ever disturbs a doctor in his surgery.”

Joan looked up with a start. It was a threat. And a very awful one for anyone in her position.

“You are a brute,” she said.

“That may be,” replied the doctor, “but this is a dull life, and we are not all anchorites like your pal Heriot. By the way, how did he smuggle you up here?”

“He has not the least idea that I am here.”

“Rot! of course he knows; don’t trouble to lie to me, everyone knows Heriot’s reputation. But I must say I wonder at him; to risk court martial for a man of his ambition is carrying it a bit far, even for an affair of the kind.”

Court martial! Joan’s throat was dry. Ruin! and for the man she loved. “He does not know,” she said, “I swear it. I came here with his old servant, who found me in the house of my parents in law—they were trying to kill me. And I was able to help him once—on the voyage it was, coming out to India last year.”

“Your parents in law? Then you are a married woman ..


“Who is your husband?”

“He is a native.”

“A native! By Gad! And how did you get to know Heriot?”

“On the voyage coming out here last year, when I got to know his servant.”

“On the voyage coming out to India last year. An you expect me to believe that he doesn’t recognise you?

“But I swear it, I swear it!” Joan was gripping her hands together and crying out loud. “I swear that he doesn’t know. And oh, in God’s pity don’t tell him! Think how awful for me. He would think that I followed him up here on purpose. I’ll go away, I’ll go away somehow. You see I’ve altered, they tried to poison me in Tawah, and it made me frightfully ill, and I wasn’t happy either in Karnmore. So I don’t look a bit the same, that’s why he doesn’t know.”

“I see.” The doctor seemed to ponder, and then he spoke to himself. “Gad, what a story for Army Headquarters,” he said, “and I never have liked the man.”

Joan spoke in a hoarse whisper. “You’re not going to let any one know?” she breathed.

“Of course I am, it’s too good a chance to be lost. And Heriot suffers from swelled head as it is. It’ll take it out of him to see his precious sword snapped in front of him.”

Joan fell on her knees. “No!” she prayed.

Captain Meredith stared down at the figure on the floor in front of him. “Take off that puggaree,” he said; and then as the little cropped head lay bare below his eyes, “and the shirt . . . and the vest . . .”

“No,” Joan got on to her feet, “no,” she said again, and she backed.

“Very well then.” Captain Meredith shrugged his shoulders and turned to the door.

“No! Wait! “ Joan was beside him with a wild rush of bare feet. “If I do . . . will you promise?” she cried.

“Promise what?” Captain Meredith turned.

“That you will never, never tell a soul.”

“For that? Rather not.” Captain Meredith turned again.

“What then?” Joan had flung herself on him with clutching hands.

“A good deal more than that,” said Captain Meredith.

“But, but——” Joan began to cry hopelessly. “How can I . . . how can I. He would . . .”

“He need never know,” said Captain Meredith smoothly.”

“But? . . .”

“You see no one ever disturbs me in my surgery,” said Captain Meredith again.

“Oh, God, what am I to do?” Joan fell back against the long surgical chair, and sobbed and sobbed again.

“Be a sensible child.” The doctor sat down beside her.

“You see, this life’s damned dull,” he said, “and if I had the thought of a sweet little thing like you waiting for me up here it would help a lot.”

“But you’re desperately wicked!” Joan spoke in a shivering undertone. What had she done to be put in this awful position? She was absolutely trapped. If she refused to do what this terrible man demanded, he would write to Army Headquarters and get the man she loved into irreparable disgrace. . . . If she did it . . . if she did it . . . Joan uttered a low moan and flung her hands over her face.

“Let me get away from here,” she said, “I will get out at night, and kill myself somehow. After all, what have you to gain by giving me away? I haven’t done you any harm. And why should you want to ruin Major Heriot? He hasn’t done you any harm either.”

“I don’t like the man,” replied Captain Meredith, and he dropped his hand on the slim knee in the white trousers. “Besides, I don’t see why he should have all the fun. But anyhow, don’t let’s waste time talking about him, let me see where the white begins.”

“No, no,” articulated Joan hoarsely, clutching at her neck.

“But I’m keen to know; “ there was a brutal look on the sensual face. “Besides, you know, a doctor! He’s a privileged person.”

“I tell you, you shan’t! “ Joan wrenched herself free.

“Look here, don’t provoke me,” Captain Meredith stood up, an ugly look on his mouth. “I’ve got you, absolutely, and don’t forget it. If you do, God, I’ll make you remember it.”

“What do you want me to do?” Joan was chattering and abject again.

“I want you to promise me that you’ll do what I ask. If you don’t . . . well,” the doctor jerked his chin over his shoulder, “that’s a thick door,” he said, “and we’re at the end of the corridor.”

“But——” Joan’s eyes were distended.

“But what? Personally I can’t see what the objection is,” said the doctor coolly, “surely . . .? I mean to say, didn’t you tell me that you had been the wife of a native?”

“You fiend!” Joan dropped her head into her hands.

“Well, but you must admit that there’s something in what I say. Surely your first fastidiousness must have worn off a bit.”

“Don’t.” Joan was writhing. After all although the man was a devil, the same thought had struck him as she knew now, with a sort of awful certainty, must surely have struck the man who was once her lover. She was foul. More foul than even this man knew, and therefore, what did it matter how much more foul she became? She flung up her head. “If I give you my promise that some time . . . I will . . she said, “will you promise me that you will not tell a living soul that I am in this fort.”

“How am I to know that you will keep your promise?” asked the man suspiciously.

“I will take off my shirt to show you that I mean it,” said Joan with an exceedingly bitter cry.

At this even the brutal heart of the man in front of her was touched. “No, you needn’t do that,” he said, “that is, if you will let me kiss you. You see, it’s damned dull in this God-forsaken place; I don’t think I’ve seen a woman for nine months.”

“And what about your promise to me?” Joan had her thin arms out trying to ward him off.

“I’ll kiss my promise on to your little red mouth,” said Captain Meredith, “it’s the only place that it’ll be safe.”

“But will you keep it?”

“If you keep yours. But I’m going to give you a time limit. Within the next fortnight, or it’s the order of the boot for that conceited fool along the corridor.”

“Oh, you devil, you devil.” Joan was sobbing in the arms of the man in the white overall.

But the man in the white overall was beginning to enjoy himself after nine months of Hades. “Don’t spoil it,” he said petulantly.

*  *  *

“You’ve put the fear of the devil into that chokra of mine.” Major Heriot laughed briefly as he spoke. He was watching Roshan as he moved about the room, and under the big puggaree the brown face was shrunken and haggard. “What have you done to him, Meredith?”

“Nothing particular,” the doctor had a peg at his elbow and he took a little gulp of it. “The native’s a coward every time. But it’s only three days now since I took him in hand, and he’s getting on wonderfully with his speaking. He makes an awful fuss every time he has to go to the surgery, as doubtless you know, but once I’ve got him there he’s quite amenable. You see, when a native sees a knife, he always squeals.”

“I hope you don’t hurt the little beast.” Peter Heriot spoke uneasily. Doctors were fearfully callous where their profession was concerned, he thought, and he was quite fond of Roshan.

“Not a bit of it. I simply give him a sort of tongue drill, making sounds and things like that,” you know.

“Oh!” a very ugly suspicion suddenly stirred in the mind of the man in the long chair and he turned a little on his side. Meredith was an odd fish, and he had known better men than he get rocky after months of isolation such as they had to endure. He looked at him rather closely. “Must you take him to the surgery for that?” he asked carelessly.

“Well, it’s better,” Captain Meredith was instantly on his guard. “Come along and watch us one day,” he said.

“Thanks, perhaps I will.” And the ugly suspicion sank to rest in Peter Heriot’s mind. He was ashamed of it. Only there was something so abject in the droop of the little figure. However, as the Regimental doctor had said, the native was a howling coward where surgery and medicine were concerned.

So the long tormenting days wore on, and Joan’s life was one terrible overhanging dread. A week had gone, she only had a week left.

But one day, even the Terror that dogged Joan’s footsteps sank into the background. For something was the matter with the man she loved. She came in abruptly carrying the Sam Browne belt that she had been polishing, and she caught sight of him spread-eagled over his office table, his head on his arms.

“Beloved!” The words were on her tongue as she stumbled towards him. Then she shrank back, remembering.

“Bring me a whisky and soda.” Peter lifted a grey face. An envelope torn across lay beside him.

Joan fled to get it. He had had bad news by the mail, the postal runners had just come in. What was it, oh, what was it? Had his last book perhaps been refused? The thick parcel had gone off some mails before. No, there had not been time; her mind worked furiously under the white wrappings as she ran.

At the door the doctor met her. “Is the Sahib here?” he asked.

Peter Heriot heard. “Come in, doctor,” he said; he leapt again at the chance of freedom from his thoughts. But he must go . . . he must go! Ah, but what was the use now? It was too late, it was too late . . . “ Come in,” he said again, with stiff lips.

“I’m a little bothered about the men, Sir.” The doctor stood, looking a little anxious, his hand on the back of his Commanding Officer’s chair.

“How anxious?” Major Heriot rapped out the question.

“Well, one of them’s got what looks to me uncommonly like the plague. How on earth he’s picked up the infection I can’t conceive, unless that last lot of grass that came up had an infected rat in it.”

“H’m!” Major Heriot drummed on the table with his fingers. “Well, you must simply inoculate the lot, and hope for the best,” he said.

“Yes, but that’s just it. They won’t be inoculated. I had up the Subedar Major and told him to fall the men in. And he has just come back, and told me that they declined to be fallen in for that purpose.”

Decline to be fallen in?” Heriot’s voice was incredulous.

“Send for the Subedar Major,” he said quietly.

The tall Sikh in his immaculate uniform stood rigid in front of the two Englishmen.

“Sahib, it is a fact,” he said. “But they say that the sun has set and the evening meal is in course of preparation. Therefore let the medicine man work his will upon us in the morning.” The native officer was too well disciplined to glance at the doctor, but his thoughts were scornful. It was asking for trouble to insist upon a thing like inoculation at this hour, the hour of the evening meal and of prayer, he thought contemptuously.

Peter Heriot was in a quandary. In his heart he felt sympathy with the men, but to refuse to fall in practically amounted to mutiny. He turned to the doctor.

“Is it absolutely necessary that they should be inoculated to-night?” he asked.

The doctor was angry; damn the fellow, flouting his authority. “It is not absolutely necessary,” he said, “but I consider it advisable.”

The tall soldier at the office table looked from one to the other; the little fluttering figure stood at his elbow with the cut glass bottle of spirit. Joan could not bear opening a soda, it always made her jump.

“Give it to me, you little fool.” Peter Heriot took it from her impatiently, and pressed in a strong brown thumb.

“Well, I think if you don’t mind, Meredith, we’ll waive the inoculation for to-night.” Peter Heriot had been thinking as he drank slowly. Subedar Major Wazir Singh looked worried, and that meant that he considered the order unreasonable. “Make it very clear to the men that the order is simply set aside by me, because after due discussion with the doctor Sahib we have come to the conclusion that it is better to leave it until daylight. And see that they’re fallen in at daylight. All right, Subedar Major, don’t let us keep you. Good night!”

“Good night, Sir.” The tall Sikh drew himself up to attention and saluted with a look of unbounded relief on his bearded face. You could always trust the Sahib to do the right thing, he thought, as he wended his way down the long corridor.

*  *  *

The old grey Fort lay sleeping under the stars. Three Englishmen in striped pyjamas lay under their heavily swinging punkahs. The doctor slept uneasily, stirring from time to time and muttering; Bobby Darrell slept with his mouth wide open and his chubby face set in lines of entire peacefulness, and he snored; Peter Heriot lay on his back and stared up at the swaying strip of matting with a look of complete despair in his eyes. He had been lying like that ever since he went to bed, and he had not laid down until the old bell in the turret of the Fort had sounded the hour of midnight. For the letter that had come by the postal runners that afternoon had been from Mrs. Kemp, in answer to his, and it had struck him to the earth with its message of death.

“I am so sorry to have to give you bad news,” she wrote, “but you are sure to hear it sooner or later, although of course buried alive, as you are, it will take longer to reach you. I don’t know quite how much you do know of recent happenings, so I will tell you all I can think of briefly. Karnmore was the scene of a fearful political upset about a week ago, you are sure to have heard of this, although I believe they have kept it out of the papers as much as possible because of the number of natives killed. The objective was the Residency, but mercifully it didn’t come off, prevented, some say, by the information given by a mali, the mali, I believe of the husband of that nice girl who came out with us, Joan Khan. But I don’t know if that is true. In any event Mr. Mohammed Khan was one of the first to be killed, which in my opinion is the very greatest mercy, especially as they say he was at the bottom of the whole thing. But the terrible part is this, that apparently Joan Khan is also dead. About a month ago, Mr. Khan apparently sent her to his people, simple country people, who live in a frontier village called Tawah. And there she died, either died, or was done to death. The C.I.D. have been put on the track of it, but I believe they say that as it has happened, and the husband is dead, it is better to let the whole thing drop. It seems very awful to me, but as Jim says, you never can get the truth out of these people, and at a time like this it would only stir up frightful racial feeling to have the whole thing dragged up to the surface again. But I know you will feel it very much, dear Peter, because you were always very nice to her, but I hope that in the throes of your new book (by the way, Jim and I are exulting in your last) you will forget it. Jim is writing to Mrs. Khan’s brother by this mail, and the Government, I believe, are cutting the Khans’ land, or doing something to punish them, without actually laying the guilt at their door. But I am vague about this, I always am about anything Government does, it takes them such ages to make up their minds.”

Peter Heriot had read to the end, and had then fallen forward on to his face, as Joan had seen him.

Now he lay under the punkah in the darkness and stared out of the slip of window. The moon was high, and it sailed placidly over the desert of country that lay round the Fort. Isolation, and isolation with thoughts that made day and night hell. How was he going to do his work properly under such conditions? He kicked back the sheet and got out of bed. As he walked to the table to turn up the lamp, there was a hurried rap at the door.

“Come in;” he turned to face the tall figure of his Subedar Major.

“It is mutiny, Sahib!”

Subedar Major Wazir Singh was breathless, he had been running.

“Have I time to dress?” Major Heriot spoke as he groped in the top drawer of his chest of drawers.

“No, sahib.”

“Then will you rouse Darrell Sahib, and I will go to the doctor.” Both men had reached the door, Major Heriot in bedroom slippers was half way down the corridor.

“Here get up, the men have mutinied.” He stooped over the low bed under the punkah. “Don’t wait for anything except your revolver, there isn’t time.”

“Your servant,” the doctor accustomed to waking suddenly but speaking hoarsely, was groping in his corner cupboard. “We can’t leave him, Heriot.”

“He’ll be all right, he’s a Mohammedan, they won’t touch him. Come on, Meredith, I tell you it’s a matter of life or death.”

“But he’s only a boy—I tell you . . .”

“Damn you, do what your told,” Peter Heriot spoke with a sort of silent ferocity. He flung out of the door, the doctor beside him. Pah, what a coward! The doctor’s lips were white, and he was shaking. Plucky enough when the knife was in his own hand, but a damned coward when it was in somebody else’s, evidently.

“Look here, you men,” Major Heriot’s face shone white in the moonlight, he stood on the edge of the wide verandah and faced the mob of dark scowling faces, speaking in Hindustani. “Look here, this is a bad business. What’s it all about? You’ve done magnificent work all of you up to now? What’s it all about?”

“Aie!” It was a snarl of intensest menace that came from the jostling throng.

“You three make for the guardroom, and defend it somehow, I’ll keep this lot talking,” Major Heriot spoke to the Doctor who stood beside him, without moving his lips.

The two men in pyjamas moved swiftly away, but the Subedar Major lingered.

“Sahib, there is great danger,” he whispered as the dark group below them surged a little forward.

“Clear off, Wazir Singh, if they get loose with the ammunition there’ll be much more danger. Now then you men,” Peter Heriot put his hands into the pockets of his pyjama coat and smiled down at the black faces among which here and there white teeth showed like angry fangs, “what’s it all about?”

“Ah . . . h . . . h” It went over the mob like a wind over a field of ripe corn, the murmur of exultation, as the shot rang out and Major Heriot staggered a little and then stepped backward. He straightened himself again, and then took his right hand out of his coat pocket. “Who did that?” He searched the crowd with keen fearless blue eyes. “You, Ali Mohammed? Come,” he beckoned to the skulking native, and his voice was the voice of one of a ruling race, and the man came cringingly.

“Death for a traitor.” Peter Heriot spoke in the vernacular and his voice rang out over the crowd. He levelled his revolver at the head of the man in front of him and fired.

“Aie!” It was a howl of purest fright. The crowd of two hundred men broke and fled; feU over one another in their anxiety to get away. Crying like children they forced their way to their quarters.

Heriot felt inclined to laugh as he surveyed the deserted moonlight space; then he felt a little sick. He had liked Ali Mohammed, only that afternoon he had kept goal at hockey. And now he lay a crumpled heap at his feet.

“All clear;” he stood a little unsteadily outside the guardroom. The heavy door was blocked by pieces of furniture piled against it. “Come out, you three, it’s all over, and Meredith, I’m bleeding like a pig.”

“Won’t he get better?” Joan’s face was convulsed as she stood outside the darkened room, and stared into the heavy eyes that met hers uneasily.

“Yes, I hope he will.” But the doctor spoke with a good deal of anxiety. It baffled him, this case of Heriot’s. It hadn’t really been a serious wound, only a fairly deep gash on the right temple; but the fever went up and up, and now for the last two days he had been more or less delirious. And what was worse than anything, sleep had entirely deserted him. The thin brown face lay fairly still on the low pillow, but the eyes were open and staring. The dry lips muttered incessantly. Captain Meredith was really anxious, he loved his profession, although he did not care a rap whether the sick man lived or died; but it was up to him to cheat death, so to speak. So he very rarely left the sick-room, and the dreadful torturing visits to the surgery were over for Joan for the present at any rate. For Captain Meredith could not make love and give his mind to a serious case at the same time; both passions obsessed him for the time being, and he gave rein to the nobler passion for the moment.

“Do these days count in the week?” asked Joan with shaking lips.

The doctor was sorry for her, for she was an excellent nurse. “No, we’ll count the week from the day he’s up again,” he said.

So Joan moved about the sickroom with a fair amount of peace at her heart. The week that had passed had been a nightmare, with the stifling kisses in the white tiled room. But so far Captain Meredith had contented himself with kisses. He was a connoisseur in making love, and being sure of the finale was content to wait for it. But another terror now haunted her mind: she could hear the broken whispered words that came from between the lips, dark and roughened with fever, “Joan, Joan;” he said it over and over again. And supposing Captain Meredith heard and guessed that, it was her name? He would be quite capable of giving Major Heriot something to kill him, or of taking her then and there, to be sure of her.

“Was there anyone of the name of Joan in the ship in which you came out?” It came at last in a still whisper at the end of a long suffocating day. The doctor sat at the head of the bed on a three-legged stool, his watch in one hand and the thin brown wrist in the other.

“My name is Joan.” It came in a trembling undertone through the half darkness.

Captain Meredith got up, laying the thin hand gently down on the sheet, and slipping the watch back into his tunic pocket. Then he walked across the room. “You damned little liar, you’re his mistress,” he said, and he stood over her.

“I am not.” Joan spoke hotly, then seeing the face above her, she began to cringe. “I swear I am not,” she said, and she began to cry. “I swear I am not,” she quavered, clutching at the hand that gripped her arm.

“I don’t believe you for one moment,” Captain Meredith was white hot with passion, “the whole thing’s a put up job, curse him with his pretended purity. But I’ll foul his nest for him. Go down on your knees beside that bed and take hold of his hand and breathe his name as you breathe it when you’re in his arms. It’s the last thing he’s accustomed to hear at night, and that’s why he can’t go to sleep without it. And he’ll slip out of our hands if he doesn’t sleep, and I haven’t finished with him yet. Do what you’re told.”

“I won’t, I would rather he died than get well to be disgraced.” Joan spoke with her breast heaving tumultuously. “You are a devil and I tell you that it isn’t true what you think,” she fought the compelling arms.

“Do what you’re told or you’ll regret it for the rest of your life; this room so far holds sacred memories for you, I presume,” the doctor spoke with a sneer in his voice. “Go down on your knees by the bed, and take hold of his hand. And take off that puggaree first, so that he can feel your hair on his mouth as he’s accustomed to feel it, you little harlot.” The doctor was dragging her.

Joan sank weeping bitterly on the ground by the low bed. To trap him back to life to be tortured by disgrace that he didn’t deserve! And to do it herself, when she would gladly have died for him. But the doctor was standing over her. “Now,” he said, with the thin wrist again between his fingers.

“Peter,” it went out in a surge of longing. After all, perhaps God would step in and deliver them both. “Peter, it is Joan—here beside you, waiting to send you to sleep. Beloved, go to sleep, because I’m here, I really am. And I love you, just like I used to.”

The blue eyes opened very slowly, “Joan, is it you, Joan?” Yes, of course it is, Joan was sobbing. Oh, heavenly, heavenly joy, to be able to speak to him again. She struggled her head forward under the groping hand. “Darling, darling . . .”

“Why didn’t you come before, you little wretch?” there was a half laugh in the drowsy voice. “Come closer, I am so tired.” The dark head turned, settled itself—and lay still.

“Stay where you are, I’ll make you as comfortable as I can with pillows,” it was the voice of a medicine man well content, that came from above Joan’s head. The satisfaction in his profession was uppermost again. That had saved the patient—he was breathing as regularly as a child.

Chapter XXIV

“Open the door, Roshan,” Peter Heriot rapped twice sharply and then stood listening. But there was no answer, only the sound of the long strangling sobs that had been going on for the last two or three hours, and he turned and went back to his chair at the office table. Roshan was all right up to a certain point, but his waiting was beginning to lose its first excellence, and he was not up in things like knowing exactly what uniform to put ready. Twice lately buttons had been wrongly put in, and in a life such as they had to lead, and with the day temperature what it was, you could not put up with that sort of indifferent attention.

The fact of the whole matter was that Joan was very nearly at the end of her tether. Haunted the whole time by a very terrible dread—for with Major Heriot’s return to health the daily visits to the surgery had begun again, and there were now only three more days left to her, her life was an agony. If she refused to do what the doctor demanded her lover would be ruined, as she thought with a cynical stab of thought, she was not much to boast of as it was. But she loathed the doctor, she recognised in him the worst sort of brute, the cold blooded love-maker, and he revolted her. Then since the attempted poisoning, her digestive arrangements had not worked as smoothly as they used to do, and the continued standing, and the violent changes of temperature—for the nights were beginning to get colder—affected her disastrously. So she waked, on the morning when Heriot had to complain of the lateness of his chota hazri, feeling sick and trembling. And to steady herself, she did what she had never done since the old days in Fallowfield Road, she drank a little brandy out of the cut glass bottle that stood in the corner of the cupboard. He would never know, and it might stop the dreadful pain, it used to at home.

Of course he came in as she was putting the bottle back—she might have known he would, she thought cynically, sick with fear.

“Hallo! I say, what a catch! Meredith, come here,” the tall soldier called down the corridor. “Look here,” as the two men stood together at the door, “I’ve just caught that boy of mine drinking my whisky.”

“Have you?” the doctor caught his lower lip between his teeth.

“Yes. No, by Jove, it’s brandy: little brute! Well, he won’t do it again, I’ll give him a lesson that he won’t soon forget. What would your splendid old uncle have said to you, do you suppose?” said Major Heriot taking the thin shoulder between indignant fingers.

Roshan only shrank, trembling.

“Give me that cane of mine, will you, Meredith? He’ll make a bolt for it if I let him go. The one in the corner by the despatch case. What did you say?”

The doctor repeated it with shaking lips: “It’s rather hard on the kid to beat him the first time, isn’t it?”

“Not a bit, it’ll prevent there ever being a second. He’s such a howling coward at any time, he’ll remember it. I say, chuck it over, if you don’t mind, he’s shaking like a jelly.”

“I say Heriot, let him off, won’t you?” the doctor’s face was oddly contorted.

Peter felt a swift spasm of disgust. There must be something in what he had thought! Gad, he must get rid of the man! “No, I don’t feel at all inclined to let him off,” he said coldly, “I’ll give him the biggest hiding he’s ever had in his life. Come here, you little brute,” he dragged Joan across to the corner where the thin cane stood against the wall.

Captain Meredith turned and walked out of the room as the sharp blows fell on the white shirt. He could torment Joan, but he couldn’t see her beaten. And it was true, then, that Heriot did not know who she was. So he would have to be quick, because truth has a way of carrying weight even in the face of almost damning evidence. And Joan might in desperation reveal her identity to the Commanding Officer, and he might find himself in a very uncomfortable position indeed.

So at evening time on this very unpleasant day, Joan, with smarting shoulders, lay and sobbed herself sick on her string bed, not caring whether she lived or died; Captain Meredith stood and watched a hockey match, gnawing his lower lip and trying to make up his mind to bring things to a climax that night; and Peter Heriot walked away from the closed door, wondering why he felt so supremely wretched because a fool of a native chokra was howling his soul out.

“How’s the boy?” the doctor tried to speak carelessly as he pushed on the port at Mess, that night.

“Still howling,” Peter Heriot spoke shortly: he was more than ever determined to get rid of the doctor, and he had been thinking how he could do it with the least fuss.

The broken scarred country round the Fort was white with moonlight that lay like hoar frost on the uneven ground when Major Heriot waked and sat upright in his bed that night. He got out of bed, and went noiselessly to the door that separated him from his servant. The boy was crying again—no, he wasn’t, it was a man’s voice speaking. Quick as lightning he tried the door, it was locked on the inside; but there was another, leading off the outside verandah. He was outside his own room, and in at the adjacent door, in less than thirty seconds.

“Hallo, Meredith!” Major Heriot thrust both hands into his pyjama coat pocket as the doctor rose suddenly from his kneeling position by the low bed. “Anything wrong with the boy?” He spoke carelessly, but there was a dangerous look on his mouth.

“No.” But the doctor was livid. To hell with the man! Just as Joan had . . . “ No, I only thought that he looked a bit tucked up after that thrashing you gave him,” he said, “and I thought I’d give him a look up.”

“Oh, well, I’ll look after him now.” Heriot strolled to the door that led into his own room, and unlocked it. “I don’t know that you’re looking any too fit yourself, Meredith,” he said, turning again to the man who stood scowling at him; “cut off to bed, I should, and try and get some sleep.”

The younger man left the room, and Peter Heriot, left alone, stared down reflectively at the motionless heap of covering on the bed. The boy was quiet, half dead with funk probably; he would have to tackle the whole thing the next day.

There was a long silence. Then Peter Heriot raised himself and went back into his own room, and returned with his own hurricane lantern. He shaded it with a hand that shook a little and looked again. Then he stood tremblingly upright, as the figure on the bed sighed deeply and turned over on to its side. And then very very quietly he waited until there was the same deep regular breathing from the motionless figure, and stooping again he laid one brown shaking hand close to the white shirt.

He was back in his room—livid, the lamp rattling in his shaking hand. He set it down on the writing table and twisted the wick up a little, then he sat down and stared into the heart of the flame until his eyes watered and he closed them. Was he going off his head he thought, a result of the gash on his temple the other night? He must be! For that little hump of bedclothes on the string bed in the boxroom leading out of his, concealed the figure of a girl! There was not the faintest doubt about it: his gentle touch on the softly heaving shirt had told him that without a question. But the point was, what girl? Had Nazir Ali a daughter? If he had, why had he brought her here? He had taken leave specially to fetch her, that was obvious enough now. But what for? And then suddenly the stupefying, dazzling thought struck him and he stood suddenly upright without knowing that he did it. Maddening torturing thought! But she was dead. Ah, but was she? Who knew that she was? Mrs. Kemp had said that she had vanished, sent to the frontier village to the house of her parents-in-law, and there done to death. But Tawah was Nazir Ali’s native village, and it was there that he had gone when he took his leave. Of course! it was so clear now, his devoted servant’s last desperate effort to please his master—and the scorching tears rose to the blue eyes that explained it all, too. As he was dying, the old Mohammedan’s anxiety for the safety of the beloved memsahib, that she should sleep inside, close to the master that he trusted. Oh, Nazir Ali, Nazir Ali! Heriot walked to the narrow window and stared out at the moonlight, one tear running down and losing itself in the brown throat. But then another thought struck him, choking him with its ugly onslaught, the doctor! His solicitude for the boy—the daily visit to the surgery—the wan misery of the little face under the white puggaree. What did that mean? He must find out without further delay.

Half way to the door he stopped abruptly. No, better keep quiet until he was absolutely sure. But he was sure; his heart sang the heavenly truth. Ah, but sure without the faintest suspicion of a doubt, and he could not be sure like that until he saw her by daylight.

Peter Heriot sat up and gripped his arms round his knees, and stared out into the pale early morning light, as it crept up behind the desolate hills.

*  *  *

“Hullo! I expected the boy.” The figure in a white overall turned from a glass-topped table, a medicine glass in his hand.

“Yes, I know you did!” Peter Heriot was in uniform, his spurs rang as he walked across the cement floor. “But I’ve come instead.” He sat down at the writing table, and made a little motion with his hand. “Stand there, Meredith, will you please?” he said.

The doctor straightened himself, and then walked to where he could stand facing his Commanding Officer. “Very formal all this, isn’t it?” he said, trying to laugh, and failing.

“Yes, but somehow I feel formal this morning.” Peter Heriot leant forward a little and crossed his hands on the big blotting pad in front of him. “Now,” he said, “you have been shut up every morning here for the last week with that chokra of mine: what have you been doing to him? The truth, please.”

The doctor swallowed; tried to avoid the keen blue eyes and failed. What should he say? Had Heriot found out? He decided to risk it.

“I have often told you,” he said, “that I have been giving the boy tongue exercises.”

“And that’s the truth?”


Peter Heriot drummed with his fingers on the blotting pad. What a fool! But after all the man had pulled him through a very nasty illness.

“Meredith, don’t lie so damnably,” he said quietly. “You knew long before I did, that that boy is no boy at all, but a girl. I will put the question a little differently. “You have been shut up here for hours alone with that girl: what have you been doing to her?”

Captain Meredith cleared his throat. He would try to bluff. “Mightn’t I ask the same question?” he said suavely.

“No, you mightn’t.” Heriot’s eyes gleamed dangerously blue. “Don’t forget our relative positions, Meredith. It would be a very unpleasant thing for you if I had to make an example of you here. What have you been doing to that girl when she has been shut up alone with you here? Answer me!”

“Hasn’t she told you?” Captain Meredith put the question smoothly.

“Gad, I’ll put you under arrest.” Heriot got up abruptly and turned to the door.

“No!” The doctor took a step forward.

“Very well then, answer my question.” Peter Heriot sat down again.

“I have not done her any actual harm,” the doctor’s throat was throbbing; “I have kissed her, and made a certain amount of love to her, but I have not . . .”

“All right, that’s enough; “there was a blue shadow at the root of Peter Heriot’s nose. “Did she receive your advances with favour?”

“No, she did not.”

“Then why did she suffer them at all?”

“Because I told her that if she didn’t I should expose you to Army Headquarters.”

“What on earth for?” The look of strain on the brown face melted in a look of blankest amazement.

“For keeping a woman in the Fort.”

“Pah!” Peter Heriot laughed aloud. “And she believed you!” His little love! she had been afraid for him. “You fool, and cad,” he said; “you know as well as I do that Army Headquarters would never believe that a man would be such a madman as to ruin his career by doing anything of the kind. What possessed you?”

Captain Meredith’s face worked, and he tried to avoid his senior officer’s eyes. Then he gave it up. “I can’t stick this life,” he said hoarsely; “it plays the devil with me somehow . . . I can’t stick it. Get me transferred, Sir, I implore you to.”

So that was it, was it? Peter Heriot felt a twinge of pity for the man opposite to him. Well, he would get him transferred if he could, for his own sake as well as the doctor’s. But meanwhile. . .

“I will do what I can for you,” he said, “and I don’t think it will be difficult. But I want a little more information out of you first. Who is this girl? I have my suspicions, but I am not sure that they are correct. She is apparently seedy to-day as she has not appeared yet. I want you to go and see her, if you will later, when we have talked things over a little more. Who is she?”

“She is a Mrs. Khan, married to a native barrister who practises in Karnmore. She says that she befriended your old servant on the voyage out, and that about three weeks ago, he rescued her from the clutches of her parents-in-law who were trying to poison her.”

“Oh, I see.” Peter Heriot had his elbow on the blotting pad and his head resting on his hand. “Yes, that rather confirms what I thought,” he said, and he put the other shaking hand into his pocket. “Well then, it comes to this, Meredith—I take you into my confidence because I must—not because I want to—Mrs. Khan has no idea that I know who she is, and I wish her to remain in ignorance of that fact until I have written fully to Army Headquarters and made suitable arrangements for her to be taken away from here. She has excellent friends in the Kemps—you have heard of them, he is Commissioner of one of the Northern Provinces—they will take her, I know, and I am writing to him to-day. Meanwhile I trust you to keep your mouth shut, now and always. I feel sure that you will, but if there is the faintest doubt about it I shall take steps to do it for you. It would not be a pretty story to tell Simla”—raising his head and looking the man in front of him straight in the face—“that you abused your position as medical man in this Fort, to make clandestine love to a girl who ought in her position to have been entitled to your fullest protection and your most chivalrous conduct.” He got up. “Now will you go and see Mrs. Khan, please? If she is well enough to be about, I think it is better that she should be: it would be a very serious thing if her identity were suspected. But if she is ill, she must be nursed, and in that case I am afraid I must depute that duty to you.”

The two men faced each other for a moment, then Meredith turned on his heel and left the room. Some minutes later he returned and stood stiffly in front of the desk at which Peter was sitting.

“It’s nothing more than a slight chill, and I have told Mrs. Khan to get up,” he said.

“Oh, thanks. She has not the remotest idea that I know who she is, has she?” the blue eyes glanced up keenly.

“Not the remotest.”

“Thanks, Meredith. And I won’t forget about your transfer.” Peter Heriot dragged a file of papers towards him with a hand that, try as he would, was shaking desperately. “I’m sending a special despatch to Army Headquarters to-day,” he said, “and I’ll push in your application as soon as I hear from them. So long,” he bent again over his table. The blood was drumming in his head; he would see her in a minute or two. What should he do, what should he do? For she was his, if she still loved him. His own . . . for ever. And he had struck her, lashed cruelly at those little shoulders that had once lain so confidingly in his arms. But she would forgive him, she would, if he asked her to. Then as he fumbled blindly with the red tape that tied up the file of papers under his hand, she was there, standing beside him, giving him the morning salaam that Nazir Ali had taught her to do.

“Salaam, Roshan.” Peter Heriot pulled himself together. He glanced quickly at the small brown face under the white wrappings and then glanced away again. Of course! why hadn’t he seen it at once? The same round grey eyes, grey, a native never had grey eyes. Why hadn’t his love told him that it was she? He got up and flung himself into a long chair. He could watch her unseen, as she moved about the room. How sweet she looked in the full trousers, tight from just below the knee. He got up and went back to his table.

*  *  *

“We shall have a storm, Sahib.” Subedar Major Wazir Singh stood, a tennis racket in one hand and a freezing lime squash in the other, and gazed out to the heavy bank of clouds that lay low over the hills towards Afghanistan.

“A real one, I hope; it’s not one of your poetical illusions to a tribal affair, is it, Wazir Singh?” laughed Major Heriot, who was shrugging himself into a white sweater. “Headquarters was very disturbed at the result of our enquiry into that last dust-up. Lucky it didn’t come off as they intended, wasn’t it?”

“It was. Sahib. But I think we were nearer to it than we thought. There had been some communication from outside, I believe, to make the men rebel at the order for inoculation. But all’s well that ends well. The prompt action of the sahib undoubtedly saved the situation; there is no doubt about that.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that, you’re always rather partial, Wazir Singh. But there’s no doubt the discipline has been excellent since,” said Heriot, and he smiled cheerfully at his native officer. He was feeling in the wildest spirits. A despatch had come that afternoon from Army Headquarters, and all was well. Government had been communicated with and they were cabling to the Indian Office that Mrs. Khan was safe and in good hands. Mrs. Kemp wrote that they were joyfully expecting Joan, and that she would send clothes for her to the nearest junction, or bring them herself if her husband did not think the journey too hot for her. “It will be so simple, Peter,” she wrote, in her long, almost incoherent letter, “Joan will simply get into the carriage a native servant, and emerge an English memsahib, and no one here need ever know a word about it. And, oh, do bring her yourself, you dear man, we are simply dying to see you.” So Peter Heriot had yielded to the almost irresistible temptation, and was taking a week’s leave, to escort the girl he loved to safety. He could hardly contain himself, and that night at Mess his spirits were hilarious, and the doctor and the subaltern rocked in their chairs and the long room echoed to the sound of deafening laughter. But Joan, in her little room, lay on the bed and sobbed herself stupid. She had overheard the word leave mentioned, she had not heard it discussed, because now she never waited at table— he had stopped that with a curt order. But she knew by the laughter that he was happy, and how could he be happy if he was craving for her? He wasn’t, of course he wasn’t, and it was torment, and misery and hell, and she wished she was dead.

The big oak door shut with a slam. Peter had come from Mess, she could hear his spurs as he walked across his room. She could not see his face as he glanced towards the door that stood between them, but she could hear him move, and she knew what he was doing. He had taken off his tunic and was hanging it up in his almirah, and he would then take off his collar and sit down at his writing table. And there he would sit and write until the small hours of the morning. He always did that now, Joan, herself sleeping very badly, could see the light under the door. But to-night as she lay and watched, she did not hear the usual scrape back of the chair, and the click of the opening typewriter. No, he seemed to be getting undressed, and after a time, as she watched the line of light under the door, it suddenly vanished. She turned on her face, and clenched her hands. He did not want her, and she wanted him so frightfully. How was she going to live . . . to bear it?

Peter Heriot was so desperately happy that he felt he must fling himself down in the dark and think about it. Tomorrow he could tell her . . . to-morrow, because they would start a little after dawn. He would be up and dressed, when she brought his chota hazri, and then he would tell her. But he would not kiss her . . . no, that would be taking advantage of her defenceless position. He would just tell her quietly and press her little hand. That would be enough to let her know that he still loved her. And as he was thinking this, a vivid streak of light flashed across the room, and after a minute or two a low growl of thunder boomed and rumbled from behind the hills that cut them off from Afghanistan. A storm—now it would get cooler—that is, if it rained; he settled himself more comfortably on his side.

The Fort of Wai stood high and the storm made a dead set at it. They resented it, the elements, this immovable monument of British endurance. The white lightning stabbed and darted at it, turning the dun colour of the old walls to silver. The thunder crackled and boomed, receded behind the low hills, and then returned again to the attack. The quivering forks of flame wriggled across the sky, and then waited attentive for the answering rumble of their artillery. Joan sat up on her bed, and gripped her throat—her deadliest terror, a thunderstorm.

Peter Heriot’s rather long eyelashes had just settled themselves finally on the brown cheek when they lifted suddenly. A faintly illumined oblong where the shut door had been; he watched, his breath held. Joan was coming out, trailing a bundle of rugs behind her. Of course, she was afraid of a storm, he remembered Port Said; what was she going to do? He lay perfectly still.

Each stab of flame lit the big room like the winking of electric light. Joan ducked once or twice as she crossed the room. “I’m afraid, I’m afraid,” he could hear her little whisper, tremulous. She crossed the last bit of floor in a stumbling rush as a flash, more vivid than any tore the sky across. “I shan’t be so afraid if I am close to him”. . . she was on her knees arranging her bedding close to the side of his bed. Then she lay down, drew the rug over her head, and was perfectly still.

There is a limit to the self control that a man can display, even if his standard is a very high one, and in that moment Peter Heriot reached it. He kicked back the bedclothes and stepped out on the cold floor, groping for his bedroom slippers. The lightning fluttered over the tall figure in pyjamas, and an answering crash of thunder echoed round the old fort as he stooped to the little cocoon on the floor, lifted it very tenderly in his arms, and laid it on his bed.

Under the rug, Joan’s heart almost stopped beating, and then tore madly on again. He had been awake, then. Now what? . . . He would be angry. His servant in his room. She clenched the hands that lay straight down at her side.

“What’s the matter with you, Roshan?” Peter Heriot was groping where he knew the rug would fasten. He found the aperture, and drew it a little more open.

She was supposed to be dumb. In desperate terror, she tried to struggle under the concealing folds again. And her puggaree, her puggaree, she had left it behind by the side of her bed. “Oh, God, help me out of this awful difficulty,” she prayed wildly.

Peter Heriot was still looking down on the bed. His little love! But he would prolong these too heavenly moments, before he told her.

“The doctor Sahib tells me that you can speak a little,” he said; “let me hear you say something.” His white teeth gleamed under the short moustache.

Joan rolled over on her face and groaned inwardly. He would loathe her when he found out. And why was he torturing her like this? Did he know? Could he have found out? If he had the doctor must have told him. She lay still on her face.

“I don’t think you can have made as much progress as the doctor Sahib says you have.” Peter Heriot sat leisurely down on the edge of the bed. “Come, do what you’re told, Roshan, or I shall be obliged to punish you again.”

“No!” Joan shivered and turned over. Peter could see the rather round grey eyes staring up at him through the darkness.

“Well then, do what you’re told. You can say ‘no,’ that’s something. Get on.”

Desperately Joan’s mind was working. If she wriggled a little more to the side of the bed she could slide off it and make a bolt for her room. The lightning was getting less frequent, she could elude him in the darkness. Then she could barricade herself in her room, and hang herself from the disused punkah hook with a bit of puggaree; for life now held nothing at all for her except horror and disgrace. She slid a little farther away, dropped from the hampering blankets, and made a dash for it.

He caught her before she reached the middle of the room, for she had had to clear the bed before she could run. And he was laughing as he held her.

“Let me go.” Joan was trembling and sobbing like a terrified child.

“Just when I have got you back? Ask me something easier, Joan.” Peter Heriot’s voice was hoarse, although he tried to laugh.

“You know it’s me then?”

“Of course, I’ve known for a week.”

“But . . . but . . .”


“You’re angry with me for being here,” Joan tried to wrench herself free.

“And how do you know that I am?” One last flicker of lightning shone on the tall figure that stood with bent head.

“You must be, you must be, Captain Meredith told me—if they find out that I am here they will blame you, and you might have your sword broken in front of you, and it would be my fault, and I should die, I should die with the despair of it.” Joan struggled again to get free.

“Don’t try to get away from me, Joan, because you can’t.” Peter Heriot spoke with a quiver in his voice. “Besides . . . I don’t want to talk about futile things like the silly things Meredith says—he’s talking through the top of his hat, and I’ve told him so—-I’ll explain it all to you later. Joan, tell me, are you glad to be in my arms again? . . . Tell me, I want to know. Because I have something to say to you, and I want to say it with you very close to me.”

“No, no, don’t say anything to me.” Joan broke into wildest sobbing.

“Why not? Darling, don’t cry . . . just when we are together again. Come, I’ll carry you to the big chair, and we’ll be comfy.” Peter spoke with the tenderest love in his voice; he saw that Joan was very nearly at the end of her tether. “Come,” he lifted her. “See, you are really in my arms again, and you are glad, I know you are,” the dark head was bent over the curly one.

“No! no, I’m not glad, because I’m not fit . . . I’m not fit . . . put me down, I beseech you; when you hear what I have to say you won’t even want to touch me again.” Joan’s breath was coming in gasps, she struggled frantically to get away.

“Well, what is this terrible thing?” Peter Heriot set her very gently on the ground again, but his face went suddenly grey. Had Meredith lied? He stood still as Joan dropped her face into her hands, and stood in front of him shivering.

“I’m not anyone’s wife. There was another one at Tawah, a native one. So I’m just nothing, a horrible extra person with no name. Oh, why did I tell you . . . now you’ll loathe me . . . you’ll loathe me.” Joan lifted a tortured face.

“Is that all you have to tell me?” Peter Heriot’s voice was shaking with relief. God was good.

“Yes, but isn’t it enough?”

“Not to prevent me from wanting you in my arms. Joan, little love . . . as if that . . . Don’t you know that I love you, I love you! . . . Joan don’t . . . I’ve hungered for you so. Come into my arms again. Gad, you shall . . . he swept her feebly resisting. “No, I will kiss you . . . and you want me to, you want me to. Ah! you do . . . you do. Beloved!” he stooped and found the trembling mouth.

“But what about my being married to somebody else?” Joan lifted her head after a quivering pause.

“You aren’t . . . at least, that seems a brutal way to tell you. Wait, I’ll carry you over to the bed, and kneel down beside you, and you shall hear it with my arms round you properly. Darling . . .” Peter Heriot very tall and lean, knelt down by the side of the low bed, and flung out a protecting arm. “Darling, your husband is dead, I heard it from the Kemps, he was mixed up in some political affair, and was the first to be killed.”

“Ought I to mind?” Joan rolled over on to her side, and Major Heriot could see her grey eyes searching his through the darkness.

“No, under the circumstances I don’t think you ought, because now . . . now, if you will, you can come to me, and be my wife. Joan, will you?” Peter Heriot buried his face in the hot little neck.

“Do you really want me to?”

“Yes, I do,” Peter Heriot’s voice was stifled.

“But, supposing I say that I’m afraid because you beat me!” Joan, trembling with rapture, put a quiver of mischief into her voice.

Don’t!” Peter buried his face deeper. “I didn’t know . . . Joan! I thought it was right . . . I mean . . . Don’t, it kills me to think of it.”

“But I rather liked it.” Joan’s voice had a note of dreamy satisfaction in it. “There was something sort of primitive about it that made me love you more. Peter, Peter, do you really want me to be your wife? . . . you can’t!—you can’t: I’m so stupid, and after everything that’s happened you might despise me . . . you might . . . Peter, Peter. . .” Joan turned on her side and stretched out her arms with a sob.

And he gathered her very close to his heart, and held her there. And the old dun coloured Fort blinked out towards Afghanistan with the same sightless eyes, and the thunder growled and rumbled away behind the low hills, and one last flicker of lightning quivered over the two figures that held one another very closely.

“And now I must pack, because we’re off soon after daylight.” Peter Heriot got up from his knees, and lifted long arms above his head. “Oh!” he stretched luxuriously.

“I love the look of you in pyjamas.” Joan was sitting up, her arms round her knees, her eyes dwelling in entire serenity on the tall man by her side.

“Yes, but for heaven’s sake don’t say so to anyone else but me.” Peter Heriot laughed.

“This has all got to be kept the deadliest secret, remember.” Then he stooped again. “Come along and look out at the moonlight,” he said, “and then I’m going to tuck you up and make you go to sleep again, while I get things ready.”

They stood together at the narrow window, and looked out at the bare, frowning landscape, bathed in silver.

Joan spoke shyly. “The clear shining after rain,” she said, tremulously, remembering how she had first seen him.

“Yes.” Peter Heriot tightened his arm a little round the slender shoulders, and turning, looked at the girl he loved. “Your eyes, Joan . . . after the tears . . .” he said.

The End

  1. Yes. Thanks to you, I am well. 

  2. ill—what. 

  3. never. 

  4. North-West Frontier. 

  5. I am the mali (gardener). 

  6. Young man. 

  7. Good. 

  8. Yes.