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The Path to Honour by Sydney C. Grier

 

CHAPTER I. “IF IT BE A SIN TO COVET HONOUR——“
CHAPTER II. HER SIDE OF THE CASE.
CHAPTER III. THE OLD ORDER AND THE NEW.
CHAPTER IV. “A-HUNTING WE WILL GO.”
CHAPTER V. GERRARD FINDS FAVOUR.
CHAPTER VI. THE CROWNING PROOF.
CHAPTER VII. ON GUARD.
CHAPTER VIII. THE SUPERFLUOUS CHARTERIS.
CHAPTER IX. IN SLIPPERY PLACES.
CHAPTER X. THE DOOR IS SHUT.
CHAPTER XI. MURDER MOST FOUL.
CHAPTER XII. THE ONE WHO WAS TAKEN.
CHAPTER XIII. THE ONE WHO WAS LEFT.
CHAPTER XIV. THE IDEAL AND THE REAL.
CHAPTER XV. MUTTERINGS OF THE STORM.
CHAPTER XVI. THE MILD CONCERNS OF ORDINARY LIFE.
CHAPTER XVII. THE ISSUES OF AN AWFUL MOMENT.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE CAMPAIGN OF VENGEANCE.
CHAPTER XIX. AS OTHERS SEE US.
CHAPTER XX. A DAY OF VICTORY.
CHAPTER XXI. FAINT HEART AND FAIR LADY.
CHAPTER XXII. THE TRIUMPH OF THE DEAD.
CHAPTER XXIII. RUN TO EARTH.
CHAPTER XXIV. HONOUR AND HONOURS.

 

CHAPTER I. “IF IT BE A SIN TO COVET HONOUR——“

The time was towards the close of the 'forties of the nineteenth century, and the place the city of Ranjitgarh, capital of the great native state of Granthistan, which was not yet a British possession, but well on the way to becoming one. This ultimate destiny was entirely undesired by the powers that were, who had just appointed Colonel Edmund Antony—a fanatical upholder of native rights, according to his enemies—as British Resident and protector of the infant prince occupying the uneasy throne. The task of regenerating Granthi society from the top, much against its will, and welding its discordant elements into a peaceful, prosperous, and contented buffer state (the thing was known, though not as yet the name) against encroaching Ethiopia on the north, promised to be no easy one, but Colonel Antony was undertaking it confidently, with the support of two or three of his brothers and a picked band of assistants drawn from the army and Civil Service. That moral suasion might be duly backed up by physical force, ten thousand British and Indian troops, under the command of a Peninsular veteran, General Sir Arthur Cinnamond, were garrisoning the citadel of Ranjitgarh and holding the lines of Tej Singh in the suburbs. The city thus overawed Colonel Antony was wont to call the wickedest place in Asia, in blissful ignorance of the sins not only of distant Gamara, but of towns much nearer home. Its streets were filled with a swaggering disbanded soldiery that had faced the might of England and the Company in four pitched battles during the last decade, shameless women peered from its every lattice, and its defence of religion took the form of frequent bloodthirsty “cow rows,” but he saw in its wickedness no insuperable bar to the success of his policy. In twelve years or so the British would retire, leaving a reformed nation to govern itself. Meanwhile, in order to emphasise the transient nature of the occupation, a Mohammedan tomb served as the English church, and a single house of moderate size was made to accommodate the Resident and all his assistants, becoming the scene of as much hard work and high endeavour as might have sufficed to redeem an empire.

On an inner courtyard of the Residency there looked out a number of small rooms, each of which was shared by two young men, who had much ado to bestow themselves and their possessions in the limited space and the section of verandah that appertained to it. One room was much like another, with its camp-beds and table, and its miscellaneous assortment of camel-trunks and tin cases piled up at the back or serving as seats; and each verandah was graced by two long chairs, usually to be found in sociable proximity, with a view to the better enjoyment of the occupants' brief periods of leisure. On one particular verandah, however, the chairs were placed as far apart as space would permit, and turned away from each other, so that Lieutenant Robert Charteris and Lieutenant Henry Gerrard, of the Bengal Fusiliers and the Company's Engineers respectively, might each delude himself into the thought that he was alone in his glory. This arrangement was of the newest, but it was already causing keen delight in the circles which had known the two young men as inseparable friends. Born no farther apart than the Rectory and Hall of a country village, they had learnt together under Gerrard's father, the Rector, entered Addiscombe together, and passed out at the same time, Gerrard with an array of medals which secured him one of the coveted commissions in the Engineers, and Charteris, undistinguished save by proficiency in games and universal popularity, slipping contentedly into the Infantry. Appointed to the same station, they had seen a certain amount of active service in company, and continuing to gain the good opinion of those in high places, Gerrard as a promising scientific soldier and Charteris as a born leader of men, had both enjoyed the distinction of being selected by Colonel Antony as his assistants at Ranjitgarh. But here discord stepped between them in the fair form of Miss Honour Cinnamond, the youngest daughter of the General commanding the Division, and after edifying the station for some time by their ardent rivalry, Charteris and Gerrard were no longer on speaking terms. The station regarded it as an excellent joke, but to Colonel Antony, who took life seriously, it was a scandal and a sin, to be ended at once and peremptorily. Knowing his man, he had on this particular day announced his ultimatum to Gerrard.

“When is this foolishness going to end?” he asked impatiently, after the two young men had passed each other in his presence without a sign of recognition—“this breach between you and Charteris, I mean?”

“I don't know, sir. Perhaps when we get to our districts——”

“I would advise you not to reckon upon that. I am thinking strongly of sending Charteris back to his regiment.”

“But the disgrace, sir!” Gerrard was thunder-struck. “You said yourself that he was so well fitted for this work. It suits him too, and no mistake.”

Colonel Antony frowned at the slang. “Is it possible that you perceive any good in him?” he asked coldly.

“Why, sir,”—Gerrard was too much perturbed in mind to attempt to answer the question,—“he could never go back contentedly to ordinary subaltern's work after this. He will do something desperate—perhaps even get transferred to the Bombay side, and volunteer for Khemistan.”

He spoke with bated breath, for to the Antony brothers and all their circle the neighbouring province of Khemistan was a region of outer darkness, ruled by two fallen angels bearing the names of General Sir Henry Lennox and Major St George Keeling. It was a point of honour to assist their labours by harrying them with a constant dropping fire of minutes and remonstrances, with an occasional round-shot in the shape of interference on the part of the Supreme Government, deftly engineered from Ranjitgarh. And the pity of it was that the men thus thwarted with the purest possible motives were carrying on a similar work, and in the same spirit, as their opponents, but—and here came the line of cleavage—on different methods. Colonel Antony's grave dark face was immovable.

“It is for you to save him if you choose, Gerrard. What! do you think that I will allow the work here—the regeneration of the Granthi state—to be endangered by petty, miserable squabbles between my assistants? I have seen too much of support withheld at critical moments because one man had a grudge against another. Here we are all brothers. If Charteris intends to keep up this enmity, he must go.”

“But if he is to blame, sir, so am I,” confessed Gerrard reluctantly.

“I am glad to hear you say so. There can be no difficulty, then, in your admitting as much to him. I own I had thought that since you were more likely to be soon in a position to marry, he was probably the trespasser on your ground. The young lady favours him, then?”

“No, sir, neither of us.” Gerrard spoke bitterly, but Colonel Antony brought his fist down upon the table with a resounding thud.

“What! you stand on the same footing, neither has cause for jealousy of the other, and yet this miserable alienation continues? You are indeed to blame, Gerrard. Go and ask your comrade's pardon, appeal to the memories of your youth and his, engage with him to bear this common disappointment as gentlemen, as Christians! No man living has more cause to be grateful for the blessing of a good wife than I, but I trust I should have been granted sufficient resolution to live solitary for ever had I perceived that my happiness was likely to mean a brother's misery, and imperil the hopes of a nation. You are not called even to make such a renunciation, since the matter is taken out of your hands—merely to acquiesce in a decision not your own.”

“But if I am to blame, sir, so must Charteris be,” protested Gerrard, feeling, as the Resident's associates not infrequently did, that Colonel Antony's standard was too high for this wicked world.

“That is quite possible. He believes that you have injured him?”

“I suppose so, sir.”

“And he is conscious that he has injured you?”

“I can't say, sir. How should I know?”

“Then your duty is clear. Whether his conscience is awakened or not is uncertain, but you feel that you have, though unwittingly, done him an injury. Go and repair it, leaving him to find out his part in the matter for himself.”

It was this conversation that Gerrard was uncomfortably turning over in his mind on the verandah. The natural man in him rebelled, very naturally, against humbling himself to Charteris, who was at least as much to blame as he was, and had made his resentment offensively evident. But it was Charteris who would suffer if a reconciliation was not effected in some way. The argument was conclusive, as Colonel Antony had foreseen it would be. Gerrard looked round the corner of his chair, and rather sheepishly said, “Bob!”

There was no answer from Charteris, but his legs, the only part of him that was visible, seemed to take on an air of indignant protest. Gerrard tried again. “Bob, look here! I want to tell you something.”

This time Charteris sat up, exhibiting an angry countenance and a rough head. “Don't want to hear it,” he growled. “Hang it! can't a man be left in peace in his own quarters?”

“No, but—I say, Bob,” repeated Gerrard, feverishly anxious to anticipate the impending move, “the Colonel has been speaking to me—pitched it uncommon strong, he did. Do wait and hear what I have to say! Why should we go on making asses of ourselves over a girl who hasn't a civil word for either of us?”

“What?” cried Charteris, pausing on the edge of the verandah. “She's given you a pucka jawab[1] too?”

“Last night,” said Gerrard laconically. Charteris came a step nearer.

“Will you kindly tell me,” he said, addressing creation generally, “exactly what that girl wants? Hal, I could have sworn it was you when she refused me.”

“And until she refused me, I could have sworn it was you. Pretty clear she don't want either of us, ain't it? In fact, I may as well tell you, as she doesn't seem to have done it, that she said she had no intention of marrying at all.”

“Fudge!” cried Charteris, quite in the vein of the immortal Mr Burchell. “Then she's here on false pretences. What does a spin. come out for but to get a husband? No, you mark my words, my boy; she's waiting for a bachelor Governor-General!”

Gerrard opened his lips to protest, but not feeling called upon to repeat the whole of his conversation with Miss Cinnamond, closed them again. “Anyhow,” he said at last, rather awkwardly, “as we're in the same boat, don't you think we might come to an agreement of some sort, and do people out of a little of the fun they're having over us? 'Our Mr James' told the Colonel to-day that we wanted our heads knocking together.”

“James Antony is a coarse brute, and I should uncommonly like to see him try it!” said Charteris, with concentrated fury. Then he came and stood over Gerrard, and looked at him curiously. “Were you going to suggest that we should come to an agreement to give up all thoughts of her?” he asked with extreme calmness.

“No, not for a moment.”

“I'm glad to hear that, because I shouldn't think of doing it. I mean to go on asking her, over and over again, until she accepts me.”

“And so do I,” cried Gerrard, starting up, stung out of his usual quietness of manner. They glared at each other angrily for a moment, then Charteris laughed rather unsteadily.

“Basis for an agreement is rather wanting, ain't it? I regard you as a person of ordinary sanity, so I don't imagine you were going to propose either that I should nobly resign her in your favour, or you in mine. Then what on earth is there left to do?”

“We have to think of her as well as ourselves,” said Gerrard, trying to steady his voice. “She may not marry at all, as she said”—Charteris snorted—“or she may marry some one else, neither of us. And I am sure we should both rather see her married to some one else, and happy, than marry her ourselves and know that she wasn't happy.”

The construction of the sentence was involved, but its meaning was clear. Charteris flung up his head contemptuously. “You're wrong there,” he said. “Speak for yourself. I want to see her married to me, and I'd undertake to make her happy. I shall be an uncommon good husband, I can tell you. What are you laughing at, pray?”

“I'm not laughing—at least, not exactly,” gasped Gerrard, restraining himself with difficulty. “Forgive me, old fellow. It was the picture of you saying to the future Mrs Charteris, 'Be happy, or I'll know the reason why,' that overcame me.”

Charteris looked deeply offended, but after a moment joined in the laugh. “Of course I know I can't put it pretty, as you could,” he admitted grudgingly. “But I mean to marry her, and make her happy too.”

“And so do I,” said Gerrard again. “But it's quite clear she can't marry both of us, and mayn't marry either of us, ain't it? Well, what I say is, let us carry the affair through decently, so that the best man may win, if either of us wins at all. That appeals to you, doesn't it?”

“Not a bit,” said Charteris promptly. “You are the best man.”

“Oh, don't be an ass. What do medals for mathematics matter here? You are bigger than I am, and heaps better to look at. In fact, my dear Bob, I might even say of you that you were the least little bit showy.” Gerrard was falling back insensibly into the old chaffing tone, but a look on his friend's face warned him that the time was not yet quite ripe for this, and he went on hastily. “At any rate, each of us has advantages on his side, we'll say. Then let us fight fair. You weren't thinking of proposing again every time you see her? In that case, it would soon be darwaza band[2] when you called, I'm afraid. Let us agree not to make any move, either of us, for a year—or six months, if you insist upon it,” as he read protest in Charteris's eye, “and then draw lots which shall speak first. If she accepts that one, the matter is settled—it's the fortune of war; if not, then the other has his turn. If she refuses both, then ditto ditto at the end of another six months.”

Charteris, leaning against a pillar of the verandah, looked down at him and laughed. “If I didn't know you for a cunning old weasel, I should put you down as jolly green, Hal. Suppose she should meanwhile intimate, in the most unimaginably proper and delicate way, a preference for either of us?”

“For the present one or the absent one?” asked Gerrard drily. “Well, in either case, I think the present one ought to let the absent one know, before taking any action. But don't look so blue. You forget that we shall both be in our districts, at a safe distance from Ranjitgarh, for six months at least.”

“And in the meantime she may marry some one else.”

“Then we shan't have lost our friendship as well as her.”

Charteris clapped him on the shoulder with a laugh. “I believe you, my boy! You don't know what a bore it has been this last fortnight, remembering what was between us whenever I wanted to tell you anything. Done with you, then, subject to necessary modifications to be agreed upon from time to time by mutual consent, and to the approval of the lady.”

“But you wouldn't tell her?” cried Gerrard, aghast.

“Wouldn't I, just? Why, how is she to keep our joint memory green against the assaults of eligible subcommissioners and fat Commissariat colonels, unless she has this to remember us by? Hang suffering in silence! Let her know what fine fellows she has got waiting on her nod.”

“Well, you can tell her,” unwillingly.

“Not I. Be carried away into proposing again, and lose my turn? no, thank you. We will tell her together, my young friend, and keep a jolly keen eye on each other the whole time. And we'll do it at the ball. Come, this is something like life!”

“But she may not choose to grant us an opportunity.”

Charteris winked in the most vulgar manner. “What'll you take on it? Do you think she don't know she has set you and me by the ears? If not, old Mother Jardine will soon enlighten her. And then—oh, my revered Hal, can you doubt what her first move will be? To reconcile us, my boy, as if we were two dirty little snivelling urchins in her village school at home! Will she make us shake hands? Oh, ain't it glorious!”

He dropped into his chair, helpless with laughter, while Gerrard surveyed him with distaste. It was some consolation to feel that Bob could not possibly be properly in love, if he could thus contemplate the likelihood of the object of his affections making herself ridiculous. But as if he had read his friend's thoughts, Charteris sat up suddenly, and spoke with perfect gravity.

“Mind you, Hal, all this don't signify that I forgive you in the least for coming between her and me. I'm willing to call a truce because falling out is horrid inconvenient, and looks silly. But your intrusive existence has turned love's young dream into a farce, and this suggestion of yours can only make things worse. I never bargained for being a sort of Siamese twin, but that's how it comes out. The unfortunate girl will never be able to think of one of us without the other. If she is dwelling affectionately on your modest merit, what you call, I believe, my swaggering dare-devilry will force itself into her mind, and if any of my encounters with tigers or dacoits should reach her ears, they will only recall your powers of discussing theology or reeling off poetry by the yard. Make no mistake. You intrude, sir; and I resent it.”

“And words can't express the depth of my resentment that you should have poked your nose into my affairs,” returned Gerrard heartily.

[1] Definite refusal.

[2] Not at home, lit. the door is shut.

CHAPTER II. HER SIDE OF THE CASE.

“I feared so much that you might consider me intrusive,” said Mrs Jardine.

“On the contrary, I consider you most kind,” replied Lady Cinnamond. She sat very erect, a beautiful woman still, with her dark eyes and white hair. Mrs Jardine was not an imaginative person, but the outlines of the Cinnamonds' family history had reached her, and her thoughts wandered involuntarily to the storming of Badajoz and the beautiful Spanish girl who had sought refuge in the British camp, and she found excuse for that infatuation on Sir Arthur Cinnamond's part which she had denounced bitterly when she first heard that “the new General's” wife was a foreigner. Not that she felt as yet quite at her ease with Lady Cinnamond. There was something that seemed to baffle her, a kind of regal willingness to hear all she had to say with courtesy, but with no promise to follow her advice.

“You see, dear Lady Cinnamond,” she went on, “how I am placed. As the chaplain's wife one has a real duty—one can't doubt it, can one?—to promote peace, and one is so sorry to see what dear Colonel Antony calls his noble band of brothers disturbed by strife. And you being—may I say it?—a stranger here, and your sweet girl so young——”

“I have other daughters, and they have not been entirely without lovers.” There was a slight quiver of amusement about the lips of the General's wife.

“Oh, dear Lady Cinnamond, how could you imagine that I would suggest such a thing? We all know how well you have married your girls, down to dear Mrs Cowper herself. And of course, if you are satisfied, I have nothing more to say. Only it seemed that as a true friend, if I may say so——”

“Indeed I should be very grieved if you might not. But perhaps I ought to tell you that Sir Arthur and I have a great idea of leaving young people to settle their own affairs as much as possible. It has always answered well hitherto, but Honour is, as you say, very young, and she has been brought up differently from the rest——”

“Yes?” said Mrs Jardine, with such breathless interest that her hostess had not the heart to baulk her curiosity.

“We were living at Boulogne before my husband was sent to the Cape,” she said, choosing her words with care—“for the advantages of education, of course, and—well, dear Mrs Jardine, you know what half-pay means as well as I do, and I need not apologize, need I? Two elderly cousins of Sir Arthur's happened to pass through, and we were able to offer them hospitality when the packet was prevented crossing by a storm. They took the greatest fancy to little Honour, and wished to adopt her, but we refused. Then came the Cape appointment—to the Eastern Province, where the climate is so dangerous to young children born elsewhere, and they renewed their offer. And we consented to let them have Honour until she was seventeen. They were most kind to her, I am sure.”

“Yes?” breathed Mrs Jardine softly again.

“Really, there is little more to say. Naturally your child becomes something of a stranger when you do not see her for fifteen years. But pray don't imagine that I blame the Miss Cinnamonds. Honour has been well educated, and taught to be a companion to her elders—rather too much so, perhaps. She has visited the poor, and taught a class in the village school, and practised all the good works which Sir Arthur says are new in England since his day, and I believe her aunts hoped to see her married to the curate. But unfortunately he went over to Rome.”

“How truly terrible!” cried Mrs Jardine, then stopped in pitiable confusion, remembering that the lady before her had been almost certainly born and bred a Roman Catholic, though she now attended the tomb-church Sunday by Sunday with Sir Arthur, and betrayed far less impatience than he did when Mr Jardine's discourses exceeded the regulation length.

“It might have been much worse,” said Lady Cinnamond innocently. “I cannot discover that Honour's heart was at all touched. But as you may imagine, her aunts were much distressed, and it was almost a relief to them to send her out to us as soon as an escort could be found.”

“Yes?” said Mrs Jardine for the third time, but as it was evident no further information was forthcoming, she covered her disappointment with a little gush of friendly interest. “And do tell me, dear Lady Cinnamond, what is the dear girl's real name? As I said to Mr Jardine only two days ago, 'You may take my word for it, Samuel, Miss Cinnamond was baptized Honora or Honoria. Honour is merely a sweet little family name.'”

“I suppose it may sound foolish to strangers,” said Lady Cinnamond, with a calmness that suggested she did not care whether it did or not. “It was a kind of joke of Sir Arthur's. I was playing with her one day when she was a baby, and calling her in Spanish the dearest thing in the world, and he pounced on me at once. 'I thought honour was the dearest thing in the world?' he said—I had told him so long before—and after that he would not hear of calling the baby anything but Honour.”

She paused—with a definiteness which suggested that Mrs Jardine's call had lasted long enough, but the visitor was by this time aware that she had been guided dexterously away from her main object, and was determined to repair the omission.

“Then you are satisfied that nothing dreadful will occur at the ball to-night, dear Lady Cinnamond?” she asked anxiously. “Young men are so uncontrolled nowadays, you know, and Mr Charteris, I believe, is extremely passionate. I have heard that he makes use of the most frightful language to his servants——”

The slightest possible gesture from the great lady stopped her.

“I have no fear whatever that either my daughter or any gentleman who may be among the guests will transgress the laws of propriety,” said Lady Cinnamond icily.

“Oh, I am so glad you think all will be well. I may tell my husband so? He was so troubled about it, and I ventured to take the liberty of calling upon you, just that I might relieve his mind. You must know best, of course.”

“But what course were you intending to propose?” asked the hostess, with natural curiosity.

Mrs Jardine looked, as she felt, confused. “Oh, well,” she murmured, “if Miss Cinnamond had remained away this evening——?”

“But would not that have been a little marked? I think we have all been making too much of a rather foolish affair, Mrs Jardine. After all, now that Honour has refused both of the young men, there is no reason——”

“Refused them both?” cried the visitor incredulously.

“Of course. I thought you would have been sure to know,” said Lady Cinnamond sweetly. She rose as she spoke, and Mrs Jardine found it well to take her leave. Her hostess watched her depart, with a rather worried little smile, and then passed along the verandah to the dressing-room where her two daughters were arranging their dresses for the evening. Marian, the elder, had married her father's aide-de-camp soon after the move to Ranjitgarh, and the return from the honeymoon was the occasion for the ball to be given by the army in their honour. Vivid scarlet geraniums were to loop up Mrs Cowper's pale amber draperies, blush-roses to nestle in the airy folds of Honour's white tarlatan, and the bride claimed her mother's attention at once.

“Dear Mamma, I want your opinion. You have such excellent taste. Where ought this spray to go? Honour says here, and I say here,” illustrating each position with the aid of a pin.

“Here,” said Lady Cinnamond without hesitation, indicating a third place, and both girls cried out in admiration. That was just right. They knew it went awkwardly before, but they could not quite see where it should be. Their mother threw herself into their occupation, altering a fold here and pulling out a puff there, apparently engrossed in what she was doing, but conscious, through all Marian's light-hearted chatter, of the shade on Honour's brow. Her heart ached to see it, but she would not force the girl's confidence. There was not between her and her youngest-born the sympathy which had made those other handsome, capable daughters, whose married homes were landmarks of the wanderings of Sir Arthur and his wife, regard their mother almost in the light of an elder sister—only fifteen years older, indeed, than Charlotte, the eldest—and bring their joys and sorrows naturally to her. Honour was disappointed in her parents, her mother felt; it might almost be said that she disapproved of them, and though the feeling was not new to Lady Cinnamond in her own case, since she was obliged in every new station to live down the disadvantage of being a foreigner, it raised in her a tumult of indignation that any one, and most of all his own daughter, should presume to disapprove of Sir Arthur. But Honour was very young, and even if time did not soften her views, closer acquaintance must.

“Come to my room when you are dressed, Honour, and I will lend you my pearl necklace,” said Lady Cinnamond, laying her hand on the girl's shoulder. Honour's response was drowned in the noise of horse-hoofs and clanking that announced an arrival in front of the bungalow.

“Dear Papa and Charles returned already!” cried Mrs Cowper, peering through the Venetians. “Fly, Mamma! Charley, Charley, come and see whether you approve of my gown!”

Lady Cinnamond fled, in answer to the sonorous shout of “Rosa! Rosita! Sita!” which pealed through the house, and Captain Cowper entered from the verandah.

“Stunning!” he breathed fervently. “Horrid shame to waste it all on a handful of politicals up in No Man's Land instead of exhibiting it at Government House. You wear this fallal on your head, I suppose?”

“Oh, Charley, you careless fellow!” Mrs Cowper rescued the broad strip of lace with indignation. “My beautiful berthe! It goes on the bodice—so, don't you know? On my head, indeed!”

“But it would look ravishing wherever you wore it,” averred her husband, dodging the geranium-spray she threw at him, and there followed a brisk engagement with the flowers left in the box, to which Honour listened with some secret contempt but considerable interest, as she sewed on her roses where her mother had pinned them. Honour was learning lessons which ran counter to every maxim that had influenced her hitherto, and baffled all her efforts to reconstruct her vanished world. Those were the days when phrenology was considered an indispensable aid to instructors of youth, and a professor of the science had duly felt Honour's bumps, and recorded, for the guidance of her cousins, his mature opinion that, “though this young lady will not find it easy to apply herself to fresh subjects of study, yet she will never lose what she has once mastered.” But in this case the mastering was the difficulty. To her, life had hitherto meant a round of recurring duties, to be performed conscientiously as they came, and love a blinding illumination revealing to a humble worshipper the form of a hero and a saint, but ending preferably in renunciation—if voluntary and wholly unnecessary so much the nobler and better. To think of love in connection with an ordinary, average man was something very like sacrilege, and poor Honour fairly shuddered when Mrs Jardine, who bore her a grudge for unsettling Mr Jardine's mind with the new views she had brought from home, broke to her the horrible fact that she had made two ordinary young men fall in love with her. It was of a piece with the disturbing discovery that whereas she had come out, as she understood, to soothe the declining years of her aged parents, those parents, though grey-haired, were disconcertingly hale and hearty, and asked only that she would be happy and make herself agreeable—two tasks of which Honour found the first impossible, and the second extremely difficult.

Her daughters took a very secondary place in Lady Cinnamond's mind when her husband was in question, and it was seldom that Sir Arthur had to complain of his wife's not being present to receive him when he returned from his duties. She ran into his snuggery now like a girl, and broke into the liquid Spanish which formed such an effective defence against the ears of aides-de-camp or English-speaking servants.

“You are tired, my Arturo. The sitting has been very long. Were the Durbar open to reason?”

“My dearest, they have no thought but to procrastinate and obstruct business, and our excellent Colonel indulges them far too tenderly. Every form of ceremony must be observed, and all the long-drawn compliments duly inserted, until a whole morning is wasted over one small matter.”

“And my poor Arturo must sit and listen to it?”

“For his sins he must.” Sir Arthur smiled whimsically at his wife. “Judge for yourself how contentedly he did it to-day, my sweet one. The Durbar knew that the home mail had come in, and scented a glorious opportunity. Every man had to be satisfied of the health of her Majesty, Prince Albert, all the little princes and princesses, the Duke of Wellington, and the Chairman of the Court of Directors. When the memory or ingenuity of one failed, his neighbour took up the tale. Then some genius remembered a precious piece of gup, and asked with all solemnity whether it was true that a new Governor-General had been appointed, which led to a canvass of the merits of all possible candidates. There sits poor Antony with agony in his eyes, seeing his time wasted to no purpose, and all the business left undone, while he can't bring himself to check the Sirdars in their loquacity. I saw James Antony fuming behind him. Rose of my heart, your Arthur will be indiscreet enough to confide to you a profound secret. If the Resident goes up to the hills, and his brother takes his place, the Sirdars will be taught the meaning of despatch.”

“So much the better for the conduct of business, then. But they will not love him as they do the Colonel.”

Sir Arthur laughed. “I fancy James can dispense with their affection if he secures their obedience. The Colonel desired his compliments to you, my love, and begged that you would not consider his absence this evening in any way a slight, since his principles demand it of him. The furbelows all ready, eh?”

“Nearly. But, Arturo, I have been entertaining Mrs Jardine the greater part of the morning.”

“Some nice new piece of scandal, eh? What was the 'real duty' that brought her out in the heat?”

“An earnest desire to promote peace. She thought it might be better if Honour did not appear to-night. No, my Arturo,”—as Sir Arthur moved explosively,—“it was a warning given out of pure kindness to me, a foreigner. I told her what had happened, and she went away, I trust, satisfied. She thought me cold, I fear, for I restrained both voice and words.”

“Better, much better. But that a woman of that kind should have it in her power to—— That Honour should contrive to get herself talked about!”

“She is so young, Arturo; she did not understand. And it was not all her fault.”

“Which means that it was her father's. Well, but how was I to know that a daughter of yours and mine would turn out a fool? When she overwhelms me with a cool proposal to set up schools and I don't know what for the European women and children, what could I do but tell her it was the chaplain's business? You won't say that I ought to have encouraged her? Think of all the unpleasantness it would have caused in the regiments! And surely it was only natural to turn aside the matter by pointing out a sphere where her efforts would be more acceptable? Why, if I had said such a thing to Charlotte, or Eliza, or Marian, they would have blushed prettily and said, 'Oh, Papa!' and Marian might have giggled, but would any of them ever have thought of actually carrying it out?”

For this was the unfortunate result of Sir Arthur's ill-timed jocularity in advising his daughter to turn her enthusiasm for humanity to account in reforming some of Colonel Antony's assistants, instancing Gerrard and Charteris as standing in special need of her services. Young ladies were scarce, Honour was handsome and had inherited a touch of her mother's dignity, and when she unbent and displayed a flattering interest in the moral and spiritual welfare of each young man, the mischief was done.

“And then, to improve matters, she refuses both of them!” went on Sir Arthur despairingly. “What does she want? No one seems to please her.”

“If we were in Spain, it would be very simple,” mused Lady Cinnamond. “She would go into religion.”

Sir Arthur bristled up at once. “What, ma'am! a convent for my daughter? I'd have you remember——”

His wife laughed, and patted his hand. “Calm yourself, my Arturo. No well-regulated convent would keep a daughter of yours within its walls for a day, nor would she care to stay there. Even Honour's romance would not survive the actual experience. But since we are not in Spain, we cannot hope to cure her fancies so quickly. Still——”

“Aye, romance—all romance!” growled Sir Arthur. “For your sake and mine, my dear, I trust it may wear off soon, but I doubt it. What hope is there of a girl who wears King Charles the First's hair in a locket?”

Sir Arthur's pessimism did not keep him from paying Honour a fatherly compliment on her appearance that evening—a compliment accompanied, however, as the jam by the powder, with the reminder that she might be thankful if she ever arrived within measurable distance of her mother in looks. Lady Cinnamond, in pink satin, with a black lace shawl depending from a high jewelled comb at the back of her head in a manner reminiscent of the mantilla of her youth, laughed at the assurance, and hurried her party out to the elephant which was in waiting. The bridal pair were inclined to be pensive, privately lamenting the waste of a whole evening in public which might have been spent in a sweet solitude à deux on the verandah. Ostensibly out of consideration for the ladies' dresses, Captain Cowper had suggested that he and his wife should follow on a second elephant, but this was vetoed by his father-in-law, who declared that they would, in pure absence of mind, go for a moonlight ride through the city, and never arrive at the ball. Thus, with jests and counter-jests, they reached the great shamiana, erected for the occasion, and were swallowed up in an overwhelming flood of scarlet and dark blue uniforms. When Honour took off her wrap, her mother observed with vexation that they had both forgotten the pearl necklace, but it did not occur to her that the girl's absence of mind was due to the fact that she was nerving herself to a desperate deed.

With the laudable idea of discouraging gossip by behaving as if nothing unpleasant had happened, Gerrard secured a dance, and sheer pity for his embarrassed partner impelled him to make conversation while they waited for the music to begin. Colonel Antony disapproved of dancing, especially in India, on account of the effect on the natives, but his brother James had just passed them, with Marian Cowper, a radiant vision, on his arm, and Gerrard ventured a remark on the contrast between the stern-featured civilian and his partner. Receiving nothing but an almost inaudible murmur of assent, he observed how well and happy Mrs Cowper was looking.

“Oh yes. Of course, she likes India.” The sigh which accompanied the words told more than Honour had intended, and she went on hastily. “She has a sort of natural connection with it, you know, for Mrs Hastings was her godmother.”

“Mrs Hastings? Not——?”

“Yes, the widow of Warren Hastings. Doesn't it carry one back into history?” Honour had forgotten her embarrassment, for things of this kind had a way of making links between Gerrard and herself.

“I should have thought it was impossible.”

“Oh, she only died about ten years ago—yes, the year the Queen came to the throne. So I am not making poor Marian out to be terribly old.”

The minds of both were wandering back to Westminster Hall filled with serried rows of faces, with all eyes turned upon a small pale man in the midst, when they were suddenly recalled to the present by the indignant approach of Bob Charteris.

“Pardon me—my dance, I think?” he said, glaring at Gerrard.

“No, excuse me—my dance,” returned Gerrard, maintaining his position, and suspecting his friend unjustly of having supped early and too well.

“I really must appeal to Miss Cinnamond,” said Charteris, with barely veiled hostility. “You promised me this dance, didn't you?”

“I was under the impression that Miss Cinnamond had promised it to me,” said Gerrard, more sternly than he realised.

“Oh, please,” stammered Honour, not at all in the dignified way in which the beautiful and stately ladies of her favourite German stories were wont to intervene between knights contending for their favours—“I am afraid I have behaved very badly again. I—I wanted to speak to you both, and—and I did not know how to do it except by giving you the same dance.”

“We are only too much honoured,” said Gerrard, with overwhelming courtesy. He was inwardly furious, but the girl looked ready to cry, and a burst of tears in public was above all things to be avoided in the circumstances. “You find the tent too crowded? Let us look for a quieter place, then. If you could get hold of a shawl or something, Bob?”

Charteris obeyed, with exemplary outward meekness, and joined them immediately in a smaller tent arranged as a card-room, but not yet put to its intended use. Disregarding Gerrard's movement, he put the shawl round Honour himself, and they stood waiting her pleasure in silence, while she gripped her fan so hard in both hands that it broke in two. She raised a crimson face at last.

“I wanted to speak to you together,” she began again. “You both think I have treated you badly, but indeed I did not mean it. But that was not what I wished to say. I hear—some one—a friend—tells me that you are angry with one another on my account. It makes me so unhappy, and I don't see why——”

Her voice failed, and Charteris and Gerrard remained awkwardly silent, each intensely conscious of the extreme superfluity of the other's presence. Alone, either might have made shift to say something, but with his rival there, whatever was said would only make things worse. Looking up despairingly, Honour saw in their faces what made her cry out in terror.

“Oh, you wouldn't! you wouldn't! Don't make me feel that I have done such a dreadful thing! If you fought a duel about me I should die. There is no need. I will promise never to marry any one—ever. I will do it willingly, gladly. Isn't that enough? What more can I do? Only tell me, and don't do such a wicked, unchristian thing.”

“For pity's sake, Hal—you have the gift of the gab,” growled Charteris in Gerrard's ear, as she turned agonized eyes upon them.

“Play up to me, then,” muttered Gerrard in response, and spoke aloud and cheerfully. “My dear Miss Cinnamond, pray don't distress yourself. My friend Charteris and I have no intention whatever of fighting a duel. There has been a—a temporary misunderstanding between us, but it is absolutely cleared up, I assure you.”

“And as for the promise which you are good enough to offer to make, we should regret it more than any one else, because, you see, we both hope you will marry one of us,” said Charteris, almost with levity.

“I shall never marry any one,” said Honour remorsefully. “I have done too much harm already.”

“Harm? oh, nonsense!—if you'll forgive me for saying so,” returned Charteris. “It's done Gerrard and me a lot of good, hasn't it, my boy? (Why don't you back me up, surly?) We shall thank you for it yet—like eels getting used to being skinned, you know——”

“On my honour, Miss Cinnamond,” said Gerrard, fearing the heights of metaphor to which his friend's ardour might carry him, “we are both quite prepared to abide by your decision for the present, but we think we may fairly claim the right of trying to induce you to change it, after a proper interval——”

(“Couldn't have put it better myself,” said Charteris, with enthusiasm. “Fire away, Hal.”)

“But nothing is farther from our thoughts than to cause pain or anxiety to a lady whom we both admire and respect so highly,” went on Gerrard, in his best manner. “We have made up our minds not to suffer our friendship to be broken by attempts to supplant each other secretly, and if at length one of us is so happy as to win your regard, the other will bow absolutely to your decision.”

“Question!” said Charteris sharply, but at the sight of returning anxiety in Honour's eyes, he capitulated. “And if it would give you any pleasure to see us shake hands, Miss Cinnamond, the word is with you.”

“It would, indeed,” she said, smiling gratefully—and they did it, Charteris with a wicked twinkle in his eye. Honour stood up, tears contending with smiles in her face.

“Thank you both so much,” she said. “But I think I ought to tell you that your friendship will never be put to the test. I could never, never choose.”

“Cheerful!” said Charteris. “But we will hope on.”

“Please take me back to my mother,” said Honour, in some confusion, as a party of elderly officers invaded the room, eager to enjoy their hookahs, the bearers of which were waiting outside.

“You might bring Miss Cinnamond's fan, Hal,” said Charteris, dexterously offering his arm first, and thus they returned to Lady Cinnamond, who had been a prey to grievous anxiety, disguised with an iron will lest public attention should be attracted to Honour's absence.

“Oh, Hal, my hated r-r-rival!” breathed Charteris, slapping his friend on the back when they got out into the open air. “Ain't it as good as a play? But what a monster of iniquity a man feels beside a girl like that!” he added sentimentally. “Do you wonder that I fell in love with her?”

“No, I don't,” said Gerrard savagely. “But I wish with all my heart you hadn't!”

“The same to you, my boy!” laughed Charteris.

CHAPTER III. THE OLD ORDER AND THE NEW.

In little more than a week after the ball, Charteris and Gerrard had shaken from their feet the dust of Ranjitgarh with its Occidental influences, and were journeying, though westward, towards the pure unadulterated East in their respective districts. Charteris' sphere of influence was reached first, a land of prevailing sand-colour with oases of almost painful green, over which the Granthi sovereignty had never been more than merely nominal. A Granthi army had made periodic inroads into Darwan, sweeping off all the cattle it could find, by way of collecting the revenue, and the Darwanis retorted by incursions across the Granthi border, designed to assert their independence. Charteris was at the head of a strong force of Granthis, to emphasize the fact that he represented the Ranjitgarh Durbar, not the British Crown nor the Company, and his duties were extensive, if simple. He was to bring down the oppressor and relieve the oppressed, destroy the towers of robber chiefs and induce the occupants to turn their unaccustomed hands to honest labour, establish order in place of confusion, and generally to make it known and felt that there now existed, and must be obeyed, a law superior to the sweet will of the strongest.

Gerrard, passing on towards the south-west, would be faced with quite a different problem, in the solution of which the velvet glove would play a more important part, ostensibly at least, than the iron hand. The province of Agpur formed an indisputable part of the Granthi dominions, but it was ruled by a feudatory prince, who was faithful to his obligations during the lifetime of the great conqueror Ajit Singh, under whose banners he had often ridden to victory, but had seen his opportunity in the feeble rule of Ajit Singh's successors. One concession after another had been wrung by his diplomacy from the hands of weakling or child, the right to raise troops in his own name, to fortify the city of Agpur, and—though this was still contested by certain Ranjitgarh stalwarts—the power of nominating his successor instead of merely recommending his eldest son to the favour of his suzerain. Only a very few steps, a distance that might be bridged by a single resolute advance, had separated Partab Singh from the dignity of a full-blown independent prince, when the nerveless hands of the Ranjitgarh ruler were suddenly reinforced by the strong grasp of a British Resident upon the reins. For a short time it was doubtful whether the stiff-necked old Rajah would not put his fate to the touch, and come to death-grips with British power acting in the name of the Durbar, but wiser counsels prevailed. Partab Singh paid his tribute, with no more deduction than could be accounted for by the ever-ready plea of a bad harvest, and gave no excuse for marching troops into his territory. But he would not swell the triumph of the upstart Durbar by showing himself at Ranjitgarh, nor would he lower his dignity by making any response to Colonel Antony's overtures. He remained in self-imposed seclusion within the borders of his province, declining either to move or to be moved in anything relating to the welfare of his subjects.

Agpur, then, was the scene of Gerrard's future labours. For his own sake, Partab Singh would have done well to pay up his tribute in full, and not plume himself on the slight saving effected in the name of the bad harvest, for the plea afforded an opening for extending the influence of the central government. Colonel Antony sent word that he was despatching one of his most trusted officers to examine the system of irrigation pursued in the province, and to offer the Rajah any advice his experience might suggest that would tend to mitigate the suffering and loss consequent on bad seasons. Following his usual tactics, Partab Singh returned no answer to the communication, and Gerrard was therefore proceeding under orders which left him with a curious combination of strict instructions and wide discretion. He was to observe many other things besides the irrigation system in the course of his journeys—Partab Singh's military dispositions, the attitude of the people towards him, and also towards Ranjitgarh and the British, and the amount of union or disunion visible between the Mohammedan and Granthi elements in the population. If possible, he was to obtain supplies in the usual way from the village headmen as he passed, but should they be withheld, he was to make arrangements to be supplied from Darwan, rather than be forced to an ignominious retreat. The city of Agpur he was not to enter without an express invitation from its ruler, nor in any way to force himself upon his attention; but should accident, or any faint glimmerings of a conciliatory spirit on the part of Partab Singh, bring them together, he was to leave no means untried to win the Rajah's friendship. The probabilities were that the old ruler would either continue in his attitude of sullen withdrawal, or advertise his intention of maintaining the integrity of his dominions by wiping out the intruders, but that could not be helped. Gerrard took his life in his hand, and no one thought very much of the risk. Colonel Antony had a way of casting forth his subordinates into troubled waters, to sink or swim as best they might, and being picked men after his own heart, they had a way of returning triumphant, bringing with them treasures snatched from the deep.

It pleased Charteris to emphasize the dark side of the case as he and Gerrard shook hands and parted, half a day's journey beyond the spot fixed upon for the scene of the former's first steps in the art of government.

“There's something jolly dramatic about all your chances depending on me,” he said. “I might hold back your reports, or send on forged ones instead, or ruin you in about a hundred different ways.” All Gerrard's communications with Ranjitgarh were to pass through Darwan, lest Partab Singh should intercept them on the shorter route. “When I am inclined to feel hipped, I shall spend a happy hour or so in devising uncomfortableness for you, my boy.”

“And how you would enjoy explaining to Miss Cinnamond the way in which you had eliminated your hated rival!” said Gerrard.

“Well, why not? All the old fellows in the Ages of Chivalry, that she talks of, did that sort of thing all day long, so why should she blame in a poor beggar of a Bengali what she would pass over in a baron bold?”

“Her age of chivalry is about as near the truth as the idyllic pictures of blameless Hindus that they hold up in Parliament, I fancy. Well, Bob, we can't say you haven't told me what to expect. If I do call upon you for help, you'll know it's a mere matter of form.”

“Of course. It's quite impossible that I should get to you in time, you realise that? But I'll tell you what I will do for you, with the greatest pleasure. When you are safely dead, I'll avenge you in style. The smoking ruins of Agpur shall be your funeral pyre, as the old fellow said to the Dey of Algiers.”

“Most consoling to me. Well, good-bye, Bob!”

“Good-bye, Hal, and good luck to you!” and they rode upon their separate ways.

For a time Gerrard's progress through Agpur territory was uneventful. It was not necessary to obtain provisions from Darwan, for they were forthcoming from the country traversed, though with accompaniments of vexatious delay and unfulfilled promises that showed the headmen had no fear of being taken to task for not making the traveller's way easy. The Granthi escort required ruling with a rod of iron, for they were prone, after their usual fashion, to prey upon the people, and it was no part of Colonel Antony's plan to provide Partab Singh with a colourable grievance. A few severe examples were necessary before the half-trained troopers realised that their new commander was in earnest, but when once the idea had been fixed in their minds that to seize the property of even the poorest cultivator without payment meant dismissal in disgrace, they began to take a pride in his very severity.

As for the people of the country, they regarded this new-fangled behaviour with suspicion at first, as probably a cloak for deeper designs of plunder on the part of Gerrard himself, but learned gradually to regard him as well-meaning, though certainly mad. Here and there a farmer or headman would open his heart to him, letting in light on many dark places in Partab Singh's administration, while from the elders who gathered round his tent-door at night when he was encamped near a village he learned what was the popular estimate of the ruler himself. One story was told with bated breath again and again, establishing Partab Singh's character in the minds of his people as a man of the nicest honour. A few years before, the Rajah had slain with his own hand every woman and girl in his zenana, as the result of some discovery, the nature of which no one durst even conjecture, and had since brought home to his blood-stained halls a young bride of purest Rajput descent from beyond Nanakpur, who had borne him a son, commonly reported to be the apple of his eye. There had been an elder son, but no one knew whether he was alive or dead, though a gruesome tale was whispered of his father's having ordered his eyes to be torn out. A faithful foster-brother was said to have sacrificed himself to save him, and to have died in the prison after his eyes had been duly exhibited to the Rajah as those of his son, while the prince made his escape in the servant's clothes, but the truth of this was not vouched for. Altogether, life seemed to be rather lightly regarded in the Agpur royal family, though Gerrard gathered that Partab Singh was held by connoisseurs to have failed to vindicate to the utmost his insulted honour. If the occasion were grave enough to warrant the massacre of every living thing in the zenana, it called also for the death of the avenger by his own hand as a finishing touch, but it was universally allowed that this could hardly be expected in the case of a man who had left himself no heir. Much was said also as to Partab Singh's lavish treatment of his soldiers and his presumable intention in training them, his encouragement of merchants and crusade against large landholders, who were either persecuted out of existence or compelled to reside in Agpur under his own eye, and the fortune he was heaping up for his one precious son. Thus the voluminous reports forwarded to Darwan for transmission to Ranjitgarh were by no means deficient either in detail or interest.

In the natural course of his leisurely progress, equally unhasting and unresting, Gerrard was now approaching the neighbourhood of the city of Agpur, not without experiencing an occasional constricted feeling about his throat, as though he was walking into a trap the entrance into which had obligingly been made easy for him. He was surprised to find that he was entering upon a scene of desolation. The half-ripe harvest had been roughly reaped in part, but was elsewhere trampled down, and the villages were deserted by their inhabitants; or if by chance a man or two were seen, they fled with the utmost speed. It seemed as if an army had been passing through the country, and presumably it was Partab Singh's own army, since no one was known to be invading him. But why should he be moving his army about at this particular season, and in the absence of any outside enemy? That the answer to this question might prove to have an unpleasant effect upon his own fortunes Gerrard was aware, and his thoughts were not altogether agreeable as he sat in his tent during the heat of the day. It seemed prudent to put his papers in order—perhaps to destroy one or two which might be liable to misinterpretation in unfriendly hands, and this he was proceeding to do when an orderly came to say that a local Sirdar and his son, who had become separated from their attendants in a hunting expedition, asked if they might take shelter in the Sahib's camp until the sun was a little cooler. The idea of a hunting expedition was strange in the desolate state of; the district, but Gerrard hoped to gain some information from the strangers, and ordered that they should be brought to his tent. As he rose to go forward and welcome them, a low voice—that of the munshi sitting on the ground at his side—arrested him.

“Sahib, I cannot be sure, but I think that old man is the Rajah Partab Singh, whom I have seen once at Nanakpur. Do not betray that you suspect him, but look at the mark of the kalgi on the turbans of the two.”

The words were so quickly spoken that Gerrard's pause was barely perceptible, and he went out to meet the newcomers without hesitation. They were an elderly bearded man and a boy of five or six, dressed in ordinary country stuffs, but on the turbans of both there was distinguishable to one who looked for it a slight discoloration, as though an aigrette or other token of distinction had recently been removed, and their horses were very fine. Gerrard welcomed them courteously, and the old man introduced himself as Sirdar Hari Ram, and the boy as his grandson, Narayan Lal. A carpet was already spread in Gerrard's tent, and he motioned them to it, while he gave an order or two respecting refreshments, and other things. The hookah kept for occasions of this sort was brought in, and Gerrard took a whiff himself, then passed the mouthpiece to his guests, but it was politely refused, with a sanctimonious glance at the servants. The boy soon tired of sitting still, and began to investigate the tent, attracted by the European furniture and weapons. In response to his inquiries, Gerrard exhibited and explained his watch, his tin despatch-box, (which aroused disappointment as not being filled with treasure,) and his Colt's revolver, at that time a surprising novelty. The old man was as fascinated with it as the child, and remarked gloomily that it was no wonder the English had so much power, when one of them could carry six men's lives in his hand. He seemed inclined to talk, so Gerrard looked out an illustrated paper which had lately reached him from home, and opened it for the boy at the picture of the opening of a new railway by the Queen and Prince Albert.

“Sit down here, little one, and look at this,” he said kindly.

The child drew himself up with great dignity. “I am a prince, and I sit at no man's feet save my father's, O bearer of many deaths.”

Here was a confirmation of the Munshi's suspicions, and Gerrard could not forbear a glance at the old man to see how he took it. But no discomfiture was visible.

“The women spoil him and puff him up. But 'tis a fine spirit!” said the Sirdar, beaming even while he made the sign to avert the evil eye. “Nevertheless, delight of my heart, sit thou at the foot of the Sahib, for verily that is where all Granthistan must now sit.”

The boy obeyed, and the old man took his turn at putting questions. Many of them were trivial enough, but Gerrard soon became conscious that there was something behind, that attempts were continually being made to entrap him. The inexhaustible theme of the relations between the Crown and the Company was freely discussed without seeming to become much clearer to the Sirdar, and Gerrard realised by degrees that his guest was seeking for a weak point, a jealousy between the two governing bodies, or between two rulers, such as a bold diplomatist might exploit to his own advantage. His answers must therefore be guarded, and yet apparently frank, lest the old man should read into them what he desired, and it seemed that the inquirer had been baffled successfully when he flew off at a tangent to Colonel Antony and his administration.

“We hear strange things of the Ranjitgarh Durbar,” he remarked sarcastically, “how the due compliments are always offered, and any man may lift up his voice and be heard with mildness—the wretch who was a slave but yesterday as readily as a prince of the house of Ajit Singh.”

“It is true,” said Gerrard. “Our religion bids us be courteous to all men, and the Resident follows its precepts.”

The old man smiled unpleasantly. “This Antni Sahib—he is one to be wondered at, is he not? Men say that when certain would have had the English take possession of Granthistan for themselves, he withstood them.” A meaning pause. “And they say also that when any Englishman would override the rights of a Granthi, be he Sirdar or peasant, Antni Sahib is on the side of the Granthi.”

“Quite true,” said Gerrard again.

The Sirdar bent towards him. “Then, since he betrays his own masters thus, from whom does he look for reward?” he asked triumphantly.

“The Resident desires no reward but the gratitude of the Granthis, if that may be had, Sirdar Sahib.”

“And the gratitude of the Granthis is to place him on the gaddi as King of Granthistan?” The old man's self-satisfaction was so evident as he displayed his acumen in detecting this deep-laid plot that Gerrard almost laughed in his face.

“Nay, Sirdar Sahib, he trusts to see young Lena Singh on his father's throne, ruling as an upright king, when he himself has returned an old man to England. But excuse me a moment.”

The Eurasian apothecary, the only man in the camp who could speak English, had entered deprecatingly, with a visage of alarm. Gerrard spoke sharply.

“Don't look so frightened, Mr Moraes. What is it?”

“Zere are soldiers approaching, sar—a whole armee. What is to be done?”

“Bid Sirdar Badan Hazari send the men to their posts, and challenge the strangers before they get within musket-shot.” He turned again to the old man. “You think that Colonel Antony might wish to make himself King of Granthistan, but which of all the English has ever done such a thing?”

“Nay, but they conquered for their masters. This man who resists his masters must surely have some advantage for himself in view?”

“Sahib!” It was the little boy who spoke eagerly before Gerrard could answer; “who are these men with guns and swords, and why do they come before the tent?”

Gerrard cast a careless glance at his twelve troopers, noticing that the old Sirdar did not move a muscle. “They are to protect my guests, little prince,” he answered.

“But why are their guns pointed this way?”

“That my guests may see them, and know themselves safe.”

“Your guests are much indebted to your thoughtfulness, sahib,” said the old man, with something of mockery in his tone. Gerrard would have given much to know what was passing behind those inscrutable eyes. Was that long curved dagger, with the handle of which the Sirdar's fingers were continually playing, destined to be sheathed in his heart at the moment that an attack was made upon the camp from without? It almost looked like it, and yet why had the old man given such a hostage to fortune as the child he had brought with him? To prevent a flagging in the conversation, which might have been attributed to nervousness, Gerrard brought out his sketch-book, and requested the honour of taking the portraits of Sirdar Hari Ram and his grandson. The request was granted, but before the water for which he called had been brought Moraes appeared again.

“Ze strange officer desire to see you, sar. He say he Rajah Partab Singh's Komadan.” [1]

“Tell him to send a message, since I am engaged with guests.”

“He say you must give up zose persons, sar. Old man and leetle boy, he come to look for zem.”

“Then tell him to come and take them. And you can promise him in my name a pretty tough job if he does.” He turned from Moraes with noble disdain, and bestowed a reassuring smile upon his guests.

“Sahib,” said the old man, “the wise lingers not where his presence is an inconvenience. The youth who has just left us appeared to desire our departure.”

“His desires are of no moment, Sirdar Sahib, even were he so unmannerly as to express them.”

“But it is the part of a churl to bring danger upon a host, sahib, and I have many enemies. Is it possible that there are those without who demand that I should be yielded up to them?”

“Since you ask, it is so, but you need have no fear that I shall comply,” said Gerrard, more puzzled than ever.

“Nay, sahib, but I myself will depart with the child, so that neither your honour nor your safety will be menaced.”

“You will do nothing of the kind, Sirdar Sahib. What! shall I suffer a guest to step from my very carpet into the hands of his foes? You would cover me with disgrace from the mountains to the sea.”

“I will not bring trouble upon you, sahib. Suffer us to go.”

“Certainly not. I will rather use violence to keep you. A word to these men of mine——”

The veins on the old man's forehead swelled, and his eyes flamed. “By the Guru! if the slaves of Lena Singh and the English dare to lay a finger on me——!” he cried. “Foolish young man, will you keep me from my own troops? I am the Rajah Partab Singh.”

Gerrald stepped back with a bow. “Maharaj-ji, you are free to depart. I had not thought that the man whom I welcomed to my tent designed to pick a quarrel with me. Depart freely, and your son with you, but bear me witness that I did not fail in hospitality.”

“Nor shall you find Partab Singh deficient in hospitality, O son of noble parents!” cried the old man, softening suddenly. “Know this, my friend. I designed to put you to a test, to prove your courtesy, your courage, your good faith, that I might see whether the English were indeed to be trusted. Well has Antni Sahib done in sending one like you, since he could not come himself!”

[1] Commandant.

CHAPTER IV. “A-HUNTING WE WILL GO.”

“Here are ten rupees for you, Somwar Mal. You did me good service to-day,” said Gerrard to his Munshi, who salaamed to the very ground.

“May the Protector of the Poor continue to be as a spreading tree, under whose branches this slave and all his house may find shelter!” he said devoutly. Gerrard thought he had departed, but looking up presently, saw him still standing humbly with folded hands.

“What is it, Munshi-ji?” he asked him.

“Sahib, among the attendants who accompanied the Rajah Partab Singh when he departed was a certain scribe, who made himself known to this slave as the grandson of his father's cousin, and asked leave to visit him this evening.”

“Well, what of that? You may be able to get some useful information out of him. Ah, I see; you think he may be coming as a spy?”

“This slave has no doubt, sahib, that the young man will be commissioned to discover whether the Protector of the Poor was aware of the identity of the Rajah and his son when he received them, or not. What answer does the Presence desire should be given?”

“Why, the truth, of course!” said Gerrard impatiently.

“It is an order,” said Somwar Mal, and salaamed himself out. His employer thought no more about him until just before bedtime, when the Munshi, his face beaming with modest gratification, sought another interview.

“This slave was not mistaken, sahib. The young man did his errand with a dexterity that would have deceived many, but not the humble one who watches over the interests of the Presence. The question came as though unpremeditated, as he had expected, and in accordance with the will of the Presence, he gave a true answer, saying that on the first appearance of the strangers on the horizon your honour cried out, 'Behold, some great one cometh! It is in my mind that the Rajah Partab Singh and his son are about to visit the camp.' And very great was the wonder of the young man that your honour could so well have hoodwinked his master.”

“O Somwar Mal, you are a spoil-sport!” cried Gerrard. “Do you not see that all the hospitality I showed to the Rajah—all my faithfulness to my guests—now goes for nothing?”

The Munshi regarded him with mild reproach. “Nay, sahib, the meanest of men may not fail in hospitality—it is a duty incumbent upon all; but the power of foreseeing events is a direct gift from Heaven, and will move the Rajah to desire greatly the linking of his fortunes with your honour's. There is also another small matter in which this slave has to-night done what he could to add a stone to the pillar of your honour's prosperity.”

“I wish you had asked me first. But let me know what obligations you have undertaken for me.”

“The youth, the son of shame, dared to inquire in confidence what were the weaknesses of the Protector of the Poor!” said the Munshi, in an awful whisper. Gerrard fell in with the humour of the occasion.

“And of course you swore that I had none?”

Somwar Mal hung his head. “Alas, sahib! your honour bade me tell him the truth.”

“You are right, Munshi-ji. Truth is great, and shall prevail. And which of my hidden faults have you discovered to the eyes of the world?”

“Sahib, your honour's credit is safe in the hands of your slave. He bade the youth name one after the other such things as have brought to ruin many wise men, and then assured him that not one of all these had ever touched your honour. But of that one thing which he has observed——”

“This becomes interesting,” said Gerrard. “Speak.”

“Nay, sahib, it is for this slave to lay the hand of respect upon the mouth of discretion.”

“Not when the mouth of command issues an order. Say on.”

“If it is an order, sahib——?” An inexorable nod answered him, and he went on. “Sahib, it has sometimes seemed to the humblest of your servants, who asks forgiveness for presuming to raise his eyes above your feet, that your honour was more occupied in seeking the right way to do a thing than in doing at once what required doing.”

“Lack of decision? I see, and you told the youth this?”

Grieved surprise was in Somwar Mal's tone. “I, sahib? I told him that the besetting sin of the Protector of the Poor was a hasty judgment in sometimes acting without thought!”

“Oh, go away, you old humbug!” shouted Gerrard violently, and Somwar Mal retired proudly smiling, while his employer laughed undisturbed.

“Whether it is due to Soomwar Mull's original notions of truth, or to old Pertaub Sing's own favourable impressions, it seems to be certain that I have made a conquest!” he wrote to Charteris the next evening. “I have given up attempting to unravel the Rajah's motives in visiting me incog., and will only hint that if I were told the whole thing was got up with a view to burking the momentous question who should pay the first call I should not be surprised. Do you twig? Pertaub Sing has visited my camp, which is one to me; but the visit was not official, and that's one to him. In any case, I thought I should be carrying out Antony's wishes if I paid an official visit to-day, which I did, and was entertained regardless of expense, garlands, ottar, paun and all. The old boy is a regular brick, for—now grow green with envy—he has invited me to go a-hunting with him to-morrow. Hawking, he said—by the way, what would not a certain lady give to be a spectator of that most chivalrous of sports?—but oh, my beloved Bob, there's a jheel which I strongly suspect to be the intended scene of our exploits, and if there ain't pig there, call me a Dutchman. Conceive my feelings. If we sight pig, will it be my duty to turn delicately away, with a pained expression of countenance, or would it be better style to affect to have seen nothing whatever? Or will there, will there be spears in reserve, and the chance of some glorious fun? After all, my boy, envy me not till you hear how the day ends.”

The day began uneventfully enough, though the spectacle of the Rajah's hunt delighted Gerrard's eyes. The old ruler himself and his councillors and Komadans seemed to have donned their brightest garb for the occasion, and the little prince, now known by his proper name of Kharrak Singh, was resplendent in emerald-green velvet, with a blue and silver turban and a broad folded girdle of stiff gold tissue, in which was stuck a huge dagger, large enough for a sword for him. He rode a white pony with a pink nose and a long tail, and on either side of him was an ancient armed retainer, charged to keep him out of any possible danger. The hawking was pretty to watch, but not particularly exciting, and Gerrard found it much more interesting when the innumerable dogs of indescribable breed which accompanied the party started something larger than birds in the brushwood surrounding the swamp. Partab Singh looked at his guest, and read the expression of his face aright. With a smile the old Rajah called up a man who carried a number of spears, and bade Gerrard take his choice. The beaters were wildly excited, declaring that the dogs had roused an old and very cunning boar which had long baffled the hunters of the neighbourhood, and after a brief council of war it was decided that the Rajah should take his stand at one side of the jhil and Gerrard at the other, the beaters keeping watch to prevent the quarry's breaking out across the open ground at the back, and the court officials going to the end of the swamp in case he should take to the water.

Rather to his annoyance, Gerrard found that the little prince, instead of accompanying his father, preferred to remain with him, in dangerous proximity to the track through the underwood along which the boar would probably come. Horribly afraid that the quarry would break out in his absence, he seized the white pony's bridle, and in spite of Kharrak Singh's vehement opposition, led him back to his guardians and bade him stay with them. As he cantered back to his post, the child's shrill voice made him look round, and he saw him striking furiously with his sheathed dagger at the hands of the two servants, who held the pony on either side. Satisfied that the boy was in safety, Gerrard waited, spear in hand, watching the movements of the bushes, which showed that some heavy body was making its way through them. From the yapping and yelping of the dogs at a discreet distance behind, he felt certain that this was the boar, and listened eagerly for the crackling of the brushwood as it came towards him. Then it burst into the open—the finest tusker he had ever seen—and made for him as fiercely as he rode at it. But to his utter astonishment, just as it met the iron it swerved violently—so that the spear merely inflicted a long gash from shoulder to flank—and charged on at something behind him.

Nearly thrown from the saddle by the absence of the expected resistance, Gerrard recovered himself and wrenched his horse round, to behold a sight which made his heart stand still. A white pony, with streaming mane and tail, was in full flight, and on the ground lay a vivid green and gold bundle, with two small feet kicking in the air. Kharrak Singh had evidently been thrown sideways from the saddle as the pony turned tail, and the boar's rush had carried it beyond him, but it had already transferred its attention from the terrified horse to the nearer foe. The two retainers, uttering cries of horror as they rode towards the fray, were hopelessly distant, and there was no one else at hand. Two things associated themselves in Gerrard's mind, without any volition on his part—the blood-stained spear in his hand and Kharrak Singh's broad golden belt, and some vague association with Somwar Mal was present as well. He and the boar charged simultaneously for the prostrate child, but before the cruel tusks could reach him, the spear had passed under the stiff golden folds and swung Kharrak Singh ignominiously into the air and across Gerrard's saddle. The astonished horse, accustomed to pig-sticking, but not to having the prey placed on his back, took the bit between his teeth and dashed furiously away, with the boar in full pursuit—so Gerrard gathered from the chorus of yells and shrieks that arose. One hand was fully occupied with the reins, the other with holding the child, and it was impossible to disengage his spear while going at this pace, though the handle collided with half the trees they passed, and threatened to jerk Kharrak Singh from his grasp.

“Hold fast, little brother!” he called out.

“Not your little brother!” The words reached him faintly, and he smiled, for at least the child was not much hurt. Venturing to glance round to see whether the boar was continuing the chase, he found that it had given up, but to his astonishment all the hunt, mounted and on foot, were pursuing him with wild cries. “Maro! maro!” [1] they yelled, and two of the Komadans, who were drawing ahead of the others, had one of them a spear in rest, and the other his sword drawn. Like a flash of lightning it broke upon Gerrard that to a distant observer his action must have had all the appearance of a peculiarly cold-blooded murder, and that before he could explain to these avengers that his spear had merely lifted the child by his girdle, they would have cut him down from behind. To check his horse was impossible, for the sounds of pursuit stimulated it continually to fresh efforts, and he had no means of defending himself while he explained matters, since his spear was still entangled in Kharrak Singh's golden waistbelt.

A second time the pleasing sense of proving Somwar Mat a false prophet came over Gerrard as he jerked his horse violently to the right, where an irrigation channel, leading from the swamp, crossed his course. The pursuers evidently thought it would prove an insurmountable barrier, for he could hear by their shouts that the two foremost were separating so as to ride against him from either side, when he would be caught between them and the main body behind. But his horse was a noted jumper, and that fact saved him. He felt it rise to the leap, and though the channel was too broad, and it fell on its knees on the slope of crumbling earth at the farther side, he contrived to twitch himself and Kharrak Singh out of the saddle in time to prevent its slipping back into the muddy water. Once on his feet, he was able to disengage the spear without difficulty, and as the horse also struggled up he caught it and set Kharrak Singh in the saddle, then turned to confront his astonished pursuers. They had halted in sheer amazement, and were gazing at him with various expressions of stupefaction, old Partab Singh himself, the spear in his iron hand shaking like a leaf; at their head. Kharrak Singh hailed their astonishment as a tribute to himself, for some reason or other, and clapped his hands and cried “Shabash!” until he was tired.

“Is the child unhurt?” the foremost Komadan ventured at last to ask, rather unnecessarily.

“Fool! who should have hurt me?” cried Kharrak Singh.

“The Feringhee,” answered every one together.

“Surely ye are all mad, O people. I would have killed him with my dagger!” and the boy clapped his hand to his girdle, only to discover that the precious dagger had dropped by the way. Turning immediately upon Gerrard, he began to beat him with his fists. “Where is my dagger, O fair man? Hast thou stolen it? Give it back!”

Choop!” said Gerrard unceremoniously, for Partab Singh had ridden to the edge of the bank opposite.

“O my friend, was this well done—to endanger your own life and the child's, and cause all my people to believe you a murderer, for the sake of a moment's jest?” asked the old man.

“Maharaj-ji, there was no jest. The child lay on the ground, in the path of the charging boar, and I could save him in no other way——”

“He caught me up on his spear, as a kite snatches up a kitten!” cried Kharrak Singh proudly. “I felt the breath of the unclean beast on my leg!”

Partab Singh turned to his guards. “Bring hither the heads of the liars who spake evil of my friend Jirad Sahib, and lay them before him.” Then to Gerrard, “My face is black, O my friend. When justice has been done, I shall be less abashed, and able to speak to you.”

“I entreat your Highness to pardon the men. Their eyes deceived them, and they thought they spoke the truth. If I am indeed your friend——”

“They shall live. Their eyes alone shall pay the forfeit, for I have no use for eyes that deceive their owners.”

“Nay, let them go free. I ask nothing else of your Highness.”

“This is in very deed my friend's will?”

“In very deed.”

“I had sooner you had asked for half my treasury, but the wretches shall go free,” grumbled Partab Singh, and two very badly frightened men were ignominiously sped with kicks and cuffs to the rear. The nearest cultivators were then summoned, and forced to break down the canal-banks, and make a temporary causeway for Gerrard to cross, in the midst of which the Rajah met him and embraced him, and insisted that he should forthwith mount his own splendid horse, with its gold-encrusted trappings, and saddle-cloth flashing with gems. Thus they rode back, the Rajah on a humble pony, with Gerrard on the great horse on his right, and Kharrak Singh, extremely discontented with Gerrard's plain saddle, relegated to his left. In the course of the ride, Gerrard learned that he was immediately to visit the Rajah at the city of Agpur, that the inestimable service he had rendered the state might be properly acknowledged and proclaimed, and that if he desired the life or property of any man in the province, he had only to ask for it. Colonel Antony's ambassador could have desired no better proof of the complete success of his mission.

The evening was spent in Partab Singh's camp, where all his officers and officials came by command to pay their respects to Gerrard and congratulate him upon his exploit. It seemed absurd, as he rode back to his own camp at night, to realise by what a chain of accidents he had been led to his present position of favour, and he reflected sagely that accidents might as easily dethrone him, so that it would be well to report the state of affairs at once, in case Colonel Antony should wish to take immediate advantage of it. He had got rid of his full-dress uniform and the garlands with which he had been decorated, and was writing busily by the light of a smoky lantern, when the Granthi commander of his escort came to say that they had caught a man trying to make his way unperceived into the camp, who said that he was a Sirdar who had urgent business with the Sahib.

“Tell him to come in the morning,” said Gerrard.

“He comes from one of the states newly included in the Company's territory, sahib, and has a petition to present. Moreover he dares not come by day, for fear of the Rajah here.”

“A British subject? I suppose I must see him, though why he should be skulking in Agpur territory—— Bring him in, Badan Hazari.”

A tall man much muffled in a large cloak was ushered in, and at Gerrard's invitation, sat down on the floor. When Badan Hazari was gone, he lowered the cloak a little, and looked at Gerrard as though he expected recognition, but there was none.

“I place my life in your hands, sahib. I am Sher Singh.”

“There are many of that name,” said Gerrard, puzzled.

“Not many who are also princes of Agpur.”

“You are a relation of the Rajah's, then?”

“Merely his eldest son, sahib.” The man glanced round fearfully as he spoke, as though listeners were to be dreaded.

“What! the son who was sentenced——?”

“The discernment of the Sahib is wonderful. Yes, these are the eyes that were to be presented on a golden plate for my father to gloat over.”

“But why are you here? You must know that your life——-”

“Is in danger? True, but I seek for justice from the Protector of the Poor.”

“If you have a claim against your father, you must lay it before Colonel Antony and the Ranjitgarh Durbar.”

“And be stabbed or poisoned by emissaries from Agpur? Nay, sahib, I want nothing for the present—merely a promise of justice in future. Who is to sit upon the gaddi when the pyre has been built for Rajah Partab Singh?”

“I understand that the Rajah has the right to nominate his own successor. It is no affair of mine,” said Gerrard coldly. Sher Singh's eyes blazed.

“Not though he nominates the young upstart he has raised up to the prejudice of me, his rightful heir?”

“Ah, by the bye, why were you sentenced to death and cut out of the succession?” asked Gerrard casually. Sher Singh blinked once or twice before answering.

“What father does not hate his heir?” he asked at last.

“And the hatred was groundless?”

“What heir does not consider his father's life unduly prolonged? Say that he is tempted to anticipate the enjoyment of what will be all his one day——”

“Enough!” said Gerrard sharply. “You wish me to intercede with the Rajah for you?”

“Nay, sahib, since then my life would end before his. But you are high in the favour of the great Antni Sahib, the fountain of justice, who is all-powerful in Granthistan, save in this little corner. Does he desire to add to his present cares another infant-ruled kingdom, with another shameless Rani and more headstrong Sirdars to tear it in pieces? Partab Singh's days cannot now be long. Were it not well that he should be succeeded by a man of full age, who has travelled among the English and seen their power, and can be trusted to act towards them as a loyal ally?”

Gerrard considered the suggestion a moment, aware that Colonel Antony would give much to prevent the duplication of his present anxieties, and at the same time settle satisfactorily the affairs of this troublesome province. But unfortunately Sher Singh, in his eagerness to clinch matters, went too far.

“Sahib,” he said, leaning forward confidentially, “in the treasury at Agpur there is wealth for many men. What if it were divided between Antni Sahib, you, and me—and Antni Sahib need not know what was the sum you and I found there?”

Gerrard started up. “Badan Hazari!” he shouted, and the soldier came running. “Turn this man out. He has dared to offer me a bribe. You have made a mistake, nephew of a foolish aunt. Leave to live, and a decent maintenance, you may obtain through Colonel Antony Sahib, but after to-night, nothing more.”

“This slave is indeed foolish as the beasts,” lamented Sher Singh. “Let the Sahib in his mercy obtain for him even now what he has promised, and for the present he will dwell quietly, and aim no more at a dignity that is clearly above his capacity.”

The reason for this change of front Gerrard had not time to puzzle over at the moment, for as Sher Singh left the tent under the escort of Badan Hazari, the Rajah's minister, Diwan Dwarika Nath, appeared out of the darkness with his attendants, and cast a keen glance at the departing figure. Dismissing his servants to a distance, and apologising for the lateness of his visit, Dwarika Nath proceeded to make various arrangements on his master's behalf with regard to the journey to Agpur, all in a very friendly and polite spirit. But as he rose to take his leave, he turned suddenly on Gerrard.

“His Highness might be interested to learn what visitors his friend Jirad Sahib entertains in secret at night,” he said.

“My visitors come without any wish of mine, but they go when I choose,” retorted Gerrard warningly.

Dwarika Nath held up a deprecating hand. “There is no need for his Highness to know who the visitor was. I alone recognised him.”

“It might certainly be safer for you not to bring that recognition to the knowledge of his Highness,” mused Gerrard.

Dwarika Nath's face grew avaricious. “But there is my duty to his Highness. How could I consent to keep silent on a matter that affects him so nearly?”

“I really don't know. Your conscience ain't in my keeping. Settle it for yourself,” said Gerrard carelessly. “Now I suppose I have made two enemies to-night!” he remarked to himself as Dwarika Nath turned away with baffled greed in his eyes.

[1] Kill! kill!

CHAPTER V. GERRARD FINDS FAVOUR.

From Lieut. Robert Charteris, Darwan, to Lieut. Henry Gerrard :—

“DEAR HAL,—I have not had long to wait for a billet doux from you. I had thought you would draw the line at assassination, but we live and learn. Last night, as I was returning to the shelter of my humble roof, a dirty hairy fellow—but why should I describe him to you?—leapt out and fired at me point-blank with a huge old-fashioned horse-pistol, and missed. I give you my word he singed half an inch off my left whisker. Of course they say he was a ruffianly suitor offended by my just decision in favour of his opponent, but I know better. 'Sweet Hal, by my faith!' thinks I to myself, says I, and what I says I sticks to. I know he ought to have been taken alive, and returned to you postage-paid, with an insulting message inviting you to try again and do your worst. Unfortunately my honest fellows, not being versed in these niceties of behaviour, fell on him in a body and incontinently despatched him. But bring on your minions. Come one, come all, this rock shall fly from its firm base as soon as

Sir, your most humble and obedient servant,

    R. C.”

From Lieut. Henry Gerrard, Agpur City, to Lieut. Robert Charteris :—

“DEAR BOB,—I grieve to find that you answered what you are good enough to call my billet doux even before receiving it. Had your miserable tool's fortune not failed him when your plot was on the verge of success, you would now be rid of a rival. I own I should not have believed you fallen so low as to resort to poison—a nasty ungentlemanly weapon, if you will pardon my natural warmth. The wretch declared himself to have been employed by a villainous Dewan lately dismissed, 'tis true, but my apprehensive heart framed, though my lips refrained from uttering, your name. Powdered glass, too! Let me ask you as a favour to choose a less revolting form of death next time, or I swear to you that my expiring lips shall murmur 'Et tu, Roberte! ' with sufficient reiteration to excite remark. And pray how had poor old Pertaub Sing injured you, that your vengeance should include him? Avaunt, traitor! I pities and despises you. H. G.”

From Lieut. Robert Charteris to Lieut. Henry Gerrard:—

“Ha, most noble Hal, and have the little god's arrows but just failed to prove fatal in your case also? Honour, what crimes are committed in thy name! But none shall say Bob Charteris don't fight fair. Please receive herewith a buffalo horn, the trophy of my bow and spear. You remember how Mithridates, or some old classical fellow, used it as an antidote to poisons?[1] The exact method of application has slipped my memory, but I fancy the horn should be ground small and mixed in all you eat and drink. If I am wrong, send me word when it begins to take effect, and I will make a point of arriving in time to give you a thumping big funeral. But by the horn, (not now, alas! by the buffalo,) there hangs a tale. The animal charged me in the most ferocious manner when I was passing peaceably upon my lawful occasions, and had I not snatched my gun from my boy, who promptly bolted, your dearest wish would now be fulfilled. But the trusty weapon did not play me false, and on mature reflection, I have decided not to lay the beast's malice to your account, for lack of evidence. To all appearances it was the wildest wild beast in Asia, but hardly were my escort come up to view the spoil and acclaim my prowess, than there arrived also a wretched cultivator, swearing with tears and howls that I had wantonly destroyed the friend of his family, the mainstay of his lowly cot. I held a court on the spot, and desired to know what sum would compensate him for this cruel loss. The opportunity of taking in the stranger was too promising to resist, and he requested leave to retire and consult with his friends—an interval I employed in making inquiry as to the market price of buffaloes in that neighbourhood. Returning, the honest man named a sum that would have bought him a dozen, at the lowest computation. Remembering Colonel A.'s maxims regarding kindness to the people, I was in some doubts whether to pay the demand and put it down to office expenses, but reflected in time that my appearance in public would in that case be the signal for loosing against me droves of charging buffaloes wherever I went. I brought the fellow down, therefore, to something like two and a half times the value of the very best bull ever bred in Granthistan, but as he was retiring, with difficulty concealing his smiles over the Sahib's gullibility, I called him smartly back, and fined him one and a half times the value of the said ideal bull for damage to my person and dignity by allowing his ill-conditioned beast to roam at large and uncontrolled. If the judgment of Solomon was received with one-half the applause and admiration that greeted mine, then Solomon must have been an insufferable person to converse with for at least a twelvemonth after. If you are flush of cash, then, I can recommend buffalo-shooting as a tolerable amusement, but if not, let me suggest that you obtain khubber of a tiger—of course a man-eater—in the direction of my boundary, when I will lay aside the cares of office and join you in the chase, and the resulting skin, should there be one, shall be laid, with our united respectful compliments, at the feet of a lady who shall be nameless. We hear marvellous tales of your having tamed a certain old bear, and leading him about with a silken string, but ain't there something of over-confidence in accompanying him into his very den? Even a tame bear is treacherous at times, and when riled, an awkward customer to tackle. Why not guide your bear gently in this direction, and settle the disputed boundary between Augpore and Durwan while I am on this side of my kingdom? Give me open country and room to move rather than the finest bear-pit ever built, says

    R. C.”

Gerrard read this second letter in the quarters assigned to him in Partab Singh's fortified palace at Agpur, and appreciated the motive which had led Charteris both to send the warning and to couch it in veiled and sportive language. A kind of envy of his friend, whose problems, if difficult, were comparatively simple, and whose enemies attacked in front, seized upon him, for he also preferred open country and room to move. Nothing was simple at Agpur; it seemed as though there was a malign influence about the place which brought hints of tragedy into the most ordinary sights and sounds. Even as Gerrard approached the city, to which the Rajah had preceded him the day before, the gay procession of soldiers and dancing-girls that escorted him was interrupted by a very different crowd. Followed by a jeering rabble, there hurried forth from the gate a portly Hindu, whose spotless muslins were rapidly being converted into filthy rags by the attentions of his pursuers, and whose shaven head glistened bare under the sun's rays. Glancing hither and thither like a hunted animal for some place of refuge, the wretched man missed his footing and fell, with a red gash across his brow where a stone had struck him. Smiles and sarcasms passed among the soldiery, and one of the dancing-girls introduced into her song a verse inspired by the occasion, to judge by the cruel laughter it evoked. Fearing that the victim would be done to death as soon as his back was turned, Gerrard dismounted and went to help him up, intending to send one of his own men a little way back with him, to see him clear of the mob. To his astonishment, he recognised the distorted face which glared into his as that of the Diwan Dwarika Nath, and found his help refused with a venomous curse. The commander of the escort smiled.

“He has eaten the great shoe,” he said, as though in explanation.

“But was the Rajah's sentence death?” demanded Gerrard.

“No,” was the reluctant answer. “Whip back these dogs—it is the Sahib's will,” he said to his men. “And now, sahib, be persuaded to remount. Our lord loves not to be kept waiting.”

“But what has Dwarika Nath done?” asked Gerrard, as he complied, leaving the fallen minister freed at any rate from the mob that had persecuted him.

“He has doubtless been found out,” was the cynical reply. “The word went forth from our lord this morning that the fellow was to be beaten with the great shoe immediately before the Sahib's arrival, and to be driven forth from the city to meet him as he came.”

Gerrard pondered vainly the connection between the two events. Did the expulsion of Dwarika Nath synchronize with his own entrance as a warning to him, or as an assurance of safety? Partab Singh, receiving him in the utmost state, and leading him by the hand into the palace between rows of salaaming courtiers, made no allusion to it, and the attempted poisoning that very evening tended to overshadow the affair in his mind. Gerrard never knew whether the Rajah had become aware of the intended assassination beforehand, or whether he regarded it as so extremely probable as to be practically a certainty. However this might be, upon the appearance of a curry of which he was particularly fond, and of which he had signified his intention of sending a portion, as a special mark of favour, to Gerrard at his separate table, the old ruler called the attention of all present to the exquisite appearance of the dish, and ordered the cook to be fetched, that he might be suitably complimented upon his handiwork. Gerrard discerned in the man's aspect no more than the natural awkwardness of a rough fellow brought into a position of unaccustomed prominence, but no sooner did the cook present himself before him than Partab Singh rose with one fierce word, and drawing his jewelled tulwar, cut off his head at a single blow. The horror of the scene, the severed head rolling on the ground, the blood sprinkled upon the food, affected the Englishman so powerfully that he did not perceive at first that the dead man's son and assistant, was also being dragged before the Rajah. There was no need even to question him, for on his knees, with piteous lamentation, he confessed that in the spiced sauce accompanying the curry a quantity of very finely powdered glass had been mingled, which would ensure an agonising death to any one who partook of it. This had been done at the instigation of the disgraced Dwarika Nath, whose bribe for the purpose would be found hidden in the thatch of the cook-house. Gerrard retained only a vague recollection of the issue of certain orders, of the informers being dragged shrieking away, and the departure of a troop of horsemen with orders to bring back Dwarika Nath dead or alive, or of the hastily prepared food he forced himself to eat, and the unruffled conversation of Partab Singh after supper. Dwarika Nath was not brought back, for he seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth, but the bodies of the two cooks were an eyesore on the ground outside the palace until the dogs and kites had done their work.

Another trial to Gerrard was the supervision maintained over his movements. In order to carry out Colonel Antony's instructions, he wished to move about the city and talk with the traders and others in the bazars, but no matter how skilfully he thought he had eluded his guardians, he had no sooner slipped out of the palace than a panting escort was at his heels, insisting on his mounting the horse presented to him by the Rajah—which at once put an end to any chance of unfettered conversation. So tiresome did this surveillance become that at last he determined to take advantage of Partab Singh's continued friendliness to relieve himself of it. They were sitting one evening in the covered balcony of a tower looking over the palace garden, oddly assorted companions, Gerrard on the watch, as usual, against being morally taken by surprise, the Rajah puffing at his hookah—for in private he was the veriest free-thinker—in silence, the gleaming of his fierce eyes the only sign that he was not asleep. He took the mouthpiece from his lips when Gerrard broke into his complaint.

“My soldiers have been lacking in respect—have hesitated to attend my friend whither he desires?”

“No, no!” answered Gerrard hastily, fearing a sudden holocaust. “They are most courteous. It is merely that they are always there.”

With a swift movement Partab Singh bent forward, and lightly touched the ground at Gerrard's feet. “O my friend, what have I done, that you would bring the guilt of your death upon me?”

“Maharaj-ji,” protested Gerrard indignantly, “I am not a griffin, to try to penetrate into mosques or zenanas. I would but walk about—of course with a servant or two.”

“Has my friend not perceived yet that this city is in the eyes of its inhabitants sacred even as a mosque or a zenana? He sees only eyes beaming with affection as he rides through the streets?”

“Not exactly,” admitted Gerrard. “But I thought that the people were irritated by the action of the escort in clearing the way—and perhaps also by seeing me riding your Highness's horse. On foot, and unattended——”

“You would be slain before you had left the palace square. Listen, my friend—who knows Agpur best, I who have spent my life here, or you who see it now for the first time?”

“Your Highness, undoubtedly.”

“Then let my friend listen to me. These Moslem notables, who would dispute the city itself with my Granthis, but for the firm hand I keep over both, think you that they love the English? Abd-ur-Rashid Khan of Ethiopia is the master they would choose to serve if they had their way. Say that they gratify their hatred by slaying a British officer, Antni Sahib's envoy. On whose head lies the guilt? Is it not on that of Rajah Partab Singh? The English come to punish him, and the whole of Granthistan is in a blaze again. Granthi sides with Granthi against the English, but these dogs of Mohammedans, who shall tell which side they will take? This only I can say, that it will be the side of their own advantage.”

“Forgive me, Maharaj-ji. I had not thought——”

“No, my friend. You uttered hastily the words of an impatient mind, not having studied from your youth the art of playing off Granthi against Moslem, and both against Ranjitgarh. But it is a study that you will do well to take in hand now.”

“I could have no better teacher than your Highness,” said Gerrard politely. The Rajah looked at him almost with affection.

“Would that these were as the days of old, before the English crossed the Ghara! Then should Jirad Sahib have been my Englishman, and I would have given him a wife out of my own house, and he should have dwelt always in my city, and trained my soldiers. Verily we would have put Ranjitgarh itself to tribute when the fool sat on the gaddi in the place of Ajit Singh, and when death approached I would have put my son Kharrak Singh into my friend's arms and died content, knowing that he would serve the child even as he had served the father. But now who shall protect the boy from a thousand dangers?”

“If peril threatens him when I am at hand, your Highness can count upon my protecting him with my life.”

“Of that I am certain.” Partah Singh paused, and his eyes wandered over the dark gardens, with their gleaming white colonnades and kiosks and graceful towers rising into the blue-black sky. He traced the starlight down to its reflection in the great tank before he spoke again. “If I should place my son and my kingdom under the protection of the English, what would happen in Agpur?” he asked at last.

“Your Highness knows whether the army is to be trusted. There would be intense indignation on the part both of the Granthi and the Moslem notables, I presume? Whether they would proceed to active opposition——”

“If they saw a hope of success they would. But with the army faithful to an Englishman already established in charge here—and the English at Ranjitgarh ready to march to his assistance?”

“But you forget one thing, Maharaj-ji. That the days of your Highness may yet be prolonged for many years is a thing not only to be hoped for but confidently expected, and the English are at Ranjitgarh only for a certain time, until Ajit Singh's son comes of age.”

The Rajah laughed impatiently. “Away with this foolishness between friends!” he said. “Where the English come, they stay. If young Lena Singh survives the quarrels of his mother and the Sirdars, how can he be left to rule Granthistan with all English help withdrawn? The Resident and the army must stay, or the day the youth mounts the gaddi will also be that of his death.”

“So I have heard many say among ourselves,” said Gerrard; “but it is not the view of Colonel Antony. Nothing would induce him to be a party to annexing Granthistan.”

Partab Singh threw up one hand slightly. “Said I not that things might yet remain as they are? The English may go on ruling Granthistan while pretending that they do nothing of the kind, but it is in my mind that before many years are past they will be rulers in name also. If, then, I should place myself under the protection of the English”—he dropped his voice—“would they maintain my son in his kingdom under the regents that I should appoint?”

“I cannot possibly enter into any agreement that would bind Colonel Antony or the Government, but it sounds the kind of arrangement that they would be likely to sanction,” replied Gerrard, in the same cautious tone. “But has your Highness considered the opposition that would be aroused in Agpur if it became known?”

“It is for that very reason I have broached the plan to you. Whether I die soon or not for years to come, there must be at hand a man who will take command of the army, with wealth in his power sufficient to ensure its allegiance, and use it boldly to maintain my son's title against all opposition, from whatever quarter it may arise.”

Gerrard gave a start of dismay, for the last words brought back to his mind something he had forgotten. “Maharaj-ji, if I err bid me be silent, but it is in my mind to utter that which I fear is forbidden. Is there not one whose right to the throne is greater than that of Kharrak Singh?”

The Rajah betrayed no surprise, but extreme bitterness was in his voice as he answered, “There is one at whose evil deeds the sun would grow black, were they published abroad. His death was decreed, but I suffered him to elude my vengeance, saying, 'Surely he will hide his shame at the ends of the earth, mindful that one has died to save him from the reward of his deeds.' But since he has returned, and dared to put forth claims to the throne he forfeited, there is no mercy for him. Was it well done in you, O my friend, to listen favourably to his petition, and not drive him from you?”

“I knew not the man, Maharaj-ji, and he gained access to me with a lying tale. When I learned who he was, it was my duty to hear what he had to say, but I drove him from me when he sought to influence me by a bribe.”

“True, but your anger was kindled by the attack on your own integrity, not by the man's evil designs.”

“I am here to report all things to Colonel Antony, Maharaj-ji, not one side of the case only.” The Rajah's eyes were flashing, and Gerrard waited for an outburst of anger, but none came. “But how did your Highness learn of the man's visit?” he asked.

“From whom but from Dwarika Nath? I looked to hear of it from my friend, but I waited in vain.”

“I did not desire to be the means of the man's death,” said Gerrard, rather lamely.

“And why does not my friend tell me that Dwarika Nath offered to conceal the matter in return for a gift?”

“Your Highness does not mean to say that Dwarika Nath confessed that?” cried Gerrard. Partab Singh enjoyed his astonishment for a moment.

“Nay,” he said softly, “the whole matter was recounted to me by one whom I can trust, who was on the watch from the beginning to the end, so that when Dwarika Nath, with many protestations of fidelity and condolence, made known to me the treachery of my friend, I was able to remind him that he had been willing to cover that treachery for money. For this he has received due punishment.”

Gerrard remained silent a moment, Dwarika Nath's interview with him in his tent, and the expulsion of the disgraced Diwan from the city, jostling one another in his mind. Then quite another thought came upper-most. “So you set spies on me in my own tent, Maharaj-ji!” he cried indignantly. “And you call me your friend!”

“The wise man calls no one friend whom he has not tested when they are apart as well as when they are together,” was the calm reply. “Do I not honour my friend by enabling the lustre of his character to shine forth even when he believes himself alone?”

“I said these walls seemed to have eyes!” muttered Gerrard. “I suppose your Highness's spies are here also?”

“You are watched from morning to night, and again from night to morning,” said the Rajah with pride. “Even on your sacred day, when you worshipped your God in the company of the half-breed physician, my eyes were upon you.”

Gerrard moved angrily. Among the verbal counsels with which Colonel Antony supplemented his official instructions to his assistants, there was one which invariably occurred; “I make no suggestion as to your action when alone, though you are acquainted with my own practice. But when there is even one other Christian within reach, it is my earnest entreaty that you will invite him to join with you on Sundays in the worship of God. Believe me, this will bring you no discredit among the heathen, but rather the contrary.” The “one other Christian” in this case was Moraes, who regarded compliance with the invitation as an additional sin to be confessed and expiated on his return home, and Gerrard felt a natural resentment at the thought of the curious eyes that had watched the proceedings. He rose abruptly.

“Since you trust me so little, Maharaj-ji, I had better go. Have I your leave to depart?”

The Rajah made no movement. “O my friend, why this impatience? Said I not that all I had seen had only served to justify my confidence? Had I taxed you with treachery as the result of my watching, there might have been cause for anger. What is this? you cannot pardon my not trusting you untried? Know then that I had reason for my hesitation, for I design to admit you wholly to my confidence. You, O my friend, are the man I intend to appoint as regent, together with the mother of Kharrak Singh, should I die while he is still a child.”

“I am grateful for the honour, Maharaj-ji, but I could not accept it without leave from my superiors.”

“That leave will undoubtedly be given when they know that you alone have power to keep the troops in good humour. With them on your side you can laugh at the notables and the common people alike. I am about to show you what no living eyes but mine have seen, the secret store I have laid up to safeguard my son. And I will do more than that, for the mother of Kharrak Singh shall be bidden to look to you for help and guidance in all things. At my command she has already sworn not to become suttee on my decease, but to live and shield her son from the plots laid against him within the palace, as you will from those without. Here are turban, robe and slippers of mine. Put them on, lest the guardians of the treasure should refuse to let you pass, and come.”

[1] Readers of the classics will perceive that Mr Charteris's memory played him false here.

CHAPTER VI. THE CROWNING PROOF.

To put on the Rajah's robe over his clothes, and don the turban and slippers, was the work of a moment for Gerrard, and he was ready before Partab Singh had even raised himself from his cushions. The spirit of adventure had laid hold of the young man, and the hint of peril suggested by his host's last words was thrilling his blood, but he was sufficiently master of himself to insist upon uttering one more warning.

“Your Highness will believe that I appreciate to the full the confidence you are prepared to repose in me, but I must remind you that outside Granthistan I am merely a junior officer in the Company's army. If it should unfortunately happen that the guardianship of Kharrak Singh and of the state devolved upon Colonel Antony by your arrangement, it is almost certain that he would make choice of an older man to represent him and act as regent.”

“So that the army might rise against him in a week, and having slain him and Kharrak Singh and his mother, invade British territory and bring about a second Granthi war?” asked Partab Singh drily. “I have made my choice of a regent, O my friend, and by reason of the power I shall put into his hands, he will be the only man that Antni Sahib can choose.”

Recollections of Colonel Antony's heroic disregard of commonplace safeguards in various outstanding cases made Gerrard persist. “Colonel Antony will choose the man he thinks best fitted for the post, as in the sight of God, Maharaj-ji, and it will be my duty to acquiesce in his decision.”

“So be it,” said the Rajah, with resignation. “Only swear to me that you will not betray the secret I am about to disclose to you to any living being, man or woman, priest or ruler, save to my son Kharrak Singh when he is of age and seated on the gaddi.”

“Does it concern the state, Maharaj-ji?”

“The state might continue to endure were the secret lost, but on it depends the safety of Kharrak Singh and the existence of my house. At present I alone know it.”

“But if any evil should befall your Highness and myself, the secret will be lost. Suffer me to reveal it to Colonel Antony, who will hold it sacred, and not permit the knowledge of it to influence his action.”

“Nay, that were beyond the power of mortal man!” cried Partab Singh. “To Antni Sahib least of all must the secret be revealed. But this it is permitted you to do. Choose out an honourable man, lower than yourself in rank—or at least not likely to be preferred before you by your masters—and confide the secret to him under the conditions on which I reveal it to you. Let him be one that you can trust as yourself.”

“Bob, of course!” said Gerrard in his own mind, with humorous dismay. “It is well, Maharaj-ji. I choose my friend the officer in charge of Darwan,” he added aloud.

“And he is near at hand? It is well. Reveal the secret to him as soon as may be. I have your promise?”

“To keep your Highness's secret? Yes. But anything further must depend upon the will of my superiors.”

“That I understand. Come, my friend.”

They went down the spiral marble staircase of the tower, the Rajah leading, and passed the guards at the foot without a word. Gerrard noticed that they did not leave the tower by the carved marble gateway through which they had entered, but by a smaller door at the back, which gave access to a shaded terrace looking over the great tank. In the shadows a boat was waiting, with one man in it, leaning on a long pole, and when the Rajah and Gerrard had stepped in, this man punted them out into the starlight in perfect silence, and across the lake into a kind of backwater, covered thick with the flat leaves of the lotus, in an opposite corner. Gerrard expected to see the boat held fast among the twining roots, but it was evident that a channel was kept clear, for they slid through without difficulty. The boatman helped them to shore, still in silence, and Partab Singh touched his own ears and mouth lightly, explaining to Gerrard that the man was deaf and dumb, as he brought a lantern from the boat and preceded them through a thicket of bamboos and similar plants. The place suggested snakes, and Gerrard trod with caution, wondering what the great wall in front, over which the sound of clanking chains came faintly, might enclose. A small door was disclosed by the boatman's moving aside the bushes, and the Rajah brought out a key from his girdle, and taking the lantern from the man's hand, waved him back to the boat. The opening of the door disclosed only darkness, but the sound of the clanking of chains grew louder, mixed with growls and wild cries.

“Smells like a wild beast show!” mused Gerrard. “Where can we be coming to?”

Even as he spoke, the Rajah, who had shut the door, advanced a few steps and waved the lantern round, and the flickering light, with the chorus of snarls that arose, showed the Englishman that they were in a passage leading to the bottom of the great pit in which the palace menagerie was kept. He had often looked over the parapet at the top, generally in Kharrak Singh's company, and had the fighting animals pointed out to him, and been promised a grand display if he was present on the boy's next birthday, but now he was descending into the arena, with fierce eyes glaring at the intruders from all the surrounding cages.

“If only old Bob were here now!” he thought, as Partab Singh crossed the sanded space, and began deliberately to unfasten the gate of one of the largest cages.

“Enter, my friend, and fear not!” said the old man, in a tone in which Gerrard detected a design upon the nerves. The darkness was not reassuring, but he stepped in, to be aware immediately of a huge body hurling itself at him through the air, with an awe-inspiring roar. A wicked snarl from behind him at the same moment warned him against stepping back, and he braced himself unconsciously to meet the impact. But the animal, whatever it was, fell short of him in its spring, and to his utter bewilderment he stood unharmed.

“They scent the stranger,” said Partab Singh, turning the lantern to show first the huge lioness, almost black in colour, which had betrayed her presence by snarling, and then her mate, looking indescribably sulky and wounded in his self-esteem owing to the failure of his leap. “The gate is open; does my friend wish to return?”

It is no discredit to Gerrard that he was obliged to pull himself together before he could reply with suitable unconcern, “Is this the secret, then, Maharaj-ji? If not, let us go on,” and the Rajah smiled grimly.

“Keep to the middle of the den, then,” he said, as he fastened the gate. “The beasts are chained, and cannot touch you there.”

That the honour of the Rajah's friendship was not without its drawbacks was a fact that had already forced itself upon Gerrard's mind that evening, and he now began to wonder whether its value was altogether correspondent to the severe tests it seemed to demand. The lions might be chained, but their chains were quite unnecessarily long, and they walked about in a highly disquieting manner while the Rajah was busy at the back of the den. Gerrard held the lantern, and hoped fervently that his hand did not shake—he was too much shaken himself to know whether it did or not. In the rear wall of the cage were several iron rings fixed to staples, to which chains might be attached, and through one of these Partab Singh passed his sheathed dagger, and gave it a sharp twist. Then, removing the dagger, he began to turn the ring the other way with his hands. When he had done this apparently an interminable number of times, Gerrard ventured to ask if he might help. An angry gesture of negation answered him, and he resigned himself to wait, while the lions strained at their chains. At last a great stone moved out like a door, and the Rajah entered, and motioned Gerrard to follow. Closing the door with a movement of his finger, he turned to his companion.

“The ring must be turned nine-and-twenty times, no more and no less,” he said. “If you turn it less, no effect will follow, but if more, a great stone descends and blocks the entrance.”

He led the way along a passage lined with masonry, which turned and twisted bewilderingly. At one point there was a deep recess, apparently intended for a window, but unfinished. Partab Singh motioned Gerrard to place his eye at a particular spot. There was a hole there, and to his surprise light came through. He looked into a great room or vault in which a lamp was burning. The rays fell upon elephant-trappings glittering with gold, jewelled bridles and saddlecloths, robes of gold tissue or priceless shawl-fabric, and a number of gaily painted boxes, such as the native goldsmiths used to contain their wares, and money-changers their stock of cash.

“That is the treasury of which all men know, the entrance to which is in the zenana,” said the Rajah. “But though that were looted, and an army glutted with the spoil, the greater treasure beyond would remain safe and unknown.”

Again he went on, until another stone moved on the pressure of a secret spring, the action of which he explained to Gerrard, and gave entrance to a small unlighted vault, piled with gold in ingots, bars and bricks, and in one corner a heap of tiny skin bags containing, as he pointed out, fine pearls and other precious stones. That the value of what was stored here must far exceed the more obvious wealth assembled in the larger treasury, Gerrard saw at a glance.

“You see now, O my friend, my secret store,” said Partab Singh, “and by its means you may secure my son's succeeding me in peace. When I am dead, give large presents immediately in his name to all my Sirdars and Komadans, at the same time distributing a largess of ten rupees per man to the army. For this there is sufficient silver in the other treasury, but you will do well to assemble the money-changers and bargain with them to supply you with rupees against a portion of this gold. The tale of the riches at your command will go abroad, and the army will remain faithful in the hope of receiving more. Without it—I do not deceive myself—they would sell their swords to the highest bidder in the state or outside it, and it will also be necessary to use it with discretion, lest their minds should be so much inflamed by the thought of it that they should combine to seize and plunder the palace. They would never discover the hiding-place, but my son and his mother would meet with violence in the search. My friend sees, then, that I look to him to act with as much wisdom as courage, and he understands why I name him regent, since the only power that can keep my son on the throne is in his hands.”

“Pardon the question, Maharaj-ji, but is not he who must not be named acquainted with this treasury?” asked Gerrard suddenly.

“Doubtless rumour has made him aware of its existence, but where it is he knows no more than the talkers in the city who swear by their lord's treasure. You and I are the sole living beings who know the secret.”

Gerrard remembered a certain grim tale he had heard, according to which every man who had taken part in the construction of the treasury had been put to death on the completion of the work, and the piled gold before him became hateful. “Is there any other entrance to this labyrinth, Maharaj-ji?” he asked abruptly.

“Surely, my friend. The passage continues until it reaches the old outer wall of the palace, and there ends with another turning stone, concealed from those without by a tree that has struck its roots into the masonry.”

“But if that tree should be destroyed, the entrance would become visible.”

“It must not be destroyed. You must see to that, as I have done. I gave large gifts to a fakir of great sanctity to declare that a spirit had taken up his abode in the tree, and must on no account be disturbed, though the people might bring offerings and venerate it from below. Should it fall, or be thrown down by a storm, you must at once plant a seedling or a shoot from it in the same place, sheltering the tender plant by mats let down from the top of the wall until it has grown sufficiently to conceal the stone. And now let us return. Stay! my friend has refused all the gifts that I would fain have heaped upon him, until I offer him no more in the sight of men for fear of courting further rebuffs. Here no man sees us. Will he then take with him one of these bags of pearls, such as any prince might desire in vain to buy, and any queen might wear? What! I have offended him again? Say no more, my friend; your ways are not as ours. Even to my friend I will not offer twice what he is too proud to take. But come, for there is more to be done to-night.”

Gerrard rather wished it was not so as they retraced their steps through the long passage and the lions' den back to the quiet garden and the lotus-covered tank. The deaf and dumb man was waiting, and ferried them over, and on the terrace below the tower the Rajah bade Gerrard leave the turban and robe he had been wearing, which he did thankfully, for the night was hot. Then, as he stood erect in his white mess uniform in the moonlight, the old man laid his hands upon his shoulders.

“O my friend, I have tried you with gold and with fear and with the lust of power, and you have stood the test. Now I am about to repose such confidence in you as hardly one man of your race has known since the world began. You will come with me into the zenana, that the mother of Kharrak Singh may know whom she is to trust. This I do now, that when I am dead, you may demand admittance as by right—the right I confer upon you—and talk with her through the curtain, thus avoiding the danger and delay of go-betweens.”

Gerrard had felt a lurking fear more than once that this crowning proof of confidence was to be conferred upon him, but had silenced his uneasiness by reminding himself that such a thing was almost unheard of. One or two of those orientalised Europeans to whom the Rajah had referred earlier in the evening had enjoyed the honour, as had one or two British officials held in almost divine veneration, but otherwise it had been the supreme mark of favour reserved by a ruler for his most tried, trusted, and faithful servants. It was a sensible thing to do in the circumstances, as Partab Singh had manoeuvred them, he owned, but the idea shocked him almost as much as it would have done a native. It was so incongruous.

“If Bob gets wind of this, I shall be chaffed to death!” he said to himself, and then realised that the Rajah was waiting for a reply from him. “I appreciate deeply this proof of your Highness's confidence, and trust I may show myself worthy of it,” he said formally, and Partab Singh linked his arm in his and drew him along.

They went through the tower, across the courtyard, and up the steps into the hall of audience, passing thence through rooms and corridors till they reached a barred gate, guarded by soldiers, whose weapons clashed angrily as they perceived Gerrard. The Rajah made a sign, never loosing his hold on the young man's arm for a moment, and the gates were opened from within by zenana attendants, the guards standing rigidly with their backs to them. Inside, Gerrard knew enough of the etiquette of the occasion to walk with his eyes cast down, and obey every motion of the Rajah's arm, but he was aware that the darkness seemed to be full of eyes, and the silence of whispers. They came to a standstill at last before a pillared colonnade, with a crimson curtain hanging behind the pillars. No light came from behind the curtain, and Gerrard realised suddenly that he distinguished its colour by means of a light behind him. At a word from the Rajah, two old women came forward with flaring lamps, and stationed themselves one on each side of Gerrard, so as to throw his face into the clearest possible relief. Then Partab Singh spoke.

“Let the mother of Kharrak Singh look well upon this Sahib, that she may know whom to trust. I have given him freedom of entrance here, that he may speak with her through the curtain, and she may take counsel with him for the welfare of her son.”

There was a moment's pause, and then a muffled voice made an inaudible reply from somewhere behind the curtain, apparently close to the ground. The Rajah turned to Gerrard.

“The mother of Kharrak Singh clasps the feet of Jirad Sahib, and entreats that in the evil day his virtue may be a high tower in which she and her son can take refuge.”

Gerrard sought vainly for a suitably self-deprecatory reply, but the Rajah was equal to the occasion, and rendered his disjointed murmurs into a polite desire that he might serve as a sturdy elephant to carry the Rani and her son over a flooded river. The voice spoke again, and Partab Singh turned to Gerrard.

“Is my friend yet wedded?” Gerrard shook his head. “Then the mother of Kharrak Singh desires to be informed when he brings home a wife, that she may send the bride her clothes and jewels.”

In response to this very high honour Gerrard could only bow low, and promise to send the desired information when the time came, and then the appearance of the inevitable attar and pan in the hands of thickly veiled women of apparently most discreet age announced the termination of the interview. Partab Singh maintained his hold on Gerrard's arm until they had returned to the hall of audience, and then detailed an escort to guard him back to his own quarters. It was a most dissipated hour to return home, but when Gerrard mounted to the roof, where his bed was spread, he felt no inclination for sleep, and stood leaning on the parapet, thinking over the events of the evening. It must be his first care to find out what attitude Colonel Antony would adopt towards the arrangement desired by Partab Singh, since the workings of the Resident's mind were by no means easy to forecast. If he could meet the Rajah face to face and hear his story, Gerrard was inclined to think he might acquiesce. True, the addition of another infant heir and female regent to his burden of cares would not be agreeable to him, but the Rajput lady of royal ancestry would be a very different person to deal with from the low-born little upstart who kept the palace and city of Ranjitgarh agog with her stormy and transitory love affairs. Still, if Sher Singh should have the brilliant inspiration of seeking an interview with Colonel Antony, and having learnt a lesson from his previous failure, present himself merely as a disinherited innocent of pacific tendencies, it was quite likely that he would establish in the Resident's mind a prepossession in his favour which would tell heavily against little Kharrak Singh. Gerrard found himself planning the letter in which he would describe the state of affairs, placing things in their proper perspective and omitting no detail of importance, not putting himself forward, and yet not concealing his readiness to accept the post of Resident at Agpur if it should be thought fit to offer it him. Both in importance and responsibility it would be considered quite unsuitable for so young a man, he knew; but after all, Partab Singh had chosen him, and given him unsolicited two aids to success which were not, and could not be, in the power of any other man on earth.

Gerrard lost himself in dreams. This miniature palace, sheltered within the fort walls, yet standing by itself in its own garden, remote from the rambling pile of buildings occupied by Partab Singh and his court, would make an ideal Residency. Not for a solitary man, of course, but the Resident at Agpur could well afford to marry. Gazing down into the inner courtyard he saw it in the light of a shrine for Honour. Honour walked up and down the flagged paths in her white gown, Honour sat on the broad stone margin of the fountain and raised serious eyes from her book at his approach—and her whole face lighted up with a flash of welcome to him, such a flash as he had caught in Lady Cinnamond's eyes when Sir Arthur returned unexpectedly from a distant expedition. What blissful evenings they would spend on that broad pillared verandah, Honour working and he reading to her, or both together reading, writing, talking, as Colonel and Mrs Antony were wont to do, two minds working as one, so quickly and naturally did each supply the deficiencies of the other.

He pulled himself up sharply. Not so very many miles away was another man dreaming similar dreams—and yet not similar, since the charms of history and poetry and romance held no place in them. Gerrard himself might have pleaded guilty to the charge of allowing no opening for the cultivation of the good works which meant so much to Honour, but he would probably have defended himself with the not uncommon maxim of his day that looking after a husband was sufficient good works for any woman. But Bob Charteris—who was utterly incapable of appreciating the real Honour, who had no idea of her absolute uniqueness, and might have fallen in love with any other woman with equal satisfaction to himself! Bob—who could make a joke of his love and even laugh at his lady, who would probably not mind smoking while he thought about her! (In those days the smoker was largely considered as a pariah, if not an enemy of the human race. Gerrard himself smoked, but he was properly conscious that it was a weakness, and not an amiable one, and nothing would have induced him to set himself to think of Honour with a cheroot in his mouth.) It was Bob's rivalry that had driven him to put his fortune to the touch by proposing to Honour when patience would better have served his turn, and it was Bob to whose pleasure, by his own suggestion, he must defer before speaking to her again, were he ten times Resident at Agpur. Worst of all, it was Bob who was only too likely to win her in the end, and not undeservedly, Gerrard knew his friend's good points as few others did, and he did not deceive himself as to his chances of success. At this point he broke off his musings abruptly, and went to bed. Bob was not only superfluous, but a positive nuisance.

CHAPTER VII. ON GUARD.

A haunting, half-superstitious dread beset Gerrard as he dressed the next morning, the presentiment that he would hear that Partab Singh had died in the night. After the determination the old man had shown in laying his plans, and the earnestness with which he had impressed them upon the Englishman, it would be eminently suitable dramatically, if absolutely fatal practically, that he should die before the steps could be taken to carry them out. But the foreboding proved to be baseless, and during the next few days Gerrard spent a good deal of time in close converse with the Rajah. The first step to be taken was undoubtedly to secure the approval of Colonel Antony, without whose active sympathy the great scheme would not have a chance of success. In his anxiety to assure the succession to his favourite child, Partab Singh had seriously compromised the jealously guarded independence of his state by his advances to the English as represented by Gerrard, and there could be no doubt that Granthis and Mohammedans would unite in resenting this betrayal. Hence, when the day of reckoning came, it was all-important to have not only the moral, but the physical support of the British secured, and it would be all the better if the agreement could be announced as an accomplished fact before the need arose to put it in practice. The Rajah had indeed confided his wishes to his most trusted councillors, but it was highly probable that in case of a popular rising these worthy gentlemen would find it more convenient, as it would certainly be safer, to forget the exact nature of the charge committed to them.

Adhering to his opinion that a personal interview between the Rajah and the Resident would be the surest way of enlisting Colonel Antony's sympathy for Kharrak Singh and his future, Gerrard now bent his efforts towards bringing this about. The disputed boundary between Agpur and Darwan afforded an excellent excuse for the Rajah to journey to his frontier and meet Charteris, who would hold the brief for Darwan, and if it could be so arranged that Colonel Antony should accidentally be in the neighbourhood, the thing would be done. Gerrard wrote urging his chief's presence with all the earnestness he could command, suggesting that if he could not come himself, he should depute his brother James to represent him. He then turned to the task of inducing Partab Singh to undertake the journey—a difficult endeavour, since he could not promise the desired interview at the end of it. A change had come over the Rajah since the evening when he had bestowed his confidence, and there was no doubt that he was failing. It seemed as though his vigour of body and mind had given way when he had once entrusted the care of his son to other hands, for Gerrard could distinctly trace the progress of decay in the short time he had known him, and the exertion of planning a move on such a large scale appeared to be too much for his strength. Since it was not to be supposed that this was a mere flying visit to the frontier, undertaken for a purpose, it must have all the characteristics of a royal progress, court, zenana, troops, elephants and guns, all accompanying their lord. The trusted councillors looked unutterable things at all Gerrard's suggestions, and military and civil officials combined to defeat all his arrangements by means of the dead weight of their inertia. The Rajah was willing to go, provided he had not to take any trouble, but he criticised freely all the points submitted to him, indicating how much simpler and less laborious it would have been if Gerrard had accepted his offers without insisting on referring things to his superiors. However, by dint of patience and resolution, the long train of men and baggage-animals was got under way at last, and with thankfulness Gerrard left the minarets of Agpur behind him. It was arranged that during the first day's journey, which was a very short one, he and his men should march with the Rajah's cavalcade, that he might notice anything neglected or forgotten and set it right, but that afterwards he should press on by forced marches, so as to meet Colonel Antony's returning couriers on the Darwan frontier, and if the tenor of the letters they bore should be disappointing, make a flying journey to Ranjitgarh itself, and urge his views upon the Resident. That this might be necessary he gathered from the latest instructions he had received—written, as he guessed, just before the arrival of his detailed report, and containing stringent warnings against committing the British Government on his own responsibility to any particular plan in dealing with Agpur.

The evening of the first day's march Gerrard spent with Partab Singh in his private audience-tent, laying plans which were to provide against the occurrence of all possible contingencies during his absence. At the close of the interview he took leave of the Rajah, whom he would only see from a distance as he rode away on the morrow, and received his urgent injunctions to let nothing delay his return, whether his mission was successful or not.

“For there is no one I can trust save you, O my friend,” said the old man. “All these men, who flew to do my bidding when my eye was clear and my sword keen, are beginning to make plans for their own advantage, thinking that I cannot detect their guile. In your hands I can leave my son in confidence, but as for them, they would follow the banner of that other to-morrow if he offered them larger bribes.”

Gerrard assured him that he would return as soon as he was allowed, and went back to his own tents, wondering whether he was doing well in leaving things to take care of themselves, even for so important an errand. Orders for an early start had already been issued, and when he wished to note down one or two things that had occurred during the day, his canteen served for a seat and a camel-trunk set on end for a table, Munshi Somwar Mal lending ink and a reed pen. Sleep seemed inclined to forsake the young man that night when at length he lay on his bed before the tent-door, the quarrelling round the camp-fires and the fidgeting of the horses waking him whenever he dropped into a doze. At last he succeeded in falling asleep, only to wake in a cold perspiration, and to find himself standing up and hastily girding on sword and revolver. What had awakened him he could not imagine, but he had a vague impression of a cry or wail of some sort. It was not repeated, and he unbuckled his belts and lay down again, mentally anathematizing the perfume mingled with the Rajah's tobacco, which must have given him nightmare. But when he woke again, in the grey light of early dawn, the air was full of the sound of wailing, and his Granthi officers and chief servants were gathered round his bed, respectfully waiting for his eyes to open.

“Hillo, I must have overslept!” he cried. “Get the men into order of march, Badan Hazari. I shall be dressed in no time.”

“Do the orders of the Presence for the early start hold good?” asked the Granthi officer significantly.

“Why not? What in the world is that noise?”

“It is the wailing of the women in the Rajah's camp, sahib. His Highness was found dead by his attendants in the night.”

“What! murdered?”

“They say there are no marks of violence, sahib. Hearing no sound from the tent of audience after your honour had left, the servants ventured to peep in, and found his Highness stretched upon the cushions, dead.”

“The Protector of the Poor is earnestly entreated to shed the light of his countenance upon the all-prevailing darkness in the camp,” said a white-bearded old man, whom Gerrard knew to be the Rani's scribe. He rose hastily.

“I will be there immediately. The start is postponed for the present, Badan Hazari, but strike the tents ready for marching, and get ready a messenger at once to go to Darwan.”

In the intervals of dressing he scribbled a hasty note to Charteris, telling him what had happened, and that he should probably return to the city at once, urging him also to forward the news immediately to Ranjitgarh, and ask for definite instructions. Having seen this despatched, he mounted and rode over to the Rajah's camp, which was in a state of the wildest confusion. The bodyguard, the only portion of the troops that could be trusted, were mounting guard round the zenana enclosure, into which the corpse of the Rajah had been carried, the Rani having, as Gerrard learned, at once sent out her jewellery to be divided among them, and thus secured their fidelity for the time. The rest of the soldiers, with the servants and transport-drivers, had evidently been holding high carnival outside the ring of steel. In the few hours which had elapsed since the ghastly discovery, the brocades and kincob of the audience-tents had been torn down and distributed, the cushions deprived of their rich covers, and the very gaddi on which the Rajah's body had been found stripped of its damask. Even the carpets were gone from the floors, and the cotton ground-cloths torn in every direction. Gerrard's first task was the restoration of some measure of order. His boldness in taking command of the situation attracted the soldiers towards him, and he made a definite bid for their allegiance by the promise of large rewards to be distributed by Rajah Kharrak Singh at Agpur. Strict orders were issued against further plundering, and every man who had obtained nothing, or less than he expected, became a detective ready to hunt down his more fortunate comrade and secure the return of the spoils. Partab Singh's councillors and courtiers began to appear out of various hiding-places, and all expressed a most touching anxiety to be honoured with any commands from Gerrard. But before he had time to listen to them, the circle of soldiers round the zenana tents opened, and a little procession came out. Between the Rani's scribe and her spiritual adviser, a large Brahmin, came Kharrak Singh, with the royal umbrella held over his head, and a guard of the Rani's own Rajput servants following him. Marching up to Gerrard as he stood among the crowd of eager suitors in the devastated audience-tent, the boy took off his turban and laid it at his feet.

“The widow of Rajah Partab Singh kisses the footprints of Jirad Sahib, and entreats that she and her son may sit down under his shadow,” he said perfunctorily, evidently repeating what had been taught him. “Jirad Sahib knows that I am Rajah now? He will make them give me a real sword, will he not?”

“Presently. At Agpur,” said Gerrard hastily. Stooping, he took the child into his arms, and a gasp of satisfaction broke from the onlookers. Kharrak Singh's cause was to have the support of the English, as represented by this agent of Colonel Antony's.

Still holding the boy by the hand, Gerrard gave orders for an immediate return to Agpur, where the body of the Rajah might be burnt with due solemnity. Colonel Antony's warning against involving the British Government in responsibility came back to him with a touch of irony. This responsibility had thrust itself upon him, and the return to Agpur would involve further responsibility, in that he must proceed to secure the allegiance of the troops by the means prescribed by Partab Singh, and they would place themselves at the command of the man who paid them. Whether he was allowed to continue in the position or not, he was undoubtedly acting as Regent of Agpur for the present.

One man after another was dismissed to his duties, and retired with salaams, until practically only the old councillors were left. There was a guilty and subdued air of expectancy about some of them, a tendency to start at any sudden sound and look round suspiciously, which made Gerrard wonder what they were waiting for. But when the last soldier had stridden clanking out of the tent, a distant thudding became audible, like the approach of a body of horse. Significant glances passed between the men Gerrard had noticed, to be succeeded by an expression of utter guilelessness when they saw that they were observed, while those who were not in the secret began to show signs of fear. In the general disorder no guards had been posted on the outskirts of the camp, and the approaching cavalcade swept gorgeously up the broad avenue leading to the Rajah's tent, riding down the few who sought to challenge their passage. Gerrard turned hastily to the scribe and the Brahmin.

“Take the boy back to the zenana at once, and see that no one passes the guards, either going in or coming out, save by orders from me. Who is this that comes?” he demanded, facing round upon the councillors, as Kharrak Singh was hurried away.

“Who should it be but the eldest son of our lord, sahib?” was the answer, and as the old men spoke, Sher Singh flung himself from his reeking horse at the door of the tent and entered.

“Where is my lord and father?” he cried. “Bring me to him, that I may embrace his feet, and receive the forgiveness and the favour he has graciously promised me.”

“Alas, Kunwar-ji!” chorused the councillors, all trying to push one another forward to tell the news. Sher Singh glanced at them contemptuously.

“Fools, will you try to keep me from my father now that he has sent for me? Because he has not made his beneficent intentions known to you, will you deny them? Let him be told that I am here, and you will learn what is his will.”

“Prince, your venerable father passed away in the night,” said Gerrard laconically. The exact bearing of this new arrival upon the situation he could not determine, but he was very certain that it behoved him to walk warily. Sher Singh turned upon him a magnificent glance of anger and disdain.

“This is well done—very well done!” he exclaimed, while the councillors cowered before the meaning accents like reeds before a blast. “My lord and father proclaims his gracious willingness to lay the hand of forgiveness upon the brow of penitence, and in the few short hours before the feet of haste can carry me to the spot, he dies, and his intentions are unfulfilled.”

“Were his intentions known to any besides yourself, Prince?” asked Gerrard, and noted that the eyes of the councillors sought Sher Singh's face, as though to inquire what he wished them to say. But he disregarded them.

“I understand that Jirad Sahib has enjoyed the honour of the Rajah's confidence of late, to the neglect of his tried and trusted councillors. Is it possible that nothing was said to him of my father's wishes?”

“They were communicated to me in great detail, but you, Prince, bore no part in them whatever.” Gerrard weighed his words carefully, feeling that the time had come to throw down the gauntlet.

Sher Singh turned slowly to the councillors, and Gerrard noticed for the first time that the armed men who had accompanied him were crowding at the entrance of the tent. “I call you all to witness,” said the Prince deliberately, “that this stranger, this encroaching Feringhee, who has supplanted my father's natural councillors in his confidence, desires now to supplant me also in my rights. Brothers, friends, when he thought he had attained the height of his evil desires, and learned too late that he had only opened the path for me, what did he do? My father made his final decision last night, when he despatched to me with a gracious message of favour the runner who had carried my humble petition. Before I can arrive, before he can announce his determination to the world, he dies. Who stands to profit by his death?”

Before the last words were out of Sher Singh's mouth, the tent was filled with the clash of weapons. The armed men in the entrance sprang forward at Gerrard, who believed that his last moment had come. But to his amazement a ring of bucklers encompassed him. The six Rajputs had remained when Kharrak Singh was taken away, and they stepped before him with ready swords. Baulked of the easy prey they had expected, Sher Singh's men hesitated, and the councillors flung themselves into the breach, weeping, clutching at the Prince's coat, urging in tremulous voices the impolicy of slaying a British envoy and thus bringing destruction upon Agpur. Sher Singh allowed himself to be turned from his immediate purpose.

“Let the Feringhee live for the present,” he said, waving his followers back. “Speak, O Jirad Sahib, you who hide behind the servants of a woman, and tell me who stood to profit by my father's death?”

“You!” returned Gerrard promptly. “You, who have trumped up this story of a reconciliation, and come here to assert it now that he cannot contradict you. You, of whom your father spoke to me with aversion and absolute lack of forgiveness only last night. Tell me,” he turned to the councillors, “when did this messenger of Kunwar Sher Singh's arrive—before my visit to his Highness, or after I had left him? You, O Sarfaraz Khan, as keeper of his Highness's head, must know all who entered or left his presence. When was it?”

The old Mohammedan captain of the guard gazed miserably from Gerrard to Sher Singh and back again, and finally faltered out that to the best of his recollection it was before the Sahib's visit.

“Then the petition had been rejected before I arrived, and the messenger despatched bearing the Rajah's refusal to see his son's face,” said Gerrard.

“The man lies. It was after,” burst forth Sher Singh. “Here is Sada Sukhi, the king's friend, who can testify it.”

“Then,” said Gerrard calmly, “the messenger murdered the Rajah, since both my guards and his own can testify that he bade me farewell in good health at the door of this very tent, and did me the honour to admire my horse.”

“Fool! does a man murder the one who has just promised to give him all he desires?” cried Sher Singh.

“No, but he does sometimes murder the one who has refused it. And so Prince Sher Singh was his own messenger?”

“It is a lie—I swear it!” He appealed frantically to the bystanders. “I was at Adamkot, the fortress of my father-in-law, and rode forth on the very heels of my messenger, so eager was I to receive my father's answer. Then when the gracious response arrived—the messenger meeting me on the way—as I could set no bounds to my joy, even so was it with my speed, and I rode hither at a pace that was like to kill my horse and the horses of those that were with me.”

Gerrard dismissed the explanation with a wave of the hand, but old Sada Sukhi, who had succeeded Dwarika Nath as Diwan, and was by common consent the wiliest man in Agpur, cringed humbly forward.

“I will take it upon me to speak, worthless as I am, in the presence of these great ones,” he murmured. “Surely there is wrong in speaking of murder, since no sign of any such horror has been found. But if our lord Partab Singh Rajah died in the course of nature, then Kunwar Sher Singh has been unjustly accused by Jirad Sahib, and Jirad Sahib by Sher Singh. Is this a moment to bandy accusations that cannot be maintained, when our lord's body lies unburnt, and all our minds should be devoted to mourning him and paying fitting reverence to his obsequies?”

“Truly do they call thee wise, old man!” said Sher Singh heartily. “My sorrow comes upon me as a flood at thy words, and I desire only to mourn my beloved father.”

“But wait,” said Gerrard. “The Prince knows as well as I do, and you also, Diwan-ji, how much depends upon the funeral ceremony. It was the will of Partab Singh Rajah that his son Kharrak Singh should set light to the pyre as chief mourner, and as his successor on the gaddi.”

Sher Singh covered his face. “Dust is on my head, that an evil chance has come between me and my desire!” he said in a broken voice. “What is the gaddi to me, if I am deprived of my father's forgiveness? The right of deciding upon his successor was his, and he has exercised it in favour of Kharrak Singh. The child's mother is of royal blood, mine was not, and I bow to the decree. But I will not consent to be robbed of my right to walk beside my brother in the procession, and to guide his hand when he fires the pile. The pyre of Partab Singh Rajah and his Rani shall not be left to the care of a Feringhee and a Christian.”

“There will be no suttee,” said Gerrard decisively.

“The matter is not in your hands, Jirad Sahib,” said Sher Singh, as a murmur broke from the councillors. “When the meanest of the Ranjitgarh Maharajas died, two Ranis and eleven women-slaves bore him company to the tomb, and shall Partab Singh lack the tribute of respect? I think more highly of the dwellers behind the curtain than you do, if you dream that they will permit themselves to be prevented from performing this glorious duty.”

“Not the meanest slave-girl shall ascend the pyre,” repeated Gerrard. “The Rani Gulab Kur is bound by an oath imposed upon her by your father to live and watch over her son, and I shall prevent the sacrifice of any other woman.”

“You! and by what authority?”

“By the authority of the Rani, who is regent of Agpur by the will of Rajah Partab Singh.”

Sher Singh turned to the rest, his face convulsed with fury. “You hear this low-born one, how he denies me my natural rights, and would deprive my father of the customary honours? Am not I rightfully regent during my brother's minority? If I advance no claim to the gaddi, do you think that I am to be set aside altogether? Let this man Jirad know that I have the promise of Antni Sahib's support.”

“When Colonel Antony's instructions reach me, I will hasten to acknowledge you as co-regent,” said Gerrard. “Until then, I take my orders from the Rani alone, and exercise the powers she has conferred upon me.”

“Come aside with me and let us speak together,” said Sher Singh imperiously. “See, I am unarmed,” casting sword and dagger on the ground. Gerrard laid aside his sword and revolver, and walked with him to the back of the tent.

“I do not desire your death, sahib,” said Sher Singh eagerly. “You can see for yourself that it would prejudice me with Antni Sahib, whose favour I desire to retain. But the army is with me, and will acclaim me as regent, and that place I will not give up. It might be very greatly to your advantage if you could make it convenient to recollect my father's desiring you to admit me to a third share of power with yourself and the Rani Gulab Kur.”

“It is impossible for me to recollect what did not happen,” said Gerrard, turning away coldly. Sher Singh's voice pursued him.

“Then until we start the way will be open for you to return to Darwan with your own troops if you desire it. After that, if you still insist on accompanying me to the city—by the Guru, you shall see more of it than you care for!”

Gerrard beckoned to his Granthi orderly, who came up quickly. “Bid Badan Hazari parade the troop in mourning order, ready to ride to Agpur at the appointed time,” he said.

“In an evil day for yourself were you born, O youth of little wisdom!” said Sher Singh, and withdrew. The Rajputs followed Gerrard closely as he also left the tent, and approached the zenana enclosure, where the less important tents were already being struck in preparation for the return march. The scribe was looking out for him, and the guards allowed the old man to pass.

“Sahib,” he whispered fearfully, “it was murder. Our lord Partab Singh was stabbed with a needle dagger above the heart, so that he would not bleed, and the weapon was broken in the wound. Only a scratch is visible, and her Highness has bound all who saw it to silence, that that other may not learn that his wickedness has been discovered. But she desires me to say to your honour that evil is certainly determined, and to bid you depart in safety while you may, that you share not the fate of her son and herself.”

“I go to Agpur to set Kharrak Singh on the gaddi,” said Gerrard doggedly. “Bid the Rani beware of poison, and eat and drink nothing that has not been prepared by one she trusts.”

“The Cherisher of the Poor forgets that her Highness is fasting,” said the scribe, scandalized.

“So much the better. But look after the boy, and see that he accepts food from no one outside. And tell the Rani to permit no one, freewoman or slave, to quit the zenana without an order from me. There is to be no suttee.”

CHAPTER VIII. THE SUPERFLUOUS CHARTERIS.

“Is it true that we ride to Agpur, sahib?” Badan Hazari, coming to report the troop ready for the march, lingered to ask the question.

“It is true. See to it that we take our place in the procession on the right of the elephant bearing the Rajah's body. Prince Sher Singh will ride on the left, but on no account are his followers to be permitted to surround the corpse.”

“It is an order, sahib. But they say that the man Sher Singh desires to dissuade your honour from going to Agpur, and that he has given you much abuse.”

“Evil heart, evil tongue, Sirdar-ji. Yet I go to Agpur, though I would have bidden you and the troop return to Darwan, had I not known that this would be to insult you.”

The Granthi made a horrified gesture of aversion. “Black indeed would our faces be!” he said. “Trust me, sahib, there will be a great killing before your slaves go down before the onslaught of the Agpuri mongrels. But is your honour well advised in remaining here until the march begins?”

“I am at the Rani's disposal, and must wait for any orders she is pleased to give. But send hither Mohammed Jan with some food, for I am not minded to eat what is prepared in this camp.”

“Your honour is wise,” said Badan Hazari, and before long the servant arrived, carrying a tray, and escorted by two stalwart troopers. Gerrard ate and drank eagerly, for he had taken nothing since rising, and it would be necessary to scrutinise all food and drink very carefully for poison during the next two or three days. Having dismissed Mohammed Jan, he summoned to a conference Rukn-ud-din, the officer second in command of the Rajah's bodyguard, since old Sarfaraz Khan was evidently not to be trusted. With this man he arranged that the litters containing the Rani and her son and the other inmates of the zenana should follow immediately after the elephant carrying the corpse, surrounded by the guards, so that Gerrard and his men, in their station on the right of the animal, would be continuously in touch with them, and either party would be ready to help the other in case of emergency. Then, having taken all the precautions he could think of, he could only wait patiently until the worst heat of the day was over, and the time came for the start. His reflections were not particularly pleasant as he mounted his horse at last. Sher Singh had no doubt spent the intervening hours in strengthening his hold on the court and the troops by means of lavish promises, which the Englishman durst not emulate as yet, since his power to fulfil them would depend upon his gaining a peaceful and undisturbed entrance to the palace. Badan Hazari and the officer of the bodyguard had carried out their instructions most dexterously, and Sher Singh appeared resigned to his inferior position, but there was obvious resentment among the rest of the troops at the impudence of the Feringhee in putting himself forward. When their numbers were reinforced by the notoriously violent mob of Agpur, they would easily overwhelm the little force of Ranjitgarh troopers and the guards loyal to the Rani. The situation was practically hopeless, since safety hung upon the very slender thread of Sher Singh's judgment. Would his self-interest prompt him to avoid at all costs bringing down upon himself British vengeance, or to snatch the immediate advantage of wiping out all his opponents at one blow, and taking the consequences? Since this was the course likely to commend itself to the people of Agpur, there could be little doubt how he would decide. Yet Gerrard had no choice, if he was to keep his promise to Partab Singh at all. Had he taken the road to Darwan with his escort, he might eventually have returned at the head of larger forces, but it would have been to find that the Rani had been drugged and hurried to the funeral pyre, and that Kharrak Singh had “died of grief”—little likely as the vivacious youngster appeared to succumb to such a fate.

The heat of the day was by no means over, though it was late in the afternoon, and actual bodily discomfort almost blotted out thought as Gerrard rode on through the dust, the landscape ahead one blinding glare of trembling, moving lines. He was on the sunny side of the elephant, and on the other Sher Singh seemed to find shade enough to stimulate his inventive faculties. At any rate, he was talking loudly to his friends, and the words which Gerrard overheard occasionally assured him that they were devising unpleasant experiences for him. Beside him the great beast swung patiently along, and behind came the zenana litters, their golden draperies covered by way of mourning with coarse cotton cloth, so as to shut out every possible breath of air. The towers and minarets of Agpur began at last to grow visible through the wavering haze, and Gerrard realised that a grove of trees surrounding a saint's tomb, which they were approaching, would be the scene of a halt to rearrange the procession and enable it to enter the city with proper dignity. There might even be troops waiting there, summoned by Sher Singh when he found himself worsted in the moral combat, and in that case the struggle would take place immediately, and could have but one result. Gerrard felt that he really did not much mind how soon it came, but he roused himself angrily from the lethargy which was creeping over him, and called up Badan Hazari and Rukn-ud-din to acquaint them with his intention of seizing the tomb if there was any sign of hostilities, and getting the corpse and the women into the courtyard, where the guard might close the gates and defend them for a time. Even as he spoke, the outlines of the trees became clearer, and he saw that there were certainly mounted men waiting under their shadow. He was turning to give the order which would have sent Badan Hazari and half his men to drive Sher Singh from the other side of the elephant, and turned the stately procession into a wild rush for the tomb, when it struck him that one of the men under the trees wore the curtained forage-cap of a European. Hardly able to believe his eyes, he rode forward a little, and as he did so. Bob Charteris, comparatively cool and apparently quite comfortable, came out from under the trees to meet him. Gerrard had no words of greeting at command.

“How many men have you?” he asked hoarsely.

“Only fifty here, but the rest of my forces are behind, and the Ranjitgarh army is behind them,” said Charteris easily. Sher Singh had ridden up in obvious alarm, and Charteris bowed to him. “I ride with a small escort, Prince, to show the last tokens of respect to your father, but as I was saying to my friend, I have not only my Darwanis, but the Ranjitgarh army behind me.”

“But what should the Ranjitgarh army be doing in Agpur?” demanded Sher Singh.

“Why, it is not exactly in Agpur territory, but merely ready to enter it, in case Colonel Antony does not receive every day satisfactory reports from my friend here and myself.”

“Does Antni Sahib not trust me, that he thus blackens the face of his most faithful slave?” cried Sher Singh.

“Ah, you should not have left Darwan without replying to my messages, you know,” said Charteris. Sher Singh's self-assertion collapsed.

“I have acted foolishly,” he said. “For doing wrong I am rightly punished. The gracious rebuke of Antni Sahib I lay upon my forehead and my eyes, and submit.”

“Such wisdom is only what was expected from you, Prince.”

“And the heaven-born messenger of Antni Sahib”—pursued Sher Singh feverishly—“him I receive with honour, and place his foot upon my head, but to the man Jirad I have nothing to say, nor will I hear a word from his mouth.”

“Now you are foolish again,” said Charteris gravely. “If Lieutenant Gerrard is good enough to entrust his commands to me, I will convey them to you, but that is a matter in which he decides and you obey. I see you are making a short halt here, and I may be able to wait upon you with instructions before long.” Sher Singh moved aside, with a distinctly unamiable expression of countenance, and Charteris turned back to Gerrard.

“Why, Hal, what's the matter, old boy? Didn't I maintain your authority strongly enough to please you?”

“You seem to have worked a miracle,” said Gerrard feebly, “but I'm a bit done up—couldn't see how you did it.”

“A rest and something cool to drink is what you want,” said Charteris, half helping, half pulling him off his horse. “Lie down here and take this. I give you fair warning, Master Gerrard, you ain't going to die on my hands and leave me to settle with this hornet's nest you have stirred up here—not if I know it.”

Gerrard obeyed meekly, and lay still until the trees and Charteris and the horses and the troopers had ceased whirling and wavering before his eyes. Then he sat up. “Bob, what was it you told Sher Singh? How can it have happened?”

“Bounce, all bounce!” said Charteris sadly. “At least, my Darwanis are certainly behind me, but a jolly good way behind; and as to Antony, if he is on the move, it's solely in response to my urgent entreaties, which he is highly unlikely to regard with favour.”

“Anyhow, you seem to have got me out of a very nasty fix.”

“Such was my intention. But you wish it hadn't fallen to me to get you out? Never mind, old boy; I wish it hadn't been you to be got out.”

“Oh, nonsense! You know I'm uncommon obliged to you, my dear fellow. But did you fly here? It can't possibly be my message this morning that brought you.”

“Lie down like a decent Christian and don't talk, and I'll tell you all about it. You don't seem to realise that you have had a precious narrow escape of sunstroke. Well, you don't need me to tell you that I have been keeping a vigilant eye on your proceedings for some time, with a shrewd suspicion that the air of the very high circles in which you were moving would not be good for your health. I felt so more than ever when my spies brought me word that Sher Singh was sneaking through my territory, evidently bound for Agpur. I sent him my salaams and a polite invitation to pay me a visit, but he had made himself scarce just in time. Then I thought it well to take the liberty of opening a letter of Antony's to you, as we agreed I should do in case of emergency, and when I found him cautioning you against any interference in the question of the Agpur succession, and talking of the extraordinary moderation of the claim advanced by the elder son, I decided it was time to move. So I set out to meet you on your way to the frontier, ostensibly to make arrangements for receiving the Rajah properly. This morning the people in the village where we halted for the night were full of the Rajah's death. As usual, nothing would make them say how they knew of it, but they were firm on the fact, so I saw the plot was thickening. Then, as we rode, we came across your messenger, and it was clear that the fat was in the fire already. I sent him on at once, with letters to my fellows in Darwan, and to try and open Antony's eyes, and made straight for this tope to intercept you.”

“And to save all our lives,” said Gerrard. “My dear Bob, how can I thank you?”

“Don't want to be thanked,” growled Charteris. “If you don't know from your own feelings how I hated doing it, you ought to, that's all. Never mind, you'll do something of the same sort for me one day, and then I shall have the crow over you. And now just give me some idea of the state of affairs. Keep your silly head quiet, can't you? I didn't tell you to get up. Well, put your back against the tree, if you must sit up. Who killer Cock Robin—that is to say, Partab Singh?”

“Either Sher Singh or some emissary of his.”

“Not openly, then?”

“No, in the night. The wound was so small that it escaped notice at first. I charged Sher Singh with the murder on suspicion merely. He may not know that the truth has been discovered.”

“Never show your teeth unless you can bite,” said Charteris sententiously. “What does the opposition party consist of?”

“Little Kharrak Singh and his mother, whom Sher Singh wishes to become suttee.”

Charteris whistled. “And which is more important—to bring home the Rajah's death to Sher Singh, or to save the Rani?”

“For Kharrak Singh's sake, to save his mother, undoubtedly. But now you are here, I hope to do both.”

“We shall see about that. I gather from what you said in your letter last week that you know where to lay hands upon a sum of money sufficient to secure the loyalty of the army?”

“Yes, but to get at it I must be inside the palace enclosure, and even then I shall need your help.”

“On the whole, my young friend,”—Charteris's voice was didactic in the extreme,—“you seem to me to have contrived to surround yourself with the materials for a very pretty row. Be thankful that you have at hand the services of a person of experience and knowledge of the world—myself, sir,”—with a resounding thump on his chest,—“to extricate you from a situation of uncommon difficulty and delicacy for one so young. You place yourself unreservedly in my hands?”

“Not a bit of it!” said Gerrard, struggling up, only to be pressed down again by Charteris's grip upon his shoulders.

“My dear Hal, you do. There's no other course open to you. Sher Singh has the big battalions, and though I admire your design of capturing Agpur with no weapons but cool cheek and shaky promises, I have a mean objection to adding my bones to the heap that would be the result. It is eminently a case for negociation, and here is the negociator. You stay where you are, and get ready to ride into Agpur to-night, 'pride in your port, defiance in your eye,' while I try my blandishments upon that nasty uncertain beggar, Sher Singh.”

Gerrard obeyed perforce, for the effort to stand had brought back the feeling of giddiness, and Charteris clanked off among the trees. Presently Badan Hazari came very quietly, and peered round a trunk to see whether his commander was awake. Gerrard called to him.

“Heaven-born!” said the Granthi, saluting. “I have ventured to disturb the repose of your honour at the request of Komadan Rukn-ud-din.”

Gerrard started. “Bring him here,” he said. “What is it?”

“They are trying to corrupt the guard, sahib,” and Rukn-ud-din confirmed the assertion. Since the halt, old Sarfaraz Khan had been in and out among the men, making them lavish offers if they would forsake the Rani and come over to the side of Sher Singh.

“What has he offered them?” asked Gerrard.

“The plunder of the tosha khana[1] in the palace, sahib.”

“And that is all he has to offer, and they must share it with the whole army? Tell them that in Kharrak Singh Rajah's name I promise them such a reward for their fidelity that they would pass by the tosha khana with contempt if it were thrown open to them.”

The Mohammedan's eyes glittered. “How shall I make them believe so wonderful a thing, sahib?”

“I cannot speak more particularly here. But you may give them my word it is so.”

“The word of the Presence will be amply sufficient.” Rukn-ud-din salaamed and withdrew on leave being given, while Badan Hazari lingered to report that the corpse and the women were halted in the courtyard of the tomb, according to his orders, and that the guard, though evidently disturbed in mind by Sher Singh's overtures, had so far faithfully prevented him and his followers from entering. That they would now remain loyal to the Rani there was no doubt, and Gerrard waited with something more of hopefulness for Charteris's return. He came at last, and sat down on the rug which had been spread for his friend.

“We shall have to be moving soon,” he remarked casually. “The news has reached the city, and the mourners are coming out. The funeral will take place in the morning.”

“But you have forgotten—the murder!” gasped Gerrard.

“I have forgotten nothing, but things are settled in the approved diplomatic style, by concessions on both sides. There is just about time to tell you—but of course you understand that you are the moving spirit throughout; I am merely your mouthpiece. Sher Singh consents that there shall be no suttee, and you agree not to interfere with the funeral—in other words, to make no inquiry into the cause of the Rajah's death.”

“In other words, to condone an atrocious crime.”

“My dear Hal, what did you propose doing? If you were thinking of laying violent hands on the corpse—but that would be absurd. The Brahmins would tear us to pieces with their bare hands. You know we should defile it and bring indelible disgrace on Kharrak Singh if we even approached too near. A post-mortem? Who do you suggest should perform it? Moraes is about the figure for the job, ain't he? Show a little common-sense.”

“If the thing is so impossible, why should Sher Singh make an important concession to avoid it?”

“Because it would raise nasty rumours if we made the attempt, and getting rid of us would prejudice him with Antony. Remember, you have no evidence. If Partab Singh was murdered, who is going to prove that Sher Singh did it? You secure an important advantage at the cost of giving up the right to make a gigantic fool of yourself.”

“But who is to see that Sher Singh keeps his word and does not arrange a suttee?”

“You and I, of course. We attend the funeral, naturally, with all our sowars, to show due honour to the deceased. By the bye, that reminds me, we should be rather an easy prey after firing the volleys. The front rank had better load with ball, and reserve their fire, and only the rear rank fire with blank. In the smoke and noise it won't be noticed that only half the men have fired, and we shan't be defenceless if Sher Singh takes it into his head to let the army loose on us.”

“But you seem to be allowing Sher Singh to take the lead in all the funeral arrangements, which is exactly the matter in dispute.”

“To be sure. There comes in the second concession. We, with the bodyguard and our own men, are to occupy the palace enclosure to-night, and watch over the safety of the corpse and the women, in return for allowing Sher Singh to walk next to young Kharrak Singh in the procession, and guide his hand when he fires the pile. Why that lowering brow? The possession of the palace is all-important to you, ain't it?”

“Yes, and even more now than when you left me. But to concede Sher Singh's claim——”

“My good Hal, the man is next heir. If anything happens to the youngster, he must be Rajah, there's no one else. You may be thankful he don't claim to mount the gaddi at once. But since he is content to stand aside, and has contrived to gull Antony into taking his part——”

“That's merely temporary, Bob, believe me. When the Colonel learns the scoundrel's real character, he will withdraw his support in disgust.”

“I'm none so sure of that. Remember his fatal predilection for black sheep. What about his handing over Bala to Tika Singh, after he himself had exhausted all the resources of the English language in finding suitably opprobrious epithets for him? The Bala people hated him, too, whereas I gather that the Agpuris have no particular dislike for Sher Singh.”

“Nor to any one that will bribe them,” said Gerrard bitterly. “You think Antony will make him Regent, then I.”

“It would be in accordance with the usual custom, wouldn't it? I suppose the next heir wishes to look after his prospective dominions, but I'll own it always seems to me uncommon hard on the reigning child. However, for the present, Sher Singh acknowledges the Rani as sole Regent, and consents to refer the difference between you and himself to Antony and the Ranjitgarh Durbar. How could poor old Partab Singh ever have thought of making you Regent? If Antony don't treat you to a pretty wigging on the score of it, I'll eat my hat.”

“It was a kind of fixed idea of his, though I told him over and over again it was impossible.”

“Well, if it had been me, hanged if I wouldn't have taken the job, as the wigging is bound to come anyhow. A man might do a good deal while the runners were going to Ranjitgarh and back. But as Antony will probably punish your misdeeds by sentencing you to stay on here and keep the peace between the rival Regents, it's just as well you didn't make yourself impossible by accepting. Can't say I envy you the billet.”

“I am almost inclined to ask you to shoot me through the head and put me out of my misery,” remarked Gerrard.

“Oh, cheer up! We may all be shot down in a heap to-morrow, you know, in spite of my powers of persuasion. But I don't fancy you will, somehow. Sher Singh asked me very mysteriously whether you knew the secret of the entrance to his father's private treasury. Not knowing I couldn't say, but I can be mysterious too, and I told him there were some things that couldn't be spoken about. He seemed to take that as an affirmative, and I think he felt that to shut you up there to feed on gold was about the only thing that would fit the case. But, by the way, how is it that he leaves the palace to you to-night, if he believes you know the secret?”

“He don't know it himself. I am the only living creature that does, now, and you are the only living creature that I may reveal it to.”

“An honour likely to be associated with sudden and painful death—eh? But I'm game. And as your principal duty in connection with the treasury will probably be to pay out of it Sher Singh's allowance as fixed by the Ranjitgarh Durbar, I don't fancy you'll enjoy a bed of roses.”

[1] Treasury.

CHAPTER IX. IN SLIPPERY PLACES.

Owing to the combined influence of Charteris's strong hand, Gerrard's lavish promises to the army, and what Colonel Antony chose to style the “moderation” of Sher Singh, the succession of Kharrak Singh to his father's throne was effected without general bloodshed. The city was evidently seething with all the possibilities of revolt when the funeral procession entered and passed through the streets, but the army was staunch for the moment—apparently from a sportsmanlike readiness to allow Gerrard to redeem his promises if he could—and one or two attempts at disturbance were ruthlessly put down. The women and the corpse of Partab Singh were got safely into the palace, and Sher Singh, who would have liked to edge in under cover of the confusion, dexterously excluded. The walls were garrisoned by the loyal guard, the disappointed Sher Singh quartering himself with his followers in the house of a reluctant Armenian near at hand, and Gerrard and Charteris spent an arduous night in getting up from the secret treasury an amount sufficient to fulfil their obligations. The heads of the goldsmiths' guild had been warned to be in attendance early in the morning, and they came with a mixture of surly defiance and ostentation of poverty that showed they expected Gerrard's financial expedient to take the form of obtaining a forced loan from them. The sight of the gold ingots softened them wonderfully, and though it would not have been human nature had they failed to exact an exorbitant rate of exchange for their silver, both sides parted well pleased, the money-changers only grieving that they could not discover whether this transaction was a final one, or merely a prelude to further business of the same sort.

The military arrangements for the funeral were made by Gerrard and Charteris, who were quite aware that they and their men, in the character of sympathetic spectators, were in as great danger as Kharrak Singh himself. The army must be entrusted with the duty of keeping the ground, since it was necessary for the guard, with the exception of a small detachment, to remain at the palace and garrison it in case of a surprise attack, and had the army been ill-disposed, it could have swept away both claimants and the small Ranjitgarh force with a single volley. But the army remained unmoved, and Sher Singh walked behind Kharrak Singh as mourner, and guided his hand when he set light to the great pyre of sandalwood dripping with costly perfumes. It was the first time that the body of a Rajah of Agpur had been burnt without the accompanying self-immolation of a number of his women, and troops and Brahmins were alike displeased, while the mob surging outside the lines enlivened the ceremony with taunts and maledictions. The troops made various raids into the crowd to punish the most outspoken of the dissentients, and this may have served to assure the people that there would be no change in the drastic methods of Partab Singh. At any rate, when the dead man's two sons had watched the pyre burn down into ashes, had performed the ceremonies of purification and were returning—on separate elephants, for the Rani had insisted on this—to the square before the palace for the proclamation of the new Rajah, the mob acclaimed Kharrak Singh with ardour.

There was some approach to a riot when Partab Singh's will was made known, appointing the Rani Gulab Kur regent for her son Kharrak Singh, and begging Gerrard to undertake the office of protector to both, and loud cries were raised for Sher Singh; but when it was announced that Sher Singh had consented to refer the question of his appointment as joint-regent to the arbitration of the Ranjitgarh Durbar, the popular wrath was turned against him also. Both he and the Rani were equally committed to what the Agpuris considered a traitorous and unpatriotic reliance on Ranjitgarh and the English, and the stern unbending advocates of independence were for getting rid of both. But at present the executive power lay in the hands of the army, and the army was being placated with gifts of rupees to the rank and file, and of jewellery, swords, shawls, and robes of honour to the officers. The army thereupon decided that the promises made in Kharrak Singh's name had been kept, and that it would be worth waiting to see if he had more largess to distribute before turning against him. The local Durbar, seeing the course things were taking, adapted itself to circumstances with great readiness, and paid its respects to the Rani Gulab Kur through her curtain, having purged itself of the irreconcilables who demanded an instant massacre and an open defiance of the English and of their allies at Ranjitgarh.

No sooner was this peaceful settlement reached, than Gerrard received peremptory orders to leave Charteris in charge at Agpur, and present himself at Ranjitgarh, with all documents and witnesses bearing on the case, that Sher Singh's claim and Partab Singh's testamentary dispositions might be inquired into. If he had been a little inclined to plume himself on the success he and Charteris had achieved, he was now to meet with a wholesome corrective, for Colonel Antony was much displeased with him, and showed it plainly. He had added infinitely to the already overwhelming cares of the Resident at Ranjitgarh, and had brought into close political union with the British power a province which would have been much better left to itself. He should have drawn back at once when Partab Singh showed signs of wishing to cultivate his personal rather than his political friendship, and left the rival heirs to settle things between themselves, instead of allowing himself to be made the tool of an ambitious woman and a doating old man.

So convinced was Colonel Antony of the righteousness of Sher Singh's cause that for once he overbore the opposition of his Durbar. The Durbar considered that Partab Singh's recorded disinheritance of his elder son, and the presumed reasons for it, which were known by hearsay to every story-teller in Granthistan, were sufficient to bar his recognition as regent and heir presumptive; but Colonel Antony thought that the secrecy with which the Prince had been condemned, and the absence of any documentary evidence, rendered it extremely probable that his father had been misled by false information, and condemned him unheard and innocent. Therefore the unwilling Durbar were impelled in the way which they were reluctant to take of their own accord, and Mr James Antony was despatched to Ranjitgarh to interview the Rani through the curtain, and inform her that she was thenceforth to regard her stepson as her coadjutor in the work of government. The envoy expected tears and lamentations, and pathetic attempts to induce the Resident to alter his decision, but the Rajput lady fought with other than women's weapons. In clear cold tones she issued her ultimatum. Sher Singh was to be absolutely debarred access to the palace, and was to make no attempt to communicate with her otherwise than by messenger, and Gerrard was to be appointed Resident at Agpur, with quarters in the fort, and the special task of watching over the safety of Kharrak Singh. Otherwise the Rani would poison herself and her son and every soul in the zenana, and then set fire to the building, that the ashes might remain for ever as a monument to the perfidy of the English.

James Antony tried reasoning and threats, but in vain. The only answer to his remonstrances was an intimation from the Rani that she declined to receive him again until he had referred the matter to Ranjitgarh and could bring her a definite answer. Not, perhaps, wholly unwilling to demonstrate the ill success of his brother's theories, he did as she desired, recommending that Gerrard should become acting-Resident, with the duty of keeping the peace between the two Regents, and serving as a means of communication between them. Colonel Antony was very angry, but Gerrard was so obviously the only possible person for such a post, in view of the confidence reposed in him by Partab Singh, that he gave way, telling him, as Charteris had done before, that the difficulties of the position would in all probability make it more of a punishment than promotion. With this cheering prophecy in his ears Gerrard departed for Agpur, and Charteris, riding out to meet him, saw at once that he was in low spirits. He gave no hint of his discovery, however, until the state entry into the city and the first formal visits were over, and the two were left to themselves at the Residency, which Charteris had employed the interval in fortifying, according to a plan drawn out by Gerrard before he left, so that it formed a kind of minor citadel inside the great palace enclosure. They were sitting on the broad verandah, with its tiled roof supported by solid pillars of masonry, which had served as frame to one of Gerrard's pictures of imaginary bliss, when Charteris broke the silence.

“Well, you are in the blues, my boy, and no mistake! What's the meaning of it? Here are you just returned from the giddy haunts of society and fashion, with a face as long as one of Padri Jardine's sermons, while I, who have seen no European countenance for a month but the rough-hewn phiz of our Mr James, am as cheerful as a cricket.”

“Result of having got what I wanted, I suppose Antony would say. Did you indulge a sneaking hope of gaining a little credit on the score of our exploits here, Bob?”

“Hardly. There's a prejudice nowadays against subalterns annexing empires without orders, you know. Precious silly, of course, but one must take it into account.”

“Well, I might have been an escaped convict from Botany Bay, by the way Antony jawed me. And other people took their tone from him, naturally, except—— By the way, I dined at the Cinnamonds' one night.”

“And was our bright particular star visible?”

“She was. So was a young cub of a civilian—just gone into stick-ups, I should imagine.”

“Dangerous?”

“I think not. Merely having his mind and morals improved, if I am any judge.”

“Ah, we know all about that, don't we, old boy? Not that any beggarly civilian is going to join this noble fellowship, is he? The more he keeps his distance the better we shall be pleased. And the lady of our mutual adoration——?”

“She barely spoke to me. At least”—with an effort—“she did ask whether I sent to request your help or whether you came of your own accord. Of course I told her it was that.”

“And then?”

“She said it was just what she would have expected of you.”

Charteris burst into a roar of laughter. “Oh, poor old beggar! and he ain't jealous, not a bit! Never mind, Hal; when you have pulled me out of a hole, I shall have to praise you up to her, and won't it go against the grain! Ray-ther—just a few! But has the fair lady lent an ear to slander? You don't think she can have heard anything about the Rani?” cautiously.

“What do you know about the Rani?” cried Gerrard furiously.

“Simply that James Antony thought fit to tell me it had struck him that it would be very convenient for the transaction of public business, and very much for the safety of Kharrak Singh, if you or I married the lady. You were the favourite, as in a way marked out by her husband's will. One of our Mr James's witticisms, of course, and in vile taste, as usual.”

“His taste is his own affair; what I mind are his abominable practical jokes. Do you know that he said this same thing to the Colonel, but put it as though I had approved, or even proposed, the arrangement?”

“The Colonel is a little apt to jump to conclusions, when they involve the depravity of other people,” suggested Charteris. “It's just possible that he misunderstood his brother.”

“Then I wish to goodness they would adopt some means of communication that left no room for misunderstanding. There Antony sent for me, and reviled me as if I had been a criminal of the deepest dye; said that Granthistan would stink in the nostrils of all India if these marriages with native women continued, and threatened to send me back to Bengal unless I gave up all thoughts of it at once.”

“Alas, poor Hal! And what did you do?”

“Told him that I had got pretty well accustomed by this time to be reprimanded for everything I did, but when it came to being jawed for things I had no thought of doing, and wouldn't do for all the wealth of Delhi, I was hanged if I would stand it. Then I handed in my resignation on the spot.”

“And what did he do?”

“Begged my pardon, like a man and a gentleman and a Christian as he is, dear old fellow! Asked me as a favour to withdraw my resignation, and shook hands.”

“Well, you have got on his soft side, and no mistake! But what had riled him? Who were your predecessors in iniquity?”

“Oh, you haven't heard. Remember Horry Arbuthnot, big dashing fellow in the Cavalry? He has been and gone and married the daughter of old Murid-ud-din of Bala.”

“You don't say so! How on earth did he manage it?”

“Why, he was sent up to help Tika Singh in pacifying the hill tracts—or rather, to keep him from perpetrating a massacre and calling it pacification—and Murid-ud-din's widow and family had taken refuge there. I don't know how the trick was done, but I daresay Tika Singh had a finger in the pie. He had taken a fancy to Arbuthnot, and may have wished to get a hold over him—at any rate, the bold Horace made definite proposals. Then the thing came to Antony's ears—Tika Singh may have had a hand in that too—and the fat was in the fire. He sent up orders—to Tika Singh, mind you—to send Arbuthnot down under arrest forthwith, and so nip his matrimonial project in the bud. Now it so happened—the course of true love running smooth for once—that Antony's letter reached Tika Singh on the eve of a great festival, and of course he couldn't possibly open it. But he took a squint inside, or the messenger told him the drift of it, or something, and by some most regrettable leakage the contents got to Arbuthnot's ears. The fellow is like you, Bob; he don't let the grass grow under his feet. He married the lady that night by Mohammedan rites under the auspices of her mother, who was highly in favour of the match, and they set off post-haste for Gajnipur. Another remarkable coincidence—only the day before Tika Singh had given Arbuthnot a duplicate of his own signet, which would carry him anywhere in Bala. Antony's orders had been confidential, so that they got to Gajnipur and were married by the Padri there before the truth got out.”

“I don't envy that Padri,” said Charteris.

“Nor I. Antony would have declared himself Pope of Granthistan if that would have enabled him to invalidate the marriage, but the younger Begum is indubitably Mrs Arbuthnot, and means to remain so. So Antony has packed them both back to the hill tracts, with the intimation that Arbuthnot may consider himself permanently relegated to the society of his new relations and his kind friend Tika Singh.”

“Which means utter and absolute ruin, of course. Well, I call it uncommon hard.”

“I don't know. Suppose Antony had written, 'Return to your sorrowing chief, and all shall be forgiven,' and done the heavy father business when they turned up, and set both Mrs Antonys and Lady Cinnamond to call on the Begum Arbuthnot, what would it have been but an encouragement to other fellows to go and do likewise?”

“Will the fellow find it worth it, I wonder? Funny thing what a difference a woman can make in a man's life.”

Gerrard assented with almost a groan. “She plays the very mischief sometimes. Bob, I can't help thinking that perhaps you were right when you suggested we had better agree to give up all thoughts of her, both of us.”

The light-brown eyes, which gave a peculiar character to Charteris's red-tanned face, flamed suddenly. “I suggest such a thing?” he cried. “Hal, you are mad. What I said was that I would never, under any circumstances, enter into such an agreement. Give up if you like. I go on until I die or she marries me.”

“Or me,” said Gerrard, laughing mirthlessly.

Charteris struck his hand upon the table. “Are you trying to provoke me, Hal? I have stood a good deal from you, but there are limits. What's come over you?”

“Oh, forebodings—presentiments, that's all.”

“You always were a superstitious sort of chap.”

Charteris's passion had faded. “Had this sort of thing before?”

“Oh yes, often.”

“And the presentiments always came true?”

“No-o, not always.”

“I should think not!” shouted Charteris, with a mighty burst of laughter. “Never was anything like the presentiments I had before going into action the first time, and now I remember it, you were pretty much the same, but we both came out without a scratch. Cheer up, old boy. Who would think it was you that gave Sher Singh the lie to his face, and started calmly to march to certain death? Here, let me mix you a peg. I looks towards you, sir.”

“I likewise bows,” said Gerrard, with a perfunctory smile. “You don't think me altogether a coward, Bob? There is something evil about the atmosphere of this place. I felt it as I rode in at the gateway.”

“I should recommend the estimable Moraes and a blue-pill,” said Charteris, yawning. “Coward? nonsense! an overworked conscience sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought is more your number. And now, as I march at a commendably early hour in the morning——”

“I wish you were staying on with me, Bob.”

“Oh no, you don't. Think of the evil atmosphere of the place getting hold of me too. Why, we should sit in corners and grind our teeth at one another. You forget the healthy rivalry between us. No, no, you will do bear-leader to the youngster, and keep Sher Singh and the Rani from scratching each other's eyes out, and I'll knock down some more robber castles in Darwan, and demand your help when I stir up a more vicious hornets' nest than ordinary. By the bye, when there was mortar and all kinds of mess about, I took the opportunity of bringing up a little more gold from the treasury—ten thousand rupees' worth or so, as nearly as I could guess—and building it into this wall here,” he indicated the parapet of the terrace with his cheroot. “It is behind this bluish stone. You may be glad of it in an emergency.”

“You think of everything, old boy. Sorry I haven't been a jollier companion to-night.”

They parted the next morning, Charteris riding out to take up again the nomadic life and open-air work that he loved, while Gerrard remained to begin his irksome task of trying to induce the Regents, the Durbar, the army and the citizens to lay aside their differences and aim at the common good. The Rani's one idea was to safeguard her son's position by securing the loyalty of the army at all costs. The faintest sign of discontent among the troops threw her into a frenzy of terror, and brought orders for the instant granting of all demands and a distribution of rupees. As a natural result, the army speedily dominated the whole city, and kept the rest of the inhabitants in subjection, secure of the Rani's favour. The Durbar, composed largely of Partab Singh's old councillors, lifted up voices of protest and lamentation when there were no soldiers about, but maintained a discreet silence in their hearing. Which side Sher Singh took, Gerrard found it difficult to discover. He complained bitterly in private of the arrogance of the army, the supineness of the Durbar, and the unreasonable behaviour of his co-Regent, but he seemed not to be making any attempt to form a party of his own, that might work towards a healthier state of things. Gerrard himself was the butt for every one's ill-humour. The Rani and the troops alike execrated him when he declined to give his sanction to the distribution of a largess demanded without even a shadow of pretext, and Sher Singh and the Durbar sighed reproachfully over his inability to keep the army in its proper place.

The one spot of light in the gloom was the behaviour of little Kharrak Singh, who proclaimed and exercised his royal will in the matter of seeking the society of Jirad Sahib. That the Rani was intensely jealous of his influence Gerrard perceived by many indications, but she could not refuse to be guided by the directions left by her husband, and she was at any rate assured of the boy's safety while he was with him. Surrounded by a small army of guards, they would ride through the muttering streets out into the open country, and there cast off for a few delightful hours the restraints of state. But this happened very seldom, and Kharrak Singh was generally to be found on the Residency verandah, where Gerrard, immersed in business, had to answer his unceasing questions, instil such rudiments of useful information as he could, and generally endeavour to prepare the child for the great future before him. It was clear that the native tutors had no control whatever over their illustrious pupil, and every creature in and about the zenana was his submissive slave, so that Gerrard became seriously exercised as to the development of his character. At times he had visions of obtaining a European tutor for him—an absolutely revolutionary innovation for those days—but the impossibility of bringing the Durbar to see the wisdom of such a course, or of securing proper support for the unhappy man who might be appointed, deterred him. To remove the child from the city, into surroundings mentally more healthy, was of course impossible, and therefore Kharrak Singh continued to come each day to the Residency with his attendants, dismissing all but a favoured few with a regal wave of the hand at the foot of the steps, and climbing on the divan arranged for him, to sit there and talk under the pretence of looking at pictures. Gerrard had sent for his books from down-country by this time, and after long journeying on the heads of groaning coolies, and many vicissitudes by the way, they now graced his meagrely furnished rooms. In the daytime they were useful in teaching Kharrak Singh the bare beginnings of the English language, and in the long evenings they served to mitigate the loneliness of the house which had presented itself as an abode of bliss for two, but was sadly too large for one.

CHAPTER X. THE DOOR IS SHUT.

Nearly a year had passed since Charteris and Gerrard had entered into the agreement which was to regulate their rivalry for the hand of Honour Cinnamond, but the end of the six months' armistice had arrived without any renewal of hostilities. It was tacitly recognised between them that it would be a mistake to conduct operations by letter, and neither of them was in a position to ask for leave. When Charteris returned to Darwan, he found that the Granthi subordinate left in charge had improved the shining hour by adding to the number of his wives a daughter of the principal robber-clan of the district. His official position gave him the means of doing many little kindnesses to his new relations, and with their concurrence he arranged to gladden Charteris's eye on his return by the spectacular destruction of an old disused fortress, the clan's headquarters being transferred to a larger post in a more sequestered district. Unfortunately, in following up a raid, Charteris tracked the raiders to their lair, and as they thought their kinsman-in-law had betrayed them, and retaliated by informing on him, the whole matter came out. Thereupon ensued a change of personnel in Charteris's staff, the destruction of another fortress, and the persistent harrying of such members of the clan as declined to come in and submit—all of which occupied time and thought so fully that matters of sentiment were forced to take a subordinate place in the ruler's mind.

As for Gerrard, he was beginning to hope that Agpur was inclined to settle down under the Regents. Each month that passed without an insurrection was so much to the good, and brought nearer the day when Kharrak Singh would rule in safety in his own name. State affairs followed a well-defined course—almost a stereotyped one. When Sher Singh proposed any measure, the Rani objected to it, and if Gerrard thought that it ought to be passed, it fell to him to argue her into acquiescence. If the Rani originated a scheme, Sher Singh was the obstruction, and had to be coaxed into good humour before the project could be laid before the Durbar, who would have squabbled placidly to all eternity had they been admitted to an open share in the differences of their betters. Still, Gerrard was learning by this time how to handle his unruly team, and was not without a sanguine belief that the Rani would soon know something about the use of money and the management of an army, and that Sher Singh was really settling down in his subordinate place with something like contentment. Their mutual opposition, he thought, was becoming rather formal than actual, and might even die down in time. But Gerrard was no more omniscient in estimating the future yield of his poultry-yard than other people, and it took little to set the two protagonists, whom he had looked upon as reformed characters, thirsting for each other's blood again.

Sher Singh's father-in-law died, leaving no son, and it was the natural thing that his fief of Adamkot should descend to his daughter's husband. The Prince pointed out, very reasonably, that it was hardly suitable for one of the Regents to possess no stake in the country beyond a rented house in Agpur, while the other enjoyed the revenues of several wealthy villages. With Adamkot secured to him, he would be well provided for when his allowance as Regent ceased in time to come, instead of being obliged to linger on as a pensioner at his younger brother's court. The Rani objected strongly to the proposal, and flung herself into the struggle tooth and nail. The only hope of keeping Sher Singh loyal was to make him strictly dependent upon his allowance, she declared. With Adamkot in his hands, he would be above the reach of want, and could withdraw thither if anything displeased him, and make it a centre of intrigue against the state. It was the bulwark of Agpur against the most unruly part of Darwan, and he was quite capable of betraying his country, and leading an army of Darwanis against the capital.

The Rani's patriotic anxiety would have appealed to Gerrard more strongly than it did had there not penetrated to him, among the bits of palace gossip which Munshi Somwar Mal contrived to pick up for his employer's benefit, the news that she was determined to secure the fief for the brother of one of her favourite attendants, and had gone so far as to promise it to him secretly. This she had no right whatever to do, and Gerrard prepared for a contest. Sher Singh must have Adamkot, but his possession of it should be tempered by the condition that he was not to reside there for more than ten days without the Rajah's permission.

The struggle between the Regents became known in the city almost as soon as at the Residency, and the army took advantage of the tension to demand an increase of pay, holding riotous assemblies at a spot where their menacing shouts were distinctly audible from the Rani's apartments. Before Gerrard could get the Durbar's consent to use the guard to disperse them, the Rani had sent out her scribe to inquire into their grievances, and the poor old man, set upon and bullied by the leading spirits, promised them in his mistress's name all they wanted, before he was allowed to escape with torn clothes and trailing turban. But this again was a matter in which the Rani had no power to act. Gerrard was firmly fixed in his resolve not to increase the pay of the swashbucklers who swaggered about the city girt with costly shawls and decked with jewelled necklaces, as though they were fresh from a profitable campaign. “Every Sepoy is a Sirdar at least, and every Sowar a Rajah!” was the envious comment of the peaceable citizens who endured their insolence, and before this last palace-squabble, it had been a bright dream of Gerrard's to embody the civil inhabitants into some kind of militia, and with their help and that of the guard to reduce the army sternly to its proper place. Accordingly, he devoted an interview of considerable length to explaining to the Rani that Partab Singh's treasure, now much reduced in amount, must no longer be drawn upon in minor emergencies, but kept for the tug of war which might be expected when Kharrak Singh came of age. The Rani listened with apparent submission, and he was beginning to congratulate himself on her meekness, when she posed him by suddenly suggesting a bargain. Let the troops have their increase of pay, and Sher Singh might have Adamkot. It needed another long argument to prove to her that there was no question of a compromise, and when she had been forced to realise, with a very bad grace, that the increased pay would not be granted, she still remained obstinate on the matter of Sher Singh's fief. Gerrard was worried by the delay, since it had been intended to invest the Prince formally on the occasion of Kharrak Singh's birthday, which was close at hand, but he resigned himself to the prospect of a succession of further interviews, destined, of course, to end in the collapse of the Rani's opposition.

The reception in honour of Kharrak Singh's birthday, a very brilliant affair, was held in a pavilion erected for the purpose in the courtyard of the palace, since Sher Singh was still debarred entrance to the building itself. On the dais at the upper end was a silver-gilt arm-chair for the little Rajah, flanked by plain silver chairs for Gerrard and Sher Singh, and behind the three chairs was a curtain, which shielded the Rani and her attendants from the public gaze. Gerrard was conscious of an unusual amount of whispering and excitement behind the curtain, but it did not occur to him that this had any special significance until the speeches were over, and those present came up to offer their congratulations and their nazars. First of all came Sher Singh, as the foremost subject of the realm, with an offering of gold coins, which it was Kharrak Singh's duty graciously to accept and retain. But to Gerrard's dismay, and the horror of all the spectators, the boy drew back as his brother approached, and folding his arms across his chest, sat like a little cross-legged image of obstinacy, mutely declining to notice either the offering or the offerer. Whispered remonstrances were useless, and Sher Singh, after waiting for a moment in vain, cast the nazar contemptuously on the gold-worked carpet, and turned away with a face convulsed with rage. “The child has been put up to this!” he muttered angrily, and stalked down the gangway, between the rows of Sirdars and notables. Gerrard beckoned hastily to the next man, mentally resolving to get the durbar over as quickly as possible, and then hurry after Sher Singh and try to placate him, but to his horror, Kharrak Singh remained immovable, and declined to notice the offering now held forth to him. Remonstrances came from behind the curtain at this, and Gerrard gathered that the boy had improved on his mother's instructions; but as if an evil spirit had taken possession of him, he sat hugging himself tightly, finding, apparently, a malicious pleasure in the perturbation he was causing. It was highly probable that the Rani had desired him to be specially gracious to the military officers who would bring up their swords to be touched when the old councillors had passed, but Gerrard was not minded to let matters go further. The durbar was hastily broken up, with the excuse that the Rajah must be ill, and the Rani and her crowd of chattering excited women conducted back, with all the usual paraphernalia of sheets held before and behind and on either side of them, to their own apartments. Gerrard allowed them barely time to get back there before demanding an audience, but in that brief interval he heard that the Rani had that morning distributed to the army the monthly allowance which had just been paid to her, and the jewels in which she had invested her savings since her widowhood. It might be considered a valiant effort to compensate them for the breaking of her promise, but Gerrard knew that her tradesmen's bills would have to be settled by the Durbar in consequence. The lady was clearly incorrigible, and he braced himself for the struggle.

The Rani displayed no penitence when, after much delay, and many complaints as to the unreasonableness of the request, she consented to receive Gerrard, but he detected a trace of alarm in her voice when she referred to Kharrak Singh's treatment of the councillors. Evidently her son had gone further than she wished, for it was no part of her plan to drive the Durbar into making common cause with Sher Singh. Gerrard seized upon the opening thus afforded him, and made skilful use of it. The harm done must be instantly repaired, and the offended notables placated with suitable gifts and assurances, if Kharrak Singh's rule was to endure. The Rani assented to this, though with reluctance; but when Gerrard proceeded to say that the first person approached must be Sher Singh, and that the Rani's peace-offering to him must be the fief of Adamkot, she refused to hear another word, and when he persisted, intimated that the audience was at an end. He took out his watch.

“Maharaj,” he said, sending his voice loudly in the direction in which, as the rustling behind the curtain informed him, she was withdrawing in disdain, “I give you five minutes. If by that time you have not put your seal to the sanad,[1] and given it to the Rajah to bring to me, that we may ride together to Kunwar Sher Singh's house with it, I leave Agpur, and tell Colonel Antony Sahib that it is impossible for me to fulfil my duties here.”

The rustling ceased, and it was clear that the Rani had paused. Then there broke out a tumult among her women, some evidently entreating her to yield, and others advising that she should let the insolent Feringhee go, and take the reins of power into her own hands, secure of the support of the army.

“Two minutes gone!” said Gerrard.

The Rani tried to temporise. “Let not Jirad Sahib fit the shoes of impatience to the feet of offence,” she said blandly. “Is he not ruler here? But the wise ruler is he who acts with the dwellers behind the curtain on his side.”

“Three minutes gone!” said Gerrard.

“I have set Jirad Sahib's foot on my head because it was the will of my son's father,” cried the Rani passionately; “but to that of Sher Singh I will not bow.”

An approving chorus from the attendants answered her, interrupted by Gerrard's reminder that four minutes had passed.

“What is it you command me to do?” she demanded desperately.

“To seal the sanad and send the Rajah to accompany me with it to Kunwar Sher Singh's house at once, that he may invest him without delay—then to summon another durbar, so that men's minds may be set at ease. The five minutes are over.” Gerrard pushed back his chair with a harsh grating on the marble pavement, and rose impressively. “I leave Agpur in half an hour, and I trust your Highness and the Prince will be able to settle matters peaceably.”

He took two or three steps, and then her voice called him back. “I will ratify the sanad, but let Jirad Sahib carry it himself to him who is to enjoy it.”

“The Rajah takes it or no one,” said Gerrard. The women broke out into cries of indignation at his brutality, but their mistress knew how far she could go.

“The seal is affixed,” she said, her voice trembling with anger; “and Jirad Sahib has leave to depart, for which he did not see fit to wait just now.”

The last word was undeniably hers, and Gerrard hoped that the recollection of his breach of etiquette might support her in her consciousness of defeat. Kharrak Singh came pouting out from behind the curtain, carrying the document as if it had been a snake or a scorpion, and after running his eye over it, Gerrard hurried him out. He had given his orders before the interview, and in a very short time the procession was in motion, and what was even better, Kharrak Singh in a good temper. He was riding his father's great state elephant, with its very finest jewelled trappings, and Gerrard accompanied him on another elephant of less magnificence, while a third carried the patent of investiture in a gilt box, and the khilat or dress of honour which was to be conferred on Sher Singh at the same time. It would have been beyond the power of the boy to continue to pout in such circumstances, and as he mounted, Kharrak Singh shrilly promised his pet troop of the guard new coats of yellow satin. The procession wound gallantly through the narrow streets to Sher Singh's house, but before the door was reached, the officials who had been sent forward to announce to the Prince the honour that his sovereign intended to confer upon him came back with long faces. Sher Singh was not at home. In fact, he had hurried back after his humiliation at the durbar, called for his horse, and ridden forth on a journey with a handful of attendants—to Adamkot, so the servants believed. The blow was so heavy that Gerrard refused at first to believe in its reality, and sent messengers to the city gates. The news they brought served only to confirm the first report. The Regent and his band had passed through two hours before, bound for Adamkot in hot haste. Gerrard ordered the procession to return, and it retraced its steps slowly, while he laid his plans for saving the situation. There were innumerable things to be arranged when he returned to the palace, and he summoned the Rani's scribe, and desired him to acquaint his mistress with what was being done, in order to avoid the loss of time which would be caused by another personal interview.

“I leave early to-morrow for Adamkot to bring Sher Singh back,” he said. “He must come, but I hope he will yield to entreaty and come peaceably. I take with me three of the state elephants, with sufficient troops to form an imposing escort, and at the same time to make opposition useless. A letter couched in terms of the utmost friendliness, conferring upon the Prince the title of Prop-of-the-Kingdom, will be ready in a short time for her Highness's signature, and I shall present it with the patent of investiture and the khilat. Other khilats are being prepared in readiness for a durbar to-night, at which the Rajah will confer them upon the councillors offended this morning. If her Highness objects to these arrangements, you have my authority to point out to her that unless Sher Singh is placated immediately, the very gravest consequences are certain to ensue.”

“Does his Highness accompany your honour upon this journey?” asked the old man.

Gerrard shook his head. Kharrak Singh's presence was highly desirable as an act of atonement, but if he came, the Rani and all her women must come too, and the journey would require a week instead of two days. “No,” he said, “I trust Kunwar Sher Singh will return with me, and we will then arrange a feast and a special reception in his honour.”

The scribe salaamed and departed, and Gerrard gave a few moments to reviewing his plans. He was taking with him the most persistently disaffected of the troops, so that the Rani would be well able to hold the palace with the guard should there be any outbreak on the part of the remainder during his absence. The councillors would be mollified by the honours conferred upon them, and also by the Rani's submission in the matter of Sher Singh's fief, and as no contentious business could be transacted while he was away, they ought to be able to keep the peace. It seemed as though all dangers had been provided against, and Gerrard's spirits rose insensibly. Seizing a sheet of paper, he scribbled a hasty note to Charteris.

“If you are anywhere in the Adamkot direction, infringe our frontier and look me up,” he concluded, after sketching roughly the state of affairs. “I have always heard of it as the most tiger-ish spot in the country, and Shere Sing may well stand us a hunt in return for all the trouble he has given me. Among the hotties[2] I am taking with me for purposes of display, I have included old Pertaub Sing's trained hunter, so we ought to see some sport. By the bye, when is your appeal for my help coming? Just wait till this little business is off my hands, and I'll be with you in a jiffey.”

This sent off, and the Rani's consent to his arrangements received and acknowledged, there was the durbar to attend, at which Kharrak Singh conferred his khilats and received his nazars in the most angelic manner, and it was zealously whispered about that Sher Singh had left the city under a complete misconception of the love and affection entertained for him by his brother, which would be proved by the honourable embassy sent to command his return, and the gifts that it would carry. One of these was to be the store of gold hidden by Charteris in the Residency precincts, which Gerrard had to disinter and pack for transport when he was left alone at night, so that a very small amount of sleep was all that he enjoyed before it was time to start in the morning. Kharrak Singh appeared on the chief state elephant to ride with him out of the city, and insisted on his coming up into the howdah. Late hours, early rising, grief at parting from Gerrard, and remorse for his own share in bringing this about, had combined to make the boy's frame of mind very far from ideal, and he alternated between threatening to behead Gerrard if he went, and hanging round his neck entreating to be taken with him. When the moment of parting came, his hands had to be forcibly unclasped, and he subsided on his cushions a limp and sobbing little bundle, only restrained from screams of passion by receiving leave to open the wrappers of any illustrated papers if Gerrard's mail came in during his absence.

The journey to Adamkot was not eventful. The two highly ornamented guns which accompanied the troops stuck once or twice in crossing rivers, and had to be hauled out by the elephants, and there was continuous murmuring among the soldiers against the speed of the march and the prohibition of plundering, but Gerrard did not trouble himself. Sher Singh was travelling light and fast, and it was natural that he should gain upon them, as inquiries at the various villages on the route assured them he was doing, but if the troops could do in three days what the fugitive had accomplished in two, it would be proof positive that no time had been lost in repairing the injury done him. When they camped on the second night, it was certain that this would be achieved, and Gerrard went to bed in good spirits after making the round of his outposts. The next day would see, he hoped, a grave difficulty settled by prompt grappling with it, and would bring him the breezy company of Charteris, and possibly the promise of good sport. His sleep was dreamless until an overmastering impression that tidings of disaster were arriving hotfoot awoke him. The sound of distant horses' feet was in his ears as he raised his head from the pillow, but when he sat up and listened he could hear nothing. His servant and the orderly sleeping close at hand protested in injured tones when he called to them that he had been dreaming, and so did the sentries supposed to be keeping watch on the outskirts of the camp, to whom he sent an inquiry without much hope of success.

“If any messenger arrives from Agpur, wake me and bring him here at once,” he said as he lay down again. “Why, what a fool I am! The sound was coming the opposite way, I am sure. It must have been a dream.”

No messenger arrived, and the rest of the march to Adamkot was made the next day. It was almost sunset when Gerrard drew rein and looked up at the great fort of reddish brick towering above him. He was riding in the bed of the river Tindar, here more than a mile wide, and now dry save for one small channel. When the river was in flood, Adamkot must stand on its very brink, but at present its sheer cliff rose from an expanse of sand and mud. It occupied the point of a tongue of high land formed by the river and a ravine, also dry, and a deep ditch guarded it at the only side on which level ground approached the walls. He wondered whether it would be necessary to make a toilsome march up the side ravine to reach the entrance, but Badan Hazari, pointing to a gateway at the top of the cliff, reached by a winding ascent from the foot, told him that this was the usual means of approach when the river was low. When it was high, a drawbridge was lowered over the ditch at the back. Gerrard sent off, therefore, his selected embassy, bearing a friendly letter from himself as well as that signed by the Rani, and inviting Sher Singh to receive him, that he might deliver the gracious gifts of the Rajah.

The embassy wound up the long path, entered the gateway, and returned, without Sher Singh, but with an elderly fakir, who was introduced as the Prince's private physician. With many apologies and compliments, he informed Gerrard that his master, cut to the heart by the Rajah's behaviour, had taken to his bed as soon as he reached home, and was too ill to be disturbed. He had turned his face to the wall, said the old man dramatically, and though he had laid the letters on his brow and eyes in token of gratitude, he had not even strength to read them at present. Would his beloved friend Jirad Sahib pardon his seeming discourtesy, and return to the capital, whither he would follow as soon as the life-giving influences of his sovereign's kindness had renewed his spirit? Gerrard expressed his sorrow at the Prince's illness, but offered to visit him and read the letters aloud, at the same time investing him with the khilat. But this was refused. Sher Singh's wounded spirit could not endure the sight of a stranger at present, it seemed, and he could only express his deep regret that for so unworthy an object Jirad Sahib should have interrupted his important labours, and entreat him to waste no more of his valuable time. There was not even a word said of lodging him and his escort in the fort for the night. Gerrard's anger rose.

“I came to see Sher Singh, and here I stay till I have seen him,” he said. “We will pitch here, below the gateway, and see which of us will tire first.”

[1] Grant, patent.

[2] Hathis, elephants.

CHAPTER XI. MURDER MOST FOUL.

However unwelcome might be the presence of Gerrard and his force, Sher Singh could not, for very shame's sake, show his feelings, and a host of servants came down from the fort to point out the best camping-ground, and to bring the rasad, or free rations, necessarily provided for guests. It was evidently hoped, however, that Gerrard might change his mind after a night's rest for in the morning the fakir appeared again with fresh entreaties that he would depart, and not add to the Prince's self-reproach the burden of feeling that he was detaining him here. Gerrard replied by another demand for a personal interview, which was refused in horror, the fakir declaring that three days and nights of mental agony had reduced Sher Singh to such a wreck that it was unendurable to him to be seen until he had recovered a little. Gerrard offered suitable condolences, remarked that the sooner the Prince recovered the sooner would he himself be able to depart, and as a fairly clear sign of his intentions, devoted some hours to the improvement of his camp, to the ill-concealed disgust of his soldiers, who thought themselves entitled to a long rest after the hardships of the march. In the evening Charteris rode in, lean and tanned to an even deeper pink than before, attended by a new bodyguard he was raising from among his reformed robbers, who looked by no means reformed, and were Mohammedans to a man. The arrangements of the camp had to be altered again, to allow these children of nature to encamp close to their commander's tent, for the double purpose of keeping the Granthis from interfering with them, and preventing them from attacking the Granthis. Badan Hazari was highly contemptuous of this new departure on Charteris's part, and ostentatiously pitched his men's tents in similar fashion near Gerrard's, to protect him, as he said, in case those rascally thieves should try to murder him in the night. Their own Sahib might be able to trust them, since he had nothing they would care to steal, but the acting-Resident of Agpur was a person of importance, and his life was valuable.

Having seen their followers bestowed as well as might be, Charteris and Gerrard settled down to a good talk, in which the present situation, as was natural, bulked largely. At first Charteris was inclined to think that things need not have gone so far.

“You'll laugh me to scorn,” he said, “but I give you my word I'd have rode after Sher Singh, just as I was, the moment I heard he had levanted, and caught him up on the road.”

“Or been caught by him, and held as a hostage.”

“No, I would have done it before he got to cover here, and brought him back dead or alive.”

“To find that the army and the Durbar had made common cause against the Rani—perhaps even that she and Kharrak Singh had been judiciously removed.”

“That's what it is to have a mind that sees both sides of a question,” said Charteris good-humouredly. “Now I should only have thought of securing Sher Singh, and I'd have done it if I died for it. Whereas you have left everything in inspection order, and can sit dharna[1] on his doorstep for just as long as he can stand seeing you there.”

“My patience has its limits,” said Gerrard, smiling. “If the illness refused to yield to the fakir's treatment, it might become necessary to send for a European physician from Ranjitgarh, and to blow in the gates that he might be able to visit his patient. But I hope Sher Singh will see fit to recover without our using such drastic remedies.”

“Oh, you have him in the hollow of your hand—I don't presume to doubt it. When your letter came, I had a lurking suspicion that it might be a veiled call for co-operation again, but I see I was wrong.”

“You forget it's your turn to call upon me. But I'll tell you where you can help me, Bob. I want to give these precious troops of mine a little active work in the way of war-manoeuvres, as the Prussians call them. The lazy beggars have got abominably soft since Partab Singh's death, with nothing to do but exhibit their lovely selves in the streets, and mutiny for increased pay to settle their tavern-scores. There's plenty of room here, and good scope, and besides, the sight will be interesting and cheering for Sher Singh. Let's take 'em in hand.”

“I'm your man. But,” with a wry face, “what about the tiger-hunting?”

“Oh, we'll get that in. Sher Singh sent word this afternoon that he hoped I would show my forgiving disposition by deigning to allow him to provide me with a little sport, and I had his head shikari here just before you came. He said that owing to Sher Singh's prowess as a shot on his visits to his father-in-law, tigers are much rarer round here than I thought, and wanted me to go a day's journey to find a likely spot, but I told him he must produce one within a decent distance or be for ever disgraced. So it's a bandobast,[2] and the beast is to be forthcoming to-morrow or the day after.”

The next day was spent in military operations, uncheered by any touch of sport, but on the second day after Charteris's arrival the shikari brought news of a tiger not unreasonably remote, and the two Englishmen stopped work early, and went off on the hunting-elephant, attended by the wild men from Darwan as beaters, lest they should quarrel with the Agpuris if they were left together. The tiger was duly killed, to the intense admiration—almost adoration—of the shikari, who entreated even with tears that the sahibs would allow him to guide them further, to the spot already mentioned to Gerrard, where, to judge from his description, tigers were popping in and out of a particular patch of jungle like rabbits. Charteris was strongly tempted, and urged that they could make the journey in the night by pressing the elephant a little, shoot a few tigers before breakfast, and return during the day, but Gerrard was firm. He did not intend to allow Sher Singh such an opportunity for tampering with the troops, innocent as he might seem to be of any desire to do so. They rode back, therefore, squabbling amicably as to whose bullet had really given the coup de grâce, and discussing whether the skin should be mounted as a rug or merely cured.

Their elephant was descending into the river-bed, and the walls and towers of Adamkot were dominating in dusky red the landscape to their right, when Gerrard uttered an exclamation, and pointed out a small body of mounted men surrounding an elephant, who were approaching their camp from the opposite side.

“From Agpur!” he said. “Who can be coming? A woman's howdah, too! Why, it looks to me like Bijli, the best hotty in the stables. I would have brought her with me if I hadn't known that the others couldn't keep pace with her. Bob, I'm afraid there's something up.”

“You underrate your own importance, old boy. They can't do without you in the city, and the Rani has come in person to fetch you back.”

“Oh, stop your chaff! No, but I daresay Kharrak Singh has insisted on coming, and she has sent him in a closed howdah, so as to be safer. He was uncommon set on coming with me. I wouldn't hear of it, but he may have teased her into giving her consent.”

They entered the camp, and descended from their elephant in the space before their tents, just as the other elephant and its escort were challenged at the outskirts. Charteris and Gerrard both saw the curtains of the howdah put aside, and a head, apparently that of a woman, thrust forth. They could not hear what was said, but the newcomers were instantly allowed to pass, and staring soldiers began to gather and follow behind them. All eyes were turned on the two Englishmen as they went forward, but no one said anything, though it seemed to Gerrard that there was a feeling of awe in the air.

“It must be either the Rani or Kharrak Singh, for there are Amrodh Chand and the Rajputs,” he murmured to Charteris. “And Rukn-ud-din in command of a scratch lot of guardsmen from all four troops! What is this, Komadan-ji?” he inquired of the officer.

“It is an order, sahib, but the mouth of this slave is shut,” replied Rukn-ud-din, wheeling his men apart to allow the elephant to advance. It knelt down, and two or three zenana attendants, who had been riding behind, came forward and helped a veiled female figure to descend.

“Is it the Rani?” whispered Charteris eagerly.

“How should I know? I have never seen her,” said Gerrard impatiently. “I shall know when she speaks, I suppose. But look at her cloth, half brown and half white! Has she gone mad, to show herself to the troops in this way? No pardah, no sheets!”

“Perhaps she will go into one of the tents,” suggested Charteris, as much puzzled as his friend, and Gerrard advanced hesitatingly, unable to conceive why the troops did not actively resent this unheard-of violation of etiquette. The veiled figure stood solitary against the gorgeous trappings of the kneeling elephant, but there were still two or three women in the howdah, as he could tell by their whispering. The widow's white garments made it probable that the one on the ground was the Rani, but what was the extraordinary stain which disfigured one end of her veil? Perhaps her silence arose from horror at finding herself stranded in public view instead of being properly conducted from howdah to tent without allowing onlookers a glimpse of the passage. He spoke with diffidence, keeping his eyes on the ground.

“There are tents at the service of the great one who has arrived. Is it an order that she be conducted thither?”

“No!” cried the woman fiercely, dashing the veil from her face. “Henceforth the mother of Partab Singh Rajah's son is no longer pardah, but lives for vengeance the few hours that remain to her. Avenge me, O Jirad Sahib! avenge me, O soldiers of Partab Singh! avenge me on the man who has left me childless, the slayer of his brother!”

“But when was this? What has happened?” gasped Gerrard.

“Two days ago at this time. I waited only to burn the body of my son, and hastened hither for my vengeance.”

“But it is impossible, Maharaj. Kunwar Sher Singh has been ill in bed since he arrived here.”

“Has he?” The Rani's laugh rang out shrill and terrible. “It is easy to deceive some men. Let Jirad Sahib send now for Sher Singh, and see if he comes.”

Gerrard turned hastily, to find himself confronted by the fakir and two or three of Sher Singh's servants, waiting with downcast eyes. “Why are you here?” he demanded of them.

“Sahib, we bear a message from our lord, who desired to know what fortune your honours enjoyed to-day in hunting. Seeing you return so early, he feared the sport had been poor.”

“Go instantly, and bid the Prince return hither with you,” said Gerrard brusquely.

“But your honour knows he is laid upon his bed, and cannot rise.”

“Then bring him on his bed. His life depends upon it. If he is not here in half an hour, I will blow in the gates and come and fetch him myself.”

“It is an order!” said Sher Singh's servants in chorus, and withdrew. Gerrard turned back to the Rani.

“Your Highness has proof of what you say?”

“This much of proof. Two days ago Sarfaraz Khan—may an evil ghost haunt him from henceforth!—came to me with a tale that the guards were discontented by reason of the favour shown to the rest of the army. I promised to do what I could, and went into the room where my jewels are kept, to see if I had anything left that might satisfy them. Kneeling before a coffer, I heard my son shriek without, but when I ran to see what ailed him, certain of my women—daughters of shame, whose end is even as they deserved—pushed me back into the room, and held the door against me. I heard my son fleeing and calling to me for succour, and the clash of the weapons of those that pursued him in silence. I heard him cry, 'O brother, slay me not!' and I heard his moans as they struck. And though I tore at the door until my hands ran down with blood, I could not move it, until the murderers were safely departed. Then the door yielded suddenly, and I came out, to find my son lying dead in his blood. I called my own servants and swore them to vengeance, dipping in the blood their swords and this cloth of mine, which I will wear until the innocent blood is washed out in the blood of him that shed it, and first I bade them slay the women that had befooled me and held me back from dying with my son. Then I gave orders for the burning of my son's body, for fear the murderers should be minded to add insult to their crime, and I called together the Durbar and the heads of the army, and bade them search the city for Sher Singh, and offer a reward for him, dead or alive. But they refused, and mocked me, saying that Sher Singh was now Rajah, and their obedience was his. Then I reviled them to their faces—speaking unveiled, as one minded to mount the pyre and be consumed with the body of my son, could I but be assured of vengeance—and called upon those who remained faithful to follow me. This man Rukn-ud-din and these few sowars were all that came, and when we had burnt the body of my son, we took up his ashes and departed—many desiring to stop us, but no man caring to strike the first blow—to ride hither and demand justice on Sher Singh. And this, O Jirad Sahib, was Kharrak Singh, my son.”

She swept aside the discoloured veil, and showed a brazen vessel filled with ashes, which she carried clasped to her breast. “This was my son, Jirad Sahib and soldiers of Partab Singh. Foully has he been cut off, before he could raise up a posterity to perform his funeral rites. By the innocent blood and the dishonoured ashes, I call upon you for vengeance.”

“If it can be shown that Sher Singh has committed this murder, justice shall indeed be done upon him, Maharaj,” said Gerrard. “But I think you will find that he has not left this place.”

“Then to whom did my son call out 'Brother'?” she demanded fiercely. “You will not find him.”

“The Prince!” burst from the surrounding soldiers, and all turned towards the gateway of the fort, where a little group of men could be seen. A palanquin was brought out, and the bearers carried it swiftly down the winding path. Almost unconsciously the crowd below pressed forward to the foot of the cliff. The palanquin reached the bottom and stopped, and the fakir, who had followed it, opened the curtains and helped out a bent figure—unmistakably Sher Singh. A shriek broke from the Rani.

“He has outridden me and reached this place first!” she cried. “See his weakness, his deathly aspect. What but four days and nights of riding could account for it?”

Disregarding her words, Sher Singh turned with dignity to Gerrard. “What does my friend Jirad Sahib require of me?” he asked mildly. “At his command I have risen from my bed, weak and faint with illness though I am. My servants tell me that my brother is dead. Is my blood desired also?”

“Your brother died calling upon you to spare him,” said Gerrard.

“And is the life of a man to hang upon the cry of a terrified child?” asked Sher Singh, with the same dignified meekness. “Nay, if he cried out 'Brother!' would he not say the same to any man of Granthi stock? Jirad Sahib knows our customs, and that it is our wont to speak thus to one another.”

“The matter must be properly tried,” said Gerrard. “Your Highness sees”—he turned to the Rani—“that there is no proof against the brother of your son. Let me entreat you to retire to the tent prepared for you, and rest.”

The Rani waved him back with a contemptuous gesture. “I have asked for no trial,” she cried; “I demand justice. Here to his face I accuse Sher Singh of having ridden secretly to Agpur and murdered my son, his brother, and then returned hither in haste that he might give the lie to my words. Who is on my side? Who will slay this wretch for me? Jirad Sahib?”

“Maharaj, I can do nothing until the whole matter has been inquired into and fairly decided.”

“Oh, words, words! such as the English ever speak, and do nothing until it is too late! You then, soldiers of Partab Singh Rajah! Will you see your king's son murdered unavenged? Avenge me on his murderer!”

No one moved, but from the back of the crowd a murmur arose which swelled into a cry, “Sher Singh Rajah! Sher Singh Rajah!” The Rani started as if she had been stung.

“Will you set this wretch before my eyes on the gaddi from which he has swept his father and his brother?” she shrieked. “Can the heavens look down on such a sight of shame, and not grow black?”

The soldiers cowered before her, but a short thick-set man pushed his way to the front. “I am not wise,” he said, and a laugh answered him, “but a plain man may ask questions that the learned cannot answer. Her Highness desires us to slay Sher Singh. For whose benefit? say I. She says he is a murderer, but even if it were so—which I see no cause to believe—he is the last of Partab Singh's house. To whom should the kingdom fall, if he were slain? To her Highness herself—who might then be less desirous of death? To her friends the English? perhaps to Jirad Sahib—who would not be the first to owe a throne to a woman's favour. Not one of these has any cause to desire the death of Sher Singh, of course—I lay my hand upon my mouth for having even uttered the thought—but who then does desire it? Not the soldiers of Partab Singh, say I.”

“And thou sayest well, brother!” burst from the soldiers. “Sher Singh Rajah! We will set him on the gaddi, and by the might of the Guru! if the English interfere, we will fight them.” Out of the tumult in the ranks a high thin voice rose above the rest. “Back to the zenana, shameless one! Wilt thou disgrace thy lord, as she of Ranjitgarh doth daily?”

The two Englishmen and their followers moved towards the Rani to protect her, but she waved them back with measureless contempt, then turned upon the jeering soldiers with eyes glowing like live coals.

“Truly Jirad Sahib spoke well when he warned me that you, for whom I have stripped myself of the very jewels of my marriage-portion, designed only to play me false. Ai Guru! what a lot is mine, to dwell in a land where the men are as women, even as those that sell themselves for gain! Hear then the curse of the widow, the childless one. Behold the unavenged ashes of my son!” she thrust forth the brazen urn. “As I cover them from your unworthy sight with the cloth stained with his innocent blood”—sweeping her veil over it—“so shall the blood of Agpur extinguish the burning embers of her houses. As you have cried shame upon me, seeking to avenge my dead, so shall your childless mothers and your widowed wives find shame in seeking to avenge you, and the death of honour shall be denied them. For innocent blood shall the doom come, though my eyes shall not behold it, and through these two Feringhees”—she indicated Gerrard and Charteris—“who shall execute justice on the murderer in the day when they shall make a road for a corpse through the great wall of Agpur.”

“The doom is easily averted, if only by slaying the two Feringhees and the woman here and now,” said the short man who had stood forth as Sher Singh's champion, but this time his words did not meet with the former ready response.

“Aye, do so,” said the Rani coolly, “and bring the English down upon you to fulfil the curse as soon as it is uttered.”

She faced the ready weapons defiantly, but Sher Singh, who had been sitting drooping upon the edge of the palanquin, apparently too weak either to defend himself or to interfere to prevent a massacre, now summoned strength again and interposed.

“The army has spoken truth,” he said. “I am Rajah, grievous as is the cause that brings me to the gaddi, and evil as shall be the fate of the murderers of my brother. Against Jirad Sahib I bear no malice for his doubts of me, for he has been led astray by the bitter tongue of a woman crazed with grief. She demands vengeance; I will be her avenger, as is fitting, since my father was her husband. In my house she will receive due honour as his widow, and it will fare ill with any man who speaks of shame in connection with this day. Let her Highness be conducted back to her elephant and carried into the fort, where a suitable reception awaits her.”

“Not unless she wills it,” said Gerrard firmly. “Where does your Highness choose to dwell?” he asked of the Rani, who stood waiting impassively.

“I have no desire to live save for vengeance, but my life would last but an hour or two within those walls,” she said calmly.

“Where would your Highness prefer to go?”

“I would fain entrust my son's ashes to Mother Ganga, and visit Kashi in pilgrimage. That is my desire.”

“It shall be done. Will your Highness permit Lieutenant Charteris to escort you to Ranjitgarh?” He looked round for Charteris, intending to present him, but he had slipped away a moment before. “At Ranjitgarh the Resident will charge himself with your safety.”

“What Jirad Sahib suggests is impossible,” said Sher Singh with determination. “My izzat”—a convenient term, covering most things from self-esteem to family honour—“would be destroyed if my father's wife wandered away from my house.”

“The choice lies with her Highness,” said Gerrard. “Let her servants decide whether they will serve her or Sher Singh Rajah.”

The Rajputs stepped over to their mistress's side at once, and so did Rukn-ud-din and most of his troopers, but some even of these who had accompanied the Rani from Agpur preferred to worship the riding [Transcriber's note: rising?] sun. Sher Singh smiled unpleasantly.

“Since I am so many, and he so few, Jirad Sahib will not force me to defend my izzat with the sword?”

“I begin to think that it needs a good deal of defending,” said Gerrard meaningly, “but that will not be done by attacking me. I shall attend the Rani Sahiba to Ranjitgarh myself.”

[1] Starving oneself to force a debtor to pay.

[2] Fixture.

CHAPTER XII. THE ONE WHO WAS TAKEN.

“Have you cleared out a tent for the Rani, Bob? I was going to ask you to do it, but when I looked for you, you had disappeared.”

“Yes, she and her women are safely secluded. But what I really made myself scarce for was to secure the guns.”

“Old boy, you are a genius! They won't dare to try and stop us now.”

“Us? That sounds good. I hoped you would see the folly of ramming your head into the lion's mouth by going back to Agpur with Sher Singh.”

“He's uncommon anxious that I should—been trying to persuade me all this time. First he followed me himself, and then he sent the fakir, and then Ibrahim Khan.”

“I'm not surprised. You would be a particularly welcome guest at Agpur just now, but whether the visit would be quite as agreeable to you as to your entertainers, I take leave to doubt. Have you forgot that you know the secret of the treasury, and Sher Singh don't?”

“I had forgotten. As a matter of fact, I have promised to go back as soon as I have seen the Rani to Ranjitgarh.”

“I believe you, my boy! But I wonder whether Sher Singh does. By the way, what becomes of our oaths, and the treasure, now that Kharrak Singh, whom it was intended to benefit, is no more?”

“I really don't know. The question did not arise.”

“Well, my base material mind would have asked it first thing. Can hardly go to the Rani, I suppose, can it? or be divided between two deserving young officers in the Company's army? Perhaps in time to come Sher Singh may leave a descendant to whom we can honourably confide the secret. But meanwhile, Sher Singh has his accomplices to pay, and the treasure would come in very handy. I suppose you ain't labouring under any romantic delusion as to his innocence?”

“It would be hopeless, I fear. If he had merely planned the murder from here, he would certainly have accorded me the interview I asked for, so as to secure an unassailable alibi. But I can't help seeing that unless one of the accomplices confesses, which is highly unlikely, it will be next to impossible to bring it home to him. Poor little Kharrak Singh! I give you my word, Bob, I really was most uncommon fond of that little chap. He used to sit opposite me like little Dombey—I showed him the picture when last mail came in, and he laughed like anything—and say the most old-fashioned things. I'm glad Antony ain't likely to send me back to Agpur. I should be thinking that I saw him all about the place.”

“I'm jolly glad you don't feel yourself pledged to return.”

“Sort of nineteenth-century Regulus? Well, that'll depend upon my orders, of course, and I don't take 'em from Sher Singh. Not that we have had any rupture. I told him quite politely that I could hold no further communication with him until the Rani was safe at Ranjitgarh, and that we start to-morrow morning.”

“Quite so. Hal, a minute or two ago you paid me a very handsome compliment. Hang compliments! says I, and show a little confidence. Will you take my advice, and while making elaborate, even ostentatious, preparations for starting to-morrow morning, set off tonight instead?”

“My dear fellow, have you gone quite mad?”

“There's a prodigious deal of method in my madness. Say that Sher Singh, in confab with his friends, or his own uneasy conscience, begins to perceive the extreme improbability of your returning quietly into the lion's mouth once you are safely out of it. Do you think he won't harden his heart like Pharaoh, and refuse to let you go?”

“It's possible, of course. But I fail to see how you would conduct a moonlight flitting from the heart of his camp.”

“That's my artfulness, my dear Hal. We can't hope to slip away unnoticed, I grant you. But I do believe we can take 'em by surprise, and walk out before they can combine to stop us. We have the guns, and the hotties, which would be useful in breaking a path, and those two facts may even induce them to let us go without a fuss. Otherwise I should have proposed spiking the guns, which are in a state of rottenness calculated to do more harm to us than to the enemy, and leaving the hotties, taking the women behind us on our horses. But if by making an awe-inspiring impression we can get away without a fight, it's just as well under the circumstances—especially as the Rani has promised us our fill of gore later on. I should say, start as soon as the moon rises, in two hours or so. We can't go at once, because the Rani's hotty and the one we have been using all day will require a little rest, or I should have advised that.”

“But Sher Singh will simply follow and attack us on the march, and he has the big battalions.”

“Now look here, Hal. You'll allow that I know something of the country through which I came two days ago? Two marches will take us well into Darwan, where Sher Singh don't dare follow us, or he will have the Darwanis up round him like a hive of bees. The place where he will try to stop us is a rough jungly bit about half-way—one of the disputed boundary districts. We must get through it by daylight. Six hours' forced march to-night will bring us nearly to it. We halt for another two hours' rest, and then press on at once. Once through that bit we are practically safe. Marching morning and afternoon we should not reach it till evening, and during the night Sher Singh would have ample time to lay an ambush for us. If we take him by surprise, any thoughtful preparations on his part must be fairly sketchy in character.”

“I see your point. But no one can help knowing we are starting at once when they see the tents being struck.”

“Then leave 'em standing. You can take your clothes and your papers and your hair-brushes, and sacrifice the rest. Oh, I know you are still dragging about with you the chest of drawers you got for the cabin when we came out, and the long chair you bought at Madeira——”

“Nonsense!” said Gerrard, rather vexed. “But I like my own things about me, I confess.”

“The very reason why you should be deprived of 'em! You won't know the proper wilderness spirit till you are. What's a chair? Something to sit on when the ground's dirty or swampy. A table? Something to eat off or write at when there ain't a flat rock handy. Not friends—not pieces of yourself—which is what you make of 'em. Release yourself from this tyranny of material things—as your pater used to quote Socrates or some other old codger as saying. We don't want tents, and the women must do with the howdah.”

“All right; have it your own way. We'll start to-night.”

“Give your secret orders to that effect to Badan Hazari, then. You'll find that my Darwanis have been already tipped the wink, and the women too, and the fires are being kept low so as not to shed too much light upon our movements.”

“I am much honoured in placing myself at the disposal of so far-sighted a commander,” said Gerrard, a little stiffly, as he saluted. Charteris laughed, and clapped him on the back with a friendly force no stiffness could survive.

“Ain't we too old friends to stand on our dignity with each other, Hal? I have taken a lot upon myself, I confess it, but you are in command here, and I know it as well as you do. Jolly cheeky of me to offer you advice, of course, but I couldn't see you rushing into destruction without hinting at the fact.”

“I know. It's all right, old boy. Well now, will you lead the advance, as a favour to me?”

“Hal, you're a brick. No, I won't. You go first, with your own Granthis, whom you have well in hand, I suppose? at any rate, they won't fire unless you give the word. Then Rukn-ud-din, with the guns and hotties—and incidentally the women—and then your humble servant with the Darwanis. If they led, they would fire right and left for pure devilry, but being in the rear, I think I can make them see the necessity of waiting till they are attacked.”

The evening meal had been hurriedly despatched during the course of this conversation, and Gerrard now went out to summon Badan Hazari and give him his orders, while Charteris saw to the packing of such of their joint possessions as were not too heavy to impede a hasty flight. The moon had barely risen when the column formed up for the march, Gerrard and his men leading, the Agpuris, with the women, elephants, guns and baggage in the centre, and Charteris with his Darwanis bringing up the rear. He had taken the precaution to warn the sentries round the tents to turn back any coolie who might try to creep out and carry information to the main camp, while any outsider dropping in for a little friendly conversation was to be gently but firmly detained, and this, with the ruse of leaving the tents standing, kept Sher Singh's men completely in the dark. There was a wild scene of confusion when they realised what was happening, tomtoms beating, trumpets sounding, and men rushing together, but the compact body of matchlockmen with their matches lighted, and troopers with drawn swords, looked so formidable that beyond firing a stray shot or two, the army made no opposition to their progress. The Darwanis were wildly desirous to reply to the random shots with a volley, but Charteris succeeded in keeping them in hand, and the column ploughed its way steadily across the sand of the river-bed, and up the bank on the opposite side. The country was fairly open here, but Gerrard sent out scouts in front and flanking-parties on either side, to guard against a determined rush, which might be deadly in its result if Sher Singh were less easily hoodwinked than he seemed. Two of the Darwanis who knew the country well from past raids, and had guided Charteris as he came, rode ahead to show the way, and the column tramped on doggedly in the moonlight, the great lurching forms of the elephants casting strange shadows by the way.

After a long day's hunting, and an evening so full of excitement, Gerrard found it difficult not to sleep as he rode. In fact, his mind was asleep, though his eyes were open and keenly surveying the landmarks, which persisted in assuming the form of advancing masses of troops, or exhibiting lights where no lights were. He found relief occasionally in riding back a little to whip up stragglers, but it gave him unfeigned pleasure when, after what seemed untold hours of marching, Charteris pricked forward to tell him that they were now within a mile of the “bad bit,” and had better halt where they were until dawn. But Gerrard had no mind to give in too soon.

“You don't think it would be well to press on and push through at one go, Bob? The men don't seem at all done up,” he felt it his duty to say.

Charteris hesitated a moment. “No, I don't,” he said. “If Sher Singh is occupying the bad bit at all, his men are there already—sent off probably while he kept you in talk after the big flare-up—for it would be no good despatching them after we had started. Don't it strike you as queer that they have made no motion to harass our rear? I imagine they are holding back till they can catch us between two fires. If you agree with me, let us give the beasts a rest and a feed here, and send two or three of my beggars scouting ahead.”

Gerrard consented, and they saw that the horses were picketed so as to provide a barrier against a sudden rush, made the men lie down with their weapons beside them, posted sentries all round the bivouac, and agreed to keep watch for an hour each, to ensure the sentries not going calmly to sleep. Gerrard, who felt wide-awake again now after talking and walking about, insisted on taking the first watch, which passed uneventfully. Then he called Charteris, and dropping into the hollow which the latter had scooped for himself in the sand, was asleep in a moment, only to be waked, as it seemed, in another moment, by his friend's shaking him vigorously.

“Time to get up, Hal! No shaving-water, so don't look round in that bewildered way. You'd arrive at Ranjitgarh with a beard—a fine, flowing, patriarchal, even prophetic beard, like what Ronaldson has taken to sport—if this sort of thing went on long. He paid me a visit when he was passing through to his district, and I assure you I was immensely taken with his new adornment. It would be perfectly killing among the ladies, I'm sure—throw our poor whiskers and moustaches horribly into the shade. Talk of owls! I never saw any one stare like you. This, my young friend, is a cup of tea, and this is a hard-boiled egg—the best choti haziri our chaps can manage—and the animal beside you, looking astonished at your laziness, is your horse, vulgarly termed a quad. But give me your hand, old boy, and let me haul you up to take part in this epicurean meal.”

“You're in spirits to-day, Bob,” observed Gerrard, with a mighty yawn, as he accepted the tin cup.

“Ray-ther, just a few! There's a rare good fight in front of us, Hal—or else a very fine piece of strategy, which is almost as satisfactory when you have women to look after. Sher Singh's fellows are in occupation of the bad bit, as I suspected—posted on both sides of the track. But—and here comes in the possibility of strategy—there's another path besides that one, and I told my scouts to investigate its practicability. They report that it's passable for hotties, which is what I was inclined to doubt, but they don't think we shall ever get the guns up there. Here's your problem, then, my budding Wellington. Do we fight our way through by the ordinary track—in view of the condition of our guns I omit the alternative of shelling the enemy out of their hiding-places first—or do we take up position with the guns before the mouth of the defile and make a feint there, while the hotties are going round the other way? We might even fire the guns once or twice with reduced charges before spiking them and leaving them there to cumber the ground, while we make ourselves scarce and overtake the rest.”

“You know which it must be before asking me,” said Gerrard mournfully. “We daren't risk taking the women through a running fight in the defile, especially if, as you said last night, Sher Singh is hanging on our heels as well. I'll take the guns and my Granthis and look after the feigned attack, while you get the women through behind the enemy's back, and are ready to support us with the Darwanis if Sher Singh turns up.”

“All right,” said Charteris shortly.

“You want the fight, I know. But would you be satisfied with a feint so long as the guns didn't burst? Not you, old boy; I know you. You would hang on to that defile, or more probably get half-way through it, until Sher Singh came up behind you and your retreat was cut off. You shall do rear-guard again when we rejoin, and as that is when the real fight will probably come, I can't do better for you.”

It was still only twilight when Gerrard and his men, with the two field-pieces drawn by bullocks, left the bivouac for the mouth of the defile, with one of the Darwani guides to pioneer for them. Another of these men was to remain on the hillock where the halt had been made, to watch for any sign of pursuit from the Adamkot direction, and bring the news instantly if any appeared. Charteris and the main body, with the elephants, struck to the right of Gerrard's line of march to gain the other path, and that their intention might not become apparent to the liers-in-wait, Gerrard halted his guns as soon as he was within possible range of the mouth of the defile, and with fear and trembling discharged them both, by way of giving the enemy something to think about. The guns did not burst, and though the shot fell far short, in consequence of the reduced charges, they drew an excited matchlock fire from the men in ambush, which did no harm, but showed their positions. The guns moved on, and Gerrard found excellent places for them in some rocky ground thick with thorny bushes, while his matchlockmen exchanged long shots with the concealed enemy. The fire of the field-pieces seemed to have an impressive moral effect, preventing any desire of coming out into the open on the enemy's part, but was unsuccessful in turning them out of their hiding-places, which were in the cliffs overlooking the track. Gerrard advanced his sharp-shooters and changed the position of the guns from time to time, but the sun was growing hot, his men were grumbling loudly because he would not allow them to charge the defenders, and he was glad to see that the time he had fixed with Charteris for his withdrawal was approaching. His men were recalled from the front two or three at a time, the remainder keeping up a brisk fire to delude the enemy and divert their minds, and when all were withdrawn, the two cannon were spiked, and a start made across the rocky ground towards the right. Before they had gone far, the scout left at the bivouac came riding in hot haste to say that he had seen a great cloud of dust advancing from the direction of Adamkot, and evidently concealing a large force of horsemen hastening towards the sound of the firing. This was vexatious, as they would probably arrive at the spiked field-pieces and divine the truth long before the ambush in the defile would be emboldened by the silence to creep down and see what had happened, and Gerrard hurried his men on. It was difficult to hasten, however, over the rough ground and through the thorny bushes, while it was inadvisable to venture out upon the plain lest they should be seen, and the horsemen sweep down upon them. The cloud of dust was quite visible now, whenever a break in the jungle gave a view of the plain, and Gerrard found himself wondering whether the pursuers had a man of Charteris's type or of his own in command of them. He could not help hoping it might prove to be his own.

Before it seemed possible that the deserted guns could have been found, examined, and the correct deductions drawn, the shouts of the pursuing horsemen could be heard as they raced along the level ground of the plain, seeking for their prey. It was impossible that they should not discern the movements of Gerrard's men, but they could not charge through the jungle, and when they came near enough, he halted and gave them a volley. The sight of horses and men rolling over checked them for a moment, but he wondered how long it would be before they thought of pushing forward a party to intercept him in front. Almost as the idea crossed his mind, a dropping fire broke out from among the bushes in advance, and he realised that Charteris was waiting for him. The horsemen drew off when they saw they were opposed by a larger body than they expected, and Charteris emerged from a lair in the bushes and came up to his friend.

“On with you, Hal!” he cried cheerily. “Rukn-ud-din and the hotties are halted till you come up, for fear the enemy should be waiting for them at the other end of the defile. I'll retreat upon you gradually, and keep these beggars back.”

“All right!” and Gerrard and his men, now on more open ground, were able to urge their horses to something beyond a walk. The so-called path was very rugged, and he wondered how they had been able to get the elephants along it at all. Indeed, when he reached them, the mahouts were complaining loudly, and making much display of the wounded feet of their charges. The nearer sound of firing behind showed that Charteris's force was nearly up, and Gerrard, sending back a messenger to see whether he was hard pressed, led the main body on, disregarding the grumblers. Charteris returned answer that he was getting along all right, but warned Gerrard again of a possible rush when the end of the path was reached, and he sent forward scouts to examine the ground. A burst of firing ahead was his first intimation that Charteris's fears were justified, and two out of the five scouts came scurrying back to say that the enemy had evidently evacuated the defile, and were awaiting the fugitives here. As there was no narrow mouth to hold, however, they could not command the path from above, and were merely lying hidden among the rocks and bushes on either side. Gerrard ordered his men to hold their fire in case of a rush, and was glad he had done so—unpleasant as was the storm of bullets drawn upon the column by the easy mark offered by the elephants—when he saw that a body of the enemy were actually posted in front to block his way. Only one plan was now possible, and he gave orders to Rukn-ud-din and Badan Hazari that when the proper moment came, the horsemen should open out and allow the elephants to break a path. At the sound of his whistle the horsemen faced outwards, and on either side fired a volley into the bushes, while the elephants were urged on. For a moment the enemy stood their ground, and the bullets which met the great beasts maddened them. Trumpeting loudly, they rushed through the opposing ranks, all but one, and the rout was completed by the swords of the horsemen who followed.

It was the hunting-elephant, driven frantic by a bullet in a specially tender spot, which broke the line and turned sideways, overthrowing two Granthis and their horses as she did so. The mahout, with voice and goad, tried manfully to get her back into the path, but there was a moment's wild confusion, in the midst of which Gerrard became aware of a mob of wild Darwanis, their garments flying, charging down upon his rear.

“They have broken through! Our Sahib is slain—Chatar Sahib—the Red Sahib!” they yelled. “Fly for your lives!”

Gerrard spurred back impetuously to stop them, under a hail of bullets from the enemy rallying in the bushes. A sudden numbing pain in his arm made him drop the reins, and he had only time to realise that Sher Singh's pursuing horsemen were on the heels of the fugitives before their rush swept him from the saddle, and he went down into a cruel welter of hoofs. Then all was silence.

When he recovered consciousness, he was lying helpless, and as he thought bound, in an elephant's howdah. An attempt at movement showed him that he was not bound, but bruised and wounded from head to heel.

“Heaven-born!” said a voice at his side, and he distinguished the tones of Munshi Somwar Mal. “Now do the roses bloom again in the garden of joy, since your honour lives!”

“But Charteris Sahib—the Rani—every one?” murmured Gerrard, trying to remember what had happened.

“The Rani Sahiba saw your honour fall, and herself took command of the soldiers, bidding them die rather than fail to recover your body. Sirdar Badan Hazari was killed, fighting very valiantly, and the Komadan Sahib Rukn-ud-din now leads the troops.”

“But Charteris Sahib—what of him, I say?”

“Alas, sahib! The Rani Sahiba bade return to look for him when the foe were driven back, but none were found alive save a wounded Darwani, who had seen Chatar Sahib's body thrown over a horse and carried away.”

CHAPTER XIII. THE ONE WHO WAS LEFT.

“My dear, I wish you would take that unfortunate young Gerrard in hand.” Mr James Antony, acting-Resident at Ranjitgarh owing to the absence of his brother on sick-leave, wore a worried look as he entered his wife's room.

“I will do what I can, love, but I am never quite sure how to approach these young men. If only dear Theodora were here——” Mrs James was alluding to her sister-in-law, Mrs Edmund Antony.

“Oh, if Ned and his wife were here, the trouble would be at an end,” said James Antony, with his big laugh. “I can't begin an interview by blowing a man up sky-high, and end it by falling on his neck, as Ned does. I have done my best for Gerrard—more than Ned would have done, too—in commending his conduct throughout this unfortunate affair, but it don't seem to make him any happier.”

“But you cannot think your brother would have taken the part of that dreadful Sher Singh, love?”

“Ned would have seen the matter so wholly from Sher Singh's point of view as to consider him justified in killing not only poor Charteris, but Gerrard as well, for the offence of abducting his stepmother.”

“Then when Edmund returns, will he insist on forcing the unfortunate woman to go back?”

“No, my dear, he won't, for the very good reason that I have already passed her safely across the Ghara. But he will have a rod in pickle for poor Gerrard, who seems to me to have quite enough to bear already—what with his wounds and the loss of all his belongings, to say nothing of the death of his friend.”

“You don't think, James, that he feels himself to blame for poor Mr Charteris's death?”

“He's an unreasonable idiot if he does,” testily. “As if he hadn't done all that he could when he heard of it—insisting on mounting a horse and going back to look for him! When he very naturally fainted again, his people were uncommon wise in continuing the journey and bringing him here, and it's no reason for him to pull a long face. A broken arm and a complete suit of bruises ain't pleasant wear, but they are mending, and the beggar has no business to mope as he does. If he's still in love with old Cinnamond's daughter, his path is clear now, but they tell me he has made no attempt to see her.”

“Ah!” said Mrs James thoughtfully. “But he shall see her. Leave it to me, love. Don't you think,” with extreme innocence, “that it would be cheering for the poor fellow if you invited him to sit in your dufter[1] this evening? He would not be in spirits to join the party, of course, but the music might soothe him, and his friends could go in and talk to him from time to time.”

“He will be a sad kill-joy, my dear. But consider the room at your disposal for any nefarious projects of the kind.”

“Nay, James, you must do your part. Pray convey my compliments to him, and tell him I shall be sadly vexed if he refuses to come. He shall be in complete retirement there, you may say, and can slip away when he chooses.”

“I will give him his orders. Pray, is Miss Cinnamond's name to be mentioned?”

“I think not. I wish I could leave it to your discretion, love, but a fine tact is not one of your shining virtues, is it?”

“No, ma'am.” James Antony was not at all aggrieved. “To tell the truth without fear or favour is enough for me.”

“Then say nothing. Stay—could you contrive to intimate that Sir Arthur and his lady will be among the company? That should serve to prepare the young man's mind.”

“I imagine I am capable of that, my dear.”

And in truth, James Antony made the announcement with so much emphasis, and in so meaning a tone, that Gerrard would have been dull indeed had he missed its significance. Before it came he had been fighting against the duty of accepting Mrs Antony's invitation, but now his opposition collapsed suddenly. The rage for charades, which had devastated English society for ten years or more, prevailed also in India, and “Charades and Music” were promised in the corner of this evening's card. The host spoke his mind quite frankly on the nature of the entertainment, which he termed “a set of young fools dressing up and acting silly questions for old fools to answer,” and assured Gerrard that he thought no worse of him for holding back. By way of building a bridge for his retreat, however, he informed him that no sight or sound of the charades could reach the dufter, and he wished he himself could spend the evening there with him in peace and quietness. On receiving the tardy acceptance he departed hastily, much pleased with the results of his diplomacy—which would hardly have been the case had he been able to read the young man's mind. One thing had been plain to Gerrard from the first moment in which he realised fully what Charteris's death would mean to him. It set an absolute barrier between Honour and himself. He could no more take advantage of Bob's removal from the field by an accident than if he had slain him with his own hand. Having assured himself of this night and day, in waking and dreaming and semi-delirious moments, it had become such an immutable fact that he felt it was time to make Honour aware of it. He felt an unaccountable pang on realising that she would immediately perceive its reasonableness.

His first visitor in his retirement that evening was not Honour, but Mrs Jardine, who believed honestly that she had a special gift for cheering the sick. Gerrard had always been her favourite of Honour's two persistent suitors, and though she could not well in so many words congratulate him on being left without a rival, there were a good many heartening things that she could and did say. After deprecating any possible embarrassment on his part by assuring him that she came not because she liked him, but because when one had a gift it was a duty to use it, and it was a privilege to turn a gay and too probably heartless occasion of this kind into a means of doing good, she passed to her main object with a suddenness which would have seemed to some a little abrupt.

“And you have not caught one glimpse of a certain young lady yet?” Nods and becks and a mysterious archness of expression pointed the question. “My dear Mr Gerrard, she is handsomer than ever—in her own style, of course; you may take an old woman's word for it.”

“But where shall I find the old woman?” inquired Gerrard, in a desperate attempt to do what was expected of him.

Highly pleased, Mrs Jardine gave him a tap with her fan. “Oh, you quiet young men are just as naughty as the rest—with your compliments, indeed! But if I were to repeat to you what a little bird told me, you would never, never betray me?” Earnest assurances on Gerrard's part. “Well, then, I hear that Miss Cinnamond is not very happy at home!”

“I am sorry to hear it,” said Gerrard mechanically.

Mrs Jardine looked a little nonplussed. “Of course it is very sad,” she admitted. “But surely it has its brighter side? The fact is, the General and dear Lady Cinnamond are everything to each other. There is really no place for the poor girl. I confess she has made her mother wear caps like other people—makes them for her herself, I believe—instead of that extraordinary Popish veil—so like a nun's, I call it—though even she has not been able to get her to do anything to her hair.” Like most of her contemporaries, Mrs Jardine regarded it as almost indecent to display grey or white hair, and herself wore a “front” which could hardly be considered an attempt at deception, so transparently artificial was it.

“You were saying something about caps?” hazarded Gerrard, as Mrs Jardine remained silent, apparently sunk in contemplation of the persistent defects of Lady Cinnamond's appearance.

“Oh yes, of course. Dear me, what was it? Oh, I remember. Well, you see, though it is very good and loving of her to do it”—Gerrard had to cast his mind back to discover what “it” was—“and must be a great saving of expense, with the Calcutta shops so frightfully dear, and boxes from home quite out of the question—though on the General's pay and allowances, of course—— Still, as I was saying, no parents with any proper feeling would wish a girl to remain single just for that reason, would they? And she has had so many offers—which is only natural in a society like this, with Sir Arthur's position and title and everything. It must be a great blow to him, I am sure, this honour conferred on Colonel Antony.” Gerrard looked, as he felt, bewildered, not seeing the connection, since Colonel Antony had no marriageable daughter. “Oh, you haven't heard that the dear Colonel has got his K.C.B.? They are all talking about it to-night—it was in the mail that came in this afternoon.”

“I have not had time to open any newspapers,” said Gerrard wearily. “I am glad to hear it, if the Antonys are pleased.”

“Of course a mere worldly distinction of that sort could never make any real difference to dear Colonel Antony—Sir Edmund, I should say.” Mrs Jardine's tone was severe. “But as a token of his Sovereign's approbation, it must raise his position among the people here.”

“Nothing could ever raise Colonel Antony higher in the minds of the people who really know him,” said Gerrard.

“All the more reason that he should have this honour to recommend him to those who do not,” retorted Mrs Jardine triumphantly. “That is exactly what I was saying—— Dear me! what was I saying? Oh, I remember; we were discussing Lady Cinnamond's assumption of superiority—just a little out of place in the case of a foreigner—you agree with me? Well, what I was going to say was, why should Miss Cinnamond, who is not happy at home, refuse so many eligible suitors, if it was not that her heart is already engaged? There! I mustn't bore you any longer. Why, you are looking quite excited! Have I given you just one little tiny crumb of comfort? Don't thank me; doing kindnesses is my only pleasure.”

The lavender moiré antique squeezed through the doorway with much crackling of unseen starched flounces, but Gerrard had no time to analyse the effect upon himself of the news he had received. Sir Arthur Cinnamond was his next visitor, confirming the news of Colonel Antony's knighthood, and then came Captain Cowper to tell his chief that the acting-Resident was asking for him, and lingering to thank Gerrard, in the name of the whole Ranjitgarh force, for setting on foot such a capital little war as that with Agpur was bound to prove. The officer sent to bring Sher Singh to book could get no satisfaction from him, and was being kept fuming on the Agpur frontier in a most improper way, so that a punitive expedition was a practical certainty, and if Sir Arthur did not take the field in person, his son-in-law meant to get himself attached to some one who did, even if he had to go back to regimental employment.

“Marian is looking for you to take your part in this next syllable, Charles,” said a voice in the doorway, and Gerrard looked up with a start to meet Honour's clear eyes. Mrs Jardine's confidences had inspired him with a wild hope that he might find in them something he had not seen there before, but they met his with their usual bright frankness. He ought to have rejoiced, having regard to the compact he had made with himself and with Charteris's memory, but such is the inconsistency of human nature, that he did not.

“Horrid bore!” drawled Captain Cowper. “Who would ever have thought of their hunting me out here? But I shall leave my sister-in-law to amuse you, Gerrard, so you'll be the gainer.”

There was no embarrassment in Honour's manner as she took the vacated seat. “I have been so very sorry to hear of your trouble,” she said gently, only waiting for Captain Cowper to depart.

She understood, then! Was there any other girl in the world who would have understood—that not the removal of a rival, but the loss of a friend, was the dominant thought in Gerrard's mind? He murmured his thanks with difficulty.

“Would it hurt you to tell me about it?” she asked, and the flood-gates were opened. All the rankling memories which Gerrard could no more have confided to James Antony than that worthy man could have comprehended them if he had, all the unavailing self-reproach—“If I had only done this!” “If I had not said that!”—all the self-depreciation which the persistent dwelling on Charteris's qualities produced naturally in the man who differed so much from him, were poured into Honour's ear.

“And the very last evening I was fool enough to take offence because he saw quicker than I did what was the right thing to be done! Do you think he turned rusty? Not a bit of it. He took it like a brick—actually apologised for offering me advice! There was never any one like him.”

“No, I suppose not,” said Honour softly. There were tears in her eyes, but she did not ask herself whether Charteris's virtues or Gerrard's account of them had brought them there. She took it for granted that it was the former, and spoke accordingly.

“And the worst of it is, we don't realise what our friends are until we lose them,” she murmured.

“No, indeed we don't. One sees one's own unworthiness now, when it is too late—when the remembrance of what he was makes a barrier for ever——”

“A barrier—yes, of course; but a bond, too.” This was a state of mind which Honour could thoroughly understand and appreciate. A life-long romantic friendship, absolutely precluded from becoming anything more, was just what appealed to her. It suggested what may be termed the Rolandseck ideal—the hero retiring from the world to an eligible hermitage, affording an extensive view of a desirably situated nunnery, where the heroine was similarly secluded—which, with its peculiar blending of religion and sentimentality, animated so many of her favourite books. “We can never forget that we have both known him, can we? You will tell me more about him, and we will keep his memory alive when all the world has forgotten him.”

Whether the relief of unburdening his mind had served to clear her hearer's vision, or merely that the thought of the real Bob Charteris, most unsentimental of men, obtruded itself in all its incongruity with Honour's scheme for commemorating him, certain it is that instead of being grateful to her for falling in so exactly with his wishes, Gerrard was conscious of a distinct impatience. Was there no flesh and blood about the girl—no feeling, but merely sentiment? All unknown to himself, Gerrard had not been intending to suffer alone, and it was a blow to discover that what had meant to him a real and terrible renunciation was to her a mere matter of course, rather pleasurable than otherwise. He groaned as the truth forced itself upon him, and Honour looked up in alarm.

“I have done you harm—tired you,” she said anxiously. “We must have another talk when you are better. I see my mother looking for me.”

“Honour, it is time for us to go, dear,” said Lady Cinnamond, coming in, and looking “like other people,” as Mrs Jardine had said, in a huge halo of net and ribbon and flowers and blonde. Honour might make her mother's caps, but they had to be submitted for Sir Arthur's approbation, and as he was strongly of the opinion that there was nothing like roses for setting off a pretty face, the style was apt to incline to the decorated rather than the classical. Lady Cinnamond spoke kindly to Gerrard, and expressed the hope that he would look in now and then, glancing the while from him to Honour as though anxious to find something in their faces that might guide her what to say, but in vain. In sheer bewilderment she appealed to her daughter when they were alone.

“Tell me, Onora, did the poor fellow plead with you again to marry him?”

Honour turned quickly. “Oh no, mamma—how could he? Neither of us could ever think of it now.”

“That was what made you cry, then?”

“Mamma! why should it? He was telling me about poor Mr Charteris, and I realised how little I had known him. I can say it to you, mamma—it is a privilege to feel that such a man has cared for one.”

“Then if he had lived you would have married him, my poor little one?” cried her mother in dismay.

“How can I tell, mamma? One finds out these things too late. It is always so, isn't it?”

“And the poor young man who is not dead?” there was a hint of exasperation in Lady Cinnamond's voice.

“He doesn't dream of that sort of thing now. We shall always be friends, but never anything more.”

“My dearest little foolish one, there are moments when I would gladly take you by the shoulders and shake you!” cried Lady Cinnamond in vehement Spanish. Catching her daughter's astonished eye, she calmed herself forcibly and spoke in English. “If you had seen that poor young man's face as you left the room, as I did, Honour, you would know what nonsense you are talking. Refuse him if you must, but don't keep him in torture.”

“Dear mamma, you don't understand. Things are different now——”

“From what they were when I was a girl? I agree! And I prefer them as they used to be. There were your father and I, and his friends and my family trying to prevent our marriage. There were other men in the world, doubtless, but for me they simply did not exist. And we married, and people considered us very romantic. But to be romantic now, it seems, you must persist in remaining unmarried for the sake of a very worthy young man for whom you cared not a straw when he was alive!”

“I can't explain it, mamma. But one has one's feelings——”

“Quite so. And the poor Mr Gerrard has his also. But those you do not consider.”

Gerrard's ill-used feelings were still unhealed a week later, when Sir Edmund Antony, learning of the imminent danger of war with Agpur, descended from the hills like a whirlwind to take command of the situation, and incidentally to upset as many as possible of his brother's arrangements. Having learnt all that Gerrard could tell him of the circumstances, he took occasion, while his secretary was at work on the fresh orders he had hastily drafted to Nisbet, the political officer in charge of the negociations with Sher Singh, to speak on more personal matters.

“I am sorry to see this continued depression of spirits on your part, Gerrard. The sin of despondency is one to which I myself am so conspicuously prone that I dare lose no opportunity of warning others against it.”

“Forgive me, sir. Our conversation has led me to recall things so vividly——”

“True. But you feel, as you have assured me, that our friend Charteris fell in a good cause?”

“There could be no better, sir. But if only I could have died instead of him!”

Sir Edmund frowned. “These things are not in our hands. If Charteris's work was done, no efforts of yours or mine could have saved him. If your work is not done, all the powers of hell could not prevail to bring about your death.”

“But his work was not complete, sir. There was so much in him that no one realised—he had had no opportunity to display it. You and I, and one other person, have some faint idea of what he really was, but no one else can possibly know—the world can never know.”

Colonel Antony pushed back his papers. “And what then?” he asked sharply. “How dare you say that his work was not complete because the world knew nothing of it? The world! The world does not make a man great, any more than it is the world's recognition that makes his work valuable. The value of the work lies in the spirit in which it is done. I tell you”—he spoke as though to himself, with a far-away look in his eyes—“I have seen something of work and the world's recognition of it. You know the interest that I take in the history of our people in India, how my wife and I are always poking and prying among old manuscripts and records wherever we go. I have found there the histories of scores of forgotten heroes—men whose names, in any other service or any other country, would have been inscribed upon the nation's roll of honour. They marched half across India—hostile country, every foot of the way—at the head of a few hundred men, and faced and fought the might of empires at the end. They captured cities single-handed, and ruled them afterwards, and they pacified whole provinces, in spite of famine and plague and fever. Oh, they got their recognition—the thanks of the Directors, sometimes even of Parliament, swords of honour and trash of that kind. But who remembers even their names now? You will find their graves sometimes, neglected and defaced, in deserted cantonments, or the remains of their great bungalows grown over with jungle, and perhaps a legend or two will be hanging about among the natives—silly superstitious things, of no value in recalling the man as he was. They did their work, and good work—completed work, as you would say—and they had their recognition, but they are no more remembered now than Charteris will be next year, except by you and one or two more. Ah, Gerrard, we are all very anxious to see our names carved on the stones that men may remember us, but we have to learn that it is enough if God deigns even to build our bodies into the wall. If Charteris did well what he was permitted to do, he could have done no more if he had lived a hundred years.”

The rapt gaze faltered, and the soldier-mystic became the keen administrator once more.

“How much longer are you to be on the sick-list, Gerrard? I am going to send you to Darwan.”

“I shall not be able to use this arm for some time, sir. Otherwise the doctor said he would let me off in another week. But you were not suggesting that I should take up Charteris's work?”

“That is exactly what I do suggest. I have no other man to send, and no other place at this moment that is crying out for you. I should not send you to Agpur again, and you would hardly wish to go, I imagine. What is your objection to Darwan?”

“Simply that it was his work, sir. We were so different in every way—I had rather try almost anything else——”

“Do you wish to decline the post?”

“If you send me to Darwan, sir, I shall go.”

“I am not going to order you to Darwan. There is another post, by the bye, that you can have if you choose, with less responsibility and an easier life. Old Sadiq Ali of Habshiabad has been plaguing me for an officer to help him to train his army and pull the state together generally. He is a stiff-necked old ruffian, but it is a soft berth compared with Darwan. You are at liberty to choose that if you please, but if you are the man I take you for you will select Darwan and carry on the work that Charteris began. I leave it in your hands.”

“I will take Darwan, sir. I don't expect to succeed, but I will do my best.”

[1] Office, study.

CHAPTER XIV. THE IDEAL AND THE REAL.

The secretary came in with his hands full of papers, and Gerrard left the office, hardly knowing whither he went. James Antony, sitting in his shirt-sleeves among the records of his interrupted labours in another room, took a huge cheroot out of his mouth and called to him as he passed, but he muttered something unintelligible and hurried on. Up and down the stone-paved courtyard he paced, much to the perturbation of the sentry at the gateway, who found the form of madness with which the Sahib must be afflicted difficult to classify. Gerrard was wrestling with himself and with the impulse to throw up political employment altogether and go back to the routine work of his profession. When he and Charteris left Ranjitgarh together, he had envied his friend, and wished that his work also lay in the open air and among unsophisticated children of nature. But now the environment in which he had spent the past year had left its traces on him, heightening his natural tendency to proceed by sap and mine rather than by direct assault, and rendering him still less ready than before to cut Gordian knots when by any conceivable expenditure of time and patience they might ultimately be undone. In other words, his Agpur training had improved his fitness for work of the same kind, but left him worse adapted than before for the rough and ready methods necessary for the ruler of Darwan. And he was to succeed Charteris, whose success in these very rough and ready methods had been pre-eminent, and who would much have preferred to do the wrong thing at once rather than the right thing after a lengthy pause.

So much engrossed was Gerrard in his meditations that the jingling and clanking that told of the arrival of a party of horsemen at the gate of the Residency failed to attract his notice, and it was not until, as he turned in his backward and forward march, he came face to face with Bob Charteris sitting on his horse in the moonlight and solemnly regarding him, that he realised he was no longer alone. He stood speechless.

“Thought I'd wait and see how long you could keep it up—brown study as usual!” cried Charteris. “Why, I believe the beggar takes me for a ghost! Hal, old boy!” bending from the saddle he bestowed on Gerrard a most unghostly clap on the shoulder. “I'm come back to plague you; do you twig—eh?”

“Bob!” cried Gerrard, shaking hands with him rapturously. “My dear old fellow, I never was so glad in my life!”

“And I believe the fool really is glad, instead of having been thankful that his hated rival was safely out of the way,” said Charteris compassionately.

“Glad is no word for it,” said Gerrard. “Come and tell me all about yourself. I'm in the old place—you'll chum with me as usual, of course?”

“I believe you, my boy! But I must satisfy the natural curiosity of the higher powers first. I suppose it's true, as they told me at the gate, that the Colonel has come down like a wolf on the fold, and sneaked the conduct of affairs out of the hands of our Mr James?”

“Yes, he is here. You know he's got his K.C.B.?”

“Wish he had stayed up in the hills with it, then. I don't admire James Antony's taste in jokes, but his heavy hand appeals to me in connection with Sher Singh. Now I am afraid the erring brother will be received with tears of joy and forgiven on the spot and coddled afterwards, and I wanted him kept in suspense for a bit and then put on probation. He has given me some precious unpleasant moments, I can tell you. Well, you go off and prepare fatted calf and any other suitably symbolical prog you may have at hand, and I'll turn up as soon as I can.”

Munshi Somwar Mal was in waiting to escort Charteris to his quarters when he emerged from his interview with the Resident, and greeted him with genuine pleasure.

“Now do the nightingales sing once more in the groves of friendship!” he remarked. “Verily for Jirad Sahib the flame of joy has of late burned low in the lamp of life, but now the oil of Chatar Sahib's presence will replenish it until it illuminates all Granthistan.”

With similar flowery compliments he beguiled the whole way, and Charteris noted with admiration that he did not once repeat his metaphors. On the well-remembered verandah Gerrard's servant was putting the finishing touches to the supper-table, to furnish which he had raided the Resident's larder and suborned his cook, and Charteris threw himself into a chair with a sigh of satisfaction. Gerrard, moving things about energetically inside to make room for him, called out that he would come in a moment, and presently emerged and sat down opposite him.

“Well, this is just what I like—and a few over,” remarked Charteris contentedly. “So I hear you are going to sneak my job, old boy?”

“I shall hand it back to you with the utmost pleasure, Bob, as you can well guess. But tell me how it is you are here at all.”

Charteris assumed a deeply sententious manner. “You are not wholly unacquainted with the literature of our vivacious kindred across the Atlantic, I believe, Hal? Well, do you know the expression 'playing possum'? because that's what I did. I got a glancing bullet across my forehead, where this imposing scar is, just here, which stunned me at first, and must have made a ghastly-looking wound, but the unconsciousness didn't last more than a minute or two. At least, that's what I gather from seeing my precious Darwanis in full flight when I got the blood out of my eyes. Their way of conducting a retreat was always to fire a volley and then run away helter-skelter, and though I had been teaching them better manners, I always knew they would break if I wasn't there to stiffen them. I was a good deal knocked about, besides the wound on the head, and before I could manage to roll into the bushes, Sher Singh's men were back. I thought it well to appear more dead than I was, especially when I saw them going round and finishing off all our wounded that they could find. They were in a great hurry, and I gathered that your men had driven them off, and they felt it advisable to make themselves scarce. I was in full view, unluckily, and expected to get the coup de grâce every moment, but when they came to me they took me up without troubling to see whether I was alive or not, and threw me over a horse. It was not what you would call a luxurious mode of travelling, and twice I managed to drop off, feet first, hoping they would leave me lying where I was and go on in disgust. They were disgusted—highly, but their remarks made it clear that Sher Singh had ordered you and me to be brought in dead or alive, preferably alive, so I condescended to exhibit signs of life, and they hoisted me up behind one of them. That was an uncommon disagreeable ride, I can tell you.”

“I started to come back and look for you, Bob, but I couldn't get far enough.”

“Of course you couldn't. Why, this alone”—he touched the sling of Gerrard's broken arm—“shows that you were much worse hurt than I was. But I was pretty well done for, and a most gruesome object, when we came up with Sher Singh. His manners ain't exactly ingratiating at the best of times, as you have more than once remarked to me, but when he saw my unlucky hair, his language was positively improper. You see, it was my misfortune—and your very good fortune, I'm inclined to think—that I wasn't you. He even sent for water and had some of the blood washed off my face, to make sure, I suppose, that we hadn't exchanged wigs in the hope of deceiving him, and when he was quite sure who I wasn't, I expected nothing better than to be cut into little bits there and then. But some one ventured to suggest something, and he came at me with great fury and demanded whether I knew where Partab Singh's hidden treasure was. I know I ought to have struck a heroic attitude and refused to speak, but as a matter of fact, I fainted. It was horribly ill-timed, for Sher Singh is bound to believe for ever that it was sheer terror of his alarming aspect that did it, but it was precious fortunate for me, for when I woke up I was in a palanquin, and they had tied up my head and looked after me a bit. Dear, good, sympathetic souls! how they did try to make things pleasant for me—always dinning into my ears that Sher Singh was fattening me for the slaughter—the torture, I mean! They used to congregate outside and discuss tortures in the halts, when I might have had a chance to get a little sleep if there had been any air, like a whole regiment of Fat Boys.”

“If we had only known you were alive, Bob!”

“Oh, don't think I'm trying to make your flesh creep. All's well that ends well, and it's a useful experience to have been through. Shows a fellow he can stand a good deal more than he ever thought he could, I mean. But perhaps it was just as well it was me and not you.”

“Complimentary, as usual!” Gerrard's laugh was a little forced.

“It's merely a question of nerves, old boy. You would have been picturing the details over and over again when the beggars were not talking about 'em, whereas I was able to put them out of my mind. Well, we got to Agpur at last, and once in the palace, Sher Singh set to work to try kindness. He let me take up my quarters—watched day and night, of course—in your old Residency, which looks a good deal the worse for wear since you left it. The servants you left in charge seem to have taken first choice when they heard you were hardly likely to come back, and then the palace servants and the guards had their turn. Your books were all torn to pieces—they must have thought you had gold-leaf hidden between the pages—and scattered all about the place. I camped in the ruins, and Sher Singh came to see me twice. He talked to me like a man and a brother, pointed out how important it was for him to find the treasure, what a guarantee of peace it would be, and how he was obviously the rightful owner now that his father and brother were dead. I agreed with him in everything, but declined respectfully to say whether I knew where it was or not. When he proceeded to threats, I told him that he must think me as big a fool as I was beginning to consider him. I was not going to tell him whether I knew the secret, because if I did know it, he would at once begin to make things very unpleasant for me, and if I didn't, he might kill me as useless. On the other hand, he could not proceed to extremities while he was still uncertain, because if I knew the hiding-place, he would have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs, and if I didn't, he would have thrown away uselessly his one chance of placating Antony. That was just when Nisbet was beginning to thunder at the gates of Agpur—or rather, a good way off them—so it appealed to him. Of course the flaw in the argument was that if he knew his business, his torturer might contrive to extract the answer to the question, and the secret, without killing me, but I had to treat that possibility as absolutely non-existent. Still, he found out the secret at last.”

“Bob!” cried Gerrard anxiously.

“Sold again. This was how he did it. After dogging me all over the place, trying to discover by my face where the treasure might be hidden, they hit upon a new plan, by which, if the worst came to the worst, they could produce my body quite free from marks of violence, and so satisfy Antony. It was a fiendish thing, Hal. As soon as ever I went to sleep, day or night, they woke me up, and asked me if I knew where the treasure was. I stood it for two days and nights, but if it had gone on, I swear to you I must have given in; I was pretty near mad then. But curiously enough, Sher Singh discovered the treasury for himself in an odd sort of way. You know the great tank where the lotus grows? Well, one of Sher Singh's ladies brought some gold-fish with her from Adamkot and turned them into it. The fish all died—change of diet, I suppose, but she swore that the deaf and dumb boatman had killed them. It was clearly a case of 'Off with his head!' for the poor wretch couldn't defend himself, but he made signs that if they would let him off he would show them something. They were open to a deal, and he took them across to the thicket of bamboos, and showed them the door in the wall, making them understand somehow that old Partab Singh used to go that way often at night. They lost the scent when they found that the door only led down to the wild beasts' pit, but picked it up again by a very pretty bit of deduction. It was quite certain that the treasury couldn't be under the pit or under the tank, so that the passage leading to it must pass between them, and it must lie in the direction either of the palace or the Residency. They broke ground in the Residency direction first, sinking two or three shafts in likely places, while I watched them with great interest, and asked intelligent questions. It was the one way I had of getting a little bit even with them for what they were doing to me. They held to the Residency theory because they couldn't see otherwise how you managed to get at the treasure for paying the soldiers without being discovered, but Sher Singh never believed in it much. Once when he was a small boy his father let him come with him into the ordinary treasury under the zenana, and he heard what sounded to him like men working underground not very far off. He couldn't make out where the sound came from, and his father diddled him with some fairy-tale to account for it, but now he remembered. So he had every inch of the treasury walls examined, and they came on the air-hole looking into the passage. Then they had only to break down the wall between, and there they were—and I give you my word for it, Hal, I was thankful! When they were all busy watching what was being done, and the gold was being handed up through a shaft that they dug, I just dropped down and went to sleep. It wasn't for long, but when I woke up I felt fit to face Sher Singh or the devil himself.”

“Pretty much the same thing, after all,” said Gerrard grimly.

“I should rayther think so! But the worst was over. It seems that they were uncommon disappointed in the amount of the treasure. They expected sufficient to make them all rich for life, and there was only just about enough to settle Sher Singh comfortably on the gaddi.”

“Just what I calculated—only it was for poor little Kharrak Singh.”

“Well, they held palaver upon palaver to decide whether they should hang the expense and plump for immediate war, beginning upon me. Everybody talked very big about wanting to fight, but nobody really cared about it. The army have plenty of money left for the present, and want to spend it, and the secret messengers sent to see whether the Granthis generally would join in a rising against the English were not encouraging. It'll be just as well for Antony to know that they look forward to a shindy before very long, but they ain't equal to kicking it up in cold blood just yet. The council had no illusions as to the possibility of the Agpuris making head against us without allies, and your old friend Dwarika Nath, who has come back as Diwan, was very strong on the need of prudence.”

“The old reprobate!” cried Gerrard. “Master and man are pretty well matched.”

“So I should guess. At last they did me the honour to call me into consultation. There was no parade of tenderness for my feelings, but they did make it clear that while every man of them would have made it his particular business to see that you underwent the longest and most uncomfortable death that could be had, they considered me not half a bad sort. Therefore they did their best to frighten me into promising them all sorts of concessions in Antony's name, and all I could do was to invite them to kill me at once, since that would be far less painful to my feelings than the consequences that would follow if I attempted to negotiate treaties on my own responsibility. At the same time I dropped a hint that since the murder of a British officer was a prominent count in the bill Nisbet was presenting, it would undoubtedly be an extenuating circumstance if the said officer could be produced alive and only superficially damaged. We wrangled a good bit, but at last I agreed to act as mediator on the basis of the execution of Kharrak Singh's murderers, the retention by the Rani of her jaghirs or their equivalent in cash, and a settlement of the frontier question—all of them bitter pills for the Agpuris to swallow, but indispensable, I assured them, if their professions of goodwill were to be accepted.”

“The execution of Kharrak Singh's murderers! You were pretty cool to demand that, and they must have been mad, or pretty well desperate, to grant it.”

“Why, you have picked out the easiest condition of the lot. His official murderers, I mean. They confessed, four of them—what they were paid for doing it I don't know—and I saw them blown from guns myself. But paying the Rani's jointure—that was a bitter pill, I grant you. I had to engage that any jewels or cash in her possession when she dies—a natural death, of course, understood—shall return to Sher Singh, before he would promise, and even then it was like bleeding him white. And the rectification of the frontier, on which Antony laid such stress in his instructions to Nisbet, will be opposed by all Agpur when they hear of it. I hope our Mr James may be in power again when it comes to be settled, to carry it through by sheer strength of will, for I should be very sorry to be in charge of the negotiations unless I had overwhelming force at hand in support.”

“I suppose there's no doubt that Sir Edmund will accept Sher Singh's submission on these terms?” asked Gerrard gloomily.

“None whatever, I should say, judging by the way he received them just now.”

“And this is the end of it, then! Sher Singh gets all he wanted at the price of a few rupees to the heirs of the badmashes he has bribed to take his guilt upon them.”

“My dear fellow, you can prove nothing against him, and we have no power to bring him to trial. I believe you and I are fated to be the instruments of exemplary vengeance upon him eventually, ain't we, according to the Rani? Till then we must be content to see him flourishing like the green bay-tree.”

“But we need not supply the bay-tree with water and the soil that suits it, and with a gardener to look after it and railings to keep off the goats,” grumbled Gerrard.

“Oh, you are getting too horrid technical for me,” said Charteris, with a yawn. “I don't know what you feel about turning in, Hal, but your unfortunate servants will certainly think they ain't going home till morning. I have been riding all day, you know.”

Gerrard laughed, and the sitting broke up. The two friends hardly saw each other the next day, so closely was Charteris closeted with Sir Edmund Antony and his brother, discussing the affairs of Agpur, and when he was released, Gerrard was sent for, to throw the light of his experience on the present situation. It was dark when he got back to his quarters, and he started when Charteris bounced up out of the depths of a long chair.

“I thought you were never coming! Hal, I've seen her.”

His tone was so instinct with rapture that Gerrard's heart stood still. “Where?” he asked hoarsely.

“At the band. Driving with her mother. Lady Cinnamond was uncommon kind—let me ride on her side of the carriage. Hal, she blushed—blushed when she saw me! She was looking stunning—so pale and cool; she never has much colour in her cheeks, has she? She had on one of those worked muslin gowns, and a big floppy hat with black streamers to it, and black velvet round her neck—nothing pink or blue to take your eyes from her face.”

“Yes?” muttered Gerrard, as Charteris paused in blissful contemplation of the picture he had evoked.

“Yes? oh, that was all. I rode beside her, and looked at her, and her hand lay on the side of the carriage quite close to me—I wanted to kiss it, but I didn't dare. And she let me hold it for a moment when I bade them good-day—at least, perhaps she didn't let me, but I did, anyhow—and she blushed, blushed divinely.”

Gerrard sprang up and paced the verandah hastily. Charteris woke from his dream of bliss.

“Old boy, I'm sorry—'pon my word I am. But after all, she is free to choose, ain't she? With any other girl one wouldn't think much of a blush. But one never sees her change colour, and I came upon her suddenly, so she couldn't have been thinking of me before. I thought old Sir Arthur would never have done with congratulating me on my escape, and that sort of thing—and a man can't be rude to his prospective papa-in-law, can he? But when I saw the greys coming down the drive, and the two parasols in the carriage—why, I made myself scarce in no time, and the old boy positively beamed upon my departure.”

“And having made sure of the lady and her parents both, when do you propose to clinch the matter?” demanded Gerrard savagely.

Charteris looked at him in surprise. “Why, Hal, you don't imagine that I meant to run away from our compact? We'll draw lots who shall speak first exactly as we arranged. Unless”—with sudden fierce suspicion—“you took your opportunity when you thought I was dead?”

“Bob!” cried Gerrard, so reproachfully that his friend could not doubt him. “I had given up all thoughts of it. I never went near her without talking of you.”

“Oh!” said Charteris rather blankly. “I hope you haven't made her think I'm like a brute in a poetry-book? Because if so, she'll be disappointed.”

“I can't help what she thinks,” growled Gerrard. “I told her nothing that wasn't true.”

“I don't suppose you did. But it's the finishing touches that count in these things, my boy. And if she chooses to fit me out with a halo and a pedestal—why, when she discovers the truth, I shall really be finished off. But after all,” with reviving cheerfulness, “it ain't my fault if she is kind enough to endow me with imaginary virtues. She blushed, anyhow. And when a girl accepts a man, it's as if she gave him leave to teach her the difference between creatures in books, and fellows as they are. And if she's agreeable, why, so am I; with all my heart, says I. That's my theory.”

“Bob, you are really in earnest? It isn't one of your jokes?”

“Jokes, indeed!” said Charteris, in high dudgeon. “I'll show you how much in earnest I am, Lieutenant Henry Gerrard. We'll go to business to-morrow, if you please.”

“Then you wish to draw the lots to-night?”

“No, don't let us have any melodramatic nonsense with straws, or bits of wood of different lengths. We'll go down to the gateway to-morrow between one and two, when there's scarcely a creature about, and one shall look up the street, and the other down. Whoever can count twenty human beings first shall have first right to speak. Are you agreeable?”

“All serene. But what if we both call out at once?”

“Try again, of course. It ain't likely to happen twice. The sentry will think we have got a wager on, so there won't be any fuss.”

      * * * * * *

Charteris proved successful in the counting competition, announcing his twenty while Gerrard had only reached seventeen. As he was dining with the Cinnamonds that night, the fates seemed to be propitious. But when Gerrard came back from supping with the James Antonys, he found his friend reclining on the verandah, in an attitude suggestive of despondency.

“Sold again!” said a sepulchral voice from the recesses of the long chair.

“You don't mean that she has refused you, Bob?”

“Oh, don't I?” the voice suggested something more than sulkiness. “If I don't, I'm very much mistaken. She told me that I wasn't what she expected, in a way that implied I was a very poor creature indeed. If that was acceptance, all I can say is, I hope you may be accepted too!”

CHAPTER XV. MUTTERINGS OF THE STORM.

“Onora, my dearest little one, have you anything to tell me?” Unable to bear the suspense any longer, Lady Cinnamond had pursued her daughter to her room.

“No, mamma; only that he is gone.”

“But you have not sent him away?”

“I told him again that I could not marry him.”

“But I thought you cared for him!” Lady Cinnamond's regret was not unmixed with indignation. “When you thought he was dead, you said——”

It was Honour's turn to be indignant. “I said I couldn't tell, mamma. And I don't like him as much now as I did when I thought he was dead.”

“These poor young men!” lamented her mother. “Then is the unfortunate Mr Gerrard to be made happy at last? Or is it some one else?”

“It isn't any one!” cried Honour hotly. “Is it my fault if they will want to marry me? I am sure I have made it clear to them over and over again that I don't want to marry anybody.”

“My child, that is a thing that nothing will make clear to a man,” said her mother solemnly—“especially when it is plain that you take pleasure in his society.”

“But I don't. Mamma, I never told you, but long ago, more than a year, I lent Sintram to Mr Charteris, without telling him how fond I was of it. He gave it back to me all smelling of smoke, and said that he couldn't make head or tail of it, but it struck him as uncommon silly.”

“But, my dear, surely that ought to have warned you that your tastes were not congenial. What can have made you think your feelings had changed?”

“Oh, mamma, I don't know.” Honour paused for a moment, then hurried on. “One doesn't remember that kind of thing when a person is dead, you know. And there seemed to be so many nice points about him that I had never guessed——”

“But which Mr Gerrard brought out? Well, your objection can't apply——” Lady Cinnamond broke off hastily. “I won't worry you any more to-night, dear.”

“Good-night, mamma. I am sorry I was cross.”

Lady Cinnamond left her reluctantly, for the rest of the family were on the tiptoe of expectation to hear what had happened, and she had earnestly hoped to be able to silence their jeers with the announcement that Honour was engaged like other people.

“Well, mamma, is he coming to see papa in the morning?” demanded Mrs Cowper eagerly, as soon as her mother appeared.

“No, dear; I am sorry to say she has refused him again.”

“Fastidious little puss!” chuckled Sir Arthur. “Faith! it'll be the other that will come to-morrow.”

“Isn't Honour a queer quizzical sort of girl?” inquired Mrs Cowper earnestly of her parents. “Do you think she will accept Mr Gerrard, mamma?”

“My dear, I am afraid to say, but I should fear not.”

“Why should she, if she don't want him?” said Sir Arthur briskly. “Rosita, I don't like to see this eagerness to get rid of your daughters. It reflects badly upon your bringing-up of them, ma'am.”

“Oh no, papa; how can you say so? It speaks well for mamma's happiness in her married life.”

“I see Charles hasn't cured you of your pertness yet, miss—ma'am, I should say. Poor fellow! I wonder if I ought to have told him what he was bringing upon himself?”

Justice demanded that Marian should immediately rise and pull her father's hair, but in the middle of the operation she paused tragically. “Something has just struck me,” she said. “Why do we all take it for granted that Honour must end by marrying one of these two men? It may be some one we have never thought of that she really cares for.”

“My dear, don't imagine fresh complications,” said her mother in alarm. “All the available young men have proposed, so that she could have had any one she liked.”

“Perhaps she was afraid of her cruel father,” suggested Mrs Cowper, deftly arranging Sir Arthur's hair into a curl in the middle of his forehead. “Don't touch that, papa, whatever you do. I want Charley to see it; it will give him a new view of your character. Of course it is the persistence of these two men that makes you feel that one of them is fated to succeed. Others come and others go, but they go on for ever.”

“Perhaps it would be as well to forbid them both the house,” suggested her victimised father.

“Not both at once, papa! Why, neither we nor Honour should ever know which was the right one, if they were both shut out together. You must do it in turn.”

“And after making one welcome for a week or so, pick a quarrel with him and install the other? Precious undignified, my dear child, but a man must make sacrifices for the sake of his family.”

“Ah, but that's just what you don't do!” cried Marian, roused to recollection of a grievance of her own. “How could you all but promise Charley that if a peaceful mission was sent to Agpur, he should command the escort?”

“But surely, my dear, I was sacrificing my own comfort in promising to spare him?”

“No, you were sacrificing me!” pouted his daughter. “I was making signs to you the whole time, not to let him go unless he would take me with him, and he won't. He has been horrid about it.”

“My dear Marian, you could not possibly go, with the hot weather coming on!” cried her mother, aghast.

“Nor in any weather whatever,” said Sir Arthur firmly. “Your signals were lost on me, Marian, but nothing would induce me to consent to your going to Agpur. The place is clearly in a most disturbed state, and the good faith of the new Rajah extremely doubtful.”

“Then don't let Charley go,” was the prompt rejoinder.

Sir Arthur raised his eyebrows. “You must settle that with your husband yourself, my dear. I have promised to allow him leave for the purpose if he wishes it.”

“And he will say that you are depending on him to command the escort, and I must settle it with you!” complained Marian. “And nobody really thinks about me at all.”

“My dear, it will be an excellent opportunity for Charles to bring himself into notice, whether the progress of the mission is peaceable or not. And if he goes, you and Honour shall have a run up to the hills, if Lady Antony will be so good as to look after you. But at present it is quite uncertain whether a mission will be despatched at all. We may have war instead.”

“Well, I think you might send one of Honour's young men, papa,” said Marian, half crying. “She doesn't care about either of them, and if anything happened to Charley I should die.”

“Oh, my dear, we will hope she cares for Mr Gerrard,” interposed Lady Cinnamond hastily, seeing her husband's brow grow thunderous. Marian had transgressed the unwritten law which forbade the General's womankind to meddle in the slightest degree with his professional appointments, and had added to her misdeeds by weeping.

“She doesn't. I don't believe she has it in her. You'll see, to-morrow,” and with this Parthian shot Mrs Cowper quitted the room in tears, meanly leaving her mother to allay the tempest she had raised. On the morrow poor Lady Cinnamond was almost tempted to think as she did with regard to Honour, for Gerrard, putting his fortune to the touch without, as he assured himself, the slightest hope of success, met the same fate as his friend. Perhaps his way of broaching the subject was unfortunate.

“Our lamentations over Charteris were rather premature, weren't they?” he asked her, with an assumption of lightness which suited her mood as little as his.

“How could you mislead me so dreadfully about him?” demanded Honour, moved to indignation by her wrongs.

“Mislead you? Why, I never said a word that wasn't true!” Gerrard was unfeignedly surprised.

“I suppose not,” she admitted unwillingly. “But you dwelt only on his good points, and I—I almost thought I had misjudged him. But when I saw him there was no difference. He brought a smell of smoke into the room with him, and talked slang, just as he always did.”

“But why should one recall obvious things like that? Would you have had me try to belittle him to you—if you must think worse of a man for such trifles as smoking and using slang?”

“Trifles in your estimation, perhaps; not in mine.”

“Well, at any rate it shows you can't care for him,” said Gerrard despairingly, “or you wouldn't notice them.”

“I consider that remark extremely rude and uncalled-for,” said Honour, with spirit. “You have no right whatever to pass judgment upon my feelings.”

“Pardon me, but how can I help it? Perhaps you mean that if Bob left off slang and smoking he would be all right?”

“And if I did, how would it concern you?”

“Oh, merely that I think you ought to tell him, or let me.”

“You think he would do it?”

“Like winkin'. Oh, I beg your pardon. I would, I know, just as I would do any mortal thing you cared to ask me. Ask me, Honour. Can't you give me a bit of hope?”

“How can I? You would not be satisfied—either of you—if I said I would marry you just to escape from unpleasantness of this kind. I mean”—hastily, as she caught sight of his face—“I dislike so much hurting people's feelings, but with you and Mr Charteris I seem able to do nothing else. If you would only both take my answer as final, and let us all be happy and friendly together as we were before this idea came into your minds!”

“We weren't,” said Gerrard doggedly. “I was introduced to you two days before Charteris was, and all that time I was in terror, guessing what would happen as soon as he saw you. And sure enough, he raved about you all night, until I put a stop to it by throwing things across the room.”

“Please don't tell me things of that kind,” said Honour, her colour rising. “They do not interest me. You have a great influence over Mr Charteris. Why not use it to make him see things sensibly, and give up these attempts?”

“Because I wouldn't do it myself. If you could say that you felt the least kindness towards one of us, then the other would withdraw—or towards any one else, then both of us, I hope, would do the proper thing and leave him in peace. But while there's still a fair chance—why, I shall hold on, and so will old Bob, if I know anything of him.”

“That is exactly what Mr Charteris said,” remarked Honour musingly. “Well, I am very sorry, and I wish I could get you to look at things more sensibly, but really it is not my fault.”

“You can't even hold out any hope for the future?”

“It would merely be unkindness if I did. If you would only——”

“No, please, that's enough,” said Gerrard, and withdrew. Charteris was waiting for him on their verandah.

“By the look of gloom on your ingenuous countenance, Hal——” he began.

“Oh, bus, bus[1]!” said Gerrard wearily. “Yes, old boy, we're in the same boat, as before.”

“There's one comfort, she won't get her bachelor Governor-General for some time,” remarked Charteris; “for this man Blairgowrie that they're sending out is married.”

“I hate stale jokes!” muttered Gerrard.

“You seem to have come off rather worse than I did. Look here, Hal; I'm going to propose a modification of our agreement. I've had first try this time, and next time you shall have it, without drawing lots. It's precious hard on you, if you are the right man, that you should only be able to approach her when she's already been rubbed the wrong way by my impudent pretensions.”

“I ain't the right man. No one is. But you're a good chap, Bob, and I'm not too proud to accept with thanks. At this moment, I confess it, I don't feel as if I should ever summon up courage to come to the scratch again, but no doubt it'll be different in a year or so.”

“I believe you, my boy—especially when you know that if you don't take your chance, I shall. But what stately form comes this way? Our Mr James, as I live!”

“I happened to be passing, and I thought I would look in to tell you that it has been settled about Agpur,” said James Antony, depositing his massive form in the chair vacated for him. “What! ain't there room for me unless you stand, Charteris? Shocking the luxury in which you young fellows live nowadays! Well, I'm glad the business is finished somehow, since my brother will perhaps be contented to trot peaceably back to the hills, but I can't say that your friend Sher Singh has got anything like his deserts. He is to be recognised and, within reasonable limits, supported, provided he fulfils certain not very onerous conditions. Nisbet is to visit Agpur City and settle the preliminaries of the frontier business and the affair of the Rani Gulab Kur's jointure, and will probably remain there as Resident. Well, well! if Sher Singh ain't loyal to us in future, he ought to be!”

“I hope Nisbet will have a strong escort, sir,” Gerrard ventured to say, emboldened by the speaker's evident, though unexpressed, dissatisfaction with the arrangement. James Antony looked at him severely from under bushy brows. His loyalty to his more brilliant brother never permitted him the luxury of criticising his decisions in public, and he had gone farther than he intended in allowing his feelings to appear.

“The escort will be sufficient, of course. Charley Cowper goes in command—has special leave for the purpose. They start next week.”

“Then I shall have to hurry back to Darwan,” said Charteris.

“Just as well you should be on the spot,” agreed James Antony. “You go to Habshiabad, I suppose, Gerrard?”

“I suppose so, sir.”

“Precious little enthusiasm over the prospect, I see. Well, it is a come-down for the acting-Resident of Agpur.”

“That was entirely a thing out of the usual run, sir.” Gerrard roused himself in self-defence. “I was warned not to expect to continue on that footing, and I didn't for a moment.”

“I can find you plenty of work here, if you prefer it. Ah, I see,” he laughed. “The woman is spoiling Eden, as usual. Get married, get married, and you'll think no more about her.”

“Thank you for your advice, sir. Your own experience?” asked Charteris.

James Antony looked first furious, then almost contrite, and finally gave way to a huge burst of laughter. “Curious how one falls in with other people's way of talking, when one knows it is absolutely false!” he said. “No, it is not my experience, and you know it, you young dog. I married my wife because I couldn't do without her, and it has been the same story from that day to this. That's my experience, and you can't do better than follow it.”

“But then one of us would have to put the other out of the way—eh, Hal?” said Charteris dolefully, as Mr James departed, his great shoulders still heaving with laughter.

      * * * * * *

When Mr Nisbet and Captain Cowper left Ranjitgarh the following week, Gerrard went part of the way with them. They travelled by water, their respective escorts marching by land, and he would have a day or two to wait at one of the riverside towns until his men came up. The hot weather would soon begin, and the river was low, so that the progress of the boats was agreeably diversified by frequent groundings, now on the shore and now on a sandbank, and the heat and the glare of the water furnished an excuse for much grumbling. Nisbet was a quiet, inoffensive man, who found perpetual occupation and solace in writing, reading, re-reading and annotating innumerable documents, of which he seemed to carry a whole library about with him, but his contentment was powerless to infect his companions. Captain Cowper was low-spirited owing to the parting from his wife, for after inducing Sir Edmund and Lady Antony to postpone their return to the hills for two days that she might see him off, Marian had disgraced herself and her parents by making a scene—though happily not in public—at her husband's departure. Her frantic entreaties to him not to go, or if he must go, to take her with him, her dire forebodings of evil, had made it very hard for him to leave her; and when neither her father's anger, nor Lady Cinnamond's warnings that she would do herself harm, were able to quiet her sobs, Captain Cowper had been obliged to tear himself away from her clinging hands without a proper farewell. It was no comfort to picture her lonely misery in the hills, with no one but Honour, of whose tenderness he had the very lowest opinion, to act as confidant, and her husband spent many hours daily in writing letters, and making sketches of any object of interest that offered itself, for her benefit.

Little as he had in common with his two companions, Gerrard dreaded the moment when he would step ashore on the left bank of the Bari, thence to strike southwards and take up his new work at Habshiabad. The absolute isolation from men of his own colour which this would entail was not a prospect he could face with any pleasure. From Charteris he would now be separated by the whole breadth of Agpur, unless they both journeyed far to the south-west, where for a short distance the boundaries of Darwan and Habshiabad ran along opposite banks of the river Tindar, while of Nisbet and Cowper in Agpur itself it was unlikely that he would see anything, as the frontier dispute with which they were to deal concerned the other side of the state. Moreover, it was impossible not to feel that his work had been taken out of his hands and given to them to do. Whatever the situation in Agpur might be, he had contributed, however involuntarily, to make it what it was, and others were now about to take it in hand, without the advantage of his past experience, and with the drawback of inheriting whatever odium attached to him.

The evening before they were to reach Naoghat, Nawab Sadiq Ali's port on the Bari, and separate, they fastened up to the bank at a spot where there was no village, but only a few poor huts, and where a patch of marshy jungle held out the promise of wildfowl. Nisbet was busy with his office Munshi, completing a catalogue of papers relating to the affairs of Agpur, but Captain Cowper and Gerrard took their guns, and set off along the bank in opposite directions. The sport was poor, and after shooting a brace and a half of birds and walking a long distance, Gerrard was warned by the gathering darkness to retrace his steps. A white mass at the foot of a tree in one of the drier parts of the bog attracted his attention in the distance, and on coming near enough to see distinctly he found it was a respectably dressed elderly man sitting there motionless. As Gerrard approached, the old man rose and salaamed courteously, and disclosed himself as the scribe of the Rani Gulab Kur.

“O master of many hands, how is it I find you here?” asked Gerrard in surprise. “Are you waiting for a tiger to come and make a meal of you?”

“Nay, sahib, it is your honour I am awaiting. I bear a message from my mistress for your ear alone.”

“But is her Highness in this neighbourhood? I should wish to wait on her and pay my respects.”

“Her Highness is far away, sahib, but she does not forget the gratitude due to your honour for your faithfulness to the dead. When we passed through Ranjitgarh, it was told her that there was a project of marriage between your honour and the daughter of the General Sahib with the white hair, and she bade this slave note down the name, that she might, if opportunity offered, do good to the General Sahib and his family for your honour's sake. Hearing, then, that the Sahib who commands the troops going to Agpur is sister's husband to the daughter of the General Sahib, she judged it well to send a warning.”

“Her Highness can hardly be so far away, after all, if she heard this news in time to send you to meet me here, O venerable one,” said Gerrard.

“I speak but as I am bidden, sahib. Her Highness entreats you to warn that Sahib and his friend to put no trust in the fair words of Sher Singh—and this not so much because he is treacherous, though treacherous he is to the very depths of hell, as because he is weak. He sees it is not to his interest to provoke a war with the English at this moment, but he is entirely dependent on his Sirdars—by reason of his faulty title to the throne, and his non-fulfilment of the promises made to them before his accession—and they have no care for him and his safety. They have sent out messengers again, since those sent throughout Granthistan returned without promises of help, and are seeking to enlist Abd-ur-Rashid Khan of Ethiopia, promising him the city of Shah Bagh, which is to him as the apple of his eye, if he will invade Granthistan from the north when the rising begins. Let the Sahibs then beware, for blood once shed is not to be gathered up from the ground, and Sher Singh is not the man to defend his guests if the city be howling for their death.”

“I will warn them,” said Gerrard. “And now come and lodge in our camp for this night, and in the morning go your way and carry my respectful thanks to her Highness.”

“It is forbidden, sahib. I depart immediately, to report to my mistress that I have performed her errand.”

“So be it, then. Carry my deepest salaams to her Highness,” and Gerrard went on towards the camp. After supper he told Nisbet and Cowper of the warning he had received for them. It caused no surprise.

“It's quite true about Abd-ur-Rashid,” said Nisbet. “Ronaldson caught one of his messengers sneaking about in his camp near Shah Bagh, trying to corrupt his escort. That may have been in view of this very plan for a general rising, but he thought it was one of the usual schemes for getting hold of Shah Bagh again.”

“If Abd-ur-Rashid and the Granthis can manage to agree, we are likely to come off badly,” said Cowper.

“But they won't,” said Nisbet. “The thieves are bound to fall out.”

“After a time,” said Gerrard, “but they may make it very unpleasant for you first. And suppose your Granthis take sides with the Agpuris? I took Granthis into Agpur and brought them out again, but then I had had them for some time first. I wish you knew more of your escort, and they of you.”

“My dear fellow,” said Cowper, yawning, “we know at least that no Granthi is to be trusted. They are a set of nimuk harams,[2] and we shan't trust them. Sir Edmund chooses to trust Sher Singh, as he would any native that ever walked, but that's all the goodness of his heart, and we ain't going to be led away by it. Forewarned is forearmed.”

[1] Enough.

[2] Perfidious, false to their salt.

CHAPTER XVI. THE MILD CONCERNS OF ORDINARY LIFE.

All too soon came the hour when Gerrard stood on the dilapidated landing-stage at Naoghat, and waved farewell to his travelling companions, after receiving Nisbet's urgent directions to send on at once any despatches that might arrive while he remained there, and Cowper's parting request to give his compliments to the old Habshi. This disrespectful term applied to Nawab Sadiq Ali, who traced his descent to a famous naval commander, a Habshi or Abyssinian, in the service of one of the Mogul Emperors. So much did the Badshah appreciate the society of his admiral that he grudged him to the sea, but compromised matters by bestowing on him a jaghir with a river frontage, which the Habshi's descendants, in the break-up of the empire, contrived to erect into the independent state of Habshiabad. Sadiq Ali was proud to reckon himself an old ally of the British, his father having stood fast by them during the Mahratta troubles of the early years of the nineteenth century, and a hostility equally ancient existed between him and his Granthi neighbours across the Bari, more especially those in Agpur. Partab Singh and he had enjoyed many a sharp tussle before they relapsed into reluctant peace, owing to the fact that their forces were so nearly matched as to render it useless for either to attack the other, and to the absence of border fighting during late years the Kawab attributed the deterioration observable in the spirit of his subjects. A kind of dry-rot appeared to have set in, under the influence of which the state was suffering, not only in military, but also in civil matters, and this had culminated in a regrettable incident which had only recently occurred.

When the Granthi War broke out, Sadiq Ali, equally unexpected and undesired, hastened to join the banners of the Commander-in-Chief with his horde of undisciplined followers, never doubting that he would be received with the delight such an accession of strength would have caused forty years before. But the military affairs of British India were differently organised nowadays, and native princes as allies were regarded with disappointing indifference, so that the bad condition of the Nawab's troops, rather than the good feeling he had displayed, attracted attention. When at a critical moment the advance of a British brigade was delayed by the Habshiabadis' plundering in its front, the Commander-in-Chief, who had learnt his soldiering in the Peninsula, lost his temper and swore at Sadiq Ali—who understood his meaning, if not his words—and threatened to clear his men out of the way with grape. The insulted Nawab withdrew his troops at once, and was making the best of his way with them to the enemy's camp, when he was overtaken by Major Edmund Antony, who, foreseeing the danger that would be caused by his defection, took upon himself the responsibility of speaking him fair and persuading him to delay. No other man in India could have induced Sadiq Ali to consent to spoil the effect of his dramatic reprisals by encamping for one night instead of carrying his indignation and his army over immediately to his hereditary enemies. Even the political officer whom all natives revered was obliged to take his stand alone before the advancing cavalry, and to warn the Nawab that if he joined the Granthi headquarters that night, it must be over his body, but he succeeded in his mission. The tents were pitched, and all night Major Antony rode backwards and forwards between the two peppery veterans, each of whom began by vowing that he was well pleased to see the last of the other, and would never exchange a word with him again. Since they both assured Major Antony that he was the sole human being they would have permitted to address a remonstrance to them on the subject, it was clear that they were agreed on one point, and the emissary laboured, not without success, to extend the area of agreement. With what every one in the British camp averred was superhuman ingenuity, he induced the Commander-in-Chief to apologise for his language, and to soothe the Nawab's wounded feelings by a reference in general orders, while Sadiq Ali voluntarily placed a body of picked troops under British command, and withdrew with the rest to his state. In the moment of his success Major Antony held out hopes that an officer might eventually be spared to reorganise and train the Habshiabad army, and since he had been at Ranjitgarh Sadiq Ali had reminded him of his promise at least five times before he had any one to send. Now at last Gerrard was available, and a deputation of high officials received him at Naoghat to express the Nawab's delight in his arrival.

Sadiq Ali's impatience to behold his new adviser could scarcely brook the delay caused by waiting for the escort to come up, and Gerrard became accustomed to the sight of exhausted messengers clattering in in clouds of dust to demand that he should start at once. But his dignity as Sir Edmund Antony's representative forbade this, and when he rode into Habshiabad at last it was in the midst of his picked troop of Granthis, who were obviously scornful of the military display with which the Nawab was prepared to welcome them. In his anxiety to improve his army, poor old Sadiq Ali had handed it over of late to a drunken European adventurer, who asserted that he had been in Ajit Singh's service, but whom Gerrard suspected, from certain peculiarities of equipment that he had introduced, of being a deserter from some Scottish regiment. This suspicion was deepened when it appeared that General Desdichado, as he called himself, had recently been seized with illness of such a severe character that it confined him entirely to his house, and even to his zenana—whither, of course, no intrusive visitor could follow him. After vain attempts to obtain an interview, Gerrard thought it well to leave his predecessor in peace with his arrack-bottle, and take the army in hand from the beginning. He had not expected, when he heard they had a European instructor, to find them ignorant even of the rudiments of drill as he understood it, and he was confronted with the difficulty that he could not possibly drill them all himself, and nothing would induce them to take orders from any of his Granthis. He thought of asking for a few Mohammedan non-commissioned officers from the force at Ranjitgarh, but before he could do so, Sadiq Ali, who followed him about in a state of admiring wonder and affection, learned his difficulty and promised to meet it.

Gerrard had no very high hopes in this direction when he appeared at the grand review arranged in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday, and attended by all the Nawab's subsidiary chiefs and their followers as well as by his own army, but his eye was quickly caught by a large body of mounted men whose ordered movements contrasted strongly with the free and easy methods of the Habshiabadis. There was something familiar in the aspect of the leader, and when he rode past the saluting-point Gerrard recognised him at once. It was Rukn-ud-din, and of the two companies which he led one was composed of Rajputs, and the other of the faithful remnant of the Agpur bodyguard. Sadiq Ali smiled to behold his ally's surprise, but declined mysteriously to say what Rukn-ud-din and his men were doing on his parade-ground. Jirad Sahib would doubtless wish to make inquiries for himself, he said, and Komadan Rukn-ud-din had already asked leave to pay his respects to him. In the interval between the review and the banquet which was to wind up the day, therefore, a gorgeous band of horsemen thronged the approach to Gerrard's quarters, and Rukn-ud-din presented his officers, the chief of whom was the Rajput Amrodh Chand, who was a cousin of the Rani's. Gerrard touched the sword-hilts they held forth, entertained them with coffee and conversation of a strictly non-committal character, and then withdrew from the verandah into his office for a few moments' confidential talk with their leader.

“You are surely not one of the Nawab's Komadans, Rukn-ud-din?” he asked him eagerly.

“Nay, sahib. I still eat the salt of the widow of my master.”

“Then it is the Rani Sahiba who is entertaining these troops of yours? But is she not far away?”

“So far away as to be between this place and the river that parts it from Agpur, sahib.”

“This is very serious.” It was quite certain that Mr James Antony would not approve of the Rani's taking up her residence so close to her former capital, when she was supposed to be at Benares. “You know that I must report it to the Resident Sahib at Ranjitgarh?”

“Your honour will do as it is decreed you should do,” said the Mohammedan tranquilly.

“But what is her Highness's object?”

“To avenge the blood of her house, sahib. She devotes herself wholly to the practice of austerities, after the manner of the idolaters. The women say that to behold her is to behold the corpse of one that has died in famine-time.”

“You cannot mean that she is wholly destitute? Yet what is she living upon? Her allowance has not been paid to her, because she has not subscribed to the conditions upon which it was granted.”

“Her Highness will never subscribe to those conditions, sahib. She will neither receive money at the hand of the murderer, nor covenant to bequeath him a single anna that she possesses. For her maintenance, she received from Antni Sahib's brother at Ranjitgarh the ten thousand rupees your honour carried with you to Adamkot from the treasury, and of his grace he added to them, by way of an advance, a sum sufficient to enable her to perform her pilgrimage to Kashi.” Gerrard suppressed a smile when he realised that James Antony's eagerness to avert political complications by getting the Rani safely out of Granthistan had thus over-reached itself by giving her the means of remaining on its borders. “The sum was not a great one, to maintain the warriors from her father's state who have vowed their swords to her vengeance, as well as those who have remained faithful to their lord's memory, but it will suffice for a month or two longer,” added Rukn-ud-din; “and it is the word of her Highness that this will be long enough. The time is near at hand.”

“Will her Highness receive me?” asked Gerrard hastily, planning strong remonstrances in his mind. “You say she has returned to pardah?”

“She broke pardah once, sahib, designing to expiate her shame when she had seen justice done, but death and justice were alike denied her. She will break it again when she leads her troops in the field against the murderer, and that day she will rejoin her lord.”

“Now look here, Rukn-ud-din; you are a sensible man and a follower of Islam. I want you to do your best to induce her Highness to allow me to pay my respects through the curtain, so that I may try to get her to lay aside these intentions.”

“How could she do other than as she plans, sahib? It is well for each to observe the customs of his own people. But I have a word for you from her Highness's mouth. 'Entreat Jirad Sahib not to give me the pain of shutting my gates against him, for I have no mind to be teased with formulas of ceremony. But when he takes the field against him that may not be named, then let him send for me without apology, and I will come at the head of my troops. Until then let him use them as he will in fitting the Nawab's army for the fight.'”

“And right glad I should be to have you,” said Gerrard heartily. “But I cannot keep the Rani's residence a secret from Antony Sahib and his brother. At any moment Sher Singh may discover it, and accuse them, though guiltless, of playing him false.”

“I think he will not discover it, sahib. We have a short way with spies in Habshiabad. But your honour will do as you think best, and the men of my company are at your disposal to do with as you will.”

The question was a perplexing one, and after dismissing Rukn-ud-din, Gerrard considered it carefully. He decided at last to write to James Antony that it had come to his knowledge that the Rani was residing in the Habshiabad state, and that he could if necessary convey to her the documents awaiting her signature, though she refused to admit him to her presence. Having thus transferred the burden of responsibility to other and eminently capable shoulders, he turned with an easier conscience to take advantage of the help offered him in his task. On the very day after the review, Sadiq Ali's regiments, some swollen to unwieldy size, others depleted to mere skeletons, were thoroughly overhauled, and the ten smartest men picked out of each hundred. These were turned over to Rukn-ud-din's Mohammedans to be drilled, and after a preliminary course set to drill their fellows. The higher education of the picked men proceeded side by side with the elementary training of the rank and file, while Gerrard's Granthis and the Rani's Rajputs, debarred from serving as instructors, proved most useful in representing alternately hostile armies and better disciplined allies, when something resembling manoeuvres was attempted. The work was hard and incessant, especially as the hot weather was now running its course, but Gerrard welcomed it as tending to divert his mind from the unsatisfactory state of his personal affairs. The Nawab was overjoyed to see his army really being licked into shape, and took to attending the training in disguise—invariably discovering himself by frantic abuse and promises of horrible punishment when anything went wrong. Even General Desdichado, still officially confined to his bed and unable to receive even a visit of condolence, mounted a telescope on his roof, so it was whispered to Gerrard, and watched the proceedings with breathless interest. This war-fever could hardly last, and Gerrard wondered when it would begin to die down. The expected outbreak at Agpur had not occurred, and in a short time Cowper's leave would be up and another man would take his place as commander of the escort. Both James Antony's political forebodings and the Rani's prophecies were proving unfounded.

Now came a messenger with a letter from Charteris, written in that extreme south-western corner of his dominions where Darwan and Habshiabad faced one another across the Tindar.

“Here I am, old boy, gazing hungrily across to you, while Tindar rolls between. Come and pay me a flying visit, I adjure you. You shall sleep each night on your own bank of the river if your scrupulous conscience won't let you quit your own state without leave, but take pity on an unfortunate chum doomed to go crusading—castle-destroying, that is—in the hot weather. I promised you one of Vixen's pups—as nice little beggars all of them as you could wish to behold—and who am I to presume to choose for you? I am entertaining so many dogs nowadays that I expect to be eaten out of house and home, so it's serious, you see. Happy thought—start a pack of hounds! That's another reason why you should come. I can't offer to show you at the present season 'the sport of kings, the image of war without its guilt, and only five-and-twenty per cent. of its danger,' but at least we can draw up an uncommon fine constitution for the hunt. I know you'll object that the conjunction of two such stars of chivalry as yourself and yours truly in the same firmament has hitherto boded war, red war, but was that our fault? Surely it was merely a proof of our innate foreknowledge of events that we managed to be in each other's neighbourhood just when united action was needed. Besides, there's no combustible material in these parts. That's waiting for the week after next, when the Agpur frontier business comes up for settlement, and I have to be back in the Adamkot direction. Come and see me, Hal, if it's only for a talk and a smoke. Upon my word, I am des-s-s-perately lonely! Bring a tail as long as MacTavish's if you like, and we'll indoctrinate them with the science of fox-hunting. Your old Hubshee would be something of a Jorrocks figure if we stuck him into a hunt uniform, I'll be bound,—Yours,

ROBERT.

P.S.—Admire my self-restraint in keeping back so far the all-important information that mine will of course be a Bobbery pack.”

Neither his friend's pathetic loneliness, nor the inducements he so lavishly offered, would have tempted Gerrard to leave the capital had it not been that he had ascertained from the Nawab that the jaghir which he had granted to Rukn-ud-din as the Rani's representative lay in the direction in which Charteris was now to be found. James Antony had replied with considerable asperity to the letter giving news of her whereabouts, as was only natural, since his agents had for a month been searching for her vainly in the neighbourhood of Benares. He sent the document which had been prepared for her signature, and directed Gerrard to use all possible means to obtain a personal interview, in which he was to assure her that no further steps would be taken to secure the payment of her jointure until she disbanded her troops and withdrew into British territory, where a suitable residence would be provided for her. This, as the natives would have phrased it, was an order, and Gerrard prepared to carry it out immediately, though without much hope of success. The Nawab acquiesced reluctantly in his leaving the city for a week, but was consoled by the prospect of his finding a noticeable improvement in the army on his return, and he calculated that by travelling chiefly at night he could do the journey comfortably, and secure a day or more with Charteris.

The Rani's reception of Mr Antony's messenger was much what he had expected. She had taken up her abode in a half-ruined fort, which had been repaired sufficiently for the purposes of defence, and was garrisoned by a second company of Rajputs, and Gerrard was refused admission at the closed gates. His urgent messages brought the old scribe down to parley with him, but the reproaches he addressed to the Rani for neglecting the monitions of her husband's chosen councillor were met by counter-upbraidings on the score of his neglect of the Rani's own expressed wish to be left unmolested. She would not receive him, she would not disband her troops nor retire into British territory, and least of all would she sign the document which was to obtain from Sher Singh the payment of her jointure in return for her promise to leave to him any savings of which she might die possessed. In these circumstances, all that Gerrard could do was to leave the paper for her consideration, with the most persuasive letter that he and Munshi Somwar Mal could frame in collaboration, and announce that he hoped to find her Highness in a better mind when he returned in three or four days' time.

If his reception here was disappointing, there was nothing lacking in the warmth of Charteris's welcome when he landed at his camp from the undignified conveyance of a charpoy supported on mashaks [1]—a small fleet of these vessels being in readiness to carry him and his train across the river. The puppies were duly exhibited after supper, and Gerrard made his choice, and then, though it was still early, for the crossing had to be made by daylight, Charteris dismissed him to sleep off his fatigues, promising that he should be called well in the middle of the night.

“To-morrow is a blank day as far as the administration of justice is concerned,” he said. “I have threatened all my petitioners with atrocious pains and penalties if they so much as show their noses in camp, and you and I will go for a picnic. I know a bank where the wild thyme don't grow, but where one of my reformed robbers has a garden and a spring of sweet water, and will make us welcome to enjoy kaf [2] for a while.”

Gerrard had his doubts as to the feasibility of this programme when he was dressing the next morning by the light of a candle-end stuck into the neck of a bottle. A whisper outside the tent reached his ears.

“Brother, is the Sahib awake?”

“Which Sahib, O foolish one?”

“Our Sahib, the red Sahib, the mad Sahib.”

“Aye, he is awake, but he rides forth before dawn.”

“Bad for Bob!” thought Gerrard, as a rustle denoted the withdrawal of the questioner, but he had not the heart to tell his friend of his fears when they met for choti haziri, and he saw his high spirits.

“We'll take the dogs with us a little way—do the beggars no end of good—and send 'em back to camp before the sun's up,” said Charteris, as they mounted. “'Give the hounds a trot out by way of exercise'—eh?”

“Well, I hope it won't end in 'Dinner lost! 'ounds lost! self lost—all lost together!' What d'ye think of calling the hunt, old boy?”

“The Cut-'em-downs, if you're going to ride over my hounds,” said Charteris, as a heedless puppy blundered in front of Gerrard's horse. “And call you Crasher.”

“All right, Brusher!” laughed Gerrard, as they rode out into the cool darkness, an anxious dog-boy having extricated his charge. But before they reached the outskirts of the camp, the way was barred by a row of silent natives, some of them holding out papers, others extending empty hands.

“What's this?” demanded Charteris ferociously.

Dohai, sahib, dohai[3]!” was the general cry.

“Well, I'll do you justice to-morrow, as I told you. Didn't I forbid you to come to me to-day?”

“Alas, sahib, a day is but as a moment to the great, but to the poor it is even as eternity,” said an old man, who seemed to be regarded as spokesman.

“It would be a different tale if I wanted you to do anything for me in a hurry,” growled Charteris. “What do you say, Hal?”

“Oh, you have spoilt your subjects by dealing out justice too easily,” said Gerrard, “so you can't in conscience refuse it them now. Let us have our ride, and go back at your usual hour. The picnic must go. You can accommodate me with a seat on the bench, and I'll pick holes in your law.”

“That you may well do.” Charteris paused to give the necessary directions to the suppliants and his Munshis, and resumed as they rode on. “My law has too much common-sense about it to recommend itself to your conventional mind. Why, t'other day I had to decide the ownership of a disputed piece of ground—as hard swearing as ever I heard, and trains of mounted adherents and sympathisers riding with us to view the plot, and perjuring themselves for their respective sides. I saw it was six of one and half-a-dozen of t'other, so when we were returning, precious slow and stately, I gave a sudden view-halloa! and started off. They were bound to come too, and I should have died of laughing to see those old liars bumping along and running foul of one another if I hadn't been too busy. I had the claimants one on each side of me, and by judiciously boring either quad. when it seemed inclined to draw ahead, I kept 'em fairly level. When they had had as much as I thought good for them, I pulled up, and several old codgers went over their nags' heads, of course. But all I said was that as the claimants had come in level, it was clear the land was to be divided between them, and we went back and did it there and then. They had a shawl apiece to sweeten the bargain, and I made a feast for the hangers-on, so everybody was pleased.”

“That's the sort of thing that makes them call you the mad sahib,” said Gerrard. “Wonder they care to depend on you.”

“That's only because you forget that 'mad' don't mean the same to them as to us. All Sahibs are mad, of course—and say that I am a little madder than most. But all mad people are directly inspired by Heaven. Therefore the madder I am, the more surely am I inspired. Twig?”

“It's a pretty deduction. I wonder if Sadiq Ali would set me down as inspired if I stood on my head before him when I go back?”

“No, because you couldn't do it!” said Charteris wickedly. “Takes some practice even to be effectively mad, my boy.”

Whereupon Gerrard rode at him with upraised whip, and sensible conversation was at a discount until they returned to camp. Then the long hot morning was devoted to hearing petitions and trying cases. Charteris and Gerrard sat in one of the tents, with the complainants under the awning before them, and the Munshis on the ground at the side, while the witnesses perjured themselves and contradicted each other with equal gusto. In the course of the proceedings a panting messenger pushed his way through the throng carrying a red official bag, the colour showing that the letter it contained was urgent. Charteris opened it, and it seemed to Gerrard that his tanned face paled ever so little as he read. Then he looked up sharply at the messenger, whose eyes were fixed eagerly upon him.

“Sit down in the corner there, and wait until this case is finished,” he said. “Hal, I daresay you will like to look at this.” He passed the letter lightly to Gerrard, but gave his fingers a warning grip under cover of the paper.

[1] Inflated skins.

[2] Perfect leisure.

[3] Justice!

CHAPTER XVII. THE ISSUES OF AN AWFUL MOMENT.

The letter was written roughly in pencil on a large sheet of rough and discoloured paper:—

“To Lieutenant Robert Charteris, at Dera Gauleeb Khan or wherever he may be.

“MY DEAR CHARTERIS,—I am sorry to say that the fat's in the fire at last. This morning the Rajah invited us to go out with him to his garden-house, but did not send an elephant for us, as we expected. However, we rode to meet him, with a small escort. Honestly, I cannot tell whether he is to blame for what happened, or not, but at the beginning it certainly looked like an accident. There was a certain amount of confusion when we met on the way to the city gate, and the respective escorts found some difficulty in clearing a path through the crowds. Suddenly a wild fanatic of some sort—an Akaulee I should say—dashed at me from behind with a sword, and fairly knocked me off my horse. I have a cut on the head, but my hat turned the blade. There was a horrid tumult, and soldiers and people were pressed this way and that, forcing Cowper away from me. I got two or three more blows as I lay on the ground, but one of our horsemen dragged me to my feet. I saw that Sher Sing's hotties had turned tail and were in full retreat, but it did not occur to me he was leaving us to our fate until his horsemen charged back through the crowd and made straight for Cowper. He was cut down in an instant, and I saw them hacking at him before I could rally the escort. When we got through to him things looked pretty bad, for the horsemen withdrew only to come down on us afresh, and the crowd were siding with them, while all sorts of missiles began to rain from the roofs. Then old Sudda Sookhee turned up and threw himself into the breach—ordered the troops back, harangued the mob, and took us up on his own hotty. He thought it unsafe for us to go back to the Residency, in which I quite agreed with him, in view of the attitude of Sher Sing and his guards, so I decided that we should throw ourselves into the tomb of Rutton Sing outside the walls, and hold it till assistance arrived. Without Sudda Sookhee's support we could never have got through the gate, and as it was, they fired at us with matchlocks from the walls. He took us straight to the tomb, and then hurried back to see how things were going at the Residency. Before noon we were joined by the rest of our escort, who had been turned out of the fort without ceremony, but allowed to march through the city unmolested. The native apothecary has done his best for poor Cowper and me. My hurts are merely scratches, but he is badly cut about, though quite cheerful. I need not ask you to relieve us as soon as possible, as you will know that Rutton Sing's tomb is not a first-rate position for defence. I have sent a warm remonstrance to the Rajah, demanding that he shall visit us in person and express his regret for the outrage, but I repeat frankly that I do not understand his attitude. Still, you will see the importance of keeping a stiff upper lip. Cowper begs that Mrs Cowper may not be alarmed about him, as he expects (he says) to be up and about again before you turn up. We rely on you to arrive with all convenient speed. It is possible that the situation is more serious than appears.—Very sincerely yours,

RICHD. NISBET.”

Gerrard read the letter through, turning the paper this way and that to find the carefully numbered additions written in the margin or crossing the sheet. Poor Nisbet! how thoroughly he must have been thrown off his balance before he would consent to send off a rough draft like this instead of making a fair copy—such was his first involuntary reflection. Then his mind awakened suddenly to a realisation of the perilous plight of the two men and their escort. Ratan Singh's tomb! it was the very tomb in the grove, within sight of the walls of Agpur, where he himself had purposed to make a hopeless stand over Rajah Partab Singh's dead body, in defence of Partab Singh's wife and son, and where Charteris had appeared in the nick of time to save him. The place could not be held, there was no hope of that, even if it were properly provisioned, and the letter was dated two days ago. If Sher Singh were indeed a traitor—and his conduct would need a good deal of explanation if it was to be ascribed to mere cowardice—Nisbet and Cowper's position was more than serious, it was desperate. And there sat Charteris, listening with knitted brows to the lucubrations of the witnesses in this dispute over stolen cattle, pulling them up sharply when their flights of imagination became more than usually daring, and apparently oblivious alike of the disappointed messenger squatting in the corner and of the men relying upon him outside Agpur. Gerrard's breath came faster, and he wondered whether he could frame a plausible excuse for getting out of the tent and starting immediately on his return journey to Habshiabad. If Charteris was at a loss what to do, Sadiq Ali and the Rani would joyfully send every fighting man they possessed to deal a blow at Sher Singh. Suddenly Charteris turned round.

“You are precious bored by all this, I can see,” he said casually. “Never mind; it will soon be over now. Take a cigar,” and as he held out the case, his fingers again met Gerrard's with that warning pressure. His friend accepted the cheroot, and resigned himself to further waiting. It was not for long. Charteris's brief summing-up was masterly, so incisive, so searching, so constantly punctuated with popular proverbs and familiar references to the domestic affairs of the litigants, that it drew applause from both sides. Then he pronounced judgment, and the winning side rent the air with their shouts, while the losing party threw dust on their heads and lamented that they had ever been born. They went off peacefully enough, however, and fraternised with their late opponents over a sheep sent out to them by Charteris, while the two Englishmen, alone at last, faced one another in the hot shade of the tent.

“Bob, I don't think you realise how bad it is,” said Gerrard hurriedly. “They can't hold out in Ratan Singh's tomb if they are attacked with anything like vigour. We have lost too much time already.”

“Steady, old boy. No harm done. There's no starting until just before sunset, unless you think sunstroke all round would improve the efficiency of the relieving force. We have all afternoon for making arrangements.”

“But we have wasted a full hour when we might have been laying our plans.”

“Plans are laid all right. Got 'em here,” said Charteris, tapping his forehead. “What! you thought I was wholly engrossed in my family of perjurers? Purely mechanical, my boy—interest and interruptions and all. Brain working like clockwork at more than railroad speed the entire time. Everything cut and dried. Start to-night for Dera Galib to pick up my men. But those two poor chaps must have a letter to hearten them up at once. The kasid can move faster than we can, so we'll have him in and question him a little before writing. Must pay our Mr James the compliment of passing on the news, and enlightening him as to our intentions, too.”

“Just tell me first what part you have given me. Am I to accompany you with such men as I have?”

“No, you are to ride back to Habshiabad hell-for-leather, and create a diversion by crossing the Ghara with every man you can lay your hands on. Even if I get to the city in time, I shall have to fight my way back through hostile country, so if you can draw off the army by an imposing demonstration in the other direction, it may save all our lives.”

“Old boy, I did you an injustice,” said Gerrard.

“Don't apologise, my boy—quite used to it. Knew I could depend on you, though.”

The messenger, summoned into the tent, could do little more than confirm the contents of the letter, though he was able to add that of late the Agpuris had been urged by various fanatics to resist the impending rectification of frontier, and that much bad feeling had been displayed towards the Feringhees. He added that when the escort were turned out of the fort, rumour said that a conference was going on at the palace, in which the war party were making every effort to bring over Sher Singh completely to their side, assuring him that he had gone too far to retreat when he left the two wounded Englishmen to the tender mercies of his guards and the mob.

The hot hours of the afternoon were spent in issuing orders and in writing. A letter to Nisbet and Cowper, assuring them that immediate help was on its way, and adjuring them in no circumstances to surrender themselves to Sher Singh; a report addressed to James Antony, detailing the alarming news, and adding that Charteris was on the point of crossing the Tindar with a relieving force, and had requested support from Habshiabad; a formal invitation to Sadiq Ali to allow his troops to co-operate in the rescue of the Englishmen, and to Gerrard to accompany them; a proclamation to be made throughout Darwan, announcing the treachery of Sher Singh, and inviting suitable men to enlist for the purpose of punishing it; orders to the subordinate officials in various parts of the province to be on their guard against Agpuri emissaries, and to enrol and train any native Darwanis who applied to them; and—though these, indeed, were despatched first of all—directions to the troops Charteris intended to take with him to be ready to start at any hour. As the news of the preparations leaked out, deputations began to come in from villages and tribes to assure Charteris of their loyalty and entreat him to lead them against the perjured Sher Singh, and these had to be received, entertained by proxy, and dismissed, at the cost of much impatience and loss of precious time. But while Charteris was thus engaged, Gerrard and the Munshis prepared papers for his signature, and the writing work was all finished before Gerrard and his followers went down to the river on their return journey. Charteris could not even come down to see him off, much less accompany him across and ride a little way with him, as he had intended, but they promised themselves a speedy meeting before Agpur—perhaps even in the palace itself, if the Rani's prophecy was about to be fulfilled.

The men who paddled the mashaks were stimulated to unwonted exertion by the promise of large rewards, and the party, swimming their horses by the bridles, crossed in less time than Gerrard had dared to hope. A brief halt to arrange loads, inspect girths and snatch a mouthful of food, and Gerrard and his men were in the saddle, and riding steadily into the gathering darkness. The men would have ridden at top speed in their eagerness to carry the news and hasten the vengeance, but Gerrard held them back. They had a long way to go, and hard work to do, and the life of every horse, as well as of every trained man, might be of inestimable value in the days to come. When they had ridden for nearly three hours, he called another halt, that the horses might be rubbed down and have their mouths washed out with water, and the troopers refresh themselves hastily with fragments of chapati. The men were mounted again, and he was about to give the order to march, when a distant sound became audible—the sound of horses' hoofs in the direction from which they had come.

“One man—or at most two. Surely it is a messenger, sahib,” said the Granthi in command of the escort.

“We will wait to hear what news he brings. It may be that the Rajah has submitted already,” said Gerrard, and was answered by a groan of dismay from his men. “Let two shots be fired at intervals,” he went on, “that the messenger may know where to find us.”

The well-known border signal proved effectual, and the horsemen—it was now clear that there were two of them—approached rapidly. Gerrard uttered an exclamation of astonishment as he saw by the moonlight that one of them was a European, and rode back to meet him.

“Bob!” he exclaimed, in utter surprise, as Charteris slipped from his exhausted horse. “What is it?”

“Bad news. No use going on.”

“What! They are not dead?”

“Murdered—both of 'em. Tomb was shelled, but they held out. Then Sher Singh sent messengers to the escort—promised 'em double pay to join him—pair of gold bracelets to Nihal Singh. They accepted and went over—left Nisbet and Cowper all alone, except for a few faithful servants. Cowper was too badly wounded to get up, he was lying on his cot, and Nisbet sat beside him holding his hand. There was no hope of further resistance, and they told the servants to escape if they could. One of 'em hid, and brought the news to me just now. Sher Singh's men burst in, with old Sarfaraz Khan at their head, shouting all the wickedness he could lay his filthy old tongue to. Nisbet told him he might kill them, as they were only two to thousands, but that he might be sure thousands of English would come and destroy Sher Singh and his city.”

“And they killed them?”

“Hacked 'em to pieces, and took their heads to Sher Singh.” Charteris's face twitched, and he turned away angrily.

“There's no possibility that the servant's tale is false, I suppose?”

“I wish to Heaven there were. But why should Sher Singh make things out worse when they were bad enough already? Besides, I questioned the fellow pretty sharply, and he was not to be shaken. So I started at once to catch you up.”

“Thanks,” said Gerrard absently. “That poor little woman, Bob! How will she ever stand it?”

“Doesn't bear thinking of,” said Charteris brusquely. “Question is, what are we going to do?”

“Why, what can we do? Rescue their bodies, do you mean?”

“Not a bit of it. Look here, Hal; I've been thinking it out as I came along. Sher Singh has drawn the sword and thrown away the scabbard now—burnt his boats, in fact. He can't stop where he is and take his punishment quietly; he must call upon the Granthis generally to back him up. Remember, they wouldn't rise against us in cold blood, but now that he has plucked up courage to give them a lead they'll go. The servant tells me that they called upon the escort to join them in the name of God and the Guru, and the murderers were calling out Wa Guru! and Guru-ji ki Fatih! as they rushed in. They'll make a religious business of it, and every Granthi in Granthistan will join Sher Singh unless he is nipped in the bud.”

“Well, but he is nearer Granthistan than we are. Who is going to nip him in the bud?”

“You and I, if you are game.”

“Oh, I'm game to do anything that's feasible.”

“Are you game to take a big risk? If Sher Singh is to be kept from overrunning Granthistan, he must be stopped at once. I believe that you and I can do it.”

“But how? with merely the Habshiabadis and your troops?”

“Precisely. If we march on Agpur, they daren't leave the city undefended with us in their rear. They have no military genius to see that the only chance lies in snapping us up before we can unite, and straining every nerve to do it, and we can get together a large enough force to give a very good account of anything less than the whole Agpur army. If we find ourselves faced with that, and luck's against us, we shall probably go down, but we shall have done it more damage than Sher Singh can repair before he finds a British force in his country.”

“Honestly, Bob, I don't know what to say. Your plan sounds reasonable enough, but you must see that it's subversive of every rule of military science.”

“Hang military science! If we can confine Sher Singh within the bounds of his own state, prevent him from throwing down the gauntlet to British power by invading Granthistan, and make him so anxious about the safety of Agpur that we keep him there until we can get a siege train from Farishtabad to batter the walls about his ears, ain't it worth it?”

“I believe you, my boy! but can we do it? If we try and fail, it means ruin, utter and complete, for both of us.”

“And if we try and succeed, it will save England and India a second Granthi War.”

“Right, Bob; I'll do it. Give us your fist, old boy.”

Charteris drew a long breath as they shook hands. “I don't mind telling you that if you wouldn't come in, I had made up my mind to try it by myself,” he said. “And then, Hal, you might well have talked about ruin utter and complete. But as it is, why, I am proud to serve under you, old boy, and if my Darwanis don't give a good account of themselves under your command, you may call me a Dutchman.”

“Under my command? Nonsense, Bob! I am going to serve under you, of course. Why, you are the man on the spot, holding a commission from the Granthi Durbar, and obviously the proper person to punish its rebellious vassal. I am merely accompanying the troops of a friendly state as a matter of curiosity.”

“My dear Hal, it's no end good of you, but I am perfectly content. You have always been top-sawyer, you know.”

“And a precious mess I should have made of things more than once, if you had not been at hand. Why, Bob, I couldn't conscientiously take command in an affair like this. It's your idea; I should not have thought of it, and it isn't likely I should carry it out properly. You see your point and go straight at it through thick and thin, while I plot out a plan for getting there on the lines of the best commanders, with proper care for communications and supplies. But if you will give your orders, I'll carry them out or burst. If I don't agree with 'em, I promise you you shall hear about it.”

“No doubt whatever about that. Well, Hal, so be it. Even if you don't agree, you'll obey orders, I know. Just a minute or two to worry out our immediate moves, then back I go. Got a light? Take a squint at this map of mine. I propose to cross the Tindar about Kardi, so as to threaten Agpur from the south-west, throw up such entrenchments as time allows, and wait there for you. You will cross the Ghara wherever you find most convenient—the Habshi with his local knowledge will advise you best there—remembering that if you can get far enough to the east to give the impression of threatening the city from another side, so much the better, but remembering also that unless you come up quickly, I may have the whole Agpur army launched against me.”

“My dear Bob, you forget the distance I shall have to march. You will be annihilated before I can reach you.”

“Not if I know you, or myself and my Darwanis. If I can hold the Agpuris in front, while you come up and deliver a flank attack, I will, but that circumstances must decide. We will keep open communications by means of kasids if we can, but it is quite possible we may have to act independently. At any rate, I will not leave Kardi alive without letting you know, and you won't let anything short of a signed message from me persuade you that I have abandoned it?”

“Trust me. But I wish we could both have made forced marches and met at a point on the Ranjitgarh side of Agpur.”

“So do I. But if wishes were horses——! The meanest intelligence, even Sher Singh's, couldn't miss the propriety of attacking us in detail if we trailed our toy armies separately past him with the force we possess. Don't think I labour under any delusion as to our powers. We can't push Sher Singh back; we can only hold him back by fear for the city. We can't hope to conquer him, but we may make it impossible for him to move until a British brigade with battering guns arrives to eat him up.”

“I see. Less glorious, but possibly quite as useful.”

“Just so. And there's a private and personal advantage for us in being on this side of the city rather than the other. Our Mr James will readily acknowledge that while there was a chance of rescuing our poor fellows we were bound to cross into Agpur. But when he hears they are dead, I have a foreboding—I feel it in my bones—that he will instantly order us back. Of course I shall send him all particulars—my reasons for invading the country, our force, our anticipations of success, the exact reinforcement we need to finish the job in style, and you will do the same before leaving Habshiabad. But it is a good long way for the messengers to go, both in your case and mine, and it is also a good long way back, and the same address may not always find us. Therefore I trust that when we get our orders for retreat, we shall be so far into Agpur that it is impossible to obey. Even James Antony would allow a man a little discretion when to go forward is safety, and to go back would mean destruction.”

“You old fox!” cried Gerrard. “I'll back you up, don't be afraid. We'll put the telescope to the blind eye, and our careers may go hang!”

“That's the style. We shall have you a swaggering dare-devil yet, old boy. And now it's boot and saddle again. Good-bye, and come up in time.”

“Good-bye. Take care of yourself, Bob.”

Charteris laughed as he swung himself into the saddle. He and his orderly clattered off into the night, and the campaign of vengeance had begun.

CHAPTER XVIII. THE CAMPAIGN OF VENGEANCE.

“To Lieutenant Henry Gerrard, wherever he may be.

“DEAR HAL,—For Heaven's sake bring up your guns by five o'clock to-morrow afternoon. I have nothing but zumboorucks,[1] and Chund Sing with all the Augpoor artillery is in front of me. I will maintain my position at all costs till five, but if you have not come up then I must retreat across the river—and my Grunthees will stay on this side of it.—Yours,

R. CHARTERIS.”

Charteris wrote the message in Greek characters, forming the letters stiffly with unaccustomed fingers, and pausing now and then for recollection. Gerrard would be able to read it, but no native in India could do so. He made three copies, and despatched them by separate messengers along different routes—by the river-bank, to the south and to the south-east respectively—in the hope that one of them would succeed in reaching his friend.

Charteris looked older and thinner than when he had parted from Gerrard a fortnight before, and his face was tanned to a more pronounced red than ever. Many hours of gloom had been encountered in the fulfilment of the task willed in that hour of insight. Unforeseen difficulties of various kinds had hindered him, and it was also quite certain that he had underestimated the time necessary for Gerrard's arrival from Habshiabad with the reinforcements. On returning to his camp that first evening, he had mounted a fresh horse, and ridden on at once towards his headquarters at Dera Galib Khan, whither his messengers had preceded him, warning the Granthi troops there to be ready to take the field at once. Fast though he travelled, however, reaching Dera Galib in two nights of hard riding, he had been outstripped. Emissaries from Sher Singh had already been at work among the Granthis, calling upon them to join their brethren who had betrayed Nisbet and Cowper, and fight the English for the sake of God and the Guru. Valuable gifts, and the promise of doubled pay and unlimited loot, strengthened the effect of the appeal, and the men were seething with disaffection when Charteris came to them. They had not quite arrived at the point of murdering him and his lieutenants and marching to join Sher Singh, but the thing was openly discussed, and very little was needed to precipitate matters. In face of this heavy blow, Charteris acted with his customary despatch. The disaffected infantry he took with him, deciding that under his own eye they would be as safe on active service as anywhere, but the artillery he left with a heavy heart at Dera Galib. He had counted much on their services, but he durst not take the gunners where a bribe or two would double Sher Singh's present strength, and there was no time to extemporise artillerists from among the Darwanis. These wild men rushed to his standard joyfully as soon as they heard he needed recruits, and the robbers whom he had fined and whose forts he had destroyed forsook the pursuits of peace and declared themselves ready to follow him to the gates of hell if necessary. Of them he chose out those who already had relatives or fellow-clansmen in his irregular corps to accompany him at once, leaving the rest under the command of his subordinate Carpenter at Dera Galib, nominally for drill, but also to serve as a check upon the disaffected artillery.

With his untrustworthy Granthis and his half-trained auxiliaries he crossed the Tindar at Kardi, as he had intended, and employed the former, to their intense disgust, in throwing up rough entrenchments round the camp. The Darwanis he sent out in raiding-parties (this operation appeared under the more decorous name of “making reconnaissances” in his reports to Ranjitgarh), with orders not to penetrate more than a certain distance into the country, but to do as much damage as possible, and bring back supplies for the force. These tactics had the result he anticipated. Sher Singh's army, which was organising itself, with much squabbling and mutual recrimination, for a dash across the frontier, found its rear threatened, and perceived that unless the capital was to be left open to attack, these impudent intruders must be driven back to their own side of the river. The matter was complicated by the speedy appearance of the Habshiabad troops in the south of the state, where Gerrard seized one of the riverside towns, and held it by means of Rukn-ud-din's men and the most serviceable of the Nawab's batteries of artillery, while he laboured day and night, with Sadiq Ali, almost beside himself with joy, hindering as much as helping him, to get the army into the field. Happily the problem was not so complicated as it would have been in the case of European troops, and the Nawab and his soldiers alike would have scouted the idea of obtaining supplies otherwise than from the country traversed, but weapons for the men and transport for the guns, and ammunition for both, were necessaries difficult to improvise on the spur of the moment. The Habshiabadis took the field at last, in a state that would have made a European commander tear his hair, and Gerrard hustled them on, blooding them by a smart little engagement with a force sent by Sher Singh's nearest governor to dispute their passage. The Rani joined them with every man she could bring as soon as they were ready to cross the Ghara, but left the command of her contingent to Rukn-ud-din, maintaining rigid seclusion on her elephant with one or two faithful attendants.

Thus far, then, Charteris's bold scheme was justified. Sher Singh's power for mischief beyond his own borders was largely neutralised for the present, and for so long as an active enemy remained in arms upon his soil. But the march from the Habshiabad frontier to Kardi was a matter of seven days in favourable circumstances, and this was the hot weather, and the partially trained troops disgraced their leader by straggling, making unauthorised expeditions for the sake of plunder, demanding longer halts and more frequent opportunities of meeting the foe, and all manner of other military crimes. The high officers who accompanied them on gorgeous elephants, with long trains of attendants and baggage-animals, were quite useless as an aid to discipline, and Gerrard fell into the habit of issuing his orders first, and then sending a special copy to be handed round among them. It was not at all the fulfilment of the ideal he had set before himself, the reformation of the army through and with the help of its leaders, but time was pressing, and far ahead, at Kardi, Bob Charteris was looking out for him and wondering why he did not come.

The elements seemed to combine with troublesome humanity against Charteris at this moment. A sudden rise of the river, a week before the usual date, flooded him out of his entrenchments and obliged him to take up a less satisfactory position. Moreover, at the same time, Chand Singh, the Agpur general, after some painful vacillation as to whether he should annihilate the western or the southern intruder first, made up his mind suddenly, and marched with quite unexpected speed upon Kardi, driving in the Darwani raiding-parties before him. One fortunate result of his haste was that his guns were left behind, and he was obliged to wait for them, but his army held the whole range of ground in front of Charteris. Charteris had requisitioned every boat that could be found on the Darwan side, and kept them safely guarded, but it would be quite easy to obtain others if Chand Singh cared to try a naval action. This he would probably combine with a frontal attack all along the line as soon as his artillery arrived, with the result that Charteris's force must choose between destruction and being driven into the river, unless they retreated in time. But everything forbade this last course. It would leave Gerrard's force exposed to the full onslaught of the Agpur army, and even if they succeeded in escaping across the river, would set Sher Singh free to pursue his larger designs, which would probably begin with an invasion of Darwan, and a joyful reception from the unsettled Granthi artillery at Dera Galib. Moreover, Charteris had a shrewd idea that somewhere on that other bank would be lying in wait for him that despatch from Ranjitgarh, the receipt of which he had hitherto successfully evaded, but which was practically certain to contain a sharp order to return at once into his own province. Every possible consideration, therefore, urged him to hold out at Kardi at all costs, but when on this particular evening he wrote his notes to Gerrard, of whose whereabouts and approach he had for several days received only vague rumours, he was face to face with the necessity of retiring unless relieved.

This necessity was not to be made public, either to the unsatisfactory Granthis or to the dispirited Darwanis, who were perpetually entreating to be let loose against Chand Singh's array, which they were quite certain they could drive away, if not destroy. Charteris said nothing of it, even to his sole European companion, whom Carpenter had unselfishly sent to his assistance with a small reinforcement. But in view of the morrow even his iron nerve gave way, and he found himself noting narrowly the colloguing of the Granthis round their camp-fires, and their sudden silence when he approached, and wondering whether a murderous attack in the night would be the end of it after all. He pulled himself together quickly. He had done the best he could, what he thought was right, and it had at any rate delayed Sher Singh long enough to prevent his taking the British in Granthistan by surprise, and when he did it he had known that he staked his life on the result. To-morrow was bound to be a hard day, whatever happened, and he would want every ounce of force that he possessed. What folly to be sitting up listening for murderers! He added hastily the concluding words to the report so scrupulously sent off day by day to James Antony, bade Vixen keep guard, and lay down and slept. Gerrard would not have been able to sleep in these circumstances, and Charteris's lieutenant was equally destitute of the capacity for repose. He roused his chief quite unnecessarily early in the morning, his flushed face and haggard eyes telling of vain attempts at slumber, though he merely guessed at what Charteris knew.

“Chand Singh's guns are beginning to come into camp,” he announced dramatically.

“Oh, all right. Bound to come some time,” was the sleepy response. But Warner was not to be put off.

“The Granthis are all standing to arms already, and Bishen Ram is sporting a pair of gold bracelets.”

“Ah!” said Charteris sharply. This was news indeed, for it was a gift of gold bracelets to their commandant that had heralded the defection of Nisbet and Cowper's escort to Sher Singh. “Keep an eye on them from the door here while I dress, Warner. I have the zamburaks trained on them, so they can't take us by surprise.”

Having succeeded in producing an impression, Warner was emboldened to go further. Nothing but making Charteris as nervous as himself would have satisfied him, and yet it was not fear, but overwork and want of sleep, that combined with anxiety to keep him tramping restlessly about. “I suppose you have full confidence in Gerrard?” he hazarded.

“Full confidence?” Charteris's voice, inside the tent, evidently issued from the folds of a towel. “Why, of course. Every confidence that a man could have in another.”

“There was a story that you and he had quarrelled——”

“Well?” the word snapped out.

“Er—about some girl, I believe. But quarrelled, anyhow. You don't think he would take this opportunity——?”

“To pay me out? I would as soon believe that you had been bribed by Chand Singh to try and discourage me.”

“Well, that's pretty strong, I must say.” Warner's tone was injured.

“It is; and if you want it stronger, I'll say that I would sooner believe it.” Charteris emerged from the tent as he spoke and looked keenly at his subordinate. “My dear fellow, your nerves are all to pieces. Steady, steady! This is going to be one of the worst days you ever had, and I mean you to come out of it with credit. Take a couple of orderlies to keep guard, and go down and get a good swim. If you feel inclined for a snooze afterwards, take an hour or two with my blessing. I will be responsible for this mighty array meanwhile. No, I really mean it. Be off with you!”

Slightly ashamed, Warner obeyed, and Charteris rode through the Darwani bivouac, and backed up the zamburaks with a line of musketmen. Passing on to where the Granthis had slept, he found them, as Warner had said, standing to their arms, but there was evident to his eye a certain amount of hesitation, as though his most recent precaution was not entirely to their liking. Without betraying any suspicion, he rode straight up to Bishen Ram, the Sirdar, and complimented him upon the alertness of his men.

“My Darwanis I must rouse, keen fighters though they are,” he said, “but I find my Granthis in arms before the order is even issued. Well for the commander who has such men under him! And why are we so brave to-day, Sirdar-ji?”

He indicated the bracelets upon the sinewy arms, and was aware of a savage grin, instantly repressed, upon the faces of the men nearest at hand. Bishen Ram replied without the slightest embarrassment. “It appears to your honour's servants that to-day there will be a fight to the death, and it is the custom of my unworthy house to meet death clad as beseems a gentleman.”

“A good custom indeed! and no ornament could better become a loyal soldier,” said Charteris, with just sufficient meaning in his voice to leave the traitors uncertain whether he had penetrated their designs or not. He took advantage of their uncertainty to ride back in safety, knowing that he was in most danger when he had his back to them, and reached his tent unharmed, but persuaded of the critical nature of the situation. The treachery of the Granthis, whether actual or only potential, practically neutralised the powers of the rest of his force. If he ordered them to advance, they would promptly fraternise with the foe, if he kept them in reserve, they would fall upon his rear, and if he led the whole line into battle, they would turn their arms against their comrades. A day of inglorious waiting, with one half of his force—for the better training of the Granthis compensated for the smallness of their numbers—in arms against the other half, until either Chand Singh came on in overwhelming strength or Gerrard appeared, seemed to lie before him.

And so it turned out. Throughout the sultry hours he held his position, not daring to move his men save to drive back tentative advances on the part of the enemy, which he knew were designed to cover the movements of their artillery. He could not press his attack home, far less penetrate to the guns, and the range of his musketry would of course be hopelessly inadequate when Chand Singh chose to begin to pound him from a distance. He did choose at last, about half-way through the day, and to the tortures of inaction were added the lively reproaches of the force. Lying down to be a target for artillery fire was not an exercise that commended itself to the native mind, and Charteris became the unwilling centre of a group of protesting Granthis and Darwanis, who had each of them his special plan for making the day more interesting, and plucked at the European's sleeve when they were tired of shrieking into his ears. It was with a certain grim pleasure that he received the remonstrances of the Granthis, whose plans must all have been disarranged by his unexpected immobility. Chand Singh's cannon-balls fell as impartially among them as among their fellows, perhaps as a gentle hint that if they were going to change sides they might as well do it at once, but the distance that separated the armies was sufficient to account for a good many of them if they were exposed to Charteris's fire. Yes, the Granthis deserved all they got, but his heart bled for his Darwanis. Less fitted, both by nature and training, for passive endurance, they could not understand his inertness. “Sahib, can you expect us to endure this?” they cried reproachfully, as the round-shot crashed among them. “We are here to die, but let us die fighting, not crouching on the ground!”

Not until four o'clock was he able to seem to listen to their appeals, and this was only because Chand Singh, apparently emboldened by the passivity of his foe, deliberately advanced four guns to a spot little beyond the reach of their musketry, and began to try the range. Charteris detected at once the bait which was to draw him from his position and give the Granthis their long-sought opportunity, and set his teeth hard. The line should not advance. Turning his back on Bishen Ram, whose protests were very nearly becoming threats, he called up the heads of two Darwani clans, of late the fiercest and most troublesome of his robber-vassals.

“You are willing to ride to death, brothers?”

A great shout answered him. “Into hell itself, sahib!”

“I knew it. But are you willing to turn back half-way, and return?”

“Never, sahib; never!”

“Then you are not the men for me.” He turned away with ostentatious disappointment, only to feel his sleeves gripped on either side by eager hands.

“We will do it, sahib, though it be more bitter than death.”

“I thought I could count on you. Listen then, brothers. I want those four guns dismounted, and rolled into the marsh near at hand. We will cover your charge by advancing within musket-shot of the guns, but further we cannot go. Can I trust you to return when your work is done, without attempting to ride further?”

“Highness, you can.”

“It is well. The one who returns first, bringing his men with him, shall receive my revolving pistol; to the other I will give my watch.”

“The gifts of the Sahib are great as his fame,” said the two Darwanis together, as they raced off to their followers. Charteris made his dispositions hurriedly. Twenty men, his best shots, were sent out under Warner to wriggle through the long grass to within range of the guns, and pick off the gunners when they attempted to fire. The rest of the Darwanis—such as possessed fire-arms, at least—were ordered to load, but remain where they were, and the Granthis to fall back a hundred yards. The eyes of all were fixed upon the favoured few, who, with upraised hands, were repeating the Kalima[2] before they set forth upon their perilous ride, but Charteris managed to convey a brief warning to the Darwani chiefs and officers near him. The forlorn hope burst forth from the low jungle that had served as cover all day—starting on the left of the advanced party, so as not to mask its fire, and as their progress was marked with shouts by their fellows, his ear caught the sound he had expected, the ring of ramrods behind him on the right. The Granthis were loading without orders.

“To the right, turn. Ready. Present.” His voice rang out, and the Darwanis nearest him looked to see if he had gone mad, that he should bid them turn away from watching their champions' ride. But as his whistle reinforced the order, the chiefs whose minds he had prepared rushed among their followers, and by voice and blows forced them to obey. The sight of the Granthis at work with their ramrods betrayed the truth at once, and the wild men took a step forward with a howl, and would have precipitated themselves upon their hereditary foes if Charteris had not stopped them. The Granthis, deprived of the advantage they had anticipated, of pouring in a volley from behind on their unsuspecting allies, looked foolish, and Charteris rode forward and rated Bishen Ram, and bade him order his men to withdraw their charges. For a moment they hesitated whether to direct their fire on him—the forlorn hope was happily out of range of their present position—but the habit of discipline combined with the knowledge that the Darwanis were thirsting to fire to induce them to obey. The mask was worn very thin now, however, and Charteris hardly dared turn his eyes from them even to receive his returning heroes, who had duly dashed at the guns, dismounted them and tumbled them into the swamp, and ridden back—all that were left of them—under a heavy fire from the concealed matchlockmen on the other side. The promised rewards were duly bestowed on two gory figures, and Charteris returned to the bush which had afforded him partial shelter at intervals during the day, and wondered how long the Granthis would maintain even the pretence of obedience if Gerrard did not come.

As the thought passed through his mind, it seemed to him that a deeper and more distant boom mingled with the sound of Chand Singh's cannon, and the nearer popping of his musketry, and when he listened he heard it again. The two signal shots! Yes, Gerrard was coming, was evidently attacking the enemy's left, where their main camp was situated. At first there was no cessation either in the cannonade poured into Charteris's force or in the musketry-fire, but gradually both slackened. Evidently Chand Singh was withdrawing his forces from this front, but whether it was to employ them against Gerrard or to make good his retreat there was no means of knowing. The trying thing was that even now Charteris could not venture to loose his Darwanis on the foe, for the accession of the Granthis to Chand Singh's ranks might turn the tide in the enemy's favour, and he was not sanguine enough to hope that they would consent to remain neutral. He could only trust that the Habshiabadis were in a better condition to pursue—but when he and Gerrard met he learned that it was not so. On receiving Charteris's message, Gerrard had come on with his artillery and an escort, leaving the rest of his force to hold a detachment sent against him by Chand Singh.

“Talk about the rules of military science, indeed! Think of your trailing cow-guns unsupported through a hostile country!” cried Charteris. “But it was a regular case of night or Blücher, old boy, and I knew what a brick you were.”

“A brick! I feel like one,” laughed Gerrard. He and Charteris looked at one another and laughed again. They had both discarded their tunics in favour of what they called blouses, loose holland garments like long Norfolk jackets, and Gerrard had exchanged his cap for a hat of white feathers lined with green, the precursor of the sun-helmet.

“Good job we ain't in Khemistan. Old Harry Lennox would have court-martialled us like winkin',” said Charteris. “He wouldn't even consider it an extenuating circumstance that we've won.”

“Not very much of a win, since we can't follow it up.”

“Well, I don't know. Another fight like this will bring us in sight of Agpur.”

[1] Guns mounted on the backs of camels.

[2] The Mohammedan creed.

CHAPTER XIX. AS OTHERS SEE US.

“I can't think why there was no letter for me!” lamented Marian Cowper.

“Perhaps it will come by a special runner to-morrow,” suggested Honour. “Papa would send it on, I am sure.”

“But it ought to have come to-day. Charley has never missed his proper day before.”

“Perhaps he was too busy to write.”

“Too busy! As if he would let anything keep him from writing to me!”

“I didn't mean that he would not wish to write, but that he might not be able,” explained Honour with care.

“Of course. You needn't apologize for Charley to me, thank you. If he doesn't write it's because he can't, and any one else would understand how I feel about it—especially when it is getting so near the time for him to come back.” Marian's nerves were evidently on edge, as she moved restlessly about the room, and shot out her sentences at her sister like darts. “I wish you wouldn't sit there so quietly. You don't sympathize a bit. If Charley doesn't come up here next month as he promised, I don't know what I shall do. At any rate, if anything happens it will be his fault.”

“Oh, Marian, how can you be so unfair?” cried Honour, with her usual earnestness. “You know poor Charles will come if he possibly can. And how dreadful to say it would be his fault if anything went wrong!”

“I didn't say 'if anything went wrong'; I said 'if anything happened,'“ corrected Marian pettishly. “And I don't know why you should say 'poor Charles.' He would be perfectly happy if he was here with me, and so should I. He understands things—oh, I do want him so!”

“Oh, don't cry,” entreated Honour in alarm. “Dear Marian, you will only do yourself harm, you know, and you were so anxious he should find you well and cheerful. Just finish your letter to him, and then let us sit out on the verandah a little before going to bed. The Antonys' guests will be leaving, and you know how pretty the torches look among the hills.”

“How can I finish my letter when I don't know whether there is anything in his to answer?” complained Marian. “Well, I will leave it unsealed, and put in an extra sheet if necessary. I'll come out in a minute. I'm sorry I am so cross, Honour. After all it isn't your fault that you are not Charley.”

“Of course not,” said Honour indignantly, and there was more than a suggestion of what was known, in those days of distended skirts, as “flouncing” in the quick rustle with which she left the room. Somehow Marian and she seemed perpetually to rub one another the wrong way, and every one thought it was her fault, because Marian was always so bright and pleasant in public. Marian received plenty of sympathy and wanted more, but Honour felt that a little would be very pleasant to herself. Yet why should her thoughts in this connection be suddenly discovered to have flown to Gerrard? “He understands,” she said to herself, and blushed hotly in the darkness to remember that these were the very words Marian had used of her husband. Giving herself a little shake, as though to get rid of the momentary foolishness, she bent her thoughts sternly to the subject of Sir Edmund and Lady Antony's dinner-party. Ladies in the hills whose husbands were on service did not accept invitations in those benighted days, and Honour had naturally remained with her sister. Their bungalow stood a little higher than the Resident's Lodge, and the effect of the torches by which all the guests were lighted along the hill-paths was very pretty from their verandah.

“Marian,” she called out, “the people are beginning to leave. Some one is coming up our path.”

“Oh, it is only the new people—a judge or something and his wife—who have taken Hilltop Hall. But I shall have finished before they pass the gate. I should like to see what they are like.”

But long before the usual procession—a gentleman on a pony, a lady in a jampan, and torchbearers and servants ad libitum —which Honour was expecting could have reached the gate, it was opened and two people came up the steep path to the bungalow. By the light of the torch carried before them by a servant, Honour recognised Lady Antony, with a burnouse thrown over her evening dress, and her husband. Her heart stood still, for such a visit could only mean bad news. Sir Edmund and his wife were fond of dropping in informally on their young neighbours, but to leave their guests, at an important entertainment in their own house—this was unheard of. Honour ran to the top of the steps to meet them.

“Oh, what is it?” she cried, lowering her voice so that it should not reach Marian. “Is it papa?”

“Sir Arthur is well. I have a letter from him,” said Sir Edmund. “Your mother is also in good health.”

“Then who is it?” demanded Honour fearfully. “Is it either of my brothers? Oh, not—not Charles?”

“Hush! let me break it to her,” said Lady Antony, as Marian's pretty sparkling face, the eyes wide with astonishment, appeared at the window. “Dear Marian,” she took the girl's arm and led her back into the room, “I have something to say to you.”

“What was it—cholera?” Honour was asking with dry lips of Sir Edmund as they stood on the verandah.

“No, unfortunately.” Honour's eyes met his in perplexity. “It was murder. This morning I received news that Captain Cowper and Mr Nisbet had been wounded in a street-tumult at Agpur, but that Cowper's injuries were so slight he did not wish his wife alarmed about them. To-night your father sends a runner to say that the poor fellows were pursued and murdered outside the city.”

“How dreadful!” was all Honour could say.

“Dreadful indeed,” said Sir Edmund gloomily. “I have no doubt that Sher Singh will be able to clear himself of any complicity in the crime, but I fear he must have shown culpable weakness. And weakness is difficult to distinguish from wickedness at a time when men's passions are excited, as they are bound to be by this news.”

“But what does it signify about Sher Singh? It is poor Charles we have to think of, and poor, poor Marian!” cried Honour indignantly. Sir Edmund's eyes looked beyond her.

“Pardon me; we have the whole question of the treatment of native states, the whole principle of justice to the native, to think of. Eyes blinded by the natural, though unholy, desire for revenge are little fitted to see clearly. There is grave reason to fear that even now hasty steps have been taken, which may compromise our future action. I understand that young Charteris crossed the frontier, or was about to cross it, on the news of the outbreak. My brother reports that he has ordered him to return immediately, but it is almost impossible that the harm has not been done.”

“What harm?” demanded Honour. “Mr Charteris hoped to save poor Charles, of course. Then, when he knew he was too late for that, he would try to rescue his body.”

Sir Edmund looked at her with a kind of despair for her feminine obtuseness. “That is quite out of the question,” he said, “and Charteris knows it. If he went on, it would be——”

“You don't mean that Marian will never know where her husband is buried—never be able to visit his grave?”

“It is highly probable. My dear young lady, what can it signify where our vile bodies lie? They are in God's keeping, whether cast out on the face of the ground or laid in a churchyard at home.”

“Oh, don't!” Honour could have shaken Sir Edmund. “Can't you see? Oh, please don't say anything of that kind to Marian, as if she had not enough to bear already.”

“I do not think I introduced the subject——”

“I must see how poor Marian is,” interrupted Honour, and left him hastily. She had a momentary vision of her sister sobbing in Lady Antony's arms, but a warning hand upraised forbade her to enter the room, and she returned unwillingly to Sir Edmund, who had forgotten all about the difference of opinion in the hurry of his thoughts.

“I shall go down to-morrow night,” he said, as though speaking to himself. “I cannot be sure of James when it is a question of keeping these young fellows in order. Charteris must return at once, of course, and one can only hope that he may not have done irreparable harm.”

“What harm could he do, with only a few men, against Sher Singh's whole army?” demanded Honour.

“The harm of making it appear that the case has been prejudged. Sher Singh may have been innocent of all but cowardice, but to send an army against him without inquiry will force him in self-defence to throw himself into the arms of the war-party. He must be approached without show of force, and his life guaranteed to him if he will consent to submit his conduct to an impartial court of inquiry—such as the Durbar here.”

“You think only of Sher Singh!” cried Honour hotly. “I think of poor Charley murdered, without a finger raised to save him. I want Sher Singh punished—do you hear?” with a stamp of her foot—“and I hope Mr Charteris will do it, and not care what orders you send him!”

Sir Edmund had been looking at her as though she were a pigmy viewed from a mountain-top, so she told herself indignantly, but now his eyes flashed, and a tinge of colour crept into his sallow, haggard face. “If, as I understand, you have some influence with Mr Charteris, I would advise you, for his sake, not to make him acquainted with your views, Miss Cinnamond,” he said coldly. “The natural warmth of a young man's constitution is sufficiently powerful to lead him astray, without being raised to fever-heat by the uninstructed interference of sentimental females.”

“I shall certainly not attempt to influence Mr Charteris, but I hope to hear that he has acted as I would wish him without that,” Honour managed to say before the lump in her throat prevented her speaking. With her head held very high, she walked away to the end of the verandah, and finding a seat in the shadow of the creepers, hid herself there and wept silently—for Charley Cowper lying unburied outside the walls of Agpur, for Marian, bereaved of love and hope at nineteen, for the child that its father would never see, and a little for Honour Cinnamond, who had intended to do such great things, and was such a failure all round. Sir Edmund forgot her existence, as she knew he would, and walked up and down the verandah with bent head and hands clasped behind his back. Sometimes he trod firmly and even whistled in a meditative way, and then he would pull himself up suddenly and creep backwards and forwards in silence, remembering the task in which his wife was engaged. It was long before Lady Antony came out, with swollen eyes, and called softly to Honour before taking her husband's offered arm.

“I have persuaded your sister to go to bed, and it would be kinder not to disturb her again to-night. Her good old ayah is with her, and I hope she may get some rest.”

“But I must go to her!” protested Honour. “She would think it so unkind.”

“Better not, dear, I think. In fact, I may say she begged not to be disturbed. I did not tell her, lest something should happen to prevent it, but you will be glad to hear that the runner had orders to lay a double dâk for the Lady Memsahib at all the stations as he came, so I hope we shall see your dear mother here some time to-morrow.”

The news was inexpressibly welcome, but Honour bade good-night to Lady Antony with distinct resentment. As though Marian would not choose to have her own sister beside her at this time of desolation instead of a servant! For a moment she thought of taking things into her own hands, and bidding the ayah go to bed while she would watch, but peeping into Marian's room she saw her lying exhausted on the bed, a tired sob breaking from her at intervals, while the old Goanese woman rubbed her mistress's feet gently, crooning a soft unintelligible song. She could not be banished, certainly, but at least Honour might share the watch, and presently she made her appearance armed with pillows and a coverlet, intending to lie down on the sofa in her sister's room. Old Anna looked at her warningly as she entered, but Marian heard the rustling of the bedclothes and glanced up sharply.

“Please go to bed properly in your own room, Honour. I want nobody but Nanna.”

“I will only lie down here, in case you call. I won't say a word,” said Honour, unmoved by the glitter in her sister's eyes, from which the film of weariness had vanished. Marian raised herself on her elbow.

“I will send Nanna if I want you. Please go.” As Honour still hesitated, her voice rose higher. “Go, go! I don't want you here. You never appreciated my dear Charley.”

“Go, missy, go!” entreated the old woman. “Missus not know what she done say.” But Honour was too deeply hurt.

“Oh, Marian, how can you say such a thing? Why, if I had not liked him for himself, I should have loved him because he was so fond of you, dear fellow!”

“You said to mamma that he was so very ordinary. I heard you through the chiks,” persisted Marian, holding her with accusing eyes.

“I didn't mean you to hear. How could I tell you were there? And I learned to know him better afterwards—how good and kind he was.” Honour defended herself desperately.

“It was not my hearing you, but your saying it, that mattered. I could laugh at it at the time, knowing what he really was, but now—I can't bear to have you in the room with me, to-night, at any rate, when you misjudged him so.”

“Oh, Marian, how can you be so unkind? If I was in trouble, I would not keep you away.”

“You would not be in this kind of trouble. You couldn't be. It isn't in you.” Marian hurled her shafts deliberately. “You don't understand what it is to care for any one as I care for Charley, and I believe you never will. You can let two men go on making love to you at once for more than a year, because you can't make up your mind which of them you like best.”

“Is that my fault? I don't like either of them in that way.”

“No, but you like knowing that they think of you, and care for you, and watch for the least crumb of kindness you are willing to throw them. When you thought poor Charteris was dead, you luxuriated in misery with that very foolish young Gerrard, who ought to have given you the choice of taking him or leaving him there and then, and when Charteris came back, you snubbed him. And if Gerrard should be killed now, in trying to save my dear Charley, I suppose you and Charteris would mingle your tears over him. No, Charteris has more sense. He won't let himself be treated——”

Honour's eyes were bright. “Oh, do you mean that Mr Gerrard is helping Mr Charteris? Sir Edmund did not mention him.”

“They are co-operating, Lady Antony told me—making forced marches in the hot weather, to avenge Charley if they can't save him. But you don't care—or if you do, it's only because you like to think you can be an inspiration to them without giving anything in return. You don't want to marry either of them, but you won't break with them so long as they are willing to dangle about you.”

“I don't want to marry either of them, it is true, but if they are willing to be my friends still, why should I break with them, as you call it?”

“Because each of them thinks that you will be willing to marry him one day, and you know it. You are rather proud of their constancy, and your own firmness in not yielding to either of them. But it is not a thing to be proud of; it is a thing to be ashamed of and sorry for. You could make far more of either of those men by coming down from your pedestal and marrying him in an ordinary everyday way than by standing up above him and giving him good advice. I know you have some delusion that it is better and higher to be as you are, but I tell you that I had rather have married my Charley and known him as he really was and—yes, and even lost him—than stood on high and given good advice to a whole army. Oh, Charley, my dear kind Charley—and I behaved so badly to you when you went away! I never kissed you!”

A fresh paroxysm of tears succeeded the angry words, and Honour yielded to the ayah's whispered entreaties, and left the room. Grief and resentment combined to give her a very disturbed night, and when Lady Cinnamond arrived, tired and travel-stained, about mid-day, after an unbroken journey from Ranjitgarh, she was shocked at her daughter's appearance. But there was no time to think of Honour, for Marian, hearing her mother's voice, had tottered to her door.

“Oh, dear mamma, I have wanted you so much! You understand, you know all about it.”

Not until the evening did Honour see her mother again, and then Lady Cinnamond crept out on tiptoe into the verandah.

“Honour, love, I have been so longing to speak to you, but I could not leave poor Marian until she fell asleep. I am very anxious about papa. He has never been alone in the hot weather before, and he is so terribly imprudent.”

“You would like me to go down and take care of him? I shall be delighted, mamma. I find I must be thankful if any one will let me even stay near them.”

“Dear little one, you must not think——”

“I do not think, mamma; I know. I know that Marian has begged you to send me away, and said she shall go mad if she sees me about. She said almost as much as that to me last night. I suppose I deserve it somehow, but I really don't see how.”

“Onora, dear child, you must not misjudge poor Marian. She has had a fearful blow, and is hardly responsible for what she says. You know that I would never send you away from me. But I see that I must stay here with her for the present, and it makes me so unhappy to leave dear papa——”

“And you do know how I long to be of use to any one, don't you, mamma? I wanted to comfort Marian, but she would not let me. Oh, mamma, she said such cruel, unjust things. And is it my fault if I can't—if I can't——?”

“No, my love, certainly not. And if you have been—well, not very wise, in what you have done and said, no one who knew you could possibly credit you with any but the best motives. And you will take care of papa, and see that he does not go out in the sun unnecessarily? I feel that it is very cruel to send you down to Ranjitgarh again in the heat, my precious one.”

“What does it signify, mamma? I am sure Marian would be rather pleased if I died. No, I ought not to have said that. I am really glad to have some idea what the hot weather is—even though I shall be in a cool house, with every comfort. They have nothing of that sort, have they—marching in the heat to punish Charley's murderers?”

“Who—those two young men? Oh, my dear child, is it always to be they, and not he?”

“I don't know; how can I tell? Oh, mamma, they are both so good, and they do everything together, and I think it is so splendid of them both to have risked everything like this. If only they were both my brothers!”

“I suppose I should have been too proud with two such sons added to those I have. One of them as a son-in-law would quite satisfy me, if it satisfied you, dearest. But that seems too much to hope for,” said Lady Cinnamond despairingly.

But when Honour reached Ranjitgarh, under the escort of Sir Edmund Antony—who fell ill again the day after his arrival, and was promptly ordered back to the hills by his doctors—she found that the general opinion of Charteris's and Gerrard's conduct reflected his verdict rather than hers. Charteris was the head and front of the offending, for Gerrard's self-suppression in placing himself under his orders had had the unlooked-for effect of concentrating attention, and blame, on the man nominally responsible. Charteris had precipitated matters by his hasty action, he was driving Sher Singh to revolt, he would set all Granthistan in a blaze, and incidentally be wiped out himself—in which case he would richly deserve his fate. The confused rumours which came through of the skirmishes preceding the battle near Kardi created an atmosphere highly unfavourable to a cool consideration of his reports when they arrived. The rumours spoke of defeat, retreat, heavy loss—the reports of positions maintained and a steady pressure on the foe, and as such a measure of success, attained by unauthorised and unprecedented means, was in itself most improbable, the rumours received far greater credit. The action of Lieutenant Charteris became a public scandal, focussing Anglo-Indian attention on Granthistan to a highly undesirable extent. The newly arrived Governor-General, Lord Blairgowrie, who possessed two supreme qualifications for his high office in a total ignorance of things Indian and a splendid self-confidence, wrote several of his well-known incisive letters to the Antony brothers, reflecting upon the discipline of their subordinates. Unkindest cut of all, old Sir Henry Lennox grasped joyfully at the chance of avenging a few of the wrongs he and his Khemistan administration had suffered at the hands of Granthistan, and—with the readiness to submit official matters to public arbitrament which so curiously distinguished the men of his day—addressed to the press a series of communications reflecting with equal severity on Charteris's moral character and his military capacity.

A copy of the Bombay paper in which these letters appeared was sent to Sir Arthur Cinnamond by a friend who thought he ought to know what was being said, and it fell into Honour's hands. Sir Arthur, dozing over a cheroot in the hottest part of the day, was rudely awakened by the apparition of the tragic figure of his daughter, holding out the offending journal.

“Papa, have you read this? Do you see what they say?”

“Eh, what, my dear?” Sir Arthur groped for his glasses, and settled them on his nose. “Oh, that nonsense of Lennox's, I see—most improper interference; like his—er—er—usual impudence to meddle in our affairs.”

“But the things he says about Mr Charteris, papa—that he ought to be court-martialled!”

“Well, my dear, you need not be frightened. Old Harry Lennox ain't commanding in Granthistan.”

“But it's just as bad if he only deserved to be court-martialled, and we know he doesn't. As if Mr Gerrard would ever have joined him if he had been merely trying to bring himself into notoriety at the expense of disobeying orders!”

“There's no doubt that he moved without orders, my dear girl. And if you ask me, I have a shrewd idea that he was in no hurry to open his orders when they reached him, lest they should direct him to retire. Ought to be broke, the young scamp! But hang me if I wouldn't have done the same in his place!”

“Oh, papa, I am so glad you feel like that! You are writing to him? Do you know, I was going to ask you to let me put in a note, that he might see there was one person on his side.”

“Oho, you sly little puss!” cried Sir Arthur, highly amused. Honour looked offended, and her father shifted his ground rapidly. “No, no, Honour, I couldn't think of it—without consulting your mother, at any rate. But I tell you what I will do—add a postscript that my family send their kind regards to him and Gerrard. Mustn't leave poor Gerrard quite out in the cold, but I think they'll understand that—eh?”

“There is nothing to understand,” said Honour, departing with dignity.

“So it's Charteris!” said Sir Arthur to himself. “Somehow I had an idea it was the other. I'm almost sorry. He will take it hard, poor chap!”

CHAPTER XX. A DAY OF VICTORY.

Sitting in Charteris's tent, in their shirt-sleeves, the two inconvenient young men whose inconsiderate action was casting British India into turmoil talked over their prospects. The remainder of the Habshiabad force had beaten off the detachment opposed to it, and rejoined Gerrard and the guns, and Chand Singh and the Agpur army had continued their precipitate flight. On the evening of the battle, the long-delayed despatches from Ranjitgarh caught up Charteris at last, ordering him to retire forthwith into Darwan, since it would be impossible during the hot weather to move reinforcements sufficient to ensure the capture of Agpur. Before they slept that night, he and Gerrard had deliberately made up their minds to put the telescope to the blind eye. Retreat now would mean not only perfect liberty for Sher Singh to move in any direction he chose, but also that that direction would inevitably be Darwan, where the disaffected artillery and Bishen Ram's Granthis would joyfully flock to his standard. All the work done in pacifying the country would then be wasted, and what was worse, Sher Singh would be provided with a second base of operations against Ranjitgarh, and a means of communication with his desired ally, Abd-ur-Rashid Khan of Ethiopia. Since to retire would be to incur fresh danger, as well as to sacrifice the advantages already won, they determined to advance, and boldly, though with all possible respect, notified their decision to James Antony. His reception of the news astonished them, for their cool estimate of the chances against them, and readiness to take the risk, seemed to have touched a sympathetic chord in his iron nature. In the letter which lay now on the camp-table between them, the acting-Resident generously associated himself with their resolution, approved of the measures by which they had forced his hand, and promised to use his influence in trying to induce the military authorities to send the desired reinforcements.

“Old boy,” said Charteris with emphasis, after reading the letter once more, “we are made men.”

“If we succeed,” Gerrard reminded him. “If not, we drag down James Antony as well as ourselves.”

“The Colonel won't be in a forgiving mood,” agreed Charteris. “Strikes me, Hal, that but for this latest illness of his we should find ourselves in the wrong box even now.”

“If he will only let us catch Sher Singh, he can try him as much as he likes when we've got him,” said Gerrard. “We give no guarantees, but we take him alive if we can. That ought to meet Sir Edmund's wishes.”

“Talking of taking Sher Singh alive is just a little bit like selling the bear's skin before you've killed him, ain't it? Any one viewing our present situation impartially would say we were more likely to be taken alive ourselves—and in that case I fear we shouldn't long remain so.”

“We can't very well stay as we are,” said Gerrard drily.

“True, O most sapient Hal, and we can hardly expect Chand Singh to attack us unprovoked. He knows too well that his game is to stay quiet in the plain there and wait for us to come down, like Colonel Carter's 'possum. Therefore we must make the plain uncomfortable—not too hot to hold him, for that we can't do, but simply rather warm. I suggest that you take two of your guns to-night round by that nullah on the left, and tickle him up a bit in the morning. It won't be a particularly quiet corner for you, but you can post two other guns in support, and we'll back you up. If Chand Singh retreats again we'll follow him, if he attacks we've got him.”

“Quite so. If he don't see how ill-mannered it is to block the road in this way to two gentlemen in a hurry, he must be politely removed. But listen, Bob! It sounds almost as if—— And yet they can't possibly be attacking.”

“Charteris, do you know that Chand Singh is advancing?” cried Warner, coming in hastily.

“Advancing? He must be mad.”

“Advancing in line, with flags and music. They say Sher Singh is there too, on an elephant.”

“Then he is delivered into our hands,” said Charteris, and Gerrard and he hurried out of the tent and looked over the plain, where the distant dust-cloud, through the rifts in which came glimpses of colour and flashing steel, and bursts of barbaric music, showed the approach of the Agpuri host. Rukn-ud-din came towards them as they gazed.

“Her Highness sends her salaams, sahib, and she will lead her troops to-day.”

“Ah, this is the day of vengeance, then?”

“So it would appear, sahib, since the brother-slayer yonder has consulted a famous soothsayer of the unbelievers, who declares that this day his arms shall be invincible.”

“So that's why they are coming on!” said Charteris. “Who's this?” The newcomer was a Habshiabadi in gorgeous raiment, who announced to Gerrard that his Excellency Dilir Jang Bahadar sent his salaams, and with Jirad Sahib's permission, would lead his master's forces into battle.

“With all my heart,” said Gerrard, and as the man moved off he observed to Charteris, “This will leave me free to fight the guns for you, Bob, if you wish it. Funny to think of that old sinner Desdichado as fired with martial ardour, ain't it? Suppose he thinks it looks as if it ought to be a soft job, but I only hope he'll be as good as his word, for I hear that in the last fight before I joined you, when I came on with the guns and left him in command, he spent the time under a tree with a case-bottle of arrack, and the troops looked after themselves.”

“You must supersede him promptly if he shows any signs of hanging back to-day. But I'm uncommon glad to have the guns in your hands, old boy, even if it's only at the outset. Hal, if we break up Sher Singh's army to-day, they must send us our siege artillery and let us finish this job—they must.”

“I only wish they had sent it already—or even given the order. The news of that would have been enough. Do you like the look of your Granthis, Bob?”

“About as little as you do. One could wish that our Mr James had shown his affection in any other way than by sending us another Granthi regiment, but it was impossible to refuse it. It's one comfort that with your fellows we are more than a match for them now if they turn rusty, and by posting them on the right we can get them in flank with our whole line. You think we can't do better with the guns than keep them where they are until we advance? All right, then. Warner will lead the Darwanis, and the doctor will gallop for us.”

The surgeon, who had been sent on by James Antony with the reinforcements, was young and active, and having at present no patients, since the native troops scouted him in favour of their own hakims, was ready to take any part in the fighting, from heading a cavalry charge to bringing up ammunition, but found himself relegated to the post of galloper. He took up his position behind Charteris in the centre, Warner and General Desdichado commanding the nearer troops on either hand, while Gerrard with the guns, and Bishen Ram with the two Granthi regiments, occupied the extreme left and right respectively, the whole position being roughly crescent-shaped. Nothing but utter madness, it seemed, could lead an army into the hollow it commanded, and Charteris sent out scouts to see whether Sher Singh's advance was not a blind, intended to mask a flank attack. But the scouts returned periodically to say that there was no sign of any other movement than the one in front, and as the enemy came closer, it was clear that their whole force was in the field. Gerrard allowed them to approach until they were well within the horns of the crescent, then, when with a final crash of music they quickened their step to charge up the low hill in the centre, his guns opened with tremendous effect. But even the cannonade seemed to produce little diminution in Sher Singh's crowded ranks, and they rolled on up the hill as though they would overwhelm the defenders by sheer weight of numbers. Gerrard, rushing from gun to gun to point each in turn, lest the gunners in their excitement should fire upon Charteris's position, urged his men on to load and fire with something like desperation. The enemy were not suffering as they should, beneath the fire of his guns on the one hand and the musketry of the two Granthi regiments on the other. A sudden suspicion seized him, and he looked across through the smoke at the opposite horn of the crescent. But no; it was dotted with white puffs. Bishen Ram's men were firing with admirable precision and coolness, but somehow their shots did not seem to take effect. The reason occurred to Gerrard suddenly; they were firing with powder only. Dearly would he have liked to plant a shell or two among the treacherous scoundrels, but just now he could not spare the time. He redoubled his efforts, and at last his half-incredulous eyes discerned between the smoke-clouds that the tide was rolling back from the centre. Charteris was visible for a moment, standing in his stirrups and waving his cap vigorously, and Gerrard fired once or twice into the sullenly retreating Agpuris, to dissuade them gently from rallying and facing the hill again. But presently the doctor arrived in hot haste, with orders to him to hold his fire for the present, since Charteris meant to assail the enemy with successive charges of cavalry. Almost before the smoke had cleared away there was the rush of a torrent of men and horses down the hill, and the confused mob of Agpuris was cloven as though by a wedge. The point of the wedge was a slender figure on a black horse, an oddly shaped cloth, half brown and half white, streaming behind it like a veil. The Rani was heading the avengers of her son.

There was no time to watch the prowess of the Rajputs and Rukn-ud-din's Moslems, for Warner came galloping up.

“I am to fight your guns, Gerrard; you are wanted to lead the Habshiabadis. Their precious general took care to bring something with him to keep his courage up, and when we nearly lost the hill just now, I suppose he took too much of it. At any rate, he's quite incapable, and his men are demanding to go on alone.”

Gerrard mounted his horse and galloped back to where Charteris, sword in hand, was riding slowly up and down in front of the ranks of the eager Habshiabadis, pressing back with the flat any man who pushed forward. He turned sharply to Gerrard.

“Look here, Hal; the Rani is going for vengeance, not victory—thinking of nothing but cutting through to Sher Singh's elephant. Her men will be swallowed up, unless you can make a diversion. Break the enemy up a bit, and I'll bring the Darwanis down and finish 'em.”

“Better ride round the hill and come at them from a different direction,” suggested Gerrard.

“All right. I'll support you,” and as Gerrard led the disgusted and protesting Habshiabad cavalry away from the fight, Charteris sent off the doctor to Bishen Ram, whose soldiers had remained inactive since they had been ordered to cease firing for fear of hitting the Rani's horsemen. Now they were to advance and attack the portion of Sher Singh's troops immediately below them, thus creating a diversion and distracting attention from the direction in which Gerrard would make his charge. Charteris was watching the mêlée in the plain rather than the doctor's progress, but presently an exclamation from his Darwanis made him look round. The Granthis had risen to their feet, and before the doctor could give his message, saluted him with a volley. He turned his horse and rode back, pursued by a dropping fire, some of the bullets falling among the Darwanis, to their intense excitement.

“They fired at me!” he gasped indignantly. “A bullet went through my hat, and another grazed my leg. My horse is hit, too.”

“Well, don't be so precious injured about it,” said Charteris. “Most men would think they were uncommon lucky to escape from the fire of two regiments with nothing worse. When you have finished counting your bruises, just ride to Warner, and tell him to lay every gun he has dead on the Granthis. If they attempt to fire or to move down towards Sher Singh, he is to fire upon them. If they persist, let him mow them down without mercy—plug into them with grape and canister and everything he's got.”

The doctor rode away, and Charteris turned his attention again to the field, where the Rani, supported by a lessening phalanx of her men, was steadily cutting her way towards Sher Singh. Watching through his glass, the Englishman saw a movement in the gilded howdah of the Rajah's elephant, saw that a man in gleaming crimson and a golden turban was taking careful aim with a long matchlock. Charteris had barely time to remember the tale of Sher Singh's skill in shooting which he had heard at Adamkot before the Rani flung up her arms and fell from her horse into the turmoil seething round her. The man in the howdah received a second gun from an attendant, and turned in another direction, that in which Gerrard was just appearing at the head of the Habshiabadis. Charteris shouted a useless warning, realising as the words left his lips that his voice could never carry across the din of battle, but even while he shouted, Gerrard's sword flew from his hand and he pitched forward on his horse's neck. More Charteris could not see, for the Granthis under Bishen Ram uttered a yell of triumph and sprang forward to hurl themselves into the strife, but Warner was ready for them, and a shell bursting in front of their line gave them pause. Another advance, another shell, and then a shower of grape, adroitly directed at a stream of men trying to edge their way down into the plain by a side-path, and after a half-hearted volley directed at the guns over the heads of the fighters below, the Granthis gave up their attempt to move. It was now or never, for the Habshiabadis were wavering, evidently uncertain whether to stay and succour Gerrard or to continue their charge. Charteris saw that if success was to be attained he must risk every man he had, and pausing only to send the doctor to tell Warner again to keep the Granthis back at all costs, he hurled himself and his eager Darwanis into the fray. The unsupported guns and the disaffected regiments on the hill were the only portions of his force left outside the mêlée. Before this desperate expedient Sher Singh's spirit quailed. He left his elephant, and mounting a horse, spurred out of the battle towards Agpur. Disgusted by his disappearance, his men held out for a while, but Charteris and his wild horsemen were riding them down on one side, and the rallied Habshiabadis on the other, and they were without a leader. They broke at last, and made for Agpur in headlong flight, pursued so closely by the Darwanis that Warner durst not fire upon them. Charteris was chasing his own men now, turning them back with praise and promises, threats and curses, seizing one man by the arm and another by the bridle, in deadly fear that they would carry the pursuit too far, and be caught when Sher Singh's men turned at bay. With the assistance of their own chiefs, he succeeded at last in shepherding back all but a few who had gone too far to be reached, and was met as he returned by a deputation of Granthis, very stiff and austere in wounded dignity, demanding why they had not been allowed to take part in the fight, and why Warner Sahib had turned his guns on them.

Never was there so innocent and so deeply injured a body of men. Asked why they had fired at the doctor, they replied promptly that they thought he was ordering them to retire from the position they held, when they were anxious only to throw themselves upon Sher Singh's flank and cut off his retreat, as the advance prevented by Warner could witness. Charteris declined to take their grievances too seriously. Their behaviour had been most suspicious, and he was fairly certain that if Sher Singh had shown signs of winning they would have joined him at once, but it was possible that Gerrard held a different opinion, and he wished to consult him before taking any definite step. Promising to consider their protest and give them an answer on the morrow, he rode on to look for his friend, but before he could reach the spot where he had fallen, he was stopped by a little procession of sorely wounded Rajputs, carrying on a litter of crossed spears a body covered with a cloak. Rukn-ud-din and several of his men, not one unwounded, followed, and Charteris saluted as he met them.

“You carry her Highness's body to the burning?” he asked.

“Aye, sahib,” answered the leader of the Rajputs, the Rani's cousin. “Daughter and wife and mother of kings, she has died as a king should die, and the burning of a king shall be made for her. But I beseech your honour to be witness to a certain thing.” He unwrapped from his arm the discoloured cloth, dipped in her son's blood, which the Rani had worn when she left Agpur to demand vengeance, and divided it lengthwise with his sword. “Half of this I will take, and the other shall be borne by Komadan Rukn-ud-din, who has been faithful to his lord and his lord's mother, and to the salt he has eaten. As the dead bore it, so will we bear it, until the blood of Kharrak Singh can be blotted out in the blood of him who slew him.”

Rukn-ud-din limped forward and received the ghastly trophy, and Charteris saluted again and passed on. The fight had raged hotly where Gerrard had fallen, and it was some time before they found him. The doctor did what he could for him on the spot, and then advised his being taken at once to the camp, where Sher Singh's bullet might be extracted, and his other injuries properly treated. His friend's insensibility alarmed Charteris almost more than the actual wounds, and he gave his horse to the groom, and walked beside the bearers, trying to induce them to keep step, and not jar the patient unnecessarily. It was therefore an unfortunate moment for a large and frowsy—he would almost have said snuffy—figure to lurch forward and clasp him in an expansive embrace.

“Eh, man, that was a gran' fight, yon!” it hiccoughed, then relapsed into dignity and Hindustani. “What a battle we have had, sahib! What a victory we have won!”

“We, indeed!” said Charteris, releasing himself with strong disgust. “General Desdichado, I suppose?”

But the General, apparently unconscious of his momentary lapse of memory, was not responsive to English. “The Sahib was pleased to say——?” he inquired politely.

“I say this, you old villain, that you nearly lost us the battle, and if Lieutenant Gerrard should die, I give you my word I'll have you shot for neglect of duty in the face of the enemy!” cried Charteris furiously.

“The Sahib is pleased to forget that I am accountable only to my own master,” said the General, and retired in good order, though with as much haste as was compatible with a very unsteady walk.

The unpleasant business of extracting the bullet brought Gerrard to his senses, and Charteris found his hand wrung almost to numbness as he knelt by his side. Those were the days before anaesthetics, and a bullet in the shoulder required a good deal of torture before it could be got rid of.

“I thought it was all up with me, Bob,” whispered Gerrard when the operation was over.

“Not just yet, old boy. If it had been an inch or two more to one side, now——”

“When I went down among the horses' feet, I meant. It was you got me out, old fellow, I know.”

“Had to do a good many things first, I'm afraid, and it wasn't very easy to find you. Case of 'None could see Valerius, And none wist where he lay.' By the bye, Hal, should you say that those dangawalas [1] of Granthis were playing fair to-day, or not? Did they fire as Sher Singh advanced?”

“Oh yes, they fired,” said Gerrard dreamily.

“You don't mean that they fired at us?”

“No, they fired—all right—but——” his voice became weaker, and he seemed satisfied not to finish. The doctor made Charteris a sign not to disturb him further, and he was obliged to give the Granthis the benefit of the doubt.

      * * * * * *

An attack of fever, complicated by his wounds, kept Gerrard from all rational conversation for some time, but when he recovered his senses, he thought that it was still the night of the battle. On the roof of the tent brooded the gigantic shadow of Charteris in his shirt-sleeves, writing busily by the usual light of a candle-end stuck into the neck of a bottle.

“Bob!” said Gerrard weakly. Charteris was at his side in a moment.

“Want anything, old boy? By Jove, I'm uncommon glad to hear your voice again—talking sensibly, that is.

“But it's only a few hours since you brought me in here.”

“A few fiddlesticks! My dear fellow, it's three weeks.”

“Bob, have they sent us the siege artillery?”

“No, and they won't. Guns are too precious to move without escort, and British troops are too expensive to cart about in the rains. So here we are, twiddling our thumbs till better times come.”

“But what about the country—and Sher Singh?”

“Sher Singh is safe in Agpur. We've got him shut up there, at any rate. But Granthistan is in a blaze, Hal. The Commander-in-Chief is on his way up-country. It's another Granthi War—thanks to their delay.”

“And our Granthis?”

“Oh, they marched off bag and baggage to join Sher Singh the other night, when the news came that we were not to be reinforced till the cold weather. I didn't hear of their going till they had nearly reached Agpur, and I wasn't particularly anxious to stop them when I did.”

“Better rid of them. You know they fired blank all day—the day of the battle, I mean?”

“That was the trick, was it? I couldn't get it out of you. Not that it would have made much difference if I had known, I suppose. I tell you, Hal, there was a moment when, if only the heavy artillery had come up, we held Sher Singh in the hollow of our hands. He was in such a panic when he got back to Agpur that he actually fired on his own troops when they crowded across the bridge after him. They would have handed him over to us like lambs if we could have threatened the city then. But it's no use crying over spilt milk. I'm going to make use of this interval in hostilities to send you to Ranjitgarh for a bit, old boy. If they won't use the river to send us our big guns, we may use it to recruit our invalids a bit. It can't be as hot at Ranjitgarh as it is here. But I put you on your honour to come back. No one must lead the Habshiabadis into Agpur but you. You will find me relegated to my original obscurity by that time, with a duly appointed Brigadier—a nya jawan[2]—riding roughshod over my tenderest feelings, but you can still swagger as the officer accompanying the forces of a friendly state.”

Gerrard had not been listening. “Bob,” he whispered, “I—I can't go to Ranjitgarh.”

“Why not, old boy'?”

“She may be there. They will have fetched the ladies down from the hills if there is trouble.”

“I think not. Old Cinnamond has taken the field, but there are plenty of troops in Ranjitgarh. But if she is there, Hal?”

“I might speak—I ain't master of myself, Bob.”

“Well, my dear fellow, and why not? Have you forgot what I said—that you were to have the next turn? Speak, by all means, and take her with my blessing, if she'll take you.”

“Bob, I won't have it. I have been making a fool of myself when I didn't know what I was saying, and you are behaving like a brick because you are sorry for me.”

“Ton my word, it's nothing of the sort. I can say now what I wouldn't say once, that I had rather see her happy with you than unhappy with me. I'm not going to let you outdo me there, you see, though I may be a little bit late.”

“Good old Bob!” said Gerrard weakly.

“Not a bit of it. Ain't we chums, old boy? Now remember, pop goes the weasel!”

[1] Mutineers.

[2] New hand.

CHAPTER XXI. FAINT HEART AND FAIR LADY.

“My dear, I fear you will think I have been indiscreet.”

Mrs James Antony looked up, and caught her husband's humourously deprecating expression. “Oh, James, I know that means you have done something dreadful, and want me to get you out of the difficulty!” she sighed. “Well, love, what is it?”

“I have sent a kasid to meet poor Gerrard, to tell him he is to come to us, and we will take no refusal. As soon as the man was gone, I remembered that you would probably object to his being thrown into Miss Cinnamond's company.”

“But surely you must see for yourself, love, that it would be most awkward for both of them? I almost think I had better ask Mrs Jardine to take in dear Honour for the time. She would be delighted, I am sure.”

“You know best, my dear. If Lady Cinnamond would not mind finding herself under such an obligation to Mrs Jardine, it is not for me to make objections.”

“She would dislike it extremely, love, as you well know. But what else is there to be done?”

“I don't myself see why there should be any awkwardness at all,” said James Antony sturdily. “If Miss Cinnamond is going to marry Gerrard, they had better come to an understanding and get it over, and if not—why, they will have to meet in the future, and they may as well begin now. If the girl chooses to be silly about it, she had better go back to her mother.”

“But, James, love, you don't consider. How could I let her go back, knowing that poor dear Mrs Cowper has taken such a dislike to her sister? Now that she has lost her babe, it would be terrible if they met before time had softened her grief a little. And it is not as if dear Honour were in the least to blame. I am sure she was keeping house for her father most beautifully when he was compelled to take the field. We are indebted to the Cinnamonds for so many civilities that it would be hard indeed if we could not help them out of a difficulty by entertaining the poor girl for a while.”

“Quite so, my dear, but it would also be hard if the poor girl could not help us by assisting to entertain a fellow-guest for a while. In fact, I consider that by bringing them to a mutual understanding we should be doing a kindness not only to the young people themselves but to the General and Lady Cinnamond.”

“Certainly they have no objection to Lieutenant Gerrard,” said Mrs Antony meditatively.

“None whatever, my dear, so that we shall positively be furthering their wishes. Come, Jane; ain't I only wise in bringing my indiscretions to you to set right, since you are such a dab at getting me out of a mess?”

“Fie, James, what slang! Indeed I don't wonder you affect to consult me, since it seems to me you will get your own way undisturbed.”

James Antony might go on his way with his great laugh, and his wife shake her head at him in purely simulated reproof, but the results of their involuntary diplomacy were hardly as satisfactory to the objects thereof as to themselves. Gerrard's heart gave an ecstatic bound when his host mentioned casually on meeting him that Miss Cinnamond was staying at the Residency during the absence of her father at the front and her mother in the hills. All the way from the camp within sight of Agpur, during the hot voyage diversified with interludes of sniping from the river-banks, he had assured himself persistently that nothing should induce him to take advantage of Bob's generosity. But these good resolutions were forgotten as he lay in the palanquin which conveyed him from the landing-place to the Residency, listening, without comprehending what was said, to James Antony's gruff voice firing off items of latest intelligence like minute-guns. In a few moments he would see Honour, look into her frank eyes, hold her cool hand, begin the siege of her heart in which his faithful love—freed from the disturbing influence of Charteris's presence—must surely succeed in breaking down the rampart of maiden coldness within which she had entrenched herself. Yes, he was glad of Charteris's absence; thankful for it. Bob had bidden him of his own free will to go ahead, and was he to waste the opportunity for which he had so long yearned in vain?

But disappointment was waiting for him at the Residency. Honour remained so persistently in the background behind Mrs Antony that it seemed almost as if she was hiding. Her hand barely touched Gerrard's, her eyes shunned his, and her manner was constrained—almost awkward. Before Gerrard had crossed the verandah he had divined a reason for this change: she had read her own heart at last, and it was Bob Charteris that she loved. And here was he, lagging miserably superfluous on the stage for three or four weeks, while Charteris was held fast by his duties before Agpur, and was as unaware of his good fortune as he was unable to profit by it.

Second thoughts brought, if not a degree of hope, at least a less complete yielding to despair. Perhaps it was not Charteris whose image blinded Honour to the presence of her other lover. It might only be that people had been talking, that Mrs Jardine had presumed to offer Honour some advice inconsistent with the delicate nature of the situation, perhaps urged her to terminate it in Gerrard's favour, since she had, unasked, taken his candidature under her wing. That would be quite sufficient to account for the girl's coolness and constraint. The battle was not, then, absolutely lost, and it might even yet be possible to turn it into a victory. Gerrard would be very cautious, very diplomatic, and would keep their intercourse on the safe ground of their common preferences in prose and poetry, until he had enabled her to dissociate him in her mind from his too zealous champions.

Save in one respect, Honour responded to this treatment with a readiness that was almost embarrassing. Her novel shyness fell from her when it became clear that Gerrard was not intending immediately to speak to her of love, and in discussing the new Dickens and the latest Tennyson she revealed herself to him almost as freely as of old. James Antony agonized his wife by portentous nods and winks behind their backs, indicative of the complete and final understanding now in course of accomplishment, but Mrs Antony was not so well satisfied, though she was unaware of the exact nature of the rift in Gerrard's lute. One day Honour broke into a deep discussion of the social and educational topics touched on in the Princess with a question which had no relation to them whatever. It was clear that her thoughts were far from Gerrard's exposition of his views, or why should she suddenly have asked how long it took him to reach Charteris at Kardi with the guns after receiving his note entreating him to hasten? Gerrard set his teeth. It was Charteris, then. He answered the question fully, and also the others by which it was followed. Honour's curiosity on the subject of the unauthorised operations in Agpur seemed insatiable, and bit by bit she drew from him the whole history of the campaign. Following her lead, he made a loyal endeavour to keep Charteris in the forefront of his narrative, smiling bitterly to himself when once or twice she questioned him directly about his own doings. This was mere politeness, of course, it was Charteris in whom she was really interested.

The irony of his own anticipations struck Gerrard forcibly after a fortnight or so principally spent in talking about Charteris. Outside the air was filled with wars and rumours of wars, with reports that the Granthi army was moving on Ranjitgarh, or that this or the other Sirdar was about to cut the communications with Agpur, and in the society of James Antony and his intimates these were the topics that everybody discussed. But spending the mid-day hours in the damp heat of the drawing-room, where paper grew mouldy and the covers peeled off books, under the influence of the rains, with Mrs Antony occupied at a discreet distance with reading or letter-writing, Gerrard endured what would have been martyrdom but for the bitter-sweet sense of Honour's presence—possessing which he could not be wholly miserable. Continually there forced itself on him the change in her since the days when they had lamented together the supposed death of Charteris. She was restless, prone to a curious impatience, and the literary interests which had first drawn them together satisfied her no more. Only one explanation could fit the facts. Bob Charteris was not literary in his tastes, and Honour, with her heart awakened, had learnt to know that life was more than books.

As the time approached for Gerrard's return to active service, it struck him that she had perceived her unconscious cruelty, and was endeavouring to atone for it. He loved her the better for the thought, though it made him all the more miserable, since the tenderness in her voice, the tears he sometimes surprised in her eyes, must spring from a pity that was not at all akin to love. No doubt, too, she was thinking of Charteris, keeping the field in the rains, and extensively abused on all sides as the cause of the war, and Gerrard would have liked to assure her that he understood, and to prophesy a general revulsion of feeling when the Agpur business had been brought to a successful conclusion. But apparently sympathy was at a discount with Honour, for the slightest attempt to approach the subject—even an honest effort to assure her that Bob's safety should be his first care in the future, for her sake—brought back at once the sense of constraint, and made her manner hard and impatient, not to say snappish. Their final parting took place in public, but this was Gerrard's own fault, for he could not trust himself alone with her. He might have been a weak fool to hang about her for so long, but to offer himself as a bearer of tender messages for Charteris was beyond him. She was very pale, and seemed to find difficulty in speaking, and he guessed at once that she was envying him his good fortune in seeing her lover so soon. But his selfishness in refusing to volunteer as a messenger was rightly punished, for Mrs Jardine, who had seen fit to appear at the Residency to borrow a fancy-work pattern from Mrs Antony, just as he was about to start, was not minded to leave things longer in the uncertainty which had tried her so deeply.

“What! no message for poor Mr Charteris?” she inquired archly, as Honour's hand touched Gerrard's to the accompaniment of a single murmured word of farewell.

“Miss Cinnamond knows that I should feel honoured in carrying any message of hers,” he said stiffly.

Honour blushed red, though she looked annoyed. “Oh, give him my best wishes, please!” she said lightly.

“Very distant and suitable, I'm sure!” muttered Mrs Jardine, much disappointed, but Honour did not hear her.

You have not asked for any message—for yourself,” she murmured, looking at Gerrard's sword-belt as if she had never seen one quite like it before.

“I did not venture—it is only your kindness that makes you think of it,” he stammered.

“Perhaps you would rather not have it?” She raised her eyes for an instant and looked at him bravely. “My very best wishes—to you.”

Bus, bus!” shouted James Antony from the foot of the steps. “Don't be all day binding ladies' favours on your helm, Gerrard, my boy. Get it over; it ain't as bad as it looks.”

He ran up the steps again, and his great hand descended heavily on Gerrard's shoulder, and Gerrard, thrilled through by the glance Honour had turned upon him, and with all his preconceived ideas shattered and clashing under the impact of a wholly new thought, must perforce allow himself to be hurried away, vaguely aware that Mrs Jardine, baulked of her expected sensation, was apostrophizing the acting-Resident as a “naughty man!” At the foot of the steps he turned suddenly. One word with Honour, even in Mrs Jardine's hearing, and his doubts would be resolved for ever. But James Antony fairly dragged him on.

“No looking back now, my dear fellow. You must make me your messenger if you have anything to say. Do you forget that they are waiting for you at the ghat?”

Gerrard mounted his pony reluctantly, then looked eagerly round. Honour's face might end his doubts as easily as her voice. But she was not to be seen; Mrs Jardine was nodding and smiling alone in the verandah, rather to the disgust of Mrs Antony, who was dimly visible in the doorway of the drawing-room. Gerrard could not detect the form crouched behind her spreading skirts, the face peering under her falling sleeve, and once again doubt attained mastery over his mind. If Honour had meant really to rebuke him for his backwardness, then was he indeed the most blessed of men, but perhaps she was only mildly chaffing Charteris's friend. It was not like her, but could one moment at parting give the lie to the experience, the settled certainty, of weeks of close intercourse? And she had not cared to wait to see him ride away!

During the river voyage, despite the ample opportunity he enjoyed for forming definite conclusions, Gerrard remained balanced between two contradictory opinions, and he was still much tumbled up and down in his mind when he landed and fell into the eminently bracing company of Charteris. British troops and siege-guns—not now to be spared from Granthistan—had come and were still coming up from Bombay, and the lines which had been fortified by the Darwanis and Habshiabad force were now only part of an extensive position. Charteris pointed out the various spots, much changed now since the battle in which Gerrard had received his wound, as they rode up to the camp.

“Then you are under the yoke again, Bob?” said Gerrard.

“Rayther, just a very few! The Brigadier has determined in his own mind that I am dead set upon presuming, so, to make it impossible, he snaps my head off every time he sees me, and at once.”

“Hard luck, old boy!”

“Oh, I share it with my betters. By the bye, is it true that the Governor-General has been powdering Sir Edmund's wig?”

“In a way. Antony wanted to promise Sher Singh his life if he would surrender, and the G.-G. came down upon him like a hundred of bricks. Told him that if he had put forth any such proclamation he would have to recall it, I believe, but happily things had not gone so far.”

“I'm sorry for Sir Edmund, but I back Blairgowrie—which is jolly handsome behaviour, since he has written some uncommon nasty things about me. 'Pon my word, Hal, I'm right glad that they refused us our siege-guns, and left us here tied by the leg for the hot weather.”

Gerrard looked at him in astonishment. “But if we had been able to stamp out Sher Singh's rebellion—as we could have done if they had supported us properly—it would have saved this second Granthi War, Bob.”

“That's just it. We should have gone on trying to govern through the Durbar, and declaring that we were merely taking care of the country until Lena Singh comes of age, knowing that if he ever reigned alone it would mean the destruction of all we had done. But now the farce is at an end, and they must annex Granthistan. Our ikbal[1] stands fairly high, but it can't take the risk of a war bad enough to drag the C.-in-C. from his Olympian retirement every two or three years. I'm sorry for Sir Edmund, who has done his very best to bolster up the Durbar, but facts are too strong for him.”

“He will take it hard,” said Gerrard. “Here is my camp, I see—my campoo,[2] I should say,” as they were met by a cluster of salaaming Habshiabadis, who testified loudly their joy at his return. “But why shouldn't I report myself to the Brigadier at once, Bob, and then come back and settle in?”

“Because you ain't wanted, my boy. You don't go dropping in on your General in that promiscuous style. You wait till it's convenient to him to send for you, and then you apologize for your existence in the most abject terms at your command. I happen to know—friend at court, you see—that you'll be summoned about sunset, and if you behave very nicely, and answer prettily when you're spoken to, you may even be honoured by an invitation to dinner.”

“Learning one's place!” said Gerrard, with a wry look.

“Exactly—as I have been doing. Our days of independent action are over, old boy. If we had been allowed to capture Agpur it might have been different, but I don't know. Who wouldn't go from governing kingdoms to take up regimental work again?”

Gerrard did not possess the art of banishing unpleasantness with a jest, and his brow was clouded as they rode up to his tent between the lines of the Habshiabadis. For them, however, he had nothing but praise, rejoicing their hearts by admiration of their discipline, and learning, as he expected, that Charteris had continued their military education during his absence. General Desdichado was still maintaining a judicious seclusion, owing to a fresh attack of illness, it seemed, and Charteris remarked on the curious character of the ailment, which invariably became acute when there was a question of the General's coming in contact with any British officer.

“Scandal says that nothing but Sadiq Ali's direct command keeps him in the field at all,” he added. “Otherwise he would sneak back to Habshiabad, and drink himself to death there in peace.”

They were inside the tent now, and Charteris turned suddenly on his friend. “Well, Hal, what news? Is that blessing of mine wanted, or not?”

“It's no good pretending I don't know what you mean, but on my life, Bob, I can't tell you.”

“Can't tell—in a matter of this kind? Nonsense!”

“It's this way. Almost the whole of the time I was there I could have sworn she cared for you. We talked of nothing but you and your doings.”

“Precious little in that. You did just the same when you thought I was dead, and it meant absolutely nothing.”

“But it makes every possible difference when we both know you are alive. At any rate, I was too jolly downhearted to court another refusal. But just as I came away, she looked at me in a way that made me think—and something that she said——”

“And you didn't make sure? My young friend, it strikes me that you fear your fate a good deal.”

“Our Mr James hurried me away. But I am afraid—and I don't mind saying so—of risking my last chance.”

“Why your last? I wish I were coxcomb enough to be sure it was your last, and that you would lose it.”

“But even if she refused us both again, you can't go on persecuting a girl who has said no to you three times.”

“Why not? I shall go on asking her, if she says no a hundred times. It's for her own good. No girl can really wish to be an old maid.”

“Rather than marry you or me, perhaps.”

“That shows how little she knows about it. But I give you my word she ain't going to lose a good husband through any slackness of mine. You won't find me wasting my opportunities as you have been doing.”

“You pitch it pretty strong, Bob, but I believe I deserve it. Still, it was not my fault that I could not settle things that last moment. Will you do this for me, old boy? When we get back to Ranjitgarh, leave me free to speak to her if I meet her first. If I find that it is you after all, I promise you to make no attempt to persuade her, and if you meet her first, of course you will find out for yourself.”

“I believe you, my boy! And I only hope we may find out definitely. This uncertainty plays the very mischief with a man when he has time to think of it.”

“My dear Bob, you don't mean to say you would rather know that all was up with you than be able to go on hoping?”

“That I would! One can set one's teeth then, and grin and bear it, but it's horrid disturbing, when you're trying to give your mind to regular hard grinding work, for the thought of all that kind of thing to be always intruding.”

“If I didn't know you better than you know yourself, old boy, I should say not only that you didn't care a pin for her, but that you couldn't. Why, how could one carry on work at all without those very thoughts to help one?”

“You're getting libellous, Hal. It's the uncertainty, not the thoughts, that I find disturbing. If she would take me—bless her!—I'll lay you anything you like she would be the Commander-in-Chief's lady in the shortest time on record.”

“Bob, it's precious hard on both of us. Whichever gets her, one of us must be miserable.”

“Let us make quite sure that she's happy, then. But it's a little late to be talking like this, ain't it? What I find most cause to blame in you, Hal, is a tendency to the sentimental. Turn your mind strictly to business—namely, to receiving the orderly who is about to summon you to the presence of the high and mighty Speathley.”

After the warning he had received, Gerrard was not likely to be late for his appointment, but when he arrived at Major-General Speathley's headquarters, it was evident that the Brigadier thought it salutary for junior officers to cool their heels a little in his anteroom. A number of other men were hanging about, and a low buzz of conversation filled the tent. Gerrard was known by name to most of those present, and he was soon in possession of the chief item of interest which was agitating the camp. That morning's reconnaissance had been pushed as far as Ratan Singh's tomb, which had been occupied without opposition, and a careful search had revealed the shallow grave in which the dishonoured remains of Nisbet and Cowper had been hastily hidden after the tragedy in the spring.

“The old man swears he will turn out Ratan Singh—whoever he may have been—and give the poor chaps a pucca funeral in the shrine itself,” said one youth.

“I was not aware that we fought with the dead,” said Gerrard, rather disgusted.

“Seems rayther a spicy idea to me,” drawled another. “They do our fellows out of a grave, so we prig one of theirs for 'em.”

“Surely we can do better for them than a second-hand tomb,” said Gerrard, more emphatically than he realised. “Wouldn't it be more to the purpose to leave Ratan Singh in peace, since he has done us no injury, and punish the living who deserve it?”

“Eh—what?” demanded an explosive voice behind the group. “And who may you be, young sir, who think your opinion so well worth hearing?”

Gerrard turned to confront a short choleric man in uniform, whom he had no difficulty in recognising to be the Brigadier. “My name is Gerrard, sir, and I am attached to the Habshiabad force.”

“Oho!” General Speathley drew out with some difficulty an eyeglass, and fixing it in his eye, looked up at Gerrard as though he had been too small to see without it. “So this is another of the sucking Caesars who command armies in Granthistan! And what, pray, may be the nature of your very valuable suggestion, sir?”

“I have acted as Resident at Agpur, sir, and know something about the people, and I was about to say that they would be far more impressed with the retribution if we buried our glorious dead in the very midst of the city from which they were driven rather than in an old tomb outside it.”

The astonishment on the General's face was reflected on those around him. Clearly it was not often that Brigadier Speathley heard an opinion different from his own. “Proceed, sir, proceed!” he snapped ferociously. “I'll be bound we haven't been favoured with the full extent of your views yet.”

The tone was intolerable, and Gerrard grew white with suppressed wrath. “I have no more to say, sir, if the petty and unchristian course of turning a dead man out of his grave has already been decided upon.”

“I thought so!” cried the General in triumph. “Antony's cursed sentimental notions, of course—might have known it. You are one of those who prefer the blackfellows to your own people, sir, who think the lives of the Company's servants are nothing compared with the fear of displeasing the natives.”

“At least, sir, I placed myself at Mr Charteris's disposal to rescue or avenge Captain Cowper and Mr Nisbet, or your army might not have been here to-day. And you will permit me to add that I still consider my plan likely to be more impressive, if less disgusting, to the natives than yours.”

“And you'll permit me to say, sir,” roared the General, whose eyes were protruding from his head, “that my plan will be carried out if every pestilent political in Granthistan is opposed to it. It's high time you came back to duty, sir. You seconded subalterns think no small beer of yourselves, I know, but you'll learn better here, I can tell you, and you'll find—— Eh, what's that?”

An unobtrusive aide-de-camp was presenting a paper at his elbow, and as he read it his face changed, but by no means cleared. “Hum—ha!” he muttered, “it seems you have some fancy status here—political trick, I suppose—some quibble about Habshiabad lying outside Granthistan. But it's all one. If you ain't under my command, you don't get mentioned in my despatches—see? Eh, how does that suit you, sir?”

“I am honoured by the omission, sir,” said Gerrard.

[1] Prestige.

[2] Native force under European leadership.

CHAPTER XXII. THE TRIUMPH OF THE DEAD.

The siege of Agpur was in full swing, the big guns battering at the walls from a distance, while the trenches crept nearer and nearer to the outlying suburbs. Nisbet and Cowper still slept in their desecrated grave in the precincts of Ratan Singh's tomb, not because the mind of General Speathley had yielded in the least to Gerrard's arguments, but on account of the opportune arrival of the ammunition for which the army had been waiting, and which enabled active work to begin at once. A chilly neutrality reigned between the Brigadier and the officer accompanying the Habshiabad troops, who saw as little as possible of one another, finding it advisable to communicate through a third person. This was usually Charteris, who stood aghast when he found what a gulf had been established between them.

“If it had been me to go into a passion and use insubordinate language, no one would have wondered,” he lamented. “But you, Hal—who have barely lost your temper three times in your life! And on a mere matter of sentiment, too!”

“Didn't you yourself accuse me of a tendency to the sentimental?”

“That was in an affair in which it was more or less natural. But when it comes to being cut out of despatches for the sake of a dead blackfellow——! Seriously, old boy, it may be bad for you in the future.”

“You know as well as I do whether mention in despatches would have the slightest weight with a certain lady if she cared for a man. And if she didn't, what in the world does it signify losing it?”

“Poor beggar, he's got 'em badly!” mused Charteris, as he left his friend's tent. His own sphere of influence being situated within the confines of Granthistan, he was indubitably subordinate to General Speathley, but a certain power of accommodating himself to his surroundings had saved him from incurring the Brigadier's active enmity. He could never be wholly forgiven for taking on his own account those preliminary steps which must always prevent the conquest of Agpur from being ascribed to the Bombay Army, but he had sufficient tact, or worldly wisdom, to refrain from such allusions to the fact as Gerrard had let fall.

      * * * * * *

The beleaguered garrison of Agpur were not minded to take their punishment lying down. At first Sher Singh had sent various ambassadors professing his readiness to surrender if his life was guaranteed, and when the authorities on the spot proved adamant, indited heart-rending letters to Sir Edmund Antony, entreating his intervention. But the Governor-General had spoken too plainly to admit any possibility of mistake, or even a loophole for mediation, and Sir Edmund, wounded and resentful as he felt over the treatment meted out to him, could only repeat the promise already given of a fair trial for the Rajah if he surrendered, and protection for his women. Thereupon Sher Singh's attempts at negotiation ceased, and his followers applied themselves with ardour to making the besiegers' position as uncomfortable as possible, by means of sorties and surprise attacks. There was always the chance of an outbreak of disease in the British camp, or even a successful diversion on the part of the revolted Granthistan army, such as might compel the raising of the siege.

For some nights there had been no attempt at a surprise, and the trenches had been advanced to a point at which it was intended to erect a new battery to assail the portion of the city walls best adapted for breaching. The construction of this battery was being busily pushed forward in the dark, by the help of shaded lights, when the working-party were fiercely assailed by a horde of the enemy, mounted and on foot, who had poured silently through the gate nearest to the threatened point, and almost reached the works before their presence was detected. The whole of the British force stood to its arms, but salutary experience had taught the leaders that sorties seldom came singly, and only the troops nearest the point of attack were moved to repulse it. On the further side of the city Gerrard had a hard task to restrain the eagerness of his men, who could not see why they should be kept out of the fight, and avenged themselves by detecting endless imaginary sorties against their own position. It was a night of peculiar blackness, and General Desdichado, who had been drawn from his seclusion by the alarm, evidently found it trying to his nerves. His agitation culminated at last in a wild charge into the darkness, followed by as many of the Habshiabadis as could find their horses, yelling and discharging their muskets into the night. Gerrard, hoarse with his vain exertions, half amused and half disgusted, was left with Rukn-ud-din and the Rajput Amrodh Chand and their men to defend the camp. He turned to make an ironical remark to the former, but found him standing like a statue, listening intently.

“Sahib, there come men from the city. As they crossed the bridge, I heard their horses' feet on the planks.”

“Let us go forward a short distance,” said Gerrard, and they went out into the gloom, the tumult of the Habshiabadis' charge on the left growing faint in their ears. They could hear nothing of the advance Rukn-ud-din thought he had detected, and Gerrard, concluding that the man's ears had deceived him, was about to suggest returning to the camp, when a distant flash of lightning, such as had been playing on the horizon during the earlier part of the evening, lit up the landscape, and showed a company of horsemen riding cautiously away from the city. Their aim was evidently to pass between the camp of the Habshiabadis and that of the next besieging unit, and they had almost accomplished their purpose when they were seen.

“The brother-slayer seeks to steal away by night!” cried Rukn-ud-din fiercely, and without another word he and Gerrard turned and raced for the camp. One moment to despatch an orderly with a request to Charteris to detail some of his Darwanis to guard the tents until General Desdichado saw fit to return, and another to acquaint the Brigadier with the importance of the crisis, and all the troop were in their saddles and thundering out in pursuit. There was no need for secrecy, for the fugitives had now laid aside their caution, and could be heard riding for all they were worth, and the result of the chase would depend on speed, not cunning. So thick was the darkness that more than once Gerrard was obliged to draw rein, and in the silence palpitating with the breath of excited men and horses, listen for the pursued, but it was soon clear that they were maintaining a fairly straight line for the north. There they must sooner or later be stopped by the river—unless, indeed, the plot included the bribing of some of the native contractors supplying the British to have their boats available, and Gerrard redoubled his efforts to catch them up before they reached it. Accidents arising from irrigation-canals or unsuspected nullahs delayed him once or twice, but when the dawn broke a shout of triumph burst from his weary men. The fugitives were full in view, and there were women among them. Their horses were obviously flagging, and the dark line which denoted the brink of the now flooded river was still some distance in front. Barely, however, had the troopers given vent to their irrepressible joy at the prospect of so important a capture, with the loot which would almost certainly accompany it, when one of them, happening to look behind, uttered a cry of surprise and disgust. The pursuers were themselves pursued, a body of Bombay cavalry following hard upon their heels. Gerrard set his teeth angrily as he looked round and verified the man's information. General Speathley was determined not to allow even this minor exploit to fall to the share of his allies.

The Rani's contingent needed no words to induce them to get the utmost out of their horses in order if possible to reach the fugitives first, but the pursuers gained upon them steadily, and when the two parties were actually riding level, and an orderly appeared at his elbow, Gerrard was reluctantly forced to turn and accept a written order desiring him to give up the pursuit into the hands of the officer commanding the troops. To share the honour would have been bad enough, to lose it altogether was monstrous, and his men eyed the Bombay troopers with such disfavour as made it evident that little was wanting to bring about a fratricidal fight. Gerrard was obliged to fling himself into the breach, and argue and persuade his sullen sowars into allowing themselves to be drawn off. The incident had caused a slight loss of time, and it was some consolation to the disappointed ones that the fugitives had contrived to increase their distance before the Bombay troop were in motion again. Pride forbade Gerrard and his followers to wait and see the result of the chase, and they turned their horses' heads towards Agpur, disdaining to seek more definite information than could be obtained by furtive glances backwards on the part of the rear-rank men, whose observations percolated from one to another until they reached their commander. In this way Gerrard learned that the fugitives had been caught up on, or at any rate near, the very brink of the river, and that a brisk fight was proceeding. He had a resentful impulse to take his troop on at full speed, that they might not behold the triumph of the interlopers, but the horses were tired, and there was no sense in riding them hard now. Without the excitement of the chase to stimulate them, the men flagged after their long night's work, and it was a dispirited and sulky-looking band that watched the victorious Bombay troop ride proudly by, escorting their captives. The conquerors expressed their feelings by gestures of derision, which Gerrard's men were too much crushed to return, and vanished ahead in a cloud of dust. But when the vanquished tailed dolefully into camp some hours later, they were met by their Habshiabadi comrades, eager to inform them that the triumph had not been so complete after all. The majority of the fugitives had been captured, including Sher Singh's favourite wife and her attendants, but the Rajah himself had spurred his horse into the river and been carried quickly by the swollen current beyond reach of pursuit. It would have been too much to expect the Rani's men to feel any sorrow at this news, but politeness demanded that they should express it, and fatigue was forgotten in the delight of donning fresh clothes and paying visits of condolence to the camp of the Bombay cavalry. The keenest joy came from the fact which was on every man's lips, that but for the delay caused by the change of pursuers, Sher Singh's whole party might have been surrounded and captured before it reached the brink of the river.

But if the disappointment of Sher Singh's escape was outweighed in the men's minds by the fact that it was through their rivals' fingers he had slipped, Gerrard was not able to console himself so easily. Charteris, who had heard with burning indignation of the treatment he had received, hurried to his tent to sympathize with him, and it seemed as though the two men had exchanged characters, as Gerrard strode up and down, breathing out furious threats against the Brigadier, while his friend, seated precariously astride a camp-chair, sought to interject counsels of prudence.

“It's not so much the insult to me personally that I resent, as the loss of the opportunity of ending the campaign at a blow!” cried Gerrard.

“Quite so. You wouldn't,” said Charteris soothingly.

“Though it's perfectly clear that he was merely pursuing his grudge against me. He even stoops to vilify my poor fellows in order to justify himself. I hear that he said it was impossible to entrust such an important capture to an officer not under his authority, and to troops which had probably been bribed already to let Sher Singh slip past.”

“You had visitors before I came, then?”

“A whole lot of 'em. Uncommon sympathetic they were, too.”

“Uncommon pleased to get up a row between you and old Speathley, I should say. Don't you listen to 'em, Hal.”

“My dear Bob, there are some things one can't pass over. We have submitted to Speathley's caprices too long, and it's time to speak out. Personal injustice may be forgiven——”

“Precious little forgiveness about you just now,” muttered Charteris.

“But when it is a case of injury to the public service, it is necessary to make a stand,” concluded Gerrard impressively.

“Oh, all right; and what's your idea of making a stand? Challenging Speathley, or denouncing him to his face?”

“I shall write to the papers.”

“Sort of thing Lennox and Keeling are always doing,” said Charteris carelessly. “Not quite our style, eh? But if your conscience impels you to ruin your own career and justify the Brigadier's dislike of you, I suppose I can't prevent it.”

“But think what he has sacrificed! Sher Singh will raise the country, bring down the Granthi army upon us, perhaps——”

“It's quite possible. But what I don't see is how your writing to the papers is going to prevent it.”

“It might lead to—— Hang it, Bob! is the fellow to go unpunished?”

“Won't he be punished enough when the story of Sher Singh's escape gets about—not to speak of the additional trouble we may expect here? Hal, old boy, let him alone. If you don't, you'll be sorry when you're yourself again.”

“For you to urge patience upon me is a novelty,” said Gerrard, rather bitterly, but his step was less resolute as he tramped about the tent. Suddenly he sat down opposite Charteris. “Bob, I begin to think you are not so very far wrong. At any rate I'll wait before doing it. Who's that out there?” he cried sharply, as a shadow moved outside.

“Heaven-born!” Rukn-ud-din rose from his crouching position and saluted in the doorway. “It was told in the ears of this slave that your honour was very wrathful concerning the escape of the brother-slayer, and he presumed to approach unbidden with news.”

“And what is the news?” demanded Gerrard, still ruffled.

“That the man who escaped was not Rajah Sher Singh at all, sahib.”

“What! you mean that he is among the prisoners?”

“Not so, sahib. He has never left the city.”

“But what—what reason have you for thinking so?”

“Does your honour think that the men who have been led by Sher Singh into their present evil case would permit him to forsake them? Surely they would hold him fast.”

“No doubt they would if they could, but I imagine he has given them the slip. Would he send his wife away without him?”

“Sahib, the woman says she is the Rani, but I think she is merely a slave-girl playing a part. If the Rajah wished the troops of the Company to believe he had escaped, would he not have devised just such a plot as this, sending forth a party intended for capture, that they might bear the news?”

“It struck me as so characteristic of Sher Singh to sneak away and leave his women to be captured that I should never have thought of doubting it,” said Gerrard in perplexity to Charteris, who took up the questioning.

“But what good could it do to Sher Singh that we should think he had escaped, Komadan-ji?”

“That your honours would not look for him in the city when it falls,” replied Rukn-ud-din promptly. “If there is some hiding-place in which he may seek safety”—Gerrard's eyes met those of Charteris with sudden enlightment—“he might remain there in peace, and creep out when all is quiet again. But do not take my word for it, sahib. Only, if there is no news of Sher Singh's seeking support in the north, and bringing an army against us, remember what I have said.”

“It is well. We will remember,” said Gerrard. “Say nothing of this to any one, unless it be to Amrodh Chand.”

“It is an order, sahib.” Rukn-ud-din received leave to depart, and melted silently away. Gerrard looked at Charteris again.

“The treasury!” he cried breathlessly.

“'Pon my word, that's it. Unless—I told you how they broke into the passage, you know, and after the treasure was got out, Sher Singh ordered the place to be destroyed.”

“D'ye think he did it, Bob?”

“I don't, if you ask me. I think it was a do.”

“Exactly, and he has secured himself a comfortable underground retreat, with two exits, both of which are known to us. We shall catch him like a rat in a trap, if we keep our own counsel.”

“I believe you, my boy! And now, what's your mature opinion of your plan for showing up Speathley? Ain't it ray-ther better to cover yourself with glory by producing the missing Sher Singh than by indulging a revengeful temper to put it out of your power to capture him? Old boy, he can't keep you out of despatches then! And the best of it is that you and I must do the thing all on our own hook, for the very good reason that we are both sworn not to reveal the secret of the treasury to a soul. We shall have to take Rukn-ud-din and Amrodh Chand into our confidence as far as the preliminaries go, and they'll be delighted to help, but they must understand that the thing itself is a Sahibs' job.”

“Don't forget that the whole thing depends on Rukn-ud-din's being right in saying that Sher Singh never left the city.”

“Oh, don't buck.[1] Of course he's right,” said Charteris rudely. And as time went on, it became clearer to the two young men that Rukn-ud-din was right. True, the garrison of Agpur made great capital of the escape across the flooded river, and were continually condoling with the besiegers on the slowness of their horses, or prophesying great results from Sher Singh's personal influence in raising up sympathisers in the north. It was quite evident that they meant it to be believed that Sher Singh was not in the city, but the actual news from the north did not support them. Lieutenant Ronaldson sent word that an emissary from Sher Singh, sent to stir up his tribesmen against the English, had unfortunately just slipped through his fingers, but though intrigues were heard of in abundance from various quarters, there were no tidings of the Rajah himself. Meanwhile, the slow progress of the siege continued, until it received a sudden acceleration by means of a lucky shot from a howitzer, which dropped into the enemy's chief magazine, and blew it up. After this, events came in quick succession. The Agpuris were driven first from their various positions outside the city walls, then from the suburbs, and a rough road was levelled through the ruins, that the guns might be brought to bear upon the palace fortress itself. For the whole of one day they pounded at the walls which Partab Singh had constructed as the aid to his ambitious designs, and at night it was pronounced that the breach was practicable for the next day. But in the morning a flag of truce came out, borne by old Sada Sukhi, a persona grata on account of his loyalty to Nisbet and Cowper, and it was announced that the garrison, commanded in the absence of the Rajah by the Diwan Dwarika Nath, desired to surrender. Before any terms could be granted, it was required that Sarfaraz Khan and a number of others known to have been concerned in the murder of the two Englishmen should be handed over, and this was done, though merely the dead body of the treacherous captain of the guard, who had poisoned himself with a drug concealed in the hilt of his sword, could be carried out to the conquerors. A parley between Sada Sukhi and the political officer with the force settled the terms of surrender for the fighting men and the civil inhabitants, the cases of any who might hereafter prove to have taken an active part in the murders being specially reserved, and the remains of the Agpur army marched out, and were duly disarmed.

Much curiosity was evinced by the British troops forming part of the besieging army as to the fortress which had held them at bay so long, and Gerrard, wandering through the place when the transfer of authority was complete, felt a sense of desecration when he discovered several privates, looking, in their tight scarlet tunics, stiff stocks and heavy shakos, most incongruously uncomfortable, taking their ease on the divan in the tower where he had sat with Partab Singh. Others were trying to paddle the deaf and dumb man's boat about the lotus-covered tank, their adventures affording high delight to their comrades on the shore, and others again were teasing the wild beasts in the menagerie. The first troops marching in had found the palace strewn with valuable stuffs and other treasures, but these had now all been collected and placed under guard, as were the women's apartments, and there was nothing left to tempt the cupidity of the soldiers, though they found a good deal that was capable of injury, and promptly injured it. The Residency, in which Gerrard had passed so many lonely days, was badly knocked about, and strewn with the dishonoured remnants of Nisbet and Cowper's belongings. Evidently Sher Singh and his adherents had wreaked their vengeance even upon the house where the murdered men had lived, for the place was little more than a ruin. In the enclosed garden, where he had dreamt of seeing Honour walking, Gerrard came upon the political officer, whom he knew well as one of Sir Edmund Antony's most trusted lieutenants.

“Glad to see you, Gerrard. Curious you should have come upon me just here. Wasn't it you who got into trouble with Speathley by saying that poor Nisbet and Cowper ought to be buried in the city instead of in Ratan Singh's tomb?”

“Yes, but I don't know how you heard of it.”

“Other people have heard of it as well. You have impressed the sensitive imagination of no less a person than the Governor-General, my dear fellow. Your suggestion got through to him somehow—some one who was there writing to some one else, I suppose—and he has sent peremptory orders for it to be carried out. Ever since the news arrived, the pet aide-de-camp has been labouring to convince Speathley that he originated the idea himself, and was only angry with you because you took the words out of his mouth, and he is just coming to believe it.”

“Very wise, in the circumstances.”

“Uncommonly so. Well, what do you think of this place for the grave? It is inside the palace enclosure, and yet quite separated from the palace itself. Even if we set up a new Rajah, I suppose we shall keep a garrison in the town, and a sentry can always be mounted here. No future Resident would care to live so close to the palace after what has happened, I should say.”

“I suppose you can't do better,” agreed Gerrard reluctantly, looking at the overgrown wilderness which represented his carefully kept garden. “Yes, make a cemetery of the place by all means, Rawson. It looks as if it had a curse on it.”

“What an uncommon romantic fellow you are!” said Rawson good-humouredly. “This was my chief reason for choosing the spot. Look here!”

He took Gerrard by the elbow and turned him round. From where they stood they looked straight through the breach made by the guns, and along the rough track formed by levelling the houses from the chasm in the outer to that in the inner wall.

“See that? Almost a straight line, ain't it? Well, if we bring 'em in through the double breach, along that road, and bury them here in the heart of the palace, will it, or will it not, produce a fine moral effect?”

“Magnificent!” murmured Gerrard, the dramatic force of the idea gripping him. “Regular time's revenge.”

Two or three days later time's revenge was completed. The bodies of Nisbet and Cowper, removed reverently from their desecrated grave and wrapped in the costliest Kashmir shawls to be discovered among Sher Singh's treasures, were borne through the breach in the city wall, attended by representatives of every unit of the besieging force, across the devastated town and through the ruined defences of the palace, to be laid to rest in the secluded garden with every possible military honour. As the last echoes of the firing over the grave died away, Gerrard turned to Charteris with quickened breath.

“Bob,” he murmured, “they have made a way for a corpse through the great wall of Agpur.”

[1] In modern parlance, “gas.”

CHAPTER XXIII. RUN TO EARTH.

On the evening of the day when the bodies of the two murdered Englishmen had been laid in the grave with all imaginable honour, four figures crept stealthily through the shadows at the base of the ramparts of the palace. After the funeral, in the course of a stroll round the walls, Gerrard and Charteris had refreshed their memory of the various localities. Long ago they had satisfied themselves as to the identity of the tree which masked the exit of the secret passage, and on looking from the parapet they discovered that it had survived the siege uninjured. But the hole it concealed was by no means easy to reach, since it was about half-way up the great face of wall, which was much higher on the outside than the inside. True, the stones on the surface were rough-hewn and much weathered, and vegetation of all sorts had struck its roots between them during the recent rains, but they were not too firmly fixed in their places, as a gap here and there showed. The adventurers agreed that it would be impossible to make their attempt from the inside of the fortress, owing to the strict watch maintained there, and since this decision implied a climb up the sheer crumbling wall-face from below, the help of a rope was very necessary. Since to lower one from above would have attracted attention, it was clear that it must in some way be raised from below, and the two friends had set their wits to work, with the result that when they paused—to all appearance quite casually—on the parapet and looked over at the tree, each of them drew furtively from his pocket a ball of twine. Charteris laughed.

“At any rate I'm glad you haven't beat me, Hal. I could think of nothing better than unwinding the string and dropping one end on each side of the tree, in the hope that it might remain untouched till to-night. No, by Jove! I have thought of a better way. Give us your ball.”

He knotted the two ends of twine, and dropped the balls dexterously one on either side of the tree, the string thus remaining steadied against possible winds by the weight at the bottom. Then, talking carelessly, he led his friend on, both hoping that no acquisitive small boy might chance to poke about along the base of the wall during the afternoon. Rukn-ud-din and Amrodh Chand had already been informed that their services were desired that night, and at the appointed time they slipped away from their quarters into the darkness and joined the two Englishmen. Caution was necessary in passing through the narrow lanes of the city, not only lest implacable partisans of Sher Singh should seize the opportunity of avenging their master's fall, but lest a British patrol should be encountered. Charteris and Gerrard knew the password, but the composition of their party was certain to rouse curiosity, and lead to the suspicion that something strange was on foot. By dint of effacing themselves deftly round corners, and hiding in doorways, they managed to avoid notice, and reached the appointed spot at the desired time, when the moon, rising behind the palace itself, threw this portion of the wall, and the ground at its foot, into the deepest shadow. Sentries were posted both within and without the walls, and it was necessary to wait until the one on this beat had turned his back, and then run singly from one patch of shade to another. All once safely assembled at the foot of the wall, Charteris produced a dark lantern, and while the rest stood so as to shield him from observation, hunted for the two little balls of twine. They had fallen not far from one another, and by pulling at the strings it became evident that they were still knotted over the projecting tree-trunk. To one of them the end of a stout rope was attached, and then the other was pulled, so that the rope might be, as the twine now was, passed over the tree. When the two ends of the rope hung level, forming as it were a double handrail, Charteris seized them, and began to climb, supporting himself by the ropes at each step as he felt for a higher rest for his foot. The slight sound he made, gradually growing more distant, was the only guide those below had as to his position, but at last there came a tug upon each rope, which was to be the sign that he had reached the tree and found the entrance of the passage practicable. Before following him, Gerrard turned to the two natives.

“Brothers, you know that we hope to seize this night him who has been guilty of so many crimes, that he may be brought to a fair trial. You know also that a vow of secrecy forbids us to share our knowledge of this place with you. Swear to me, then, that after to-night it shall be to you as though it did not exist, whatever may happen to us.”

“We swear it, sahib,” said both men, but Rukn-ud-din added, “Provided that if your honour should call to us for help, we are at liberty to follow you.”

“In that case you may certainly come up,” said Gerrard gravely, and he followed Charteris up the wall. Amrodh Chand's eyes sought Rukn-ud-din's in the darkness.

“His vow is safe, brother; but what of our vow of vengeance?”

“Aye; we know what is meant by these trials. Antni Sahib loves Sher Singh and will not have him slain, and the judges will know it. They will appoint a pleader to gain him his life by false words.”

“And we, brother—we who have sworn to wash out the stain from the severed cloth in the blood of the brother-slayer? We shall be baulked, and the women will laugh at us in the streets.”

“Aye; men will mock at our beards,” said Rukn-ud-din bitterly. “Has Jirad Sahib forgotten all that has passed?”

Amrodh Chand's head approached his comrade's closely. “I think Jirad Sahib has remembered our vow. Did he not make us swear that after this night the place should be to us as though it was not? What, then, of to-night?”

Rukn-ud-din pondered sagely this most undeserved aspersion on Gerrard's sincerity. “It is well thought of,” he said. “Moreover, it seemed to me but now that I heard a cry or gasp. What if it were Jirad Sahib's voice calling to us, and we have failed him?”

“We will succour him at once,” said Amrodh Chand. “See, brother, I will knot the ends of the rope under this projecting stone, and follow thee up.”

All unconscious of the insubordinate reasoning of his followers, Gerrard had made his way up the wall, and reaching the tree, peered into the blackness in search of Charteris. There was no sign of the lantern, but not far off he could hear curious muffled sounds, as though a struggle was taking place in resolute silence. Feeling along the tree-trunk with his hands, he discovered the opening in the wall, and squeezed himself past the roots into it—rather nervous work in pitch darkness and with the rope left behind. He found himself in a narrow passage, the roof and sides of which he could easily touch, and close in front of him was going on the struggle he had heard. Two or more men must be rolling over one another on the floor, wrestling desperately, but in silence. Gerrard durst not interfere, lest he should seize the wrong man, and he ventured only to say, “Here, Bob!” in a low voice during a pause in the fighting, for fear of betraying their presence to others. Suddenly a horrible thud, followed by a gasping “Ah-h-h!” from Charteris, proclaimed that the contest was over, and Gerrard was nearly knocked down by some one who cannoned into him backwards. A hand was on his throat in a moment, but when the fingers came in contact with his collar they released their grip, and Charteris whispered with a hoarse laugh—

“Why, Hal, I nearly strangled you. Thought you were a comrade of the fellow here. Step over him and shield the light. We must make sure.”

Gerrard obeyed—not without an uneasy feeling of exposing himself to unseen foes—and jumped violently when his foot came in contact with some portion of the body of Charteris's late foe. But no attempt was made to seize him, and he stood upright, filling the passage as far as possible, while Charteris opened the lantern the merest slit, and turned it on the man's face.

“He's safe. I thought that knock I gave him on the floor must have damaged him considerably. It was him or me. He sprang at me as soon as I got inside, and if I hadn't got my hand over his mouth he would have given the alarm. That handicapped me, too—having to hold him, I mean—and he wriggled like an eel. Well, come on. Now look here, Hal; you ain't going to walk behind me down this passage with your sword drawn. You'd have me spitted like a lark if we were attacked either in front or behind. I'll go first with my sword, you'll come after with the lantern—shut, if you please. If I want light, I'll tell you fast enough. Got your Colt ready—not out?”

Gerrard's revolver was ready to his hand, but he realised that it was out of the question to hold it as he felt his way in the dark, and after making sure that his sword was loose in its sheath, he followed Charteris, carrying only the lantern. When they had explored the passage before, with plenty of light, it had seemed to them that the walls and floor were astonishingly smooth, but now, feeling and groping their way along in pitch darkness, the number of obstacles over which they stumbled, and projections with which they came into violent contact, was extraordinary. The air of the place was close, too, and between their exertions and their anxiety, they were soon dripping with perspiration. Charteris called a halt at last.

“By Jove, it's just struck me what a do it would be if they had laid a trap for us!” he muttered. “Quite a shallow hole would bring us down on top of on another, and we should be at their mercy.”

“Oh, go on, and don't buck!” said Gerrard irritably.

“Why, your voice is shaking, Hal! 'Pon my word, if I didn't know you, I should think——” He stopped abruptly, for Gerrard had gripped his shoulder.

“Bob, did you hear something?”

“Not I. You heard your heart beating, perhaps.”

“Oh, drop it! It sounded like the ring of metal on stone—as if a sword had knocked against the wall.”

“Kuku-ud-din or Amrodh Chand may have followed us.”

“They swore they wouldn't. Besides, Bob, it was quite near at hand, and they could not have caught us up in the dark. There was no sign of them at the entrance.”

“Quite so. Well, shall we wait and trip him up?”

“No, he will hear—guess we are there. We can't stay all night looking for him in the dark.” Gerrard spoke roughly, fighting down the horror of such a watch as he suggested, and Charteris yielded, recognising that his friend's nerves were dangerously strained.

“I should have preferred to make our rear safe, but he will hardly venture to attack us single-handed. Give me the lantern, old boy, and you lead for a bit.”

Shamefacedly Gerrard obeyed, realising that the dread of a stealthy step behind had not for Charteris the paralyzing terror it had for him, and they groped their way on, trying to assure one another that the sounds which reached them when they paused were merely the echoes of their own movements. At length a very faint glimmer became visible far in front, and they crept towards it. It seemed to come from a doorway on the left-hand side of the passage, and co-ordinating their former knowledge of the place with the distance they had now come, they saw that it must proceed from the open door of the secret treasury. Creeping up to this with the utmost precaution, they paused for a moment in the shadow to reconnoitre. The light came from a dim lamp in the middle of the room, round which they could discern the sleeping forms of several men—five or six, perhaps, but their mufflings made it difficult to distinguish them clearly. One rather removed from the rest, and lying on a charpoy instead of the floor, was evidently Sher Singh himself. Charteris put the lantern deliberately into his pocket, and drawing swords and revolvers, he and Gerrard stepped into the doorway.

“Your Highness is tracked! Surrender!” were the words that pealed into the room and roused the sleepers.

“Maharaj, fear not! There are but two Feringhees here!” cried another voice from behind, and instantly the man nearest to the lamp threw a quilt over it. There was a clash of arms as the men roused from sleep seized the weapons they had laid beside them, but through it Gerrard's ear detected another sound, a grinding noise on the floor, coming from behind. He recognised it at once; it was the grating of the turning-stone as it closed. The man who had tracked them and given the alarm was cutting off their retreat. Gerrard turned mechanically, and putting out his hand, felt the stone beginning to fill the doorway behind him. Stooping, he groped for the stone doorpost, and snatching off his cap, thrust it across the corner where the outer edge of the doorpost met the floor. The cap was iron-framed, and padded to turn a sword-cut, and he heard the stone grate more harshly, then stick, so that at least he and Charteris were not imprisoned without hope of release. As he rose, he was aware of a muttered exclamation of disgust from the other side of the door, and guessed that the man who had set the stone turning had found that it would not shut.

“Shoulder to shoulder, Hal!” said Charteris sharply. The moment so full of thought and action for Gerrard had for him been filled only with intensest listening for every movement of the enemies in front, and he had no idea of the foe behind. Something struck the edge of the doorpost as it passed through the slit left open, and Gerrard fired at the sound. Charteris jumped forward a little as the point of a long dagger grazed his shoulder, and the noise of the shot was followed by a choking cry in the passage.

“Thanks, old boy. Ready, watch!” Charteris took the lantern from his pocket, and flashed it slowly round. Gerrard had a momentary impression of shining weapons and gleaming eyeballs, all apparently petrified into immobility by the sudden illumination. Before the enemy could take advantage of the light to spring, he had snatched the lantern from Charteris's hand, and set it on a little stone bracket, evidently left for some such purpose, above the doorway, so that the two Englishmen were in shadow, while their opponents were clearly visible.

“Now, Bob, back to back!” he cried.

Three of the armed men in front made at them at once, while Sher Singh and the others conferred in the background. Neither Gerrard nor Charteris had time to do more than notice this ominous confabulation, for their adversaries gave them plenty of work. They were as agile as cats, and the chance was small indeed of getting in a telling blow. One man went down with a bullet from Gerrard's revolver in his brain, but his place was instantly taken by one of those at the back, and the next few minutes saw several shots wasted. Suddenly another sound than the clash of arms struck on Gerrard's ear—the grinding noise made by the turning-stone. He had barely time to shout a warning to Charteris before a shot, sounding like the report of a cannon in the confined space, smashed and extinguished the lantern, and at the same moment two hands grasped his ankles and threw him into the middle of the floor, with Charteris—as he guessed by the clatter of a revolver on the ground—upon him.

“Sahib, it is I—Rukn-ud-din,” yelled a lamentable voice from the door. “Speak, that I may know where you are.”

Gerrard had just breath enough left to shout “Here!” and sufficient presence of mind to wriggle as far as he could when he had done it. The instant swish of a sword, delivered with such good will that it smashed on the stone floor where he had lain but a moment before, showed his wisdom, and he tried to roll out of the fray, but Charteris, who must have struck his head in falling, lay a dead weight across his legs. While he tried first to lift his friend, and then to drag himself from under him, a fierce battle was raging above and across their prostrate forms, and feet, bare or booted, trod upon or tripped over them. At length Charteris stirred and groaned, and Gerrard shook him desperately.

“Bob, get up! Get off me, anyhow!”

A hand seized his shoulder as he shouted, and he imagined a sword descending on his head, and thought his last hour had come. But the hand came down to meet his, and a voice cried, “Well done, sahib. Up!” and helped by Rukn-ud-din, he was on his feet again, and set with his back to the wall. Stooping, he found Charteris struggling into a sitting position, and dragged him back also, then realised that the fight had suddenly slackened, and that the sound of panting breaths had replaced the clash of swords. Before he could ask himself what this meant, Rukn-ud-din's voice broke the stillness.

“Brother, is it done?”

“It is done, brother,” replied the voice of Amrodh Chand from the other side of the place. “Partab Singh Rajah and his son and the mother of his son are avenged.”

A wild howl rent the air, as the servants of Sher Singh flung themselves furiously in the direction of the voice, but the Rajput had slipped round close to the wall, and Gerrard found him at his side, half-delirious with joy.

“Slay! slay! slay!” he chanted. “Wipe out the whole brood from the earth. Let all those who served the brother-slayer bear him company in death.”

“Stay! Let them surrender if they will,” cried Gerrard. “Let the servants of Sher Singh lay down their arms, and taste the mercy of the Government.”

“That for the mercy of the Sarkar!” was the answer, as a vicious cut was made in Gerrard's direction from the floor, but Rukn-ud-din warded it off, and seizing the tulwar as it fell from the severed hand of the man who had wielded it, gave it to his commander. Then, advancing in line across the room, they drove the surviving servants of Sher Singh before them until, brought up by the opposite wall, they threw down their arms and cried for quarter. Then Rukn-ud-din went back along the passage for the piece of burning match in a metal holder by means of which he and Amrodh Chandh had made their way to the fight, the sounds of which had stirred their blood, and the extinguished lamp was found and relighted. Sher Singh's body was crouched on the charpoy, in a listening attitude, the matchlock with which he had shot at the lantern slipping from his hands. Four of his men were killed outright, besides the one outside who had tried to close the door, and whom Gerrard had shot through the opening, and the other two were badly wounded, while the victors bore abundant traces of the struggle. But there was no time for binding up their hurts just yet, for hurried footsteps and excited voices could be heard faintly overhead, though no words were distinguishable.

“The sentries are disturbed in their minds, and have turned out the guard,” said Charteris. “And no wonder; that shot of Sher Singh's must have sounded uncommonly like a distant mine exploding. Well, we had better appear amongst them by way of the lions' cage and explain matters, I suppose. What d'ye think of taking the prisoners with us, and leaving everything else as it is, Hal?”

“I don't see that it matters. Wouldn't it be better to make them carry out Sher Singh's body?” said Gerrard.

“My dear fellow, it does matter, very much. I should say leave things exactly as they are. Otherwise we may get into trouble. Don't touch the Rajah, Rukn-ud-din!” he cried sharply. “Oh, I see; it's a case of 'Is not the gown washed white?'”

The two natives had unwound the discoloured fragments of the Rani's cloth which they wore wrapped round their waists, and were dipping them in Sher Singh's blood.

“Our vow, sahib!” said Amrodh Chand proudly. “Now our faces are white once more, for all has fallen out as it was spoken, and the innocent blood is avenged.”

“All very well, but our faces are likely to be particularly black,” muttered Charteris morosely. “Take the prisoners on. Look here, Hal,” as they obeyed; “don't you perceive that we may find ourselves in a very nasty fix? If we had been able to produce Sher Singh alive to stand his trial, nothing would have been too good for us, but as it is, we have deprived the ruling powers of the opportunity for a tremendous object-lesson in justice and clemency. Our only chance is to make it perfectly clear what a fight we have had. They may say we ought to have taken a larger force, but they can't very well blame us for acting in self-defence. And if the bodies have obviously not been touched——”

“You mean that otherwise Speathley is quite capable of accusing us of looting? Bob, if he attempts anything of the kind, I have done with the Company for good and all. I have had about enough. I daresay the old Habshi will take me into his service.”

“Vice General Desdichado dead of drink? I think I see you playing the part, old boy. No, stick to your colour—and your colours. We two are in the same box, and whatever happens we'll keep together. I was merely recommending caution. But here we are at the massy portal. What'll you take that the lions were killed for food in the siege? No, there they are. Sold again!”

Pride forbade Rukn-ud-din and Amrodh Chand to testify any alarm at the place where they found themselves, but they hustled their willing captives to the front of the cage with great celerity, hastened by the growls which proclaimed that the lions had been awakened by the light. The beasts seemed sluggish and disinclined to move, and Gerrard called Charteris back with the lamp, that he might see better to perform the complicated movements which closed the door. Almost as he did so, he felt himself seized and flung violently sideways, Charteris following and almost falling against him, while a heavy body descended violently upon the very spot where they had been standing.

“What's up?” demanded Gerrard, between surprise and indignation.

“Oh, only the lion. Clear out of this, or we shall have the lioness on us next. You don't seem to twig, my boy. Sher Singh has had the chains lengthened!”

CHAPTER XXIV. HONOUR AND HONOURS.

The course of events proved Charteris to be a good prophet. Condemnation of the method adopted by Gerrard in attempting the arrest of Sher Singh was universal. It was not the Brigadier alone who pointed out, with much wealth of language, that the proper course would have been to report his suspicions as to the Rajah's hiding-place, and leave it to his superiors to detail a sufficient force—of which he himself might or might not have formed a part—to effect the capture, for the whole army were on the same side. The charitable said that Gerrard was vilely selfish in trying to secure all the honour and glory for himself alone, the malicious that even if there was no question of loot—which was hardly to be imagined—it was pretty clear that he had been on the look-out to avenge the slights put upon him by Sher Singh when he was acting-Resident at Agpur, and that he had achieved his object by murdering the unfortunate Rajah in a hole. It was in vain that Charteris pointed out to every one he could induce to listen to him that the idea of surprising the Rajah in his concealment had been his originally, and that he had taken a prominent part in the affair; the comment, as soon as his back was turned, was that the two natives concerned in it both belonged to Gerrard's force, which looked bad, and that the friendship which linked Charteris himself with Gerrard was of a character to rise superior to mere accuracy. This uncharitable view of the exploit penetrated to Ranjitgarh, and drew from Sir Edmund Antony a grieved and reproachful letter such as even Gerrard's veneration for his chief could not brook with meekness. He replied with so warm a remonstrance as made Charteris shrug his shoulders in despair, though he acknowledged, on the receipt of a hearty and ample apology, that his friend knew Sir Edmund better than he did.

Since Sher Singh was dead, and not to be restored to life, the Government was in reality freed from a very serious embarrassment. One of his numerous youthful sons was chosen as the representative of the family, but not seated on the gaddi, since all Granthi institutions were in a state of flux for the present, and it was highly probable that the titular Rajah of Agpur would in future lead a secluded and uneventful existence as a pensioner on the Company's bounty. The new bearer of the title, with Sher Singh's wives and remaining children, was removed a safe distance into British territory, and the work of pacifying the state, by hunting down the remains of the insurgent army and of the revolted Granthi regiments, proceeded apace. In fact, it was so quickly done that new force was given to a body of opinion that was gradually gathering strength. Now that the Agpur campaign could be viewed as a successful whole, men began to contrast it with that other warfare which was engaging the energies of the Commander-in-Chief and the entire Bengal Army. Sher Singh's revolt had really been nipped in the bud, since he and his army had been strictly confined within the limits, first of his state and then of his capital, from the moment of the outbreak. Had he been allowed to sweep unchecked across his borders, and uniting with Abd-ur-Rashid Khan of Ethiopia, stir up the western half of Granthistan against the Durbar and the British, as the discontented Granthi Sirdars and soldiers of fortune had raised the eastern portion, how would it have been possible to cope with the situation? That it had not arisen was due to the insight and initiative of one man, Lieutenant Robert Charteris of the Bengal Fusiliers, who had had the skill to plan, and the courage to execute, the necessary measures, in independence, even in disregard, of the orders sent him.

Lieutenant Robert Charteris became a hero, for public opinion, once reversed in his favour, was not minded to do things by halves. Moreover, the growing tide was swollen by the arrival of advices from England, showing that the lords of the East at the India House, and military circles generally, had conceived, on the strength of the reports of Charteris's doings up to the time he was superseded by Brigadier Speathley, the view of his exploits to which India itself was just coming round. The home authorities backed their opinion by tangible marks of favour. The greatest living soldier, mention from whose lips was in itself an honour, recommended Lieutenant Charteris to her Majesty for promotion, and her Majesty was pleased also to confer upon him a Commandership of the Bath, while the India Board decided to present him with a gold medal suitably inscribed. These distinctions were enumerated with due solemnity in a General Order of the Government of India, which contained also a passing reference to “the praiseworthy co-operation afforded by the troops of H.H. the Nuwaub of Hubsheeabad, accompanied by Lieutenant Henry Gerrard, Engineers.” That was all.

The General Order and the news it enshrined were received with much more equanimity by Gerrard than by his fortunate friend. Charteris could not contain himself, and Gerrard's calmness only increased his indignation.

“It's a sell, it's a do, it's an unmitigated chouse!” he proclaimed. “And why don't you put it down to me, Hal? Any other fellow would have done that long ago.”

“Because I saw your reports, old boy, and I know that ain't the reason. It's only what I had to expect.”

“But the disgusting unfairness of it—in our circumstances especially!” lamented Charteris. “I can't get over that.”

“My dear fellow, you know that the person of whom we are both thinking would no more be influenced by a gold medal or a C.B. than by a diamond necklace. No, hang it! the plan was yours, and the execution was yours. I backed you up, you say? Well, then, put on my tombstone, 'He was a good second,' and I ask no more.”

But Charteris could not bring himself to take this philosophic view of the case, and went about abusing the authorities and cursing the injustice of fate, until he drew down upon himself a rebuke from James Antony.

“Since you can neither refuse your honours nor share them, my good fellow, you may as well wear them gracefully,” he said. “As it is, you are doing Gerrard no good. He was unlucky in his first post, which has told against him, but he is a capable man, and bound to come to the front eventually, provided his friends don't spoil his chances.”

The shrewd common-sense of the advice silenced Charteris's murmurs, and he faced with less outward rebelliousness the prospect of a week or two at Ranjitgarh. This was a mere interlude before plunging again into the main current of battle. The Governor-General was coming to the Granthi capital to take counsel with the Commander-in-Chief as to the further course of the war, which had not hitherto been conducted with conspicuous success, and the honours for the Agpur campaign were to be conferred. The cantonments and the Residency were full, and Brevet-Major Charteris, C.B., was glad to share his former restricted quarters with Gerrard. The Edmund Antonys were in occupation of the house again, James Antony and his wife retiring into two rooms of the main block, while Lady Cinnamond was once more at Government House. With her had come down from the hills Marian Cowper, a sorrowful figure in the heavy weeds then worn by even the youngest widows, but taking up the burden of life again bravely. If she still shrank from Honour, it was only they and their mother who could perceive it. Sir Arthur Cinnamond arrived from the front with the Commander-in-Chief for a week about Christmas time, and it so happened that Gerrard came suddenly upon Honour riding with her father the day after his arrival. She wore a habit made like the uniform of Sir Arthur's famous Peninsular regiment—a fashion which probably owed its vogue to the semi-military costume adopted by the young Queen Victoria for reviews. Civilian ladies—whose husbands had no uniform to be copied—called it fast, or at least 'spirited,' (Gerrard had heard Mrs James Antony animadverting upon it only that morning,) but the severe lines of the coat suited Honour well in combination with the long trailing skirt and the broad hat with its drooping feather. As he rode up to the pair, and noted the serious face and the firm lines of the mouth, it struck Gerrard as curiously ironical that to a girl of this type should have fallen such a prolonged period of indecision as Honour had undergone between the claims of Charteris and himself. The thought was still in his mind when she glanced round and saw him, and the change in her face was like the waking into life of a statue. The lines softened, the eyes dropped, and a wave of crimson flooded forehead and cheeks. Sir Arthur shouted a hearty welcome to Gerrard, commanded him to dinner that evening, to meet his eldest son, who was on the Headquarters Staff, and turned judiciously to speak to some one else. Honour's eyes were on her horse's mane, Gerrard's were devouring her face, but for the moment both of them were tongue-tied. Honour recovered herself first, and spoke with a desperate effort.

“And—and how is Major Charteris?” she asked, and Gerrard's revived hope died on the spot. He could not understand afterwards why he did not fall from his horse. What he answered he never knew, but it seemed that he had laughed aloud, for Sir Arthur turned quickly and looked at him. A certain severity, disappointment, puzzled inquiry, were in the glance, but Gerrard had wrenched his horse round and was riding away, leaving the General still looking after him. He rode headlong back to the Residency, and with the impulse of a wounded creature seeking concealment, made straight for his own quarters in the inner courtyard. On the verandah he paused abruptly, for Charteris was sitting there reading a tattered number of Bell's Life. He tried to speak, but no words would come, and Charteris looked up and saw him.

“Why, Hal!” he cried. Gerrard brushed past him hastily.

“I've seen her. It's you, Bob,” he jerked out, and threw himself on his cot. Charteris had sprung from his chair, but turned back on the verandah step.

“Hal, old boy, I'm uncommon sorry. You do believe it, don't you?”

“I do. And you know you are the only man——”

Charteris's hand was on his shoulder a moment as the words failed him, and then his ringing footsteps went down into the courtyard, and Gerrard heard him shouting for his horse. The man who had all went out into the sunshine, the man who had nothing was left. To keep himself from tracing the sound of the horse's feet growing faint in the distance as the happy lover rode away, Gerrard forced himself to plan for the future. He must leave Ranjitgarh, and at once; he could not stay and watch the happiness of the pair, lest he should grow to hate them both. Bob would understand, Bob would not expect it. Some day he might be able to stand it, but now—— He had not realised how firmly he was building on Honour's parting words; he had not doubted that the blush just now was for him. But it was for Bob, and Bob was worthy of any woman's love, even of that of the woman of women. “Heaven bless them both!” groaned Gerrard, and rolled over with his face to the wall to make his plans. He must wait to wring Bob's hand when he returned triumphant, but after that he would go. Bob would take his place at the Cinnamonds' dinner-table, would sit next to Honour, would—— No, it did not bear thinking of; that way madness lay. To his own plans! He would go back to his Habshiabadis, and move heaven and earth to get the help of the contingent accepted by the Commander-in-Chief. If not, and when the war was over—no, he could not face the solitude of his position at Habshiabad again. Had he not General Desdichado as a warning of the depths to which an isolated European, without hope and without ambition, could sink? There was a place for him elsewhere. Coming events were casting their shadows before them, and there could be little doubt that the close of the war would see the annexation of Granthistan. Sir Edmund Antony, who had striven so zealously and with such a single eye against annexation, would not stay to see it; his brother James would be the man of the hour when the step was taken. The Governor-General would be just, even delicate, in his treatment of the vanquished; Sir Edmund would not be shelved, but transferred to some other post where his tenderness for native susceptibilities would be an advantage instead of a drawback. Thither Gerrard would accompany him. Had not Sir Edmund said to him that morning, almost wistfully, “I should like to have you with me, Gerrard, when I am kicked out of Granthistan”? and he had answered eagerly that he could desire nothing better—then paused suddenly, remembering that there might be some one else to consult as to the ordering of his life.

There were steps in the courtyard, a foot on the verandah. Gerrard lay still and pretended to be asleep. He could not face Bob at this moment, when the realisation of all he had lost had returned upon him with such overwhelming force. But Charteris strode across to him and shook him savagely.

“You everlasting fool, it's you!”

He pulled him off the cot, and Gerrard sat on the edge and stared at him stupidly. Charteris was standing with his back to him, very busy about a buckle.

“Well?” he barked out. “You ain't going to do anything—eh? Think it was a pleasant thing for a girl to have to tell the wrong man? Going to leave her to think about it?”

“Of course not. I am going to her,” said Gerrard wonderingly. Something astonishing had happened, but he could not for the moment realise what it was. He had got as far as the verandah step when he felt Charteris's hands on his shoulders, and was forcibly dragged back.

“Of all the fools!” said an exasperated voice. “Off you go, with no cap, and a head like a haystack. Do you remember that they have a burra khana[1] on? Do you want to be turned back for a lunatic? Dress first and get there early, and then speak to her. Call your boy, can't you? Why I should have to dry-nurse you——!”

Gerrard obeyed meekly, grateful to Charteris for giving the bearer his orders and presiding over his execution of them. The bearer, on the contrary, was much insulted. His master was like a lay-figure in his hands, but Chatar Sahib must needs take it upon himself to direct and correct operations in an unpleasant parade voice, causing many unnecessary starts and much perturbation of mind to a highly efficient servant who had most definite ideas on the subject of what his Sahib should wear to a burra khana. Gerrard's horse and groom came round, and Charteris's self-imposed task was not over until he had seen him safely mounted. Before starting, Gerrard turned and held out his hand.

“Bob, old boy?”

“Hang it, Hal! go in and win.”

Some sense of reality began to return to Gerrard's mind as he rode forth under the archway, but it made little impression upon his brain when Mrs James Antony ran out upon the verandah he was passing.

“James, how late you are, love! Oh, Mr Gerrard, if you meet my husband, pray beg him to make haste. We are dining at the General's, and he has not returned from his ride.”

Gerrard promised mechanically, and forgot all about the promise as soon as it was uttered. He arrived at Government House somehow, and immediately became the cause of much disturbance of mind to the servants, who were scandalized at his early arrival, and still more so at his demand to see the Miss Sahib. Honour's own ayah was fetched to assure him that “Missy Sahib done dress,” which meant exactly the opposite of what it sounded like, and the highly responsible head-bearer ventured to advise the Sahib to take a little ride, and return in half an hour or so. But Gerrard was not to be so easily dismissed.

“Tell the Miss Sahib that I will wait as long as she chooses, but that I must speak to her before dinner,” he said.

Shabash,[2] Gerrard! Nothing like putting your foot down in good time,” cried James Antony, charging out of the house and mounting his waiting pony. “If only the General and I had done it, we should not both be in fear of our lives at this moment. You owe me a good turn for making him late.”

If Sir Arthur was late in dressing, his daughter must have been very early, for Gerrard had not been sitting long in the smaller drawing-room, sadly incommoding the servants who were lighting the candles in their glass shades, when Honour came into the room, fastening her short gloves, with a defiant swish of white silk flounces.

“You sent me a very peremptory message just now, Mr Gerrard.”

Any one less preoccupied than Gerrard would have detected a suspicion of trembling in the clear tones, but he was too much taken aback by the accusation hurled at him.

“I am very sorry. Nothing could have been further——”

“So I just came to tell you that I am not accustomed to messages of that kind, and to beg you not to do it again.” Holding her head very high, she turned to sweep out of the room, but Gerrard was at the door before her.

“No, not without letting me speak!” he entreated incoherently. “If you knew what it means to me, how long I have looked forward——! That noble fellow Charteris gave me your message——”

“I think you must be dreaming, Mr Gerrard!” The chilly indignation of her tone brought him to himself. “I send you a message by Major Charteris? Never!”

“Forgive me; I hardly know what I am saying. He told me you had refused him, and I thought that it might be because—that there might be some one else.”

“But even then?” She still faced him bravely, though the affectation of polite interest in her tones was very difficult to keep up.

“You can't pretend not to understand—after everything——”

“But it might not be——”

“Oh no, no!” the pain in his voice brought the tears to her eyes. “Don't say it's some one else! I could have given you up to him, but not—— You know something of what he is; there is no braver or better fellow in India, and now that his name is known, there's no saying how far he will go. You could not have refused him—unless——”

Honour was opening and closing recklessly the cameo clasp that fastened her black velvet bracelet. “Did you come here to plead Major Charteris's cause?” she asked in a very small voice. “What if I—if I told you your—your pleading had convinced me?”

“I should say you had chosen the better man,” said Gerrard steadily.

A hand touched his for a moment, and was snatched away immediately. “I have chosen the better man,” murmured Honour. “But it is not Major Charteris,” and the hand allowed itself to be captured.

“I was certain of it!” cried Gerrard triumphantly. Honour withdrew her hand hastily. “Certain? certain of what?” she demanded. Gerrard was horrified.

“Miss Cinnamond—Honour—my dearest one—what have I done? I am an unlucky fellow! Have I offended you?”

“You said you were certain,” explained Honour, with impatient deliberateness. “What were you certain of?”

“Why, that you could not have refused Charteris—splendid fellow that he is, and with all his honours and successes—unless there was a little sneaking kindness in your heart for some one else, and I hoped it might be for a poor wretched failure who has nothing to lay at your feet beyond his love and fidelity.”

Honour surrendered her hand again. “You are so absurd!” she said, with a catch in her voice. “Of course, if pity is all you want——”

“Pity is not to be despised. It made a good beginning——”

“It did not!” cried Honour sharply. “How blind you are! And I thought you understood! When you came to the Residency in the rains, were you to be pitied then?”

“I thought so. You would hardly look at me.”

“Oh, stupid! how could I?”

“You had begun to care then? But, dearest, how could I guess? You talked about nothing but Charteris.”

“It was the only way I could get you to talk about yourself. You had to tell me little bits about your own doings when you were describing all he had done.”

“If I had only known, it would have saved a lot of misery, both to poor old Bob and me,” mused Gerrard ruefully. “But how could I possibly tell! When you asked so much about Charteris, of course I thought you cared for him.”

“As if I could ever have talked about him to you if I had cared for him!” said Honour in disdain. Gerrard mused upon this revelation for a moment.

“Well, I don't see how I could have known,” he said at last.

“Why, I told you!” cried Honour—“when you went away.”

“I thought you must have meant that—just for a moment. But then you ran away, and would not even say good-bye to me.”

“How could I, when I had just told you—shouted it out before everybody? But I hid behind Mrs Antony and watched you go. I—I kissed my hand to you,” shamefacedly.

“And I was bustled off, and never knew! Dear one, you have only yourself and my stupidity to thank if you marry a failure. What might I not have done if I had known you cared!”

“Perhaps you might not have known it then as well as you do now,” whispered Honour shyly. “It—it must be you, you know, not your success, or——”

“So it is! But you won't insist on my remaining a failure always, for I'm hanged if I do. With you to inspire—to help——”

Could it be the silent, reserved Honour whose transfigured face was raised to his. “Oh, you will let me, you think I can?” she breathed. “I wanted, so dreadfully, to help people when I first came out, but no one seemed to want it—or else they just asked me to marry them——”

“But so have I. At least, that was my intention.”

“Oh, you! But you are different. And I may try to help?”

A deprecating ayah, who had been making signs in vain from the verandah, advanced in desperation. “Lady Memsahib done say wish done see Missy Sahib,” she murmured, with downcast eyes.

      * * * * * *

“Well, is it all serene?” inquired Charteris, as Gerrard returned to their quarters that night.

“All right—thanks to you, Bob.”

“Oh, shut up! Seventh heaven?”

“Seventy times seventh.”

“I believe you, my boy! Papa and mamma agreeable?”

“They were most kind. Sir Arthur would have preferred you, Bob—I can't help seeing that—but he was quite decent. I even saw poor little Mrs Cowper for a moment. She cried, and said how glad she was.”

“Uncommon affecting! And she, herself?”

“She's—she's—I can't express what she is, even to you, Bob. Hang it! I believe I could talk of her all night, and get no nearer. She is an angel from heaven.”

“Question is, has she made up her mind at last—no more shilly-shallying? Hope I don't intrude in asking it.”

“Made up her mind—— Are you trying to throw doubts——? Oh, I see. But it's a thousand years since then, Bob. You yourself could have no doubt, if you saw her.”

“All right; I'm quite satisfied. If a doleful beggar like yourself can feel free from doubt——”

“I could no more doubt her than the sun at noon. Bob, I'll tell you. She will go with me to Central India when Sir Edmund goes.”

Charteris sat up in his chair. “Nonsense!” he said sharply. “What folly is this? You are talking of leaving Granthistan?”

“I had made up my mind to it before you came to me this afternoon, and she agrees with me that it is the right thing.”

“My dear fellow, you don't know. I was talking to the G.-G.'s military secretary to-night, and he let slip that there would be a local majority for you at the next distribution of honours. If you leave Granthistan, of course that falls through.”

“Then I must wait till it comes in the natural course of things.”

“You don't seem to realise that Sir Arthur's influence won't help you outside Granthistan, and will be very little use in any line but the military. What's taken you?”

“It's simply that I mean to stick to Sir Edmund. My views as to the treatment of the natives were learnt from him, and I can work better with him than with our Mr James, much as I respect him.”

“James Antony is the coming man, and the man for me. But if you will choose the losing side—why, I suppose you must. It's like her, too.”

“It is, indeed—since she chose me and not you. Bob, I'm still lost in wonder over that.”

Charteris moved impatiently. “Shows her wisdom. I don't mind telling you, Hal—it may make you more comfortable to hear it—that I had misgivings. Not about my own happiness—Heaven knows that I could ask nothing better—but whether I could make her happy. I can't spout Tennyson to her, or appreciate her pretty little German tales about knights and water-nymphs—the New Sporting Magazine and Lays of Ancient Rome are more my number. Evidently I am cut out for pacifying Darwan rather than for domestic joys. And after all, two years ago I would have given my ears to be where I am now. You have Honour, and I have honours, you see”—with a fairly creditable laugh—“and so everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

[1] Big dinner.

[2] Bravo.