THE COMING CONQUEST OF ENGLAND
by August Niemann
Translated by J. H. Freese
I. THE COUNCIL OF STATE
II. THE OFFICERS' MESS
III. A RUSSIAN COMRADE
IV. THE CIRCASSIAN BEAUTY
V. THE CAPTAIN'S WIFE
VI. THE OUTRAGE
VII. THE MAHARAJAH
VIII. THE PAMIRS
IX. THE GERMAN EMPEROR
X. FIVE LAKHS OF RUPEES
XI. THE MOBILISATION
XII. THE CAMP OF LAHORE
XIII. THE BATTLE
XIV. IN THE PANIC-STRICKEN CITY
XV. THE COURT-MARTIAL
XVI. THE PROFESSOR
XVII. DOWNING STREET
XVIII. THE YOUNG RUSSIAN CAPTAIN OF DRAGOONS
XIX. ON THE ROAD TO SIMLA
XX. A FRIEND IN NEED
XXI. EDITH'S ADVENTURES
XXII. THE ETHICS OF ESPIONAGE
XXIII. HOMEWARD BOUND
XXIV. THE ADVENTURES OF THE CALEDONIA
XXV. A SUSPICIOUS FISHING-SMACK
XXVI. CAMILLE PENUROT
XXVII. EBERHARD AMELUNGEN
XXVIII. THE FATE OF A SPY
XXIX. A WOMAN'S TREACHERY
XXX. EDITH'S LAST JOURNEY
XXXI. THE STOLEN DOCUMENT
XXXII. NEWS OF AN OLD FRIEND
XXXIII. THE LANDING IN SCOTLAND
XXXIV. THE BATTLE OF FLUSHING
XXXV. AT HAMPTON COURT
I recall to mind a British colonel, who said to me in Calcutta: "This is the third time that I have been sent to India. Twenty-five years ago, as lieutenant, and then the Russians were some fifteen hundred miles from the Indian frontier; then, six years since, as captain, and the Russians were then only five hundred miles away. A year ago I came here as lieutenant-colonel, and the Russians are right up to the passes leading to India."
The map of the world unfolds itself before me. All seas are ploughed by the keels of English vessels, all coasts dotted with the coaling stations and fortresses of the British world-power. In England is vested the dominion of the globe, and England will retain it; she cannot permit the Russian monster to drink life and mobility from the sea.
"Without England's permission no shot can be fired on the ocean," once said William Pitt, England's greatest statesman. For many, many years England has increased her lead, owing to dissensions among the continental Powers. Almost all wars have, for centuries past, been waged in the interests of England, and almost all have been incited by England. Only when Bismarck's genius presided over Germany did the German Michael become conscious of his own strength, and wage his own wars.
Are things to come to this pass, that Germany is to crave of England's bounty—her air and light, and her very daily bread? or does their ancient vigour no longer animate Michael's arms?
Shall the three Powers who, after Japan's victory over China, joined hands in the treaty of Shimonoseki, in order to thwart England's aims, shall they—Germany, France, and Russia—still fold their hands, or shall they not rather mutually join them in a common cause?
In my mind's eye I see the armies and the fleets of Germany, France, and Russia moving together against the common enemy, who with his polypus arms enfolds the globe. The iron onslaught of the three allied Powers will free the whole of Europe from England's tight embrace. The great war lies in the lap of the future.
The story that I shall portray in the following pages is not a chapter of the world's past history; it is the picture as it clearly developed itself to my mind's eye, on the publication of the first despatch of the Viceroy Alexieff to the Tsar of Russia. And, simultaneously like a flash of lightning, the telegram which the Emperor William sent to the Boers after Jameson's Raid crosses my memory—that telegram which aroused in the heart of the German nation such an abiding echo. I gaze into the picture, and am mindful of the duties and aims of our German nation. My dreams, the dreams of a German, show me the war that is to be, and the victory of the three great allied nations. Germany, France, and Russia—and a new division of the possessions of the earth as the final aim and object of this gigantic universal war.
This volume is the authorised translation of Der Weltkrieg deutsche Traume (F. W. Vobach and Co., Leipsic). The translator offers no comment on the day-dream which he reproduces in the English language for English readers. The meaning and the moral should be obvious and valuable.
LONDON, September, 1904.
THE COMING CONQUEST OF ENGLAND
THE COUNCIL OF STATE
It was a brilliant assemblage of high dignitaries and military officers that had gathered in the Imperial Winter Palace at St. Petersburg. Of the influential personages, who, by reason of their official position or their personal relations to the ruling house, were summoned to advise and determine the destiny of the Tsar's Empire, scarcely one was absent. But it was no festal occasion that had called them here; for all faces wore an expression of deep seriousness, amounting in certain cases to one of grave anxiety. The conversation, carried on in undertones, was of matters of the gravest import.
The broad folding-doors facing the lifesize portrait of the reigning Tsar were thrown wide open, and amid the breathless silence of all assembled, the grey-headed President of the Imperial Council, Grand Duke Michael, entered the hall. Two other members of the Imperial house, the Grand Dukes Vladimir Alexandrovitch and Alexis Alexandrovitch, brothers of the late Tsar, accompanied him.
The princes graciously acknowledged the deep obeisances of all present. At a sign from the Grand Duke Michael, the whole company took their places at the long conference table, covered with green cloth, which stood in the centre of the pillared hall. Deep, respectful silence still continued, until, at a sign from the President, State Secretary Witte, the chief of the ministerial council, turned to the Grand Dukes and began thus:—
"Your Imperial Highnesses and Gentlemen! Your Imperial Highness has summoned us to an urgent meeting, and has commissioned me to lay before you the reasons for, and the purpose of, our deliberations. We are all aware that His Majesty the Emperor, our gracious Lord and Master, has declared the preservation of the peace of the world to be the highest aim of his policy. The Christian idea that mankind should be 'ONE fold under ONE shepherd' has, in the person of our illustrious ruler, found its first and principal representative here on earth. The league of universal peace is solely due to His Majesty, and if we are called upon to present to our gracious Lord and Master our humble proposals for combating the danger which immediately menaces our country, all our deliberations should be inspired by that spirit which animates the Christian law of brotherly love."
Grand Duke Michael raised his hand in interruption. "Alexander Nicolaievitch," he said, turning to the Secretary, "do not omit to write down this last sentence WORD FOR WORD."
The Secretary of State made a short pause, only to continue with a somewhat louder voice and in a more emphatic tone—
"No especial assurance is required that, in view of this, our noble liege lord's exalted frame of mind, a breach of the world's peace could not possibly come from our side. But our national honour is a sacred possession, which we can never permit others to assail, and the attack which Japan has made upon us in the Far East forced us to defend it sword in hand. There is not a single right-minded man in the whole world who could level a reproach at us for this war, which has been forced upon us. But in our present danger a law of self-preservation impels us to inquire whether Japan is, after all, the only and the real enemy against whom we have to defend ourselves; and there are substantial reasons for believing that this question should be answered in the negative. His Majesty's Government is convinced that we are indebted for this attack on the part of Japan solely to the constant enmity of England, who never ceases her secret machinations against us. It has been England's eternal policy to damage us for her own aggrandisement. All our endeavours to promote the welfare of this Empire and make the peoples happy have ever met with resistance on the part of England. From the China Seas, throughout all Asia to the Baltic, England has ever thrown obstacles in our way, in order to deprive us of the fruits of our civilising policy. No one of us doubts for a moment that Japan is, in reality, doing England's work. Moreover, in every part of the globe where our interests are at stake, we encounter either the open or covert hostility of England. The complications in the Balkans and in Turkey, which England has incited and fostered by the most despicable methods, have simply the one object in view—to bring us into mortal conflict with Austria and Germany. Yet nowhere are Great Britain's real aims clearer seen than in Central Asia. With indescribable toil and with untold sacrifice of treasure and blood our rulers have entered the barren tracts of country lying between the Black Sea and the Caspian, once inhabited by semibarbarous tribes, and, further east again, the lands stretching away to the Chinese frontier and the Himalayas, and have rendered them accessible to Russian civilisation. But we have never taken a step, either east or south, without meeting with English opposition or English intrigues. To-day our frontiers march with the frontier of British East India, and impinge upon the frontier of Persia and Afghanistan. We have opened up friendly relations with both these states, entertain close commercial intercourse with their peoples, support their industrial undertakings, and shun no sacrifice to make them amenable to the blessings of civilisation. Yet, step by step, England endeavours to hamper our activity. British gold and British intrigues have succeeded in making Afghanistan adopt a hostile attitude towards us. We must at last ask ourselves this question: How long do we intend to look on quietly at these undertakings? Russia must push her way down to the sea. Millions of strong arms till the soil of our country. We have at our own command inexhaustible treasures of corn, wood, and all products of agriculture; yet we are unable to reach the markets of the world with even an insignificant fraction of these fruits of the earth that Providence has bestowed, because we are hemmed in, and hampered on every side, so long as our way to the sea is blocked. Our mid-Asiatic possessions are suffocated from want of sea air. England knows this but too well, and therefore she devotes all her energies towards cutting us off from the sea. With an insolence, for which there is no justification, she declares the Persian Gulf to be her own domain, and would like to claim the whole of the Indian Ocean, as she already claims India itself, as her own exclusive property. This aggression must at last be met with a firm 'Hands off,' unless our dear country is to run the risk of suffering incalculable damage. It is not we who seek war; war is being forced upon us. As to the means at our disposal for waging it, supposing England will not spontaneously agree to our just demands, His Excellency the Minister of War will be best able to give us particulars."
He bowed once more to the Grand Dukes and resumed his seat. The tall, stately figure of the War Minister, Kuropatkin, next rose, at a sign from the President, and said—
"For twenty years I served in Central Asia and I am able to judge, from my own experience, of our position on the south frontier. In case of a war with England, Afghanistan is the battle-ground of primary importance. Three strategic passes lead from Afghanistan into India: the Khyber Pass, the Bolan Pass, and the Kuram Valley. When, in 1878, the English marched into Afghanistan they proceeded in three columns from Peshawar, Kohat, and Quetta to Cabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar respectively. These three roads have also been laid down as our lines of march. Public opinion considers them the only possible routes. It would carry me too far into detail were I to propound in this place my views as to the 'pros and cons' of this accepted view. In short, we SHALL find our way into India. Hahibullah Khan would join us with his army, 60,000 strong, as soon as we enter his territory. Of course, he is an ally of doubtful integrity, for he would probably quite as readily join the English, were they to anticipate us and make their appearance in his country with a sufficiently imposing force. But nothing prevents our being first. Our railway goes as far as Merv, seventy-five miles from Herat, and from this central station to the Afghan frontier. With our trans-Caspian railway we can bring the Caucasian army corps and the troops of Turkestan to the Afghan frontier. I would undertake, within four weeks of the outbreak of war, to mass a sufficient field army in Afghanistan round Herat. Our first army can then be followed by a ceaseless stream of regiments and batteries. The reserves of the Russian army are inexhaustible, and we could place, if needs be, four million soldiers and more than half a million of horses in the field. However, I am more than doubtful whether England would meet us in Afghanistan. The English generals would not, in any case, be well advised to leave India. Were they defeated in Afghanistan only small fragments of their army at most would escape back to India. The Afghans would show no mercy to a fleeing English army and would destroy it, as has happened on a previous occasion. If, on the other hand, which God forbid! the fortune of war should turn against us, we should always find a line of retreat to Turkestan open and be able to renew the attack at pleasure. If the English army is defeated, then India is lost to Great Britain; for the English are, in India, in the enemy's country; as a defeated people they will find no support in the Indian people. They would be attacked on all sides by the Indian native chieftains, whose independence they have so brutally destroyed, at the very moment that their power is broken. We, on the other hand, should be received with open arms, as rescuers of the Indian people from their intolerable yoke. The Anglo-Indian army looks on paper much more formidable than it really is; its strength is put at 200,000 men, yet only one-third of this number are English soldiers, the rest being composed of natives. This army, moreover, consists of four divisions, which are scattered over the whole great territory of India. A field army, for employment on the frontier or across it, cannot possibly consist of more than 60,000 men; for, considering the untrustworthiness of the population, the land cannot be denuded of its garrisons. As a result of what I have said, I record my conviction that the war will have to be waged in India itself, and that God will give us the victory."
The words of the General, spoken in an energetic and confident tone, made a deep impression upon his hearers; only respect for the presence of the Grand Dukes prevented applause. The greyhaired President gave the Minister of War his hand, and invited the Minister for Foreign Affairs to address them.
"In my opinion," said the diplomatist, "there is no doubt that the strategical opinions just delivered by His Excellency the Minister for War are based upon an expert's sound and correct estimate of the circumstances, and I also am certain that the troops of His Majesty the Tsar, accustomed as they are to victory, will, in the event of war, soon be standing upon the plain of the Indus. It is also my firm conviction that Russia would be best advised to take the offensive as soon as ever the impossibility of our present relations to England has been demonstrated. But whoever goes to war with England must not look to one battleground alone. On the contrary, we must be prepared for attacks of the most varied kinds, for an attack upon our finances, to begin with, and upon our credit, as to which His Excellency Witte could give better information than I could. The Bank of England, and the great banking firms allied with it, would at once open this financial campaign. Moreover, a ship sailing under the Russian flag would hardly dare show itself on the open seas, and our international trade would, until our enemy had been crushed, be absolutely at a standstill. Moreover, more vital for us than considerations of this sort would be the question: What of the attitude of the other great Powers? England's political art has, since the days of Oliver Cromwell, displayed itself chiefly in adroitly making use of the continental Powers. It is no exaggeration to say that England's wars have been chiefly waged with continental armies. This is not said in depreciation of England's military powers. Wherever the English fleet and English armies have been seen on the field of battle, the energy, endurance, and intrepidity of their officers, sailors, and soldiers have ever been brilliantly noticeable. The traditions of the English troops who, under the Black Prince and Henry V., marched in days of yore victorious through France, were again green in the wars in the eighteenth century against France and against Napoleon. Yet infinitely greater than her own military record has been England's success in persuading foreign countries to fight for her, and in leading the troops of Austria, France, Germany, and Russia against each other on the Continent. For the last two hundred years very few wars have ever been waged without England's co-operation, and without her reaping the advantage. These few exceptions were the wars of Bismarck, waged for the advantage and for the glory of his own country, by which he earned the hatred of every good Englishman. While the continent of Europe was racked by internal wars, which English diplomacy had incited, Great Britain acquired her vast colonial possessions. England has implicated us too in wars which redounded to her sole advantage. I need only refer to the bloody, exhausting war of 1877-8, and to the disastrous peace of San Stefano, where England's intrigues deprived us of the price of our victory over the Crescent. I refer, further, to the Crimean War, in which a small English and a large French army defeated us to the profit and advantage of England. That England, and England alone, is again behind this attack upon us by Japan has been dwelt upon by those who have already addressed you. Our enemies do not see themselves called upon to depart in the slightest degree from a policy that has so long stood them in such good stead, and it must, therefore, be our policy to assure ourselves of the alliance, or at least, where an alliance is unattainable, of the benevolent neutrality of the other continental Powers in view of a war with England. To begin with, as regards our ally, the French Republic, a satisfactory solution of our task in this direction is already assured by the existing treaties. Yet these treaties do not bind the French Government to afford us military support in the case of a war which, in the eyes of shortsighted observers, might perhaps be regarded as one which we had ourselves provoked. We have accordingly opened negotiations through our Ambassador with M. Delcasse, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, and with the President of the Republic himself. I have the supreme satisfaction of being in a position to lay before you the result of these negotiations in the form of a despatch just received from our Ambassador in Paris. It runs, in the main, as follows: 'I hasten to inform Your Excellency that, in the name of the French Republic, M. Delcasse has given me the solemn assurance that France will declare war upon England at the moment His Majesty the Tsar has directed his armies to march upon India. The considerations which have prompted the French Government to take this step have been further explained to me by M. Delcasse in our conference of this day, when he expressed himself somewhat as follows: 'Napoleon, a hundred years ago, perceived with rare discernment that England was the real enemy of all continental nations, and that the European continent could not pursue any other policy but to combine in resisting that great pirate. The magnificent plan of Napoleon was the alliance of France with Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, and Russia, in order to combat the rapacity of England. And he would, in all probability, have carried his scheme through had it not been that considerations of domestic policy determined the Tsar Alexander I., in spite of his admiration for Napoleon's ability, to run counter to the latter's intentions. The consequences of Napoleon's defeat have shown themselves sufficiently clearly during the past hundred years in the enormous growth of the English power. The present political constellation, which in many respects is very similar to that of the year 1804, should be utilised to revive Napoleon's plan once more. Russia has, of course, the first and most vital interest in the downfall of England, for, so long as Great Britain controls all the seas and all the important coastlines, it is like a giant whose hands and feet are fettered. Yet France is also checked in her natural development. Her flourishing colonies in America and the Atlantic Ocean were wrested from her in the eighteenth century. She was ousted by this overpowering adversary from her settlements in the East Indies and—what the French nation feels perhaps most acutely—Egypt, purchased for France by the great Napoleon with the blood of his soldiers, was weaned away by English gold and English intrigues. The Suez Canal, built by a Frenchman, Lesseps, is in the possession of the English, facilitating their communications with India, and securing them the sovereignty of the world. France will accordingly make certain stipulations as the price of its alliance—stipulations which are so loyal and equitable that there is no question whatever of their not being agreed to on the part of her ally, Russia. France demands that her possessions in Tonking, Cochin China, Cambodia, Annam, and Laos shall be guaranteed; that Russia be instrumental in assisting her to acquire Egypt, and that it pledge itself to support the French policy in Tunis and the rest of Africa." In accordance with my instructions, I felt myself empowered to assure M. Delcasse that his conditions were accepted on our side. In answer to my question, whether a war with England would be popular in France, the Minister said: "The French people will be ready for any sacrifice if we make Fashoda our war-cry. British insolence never showed itself more brutal and insulting than over this affair. Our brave Marchand was on the spot with a superior force, and France was within her rights. The simple demand of an English officer, who possessed no other force but the moral one of the English flag, compelled us, however, under the political circumstances which then obtained, to abandon our righteous claims, and to recall our brave leader. How the French people viewed this defeat has been plainly seen. The Parisians gave Marchand a splendid ovation as a national hero, and the French Government seriously contemplated the possibility of a revolution. We are now in a position to take revenge for the humiliation which we then endured, probably out of excessive prudence. If we inscribe the word FASHODA on the tricolour there will not be in the whole of France a man capable of bearing arms who will not follow our lead with enthusiasm." It appeared to me to be politic to assure myself whether the Government or the inspired press would not perhaps promise the people the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine as the price of a victorious issue of the war. But the Minister replied decidedly, "No. The question of Alsace-Lorraine," he declared, "must remain outside our view as soon as we make up our minds to go in for practical politics. Nothing could possibly be more fatal than to rouse bad blood in Germany. For the German Emperor is the tongue of the balance in which the destinies of the world are weighed. England in her own esteem has nothing to fear from him. She regards him more as an Englishman than a German. Her confidence in this respect must not be disturbed; it forms one of the props on which British arrogance supports itself. The everlasting assurances of the German Emperor, that he intends peace and nothing but peace, appear, of course, to confirm the correctness of this view. But I am certain that the Emperor William's love of peace has its limits where the welfare and the security of Germany are seriously jeopardised. In spite of his impulsive temperament, he is not the ruler to allow himself to be influenced by every expression of popular clamour, and to be driven by every ebullition of public feeling, to embark on a decisive course of action. But he is far-seeing enough to discern at the right moment a real danger, and to meet it with the whole force of his personality. I do not, therefore, look upon the hope of gaining him for an ally as a Utopian dream, and I trust that Russian diplomacy will join with ours in bringing this alliance about. A war with England without Germany's support would always be a hazardous enterprise. Of course we are prepared to embark upon such a war, alike for our friendship with Russia and for the sake of our national honour, but we could only promise ourselves a successful issue if all the continental great Powers join hands in this momentous undertaking."
Although the fact of an offensive and defensive alliance with France in view of a war with England could not have been unknown to the majority of the assembled company, yet the reading of this despatch, which was followed with breathless attention, evidently produced a deep impression. Its publication left no room for doubt that this war had been resolved on in the highest quarters, and although no loud manifestation of applause followed its reading, the illustrious assemblage now breathed freely, and almost all faces wore an expression of joyous satisfaction.
Only one man, with knitted brows, regarded the scene with serious disapproval. For decades past he had been regarded as the most influential man in Russia—as a power, in fact, who had constantly thwarted the plans of the leading statesmen and had carried his opinions through with unswerving energy.
This solitary malcontent was Pobiedonostsev, the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, who, despite his grey hairs, was detested only less than he was feared.
His gloomy mien and his shake of the head had not escaped the presiding Grand Duke, and the latter evidently considered it to be his duty to give this man who had enjoyed the confidence of three successive Tsars an opportunity of recording his divergent opinion.
At his summons the Chief Procurator arose, and, amid complete silence, said—
"It cannot be my duty to deliver an opinion as to the possibility or on the prospects of an alliance with Germany, for I am as little acquainted as any here present with the intentions and plans of the German Emperor. William II. is the greatest sphinx of our age. He talks much, and his speeches give the impression of complete sincerity; but who can guess what is really behind them? That he has formulated a fixed programme as his life's work, and that he is the man to carry it out, regardless whether public opinion is on his side or not, thus much appears to me to be certain. If the subjection of England is a part of his programme, then the hopes of the French Minister would, in fact, be no Utopia, only supposing that the Emperor William considers the present the most suitable time for disclosing to the world his ultimate aims. It would be the task of our diplomatic representative at the Court of Berlin to assure himself on this point. But it is quite another question whether Russia really needs an alliance either with Germany or with the Western Power just referred to, and my view of the case leads me to answer this question in the negative. Russia is, at the present time, the last and sole bulwark of absolutism in Europe, and if a ruler called by God's grace to the highest and most responsible of all earthly offices is to remain strong enough to crush the spirit of rebellion and immorality which here and there, under the influence of foreign elements, has shown itself in our beloved country, we must, before all things, take heed to keep far away from our people the poison of the so-called liberal ideas, infidelity, and atheism with which it seems likely to be contaminated from the West. In like manner, as we, a century ago, crushed the powerful leader of the revolution, so also shall we to-day triumph over our foe—we single-handed! Let our armies march into Persia, Afghanistan, and India, and lead throughout all Asia the dominion of the true faith to victory. But keep our holy Russia uncontaminated by the poison of that heretical spirit, which would be a worse foe than any foreign power can be."
He sat down, and for a moment absolute silence reigned. The Grand Duke made a serious face, and exchanged a few whispered words with both his nephews.
Then he said: "All the gentlemen who have here given us their views on the situation are agreed that a declaration of war upon England is an exceedingly lamentable but, under the circumstances, unavoidable necessity; yet before I communicate to His Majesty, our gracious Lord, this view, which is that of us all, I put to you, gentlemen, the question whether there is anyone here who is of a contrary opinion. In this case, I would beg of him to address us."
He waited a short while, but as no one wished to be allowed to speak, he rose from his chair, and with a few words of thanks and a gentle bow to the dignitaries, who had also risen in their places, notified that he regarded the sitting, fraught with momentous consequences for the destiny of the world, as closed.
THE OFFICERS' MESS
The place was Chanidigot, in British East India. The blinding brightness of the hot day had been immediately followed, almost without the transition to twilight, by the darkness of evening, which brought with it a refreshing coolness, allowing all living things to breathe again freely. In the wide plain, which served as the encampment ground for the English regiment of lancers, all was alive again with the setting of the sun. The soldiers, freed from the toil of duty, enjoyed themselves, according to their ideas and dispositions, either in playing cards, singing, or merrily drinking. The large tent, used as a messroom by the officers, also showed signs of life. Dinner was over, and a number of gentlemen sat down to a game of cards, as was their daily custom. But here the amusement was of a less harmless character than in the case of the private soldiers. For not innocent bridge, but "poker" was the order of the day, a game much affected in America and also in some parts of England, a game which is solely determined by chance together with a certain histrionic bluffing on the part of the players, and the stakes were rather high. It was mostly played by the younger gentlemen, who could not do without their nerve-tonic in the evenings, in the monotony of camp life. The older men sat apart at tables, talking and drinking whisky-and-soda, and smoking their short pipes. Amongst them there was also a gentleman in civilian dress. The hospitality with which he was treated showed that he was not one of the officers of the regiment, but their guest. The sound of his name—he was addressed as Mr. Heideck—would have betrayed his German origin, even had his appearance not proclaimed it. He was of but medium height, but athletic in build. His erect, soldiery bearing and the elasticity of his movements plainly betokened his excellent health and considerable bodily strength. A foreigner can hardly present better credentials to an Englishman than these qualities. Perhaps, more than anything else, it was his distinguished appearance, in conjunction with his amiable and thoroughly gentlemanly bearing, that had so quickly opened the usually very exclusive officers' circle to the young German, with his clever, energetic features, and his honest blue eyes.
Judged by his profession he did not, perhaps, belong to their society, according to the ideas of some of these gentlemen. It was known that he was travelling for a large commercial house in Hamburg. His uncle, the head of the house, imported indigo. And since the Maharajah of Chanidigot was the owner of very extensive indigo fields, young Heideck had been detained here a whole fortnight by commercial negotiations with the prince. He had succeeded, during this time, in gaining the lively sympathies of all, but particularly of the older British officers. In Indian garrisons every European is welcome. Heideck was also invited to those social functions at which the ladies of the regiment were present.
He had always refused an invitation to cards with polite firmness, and to-day also he was at most an uninterested and unconcerned spectator.
Presently the door of the tent opened and a tall, but extremely slim officer joined the circle of his comrades, jingling his spurs with a self-conscious, almost haughty attitude. He was in undress uniform and talked to one of the gentlemen, who addressed him as Captain Irwin, about just returning from a fatiguing ride for the inspection of an outpost. He demanded from one of the orderlies in attendance a refreshing drink, the favourite whisky-and-soda, then he drew close to the gaming-table.
"Room for a little one?" he asked. And place was readily made for him.
For a little while the game of poker went on in the same quiet way as before. But suddenly something extraordinary must have happened. All the gentlemen, except Captain Irwin and one of the players, laid down their cards, and the unpleasantly penetrating voice of Captain Irwin was heard.
"You are an old fox, Captain McGregor! But I am aware of your tricks and cannot be taken in by them. Therefore, once more, six hundred rupees!"
Every poker-player knows that, so far from being considered dishonourable, it is a chief sign of skill in the game, where each man plays for his own hand, for one to deceive the rest as to the value of the cards he holds. The name of "bluff," which has been given to this game, is itself sufficient to show that everyone has to try his best to puzzle his adversaries.
But this time Irwin appeared to have met his match in McGregor. For the Captain replied calmly: "Six hundred and fifty. But I advise you not to see me, Irwin."
"Seven hundred and fifty."
"Thousand!" shouted Irwin with resounding voice, and leant back in his chair smiling, as if certain of victory.
"You had better consider what you are about," said McGregor. "I have given you warning."
"A convenient way to haul in seven hundred and fifty rupees. I repeat: A thousand rupees."
"One thousand and fifty!"
All the gentlemen present in the tent had risen and stood round the two players, who, their cards concealed in their hands, watched each other with sharp glances. Hermann Heideck, who had stepped behind Irwin, noticed on the right hand of the Captain a magnificent diamond ring. But he also perceived, by the way the bright sparkle of the stone quivered, how the gambler's fingers trembled.
Captain McGregor turned to his companions. "I take the gentlemen to witness that I have advised my comrade Irwin not to see me at six hundred."
"To the devil with your advice!" Irwin interrupted almost furiously. "Am I a boy? Will you see me at two thousand, McGregor, or will you not?"
"Very well, since you insist upon it—three thousand."
"Five thousand five hundred."
One of the higher officers, Major Robertson, laid his hand lightly upon the shoulder of the rash gambler.
"That is too much, Irwin. I do not care to interfere in these things, and since you do not belong to my regiment, I can only speak to you as a comrade, not as a superior. But I am afraid you will be in difficulties if you lose."
Angrily the Captain fired up—
"What do you mean by that, sir? If your words are intended to express a doubt as to my solvency—"
"Well! well—I did not mean to offend you. After all, you must know best yourself what you are justified in doing."
Irwin repeated with a defiant air—
"Ten thousand! I am waiting for your answer, McGregor."
The adversary remained as calm as before.
"Ten thousand five hundred."
"Are you drunk, Irwin?" whispered the young Lieutenant Temple into the Captain's ear, from the other side. But he only glanced round with a furious look.
"Not more than you. Leave me alone, if you please."
"Twenty-one thousand," came the calm response from the other side of the table.
A short, awkward pause followed. Captain Irwin nervously gnawed his small dark moustache. Then he raised his slim figure and called out—
Once more the Major considered it his duty to endeavour to stop the game.
"I object," he said. "It has been always a rule that the pool cannot be raised by more than a thousand rupees at a time. This limit has long since been passed."
A rude, hoarse laugh escaped Irwin's lips.
"It appears you want to save me, Major. But I am not in need of any saviour. If I lose I pay, and I don't understand why the gentlemen are so concerned on my behalf."
The Major, who at last saw that all his good endeavours were misplaced, shrugged his shoulders. Lieutenant Temple, however, thought he had a good idea, and with an apparently unintentional, though violent, movement pushed against the light camp-table, and sent ashtrays, bottles, glasses, and cards flying on the ground. But he did not gain anything by this, for the two players held their cards firmly in their hands, and did not allow this contretemps to disturb their sangfroid for a single moment.
"Fifty-one," said McGregor.
"A lakh!" cried Irwin, who was now pale from excitement.
"Really?" asked McGregor calmly, "that is a fine bid. A lakh—that is, reckoned at the present rate of exchange, 6,500 pounds sterling. You will be a wealthy man, Irwin, if you win. Now, then, I see you."
With trembling fingers, but with a triumphant look, the Captain laid down his cards.
"Straight flush," he said hoarsely.
"Yes, a strong hand," replied the other, smiling. "But which is your highest card?"
"The king, as you see for yourself."
"That's a pity, for I have also, as it happens, a straight flush, but mine is up to the ace."
Slowly, one after the other, he laid down his cards—ace of hearts, king of hearts, queen of hearts, knave of hearts, ten of hearts. One single exclamation of surprise came from the lips of the bystanders. None of them had ever seen the coincidence of such an extraordinary sequence.
Captain Irwin sat motionless for a moment, fixing his unsteady eyes straight upon his adversary's cards. Then he suddenly sprang up with a wild laugh, and left the tent with jingling steps.
"This loss spells ruin for Irwin," said the Major gravely. "He is not in a position to pay such a sum."
"With his wife's assistance he could," chimed in another; "but it would eat up pretty well the rest of her fortune."
"I call you, gentlemen, to witness that it is not my fault," said McGregor, who thought he perceived a certain degree of reproach in the faces of the bystanders; but all agreed with him.
Lieutenant Temple, who alone of all those present kept up a certain superficial friendship with Irwin, remarked, "Somebody must go after him to see that he does not do something foolish in his first excitement."
He turned as if to leave the room, but a call from McGregor stopped him.
"It will be no use, Temple, unless you are able to calm him in some way or other. In my opinion there is only one thing to do. He must be persuaded that the whole affair is only a joke, and that the cards had been shuffled beforehand."
The Lieutenant went back to the table.
"The suggestion of this way of putting it does you honour, Captain; only I have my doubts if any of us would have the courage to go to him with this manifest lie."
The silence of the others appeared to confirm this doubt, when the decisive voice of the German guest interrupted with—
"Will you entrust me, gentlemen, with this mission? I know Captain Irwin only slightly, it is true, and should have no reason to interfere with his private concerns; but I hear that it is his wife's property which has been at stake here, and as I consider Mrs. Irwin a very honourable lady I would gladly do my best to save her from such a heavy pecuniary loss."
McGregor held out his hand.
"You would place me under a great obligation, Mr. Heideck, if you could succeed in this matter, but I warn you that there is no time to lose."
Heideck quickly left the tent, but when he had come out into the delicious moonlight night the first thing that met his eye was Captain Irwin, some twenty yards distant, standing by his horse. The servant held the animal by the bridle, and Captain Irwin was about to mount. On coming nearer he saw the servant move off and perceived that Irwin held a revolver in his hand. With a quick motion he seized the officer's wrist.
"One moment, Captain Irwin."
Irwin started, turned round, and looked with fury at Heideck.
"I beg your pardon," said the German, "but you are labouring under a mistake, Captain. The game was all a jest; they were playing a trick upon you. The cards were arranged beforehand."
Irwin made no reply, but whistled to his servant and went back into the tent, revolver still in hand, without a single word to Heideck. Heideck followed. Both gentlemen stepped up to the card-table, and Irwin turned to McGregor.
"You tell me the game was all a got-up thing, do you?" he asked.
"As a lesson to you, Irwin—you who always plunge as a madman, and imagine yourself a good player, when you have not the necessary cold blood for gambling."
"Well," said Irwin, "that is a story that I will take care goes the round of all the garrisons in India, as an instance of kind comrade-like feeling, so that everyone may be warned against coming along here and being induced to take a hand. I never in my life came across a more despicable story; but it certainly is a lesson for me, that only honourable persons should be—"
"No, Captain Irwin," said McGregor, standing bolt upright, levelling at his insulter a withering look from his great blue eyes, "you should rather think of your poor wife, whom you would have made a pauper if this game had not been all a hoax."
Irwin reeled back; the revolver fell from his grasp.
"What," he gasped—"what do you mean? It was, then, no joke, after all. I, then, really lost the money? Oh, you—you—But what do you take me for? Be quite certain that I will pay. But," he cried, collecting himself, "I should like to know what the real truth is, after all. I ask this question of you all, and call you rogues and liars if you do not tell me the truth. Have I only really been played with, or has the game been a straightforward one?"
"Captain Irwin," replied the Major, advancing towards him, "I, as the senior, tell you, in the name of our comrades, that your behaviour would have been unpardonable unless a sort of madness had seized you. The game was a straightforward one, and only the generosity of Captain McGregor—"
Irwin did not wait for the conclusion of the sentence, but, with a bound, was again outside the tent.
A RUSSIAN COMRADE
Hermann Heideck lived in a dak bungalow, one of those hotels kept going by the Government, which afford travellers shelter, but neither bed nor food. On returning home from the camp he found his servant, Morar Gopal, standing at the door ready to receive his master, and was informed that a newcomer had arrived with two attendants. As this dak bungalow was more roomy than most of the others, the new arrivals were able to find accommodation, and Heideck was not obliged, as is usual, to make way as the earlier guest for a later arrival.
"What countryman is the gentleman?" he inquired.
"An Englishman, sahib!"
Heideck entered his room and sat down at the table, upon which, besides the two dim candles, stood a bottle of whisky, a few bottles of soda-water and the inevitable box of cigarettes. He was moody and in a bad humour. The exciting scene in the officers' mess had affected him greatly, not on account of Captain Irwin, who, from the first moment of their acquaintance, was quite unsympathetic to him, but solely on account of the beautiful young wife of the frivolous officer, of whom he had a lively recollection from their repeated meetings in social circles. None of the other officers' wives—and there were many beautiful and amiable women among them—had made such a deep and abiding impression upon him as Edith Irwin, whose personal charms had fascinated him as much as her extraordinary intellectual powers had astonished him. The reflection that this graceful creature was fettered with indissoluble bonds to a brutal and dissolute fellow of Irwin's stamp, and that her husband would perhaps one day drag her down with him into inevitable ruin, awoke in him most painful feelings. He would so gladly have done something for the unhappy wife. But he was obliged to admit that there was no possibility for him, a stranger, who was nothing to her but a superficial acquaintance, to achieve anything in the way he most desired. The Captain would be completely justified in rejecting every uncalled-for interference with his affairs as a piece of monstrous impudence; and then, too, in what way could he hope to be of any assistance?
A sudden noise in the next room aroused Heideck from his sad reverie. He heard loud scolding and a clapping sound, as if blows from a whip were falling upon a bare human body. A minute later and the door between the rooms flew open and an Indian, dressed only in cummerbund and turban, burst into the room, as if intending to seek here protection from his tormentor. A tall European, dressed entirely in white flannel, followed at the man's heels and brought his riding-whip down mercilessly upon the naked back of the howling wretch. Heideck's presence did not, evidently, disturb him in the least.
At the first glance the young German perceived that his neighbour could not be an Englishman, as his servant had told him he was. His strikingly thin, finely-cut features, and his peculiarly oval, black eyes and soft, dark beard betrayed much more the Sarmatic than the characteristic Anglo-Saxon type.
The man's appearance did not make an unfavourable impression, but he could not possibly overlook his behaviour. Stepping between him and his victim he demanded, energetically, what this scene meant. The other, laughing, let drop the arm which had been again raised to strike.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said with a foreign accent, "a very good boy, but he steals like a crow, and must have the whip occasionally. I am sure that he has concealed somewhere about him the five rupees which have been stolen from me again to-day." On saying this, as if he considered this information quite sufficient explanation, he again caught hold of the black fellow, and with a single wrench tore the turban from his head. From the white, red-bordered cloth a few pieces of silver fell and rolled jingling over the tiles; and at the same time a larger object fell at Heideck's feet. He picked it up and held in his hand a gold cigarette-case, the lid of which was engraved with a prince's coronet. On handing it to the stranger, the latter bowed his thanks and made his apologies like a man of good breeding. The Indian the while took the opportunity, in a few monkey-like bounds, to make good his escape. The sight of the coat-of-arms on the cigarette-case aroused in Heideck the desire to make nearer acquaintance with his impetuous neighbour. As though he had quite forgotten the extraordinary manner of his entrance into the room, he asked, blandly, if he might invite his neighbour, whom accident had thus thrust upon him, to a cigar and a "nightcap."
The other accepted the invitation with amiable alacrity. "You are also a commercial traveller, sir?" inquired Heideck; and on receiving an affirmative answer, continued, "we are then colleagues. Are you satisfied with your results here?"
"Oh, things might be better. There is too much competition."
"No. Bronze goods and silk. Have brought some marvellous gold ornaments from Delhi."
"Then probably your cigarette-case comes from Delhi also?" The oval eyes of the other shot over him in an inquiring glance.
"My cigarette-case? No—are you travelling perhaps in skins, colleague? Do you deal in Cashmir goats?"
"I have everything. My house trades in everything."
"You do not come from Calcutta?"
"No! not from Calcutta."
"Bad weather down there. All my leather is spoilt."
"Is it so damp there?"
"Vapour bath, I tell you; a real vapour bath!"
Heideck had long since made up his mind that he had a Russian before him. But, in order to be quite on the safe side, he made a jocular remark in Russian. His new acquaintance looked up astonished.
"You speak Russian, sir?"
"But you are no Russian?"
"No; I am a German, who, during a temporary stay in Russia, have picked up a little knowledge of languages. We merchants go about a lot."
The gentleman who, according to his statement, travelled in bronze and silk was evidently delighted to hear in a place where he had least expected it the familiar tones of his mother tongue, and Heideck did his utmost, with almost an excess of zeal, to keep him in good humour. He called his servant and bade him get some hot water.
"It's quite chilly to-night," he said, turning to his guest. "A hot brandy-and-water is not to be despised."
"Ah," said the Russian, "stop a moment; better chuck the water away and let something more palatable take its place."
He went into his room and returned immediately with a bottle of sherry and two bottles of champagne.
"I will, with your permission, brew in this kettle a bowl in Russian fashion. Sugar must go in too; for this champagne, prepared for English taste, is too dry, and must be sweetened to make it palatable for us." He poured the bottle of cognac, which the servant had brought, together with the sherry into the champagne and filled the glasses.
In German fashion the two gentlemen touched glasses. As they did so, Heideck once more attentively observed his new acquaintance. The lurking expression with which he felt that the eyes of the other were fixed upon him made him start for a moment. What if the Russian perhaps only had the same intention as himself, and only wanted to make his tongue wag with the champagne? At all events, he was now on his guard.
"May I ask you to try one of my Havannah cigars?" asked the Russian in passing his cigar-case. "The Indian cigars are not bad and very cheap. The Beaconsfield is my favourite brand. But now and then one must smoke something else for a change."
Heideck accepted with thanks, and now began a fairly good booze, in which the Russian set the example. He was, however, evidently not so proof against the effects of the tasty and strong drink as was the German. With each minute he became more loquacious, and soon began to address his new friend as "Dear old chap," and to narrate all manner of more or less compromising stories. He also, induced by several adroit questions on the part of Heideck, began to prate of his family affairs. He mocked at an old aunt of his, who was wont to cover her hair with roses the better to conceal bald spots, and added that this aunt was a great favourite at the Court of the Tsar, on account of her incomparable gossiping stories. It apparently never occurred to him that such intimate family relations were a rather strange subject for conversation in a commercial traveller.
In the course of his conversation he mentioned that not long before he had been in China.
"We are too slow, dear chap, much too slow," he declared; "with fifty thousand men we could take all that we want, and we ought to have attacked those Japanese long since."
"Tell me, then," said Heideck, with apparent indifference, "how strong really is the army of the Governor-General of Turkestan?"
The Russian looked up, but it was not because he was thinking what answer to give; for, after having tossed off a glass of soda-water, he replied—
"If you want to live well, my dear fellow, you must go to Manchuria. Salmon, I tell you—ah! and they cost next to nothing—and pretty girls in abundance! You can buy furs, too, for next to nothing at all. What costs in St. Petersburg ten thousand rubles, you can get in China, up there in the north, for a hundred."
"Then of course you have brought some beautiful furs with you?"
"Furs in India? they would be eaten by the ants in a second. For my own personal use, I have certainly brought one with me, which in St. Petersburg would be worth, at the least, five thousand rubles. I shall have use enough for it later on, in the mountains. You can smell it a mile away, it has been pickled so well."
Again there was a short pause, and then after gazing intently at his vis-a-vis, Heideck suddenly said—
"You are an officer?"
Without being able to collect himself the Russian stared into his face.
"Let us be candid with each other," he rejoined, after long reflection. "You are also a soldier, sir?"
"I need not deny it in reply to a comrade. My name is Captain Hermann Heideck of the Prussian General Staff."
The Russian rose and made a correct bow. "And my name is Prince Fedor Andreievitch Tchajawadse, Captain in the Preobraschensky regiment of the Guards."
They then once more touched glasses: "To ourselves as good comrades" rang their mutual toast.
"Comrade, I will tell you something," said the Russian. "General Ivanov is on the march towards the Indian frontier. The Tsar has given up his theosophy; he intends to declare war upon England."
Heideck would have wished to learn more, but the Prince had addressed himself to the good liquor somewhat more than his head could stand, and he began to sing indecent French chansons, only to pass of a sudden to melancholy Russian popular songs. In his present condition it was impossible to think of continuing a sensible conversation with him further.
Heideck already found himself somewhat perplexed what to do with his intoxicated guest, when a new surprise was sprung upon him. The door to the next room opened and a tall, handsome young fellow, of at most eighteen years, appeared on the threshold.
He was garbed in a sort of fantastic page's dress, which in any other country but that of rainbow-hued picturesque India would have looked like that of a masquerader. The blue gold-embroidered jacket was girded with a red silk scarf, and the loose red trousers disappeared at the knees in patent leather topboots, the elegant shape of which showed the contour of the smallest of feet. Thick golden locks fell like waves almost down to the shoulders of the boyish youth. The handsome oval face had the complexion of a blushing rose; the great, blue eyes, however, showed the energy of a strong will.
As soon as the Prince had set eyes on the young visitor, he stopped singing.
"Ah! Georgi?" he stammered.
Without uttering a syllable, the page had advanced towards him, and had quickly raised the intoxicated man from the chair. Prince Tchajawadse flung his arm round the boy's shoulders, and without bidding his German comrade as much as "good night," allowed himself to be led away.
Heideck did not doubt for a moment that this slender page was a girl in disguise. The splendid build and the strange expression of untamed energy in the admirably regular features were the unmistakable characteristics of the Circassian type. This so-called Georgi could be none other but a child of the Caucasian Mountains; and Tchajawadse also, as his name showed, was a scion of those old Caucasian dynastic houses which in days of yore had played a role in that mountain land, which Russia had so slowly, and with such difficulty, finally subjugated.
THE CIRCASSIAN BEAUTY
Captain Heideck's statement that he travelled for a Hamburg firm was not really an untruth. As a matter of fact he was engaged in commercial undertakings, which served as a cloak for the real object of his travels.
He had been commissioned by the chief of the General Staff to study the Indian military organisation, and, in particular, the strategic importance of the North-west frontier, and for this purpose unlimited leave had been granted him.
But the General had expressly stated to him—
"You travel as a private gentleman, and should you come into conflict with the English, we shall in no manner accept responsibility for your actions and adventures. We furnish you with a passport in your own name, but, of course, without denoting your military rank. It is also a matter of course that we should not fail to disclose it in case inquiries are addressed to us in this regard. In a certain sense you may be said to travel at your own risk. Your own tact must be your safest guide."
Hereupon Heideck entered into correspondence with his uncle, and received from him the necessary letters of introduction to his Indian agents. He reached the northern provinces by way of Bombay and Allahabad, visiting on the way all the more important garrison towns—Cawnpore, Lucknow, Delhi, and Lahore. After finishing his business in Chanidigot, his intention was to proceed further north, making his way to Afghanistan by way of the Khyber Pass. It was purely with a view to this journey that he had wished to become more intimate with the Russian. He was absolutely certain that the Russian had received a commission from his Government similar to his own, and certain hints that the Prince had let drop strengthened his opinion that the latter intended to take the same route as himself. Accordingly, it could only redound to the advantage of the German officer if he joined his Russian comrade, who would be in a position to procure him valuable introductions when once on Russian territory.
When Heideck woke early the next morning the Prince's potent bowl of the evening before made itself perceptible in various disagreeable after effects; but the cold bath that Morar Gopal got ready for him, added to a cup of tea, put him on his legs again.
It was an Indian morning of dazzling beauty into which he stepped. February in the Indus Valley in 29 degrees longitude has a temperature like that of May in Rome. In the hours of midday the thermometer usually rises to 100 degrees Fahr.; but the evenings are refreshingly cool, and the nights, with their damp fogs, even appreciably chilly.
Heideck made his toilet on this morning with special care, for he had been invited to a conference with the Minister of the Maharajah, in order to negotiate with him about some indigo business.
The Minister lived in a house on the outskirts of the town. It was a one-story building, with broad airy verandahs, situate in the middle of a large garden. When Heideck arrived, the staircase of the entrance hall was occupied by a crowd of divers people waiting to be received. But he, as a representative of the white race, was saved the tiresome annoyance of waiting his turn. The porter, dressed in white muslin, and adorned, as a sign of his office, with a broad red scarf, conducted him at once into the Minister's study, a room furnished in European style.
It was only in his outward appearance, namely, his colour and his features, that the Minister looked like an Indian. Both dress and manners were those of a Western diplomatist. Giving Heideck his hand, he told him that His Highness himself wished to negotiate with him about the indigo business.
"The price you intend to pay is exceedingly low," he whispered in a tone of disapproval.
Heideck was evidently prepared for this objection.
"Your Excellency may be right in saying that the price offered is lower than in former years; but it is still very high, if the changes which have since occurred in the market values are taken into consideration. In Germany a substitute has been found in aniline, which is so cheap that within a measurable distance of time no indigo whatever will be bought. If I may be permitted to give His Highness any advice, I would recommend him in the future to establish an industry instead of planting indigo."
"And which, may I ask, are you thinking of?"
"Oil mills and cotton mills would appear to me to be the most profitable. You could with them meet both European and Japanese competition."
An Indian servant came with a message, and the Minister invited Heideck to drive with him to the Maharajah. They entered an open carriage horsed by two quick Turkestan horses. The yellow uniformed coachman, who had an extraordinary likeness to a dressed-up monkey, clicked his tongue, and away they went through spacious grounds to the palace, whose white marble walls soon gleamed through the foliage of the palms and tamarinds.
During the short drive Heideck pondered on the innumerable battles that had seethed over this ground, before English sovereignty had, as it seemed, stopped for ever all religious struggles, all bloody insurrections, and all the incursions of foreign conquerors. Here, on this place, where Alexander the Great's invincible hosts had fought and died, where Mohammedans and Hindoos, Afghans and worshippers of the sun had fought their sanguinary conflicts, works of peace had been established which would endure for generations to come. It was a triumph of civilisation; and a student of India's historical past could scarcely fail to be impressed by it.
The Maharajah of Chanidigot was, like the majority of his fellow-countrymen, a believer in Islam, and the exterior view of his palace at once betrayed the Mohammedan prince. Away from the main building, but connected with it by a covered gallery, was a small wing—the harem, the interior of which was sufficiently guarded from prying eyes. Here, as in the adornment of the palace, the most splendid lavishness had been employed. Heideck thought the while with pity on the poor subjects of the Maharajah whose slavery had to provide the means for all this meretricious luxury. The Minister and his companion were not conducted into the large audience hall, which was set apart for special functions, but into a loggia on the first floor. Between the graceful marble pillars, which supported it, one looked out into an inner court, which, with exotic plants, afforded an enchanting spectacle. A gently splashing fountain, springing from a marble basin in the centre, cast up a fine spray as high as the loggia and dispersed a refreshing coolness.
The Minister left him waiting for a considerable time, but then returned and gave him a mute sign to accompany him to the Prince.
The room in which the Maharajah received them was strangely furnished, presenting to the eyes of a European a not altogether happy combination of Eastern luxury and English style. Among splendid carpets and precious weapons, with which the walls were adorned, there hung glaring pictures of truly barbaric taste—such as in Germany would hardly be met with in the house of a fairly well-to-do citizen. Similar incongruities there were many, and perhaps the appearance of the Prince himself was the most incongruous of them all. For this stalwart man with the soft black beard and penetrating eyes, who in the picturesque attire of his country would doubtless have been a handsome and imposing figure, made an inharmonious impression in his grey English suit and with the red turban on his head.
He sat in an English club chair, covered with red Russia leather and gently inclined his head in response to Heideck's deep bow.
It did not escape the notice of the German officer that the Maharajah looked extremely annoyed, and Heideck concluded that it was the low price he had offered for his indigo which had made him so. But the first words of the Prince reassured him. "As I learn," he said in somewhat broken English, "you are in fact a European, but no Englishman, and so I hope to hear the truth from you. I am quite ready to reward you for your information."
"I am accustomed to speak the truth, even without reward, Highness!"
The Maharajah measured him with a mistrustful look. "I am a true friend of England," he continued after a short hesitation, "and am on the best of terms with the Viceroy; but things are now happening which I cannot possibly understand. This very morning I received a message from Calcutta, which absolutely astonished me. The Indian Government intends to mass an army corps at Quetta, and calls upon me to despatch thither a contingent of a thousand infantry, five hundred cavalry, a battery, and two thousand camels. Can you tell me, sir, what makes England mass such a large force at Quetta?"
"It will only be a precautionary measure, Highness! perhaps disturbances have broken out again in Afghanistan."
"Disturbances in Afghanistan, do you say? Then Russia must have a hand in it. Can you perhaps give me more definite information?"
Heideck had to express his inability to do so, and the Maharajah, who did not conceal his vexation, began to open his heart to the stranger in a rather imprudent way.
"I am a faithful friend of the English, but the burden they lay upon us is becoming every day more intolerable. If England is bent upon war, why should we sacrifice our blood and treasure upon it? Do we not know full well what powerful foes England has? You do not belong to this nation, as my Minister informed me; you are in a position, therefore, to instruct me about these matters. It is true I have been in Europe, but I was not permitted to go beyond London, whither I had proceeded to congratulate the late Queen on her birthday. I have seen nothing but many, many ships and a gigantic dirty town. Are there not in Europe strong and powerful states hostile to England?"
Such questions were disagreeable for Heideck to answer, and he therefore preferred to avoid giving a definite reply.
"I have been in India for nearly a year," he replied, "and know about such political matters only what the India Times and other English newspapers report. Of course, there is always a certain rivalry among the European great Powers, and England has, during the past few decades, become so great that she cannot fail to have enemies; but on this point, as also on that of the present political situation, I do not venture to express an opinion."
The Maharajah gloomily shook his head.
"Transact the business with this gentleman in the way you think best," he said, turning abruptly to his Minister, a wave of the hand at the same time denoting to the young German that the audience was at an end.
As Heideck again stepped into the loggia he saw Captain Irwin appear at the entrance door in company with an official of the Court. The British officer started on perceiving the man who passed for a commercial traveller. He cast at him a malicious look, and an almost inimical reserve lay in the manner with which he returned Heideck's salutation. The latter took little notice, and slowly wended his way through the extensive park, in whose magnificent old trees monkeys were disporting themselves. The Maharajah's communication to him as to the English orders which he had received, taken in conjunction with General Ivanov's advance, entirely preoccupied him. After this he was no longer in doubt that serious military events were impending, or were even then in full swing. Quetta, in Beluchistan, lying directly on the Afghan frontier, was the gate of the line of march towards Kandahar; and if England was summoning the Indian princes to its aid the situation could be none other than critical. War had certainly not yet been declared, but Heideck's mission might, under the circumstances, suddenly acquire a peculiar importance, and it was, at all events, impossible to make at this moment any definite plans for the immediate future.
The walk to his bungalow in the immediate vicinity of the English camp took perhaps an hour, and was sufficient to give him a keen appetite. He was not, therefore, at all disappointed to find his Russian comrade sitting at breakfast in a shady spot before the door of the hotel, and, heartily returning his salutation, he lost no time in seating himself at the table. Prince Tchajawadse looked pale, and applied himself to soda-water, which, contrary to all established usage, he drank without the slightest admixture of whisky. The appetising dish of eggs and bacon was standing untouched before him, and he smiled rather sadly when he saw what an inroad his guest made upon it.
They had hardly exchanged a few commonplace words when two Indian girls made their appearance, offering all sorts of nicknacks for sale. The younger, whose bare breast glowed like bronze, was of marvellous beauty, even the paint on her face could not destroy the natural grace of her fine features. Yet, beautiful as she was, she was as great a coquette. She had evidently determined to make an impression on the Russian. Stepping behind his chair, she held her glittering little wares before his face. Her manner became more and more intimate. At length she slipped a golden bracelet on her slender brown wrist and bent, in order that he should notice it, so far over his shoulder that her glowing young breast touched his cheek.
Prince Tchajawadse was of too passionate a temperament to long resist such a temptation. His eyes flashed, and with a rapid movement he turned round and embraced the girl's lithe body with his arm.
A stop was put to further familiarities, however, for this little adventure, which was very distasteful to Heideck, was suddenly interrupted.
Without being perceived by those sitting at the table, the handsome young page of the Prince had stepped from the door of the bungalow with a plate of bananas and mangoes in his hand. For a few seconds he regarded with flashing eyes the scene just described, and then, stealing nearer with noiseless steps, flung, without saying a word, the plate with the fruit with such vigour and unerring aim at the dark beauty, that the girl, with a loud cry, clasped her hand upon her wounded shoulder, while the fragments of china fell clattering to the ground.
The next moment she and her companion had disappeared in hurried flight. The Prince's face was livid with rage; he sprang up and seized the riding-whip which lay near him.
Heideck was on the point of intervening in order to save the disguised girl from a similar punishment to that which his new friend had meted out the day before to his Indian "boy," but he soon saw that his intervention was unnecessary.
Standing bolt upright and with an almost disdainful quiver of his fair lips, the young page stepped straight up to the Prince. A half-loud hissing word, the meaning of which Heideck did not understand, must have suddenly pacified the wrath of the Russian, for he let his upraised arm fall and threw the whip on to the table.
"Go and fetch us another plate of dessert, Georgi," he said quietly, as if nothing had happened. "It's a confounded nuisance, that these Indian vagabonds don't allow one a moment's peace."
A triumphant smile played across the face of the Circassian beauty. She threw a friendly glance at Heideck and silently returned to the bungalow. Full of admiration and not without a slight emotion of envy for the happy possessor of such an entrancing female beauty, Heideck followed her with his eyes, as she tripped gracefully away with her lithe graceful figure. A remark was just on the point of passing his lips, acquainting the Prince that he had discovered the certainly very transparent secret of his disguised lady companion, when he was prevented doing so by a fresh incident.
An English soldier in orderly's uniform stepped up to the table and handed Heideck, whom he must have known by sight, with a military salute, a letter.
"From the Colonel," he said, "and I am ordered to say that the matter is urgent."
With surprise, Heideck took the missive. It contained in polite, but yet somewhat decided terms, a request that Herr Hermann Heideck would favour him with a visit as soon as possible. This, considering the high official position that Colonel Baird occupied in Chanidigot, was tantamount to a command, which he was bound to obey without delay or further excuse.
Baird was the commander-in-chief of the detachment stationed in Chanidigot, consisting of an infantry regiment, about six hundred strong, a lancer regiment of two hundred and forty sabres, and a battery of field artillery. As in all the other residences of the great Indian chiefs, the British Government had stationed here also a military force, strong enough to keep the Maharajah in respect and to nip all seeds of insurrection in the bud. As Colonel Baird, moreover, occupied the position of Resident at the Court of the Prince, and thus combined all the military and diplomatic power in his own person, he had come to be regarded as the real lord and master in Chanidigot.
His bungalow was in the centre of the camp, which lay in the middle of a broad grassy plain. It consisted of a group of buildings which surrounded a quadrangular courtyard, adorned with exotics and a splashing fountain.
As it appeared, he had given orders that Heideck was to be admitted immediately on arrival; for the adjutant, to whom he had announced himself, conducted him at once into the study of his superior officer.
Quite politely, though with a frigidity that contrasted with his former behaviour towards the popular guest of the officers' mess, the fine man, with his martial carriage, thanked him for his prompt visit.
"Please be seated, Mr. Heideck," he began. "I have been very unwilling to disturb you, but I could not spare you this trouble. I have received the intelligence that you were received by the Maharajah this morning."
"It is true. I had to talk to him about some business; I am on the point of purchasing from him a large consignment of indigo for my Hamburg firm."
"I have, of course, nothing to do with your business; but I must inform you that we do not approve of direct communication between Europeans and the native princes. You will, therefore, for the future, be best advised to communicate with me when you are summoned to the Maharajah, so that we may arrive at an understanding as to what you may, or may not, say to him. We cannot, unfortunately, trust all the Indian princes, and this one here is, perhaps, the most unreliable of them all. You must not, however, regard what I say to you as an expression of any want of confidence in yourself. The responsibility of my position imposes upon me, as you see, the greatest possible prudence."
"I understand that completely, Colonel!"
"At this very moment the situation appears to be more than ever complicated. I shall be very much surprised, if we are not on the eve of very disquieting times. The Governor-General of Turkestan is marching this way, and his advance guard has already passed the Afghan frontier."
Heideck had difficulty in concealing the excitement, which this confirmation of Tchajawadse's story aroused in him.
"Is that certain, Colonel? What do the Russians want in Afghanistan?"
"What do the Russians want there? Now, my dear Mr. Heideck, I think that is plain enough. Their advance means war with us. Russia will, of course, not openly allow this at present. They treat their advance as a matter which only concerns the Emir and with which we have nothing to do. But one must be very simple not to discern their real intentions."
"And may I ask, Colonel, what you are thinking of doing?"
Colonel Baird must really have held the young German for a very trustworthy or, at least, for a very harmless personage, for he replied to his question at once—
"The Russian advance guard has crossed the Amu Darya and is marching up the Murghab Valley upon Herat. We shall take our measures accordingly. The Muscovites will have been deceived in us. We are not, after all, so patient and long-suffering as to let our dear neighbours slip in by the open door. I think the Russian generals will pull long faces when they suddenly find themselves confronted in Afghanistan by our battalions, by our Sikhs and Gourkas."
The adjutant made his appearance with what was evidently an important message, and as Heideck perceived that the Colonel wished to speak privately to his orderly officer, he considered that politeness required him to retire.
The words of the Colonel, "The Russian advance into Afghanistan means war," rung unceasingly in his ears. He thanked his good fortune for having brought him at the right moment to the theatre of the great events in the world's history, and all his thoughts were now solely directed as to the "where and how" of his being able, on the outbreak of hostilities, to be present both as spectator and observer.
That his Russian friend was animated by the same desire he could all the easier surmise, owing to the fact that Prince Tchajawadse belonged, of course, to one of the nations immediately concerned. He hastened, therefore, to acquaint him with the results of his interview with Colonel Baird. The effect of his communications upon the Prince was quite as he had anticipated.
"So, really! The advance guard is already across the Amu Darya. War will, then, break out just in the proper quarter," exclaimed the Russian in a loud outburst of joy. "In our army the fear prevailed that the Tsar would never brace himself up to the decision to make war. Powerful and irresistible influences must have been at work to have finally conquered his love of peace."
"You will, of course, get to the army as soon as possible?" inquired Heideck; and as the Prince answered in the affirmative, he continued: "I should be grateful to you if you would allow me to join you. But how shall we get across the frontier? It is to be hoped that we shall be allowed to pass quietly as unsuspected merchants."
"That is not quite so certain; we shall probably not be able to leave India quite as readily as we entered it; but, at any rate, we must try our best. We can reach Peshawar by rail in twelve hours and Quetta in fifteen. Both these lines of railway are not likely at present to be blocked by military trains, but we shall do well to hasten our departure. In all probability we shall, either by way of Peshawar or Quetta, soon meet with Russian troops, for I have no doubt that a Russian army corps is also on the march upon Cabul, although the Colonel, as you say, only spoke of an advance guard moving on Herat."
"I would suggest that we go by way of Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, because we should thus reach Cabul most speedily and with the greater security."
"We will talk more of this anon, comrade! At all events, it is settled that we travel together. I hope most fervently that in the great theatre of the world your nation is at this present moment standing shoulder to shoulder with mine against England."
THE CAPTAIN'S WIFE
As a married man, Captain Irwin was not quartered in one of the wooden barracks of the English camp, but had his own bungalow in the suburbs.
It was a house of one story with a broad verandah, was surrounded by a large well-kept garden, and formerly served a high official of the Maharajah as a residence. Apart from it lay two smaller buildings used as servants' quarters, of which, however, only one was at present in use.
The sun of that same day, that had brought Hermann Heideck face to face with such momentous matters affecting his future for his final decision, was sinking rapidly into the heavens as he passed through the cactus hedge and bamboo thicket of the garden surrounding Irwin's bungalow.
He was attired in an evening dress of the lightest black cloth, such as is prescribed by English custom for a visit paid at the dinner-hour in those climes.
He did not come that evening of his own initiative, for Irwin's morning salutation did not promise anything in the way of an invitation. A letter from Mrs. Irwin had, to his surprise, begged his company at this hour. He had gathered from the tone of the letter that something especially urgent required his presence, and he was not slow in supposing that the reason was the unfortunate party at poker in which the Captain had taken part.
What, however, could have induced Mrs. Irwin to appeal to him was still an enigma, for his relations to the beautiful young wife had until then not been of a confidential nature. He had met her on several occasions in big society functions, at the officers' polo-parties, and at similar gatherings, and if, attracted by her grace and intellect, he had perhaps paid more attention to the Captain's wife than to any of the other ladies of the party, their relations had been strictly confined within conventional limits, and it would never have occurred to him to imagine himself specially favoured by Mrs. Irwin.
The dainty Indian handmaid of the lady received him and conducted him to the verandah. Mrs. Irwin, who, dressed in red silk, had been seated in a rocking-chair, advanced a few steps to meet him. Once more Irwin felt himself enchanted by the charm of her appearance.
She was a genuine English beauty of tall and splendid proportions, finely chiselled features, and that white transparent skin which lends to Albion's daughters their distinctive charm. Abundant dark brown hair clustered in thick, natural folds round the broad forehead, and her blue eyes had the clear, calm gaze of a personality at once intelligent and strong-minded.
At this moment the young wife, whom Heideck had hitherto only known as the placid and unemotional lady of the world, certainly seemed to labour under some excitement, which she could not completely conceal. There was something of embarrassment in the manner with which she received her visitor.
"I am exceedingly obliged to you for coming, Mr. Heideck. My invitation will have surprised you, but I did not know what else to do. Please let us go into the drawing-room; it is getting very chilly outside."
Heideck did not notice anything of the chilliness of which she complained, but he thought he understood that it was only the fear of eavesdropping that prompted the wish of the young wife. As a matter of fact, she closed the glass door behind him, and motioned him to be seated in one of the large cane chairs before her.
"Captain Irwin is not at home," she began, evidently struggling with severe embarrassment. "He has ridden off to inspect his squadron, and will not be home, as he told me, before daybreak."
Heideck did not quite understand why she told him this. Had he been a flirt, convinced of his own irresistibility, he would perhaps have found in her words a very transparent encouragement; but he was far from discerning any such meaning in Edith's words. The respect in which he had held this beautiful young wife, since the first moment of their acquaintance, sufficiently protected her from any such dishonourable suspicions. That she had bidden him there at a time when she must know that their conversation would not be disturbed by the presence of her husband, must assuredly have had other reasons than the mere desire for an adventure.
And as he saw her sitting before him, with a look of deep distress on her face, there arose in his heart no other than the honest wish to be able to do this poor creature, who was evidently most unhappy, some chivalrous service.
But he had not the courage to suggest anything of the sort before she had given him in an unequivocal way a right to do so. Hence it was that he waited in silence for anything further that she might wish to say. And there was a fairly long and somewhat painful pause before Mrs. Irwin, evidently collecting all her courage, went on: "You witnessed the scene that took place last evening in the officers' mess between my husband and Captain McGregor? If I have been rightly informed, I owe it solely to you that my husband did not, in the excitement of the moment, lay hand on himself."
Heideck turned modestly away.
"I did absolutely nothing to give me any claim to your gratitude, Mrs. Irwin, and I do not really believe that your husband would have so far forgot himself as to commit such a silly and desperate deed. At the last moment, a thought of you would certainly have restrained him from taking such a step."
He was surprised at the expression of disdain which the face of the young wife assumed as he said this, and at the hard ring in her voice, when she replied—
"Thoughts of me? No! how little you know my husband. He is not wont to make the smallest sacrifice for me, and, maybe, his voluntary death would not, after all, be the worst misery he is capable of inflicting on me."
She saw the look of utter surprise in his eyes, and therefore quickly added—
"You will, I know, consider me the most heartless woman in the world because I can talk to a stranger like this; but is not in your country loss of honour regarded as worse than death?"
"Under certain circumstances—yes; but your husband's position is not, I hope, to be viewed in this tragic light. Judging from the impression that Captain McGregor's personality has made upon me, I should say that he is not the man to drive Mr. Irwin to take an extreme course on account of a recklessly incurred debt at cards."
"Oh no! you judge of that honourable man quite correctly. He would be best pleased to forego the whole amount, and with the intention of bringing about such an arrangement he called here this afternoon. But the foolish pride and unbounded vanity of Irwin brought all his good intentions to naught. The result of McGregor's well-meant endeavours was only a violent scene, which made matters a thousand times worse. My husband is determined to pay his debt at any price."
"And—pardon me the indiscreet question—is he capable of doing so?"
"If he uses my fortune for the purpose—certainly! and I have at once placed it at his disposal; and I further told him that he could take everything, even the last penny, if this sacrifice on my part would suffice to get rid of him for ever."
Heideck could scarcely believe his ears. He was prepared for anything on earth except to hear such confessions. He began to doubt this woman, who hitherto had seemed to him to be the paragon of all feminine virtues, and he sought an opportunity of escaping from further confessions of the kind, which, as he told himself, she would repent of in the course of an hour or so.
"Nobody can expect of you, Mrs. Irwin, that for a criminal recklessness, a hasty action on the part of your husband, who was probably deep in his cups, you should make such a tremendous sacrifice; but, as you have now done me the honour to consult me on these matters, it is perhaps not unbecoming on my part if I tell you that your husband should, in my opinion, be forced to bear the consequences of his action. You need not be at all apprehensive that these consequences will be very serious. McGregor will certainly not press him; and as we seem to be on the threshold of a war, his superior officers are not likely to be too severe upon him in this matter. He will, perhaps, either find an opportunity to rehabilitate his compromised honour or will find his death on the battlefield. Within a few weeks, or months, all these matters which at present cause you so much trouble will present quite a different aspect."
"You are very kind, Mr. Heideck, and I thank you for your friendly intentions; but I would not have invited you here at this unusual hour had it been solely my intention to enlist your kind sympathy. I am in a most deplorable plight—doubly so, because there is no one here to whom I can turn for advice and assistance. That in my despair I thought of you has, no doubt, greatly surprised you; and now I can myself hardly understand how I could have presumed to trouble you with my worries."
"If you would only, Mrs. Irwin, show me how I can be of service to you, I would pray you to make any use you will of me. I am absolutely and entirely at your disposal, and your confidence would make me exceedingly happy."
"As a gentleman, you could not, of course, give any other answer. But, in your heart of hearts, you probably consider my conduct both unwomanly and unbecoming, for it is true that we hardly know each other. Over in England, and certainly in your German fatherland quite as well, such casual meetings as ours have been could not possibly give me the right to treat you as a friend, and I do not really know how far you are influenced by these European considerations."
"In Germany, as in England, every defenceless and unhappy woman would have an immediate claim upon my assistance," he seriously replied. "If you give me the preference over your friends here, I, on my part, have only to be grateful, and need not inquire further into your motives."
"But, of course, I will tell you what my motives are. My friends in this place are naturally my husband's comrades, and I cannot turn to them if I do not intend to sign Irwin's death warrant. Not a single man amongst them would allow that a man of my husband's stamp should remain an hour longer a member of the corps of officers in the British Army."
"I do not quite understand you, Mrs. Irwin. The gambling debt of your husband is, after all, no longer a secret to his comrades."
"That is not the point. How do you judge of a man who would sell his wife to pay his gambling debts?"
This last sentence struck Heideck like a blow. With dilated eyes he stared at the young wife who had launched such a terrible indictment against her husband. Never had she looked to him so charming as in this moment, when a sensation of womanly shame had suffused her pale cheeks with a crimson blush. Never had he felt with such clearness what a precious treasure this charming creature would be to a man to whom she gave herself in love for his very own; and the less he doubted that she had just spoken the simple truth, the more did his heart rise in passionate wrath at the miserable reptile who was abandoned enough to drag this precious pearl in the mire.
"I do not presume to connect your question with Captain Irwin," said Heideck, in a perceptibly tremulous voice, "for if he were really capable of doing so—"
Edith interrupted him, pointing to a small case that lay on the little table beside her.
"Would you kindly just look at this ring, Mr. Heideck?"
He did as he was asked, and thought he recognised the beautiful diamond ring that he had yesterday seen sparkling on Irwin's finger. He asked whether it was so, and the young wife nodded assent.
"I gave it to my husband on our wedding-day. The ring is an heirloom in my family. Jewellers value it at more than a thousand pounds."
"And why, may I ask, does your husband no longer wear it?"
"Because he intends to sell it. Of course, the Maharajah is the only person who can afford the luxury of such articles, and my husband wishes me to conclude the bargain with the Prince."
"You, Mrs. Irwin? And why, pray, does he not do it himself?"
"Because the Maharajah will not pay him the price he demands. My husband will not let the ring go under two lakhs."
"But that is a tremendous sum! That would be paying for it twelve times over!"
"My husband is, all the same, certain that the bargain would come off quite easily, provided I personally negotiated it."
It was impossible to misunderstand the meaning of these words, and so great was the indignation they awoke in Heideck, that he sprang up in a bound from his chair.
"No! that is impossible—it cannot be! He cannot possibly have suggested that! You must have misunderstood him. No man, no officer, no gentleman, could ever be guilty of such a low, mean action!"
"You would be less surprised if you had had the opportunity to know him, as I have had, during the short time of our wedded life. There is practically no act or deed of his that would surprise me now. He has long since ceased to love me; and a wife, whose person has become indifferent to him, has, in his eyes, only a marketable value. It may be that some excuse can even be found for his way of regarding things. It is, possibly, an atavistic relapse into the views of his ancestors, who, when they were sick of their wives, led them with a halter round their necks into the marketplace and sold them to the highest bidder. They say it is not so long ago that this pretty custom has gone out of vogue."
"No more, Mrs. Irwin," Heideck broke in; "I cannot bear to hear you speak like that. I must say that I still consider the Captain to have been out of his mind when he dared to expect such a thing of you."
The young wife shook her head with a severe quiver of the lips. "Oh no! he was neither intoxicated nor especially excited when he asked me to do him this 'LITTLE' kindness; he probably considered that I ought to feel myself intensely flattered that His Indian Highness thought my insignificant person worth such a large price. I have certainly for some time past been quite conscious of the fact that, quite unwittingly, I have attracted the notice of the Maharajah. Immediately after our first meeting he began to annoy me with his attentions. I never took any notice, and never, for one moment, dreamt of the possibility that his—his—what shall I call it—his admiration could rise to criminal desires; but, after what I have experienced to-day, I cannot help believing that it is the case."
"But this monstrosity, Mrs. Irwin, will be past and gone as soon as you indignantly repudiate the suggestion of your abandoned husband?"
"Between him and me—yes, that is true. But I am not at all certain if the Maharajah's infatuation will then have really ceased to exist. My Indian handmaid has been told by one of her countrymen to warn me of a danger that threatens me. The man did not tell her wherein this danger consists, but I am at a loss to know from what quarter it should threaten, if not from the Maharajah."
Heideck shook his head incredulously.
"You have certainly nothing to fear in that quarter; he knows full well that he would have the whole of the British power against him dared he only—be it with one word—attempt to wrong the wife of an English officer. He would be a sheer madman to allow things to come to that pass."
"Well, after all, he may have some despotic insanity in him. We must not forget that the time is not so far distant when all these tyrants disposed absolutely of the life and death and body and soul of their subjects. Who knows, too, what my husband—But perhaps you are right. It may only be a foolish suspicion that has upset me; and it is just for this reason that I did not wish to speak about it to any of my husband's messmates. I have opened my heart to you alone. I know that you are an honourable man, and that nobody will learn from your mouth what we have spoken about during this past hour."
"I am very much indebted to you, Mrs. Irwin, for your confidence, and should be only too willing to do what I could to relieve your anxiety and trouble. You are apprehensive of some unknown danger, and you are this night, in your husband's absence, without any other protection but that of your Indian servants. Would you permit me to remain close by, until tomorrow daybreak?"
With a blush that made her heart beat faster, Edith Irwin shook her head.
"No! no! that is impossible; and I do not think that here, in the protection of my house and among my own servants, any mishap could befall me. Only in case that something should happen to me at another time and at another place, I would beg of you to acquaint Colonel Baird with the subject of our conversation this evening; people will then perhaps better understand the connexion of things."
And now Heideck perfectly understood why she had chosen to make him, a stranger, her confidant; and he thought that he understood also that it was not so much of an attempt on the part of the Maharajah as of her own husband's villainy that the unhappy young wife was afraid. But his delicate feelings restrained him from saying in outspoken language that he had comprehended what she wished to convey. It was after all enough that she knew she could rely upon him; and of this she must have been already sufficiently convinced, although it was only the fire of his eyes that told her so, and the long, warm kiss that his lips impressed upon the small, icy-cold hand which the poor young lady presented to him at parting.
"You will permit me to pay you another call tomorrow, will you not?"
"I will send you word when I expect you. I should not care for you to meet my husband; perhaps he has some idea that you are friendly inclined towards me; and that would be sufficient to fill him with suspicion and aversion towards you."
She clapped her hands, and as the Indian handmaid entered the room to escort the visitor to the door, Heideck had to leave her last remark unanswered. But, as on the threshold he again turned to bow his farewell, his eyes met hers, and though their lips were dumb, they had perhaps told one another more in this single second than during the whole time of their long tete-a-tete.
When Heideck stepped into the garden he was scarcely able to find his way, but having taken a few steps his eyes had become accustomed to the gloom, and the pale light of the stars showed him his path.
The garden was surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of cactus plants, low enough to allow a tall man to look over. On having closed the wooden gate behind him, Heideck stood and gazed back at the brightly illuminated windows of the house. In the presence of the charming woman he had manfully suppressed his feelings. No rash word, betraying the tempest that this nocturnal conversation had left surging in his bosom, had escaped his lips. He had not for a moment forgotten that she was the wife of another, and it would be an infamy to covet her for his wife so long as she was tied to that other. But he could not disguise from himself the fact that he yearned towards her with a passionate love. He was to-day, for the first time, conscious that he loved this woman with a passion that he had never before felt for another; but there was nothing intoxicating or pleasurable in this self-confession. It was rather a feeling of apprehension of coming difficulties and struggles that would beset him in his passion for this charming creature. Had she not needed his protection, and had he not promised to remain on the spot to assist her, he would have escaped in rapid flight from this struggle within him. Yet, under the existing circumstances, there could be no question of his doing this. He had only himself to blame for having given her the right to count upon his friendship; and it was a behest of chivalry to deserve her confidence. Incapable of tearing himself from the place, where he knew his loved one remained, Heideck must have stayed a quarter of an hour rooted to the spot, and just when he had resolved—on becoming conscious of the folly of his behaviour—on turning homewards, he perceived something unusual enough to cause him to stay his steps.