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cover image: Peace with Honour by Sydney C. Grier

[Men] observe very carefully all that they can see, and give us the result of their observations in knowing little remarks, half cynical and half patronising, and think they have gauged a woman’s nature to its very depths. Then she does something that throws all their calculations wrong, and they say that she is shallow and fickle, and, above all, unwomanly; whereas it is only that either their obser­vations or their deductions were incorrect.

“Sydney Carlyon Grier” was the pseudonym of Hilda Caroline Gregg (1868–1933). She was a professional writer from an early age, starting even before she got a BA at London University. In the decades surrounding the turn of the century she cranked out a string of novels, many of them with quasi-Oriental settings. The inspiration came in part from her sister Katharine, a doctor and missionary who spent time in both India and Japan; Hilda may or may not have visited her there. (The two linked sources are different editions of the same book; apparently the author changed his mind between 1988 and 2009.)

At its core, Peace with Honour is the story of a woman doctor who is not taken seriously by the (non-medical) men around her. This is a serious mistake on their part, because Georgia Keeling is one tough dame, loaded with courage, reso­lution and initiative. These traits help explain why the author—if, in fact, it was the author—had such a low opinion of the various not-so-assertive female doctors discussed in her Blackwood’s article.

Unfortunately, the doctor’s good qualities manifest themselves in the context of a Generic Colonial storyline, primarily set in Ethiopia. Or rather, in—

“Ethiopia”

The further you get into the book, the more you have to question whether the author knows that Ethiopia is a real, currently existing country. It might as well be a historical territory like Thracia, Neustria or Scythia, whose names can freely be recycled for the various Ruritanias that make up her fictional geography. She does seem to have a vague idea that it’s in Africa, judging by the occasional mention of “a negro”—always meaning a domestic servant, never anyone of higher rank. But this doesn’t prevent “Ethiopia” from bordering on “Khemistan”, which appears to be somewhere in the Near East.

In real life, Ethiopia didn’t have much to do with the British empire. The country’s main colonial interaction was with Italy, beginning with an unsuc­cessful invasion in 1895-96—just a few years before Peace with Honour—and winding up with a more successful one in 1935.

At the time of Peace with Honour, Addis Ababa had only just been established as a permanent capital. Before that, Ethiopia went through an astounding array of “wandering capitals”. It is anyone’s guess whether the author knew this, and felt free to make up yet another name—the decidedly un-Ethiopian-sounding “Kubbet-ul-Haj”—or whether she didn’t know and didn’t care.

The author would be surprised to learn that Ethiopia was ruled by an empress, Zewditu, from 1916 until her death in 1930. (Zewditu’s cousin and prime minister would go on to become better known as the emperor Haile Selassie.)

Most egregiously, the author definitely has no idea that Ethiopia was Christian long before European missionaries set foot in the country. In fact, it was probably Christian before England itself was. Today, if you count all sects and denomi­nations, Christianity remains Ethiopia’s majority religion.

A. Pearse signature
Illustrations

Peace with Honour, the book, had no illustrations, not even a frontispiece. For those we turn to the serial version: twelve two-chapter installments in The Argosy, Volume 63 and Volume 64, conveniently covering the exact calendar year 1897. Each of the twelve had one full-page illustration, generally printed at the beginning of the installment. I have put them near the text they illustrate.

the Persian kitten Colleen Bawn

Alfred Pearse (probably 1855–1933, though some sources say 1854 or 1856) was an excellent choice for this particular story. On the one hand, he often—though not here—signed his work “A Patriot”. That covers the colonial side. On the other hand, he was well known for his posters advocating women’s suffrage in connection with assorted suffragist organizations. That covers the female-doctor side.

Spoiler: “Colleen Bawn” is clearly visible in the picture accompanying the story’s final installment, Chapters XXIII-end, so she must have got out all right. I mention this here so that nobody need be distracted by worries for her safety.

Formalities

This ebook is based on the 1902 L. C. Page (Boston) edition. The illustrations are taken from The Argosy as described above.

Typographical errors are marked with mouse-hover popups and are listed again at the end of each chapter. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.

PEACE WITH HONOUR

Works of
Sidney C. Grier

[leaf]

The Warden of the Marches

Peace with Honour

Like Another Helen

His Excellency’s English Governess

In Furthest Ind

A Crowned Queen

Kings of the East

The Prince of the Captivity

[leaf]

L. C. PAGE & COMPANY
200 Summer Street,   Boston, Mass.

Notes and Corrections: “Works”

Works of Sidney C. Grier
[Yes. It’s true. The book’s own publisher managed to misspell the name of the author.]

Peace With Honour

By
SYDNEY C. GRIER
AUTHOR OF “A CROWNED QUEEN,”
“THE WARDEN OF THE MARCHES,”
“IN FURTHEST IND,” Etc.

publisher’s device: L P Co. / Spe Labor Levis

BOSTON
L. C. PAGE & COMPANY

MDCCCCII

Copyright, 1902
By L. C. Page & Company (Incorporated)

Published June, 1902

TO

E. FG. L.,

IN GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT
OF MUCH KIND ADVICE
AND HELP.

vii

CONTENTS.

CHAP. PAGE
I. “SHOULD AULD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT?” 1
II. A COMMUNITY OF INTERESTS 14
III. FELLOW-TRAVELLERS 29
IV. AGAINST HIS WILL 43
V. ACROSS THE FRONTIER 58
VI. AN OFFER OF CO-OPERATION 72
VII. THE MAN WHO DISAPPEARED 86
VIII. EAST MEETS WEST 103
IX. STRAINED RELATIONS 120
X. CAUGHT AND CAGED 137
XI. THE RANKS ARE THINNED 154
XII. THE STANDARD-BEARER FALLS 169
XIII. A PROFESSIONAL SUMMONS 186
XIV. AN ULTIMATUM 203
XV. ONE CROWDED HOUR 218
XVI. A CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES 237
XVII. POINTS OF VIEW 265
viii XVIII. RETREAT CUT OFF 274
XIX. THE VALUE OF A REPUTATION 293
XX. FOR THE HONOUR OF ENGLAND’S SAKE 312
XXI. FOR A CONSIDERATION 330
XXII. A SILENCE THAT WAS GOLDEN 349
XXIII. HARDLY WON 368
XXIV. VIS MEDICATRIX 388
EPILOGUE 412
1

PEACE WITH HONOUR.

CHAPTER I.
“SHOULD AULD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT?”

“Now, Dick, I want to trot you out this afternoon, so please put on your smartest clothes, and your best company manners, and your most winning smile.”

“Has your majesty any more commands? I was under the impression that I was excused further duty to-day, on condition of dining out with you to-night and to-morrow night.”

“This is not duty, it is pleasure—or ought to be.”

“That sounds more inviting. Who gets the pleasure?”

“I do, if you will come, and I will promise you some as well.”

“Your generosity exceeds my highest expectations, but I should like particulars before I make any rash promises. I have just settled down here comfortably for the afternoon.”

“Dick!”—Mabel North dashed at her brother, robbed him of his cigar, and, snatching away his newspaper, set her foot upon it—“if you imagine I allow you to smoke in the conservatory merely in order that you may shirk 2 coming out with me, you are mistaken. Now, will you come? Quick, or I shall let this thing go out!”

“I give in. Allow me to rescue that cigar. Now, perhaps, you will graciously intimate what it is you want me to do?”

“I want you to see something of the serious side of my life. What do you really know about me? You would be sorry some day if you didn’t come this afternoon. When you heard I was no more, you would shake your head and say, ‘Ah, poor girl; what a frivolous butterfly she was!’ I wish to guard against misconceptions of that kind.”

“Oh, well, I only hope your conscience will prick you when I am gone again. When you think of me at Kubbet-ul-Haj, sweltering all day and freezing all night, you will say, ‘Ah, poor fellow! I wish I had treated him better while he was here. Never a moment’s peace did I give him; it was nothing but drive and rush from morning to night.’”

“Don’t pretend to be bored and blasé, Dick. You know that you have come back from the wilderness with a very healthy appetite for innocent gaiety. If you wanted us to think that seven years on the Khemistan Frontier had made you a misanthrope, your face would belie you. I do like to see a young man enjoying himself thoroughly at a social gathering, and that pleasure I have whenever I take you out.”

“This is adding insult to injury, Mab. Can’t you let a man alone?”

“Not when he’s my brother, and I have got him all to myself after not having seen him for years. Do come with me, Dick, there’s a good boy; I want you parti­cularly. Besides, you owe a duty to other people. Society looks favourably upon you, and it is only grateful for you to bask in its smiles. All the girls I know have said to me, 3 ‘Mornin’. Brother’s comin’ home, isn’t he? Awf’ly plucky chap! Bring him in on our “at-home” day. Just adore soldiers.’ Then their mothers come up purringly, and say, ‘And so your dear brother is coming home, Miss North? You must be sure and bring him round to see me. I am so much interested in young men. And will he wear his Victoria Cross’? It is the dream of my life to see one.’”

“I hope you don’t expect me to take the precious thing with me in my pocket and exhibit it? There are some things a man can’t bring himself to do, even for your sake, Queen Mab.”

“No, dear boy; I won’t try you so far. I am not a despotic monarch. That means that you are going to be good and come with me, doesn’t it? Then I will reward you by saying that I don’t want you to go to an ‘at-home’ or anything of that kind this afternoon, but merely to the hospital.”

“The hospital?”

“Yes, the Women’s Hospital, to which I go twice a‑week to read and sing to the patients. It is a great occasion there to-day—the anniversary of the opening, so that I can take you in, and the poor things are all longing to see you.”

“Why, what do they know about me?”

“What I have told them, of course. Do you know, Dick, I sometimes feel as though I had no business to be so well and rich and happy among so many sufferers. It seems as though they must hate me, or, at any rate, feel that I can’t sympathise with them. And then, when you were shut up in Fort Rahmat-Ullah, and uncle and I were so fearfully anxious, I really couldn’t go on just as usual, and I told the women about you, and they were so nice. Of their own accord they asked the clergyman, who comes and holds a service in the wards on Sundays, to mention 4 your name in the prayers, and they watched the papers for every scrap of news about you. When at last we heard how you had got through the enemy and brought help, I took the paper to the hospital, but I couldn’t read a bit. I simply broke down and cried like a great baby, and the women were in a dreadful state of anxiety. At last I gave the account to one of them, and she read it aloud in a high, cracked voice, making the most horrible hash of the names, and the rest all cried too. They have regarded you as their personal property ever since, and when they heard of all your honours, they were as much pleased as I was. ‘Your brother ’ave gort permoted, miss!’ was what they all called out to me when I came in one day, and I never had such a piece of work in my life as when I tried to explain to them what brevet rank was. I’m afraid even now they are under the impression that you have been very badly treated, and defrauded of the promotion you ought to have received, and they sympathise with you very deeply. Several of them have pictures of you, cut out of the illustrated papers, folded up in their lockers, and bring them out to show people, and all the new patients are carefully instructed in the history of the presiding genius. ‘That’s our Miss North’s brother,’ the old ones tell them, and then all the details follow. Now, Dick, you will come, won’t you?”

“If you really want me, old girl,” and Dick threw down his paper without a murmur. “I feel as if I owed you something for the horrible scare you got when you heard we were cut off, and so I’ll do violence to my natural modesty to the extent of coming and exhibiting myself to your old women.”

Mabel North was not a little proud of her brother as she conducted him into the hospital an hour or so later. He looked such a splendid manly fellow, she thought, with the glamour of his past exploits surrounding him 5 like an aureole, that she wondered how other women could care to display their wretched dandified relatives beside him. In the fulness of her satisfaction, she marched him through various rooms and corridors, and presented him to a number of resplendent ladies who appeared to be receiving the guests, before there was any question of going up-stairs to visit the wards. Then she was seized upon by a suave person of business-like appearance, who turned out to be the secretary, for a few minutes’ confidential talk, and Dick, rather bewildered by his experiences, and wondering why a hospital should employ a lady as secretary, took refuge in the society of a man he had met at his club.

“Isn’t this gathering slightly—er—informal?” he asked. “Don’t the doctors, or governors, or whatever they call the authorities of the place, show up at all? All the men here look as though they had been brought by their lady friends.”

“Brought?” said the other man, “that’s it exactly. My wife brought me, your sister brought you, and Mountchesnay and the Archdeacon have been brought by their female relatives in just the same way. We are here on sufferance, don’t you know, just to open our minds and enlarge our views.”

“Is it a ladies’ day, then?”

“No, but the ladies boss the show here. Don’t you know that this is the hospital of the future, manned entirely by women? The tyrant man is in his rightful sphere here, quite at a discount. They think nothing of him. Why, there’s not a man on the premises but the porter, and he is there rather to overawe the relations of the patients than to help the ladies. But do you mean to say that Miss North brought you here without explaining the state of things? It wasn’t fair; she might have given you a shock.”

“But who are the burra mems—the great ladies—in the other room?”

6

“The doctors, ladies of European reputation. The one who shook hands with you first fought the whole battle for the medical women.”

“I didn’t know that you were mixed up with all this kind of thing, Mab,” said Dick, as Mabel, having finished her talk with the secretary, turned to look for him.

“All what kind of thing?”

“Why, all this rot about lady doctors, and women’s hospitals, and so on.”

“Then you don’t read my letters, Dick. I have told you about it again and again. But I have another surprise for you presently. Let us come up-stairs now.”

In the wards Dick made a very good impression. None of the patients would be satisfied without a close view of him, and Mabel conducted him from bed to bed, and introduced him to all her friends. When he had duly admired the decorations, congratulated the patients on their healthful looks, promised to send in some illustrated papers, and inquired whether he could possibly obtain admittance to the hospital himself if he fell ill, he was in high favour. This inquiry was the stereotyped jest, which was expected as a matter of course from all the male visitors to the hospital, and none of them ever failed to make it, so that its utterance was received with approving laughter.

“Ah, you gentlemen don’t know what a blessin’ this ’ere ’orspital is to us, a‑makin’ your jokes, and all,” said an old woman, with a high cracked voice, the patient, as Mabel explained, who had read aloud to the rest the account of Dick’s solitary expedition for the relief of Fort Rahmat-Ullah. “Not but what I ain’t been as well treated as I ’ad reason to expeck. My doctor’s agoin’ out to furrin parts, to the pore ’eathens, she says. ‘You may as well stay and see the last of me, miss,’ I says to ’er; but she says, ‘You can go to a gentleman doctor when you are ill, Mrs Wake, 7 but them pore ’eathen women can’t, so I’m wanted there wuss.’ Oh, there you are, miss! I was a‑tellin’ this gentleman about you.”

Mabel looked up quickly as a lady in soft flowing robes of wine-red cashmere glanced in at the begarlanded doorway, and nodded to Mrs Wake.

“We shall meet to-morrow evening, Mab,” she said, seeing the visitors.

“Wait a minute, Dr Georgie,” said Mabel, hastily; “I want to introduce my brother afresh. I am afraid he is forgetting old friends. Major North, Miss Georgia Keeling, M.D.”

“Miss Keeling! Is it possible?” Dick met the gaze of a pair of frank dark eyes, which were scanning his face with a look of friendly interest, and his thoughts flew back to the time which had elapsed between his leaving Sandhurst and obtaining his appointment to the Indian Staff Corps years ago. He had spent some months at home, to the great disgust of his uncle, the general, who vowed that this spell of idleness would ruin him for life, but he did nothing worse than fall in love with his sister’s greatest friend. Georgia lived only a few doors off, and she and Mabel always walked to the high school together, a fact of which Dick was fully aware when he took it into his head to offer Mabel his escort morning by morning. The offer was accepted with some hesitation, for both Mabel and Georgia had reached what might be called the age of pure reason, and objected on principle to “boys and nonsense,” but Dick was useful in carrying their books, and they could always snub him if he talked too much. Mabel was not without pride in the effect produced on the other girls by Dick’s attendance, but Georgia was absolutely indifferent to the honour conferred upon her, and Dick left England at last with the rueful conviction that the lady of his love was still quite heart-whole, 8 and never regarded him in any other light than that of Mabel’s brother. Now he saw her again, and her eyes met his as calmly and freely as of old.

young man and woman turn to greet another woman

“Miss Keeling! Is it possible?”

“You have not forgotten the old days, then?” she said, pleasantly.

“I am afraid you haven’t,” he answered. “I must have bored you horribly. I know you and Mab always wanted to discuss your lessons, or the methods of the different masters, and momentous subjects of that kind, whereas I used to try to intrude my own little frivolous interests, which were invariably frowned down. It served me right.”

Poor Dick! He had not spoken so lightly when he bade Georgia farewell, after a vain attempt to obtain from her a flower, a glove, anything she had touched, as a keepsake. She had looked him through with her clear eyes and observed chillingly that she disliked foolishness, and he broke away from her with a heart full of pain and anger, and on his lips the Disraelian prophecy, “Some day I will make you listen to me!” To work for Georgia, to make himself more worthy of Georgia, had been his ruling impulse during his early years in India, and there was always before his eyes the faint possibility that when he returned home great and famous, his stubborn lady’s heart might be touched at last. And now he had returned, not only famous, but also free from the trammels of his early and hopeless adoration—and Georgia was not at all affected by the fact. Years of unremitting work had turned Dick’s thoughts into a different channel. He was a soldier now, and his professional instincts were paramount, but still, he would have liked Georgia to recognise the change. She did not appear to notice anything, and he had a lurking suspicion that if she had done so, the realisation would not have troubled her.

9

“And so you are going to India, like all the young ladies in these days?” he said, carelessly, recalling what he had just heard from Mrs Wake, not without some idea of piquing Miss Keeling by the suggestion that her latest development had not surprised him in the least.

“No, not to India,” she answered. “I am going to Kubbet-ul-Haj.”

“What, with Sir Dugald Haigh’s Ethiopian Mission? So am I.”

“Yes, Mabel has told me. What a pity she can’t come too!”

“Oh, Mab hasn’t set up as a free-lance yet.”

“Have you, then? I had an idea that you were going as one of the Mission. Even I have a professional status.”

“I am the military member—aide-de-camp to the Chief, or something of the kind, I believe. You are the surgeon, I presume?”

“Not exactly. The King of Ethiopia’s principal wife is nearly blind, and he has begged that a lady doctor may accompany the Mission to Kubbet-ul-Haj, and attend the Queen while Sir Dugald Haigh remains there. Lady Haigh is rather glad to find a companion, and I am delighted to have such a chance.”

“The Mission is highly honoured,” said Dick, not quite pleasantly.

Miss Keeling looked at him in some surprise.

“It makes it much pleasanter that you are going too,” she said. “My short Indian experience has taught me how delightful it is to find old friends in a foreign country.”

“You are too kind,” said Dick, stiffly. “I’m afraid you overrate my powers of—er—entertainment; but, of course, I shall be delighted to do all I can to make the journey less tedious.”

She looked at him again. Was it possible that the man 10 was such an arrant coxcomb as to imagine that she was doing her best to lead up to a resumption of the old state of affairs between them? Could he be trying to warn her off, or were his infelicitous remarks due only to ill-temper? But why should he be ill-tempered? In any case, it was clear that Major North, V.C., was a very different person from the boy who had gone to India fifteen years before, and the change was not an improvement. There was the slightest possible touch of hauteur in Georgia’s manner as she turned away, saying, with a graciousness which made Dick writhe with something of his old feeling of insignificance in her presence—

“You must not think that I have forgotten to congratulate you on your splendid exploit, Major North. I had hoped to be able to hear something about it from yourself, but no doubt Mabel will tell me all I want to know.”

She passed slowly down the corridor, and Dick, watching the trailing folds of her gown out of sight, felt a sudden and unreasoning rush of anger. He tried to think that he was angry with her, but in his heart he knew that it was with himself. As for Mabel, who had watched the scene at first with amusement, but afterwards with growing concern, she was speechless until she had conducted him hastily through the remaining wards of the hospital, and hurried him out at the front entrance. Then she turned upon him and said in a tone of concentrated disgust—

“Well, Dick, I never thought I should have to be absolutely ashamed of you!”

As Dick made no reply, but walked on with frowning brows, swinging his stick viciously, she continued to improve the occasion.

“Talk of the fury of a woman scorned! it’s nothing to a man’s. If you can’t forgive Georgia for refusing you fifteen years ago, one would scarcely expect to find you 11 eager to show her that she never did a wiser thing in her life.”

“I believe you imagine that I am in love with her still,” said Dick, with great calmness.

“It looks like it, doesn’t it?” retorted Mabel.

“Then you are mistaken. I don’t care a rap for her. What upset me was that she ignored everything so completely. It was all foolishness, of course, but still it did happen, and nothing can blot it out. A man can’t meet a woman that he has cared for in that way as though he had never seen her before. Only women can do that kind of thing.”

“A woman would know better than to behave like a cad, at any rate.”

“I should never let a man say such a thing as that to me, Mabel.”

“Then it is a good thing that there is a woman to do it. The fact is, Dick, you hoped that Georgia would have changed her mind during these years, and that she would want you when she could not have you. That is a nice, manly, chivalrous way of trying to get your revenge on her, isn’t it? And when she is willing to forget all that foolishness, and to meet you as an old friend, you are angry, instead of being thankful that she can bring herself to overlook it. You really were fearfully silly in those days, Dick, and bothered her horribly. Why can’t you let it drop, if she can? You say you don’t care for her now. Why you should expect her to care for you, I don’t know.”

“I don’t expect her to care for me,” said Dick, doggedly.

“I should hope not, when you are so fickle.”

“I don’t know why you should call me fickle. A man’s tastes must change as he grows older.”

“Exactly. But why should you expect Georgia to change 12 in accordance with them? She is just what you might have guessed she would be.”

“I detest that type of woman.”

“I see. You would have liked Georgia to develop entirely on your lines. When you find that she has a character and a will of her own, you don’t like it.”

“I like a woman to be a woman. These lady doctors are not womanly.”

“Indeed! Who is the best judge of what is womanly, you or a woman?”

“Of course,” Dick went on, disregarding the question, “it is their business, and not mine. But you will find, Mab, that men like a woman to be gentle and soft and clinging, looking to them for protection.”

“Men!” said Mabel, contemptuously. “Who cares what men like?”

“Well, a good many women seem to think rather a lot of it. No one wants a woman to be brave and self-reliant. Now Miss Keeling’s manner—it implied that she could look after herself, and had no need of a protector—and yet she was not putting on side—it was simply a steady sort of self-dependence. That’s all very well, but it isn’t what I like in a woman. And she looked me over, just as a man might. It made me feel quite queer.”

“Yes, you like a woman’s eyes to drop before yours, as a sort of unconscious tribute to your greatness and your glory. A man may look at a woman with the calmest insolence, but she must only steal a glance at his face when he isn’t looking. I’m afraid India has corrupted you, Dick.”

“What in the world has India got to do with it? Your remarks don’t seem to apply to any part of India with which I am acquainted.”

“Very well, I withdraw them, then. I will only say that before you went there you preferred to regard woman 13 as an angel high above you; now you object to think of her even as an equal.”

“I knew we were bound to come round to that at last. Every man makes an idiot of himself some time in his life, but it’s not fair to bring up his ravings against him when he has returned to his right mind. And why should you drag in these stale controversies? The women will always settle the matter to their own satisfaction among themselves, and the men will laugh over it in the smoking-room and say: ‘It pleases them to think so, and as long as they do no harm they may as well be let alone.’”

“There you are again, Dick, with your nasty cynical philosophy! I am sure frontier life has not been good for you. You want educating, and I rather think that Georgia is the person to undertake the task, if you haven’t disgusted her too deeply. For your own sake, my dear boy, I should advise you to try and appease her. It is not every man of whom she is willing to make a friend.”

“Stuff!” said Dick, ungratefully. “When I want friends I prefer men. You forget that it’s a case of ‘once bit, twice shy,’ with me.”

“Oh, very well; don’t blame me if you turn out a horrid old bear, always saying nasty things about women, because you don’t know a scrap about them. You will soon see that Georgia has no difficulty in finding friends. She might have married hundreds of times.”

“This seems to import a new element into the discussion. Why are these hundreds of presumably unhappy men introduced? Is it to show the danger of seeking Miss Keeling’s friendship? I have already had experience in that direction, you know.”

“It was merely a piece of historical retrospect—and a warning for you. Don’t say that I let you go to Kubbet-ul-Haj blindfold. The man who would suit Georgia must 14 be at the head of some big hospital, so that she can see plenty of good operations,” and Mabel smiled gleefully at the disgust depicted on her brother’s face.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter I

skip to next chapter

seven years on the Khemistan Frontier
[Khemistan is the author’s Generic Oriental Ruritania, featured in several of her books. Fortunately she is skilled with information dumps, so there is no need to hunt down the earlier novels.]

I never had such a piece of work in my life as when I tried to explain to them what brevet rank was
[I wish she would explain it to me too, as it sounds like the silliest idea ever. In the US, “brevet rank”—a sort of honorary promotion, bringing with it no extra responsi­bilities and no increase in pay—disappeared soon after the Civil War. Honors were conveyed by medals instead. As far as I can make out, in the British Dominions, brevet rank still exists.]

The King of Ethiopia’s principal wife
[In future chapters, it will become clear that the author thinks Ethiopia, or “Ethiopia”, is primarily Muslim. (We will not talk about the “principal wife” issue.)]

CHAPTER II.
A COMMUNITY OF INTERESTS.

About noon the next day Dick North left his uncle’s house with the intention of going to his club. It was a rough windy morning, with occasional scuds of rain, and when one of these overtook Dick as he was crossing the street, he found to his disgust that from the force of habit he had come out without an umbrella. Taking refuge in a doorway, for the shower proved to be a sharp one, he discovered that his asylum was already in the possession of a lady, in whom he quickly recognised Miss Keeling. She was looking very smart in a business-like ulster and a neat little felt hat, from the brim of which the rain-drops were falling on her wind-blown hair, for the umbrella she held in her hand—a mere mass of metal spikes and shreds of silk—could only be called an umbrella by courtesy, and had evidently given way before the force of the gale.

“Any port in a storm!” she said, merrily, as she shook hands with Dick.

“I am sorry I can’t offer to lend you an umbrella,” he remarked, “for I am worse off than yourself.”

“No, I think you are more sensible,” she replied, “for an umbrella is sure to be turned inside out in this wind. You see I am prepared for rain, and I have no fear of getting 15 wet, but I do dislike it when the rain-drops trickle down my neck.”

“Pray allow me to run across and get you an umbrella from one of those shops over there,” he said stiffly, annoyed to find his resentment against her melting under the influence of her friendly manner.

“Oh no, thank you, I couldn’t think of it,” she replied, surveying him carefully, and taking due note of his curly-brimmed hat, his long coat, the huge carnation in his buttonhole, and the immaculate spats protecting his equally spotless boots. “You are not quite dressed for running anywhere, are you?”

The resentment returned promptly in full force.

“I am sorry my appearance is displeasing to you,” he said, in a tone which he tried vainly to make a light and sportive one.

“Oh, but it isn’t at all. It is most correct—unimpeachably correct.”

“Then what is the matter with it, if I may ask?”

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“Thank you, I think my feelings are proof against injury.”

“It is only that I was thinking it was a pity to expose such a complete get-up to the dangers of a muddy walk. A hansom would have taken you straight from General North’s door to your destination. I could imagine you a walking advertisement of the Army and Navy Club, and why aren’t you gracing one of the windows there, as a sort of sample, you know, to show the kind of goods within?”

“Bother the girl! She sees I don’t like her, and she is taking it out of me,” was his mental comment, as he glanced at her composed face and caught a twinkle of fun in her eyes. Aloud he said, rather lamely, “You don’t know what a luxury it is to be able to array oneself in the garments 16 of civilisation once more, after spending years, as one might say, in uniform. But I see the rain has stopped. May I call you a cab, or walk with you?”

“Oh no, thanks; I am only going to one of those shops.”

“But you will allow me to see you across the street?”

This time his escort was not refused, and he left her at the entrance of the shop to which she was bound, and in which, as he noticed with a shudder, the wares displayed were chiefly surgical instruments. As he lifted his hat and turned away, he found his state of mind not at all in accordance with the serene calm of his destination. Everything Miss Keeling had said seemed to be rankling in his breast, and he anathematised her mentally as he walked. What business had the girl to say such things? Nay, rather, what did it signify if she did say them? Why in the world should it affect him? And yet, here he was wasting his time and spoiling his short leave at home by thinking about her. It was bad enough that they were doomed to be fellow-travellers all the way to Kubbet-ul-Haj, but at least he would dismiss her from his mind while he was in England; and by way of making a beginning he would burn that photograph which he had cherished so long.

The consciousness of this heroic resolution upheld him during the day, and when he returned home to dress for dinner his first action was to take the photograph out of the drawer of his desk in which it had been wont to repose ever since he had stolen it out of Mabel’s album. He held it in his hand with mingled feelings, remembering the time when he had lifted it out and looked at it reverentially every night, although of late years it had remained altogether undisturbed. Georgia appeared in it with short hair, which made her look like a very nice boy. Dick remembered that Mabel had come home from school one day in tears because, in the ardour of preparing for the London Matriculation, 17 Georgia had had all her hair cut off. He remembered also how he had begged, as urgently as he dared, for one of the severed locks, and how Georgia had refused it with disdain. In those days he was under the impression that it was rather pleasant than otherwise to be called “silly boy!” by Miss Keeling’s lips. What a young idiot he must have been! And what a senseless fool he was now, to be recalling the absurdities of those past years in this way! After all, he would not burn the photograph, lest he should forget what an ass he had once succeeded in making of himself. It should occupy its old place still, not for Miss Keeling’s sake, but for auld lang syne, and as a memento and a warning.

“Are you nearly ready, Dick?” said Mabel’s voice at his door. “The carriage has come round.”

Hastily thrusting the photograph back into the desk, Dick made his toilet at lightning speed and hurried down-stairs. Mabel was waiting in the drawing-room with an aggressive expression of resignation, and General North, whose gout kept him at home, was fretting and fuming over the tardiness of his nephew’s appearance.

“This is the way in which you young fellows make ducks and drakes of all your chances!” he remarked, irascibly. “Here you are appointed to this Mission, which is a piece of luck for which most men would give their ears, and you are late the first time you have to meet your chief. In my young days such behaviour would have lost you your post, but there’s nothing that can he called discipline now.”

“And how much happier the world is!” said Mabel, flippantly, stooping to arrange General North’s footstool more comfortably. “Now take care of yourself, uncle, and don’t think of waiting up for us. Come, Dick, we must really go.”

“I say,” said Dick, as he followed her into the carriage, 18 “I wish you would just cram me up a bit about this affair to-night. I know that we are to dine with the Egertons, and that the Kubbet-ul-Haj people will be there, but who the Egertons are, or why they should be mixed up with the Mission, I haven’t an idea.”

“Dick, if I had such a bad memory as you, I would—study somebody’s system of mnemonics, I think. I have mentioned the Egertons in my letters again and again. Don’t you remember that I pointed out Mrs Egerton to you at the hospital yesterday—a pretty, rather worn-looking woman, with a black lace dress and pink roses in her bonnet?”

“I apologise humbly for my forgetfulness. Forgive me, and instruct me.”

“Well, don’t you remember that just after you first went out, I told you that Cecil Anstruther, one of our girls at the South Central, had taken high honours in the London B.A., and we were all so proud of her? She went out to Baghdad as governess to the Pasha’s little boy, when Sir Dugald Haigh was Resident there. The Haighs were very kind to her, and she became engaged to Lady Haigh’s cousin, who was surgeon at the Residency. He got into trouble in some way with the Turkish Government, and had to be sent home, and I believe they were separated for a long time. But they were married at last, and came home and settled down. Dr Egerton has a large property in Homeshire, and sits in Parliament for the eastern division.”

“What, the member for Adullam?” cried Dick.

“Yes, that’s what they call him, because he is said to be always in a minority of one. You know how the name was fixed upon him? Of course he was often called by it in private conversation, but one day Sir James Morrell, who is rather absent-minded, had to answer one of 19 his questions in the absence of the Secretary for India, and in his flurry he alluded to ‘the honourable member for the Adullam division of Homeshire.’ The next week ‘Punch’ improved it into ‘the member for the Cave division of Adullamshire,’ and since then it has stuck. What do you know about Dr Egerton, Dick?”

“Merely that he is one of the faddists who pose as authorities on India and the East generally.”

“Ah, you should hear Sir Dugald Haigh on that point. His sneer is positively terrific. He can only comfort himself by remembering that here, as in other cases, the critics of the East are the men who have failed in the East.”

“Better that than never to have been there at all,” said Dick. “It has struck me more than once that there is a good deal of sense in some of Egerton’s crotchets, but he destroys the effect by his way of forcing them upon people. The things he says would put any one’s back up.”

“Yes, poor Cecil’s life is spent in explaining away his blunders and apologising for them. He could do nothing without her, for she is such a favourite that she can often manage to put things right when he has muddled them. Every one wonders that she doesn’t coach him beforehand, and teach him to avoid these dreadful faux pas; but I know that she does, and that he forgets all her advice as soon as he gets excited in debate.”

“But how is it that these people are mixed up with the Kubbet-ul-Haj affair?”

“They are great friends of the Haighs, of course, and besides, Cecil’s brother is going out as the junior member of the Mission. He is a most absurd boy—always going wild about something or other—and just now he is deeply in love with Rosaline Hervey, the beautiful girl 20 in the picture hat who was with Mrs Egerton yesterday. She is to be there to-night, and her sister, and old Mr and Mrs Anstruther, Mrs Egerton’s parents, who are anxious to see what Sir Dugald is like before confiding their boy to his care. Then there is Mr Stratford, a cousin of Dr Egerton’s and second in command of the Mission.”

“Yes, I know Stratford. We met in Kashmir one year, when he was taking his leave in India, and I saw him the other day at the Foreign Office. He is a good sort of chap.”

“You come next in rank, I suppose, and then there is the doctor.”

“Ladies first, please—or what doctor do you mean?”

“Dr Headlam, of course, the surgeon of the Mission.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon. I was afraid you meant Miss Keeling.”

“Oh no,” said Mabel, but her face wore a peculiar smile as she gathered her cloak around her preparatory to leaving the carriage. The reason for her unusual taciturnity became evident to Dick a little later, when he found that he was expected to take Miss Keeling in to dinner.

“You are old friends, I think,” said Mrs Egerton, pleasantly, and Dick perceived by her tone that she imagined she had done him a kindness in arranging her guests in this way. It was clear that she remembered the old days, even if Miss Keeling had forgotten them. But no, doubtless Mabel had given her the hint.

If Dick had only known it, Georgia was in a much softer mood to-night, for all day long her conscience had been pricking her for her share in the conversation of the morning. She was indignant with herself for the things she had said, and it did not render them more excusable in her estimation that pique at Dick’s attitude towards her was not by any means the sole motive that had actuated her in uttering 21 them. What in the world did it signify to her if the hero of the Khemistan Frontier chose to make himself look absurd in clothes which the idlest stay-at-home of a club-lounger could wear with far more pleasure to the beholder and satisfaction to himself? If the poor man thought that he looked well in them, why not leave him to enjoy his delusion, instead of rudely shattering his dream, and letting him know that his appearance, in the opinion of one person who knew him, verged on the ridiculous? Miss Keeling felt uncomfortably conscious that, after all, pique had had something to do with, at any rate, the terms of her remonstrance. She had even been led into vying with her opponent in cool rudeness, and for this she could not forgive herself. It was no excuse for her that she found most men so easy to get on with, when once they had laid aside the mock deference or the real antipathy with which they were wont to greet the lady doctor on their first introduction to her. She could not help knowing, for admiring female friends kept her informed of the fact, that it was the mingled graciousness and dignity of her manner which converted these adversaries and scoffers into firm allies and champions, and yet she had so far forgotten herself and her sense of what was becoming as to chaff Major North on his appearance, just as any ordinary fast girl might have done, and the fact humiliated her. A younger or less experienced woman, feeling as she did, would have precipitated matters by an apology, but Georgia was too wise to introduce any further complication into her difficulties. There could be no advantage in putting herself into North’s power in such a way, when it was undeniable that he had invited a snubbing by his perplexing conduct the day before. No, if he was to be won back to friendliness it must be by letting bygones be bygones, and accepting the situation as it presented itself.

22

Dinner was considerably delayed, owing to the fact that the Miss Herveys were late, and Georgia had some time in which to try her skill upon Dick. Her task was more difficult than she had anticipated, for he manifested an abiding resentment which irritated her as being quite out of proportion to the circumstances which had called it forth, and he answered her only in frigid monosyllables. Georgia talked on bravely, resolved not to appear to notice his lack of responsiveness, although she could not but feel slightly aggrieved by her failure to soften him. When Sir Dugald Haigh crossed the room to speak to Dick, and, with an apology to Georgia, carried him off to be introduced to Lady Haigh, she heaved a little sigh.

“He was such a nice boy!” she said to herself, “and I think he would be nice now, if he would only let his better side show. I like his face so much.” She glanced across the room at him, and marked appreciatively the thin brown face, on which the fair moustache looked almost white, the firm chin, the keen grey eyes, and the brow set in the habitual frown produced by the constant watching of distant objects under a burning sun. “He looks like a ‘man and a leader of men,’” she went on slowly, “but why should he behave in this way? It is so small, so petty, to keep up a grudge for so many years, and how could I have done anything but refuse him? It would have been absurd to do anything else, even if I had cared for him, and he was such a boy. He must be at least two years older than I am, but I always felt then that he was years younger. At any rate, he ought to be grateful to me, instead of sulking like this.”

At this moment a diversion was created by the entrance of the beautiful Miss Hervey, a vision of loveliness in rose-coloured silk; while behind her came her sister, a smaller, plainer, and, so to speak more shadowy, edition of herself. 23 Mabel gave Georgia a look which implied that the young lady was by no means averse to making herself the observed of all observers in this fashion, but if such was the case, her triumph was short, for every one resented the delay which had been caused by her non-appearance. The host marched up Dr Headlam and presented him to Miss Hervey, to the intense disgust of Fitz Anstruther, Mrs Egerton’s brother, who found himself put off with the younger sister instead of the lady he adored, and a move was made into the dining-room.

Dick North’s temper seemed to have improved in some measure since his conversation with Lady Haigh, and Georgia smiled inwardly over the change, gathering that a few kind things said by his chief’s wife would go far to soothe the ruffled suscepti­bilities of even so sensitive an individual, but she was not long in discovering that he had by no means forgiven herself. True, he was willing to talk, but with great persistence and considerable skill he kept the conversation directed to the ordinary trifles which form the staple subjects at most London dinner-tables. He might never have been further from Pall Mall than to Paris in his life, thought Georgia, with increasing irritation, while he was favouring her with his views on the Eton and Harrow match, and the iniquity of the vestries in taking up the principal thoroughfares in the height of the season. To add to her resentment, she saw, or believed she saw, that he was perfectly well aware of her eagerness to hear about his life in India and Khemistan, and that he was rejoicing in her unavailing disgust. Miss Hervey, his left-hand neighbour, claimed his attention at last, and Georgia found an attraction of greater power in the talk of Sir Dugald Haigh, a small, neutral-tinted man, with grey hair, grey eyes, grey moustache, and a greyish-brown skin, who was telling Mrs Egerton of various changes which had taken place in 24 Baghdad, whence he had lately returned, since the days of her residence there.

“I was not sorry to wash my hands of the place,” he said. “Very likely I belong to an old, worn-out school, and my ways are too rough and ready for the kid-glove methods of to-day. Our rule was always to ask only for what we meant to have, but never to recede from a demand once made. ‘Hold on like grim death,’ was our motto, and we followed it out. The method had this advantage, that every one knew we meant what we said. It’s a great thing not to be afraid of bringing on war if it’s necessary, but you are too squeamish for that nowadays.”

“Why, Sir Dugald,” said Mrs Egerton, laughing, “any one hearing you would think you were a perfect firebrand, and ferociously bloodthirsty, but I remember that when I was at Baghdad there was nothing you dreaded so much as the slightest complication. I believe you would have done anything, short of hauling down the flag, to avert a disturbance.”

“Don’t believe her, Miss Keeling,” said Sir Dugald. “Behind my back she will be telling you that I am a regular Jingo.”

“And besides,” said Mrs Egerton, “why you should talk as though you were a failure, I don’t know. You are trying to make Miss Keeling think that you have been ordered to Kubbet-ul-Haj as a punishment.”

“Not quite,” said Sir Dugald, his eyebrows twitching a little.

“No, indeed, when you know that you are looking forward confidently to a K.C.B. or a peerage when you come home.”

“No, Mrs Egerton, I must draw the line there. I confidently expect nothing but to be disowned by the Government and denounced by the papers. We are told by a high 25 authority that the inhabitants of these islands are mostly fools, as you know. That is my consolation.”

“Sir Dugald considers all mankind fools, Georgie,” remarked Mrs Egerton. “If they don’t agree with him, that stamps them at once, naturally; and if they do adopt his views, he feels sure that they must be fools to be so easily taken in.”

“You would not have ventured to say that in my presence at Baghdad,” said Sir Dugald, mournfully. “Miss Keeling, let me warn you in time. Don’t be tempted to presume upon my forbearance by the liberties this lady takes in her own house. I assure you that at Kubbet-ul-Haj you will find me a terrible martinet.”

“Oh, Sir Dugald, you are going to Ethiopia, aren’t you?” asked a new voice, that of the younger Miss Hervey, who had tired at length of her vain attempts to propitiate her sister’s sulky and disappointed lover.

“I believe so,” answered Sir Dugald, looking at his questioner in some surprise.

“Oh yes,” with a little gasp. “I thought I had heard Mr Anstruther say so, but he doesn’t seem to know very much about it. Where is Ethiopia, please?”

“Opinions differ on that point,” returned Sir Dugald, not unconscious of the listeners round the table, who were laughing inwardly at the temerity of the girl who thought she could get the Chief to talk “shop” to her. “Herodotus says it is in Africa, but Sir John Mandeville declares that he heard of it in Asia. We are going to see which is true.”

“Oh?” with a blank stare of surprise. “But why don’t you know?”

“I was not aware that I had said I did not know. The information is within the reach of any one possessed of an ordinary school atlas.”

26

“Oh, Sir Dugald, you say such funny things! But why are you going?”

“Because I am sent,” returned Sir Dugald, shortly, for he wished to return to his conversation with his hostess and Georgia. But the snub failed of its effect.

“Oh yes, of course. But what are you going to do there?”

With a sigh Sir Dugald resigned himself to answer the demands of this persistent young lady, and pushing his plate from him, arranged a plan with dessert forks and spoons.

“This space represents Ethiopia,” he said, “and this biscuit will show you roughly the position of Kubbet-ul-Haj, the capital. The country has been touched by European commerce only on its borders, but it contains vast grain-producing districts and enormous mineral wealth, which only needs being worked. Hence it offers a wide field for the employment of capital, as well as a practically untouched market for manufactured goods. For these reasons, and also on account of its situation, the great European powers all take a friendly interest in it, more especially Scythia and Neustria. Neustrian influence approaches it very closely on one side, and the Scythian sphere on another, but its eastern boundary is conterminous with our Khemistan Frontier, about which Major North or Miss Keeling could tell you a good deal more than I can. Unauthorised, or, at any rate, unrecognised and semi-private expeditions from all three countries have tried to reach Kubbet-ul-Haj, but have failed, and the King has always refused to receive a diplomatic mission, the object of which would be, of course, to conclude a commercial treaty. We have always contended that we had the best right to open up Ethiopia to European trade, and of course our being actually on the frontier gives us a start in the race. But just lately we gained a new advantage, for Rustam Khan, the King’s eldest son, who 27 had been sent to put down a rising among the tribes near our frontier, fell in with one of our surveying parties, and took a great fancy to the officers. The errand on which he had been sent was a kind of honourable banishment, for it seems that he and the Grand Vizier are always at daggers drawn, and that the King sympathises with the Vizier, but when he was summoned back to Court he must have managed to gain his father’s ear again, for friendly overtures were made by the King to the Khemistan authorities for the settlement of some trifling boundary dispute. Unofficial journeys were made to Kubbet-ul-Haj by two or three of our frontier officers, and the last brought back word that the King would be willing to receive a mission and to enter into an alliance. Negotiations have since taken place, and preliminaries been arranged, and our business now is to conclude the treaty embodying the various provisions which have practically been agreed to on both sides—in the rough, of course. And I really must apologise,” said Sir Dugald in conclusion, “for the way in which I have been boring every one, but it is Miss Hervey’s commendable desire for information that is to blame.”

“I didn’t know that you were acquainted with the Khemistan Frontier,” said Dick to Georgia, under cover of the buzz of conversation which succeeded to the enforced silence.

“Although my father lived and died there?” asked Georgia, with a little resentment in her tone.

“What a fool I am! To think that I should have forgotten, even for a moment, that General Keeling was your father! Why, it was that which originally drew me to the Warden of the Marches—I mean—er—” Dick stumbled and hurried on—“well, I have worshipped him ever since I first went out. He is our patron saint out there in Khemistan, you know?”

28

“I know,” said Georgia. “I found it so when I was there.”

“But have you been in Khemistan? How is it that we never met?”

“It was the year you were on leave, when you went round the world with your uncle and Mabel. I visited Khemistan to see whether there was any chance of my being able to complete my father’s work.”

“How was that?”

“It was his great desire that missionaries should come and settle among the people, but the Government thought it would be dangerous, and forbade them to establish themselves permanently on the frontier. My father and I always hoped that when I went out to keep house for him, I might be able to do something, just in the way of making a beginning—but as you know, he died before I left school.”

“I know that it was while I was still in India,” said Dick. “It was reading the accounts of his life and work which first led me to make interest to get myself transferred to the Khemistan Horse, so as to be stationed on that frontier. But did you succeed in your mission!”

“No; I travelled with a missionary and his wife who were itinerating through the country, but though the people were friendly, especially when they heard who I was, they did not care to listen to us, and the Government were still so hostile to the establishment of a station, that the society to which I had offered myself would not take up the work. Then I came home and studied medicine, hoping that I might eventually do something in that way. I believe that a Zenana Mission has just been set on foot in Bab-us-Sahel, on the coast, so that perhaps I shall be able to join it when we return from Ethiopia. I only accepted the post that the Government offered me in the expedition in the hope that some good might result from the journey.”

29

“As regards Khemistan?” asked Dick.

“Yes. It was my father’s country, and it is mine.”

“And so it is mine!” said Dick, involuntarily.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter II

skip to next chapter

Cecil Anstruther . . . had taken high honours in the London B.A., and . . . went out to Baghdad as governess to the Pasha’s little boy
[As related in His Excellency’s English Governess from 1896. The “London B.A. honours” part could also be applied to the author herself.]

and sits in Parliament for the eastern division
[Just a few days ago I looked up this point in connection with another book of similar vintage. To this day, M.P.s are not required to live in their constituencies—or even, come to that, in Britain. If the voters choose to elect someone who has never set foot in their county, that is their lookout.]

just now he is deeply in love with Rosaline Hervey
[“Rosaline”, har de har har.]

We are told by a high authority that the inhabitants of these islands are mostly fools
[Carlyle, I believe.]

Kubbet-ul-Haj, the capital
[No such place, of course.]

its eastern boundary is conterminous with our Khemistan Frontier
[I am morally certain “Khemistan” is not Somalia.]

it was that which originally drew me to the Warden of the Marches
[Another of our author’s previous books.]

a missionary and his wife who were itinerating through the country
[Did they pass the time by conversating? The Oxford English dictionary tells me, heart­breakingly, that the verb “itinerate” is attested as far back as the early 17th century. It even has a secon­dary meaning, specifically to travel around preaching, dating back to the late 18th century.]

CHAPTER III.
FELLOW-TRAVELLERS.

Dick went home that night in a highly unsettled state of mind. He was cherishing a vague and unreasonable feeling of resentment against his own absence from Khemistan during Georgia’s visit to the province. It would have been very pleasant to come upon that missionary camp during his own hurried expeditions from point to point in the unquiet district for which he was responsible; pleasant also to watch Miss Keeling in her dealings with the people, among whom her father’s name was a synonym for all that was just and honourable. Perhaps, if he had met her again at that time, before she had been spoilt by her medical training, things might have fallen out differently for both of them. He might even——

But this was a forbidden subject. What were such speculations to him? Long ago Miss Keeling had refused plainly enough to have anything to do with him, and now he had ceased to wish to have anything to do with her. He was a fool to be thinking so much about her, he told himself angrily. Desiring to divert his mind from such an unprofitable theme, he turned to Mabel, and inquired whether she had noticed his capture by Mrs Egerton’s stepmother. In the course of the evening, 30 Mrs Anstruther, a cheerful, sprightly Irish lady, had manœuvred him into a corner, and then and there seized the opportunity of commending her boy solemnly to his care, having already intrusted the same precious charge to Lady Haigh and Georgia, Sir Dugald, Mr Stratford, and the doctor. Knowing this, Dick had tried to comfort her with the assurance that if a multiplicity of guardians could keep Fitz out of mischief, his safety ought to be secured.

“And that’s not all,” responded Mrs Anstruther, brightly, accepting the consolation at once, and looking across the room to the opposite corner, in which Miss Hervey’s fan was obviously shielding two faces, “for the dear boy is very old for his age. Sure an attachment to a good girl is one of the best safeguards a young man can have, and Fitz has that.”

As in duty bound, Dick applauded this sentiment, while venturing to suggest a doubt as to the permanency of such early attachments, especially in cases in which the lady’s age exceeded that of the gentleman by some five years; but Mrs Anstruther was rendered indignant by what she chose to consider as an implied aspersion on her son’s character, and retorted hotly that she hadn’t a doubt Fitz would come back from Kubbet-ul-Haj as deeply in love as ever, and she was thankful Lady Haigh and Miss Keeling were going to accompany the Mission. Women respected deep feelings of this kind, instead of sneering or joking about them, like men.

“And, of course you told her that your own experience had convinced you of the truth of that?” asked Mabel.

“Certainly not,” returned Dick, with dignity. “I merely said that I thought it depended a good deal on the woman.”

31

Mabel laughed with great enjoyment. “Guess where Georgie and I are going to-morrow morning?” she said.

“To your dressmaker’s, or to some sale.”

“Not a bit of it. We are going to a shooting-gallery, to try a little revolver-practice. Now, don’t look disgusted, because you know you would give anything to go with us. If you had behaved sensibly I would take you, but you have been so horrid to Georgie that I shan’t.”

“A nice sort of revolver Miss Keeling will get hold of, with no one to help her choose it!” said Dick, evading the question.

“She has got a beauty, which Sir Dugald chose for her, and Lady Haigh has one exactly like it,” said Mabel, triumphantly.

“But why doesn’t she wait to practise with it until we are at sea? It gives one something to do on board ship.”

“Oh, I daresay she will go on practising then, but she means to get over the first difficulties now. And besides, I want to see whether it’s really true that you can’t fire without shutting your eyes at the beginning. But, at any rate, I thought you and Mr Stratford were going to travel by the overland route, so that you will lose a good bit of the voyage?”

“That is something to be thankful for, in any case. I should say that the members of the Mission will not be exactly a happy family.”

“Well, if they aren’t, I shall know where to look for the disturbing element. By the bye, I ought not to have told you yesterday that Georgie would marry no one but the surgeon of some big hospital. I heard her say to-day that she respected a man for himself, and not for his profession, or something of that sort.”

“Highly interesting, no doubt, and creditable to Miss 32 Keeling’s breadth of mind, but I don’t quite see what the information has to do with me.”

“Nor do I at the present moment. It is merely one of those valuable bits of knowledge which every one ought to treasure up, because they are sure to come in useful some day. How do I know that some time or other you will not thank me with tears in your eyes for just those few words?”

This was the last conversation that Mabel held with Dick on the subject of Miss Keeling before his departure, for she was a discerning young woman, and felt satisfied to leave to time the further growth and development of the seeds she had sown. Moreover, there was little further opportunity for initiating the elaborate preliminaries necessary to lead up to the discussion of a subject on which Dick was resolved not to enter; for the larger division of the Kubbet-ul-Haj party, consisting of Sir Dugald and Lady Haigh, Georgia, Dr Headlam, and Fitz Anstruther, left England in the course of the next week, while only three days later Dick and Mr Stratford started on their journey across Europe to the southern port at which they were to meet the ship.

As travelling companions the two suited one another admirably. They had the wholesome respect for each other’s powers which a month of successful big game shooting together in rough country is wont to engender, and they differed sufficiently in character to give their intercourse a spice of variety. Mr Stratford was a man after Sir Dugald Haigh’s own heart. He had risen rapidly in the Diplomatic Service, until, at the time when the idea of a Mission to Ethiopia was first mooted, he held a responsible position in the British Embassy at Czarigrad. It showed the importance attached to this Mission by the Government, that a man of his standing had been appointed to 33 accompany it, but Sir Dugald, who had made his acquaintance in the East, had requested that he should be chosen. He was an excellent linguist, with all his chief’s powers of diplomacy, but with far more talent for society than Sir Dugald possessed, and with a capacity for self-effacement which seemed to Dick sometimes to amount almost to a double personality. His wild, open-air life among a wild people had not tended to teach Dick to conceal his thoughts, but he had succeeded well enough among his unruly frontiersmen, who felt greater respect for the long arm which could deal a distant and unexpected blow than for a tongue distilling all the wisdom of the ages.

It was when he was brought into contact with the more sophisticated townsmen, or with the weaker and craftier races of India, that Dick felt himself at a loss; and he observed, with vain intentions of emulating it, the way in which his friend would apparently give himself up altogether to the trivial business or wearisome pleasure of the hour without once forgetting the object he had in view. That he had never lost sight of his aim was proved by his sudden descent, just at the right moment, upon his opponents, who thought they had thrown him off his guard, but found that they were altogether mistaken. By his superiors at the Foreign Office, Mr Stratford was regarded as a thoroughly dependable man who was always to be trusted to tackle any parti­cularly nasty piece of business, while by his contemporaries and subordinates he was abhorred as a fellow who seldom took his leave unless he saw the chance of employing it in some sort of work likely to bear upon his official duties, and whose proceedings disposed the authorities to expect far too much from other people. He was bound to be ambassador some day, they supposed, but he might allow those who did not aim so high to have the chance of a quiet life.

34

Dick was among the few men who knew the story that lay in the background of Mr Stratford’s life. On one occasion, when they were hunting together in Kashmir, Stratford was severely wounded by a bear, and Dick, while bandaging his friend’s left arm, discovered that under the signet he wore on his little finger, and almost concealed by it, was a wedding-ring. He learnt the story which attached to it somewhat later. Years ago, Mr Stratford had been engaged to the daughter of one of the foreign represen­tatives at Eusebia, where he held a post in the British Legation, and all things seemed to combine to promise him happiness. But only three days before the time appointed for the wedding, the bride fell ill, and there was terror and panic in the city when the news crept about that her malady was the plague. She died on the day on which she was to have been married, and this was the end of Mr Stratford’s dream of bliss, of which there remained now only the unused wedding-ring. Dick could still recall the even voice in which he had told his tale as the two men sat by their camp-fire with the darkness of the forest around them. He heard only the bare facts, and he felt that these were merely told him to account for the presence of the ring. They were related without a sign of emotion, without a single expression of regret or of self-pity; but the story unveiled to Dick the tragedy which was hidden behind his friend’s prosperous life. Neither of them had ever referred again to that night’s confidences; but Dick felt grateful that the mask had once been lifted for his benefit. Henceforward, no one could allude to Stratford in his presence as a fellow without a heart, or hint that he was a diplomatist rather than a man, without his taking up the cudgels hotly for the absent one.

The journey across Europe was performed without delay or other mishap, and, after a few hours’ waiting at the port 35 Stratford and Dick were able to board their vessel. The first member of their own party that they met was the doctor, who gave them a hearty welcome, and proceeded to pour his own woes into their sympathetic ears. The ship had met with fearful weather in the Bay, and, if he had known what a time was before him, he would have gone overland with them.

“But you must have found it all right since you passed the Rock?” said Dick.

“Oh yes, it has been endurable. The Chief and I have been cramming Ethiopian with the interpreter, Kustendjian—a very clever fellow. We shall have the start of you there. We shall be swimming along gaily in the reading-book while you two are floundering through your alphabet. To hear that Armenian chap deferentially commending Sir Dugald for his progress is a joke! He’s a thorough courtier, and wouldn’t let your humble servant get ahead of the Chief on any account.”

“It shows Sir Dugald’s pluck that he has begun a new language at all at his age,” said Stratford. “Most men would have left everything to Kustendjian, and thrown the blame on him if things went wrong.”

“Oh, we all know that you will back up the Chief on every possible occasion,” said the doctor, irreverently. “He ought to be thankful that he has such a faithful trumpeter at hand to act as his understudy in case of need. But you mark my words, if ever I have to put the Chief on the sick-list, North and I will give you a jolly time!”

“Regularly beastly!” agreed Dick. “But you seem to have been badly off for occupation if you took to studying Ethiopian. Was there absolutely nothing to do?”

“Not much, except to watch the love affair.”

“What love affair?”

“It’s the greatest joke in the world! You remember 36 that young idiot Anstruther, how he carried on with Miss Hervey at the Egertons’ dinner-party? Well, he saw fit to be thrown out of his berth in the gale that caught us in the Bay—got his wrist sprained and his thumb crushed, or something of the sort. The surgeon on board here and I were at our wits’ end with all the ladies who knew they were dying and insisted on the doctor’s attending them at once, besides the other knocks and injuries that really needed looking after, so we were thankful when Miss Keeling volunteered her aid. She wasn’t ill, while it was as much as I could do to stagger feebly about, holding on to things, and we thought it would be an excellent thing to hand the ladies over to her care—just temporarily, of course. But the ladies, to a woman, refused to have anything to do with her, except Lady Haigh, who wasn’t ill, and we were actually obliged to give her the surgical work, for the men who had got knocked about were too anxious to be looked after to care who did it. You needn’t put on that face”—catching sight of Dick’s look of disgust—“she did it as well as I could have done it myself. But we hadn’t bargained for the effect of her ministrations on the susceptible heart of young Anstruther. He was winged at the first shot, and the next day’s dressing of his hand finished him. Since he has been able to crawl on deck, he has done nothing but follow Miss Keeling about, and when she sits down he sits down too, and looks at her.”

“Young fool,” laughed Stratford. “How lively for Miss Keeling! But what about the other girl?”

“Miss Hervey? Oh, I taxed him with her one day, and he had his answer all ready. He compared himself to Romeo, and one or two other old Johnnies of that sort, and felt that he had quite justified his conduct.”

A shout of laughter followed, in which Dick joined, notwith­standing his disgust. It was not quite clear, even 37 to himself, why he should object so strongly to young Anstruther’s behaviour, but he recognised that he resented it very vigorously. Georgia was nothing to him, of course; but—well, a man who had gone through it all before was sorry to see another young beggar making an ass of himself. He did not know whether to be more angry with the youth for his foolishness, or with Miss Keeling for tolerating it. She did not welcome her youthful adorer’s attentions—he was obliged to confess this when he saw her treatment of him; but why should she allow them to continue when a word to Sir Dugald would have rid her of them? And the boy was really painfully absurd, whether he was taking immediate possession of any empty chair within a radius of a dozen yards from Miss Keeling, or scowling at those who did not give him a chance of getting nearer. Georgia was a favourite on board—there was no denying it. The younger men, with the conspicuous exception of Fitz, looked askance at her, certainly, and avoided her neighbourhood, muttering something about the New Woman; but the elders declared her unanimously to be the most sensible girl on board. “A woman who knows any amount, and never parades it, but is always ready to learn from other people, and doesn’t want to talk dress or scandal, is refreshing to meet,” they said, not troubling themselves to remember that they would have fought their hardest to repress in their own daughters any approach to Georgia’s particular tastes.

To his own sore discomfort of mind, Dick surprised the same inconsistency in himself. It was one of his favourite theories that women who aped men (the term was a comprehensive one, and covered a good many things, from studying art to riding a bicycle), lost by such a course of action any right to help or special courtesy from men. And yet he found himself watching jealously for any chance of moving 38 Miss Keeling’s deck-chair for her, or fetching her a book from the library, without even waiting to be asked. It gave him a curious feeling of gratification to catch the look of pleased surprise on her face, and to receive words of thanks from her lips—to know, in short, that he had made her indebted to him, and that she liked it. Moreover, in spite of his former unhappy experience, he seized every opportunity of conversation with her, and engaged her in endless arguments on the Woman Question—a species of mental activity which Georgia hated at all times, and which was parti­cularly distasteful to her in this case, since only the very surface of the subject could of necessity be touched.

“It is really too bad of Major North to go on teasing Miss Keeling in this way,” said Lady Haigh to Mr Stratford one evening; “and if he only knew it, it is so silly of him, too. Georgia has had plenty of practice in arguments of this kind, for every man she meets begins his acquaintance with her by trying to convert her. She has her most telling pieces of evidence all marshalled ready for use, while Major North has nothing but a few prejudices to support him. The other men all give it up, sooner or later, and decide to accept things as they are, and be thankful, and why doesn’t he?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Stratford. “Perhaps his obstinacy is stronger than theirs, or he thinks he has a right to carry matters further—as a family friend of Miss Keeling’s.”

“As if that would have any influence over her!” said Lady Haigh, scornfully. “Now, I ask you, is it likely that after going through her training as creditably as she has done, she would ever allow herself to be convinced that it had been impossible or improper for her to study medicine? And if she was convinced, do you think any woman worthy of the name would ever allow him to see it?”

39

“I should think it extremely improbable. But according to North himself, his intention is purely philanthropic. He told me yesterday that he considered it only charity to talk to Miss Keeling as often as he possibly could, in order to protect her from that terrible youngster.”

Lady Haigh went off into a fit of subdued laughter, which would have astonished and wounded Dick if he had known its cause, for he believed honestly in the explanation of his conduct which he had offered, quite unasked, to Stratford. If it did give him a thrill of pleasure when Miss Keeling’s dark eyes were raised to his face, in inquiry or in indignant protest, or even in mirthful contradiction, it was merely because his chivalry was receiving an incidental and wholly unlooked-for reward. He was only doing his duty in protecting a lady of his acquaintance against a youth who had shown himself disposed to take an undue advantage either of her kindness or her thought­lessness. It did not strike him that Miss Keeling might be quite able to take care of herself under the circumstances, much less that she might prefer to do so; but Fitz Anstruther was made aware of the fact before the voyage concluded.

“At last!” he exclaimed, one evening, with a sigh of satisfaction, as he annexed the chair which Dick had just vacated. “I do believe that conceited beast North thinks you like to hear him everlastingly prosing away, Miss Keeling.”

“People are often blind to one’s real feelings in their presence,” said Georgia; but the double meaning went unperceived.

“Yes; but he might have had a little pity for me,” said Fitz, complacently, for he had an artless habit of exhibiting to the public gaze any sentiments, such as most people prefer to keep concealed in their own bosoms, that he considered did him credit. “Every one on board must know by this time that I am awfully gone on you.”

40

“Mr Anstruther!”

“Oh, I mean, of course, that I have admired you awfully ever since I first knew you. A fellow expects a little consideration to be shown him when he is in l—I mean—don’t you know?”

“How long have you known me, by the bye?” inquired Georgia.

“Oh, all this voyage. It’s been abominably long, don’t you think? But I don’t mean that, you know; it’s been jolly.”

“Yes; it is really a long time,” pursued Georgia, meditatively. “It is all but a fortnight, isn’t it?”

“A fortnight is as long as a year sometimes,” said Fitz. “I mean, as good,” he added, hurriedly.

“Yes; only a fortnight ago you were saying all this to Miss Hervey,” was the unexpected response.

“Oh, I say now, Miss Keeling, that’s a hit hard on a man,” cried Fitz, much wounded.

“A man?” said Georgia, inquiringly; and the youth writhed.

“Of course I was awfully gone on Miss Hervey before we started,” he said, sulkily; “but it was only because she was so pretty, and she doesn’t care for me a scrap. She told me so lots of times.”

“Is that intended as an excuse for the way in which you have been behaving lately?” asked Georgia; “because I don’t quite see the connection. Allow me to tell you, Mr Anstruther, that you have been doing your best to make both yourself and me supremely ridiculous. I can’t interfere with you if your ambition is to make every one laugh at you, though I may regret it for you own sake; but I object very strongly to your trying to render me absurd.”

“Mayn’t a—a fellow change his mind?” Fitz wished to know, in an injured tone. “If I am in love I’m not ashamed of it.”

41

“I hoped that your own good feeling would have led you to see by this time how foolish you have been,” said Georgia, coldly. “I could have freed myself in a moment from the annoyance you have caused me by a word to Sir Dugald”—Fitz’s face fell suddenly—“but I was sorry to lower his opinion of you at the very beginning of your work with him. Your sister is a great friend of mine, and I hoped you might he sufficiently like her not to resent advice which was offered for your good.”

“I’m awfully obliged to you for not complaining to Sir Dugald about me,” returned the culprit, with some reluctance. “I didn’t mean to behave like a cad to you, Miss Keeling, nor to make you look ridiculous. I’ll try not to bother you any more, if you really don’t like it. Only mayn’t I speak to you sometimes? It will be rather dull if I am not to say a word all the way to Kubbet-ul-Haj.”

“I am quite serious,” said Georgia, rather sharply.

“So am I, Miss Keeling, I do assure you—tremendously serious. It is a serious thing when a fellow finds himself brought up in mid-career in this way. I only want to have my orders given me. I like to be definite. We may be friends still, I hope?”

“I see that I need not have taken so much trouble to spare your feelings,” said Georgia. “If I had ever imagined, Mr Anstruther, that your conduct sprang simply from a desire to make me a laughing-stock on board, I should not have felt inclined to waste any consideration on you.”

“Oh, Miss Keeling, you are making a mistake—on my word and honour you are!” cried the youth, earnestly. “What a beast you must think me! I know I am bad enough; but it’s not quite that. I do admire you tremendously, and so I did Miss Hervey. It’s a way I have. I don’t mean any harm; but I do delight in being rotted about it by other chaps. They are all so dreadfully afraid 42 of being suspected to be the least bit in love, that it’s a great temptation to show them how well one can go through with it.”

“Then try to conquer the temptation,” said Georgia, promptly, although she found her fan useful to conceal a smile. “You are far too young to think of being in love yet. What you call love is merely a momentary enthusiasm. Why not wax enthusiastic over some cause, for a change, or even some man—Sir Dugald, for instance?”

“I did think a lot about him at first, but he snubbed me in such a horribly cold-blooded way,” was the reply.

“Take my advice, and think all the more of him for that. You will be thankful for it yet. And perhaps you may be thankful some day for what I have said to you to-night. My lecture was not received quite in the spirit I had anticipated, but I think you must see that the form which your enthusiasms took was not calculated to do any good to any one, and might have done harm. Happily Miss Hervey and I are both a good many years older than you are, but a young girl might have thought you were sincere, and have suffered terribly when she was undeceived.”

“It is so hard to be always thinking of what might be the consequences of everything!” lamented Fitz.

“It would be harder to have to take the consequences after refusing to think of them. You will marry some day, I hope, and would you feel you were acting fairly towards your wife if you had frittered away beforehand all the affection and devotion which were her right? Keep yourself for her.”

“Thanks awfully, Miss Keeling, for saying that. No one ever spoke to me in this way before. You will let me be friends with you, won’t you? I should like you to advise me always.”

43

“I can promise you more advice than you will ever think is needed. In a few years,” said Georgia, with some bitterness, “you will hate the very sight of me, because of what I have said to you to-night.”

“If I was ever such a beastly cad, I hope I should be punished as I deserved!” said Fitz, fervently.

“It is only the way of the world—of men, at any rate,” returned Georgia, as lightly as she could; but when she was alone a little later, her mind recurred to the subject, and found no mirth in it.

“It is Major North’s way too,” she said to herself. “How he would have sneered if he had heard me to-night! I might be that boy’s grandmother, from the way he accepts my scoldings.”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter III

skip to next chapter

Dick was among the few men who knew the story that lay in the background of Mr Stratford’s life.
[I’m tired of looking things up, so let us stipulate that this, too, is the plot of an earlier novel by Sydney Grier.]

The Chief and I have been cramming Ethiopian with the inter­preter, Kustendjian
[Does “Ethiopian” mean Amharic? Does the author know? Does she care? She definitely never bothers to explain why the English-Ethiopian interpreter is, of all things, Armenian. Incidentally, she seems to have made up his name, using the tried-and-true system of “string together a few phonetically plausible syllables and stick an -ian at the end”.]

the next day’s dressing of his hand finished him.
[Thereby providing the entire plot of Doctor Zay.]

CHAPTER IV.
AGAINST HIS WILL.

“I beg your pardon for disturbing you, but I think you must belong to the British Mission to Ethiopia?”

The speaker was a hot and dusty lady, mounted on a sorry pony, who had halted in front of the hotel at Bab-us-Sahel, the port of Khemistan, in which Sir Dugald Haigh’s party were quartered. Dick North, who had been reclining in a cane chair on the verandah, with a cigar and a wonderfully printed local paper, jumped up when he heard the voice.

“I am a member of the Mission,” he answered. “Can I do anything for you? I am sorry that Sir Dugald Haigh is out, but perhaps you would prefer to wait for him? Won’t you come in out of the sun?”

44

“Thanks,” said the lady, dismounting nimbly before he could reach her, and giving the bridle to a youthful native groom who had accompanied her, “but I need not trouble Sir Dugald Haigh. Please tell me whether it is true that there is a lady doctor in your party?”

“Yes. Miss Keeling is her name.”

The lady uttered an exclamation of delight.

“Oh, that is just splendid! I must see her at once, please. My name is Guest; she will remember me if you tell her that Nurse Laura is here. I was a probationer at the Women’s Hospital when she was house-surgeon there, and we knew each other well. Please ask her to see me at once: it is a matter of life and death.”

Drawing forward a chair for the lady, Dick departed on his errand, and returned presently with Georgia, who had been resting in her room after a long ride in the morning. Miss Guest jumped up to meet her.

“Oh, Miss Keeling, it is such a relief to find you here! I want you to come with me at once, to see a poor woman who is most dangerously ill. I will tell you about it while you get your things together. There is not a moment to lose.”

The two ladies vanished round the corner of the verandah, and returned in a few minutes, Georgia wearing her riding-habit and carrying a professional-looking black bag.

“Would you be so kind as to tell them to put my saddle on a fresh horse for me, Major North?” she said, briskly. “I am afraid we are losing time.”

“What is it you are proposing to do?” asked Dick, after calling one of the native servants and giving him the order.

“Miss Keeling is going to ride out with me to our summer station,” explained Miss Guest, volubly. “Missionaries are not permitted to reside in Khemistan except in Bab-us-Sahel itself, you know, but the Government 45 allows us to rent a small house in a village five miles off for the hot weather. This poor young woman is the wife of one of our native converts there, the son of the principal landowner.”

“But do you mean that Miss Keeling is to ride five miles in this heat, when she is tired already?” demanded Dick. “It is preposterous!”

“I should not think of asking her to do it if it was not so important,” said Miss Guest. “You see, I have ridden all the way in, and I am going out again with her.”

“You will be down with sunstroke to-morrow,” said Dick to Georgia. “Wait until it is a little cooler, and I will hunt up some sort of cart and drive you out.”

“We can’t afford the time,” said Georgia.

“No, indeed,” said Miss Guest; “I scarcely dared to come away myself. Happily, I was able to leave dear Miss Jenkins with the poor woman. She has such wonderful nerve! I believe she would have attempted the operation herself if only we had had the proper appliances.”

“It is a very good thing you had not,” murmured Georgia, grimly.

Dick glanced at her, hoping that she was giving way.

“Headlam will be back in another half-hour,” he said. “He has had plenty of experience, and he will be delighted to go out and see the woman.”

“Oh, but you don’t know Khemistan,” said Miss Guest, quickly. “Surely you must have forgotten that a gentleman would never be admitted into the women’s apartments.”

“I thought you said the people were Christians?” said Dick, taken aback.

“The husband is, but the wife has not been baptised, and is still in her father-in-law’s house. They are most bigoted people, and regard this as a kind of test case. Every one has been dinning into the poor young man’s ears 46 that his wife’s illness is a judgment upon him for becoming a Christian, and his faith is beginning to waver. ‘What can these Christians and their Christ do for you?’ they ask him. He is terribly tried, and though Miss Jenkins and I have done everything we could think of for the poor girl, it was no good. Then we heard of the arrival of the Mission, and it suddenly flashed into my mind that I had seen something in a paper from home about a lady doctor who was to accompany it, and I rode over here at once, and found Miss Keeling, of all people. It was a real answer to prayer,” and Miss Guest’s voice faltered, and the tears rose in her eyes.

“Oh, when are they going to bring that horse?” said Georgia, impatiently.

“I hear it coming now,” said Dick. “But let me drive you over, Miss Keeling; it won’t be so fatiguing for you, and I am sure I can borrow a cart from some one very soon.”

“I can’t lose another minute,” said Georgia. “No, thank you, Major North, we must not wait.”

“But just tell me when you are likely to be ready, that we may send a carriage to fetch you.”

“I can’t tell. These cases vary so much. I shall probably be obliged to remain at the village all night.”

“But this is absurd! You are throwing away your health. What does this woman signify to you?”

“It is my professional duty to attend any one who summons me,” said Georgia, giving him an indignant glance; “even if there were no special reasons connected with this case.”

“Well, if you will do these ridiculous things, I can’t help it!” said Dick, angrily. “I suppose you will have your own way.”

“I think it extremely probable that I shall,” retorted 47 Georgia. “No, thank you, I won’t trouble you—I can mount alone.”

woman in pith helmet carrying medical bag preparing to mount

“It is my professional duty to attend any one who summons me,” said Georgia, giving him an indignant glance.

With an intensity that would have seemed laughable to himself under any other circumstances, Dick longed that she might find the feat impracticable; but she beckoned to the groom to bring the horse to the verandah steps, and, mounting with great agility, rode away with Miss Guest, who had been staring with round eyes at the “horrid sneering officer,” as, after this day’s experience, she persisted in denominating Dick.

As for Dick himself, he shrugged his shoulders as he looked after the two ladies, and went away to Stratford’s room to relieve his mind. Stratford, who was lying on his bed reading, looked up in surprise as he entered.

“I thought I had left you comfortably established on the verandah?” he remarked.

“I was driven away by an invasion of the Amazons,” said Dick, gloomily, taking a seat on the table, where he smoked in silence for a few minutes. “If there is one kind of creature I bar and detest above all others”—he burst out suddenly—“it’s the New Woman!”

“Have you met one?” inquired Stratford, with deep interest. “I always thought it was a case of ‘much oftener prated of than seen?’”

“There’s no need to go about looking for specimens,” returned Dick. “We’ve got one with us, worse luck!”

“You have been getting the worst of it in an argument again, haven’t you?” asked Stratford, genially.

“What in the world has that to do with it? I don’t want any of your chaff. It ought to be made penal for any woman to enter any trade or profession practised by men.”

“Good gracious! would you add the attraction of forbidden fruit? Still, I don’t say that your plan isn’t worth 48 considering. The penalty would be death, I suppose, and it might redress the inequality of the sexes a little.”

“Oh, hang it all, Stratford!” cried Dick, flinging away his cigar, “I’m serious. It makes me perfectly sick to see these women parading their independence of men, and glorying in what they know, and ought never to have learnt. It’s bad enough when they are strangers, and you don’t care a scrap about them, but when it comes to a girl you’ve known——”

“Better not go on, old man,” said Stratford. “You may say more than you mean, and be sorry for it when you are cooler.”

“I can’t help it. I know I’m safe with you. Now I put it to you: can a man be cool when he sees a girl he knew years ago—his sister’s friend—turning into one of these unsexed women, of whom the less that is said the better? One would rather see her in her grave!”

“You are a little out of sorts,” said Stratford, with imperturbable calmness, “and you are making mountains out of molehills. I won’t pretend not to know what you are driving at, but I do say that I think you are using most unwarrantable language—— Hullo! who’s there? Come in.”

This was in answer to a knock at the door, which opened immediately, and admitted Fitz Anstruther. The young fellow’s hands were clenched and his face flushed, and it was apparent to the two men that he was hard put to it to restrain an outburst of furious passion.

“I wasn’t listening,” he said, hastily, “but I couldn’t help hearing what you were saying. These beastly rooms——” He broke off suddenly, and his hearers, perceiving that the side walls only reached within some six feet of the roof, realised that their conversation must have been audible to any of their neighbours on either side who chanced to be in their rooms. “But that’s neither here nor 49 there,” he went on. “I heard you blackguarding Miss Keeling’s name in the most shameful way, and I am not going to listen to it.”

“I was not aware that we had mentioned the name of any lady,” said Stratford. Fitz was taken aback for a moment, but recovered himself speedily.

“It wasn’t you, it was Major North,” he said, glaring at Dick. “He mentioned no names, but if he can assure me he wasn’t speaking of Miss Keeling, I’ll apologise at once. You see? I knew he could not do it. Now look here, Major North—you are my superior, and I know you can ruin me if you like, but I won’t hear Miss Keeling spoken of in that way.”

“Your hearing what you did was quite your own affair,” said Dick, coolly. He had an enormous advantage over Fitz, for the sudden attack had restored him to his usual calmness, but the boy did not flinch.

“I know, but I can’t help that. You may be sure I wouldn’t have listened to it of my own accord, but when you talked as you did, it naturally forced itself on my hearing, and a nice hearing it was! Miss Keeling has no one here to look after her, and if you are cad enough to take advantage of that, I’ll do what I can. If you dare to say that she isn’t every bit as good and as gentle as your own sister, I tell you to your face you’re a liar.”

“Anstruther!” cried Stratford, sitting up suddenly, “do you know what you are saying? For your own sake and the lady’s be quiet.”

“I can’t help it,” repeated Fitz. “Miss Keeling has been awfully kind to me, and I’m not going to hear her insulted. You can do what you like, Major North. If you want to fight, I’m ready.”

“Young idiot! who wants to fight you?” growled Dick, lounging to the door with his hands in his pockets. “I 50 didn’t know you were going to hold a levée, Stratford. I think I’ll leave you to train the young idea for a little.”

“You haven’t answered me,” said Fitz, doggedly, barring his passage; but Stratford interposed again.

“Have the goodness to sit down on that chair, young Anstruther. I want a straight talk with you.” The boy obeyed sullenly, and Stratford went on. “As you are in my department, I suppose it falls to me to ask you, now that North is gone, whether you think you have done a very fine thing?”

“I don’t think about it at all,” was the uncompromising response, “but I know I should have been a cad not to have done it.”

“Let us just consider what it is you have done,” said Stratford. “You hear North and myself engaged in private conversation, and you thrust yourself into it uninvited.”

“If it had been private I shouldn’t have heard it,” retorted Fitz.

“Well, it was intended to be private, at any rate. Couldn’t you have gone away, or have let us know that you were listening?”

“That’s what I would have done, certainly, if it hadn’t been for what North said. I couldn’t stand that.”

“No! and you felt bound to come in and tell us so. Now, Anstruther, I am going to speak to you as a friend. When you are a little older, you will know that men of the world—gentlemen—are not in the habit of bringing the names of ladies into a discussion. If they differ in opinion on some subject of this kind, they contrive to quarrel ostensibly about something else.”

“And you would have me let Major North say the vile things he was doing about Miss Keeling for all the hotel to hear, and yet pretend to take no notice?”

“Allow me to remind you that North mentioned no 51 names. Any listener could only at best have made a guess at the identity of the lady in question, until you came in and published her name.”

Fitz’s face was turning a dull red, and he said nothing. Stratford saw his advantage, and followed it up.

“You ought to be very thankful that there are so few people about just at this time. If the place had been full, you might have done terrible harm. It would have been quite possible to remonstrate with North on general grounds, if you felt called upon to do it, without mentioning any names or calling anybody a liar, but to march in and identify a particular lady as the one of whom these things had been said, was unpardonable. So was the way in which you did it. Of course, I don’t know what your ideas as to duty and discipline may be, but it does not seem to me your business to reprove North at all.”

“I wouldn’t have done it, except in this case,” said Fitz, eagerly. “I know he has led a rough life, and I can put up with a good deal from him, but when it comes to behaving like a cad to a lady, I had to speak.”

“And who gave you the right to make excuses for your superiors, or to bring accusations against them?” demanded Stratford, in a tone which made the youthful censor shake in his shoes. “I think you have forgotten the position North holds, and the way in which he gained it. Any man in Khemistan would laugh at you if you told him that Dick North had been rude to a lady. He is one of the most chivalrous fellows that ever breathed. You may not know that when Fort Rahmat-Ullah was relieved, and the non-combatants conducted back into safety, North gave up his horse to a Eurasian’s clerk’s wife who had a sick child, and walked all the way himself.”

“I can’t make it out,” said Fitz, hopelessly.

“You see that it doesn’t do to judge a man merely on 52 the strength of a momentary impression, then? Well, I will tell you in confidence what really happened this afternoon. It was this very chivalry of North’s which got him into trouble. You know that the lady of whom mention has unfortunately been made is very independent, and I gather that she persisted in refusing all North’s offers of help in some business or other. That hurt his feelings, and he came to my room to have his growl in peace, with the result you know. I don’t say he was right, but I do say you were wrong.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” said Fitz. “I will apologise, Mr Stratford, if you say I ought.”

“I don’t think it is advisable to make more of the matter. I will undertake to convey your sentiments to North, if you like.”

“Thank you; and perhaps I had better apologise to Miss Keeling too?”

“No!” Stratford almost shouted. “How old do you consider yourself, Anstruther? Twenty? I shouldn’t have thought it. Your ideas are what one might expect of a boy fresh from a dame’s school. You must learn never under any circumstances to trouble a lady about any affair of the kind. I really did not expect to have to undertake infant tuition when I started on this journey. If you have made a fool of yourself, don’t go and make things worse by worrying Miss Keeling.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” murmured Fitz again. “Thank you for what you have been telling me, Mr Stratford. I wish I hadn’t said what I did to Major North, and yet I know I should do it again if I heard him talking like that, and I feel I ought to do it too.”

“Your ideas are mixed,” said Stratford. “You had better go away and think things out a little by yourself,” and Fitz departed obediently.

53

Georgia did not return to the hotel again that evening. Dick, appealed to by Lady Haigh as the member of the party who had last seen her, said that he believed she had gone out into the country with some lady missionary or other, and might not be back until the next day. The news drew from Sir Dugald a mild lamentation to the effect that he really thought they had done with missionaries when they left Baghdad, a remark for which he received a reproof from Lady Haigh afterwards in private.

“I wish you would not say that kind of thing before these new young men, Dugald. They don’t know how kind you were to the missionaries at Baghdad, and they may think you mean it,” a charge to which Sir Dugald offered no defence. It was by means of rebukes of this kind that Lady Haigh kept up the fiction dear to her soul that she ruled her husband with a rod of iron, and guided him gently into the paths it was well for him to take; whereas those who watched the pair were of opinion that Sir Dugald’s was emphatically the ruling spirit, and that his mastery in his own household was so complete that he could afford to allow his wife to think otherwise without making any protest.

In spite of Dick’s careless and positive words to Lady Haigh, it might have been observed that he lingered on the hotel verandah later than any one else that night, and that he appeared there again at a most unearthly hour in the morning, wearing the haggard and strained aspect characteristic of a man who has slept only by fits and starts, owing to the fear of oversleeping himself. One who did not know the circumstances of the case might have said he was there watching for some one, but that would have been manifestly absurd. Whatever might be the cause of his unusual wakefulness, he was occupying his place of the day before when the creaking and groaning of wheels, gradually 54 coming nearer, announced an arrival. A few minutes later, as Georgia, tired and exhausted, descended from the missionaries’ bullock-cart, which was wont to convey Miss Jenkins and Miss Guest, in company with a miniature harmonium, a stock of vernacular gospels, and occasionally a native Bible-woman, on their itinerating tours among the villages around, she discovered him waiting to receive her. She was so tired that she had dozed unconsciously in the bullock-cart, in spite of the rough music of the wheels and of the appalling jolts; and now, awakened suddenly by the cessation of both sound and motion, she stood shivering and blinking in the grey twilight, a sadly unimpressive figure. Dick mercifully forbore to look at her as he took the bag from her hand and helped her up the steps, then settled her in his chair and shouted to the servants to hurry with the doctor lady’s coffee. Georgia tried to protest feebly, but he was adamant.

“You must have something to eat before you go to bed, or we shall have you down with fever this evening. You will allow me to know something of the climate of Khemistan, I hope, though I am not a ‘professional’ man.”

There was an unconscious emphasis on the adjective, which showed Georgia that coals of fire were being heaped upon her head in return for her words of the day before. But she did not respond to the challenge, for she was too much exhausted for a war of words; and, moreover, the coffee was very acceptable, even though it was Major North to whom she owed it. When the sleepy and unwilling servants had made and brought the coffee, however, she paused before tasting it.

“I can’t argue with you now, Major North, but I just want to say this. It was worth while going through all the training, and some of it was bad enough at the time, simply for the sake of this night’s work. If I never attended 55 another case, I should be glad I was a doctor, if only to remember the happiness of those poor Christians in that village.”

“I wasn’t aware that I had attempted to argue,” said Dick, who was busily cutting what he imagined was thin bread and butter. “There, eat that, Miss Keeling. The woman didn’t die, then?”

“No, I hope she will do well. The people, heathen and Christians alike, took it as a miracle. If it helps Miss Guest and Miss Jenkins in their work, I shall be so thankful.”

“Time enough to consider that afterwards,” said Dick, as Georgia put down her cup and sat gazing into the twilight. “If it helps you to an attack of fever, you won’t be thankful, nor shall I. By the bye, what happened to your horse? I hope you didn’t meet with an accident?”

“Oh no, but I was so dreadfully sleepy that I was afraid to ride, and the ladies lent me their bullock-cart. They are to send the horse back later in the day. You mustn’t think that I am generally so much overcome by sleep after spending a night out of bed as I am now. When I was in hospital I thought nothing of sitting up. It is simply that I am out of practice.”

“Of course,” said Dick, politely, suppressing the retort he would infallibly have made had things been in their normal condition. It was so pleasant to be caring for Georgia in this way, without feeling the slightest desire to quarrel with her, that he began to wish she would be called out every night by her professional duties. What did his own broken slumbers signify? At any rate, he had stolen a march on that young fool Anstruther now. He had not thought of seeing that Miss Keeling had something to eat when she came in. And Dick caught himself afterwards 56 recalling with something like tenderness, a feeling which was obviously out of the question, the pressure of Miss Keeling’s hand as she shook hands with him before going indoors, and the tones of her voice as she said—

“Thank you so much, Major North. It was most kind of you to take all this trouble for me. I hope you won’t be very tired after getting up so early.”

“Oh, I just happened to be out here. I didn’t sleep very well,” he explained, airily, and went off well satisfied with his own readiness of resource, not dreaming that Georgia, in her own room, was saying bitterly to herself as she took down her hair—

“He need not have told me so particularly that he didn’t get up because of me. I knew he did not, of course, but it wasn’t necessary for him to say it. Well, I shall not presume upon his kindness, although he is afraid I may.”

The natural consequence of this deceitful excess of candour on Dick’s part was, that when he met her next, he found that he had lost any ground which his ready services might have gained for him in Miss Keeling’s estimation. For him the events of the early morning had cast a glamour over the rest of the day, and when he saw Georgia again towards evening, he was prepared to meet her with the friendliness natural between two people who had found the barrier of prejudice which separated them partially broken down. But she received him with the easy graciousness she would have shown to the merest acquaintance, expressing her gratitude for his kindness, indeed, but ignoring entirely the approach to something like intimacy which he thought had been established between them. Dick was not accustomed to be repulsed in this way, and when he overheard Georgia telling Sir Dugald how fortunate it had been for her that she found Major North up when she returned, and how kind he had been in getting her some 57 coffee, his wrath, if not loud, was deep. She was betraying what he liked to think of as a secret known only to their two selves, and making an ass of him before the other fellows. This led him to remember that, after all, circumstances were unchanged. Georgia was still a doctor, and displayed no symptoms of being convinced, whether against her will or otherwise, by his arguments against the existence of medical women, or of discontinuing the practice of her profession. Nay more, Dick was beginning to see that it was unlikely she would ever be so convinced, and that if there was to be peace between them it must be on the basis of acquiescence in facts as they were. Hence, as he was still determined under no circumstances to extend even the barest toleration to lady doctors, it is not surprising that Dick felt himself a much injured man, and that his soul revolted a dozen times a‑day against the conclusions at which he had been forced to arrive.

As for Georgia, she continued to take pains to show him that she quite understood his view of the case, which she did not, and devoted herself largely to itinerating in the country round with Miss Jenkins and Miss Guest. She was welcomed on account of her medical skill in many places where they had not been able to gain a footing, and had the pleasure of knowing that she left these houses open to her friends for the future. The work proved to be so interesting that she was very sorry to leave it, and on the eve of departure she confided to Lady Haigh the resolution she had definitely formed to come back to Bab-us-Sahel when the Mission returned from Kubbet-ul-Haj, and to settle down with Miss Guest and Miss Jenkins.

“Nonsense, Georgie! you mustn’t throw away your talents like that,” cried Lady Haigh, aghast.

“But I should only stay here until they would allow me to settle on the frontier, of course,” said Georgia.

58

“I wish General Keeling were alive,” said Lady Haigh, irritably. “He would very soon put a stop to these absurd schemes. Or I wish you were married. That would do as well.”

“But if that is one reason for my not marrying?” asked Georgia.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter IV

skip to next chapter

“Yes. Miss Keeling is her name.”
[That’s DOCTOR Keeling to you, Dick.]

“But do you mean that Miss Keeling is to ride five miles in this heat, when she is tired already?” demanded Dick. “It is preposterous!”
[Dick, YOU are preposterous. She’s a doctor.]

“I always thought it was a case of ‘much oftener prated of than seen?’”
[The question mark really belongs after the single (inner) quote, but it can’t be helped.]

I think I’ll leave you to train the young idea for a little.
[“To teach the young idea how to shoot.” —Thomson’s Seasons, Spring:1153.]

North gave up his horse to a Eurasian’s clerk’s wife who had a sick child, and walked all the way himself
[And this has what, exactly, to do with Dick’s ranting about Georgia Keeling? If anything, it only reinforces the idea that he thinks all women are weak and helpless. (Note incidentally the word “Eurasian”. Our author has an awful time grasping that Africa and Asia are separate continents.)]

Dick . . . said that he believed she had gone out into the country with some lady missionary or other
[What a good thing Lady Haigh did not press him for details. Since Englishmen are incapable of lying—this will be a plot point in later chapters—he would then have been obliged to explain that, (a) his reason for this belief was that he personally saw Georgia ride off, and (b) the “some lady missionary or other” clearly identified herself as Laura Guest.]

CHAPTER V.
ACROSS THE FRONTIER.

“When we come to the crest of this rise we shall be able to see Port Rahmat-Ullah in the distance,” said Stratford to Georgia. He had quitted his place in the long cavalcade formed by the members of the Mission and their baggage-animals, as it made its way across the broken ground, alternately sandy and rocky, which characterises the districts lying near the frontier of Khemistan, and had joined the two doctors, who were riding somewhat in advance of the caravan in order to escape the dust. Dr Headlam turned back to the side of Lady Haigh, with whom Stratford had been riding, and Georgia looked round at her new cavalier with eyes of eager interest.

“It was Port Rahmat-Ullah that Major North relieved, wasn’t it?” she asked, although she knew perfectly well what the answer would be.

“Yes, during our last little war but two or three. It is our farthest outpost on this frontier, and, when the tribes were up, they naturally set their hearts on getting hold of it. Of course the garrison has been strengthened since then, and the pax Britannica is quite effective in 59 the neighbourhood. We are to spend a few days at the fort, you know, before we bid farewell to civilisation, and make our dash into the desert, so that it is a comfort to feel that we need not expect to find ourselves besieged there. The only drawback is that North will be away.”

“Away?” asked Georgia in astonishment.

“Yes, didn’t you hear that he had got leave from the chief to go and see a friend away at Alibad, to the west of us? They used to work together in the old days, but North had the chance of distinction and got his V.C. and his promotion, and the other man didn’t. I rather like to see North going off in this way to look him up—shows he doesn’t forget old friends, and that sort of thing—and perhaps he is just as glad not to be lionised at the fort. It’s a little hard on us, though.”

“Yes, it is a little suggestive of ‘Hamlet’ with Hamlet left out,” observed Georgia, meditatively, determined that Mr Stratford should not perceive the unreasoning disappointment with which the news had infected her.

“And yet I don’t quite see what he could do for us if he was there, beyond giving us the gratification of beholding him on his native heath, so to speak,” pursued Stratford.

“Oh, well,” said Georgia, carelessly, “I was reckoning on his being able to ride out with us along the way he went, and show us just where his different adventures happened. It would make it seem so much more real, you know.” She was speaking easily and naturally, bent on accounting to herself as well as to Mr Stratford for that absurd sense of disappointment, which was so keen that she feared it must before this have betrayed itself in face or voice. But were Dick’s adventures not real to her? Had she not scanned the papers day by day at the time of the siege as eagerly as Mabel herself? And when 60 at last the full account reached England of the relief of the fort, and of the heroism of the man through whose enterprise it had been accomplished, had she not bowed her head upon the page of the ‘Thunderer’ and cried heartily, out of pure joy in the remembrance that this man had once loved her? Decidedly there was no need that the events attending the relief of Fort Rahmat-Ullah should be rendered more vivid for Georgia; but Stratford seemed struck by the justice of her remark.

“That is quite true, Miss Keeling. North is treating us all very shabbily. I hope you will put it to him at lunch. He leaves us after the mid-day halt, you know.”

But Miss Keeling did not choose to do anything of the kind, and when Sir Dugald appealed to her to join in condemning North’s desertion, she smiled pleasantly as she answered, that no doubt Major North feared lest the attraction of his presence at Fort Rahmat-Ullah should distract the attention of the visitors from the less interesting duties which ought to engross them. The remark was intended to make Dick uncomfortable; and when Georgia saw that he was raging inwardly over the construction she had put upon his motives, absurd though it was, she felt happier, as having in some degree repaid him for the disappointment he had inflicted upon her, although, when he had ridden away, still fuming, she was filled with compunction, and spent some time in solitude and self-reproach, which meant bemoaning her own touchiness and calling herself names.

Her sorrow was not allowed to sleep, for at Fort Rahmat-Ullah everything around seemed calculated to recall Dick to her memory. The scenes connected with his great exploit were held in universal reverence, and from the officers of the detachment quartered in the fort nothing was heard but lamentations over his absence. On the very first evening 61 the new-comers were swept away by the general wave of enthusiasm, and allowed themselves to be personally conducted round the walls, in order to have the different localities rendered memorable by the siege pointed out to them. But this was merely an informal inspection, for the next morning an old European sergeant, who had taken part in the Relief of Lucknow, and was now employed as some kind of clerk in the fort, made his appearance, and expressed a readiness to act as cicerone during a second tour of the place.

“Evidently,” said Stratford, “the thing to do here is to make the circuit of the walls once a‑day, each time with a different guide.”

“We shall get together a good collection of the different legends which are beginning to crystallise round North’s exploit,” said Dr Headlam, who was a student of folk-lore. “I suppose we must go, or we shall hurt this old chap’s feelings. He regards North as something like a demigod.”

“I think once round the walls is enough for me,” said Sir Dugald, “so I must hope that the tutelary deity of the place will not be very furious at my neglect when we meet him again. What do the ladies intend to do?”

“Oh, we are going, of course,” said Lady Haigh, promptly, unfurling a huge white umbrella. “I always make a point of seeing and hearing everything I can about everybody.”

Sir Dugald sighed almost imperceptibly, and buried himself once more in his Ethiopian grammar, while the rest started out under the guidance of the old soldier. Constant practice on every new-comer who came in his way had made the sergeant perfect in the tale he had to tell. He knew exactly the points at which his hearers would be thrilled with horror or touched with sympathy, and he enjoyed keeping them on the rack of suspense when he reached a crisis in his story. He had been in the fort himself at the time of the siege, and Georgia held her 62 breath as he described the wearing terror of the night-attacks, and the uneasiness of the long days, troubled by fears of the enemy without and of famine within the walls. Then she saw, as clearly as if she had been present, the little group of officers gathered in a shadowy corner of the ramparts one morning before night had given place to day. Dick was among them, disguised as one of the fair-skinned hillmen often met with along the Khemistan frontier, and he was going out alone, taking his life in his hand, in the forlorn hope of getting through the enemy and bringing help to the fort. So slight was the prospect of success that none but those who happened to be on the ramparts when he started knew of his expedition; and the women in the place, who were not told about it for fear of raising baseless hopes only to be dashed again, thought that he had been killed in a night sortie and his body not recovered. One by one his fellows gripped his hand and bade God keep him in his enterprise; then he was let down swiftly to the ground outside by means of a rope suspended in the shadow of the turret, and before the rope could be drawn up his form had melted into the shadows around.

Almost immediately on setting out he was met by perhaps the gravest of the perils he was to encounter. Descending a rugged hill into a dry watercourse, which he hoped would afford him a measure of cover, the loose stones rolling under his feet betrayed him to the drowsy watchman of a party of the enemy, who were sleeping, wrapped in their mantles, round a smouldering fire. They were between him and the fort, and there was no hope of retreat; but as the sentry’s bullet came skipping over the rocks past him, and the sleepers, on the alert at once, sat up and grasped their weapons, Dick’s resolution was taken. With a cry of joy he rushed towards the fire and inquired eagerly and incoherently in Khemistani whether the fort 63 had fallen and he was too late to take his part in the plundering. The party upon whom he had chanced were all good Moslems, and their rage was extreme on discovering by his dress that the intruder was a hillman, and that they had been awakened because a wretch of an idolater was trying to get a share of their booty. He was driven from their camp with blows and curses, and ordered to tell his people that any further attempt to participate in the expected spoils would be met with force of arms. The same ruse helped him again and again during the day. On sighting a part of the enemy, he had only to approach them humbly and detail what had happened to him, asking for redress, when the same fate would befall him immediately on his mentioning what his crime had been. Every chase took him farther from the fort and nearer to civilisation, and at last he fell in with a small party of hillmen, fleeing from the hated Moslems into territory which was still British, who allowed him to join himself to them.

But this meeting landed him in another danger, for although he could speak the hill dialect well enough to pass muster with the lowlanders, he could not deceive those whose native tongue it was. For some time he parried questions by declaring that he belonged to a different tribe; but the hillmen grew more and more suspicious, thinking that he must be a spy from the camp of their hereditary foes. They kept a close watch on him, and he gathered that they intended to deliver him up to the first British patrol they came across. This would have suited his purpose excellently but for the extremely slow rate at which his new friends travelled, and he seized the first opportunity that offered itself of eluding their vigilance and striking off across country to the nearest fort. His late entertainers pursued him; but he reached the fort first and delivered his message, so that when the hillmen arrived they were 64 electrified to behold him in uniform assisting in the preparations for the relief expedition. Thence his course had been, as Fitz Anstruther remarked irreverently, “a triumphal procession,” an observation which the old soldier who was acting as guide took in very good part.

“Ay,” he said, “and we are all proud of him here. We don’t have many ladies come to the fort, especially since the rising; but to hear some of them talk that have been here this last year, you’d think the whole place wasn’t nothing but a memorial of him, though there! we’re just about as bad ourselves. When a new subaltern joins—though it ain’t often we get them raw enough—the officers take him round and show him everything. When they get to the north face they tell him, ‘This here was named after Major North. He started on his journey down the slope.’ There wasn’t more than one of them took it right in; but the rest are always puzzled, and don’t like to contradict. By the time they’ve got it worked out in their minds they’re as proud of the Major as any of us, and had rather follow North of the Khemistan Horse than the Commander-in-Chief. Ah! he’s a brave chap and a cool one, and we were downright mad when we knew we were not to have him back here; but he’ll want all his bravery and all his level-headedness where you’re going.”

“Come, sergeant, you mustn’t frighten the ladies,” said Stratford.

“Frighten the ladies!” repeated the old man, scornfully. “I could a deal sooner frighten any of you gentlemen, and no offence to you, sir, neither. I’ve seen a good many frontier ladies in my time, and I can tell that these two is just as full of spirit as an egg is full of meat. Looking out for adventures, ma’am, ain’t you?” to Georgia. “I thought so; and her ladyship there, she’s been through so much that she ain’t afraid of nothing.”

65

“This is reassuring,” said Lady Haigh. “I hope you young men are now convinced what desirable travelling companions we are?”

“I don’t so much know about that,” said the old sergeant, reflectively. “I suppose as you’ll bundle yourselves up in veils, like the women of the country, when you get to Ethiopia, my lady?”

“Yes, I hear that we must,” returned Lady Haigh.

“That’s all right, then, and I’ll make hold to give the young lady a bit of advice. Don’t you go playing no tricks with your veil, ma’am; you keep it down when there’s any Ethiopians about. I could tell you of times when a whole caravan has been cut up for the sake of one woman, and she made a slave of.”

“Miss Keeling, you must swallow the warning for the sake of the compliment contained in it,” said Dr Headlam, while Fitz glared speechlessly at the sergeant, who went on in a meditative voice—

“No, it don’t so much signify what the woman is like, so long as she’s different to theirs. Not but what I dare be bound as they’d find they’d caught a Tartar in this young lady. She would be queen instead of slave before they’d done with her.”

“This is really too flattering!” said Georgia, her face flushing. “Have you anything more to show us, sergeant?”

“I’m afraid as that’s all, ma’am. But don’t you go for to be offended at my plain speaking. I could tell you was a lady of spirit by your going to Kubbet-ul-Haj at all. And, bless you, you can do near everything with these fellows if you talk big a little, and don’t let ’em see as you are shaking in your shoes all the time.”

The old man’s face as he enunciated this doctrine was so comical that Georgia accepted the implied apology, and the affair ended in a laugh.

66

“It never struck me that we were to wear veils as a protection,” said Georgia to Lady Haigh as they returned to their quarters. “I thought it was only for fear of outraging the people’s feelings.”

“If it had been only that,” returned Lady Haigh, “I should certainly have refused on principle to wear a veil. You know that I have knocked about a good deal, my dear. When Sir Dugald asked me to marry him, he said he felt quite guilty in trying to allure me away from all my friends and my work, and I seized the opportunity of stipulating for the very thing I wanted. I said I shouldn’t mind leaving everything in the slightest if he would only promise to take me with him wherever he went. He did promise, and I have gone everywhere with him—to some very strange places indeed. I have often been where no English lady had ever been seen before; but I have always refused to cover my face. They used to tell me that the people were not accustomed to see a woman unveiled. ‘Well, then, they must become accustomed to it,’ I always said. Then they suggested that it might outrage their religious sentiments; but, as I pointed out, people must learn not to let their feelings be hurt so easily. But this time it was different. When it came to be a case of endangering the safety of the whole Mission, Sir Dugald told me that the choice lay between his breaking his promise and leaving me behind and my wearing a veil. I did not see it at all, because the Kubbet-ul-Haj people ought to accustom themselves to seeing new things, and I really yielded solely on account of you. Dugald”—they had reached their own verandah by this time—“didn’t I tell you that I only consented to wear a veil for Miss Keeling’s sake?”

“I believe you have mentioned the fact more than once, now that I come to think of it,” returned Sir Dugald, looking up from his book.

67

“But really, Lady Haigh, I am not afraid,” said Georgia. “If you think that the old man was only talking nonsense, I will join you in organising a protest against Ethiopian customs with the greatest pleasure, for I should much prefer not wearing a veil.”

“Oh, but it really is necessary for you, my dear. It is different in my case; I am old, and I never was anything much to look at, and I am indubitably married. But suppose the King should see you, and take it into his head to want to make you his fifteenth wife——”

“As a Mohammedan he is not allowed more than four,” interposed Sir Dugald, mildly.

“Oh, I am sure he doesn’t count the ones he has killed or divorced!” said Lady Haigh. “Well, in any case, Georgie, it would be very awkward. You might refuse to marry him, but he wouldn’t take a refusal. He would simply request Sir Dugald to settle the matter. If he was told that it was the custom in England to allow ladies their choice, he would say that at Kubbet-ul-Haj you must do as the Kubbet-ul-Hajis did. Then, if you still refused, he might do as the old man suggested, and murder us all to get hold of you. So you see that it is really necessary for you to cover your face, and I do it to keep you company.”

“But with the veil, you will, of course, adopt the other dictates of Eastern etiquette,” said Sir Dugald, “which forbid a lady to speak to any man not of her immediate family?”

“That would be dreadfully dull for me,” said Lady Haigh. “What should I do when you were busy?”

“Far worse for me,” cried Georgia. “I protest against such treatment, Sir Dugald! Do you mean to condemn me to perpetual silence? I have no relations of any kind here.”

“Ah, Eastern society makes no provision for the New Woman,” observed Sir Dugald.

68

Georgia groaned.

“I am so dreadfully tired of that name,” she said. “But I believe, Sir Dugald, that Eastern etiquette would oblige Lady Haigh and me to ride humbly behind with the servants while you gentlemen were cantering gaily in front—wouldn’t it? Is that to be the order of our going?”

“No, I think we must make up our minds to disregard Ethiopian opinion in that respect,” said Sir Dugald. “Don’t be afraid, Miss Keeling, you shall lay aside your veils in the tents and when we get to our own quarters at Kubbet-ul-Haj. It is only in the streets and on the march that you need wear them.”

“And really they are not so very bad,” said Lady Haigh, shaking out a heap of white drapery. “When I knew we must make up our minds to such garments I determined that they should be as little trouble as possible, so I got these burkas made. I remembered seeing the women wearing them in the Panjab long ago. You see, the burka is simply put on over everything, and covers you from head to foot without an opening—merely that embroidered latticework for the eyes. It gives you no trouble; whereas the isar, which the Baghdadi women wear, and which poor Cecil Egerton was obliged to adopt when she was governess at the Palace, is nothing but a sheet pure and simple. You have to hold it together in front with one hand and over your face with the other. No matter how bad the weather may be, you can never spare a hand to hold up your dress or your sheet drops; you must just trail through the mud. I could not stand that.”

Georgia acknowledged thankfully the wisdom of Lady Haigh’s remarks, and when the day arrived on which the actual journey to Kubbet-ul-Haj was to begin, she put on the burka without a murmur. The start was an imposing sight, for most of the officers in the fort accompanied the 69 Mission as far as the Ethiopian frontier, and the rest of the garrison lined the walls and sped the parting guests with a rousing cheer. The servants and baggage had started earlier in the day, and when they had been caught up a halt was made for lunch, after which the travellers delivered themselves into the hands of the body of Ethiopian troops who had been sent to meet them on the frontier and escort them to the capital, and the British officers returned to Fort Rahmat-Ullah. Dick North came riding up just in time to fall into his place in the cavalcade, and the long array of riders and baggage-animals took their way across the frontier.

The cavalry escort, of which one portion headed the procession, while the remainder brought up the rear, was not calculated, so far as its outward aspect was concerned, to allay any apprehensions that might have been fluttering the breasts of the timid. Its members were wild, reckless-looking fellows, evidently ready to go anywhere and do anything, but apparently quite as well qualified to rob their convoy as to protect it. Uniformity of dress or accoutrements among them there was none; but they resembled one another in that they were all fierce of face, all unbridled of speech, all extremely dirty, and all armed to the teeth with a wonderfully miscellaneous collection of weapons. It seemed almost madness to take ladies into the heart of a country which, until very lately, had been actively hostile, under the guardianship of such men as these, and the younger members of the Mission felt their hearts sink suddenly with an unwonted feeling of apprehension as they took their last look at the fort—that isolated outpost of Britain and civilisation on the borders of barbarism. But Sir Dugald’s impassive face betrayed no emotion whatever as he halted beside the track to allow the caravan to file past him, and the younger men took comfort as they remembered that their leader was one who, although he had 70 not hitherto had the opportunity of distinguishing himself in a wide field, was reputed never to have made a mistake in the many minor but still important duties with which he had been intrusted.

Nor had Sir Dugald himself started for Kubbet-ul-Haj with a heart so light as to induce him to neglect any precaution that lay in his power. When it had once been ascertained that the passage of an escort of British, or even of Indian, troops through Ethiopian territory was out of the question, Sir Dugald agreed at once to intrust the safety of the Mission to the King’s own soldiers. But he bestowed special care on the selection of the servants who were to accompany the expedition, down to the very camel-men, choosing, so far as was possible, old soldiers, and these from the frontier, where there was always a hearty feeling of dislike simmering against the Ethiopians. These men might be relied upon to hold together in the strange country, and to show a bold front in case of necessity; and they also despised the Ethiopians far too much to associate with them, which lessened the likelihood both of quarrels and plots. With the exception of the wives of a few of these men, there were only two women among the servants—Lady Haigh’s elderly Syrian attendant Marta, and Georgia’s maid. This was a Khemistani girl named Rahah, a waif from the frontier who had found her way in some mysterious manner to Bab-us-Sahel, and after being handed over to the missionary ladies to be taken care of, had been trained by Miss Guest—who suffered much in the process—as a lady’s-maid. Her name was supposed by the learned to mean “rest,” but her character was not in accordance with it, for there was no rest for any human being that had anything to do with Rahah. Her chief recommen­dations for the post she now held were her undeniable cleverness with her fingers and some knowledge of the Ethiopian language, 71 which might prove useful to her mistress in communicating with female patients, while she had already learnt, during the past few weeks, to render considerable assistance to Georgia as anæsthetist and dresser.

The caravan which was composed of such incongruous elements found its journey more peaceful than might have been anticipated. The members of the escort, although somewhat addicted to the snapping up of unconsidered trifles, were capable of frightening away any other robbers, and on the march were content to keep at a respectful distance from their charges. In this foreign country there could be none of those digressions from the track which had proved so pleasant in Khemistan, but the members of the Mission were not altogether without subjects of interest to occupy them. Georgia and Dr Headlam were making a collection of all the birds, plants, and insects they met with, for in this respect Ethiopia was new ground. Sir Dugald was ruthless in his refusal to allow more than one collection to be carried with the expedition, and the rival collectors were thus deprived of the stimulus of competition. The only thing to be done was to allow the first finder of a new species to monopolise the glory of its possession until a finer specimen was discovered, and in this finding Dr Headlam complained that Georgia had an unfair advantage, since Fitz was always at her service and eager to help her. But in spite of little squabbles of this kind everything went pleasantly, chiefly owing, Fitz said, to the fact that North was generally so busily occupied with his duties of noting the configuration of the country and the windings of the track, with a view to map-making, that he had no time to ride with the others and enter into conversation. Since his return to the rest of the party he had scarcely spoken to Georgia, and she told herself that it was better so.

72

This was the state of affairs when the march came to an end; and the Mission, amid the thunder of very rickety cannon, the shouting of the populace, and the shrill welcoming cries of the women, entered the city of Kubbet-ul-Haj.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter V

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“Yes, it is a little suggestive of ‘Hamlet’ with Hamlet left out,” observed Georgia
[Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, then.]

people must learn not to let their feelings be hurt so easily
[I want to see this argument used as a reply to some action that offends European Christian sensibilities.]

“Oh, I am sure he doesn’t count the ones he has killed or divorced!” said Lady Haigh.
[Well, why should he? An English widower isn’t charged with bigamy if he remarries.]

I remembered seeing the women wearing them in the Panjab long ago.
[I am frankly impressed that the author spelled this correctly. The conventional English spelling is “Punjab”, leading to hyper­correction when modern-day newsreaders think it is pronounced “Poonjab”.]

You have to hold it together in front with one hand and over your face with the other.
[Another method is to hold a corner of the headveil in your teeth, rendering the wearer not only immobile but silent. Lady Haigh is right: the burka is a better option.]

they also despised the Ethiopians far too much to associate with them
[Someone refresh my memory, please. Who invited these people to Ethiopia?]

a Khemistani girl named Rahah
[Rahah, more often spelled Raha, is a bona fide Islamic name. Alongside “rest”, other possible translations are “comfort” and “peace of mind”—any of which would work with the author’s description of her personality.]

CHAPTER VI.
AN OFFER OF CO-OPERATION.

“The King of all Kings, the Upholder of the Universe, places this hovel at the disposal of his high eminence the Queen of England’s Envoy, and entreats that he will deign to use it as his own,” said the sleek official who had been deputed to meet the travellers and bring them into the town, as he paused opposite the doorway of a large house and indicated with extended hand that the end of the journey had been reached.

“In other words, this imposing building is to be our residence for the present,” said Sir Dugald, riding into the courtyard and turning round. “Allow me to welcome you to Kubbet-ul-Haj, ladies.”

“It is not as good as Baghdad,” said Lady Haigh, looking round disparagingly on the whitewashed walls; “but I daresay we shall be very comfortable. After all, it won’t be for long.”

“Express my thanks to the King,” said Sir Dugald pointedly to the messenger, “and tell him that the pleasantness of our quarters will make us anxious to prolong our stay in his city.”

The official, well pleased, stayed only to point out the entrance 73 to the second courtyard of which the house boasted, and to intimate that if the accommodation provided should prove to be too limited, another house could easily be secured, and then took his departure; while the new arrivals passed under an archway into the inner court, to find facing them the chief rooms of the establishment. These were evidently intended as Sir Dugald’s quarters, and Lady Haigh surveyed them with high approval.

“Come!” she said. “We shall not be so badly off after all. I was beginning to be afraid we should be as much crowded as you were at Agra in the Mutiny, Dugald. I think the rooms on that side will do nicely for you, Georgie.”

“I don’t know whether you will all be able to find quarters in the first block of buildings, gentlemen,” said Sir Dugald to his staff when he had helped his wife and Georgia to dismount, and they had gone indoors to explore. “I must have Mr Kustendjian there, for he may be wanted at any moment, and I doubt whether that will leave you rooms enough.”

“If any one has to seek quarters outside, I hope I may be the favoured man,” said Dr Headlam. “Judging by the sights I saw as we came through the streets, and the cries for medicine which were addressed to me, there is an enormous amount of disease here, and I shall have my hands pretty full if I begin to try any outside practice. I think I am justified in believing that you would approve of such a course, Sir Dugald? It could only make the Mission more popular.”

“By all means, if you wish it; but don’t wear yourself out with doctoring all Kubbet-ul-Haj, and forget that you came here as surgeon to the Mission. You think you will do better if you are lodged outside?”

“Well, I didn’t quite like the idea of bringing all the 74 filth and rascality of Kubbet-ul-Haj into the Mission headquarters, but that would remove the objection. I think it would be both safer and more agreeable for all of us if you would allow me to camp in some other house.”

“Then perhaps you could take that collection of yours over to your new quarters as well as your other belongings? It is not altogether the most delightful of objects.”

“Either as to sight or smell,” put in Dick North. “Those beasts you have preserved in spirits are enough to give a man the horrors, doctor.”

“Oh, our much-maligned masterpieces shall share my quarters, by all means,” said the doctor. “If Miss Keeling breaks her heart over parting with the collection, don’t blame me.”

“Miss Keeling will probably bear the loss with equanimity,” said Sir Dugald. “Natural history collections are not exactly ladies’ toys. At any rate, if she is uneasy about the state of her pet specimens you can bring her bulletins respecting them at meal-times. We shall see you as usual at tiffin and at dinner, I suppose, doctor? And you know that Lady Haigh is always glad to welcome you at tea.”

“I shall certainly not decline such an invitation in favour of solitary meals hastily partaken of amongst the specimens,” said Dr Headlam.

“Then we may consider that settled,” said Sir Dugald. “I think we may regard ourselves as fairly fortunate in our quarters here. What is your opinion, Stratford?”

“I think the place is very well adapted for our business, certainly,” returned Stratford. “The general public will only be admitted to the outer court, I suppose?”

“Yes; the large room on the ground-floor of your quarters will serve as our durbar-hall,” said Sir Dugald, “and the attendants of the Ethiopian officials can remain on the verandah. This inner court must be sacred to the ladies, 75 so that they may go about unveiled. No Ethiopian can be allowed to cross the threshold without an invitation, and only those must be invited who know something of English usages and will not be shocked by what they see. The raised verandah before the house will no doubt serve as a drawing-room. What do you think of the place, North?”

“Good position for defence,” said Dick, meditatively. “You hold the outer court as long as you can, and then fall back upon the first block of buildings. When that becomes untenable, you blow it up and retire upon the second block.”

“Until you have to blow that up too, and yourself with it, I suppose?” said Sir Dugald. “For the ladies’ sake, I must say I hope we shall not have to put the defensive capabilities of the house to such a severe test. Well, gentlemen, we shall meet at dinner. No doubt you will like to get your things settled a little. Your own servants will be able to find quarters in your block, but the rest must occupy the buildings round the outer court.”

When Sir Dugald had thus declared his will the party separated, the staff proceeding to their quarters in Bachelors’ Buildings, as the first block was unanimously named, and allotting the rooms among themselves on the principle of seniority; while the doctor went house-hunting with the aid of a minor official who had been left in the outer court to give any help or information that might be needed. Under his auspices a much smaller house, only separated from the headquarters of the Mission by a narrow street, was secured, and hither Dr Headlam removed with his servants and the famous collection. When the members of the Mission met at dinner they had shaken down fairly well in their several abodes, and after a little inevitable grumbling over accustomed luxuries which were here unattainable, they displayed a disposition to regard the situation with 76 contentment and the rest of mankind with charity. Sir Dugald noted down certain points on which it would be necessary to appeal for assistance to the urbane gentleman who had instituted the party into their habitation, while Lady Haigh promised help in matters which could be set right by feminine intuition and a needle and thread, and peace reigned at headquarters.

It was not until dinner was over and the members of the Mission were partaking of coffee on the terrace, with the lights of the dining-room behind mingling incongruously with the moonlight around them and outshining the twinkling lamps visible here and there in the loftier habitations outside the walls of the house, that an interruption occurred, and the quiet was broken by the entrance of Chanda Lal, Sir Dugald’s bearer, with a visiting-card, which he handed to his master on a tray.

“What’s this, bearer?” asked Sir Dugald, impatiently.

“Highness, the sahib bade me bring it to you.”

“The sahib? Here? In Kubbet-ul-Haj? Who is he? What is he doing here?” Sir Dugald’s brow was darkening ominously.

“Highness, I know not. I said that the burra sahib received no visitors this evening, and the sahib said, ‘Take this to your burra sahib, and tell him that my name is Heekis, and that I wish to see him.’”

“‘Elkanah B. Hicks. “Empire City Crier,”’” read Sir Dugald from the card in his hand in a tone of stupefaction. “In the name of all that is abominable!” he cried, with lively disgust, “it’s a newspaper correspondent, and an American at that, and here before us!”

“I know the name,” said Stratford. “Hicks was the ‘Crier’ correspondent who made himself so prominent over the Thracian business. He was arrested and conducted to the frontier while the second revolution was going on.”

77

“The very worst kind of busybody!” said Sir Dugald, wrathfully. “I only wish that Drakovics had shot him when he had him safe. What does he mean by poking himself in here?”

“He is in search of marketable ‘copy,’ without a doubt,” said Stratford, “and he is taking the most direct way to get it. He has a fancy for talking and behaving like a sort of semi-civilised Artemus Ward, which takes in a good many people; but he is considered about the smartest man on the ‘Crier’ staff, and that is saying a good deal.”

“Whatever his fancies may be,” growled Sir Dugald, “I don’t see that they are any excuse for the man’s thrusting himself upon me out of business hours without the ghost of an introduction.”

“Still, dear,” said Lady Haigh, “we had better have him in and be friendly to him. In a place like this white people are bound to hang together, and I dare say we shall find him very pleasant.”

“Bring the sahib in,” said Sir Dugald, shortly, to Chanda Lal, adopting his wife’s pacific suggestion, but without any lightening of countenance; and presently the bearer ushered in a lank, sallow man, rather over middle age, with a straggling lightish beard, and hair that seemed to stand somewhat in need of the scissors. As Fitz said afterwards, if he had only worn striped trousers and a starred waistcoat, Mr Hicks would have represented to the life the Brother Jonathan of American, not English, caricaturists. Sir Dugald received his visitor with frigid politeness, and the staff, taking their cue from him, did the same; but Mr Hicks appeared to feel no embarrassment, although the tender hearts of Lady Haigh and Georgia were moved to pity on his account. He was duly supplied with coffee; and when Georgia had passed him a plate of cakes he 78 stretched his long limbs comfortably as he reclined in a cane chair and beamed upon the party.

“It makes one feel real high-toned,” he said, slowly, “to be waited upon out here at the back of creation by two lovely and cultured daughters of Albion.”

Sir Dugald gave him a stony glance in reply; while the younger men, uncertain whether the remark was to be considered as due to deliberate rudeness or to ignorance, wavered between amusement and indignation. Lady Haigh answered pleasantly but coldly—

“We are not accustomed to be treated to quite such elaborate compliments, Mr Hicks; but no doubt American manners differ from ours. So I have always understood, at least.”

“You bet they do, ma’am!” was Mr Hicks’ reply, delivered with almost startling emphasis. “When your nigger let me in just now, and the General there stepped forward and said, ‘Mr Hicks, I presume?’ hanged if I didn’t think I had got into a Belgravian drawing-room, or into Central Africa with Stanley, instead of finding a party of civilised white people in the midst of Ethiopia! I guess I’m not cut out for shows of this kind, any way.”

“You prefer a European post, perhaps?” suggested Stratford, as Sir Dugald remained silent.

“You may consider that proved, sir, some! I can fly around with any man in a civilised country, and back myself to send home more ‘copy’ than the paper can use; but I was a fool to cable back ‘Done!’ when the Editor wired, ‘Can you start for Ethiopia next week, and keep an eye on this Mission business?’ Set me down in a telegraph bureau, with a dozen newspaper men there before me and only one wire, and I’ll bet you my bottom dollar that my despatch will go over that wire before any of the other fellows’; but when it comes to organising a dromedary-service 79 to carry my ‘copy’ week by week, it makes me tired of life.”

“If you find it so hard to send your letters, how did you surmount the difficulties of getting up here yourself?” asked Sir Dugald, with a faint appearance of interest.

“I must confess to getting along by taking your name in vain, General,” returned Mr Hicks, easily. “I travelled around for a week or two in Khemistan, just to throw your frontier people off the scent and to make friends with some of the natives. They smuggled me across into Ethiopia in disguise, and I told the people here that I was sent out to write about the Mission and note how it was received, which was quite true. Consequently I was taken everywhere for an emissary of your Government, which has smoothed the way for me considerably. I guess it will gratify you to know that your name was a passport most everywhere.”

“Having heard you were a newspaper correspondent,” said Sir Dugald, “I might have guessed what your methods would be.”

“We military people,” said Lady Haigh, again interposing as peacemaker, “have an odd prejudice against special correspondents, Mr Hicks. It is awkward, but you must be kind enough to excuse it.”

“It’s nothing to what I should feel if I was in the General’s place, ma’am,” said Mr Hicks, affably. “I wouldn’t have one in my camp for any money. They might pillory me throughout the Press of the Union, but so long as I kept them off I should smile. Now, General, after that handsome acknowledgment, I hope we are friends?”

“I hope so,” returned Sir Dugald, still unsoftened.

group of men and women seated on tropical veranda

“It’s nothing to what I should feel if I was in the General’s place, ma’am,” said Mr. Hicks affably.

“I should like to do a deal with you, General,” continued Mr Hicks. “If you could spare me a minute or two alone, 80 I think I could convince you that we have interests in common.”

“Work is over at this time of night,” said Sir Dugald, icily. “If I can be of service to you in any little difficulty with the authorities here, or with regard to the postal arrangements, I shall be happy to see you in the morning. My office hours begin at six.”

“Do you wish to name any special time, General?”

“By no means, Mr Hicks.” Sir Dugald fixed a blank uncompre­hending gaze on the American’s face. “It is my duty to support the interests of the subjects of friendly powers wherever I can, and I hope you will attend to state your case at the time most convenient to yourself.”

“I guess you don’t understand me, General. I can fix my own affairs, thank you. What I want is to arrange a trade. You give me what I want, and I give you what you want, do you see? I should prefer to speak to you in private as to the exact terms.”

“Any proposal you have to make to me must be uttered in the presence of these gentlemen, if you please.”

Mr Hicks laughed uneasily.

“Well, your way of doing business licks Wall Street,” he said. “What I have to say is, you give me the information I may need as to the plans and intentions of your Government, and I will give you some pieces of news without which you will do nothing here.”

“You are an accredited agent of the United States Government?” asked Sir Dugald.

“Not at all, sir. I represent the ‘Empire City Crier.’”

“And I represent her Britannic Majesty. I regret that the ‘deal’ to which you have referred cannot come off.”

“Then your Mission will be a failure, General.”

“Pardon me, but that is no concern of yours.”

“Well, you are the first man I ever knew bring a wife 81 and daughter into a place like this on such an almighty poor chance. I don’t know what you think, gentlemen”—Mr Hicks wheeled round in his chair and glanced at the rest of the party—“but I say—and I know something about this place—that you have a precious small hope of getting out of Kubbet-ul-Haj with your lives if your Mission does fail.”

“You really must excuse my staff from commenting on your interesting piece of information, Mr Hicks,” said Sir Dugald, smoothly; “but they are not accustomed to be set up as a court of appeal over me.”

“May I ask, General, whether you know why Fath-ud-Din, the Grand Vizier, did not ride out to welcome you to-day?”

“I believe he was ill,” said Sir Dugald, stifling a yawn.

“He was so sick that he was riding past my house to the bath at the moment you were entering the city on the other side.”

“I don’t quite see,” said Dick, “why a piece of bad manners on Fath-ud-Din’s part should be such a fearful omen for us.”

“I guess you think yourself dreadful smart, Colonel,” returned Mr Hicks; “but you soldier officers are a bit too cute sometimes. Old Fath-ud-Din is a bad crowd generally, and he means mischief. Leaving him out of account, what do you think has happened to your friend the Crown Prince, Rustam Khan? Has he dropped in on you here yet?”

“Scarcely,” said Dick. “We have not arrived so very long, you know.”

“That is so.” Mr Hicks disregarded the sarcasm implied in the words. “But I know something of that young man, and I can tell you he would have been around here like greased lightning if he had had the chance. He was afraid of losing his scalp if he attempted it. The fact is, you gentlemen are behind the times.”

82

“Ah, but we’ll be truly grateful if you’ll enlighten us a little,” put in Fitz, in a most alluring brogue, which he kept for use on special occasions.

Mr Hicks glanced sharply at Sir Dugald. The slightest sign of interest or eagerness would have determined him to impart no information except at a price, but the look of repressed weariness which was just visible in the half-light served to pique the American into doing his best to surprise and startle his bored and scornful host. He leant back in his chair with his thumbs stuck in his waistcoat pockets.

“We think we are pretty slick in fixing things out West,” he said, “but they have by no means a bad notion of history-making out here. When it was arranged that your Mission should start, General, Rustam Khan was in high favour with his father, old Fath-ud-Din was biting his nails in disgrace, and the people were all in love with the English. But we have had a Palace revolution since then. The King’s second wife (she is Fath-ud-Din’s sister, and they all hang together) gave her husband one of her slave-girls, the prettiest she could pick up anywhere, and that brought her into high favour, and all her relations with her. She is young Antar Khan’s mother, and he is prime favourite now, while Rustam Khan and his mother, the King’s first wife, are nowhere. Curious what little things bring about these big changes, isn’t it?”

“The details of these Palace scandals are scarcely edifying,” remarked Sir Dugald, to whom Mr Hicks had all along been addressing himself.

“Probably not, General; but they are often important, and there is an outside circumstance that complicates this one. From your point of view it was slightly unfortunate that an envoy should turn up a week or two ago with presents and offers of alliance from Scythia and Neustria. I guess those two States are hunting in couples. It’s not the 83 first time they’ve done it, and they generally make a good thing out of it. Does this alter your way of looking at things at all, General?”

“Not at all,” returned Sir Dugald, placidly.

“Now come, General,” said Mr Hicks, leaning forward and extending a long forefinger to tap Sir Dugald on the knee, “you and I are both white men. We understand each other. I can put you up to circumventing this Scythian cuss if you will only show an accommodating spirit.”

“Really,” said Sir Dugald, “I am deeply obliged; but until her Majesty is pleased to appoint me a colleague I have an invincible objection to sharing my duties with any one. I cannot sufficiently admire your disinterested and public-spirited offer of co-operation, Mr Hicks, but this prejudice of mine—foolish and incompre­hensible as it must no doubt appear to you—prevents my accepting it.”

“Think of your reputation, General,” urged Mr Hicks, sadly. “I give you my word I had sooner write the story of a successful mission than an unsuccessful one any day. We newspaper men have a way of finding out things which you diplomatic gentlemen never hear of, and I can help you through with your work and cover you with glory as well. You’ll take it?”

“No, thank you,” returned Sir Dugald. “It is all prejudice, of course, but somehow I had rather not.”

“There are just a few people left in the world who prefer honour to glory,” cried Georgia her eyes flashing.

“What an unkind remark, Miss Keeling!” said Sir Dugald. “You will really wound my feelings if you impute motives to me in that reckless way. Well, Mr Hicks, I hope we shall see more of you. Lady Haigh is always at home on Friday afternoons, and if you care to drop in to tiffin any day we shall be delighted to see you.”

Mr Hicks had not been intending to depart so early, but 84 at this intimation he rose reluctantly and took his leave. North and Stratford escorted him to the door, and when they had returned to the terrace a sense of constraint seemed to fall upon those present. Sir Dugald’s impassive face told nothing, and his eyes were fixed on a distant point of light in the city. He was the only one of the party who recognised the full importance of the piece of news which had just been announced, but all perceived more or less distinctly that the enterprise on which they were bound had received a check. It was Georgia who broke the silence at last.

“Sir Dugald,” she said, boldly, “won’t you say something? We couldn’t help being here and hearing what that man said, and we should like to know what you really think, just to hear what we have to expect.”

“I have never pretended to be a prophet,” said Sir Dugald, looking round with a half-smile, “and I fear I am not much in the habit of stating publicly what I really think. Still, after what has happened to-night, I will say that our task is certainly very much complicated by what our American friend has told us, though I see no reason for wailing over it as impossible. Palace revolutions are tolerably frequent in these countries, and Rustam Khan may he in favour again to-morrow. Of course the news about the Scythian agent is bad, but we do not hear that any treaty has been concluded, and we are now on the spot. If the people are reasonably well affected towards us, or are even keeping an open mind, the advantages we can offer ought to convince them that it is to their interest to make friends of us. They appeared friendly enough this morning.”

“Hicks told us at the door,” said Dick, “that the King and his Amirs were very much divided in opinion, some of them advocating the alliance with us, some that with 85 Scythia, and others that the old position of isolation should be maintained. The worst of them, he says, is an old fellow called the Amir Jahan Beg, who is Rustam Khan’s father-in-law. ‘He is the deadest-headed old reactionary I ever saw,’ Hicks said. ‘All the other fellows turn round in the street to look after me and show a little interest, but this old cuss rides right on and takes no notice. The other day I sent my servant to negotiate an interview, and all the answer I got was that the door was shut.’”

“Rather good, that, for Jahan Beg,” remarked Stratford.

“But if he is Rustam Khan’s father-in-law he may persuade him to take sides against us,” said Dr Headlam.

“We can do nothing until we see how the land lies,” said Sir Dugald. “To-morrow, when the King receives us for the first time, we shall get some idea of his attitude towards us, and we can take steps accordingly. There is only one thing that I must specially impress upon you, gentlemen: be careful when you are in company with Hicks. Even after his failure to-night I haven’t a doubt that we shall see a good deal of him. I invited him to come here now and then because I thought we should be acquainted with his movements occasionally, at any rate, and he accepted the invitation as likely to give him a means of finding out what we are doing. Of course he will bribe the servants here and at the Palace to bring him news; but he will certainly not neglect us. Therefore be careful what you say. I don’t want to misjudge the man, but he might not be above the temptation of taking steps to secure the fulfilment of his prophecy as to the failure of the Mission. In any case he might do a great deal of harm by sending home exaggerated or distorted reports of what had actually occurred. General conversation is the safest—no private talks. I would not 86 answer even for you, Stratford, in the hands of a ‘Crier’ interviewer, although you are a past-master in the art of mystification. Even if you said nothing, that is not necessarily a barrier to his crediting you with a long oration. There is safety in numbers, for he could not derive much political capital from a conversation held in the presence of the whole Mission. Our policy is to show a united front.”

“If only that wretched man had never come to Kubbet-ul-Haj to spoil everything!” said Lady Haigh, somewhat ungratefully, it must be confessed, in view of the information imparted by Mr Hicks.

“Oh, don’t abuse him,” said Sir Dugald. “It is his business.”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter VI

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“It makes one feel real high-toned,” he said, slowly
[Oops. “Real” is fine, but Americans simply don’t refer to them­selves as “one”.]

“It’s nothing to what I should feel . . . . I should smile . . . . I should like . . . . I should prefer
[Oops again. In constructions of this kind, an American would—haha—say “would”, not “should”.]

And I represent her Britannic Majesty.
[Although the present edition is dated 1902, Peace with Honour originally came out in 1897.]

“No, thank you,” returned Sir Dugald.
[Can’t help but notice that Sir Dugald has happily lapped up quite a bit of information that he has no intention of paying for. In Hicks’ place, I think I would have doled out a small amount of information as an unconditional gift, leaving the rest in reserve for such a time as Sir Dugald decides I have something worth trading for. Which might be never, since he was bound to learn it all within a few days anyway.]

CHAPTER VII.
THE MAN WHO DISAPPEARED.

The day following had been appointed by the King for the state reception of the Mission, and Sir Dugald and his staff left headquarters early for the Palace, each man arrayed in the most gorgeous garments in his possession. The occasion was a purely formal one, consisting chiefly of the presentation of the different members of the Mission to the King by name, followed by a little ceremonial conversation between his Majesty and Sir Dugald. The King’s questions concerned chiefly the personal and family history of Queen Victoria, although he was also interested in the past services of the Envoy himself. It was not considered correct for Sir Dugald to originate any remarks, when once 87 the courteous messages with which he had been charged by his Government were delivered, and conversation did not flow very freely, although, thanks to the necessity for interpreting everything that was said, the time was fairly well filled up. The King was obviously ill at ease, asking every now and then sudden questions as to the object of the Mission, and the intention of the Government in sending it, with the evident aim of disconcerting Sir Dugald. But the shrewd dark eyes scanned the face of the Envoy in vain for any signs of confusion or surprise, and his tranquil and unhurried manner seemed gradually to disarm the King’s suspicions. For Sir Dugald to succeed in maintaining his air of careless calm was no slight triumph under the circumstances, since he noticed many things which assured him of the correctness of the information given by Mr Hicks. Rustam Khan was nowhere to be seen; but the little Antar Khan, a boy of about eleven, robed in bright blue satin and decked with jewels, occupied a seat at his father’s side, and was allowed to interpolate remarks of his own into the conversation in a way that showed him to be high in favour. Moreover, the King made no allusion to the eager request he had sent to England for a lady doctor who might examine his wife’s eyes, and it seemed as though Georgia’s journey to Kubbet-ul-Haj would be useless, since she could not visit the royal harem without an invitation. The Amirs who stood round the throne appeared interested in all that passed, but their faces expressed no conspicuously friendly feeling; while one of their number, whom the staff identified at once with the Jahan Beg described by Mr Hicks, showed himself ostentatiously inattentive to all that went on. Still, when the members of the Mission left the Palace and returned to their headquarters to reassure the anxious hearts of Lady Haigh and Georgia, they were able to suggest some reasons for hopefulness. At any rate, the 88 Mission had been graciously received, and that at once, and the King seemed to be in a state of suspended judgment, rather than of settled hostility, while no parade had been made of the presence of the Scythian envoy in the city.

Once more the party at the Mission met on the terrace after dinner to discuss coffee and things in general, and once again Chanda Lal interrupted the harmony of the group. Stratford was in the midst of a description of some political crisis which had occurred at Czarigrad during his residence there, when the bearer mounted the steps and made his way noiselessly to Sir Dugald’s side.

“Highness, in the court there is an old man wrapped in a mantle, who wishes to see you. He says he is the Amir Jahan Beg.”

Low as were Chanda Lal’s tones, the rest of the party heard the words, and a thrill of excitement ran through them. Why should this notoriously anti-foreign ruler come disguised and under cover of night to see Sir Dugald? Surely the situation promised fresh developments? But Sir Dugald was neither flattered nor interested.

“This is beyond endurance!” he exclaimed, wrathfully. “It was bad enough to be disturbed in the evening by that American fellow; but for a native it is a little too much! The door is shut, bearer.”

“I bring a message to the Queen of England’s Envoy from Rustam Khan,” said a crisp, penetrating voice in Ethiopian; and the startled hearers turned to see an elderly man with a grey heard standing on the steps behind them, his head and shoulders still shrouded in his cloak. “Let the Envoy bid the servant depart and I will do my errand.”

“You can go, bearer,” said Sir Dugald. “By the bye, we shall want Mr Kustendjian,” he added, and rose to call back Chanda Lal, but the stranger stepped before him, and laid a hand upon his arm.

89

“There is no need of an interpreter,” said Jahan Beg in English. “Haigh—Dugald Haigh—have you forgotten me?”

“Good heavens!” cried Sir Dugald, stepping back. “Can it be possible? You are John Bigg—the man who disappeared?”

“Exactly,” said Jahan Beg. “The man who disappeared, and made a nine days’ wonder for his friends at Tajpur, every one of whom had a separate discreditable theory to account for his disappearance.”

“That was quite unnecessary,” returned Sir Dugald, “for any one who knew you and knew Beatrice Wynn.”

“As you did? Well—by the bye, what has become of Beatrice Wynn?”

“Dead, years ago. Typhoid—in Assam somewhere.”

“And for years I have been dead in Ethiopia. Young men”—he turned suddenly to the staff, who had been endeavouring, with indifferent success, to get up an interest in conversation among themselves—“let me give you a warning. Never throw up everything for a woman’s sake. Never spoil your lives because you have been disappointed in love. There is not a woman on earth that’s worth it.”

“Present company always excepted, of course,” said Fitz, with a bow to Lady Haigh and Georgia. Jahan Beg looked at him with a grim smile.

“No woman will ever spoil your life,” he said, “though I don’t necessarily think the better of you for that. As for the rest of you, you are beyond the impressionable age, I think. You begin to see that there is something else to live for besides love. I was twenty-three when I threw aside as good prospects under the Public Works Department as a man need want, and cut myself off from my friends and my country, and all for the sake of a woman who had never cared a scrap for me. She was only amusing 90 herself with me for a while—it’s a way they have. I can see now that she painted and dyed, and that she was years older than I was—she was a widow—but I didn’t see it then. I thought her as beautiful as an angel, and as good—heavens! how I did believe in that woman—and when she married the Commissioner, I chucked everything and left.”

“Leaving your friends to get your servants brought into court on suspicion of having made away with you, and your enemies to look for discrepancies in your accounts,” said Sir Dugald.

“It was all a long time ago; but I hope no one was hanged,” said Jahan Beg.

“No; there was no possible evidence against any of the servants, and people began to talk of suicide, and to accuse the fair Beatrice under their breath of driving you to desperation. In self-defence she let it become known that your last letter to her had talked much of going to the dogs and of a ruined life, but had contained no threats. Then public opinion veered round again to a certain extent; but the Commissioner accepted another post before very long.”

“And for that woman’s sake,” said Jahan Beg, fiercely, “I have lost everything. It is enough to make a man’s blood boil, Haigh. I am an alien and a renegade all the rest of my days on account of a woman for whom I have not now even a kindly thought.”

“We have all made fools of ourselves at one time or another,” said Sir Dugald, soothingly. “You have paid heavily enough for that madness of yours, Bigg, and now you can come back with us when we leave this place and get into the world again.”

“Not quite. I have given hostages to fortune, you see.”

“What? Oh, you have married a native?”

“Yes. My wife is the King’s cousin. She was a widow 91 when I married her, and very rich—for this part of the world. She showed a slight disposition to exact a very rigid etiquette at first—expected me not to sit down in her presence without being invited, and so on, which might have led to friction if I had not explained my views clearly at once. We have never quarrelled since, and we never interfere with one another.”

“You have no children?” asked Lady Haigh.

“I have one daughter. She is married to Rustam Khan.”

“An English girl married to a native?” cried Georgia.

“She is only half English, at any rate.”

“But isn’t Rustam Khan a Mohammedan?”

“Of course; so is she, so is my wife, so am I—in so far as I am anything. I told you that I was a renegade, and now you know the worst of me.”

“But how did you find your way here, Bigg?” asked Sir Dugald, while Georgia was silent in dismay.

“You know I was always fond of disguising myself and going about among the natives. Well, when I left Tajpur I made up my mind to wander about for a time as a fakir, and at last I got into Khemistan. Things were not so settled there then as they are now; St George Keeling was hard at work pacifying the country. I fell among thieves—that is, among the hillmen—who would not believe me when I said I was an Englishman, but were afraid to kill me lest it should turn out to be true after all. They compromised matters by making me a slave, and gave me a wretched time of it. At last the Ethiopians made a raid upon their villages, and I was so glad to see the tables turned that I joined the invaders, and helped them to get possession of the various strongholds. The hillmen were wiped out, and when the fighting was over the Ethiopians thought of me. They never imagined I was an Englishman, and I didn’t tell them. Well—I may as well make a clean breast of it—they 92 offered me lands, and so on, and a command in their army if I would turn Mohammedan, thinking that I was an idolater, like the hillmen, and I had had time to recover a little from the knockdown blow Beatrice gave me, and life seemed worth living again, and I consented. It’s a sordid affair enough, you see—just a bartering of one’s conscience against life and wealth—and it was not worth it. I have tried it, and I have come to the conclusion that one’s wretched life is a poor exchange for country and religion. Another warning for you, young men.”

“Then you rose to power after all?” said Sir Dugald.

“I did. It doesn’t sound a moral arrangement—to any one who only looks on the surface. My lands lie near the frontier of the Scythian sphere of influence, and before my day they were always liable to incursions from the tribes under Scythian protection. I put a stop to that, and my fame spread. One Ethiopian chief after another made alliance with me, until I was at the head of a confederation extending all along that frontier. Then it was that the King acknowledged my power. Old Fath-ud-Din, who had taken a dislike to me from the very first, pointed out to him that the position I had built up for myself was a menace to the throne. Consequently his advice was that I should be summoned to Court and quietly put out of the way. Fortunately for me, however, the King took some one else’s advice that time. He knew that I was the only man that could hold that frontier, and he preferred to consolidate my power and attach my interests to his own by offering me his cousin’s hand. I knew better than to refuse, and from that time I became generally known as the Amir Jahan Beg, one of the pillars of the state. At least I can say that I have done my best for my district. The people are better governed there than anywhere else in the kingdom, and the chiefs under me have taken to copying some of my ways. 93 That is something, but I can’t pretend that the game is worth the candle. I used to feel it more than I do now, especially when my daughter was a child. There was so much that was English about her that it nearly broke my heart to think of her growing up and leading the life of an Ethiopian woman. I used to plan to take her with me and make a dash for liberty through Scythian territory, but it seemed mean to go away and leave my wife, and I shouldn’t have known what to do with her if I had got her to come too. Then Rustam Khan, who was a delicate boy, and pined in the city, came to live with us, and I grew as fond of him as if he had been my own son. He is the only person here who knows that I am an Englishman, but I have taught him a little English, and we talk it together sometimes. When he grew up, he wished to marry my daughter, and though I knew it would make Fath-ud-Din and all his crew my open enemies, instead of merely my ill-wishers, I could not refuse him, for he promised to take no other wife if I would give her to him.”

“Then is that the origin of the rivalry between Rustam Khan and Fath-ud-Din?” asked Sir Dugald.

“No, it has merely aggravated it. Rustam Khan is the son of the King’s first wife, but Antar Khan’s mother, the Vizier’s sister, has royal blood in her veins through her mother, and no one can decide which of the two sons has the best right to succeed. Consequently the King gives them each a turn of favour, and plays them off one against the other, to prevent either of them from forming a party. Just now, Antar Khan, which of course means Fath-ud-Din, is uppermost.”

“And that bears seriously on our position here?”

“It does; for Rustam Khan is the strongest advocate of the English alliance, while Fath-ud-Din, out of pure contrariness, has fanned the hopes of the Scythians. There is 94 a wretched Jew fellow, supposed to have been intrusted by the Scythian and Neustrian Governments with a secret mission, in the town now, but he is kept in the background until the King has made up his mind about you. Whatever Fath-ud-Din can do against you he will, you may depend upon that, and he is all-powerful just now. Rustam Khan finds it advisable to remain at home and pretend to be ill. He would have come to see you before this if he had only had himself to please, but he knows that his visit would be at once represented as part of a plot to dethrone his father and place himself on the throne. Even I have to be careful. Naturally I have spoken in favour of the English alliance, and joined with Rustam Khan in doing all I could to further it, but Fath-ud-Din has begun to smell a rat. He can’t dream that I am an Englishman, but I believe he thinks I have been in British territory and brought dangerous ideas into Ethiopia with me, and he would ruin me if he could. That is why I am bound, while supporting the object of your Mission here, to appear indifferent or even hostile to yourselves personally, and why I dare not be seen coming to your house. There is a horrible Yankee journalist about the place—have you come across him yet?—who tried to draw me, but I put on the very haughtiest oriental airs, and sent him away with a flea in his ear. I dare say he means me no harm personally, but I know he is very thick with Fath-ud-Din, and that is enough for me. He has not got much change out of Jahan Beg.”

“Mr Hicks has already presented himself here,” said Sir Dugald. “What with him, and Fath-ud-Din, and the Neustro-Scythian agent, and your precarious position in the country, Bigg, it would appear to a Western mind that our prospects of success were rather cloudy.”

“I will do what I can to help you,” returned Jahan Beg; “secretly, of course. In public you must expect to find 95 me slightly troublesome in weighing your proposals, and rigid in exacting the full pound of flesh and an ounce or two extra; but such hints as I can give you privately I will. Don’t tell me what your instructions are; I don’t want to know them. I only say, don’t insist on the reception of a permanent British resident with an escort at Kubbet-ul-Haj, for you won’t get it, and you will be playing into the hands of Scythia. The Jew agent has assured the King already that you are sure to make that demand, and that such an arrangement would be the first step towards annexing the kingdom. If you must be represented here, stand out for a Consul-General at Iskandarbagh, the big town you passed just after crossing the frontier, with a native Vakil at the capital. Then don’t demand any territory. The Scythians have damaged their case already by hinting at a rectification of frontier. A reciprocal commercial treaty you are empowered to conclude, I suppose; but you must agree that no foreigner shall enter Ethiopia without the King’s passport. There will be difficulties, too, about the legal status of foreigners——”

“Excuse me, Bigg, but would you not prefer to discuss these things with me in the office? They are a little technical to form an evening entertainment for the ladies. Mr Stratford, perhaps you will kindly accompany us?”

“The ladies must excuse me, remembering that it is a long-desired relief to talk English once more to any one who can understand it properly. You have not presented me to your wife, Haigh.”

Sir Dugald performed the ceremony briefly, and then introduced the guest to Georgia, explaining that she was St George Keeling’s daughter.

“And you are the lady doctor?” said Jahan Beg. “I have one thing to ask of you, Miss Keeling. It is possible that at the Palace you may see my daughter, Nur Jahan, 96 Rustam Khan’s wife. Have pity upon her, and don’t make her discontented with her life. She must stay here all her days, and she is happy with her husband and her baby. You need not describe to her English life and the Christian position of women, and all those other luxuries of civilisation of which you are the culminating product, need you? It could do no possible good, and it certainly would do a great deal of harm, for things of that kind are absolutely unattainable here.”

“I will try not to put new ideas into her head, if they would only make her unhappy,” said Georgia, rather doubtfully; “but surely you have told her about England?”

“I have told her nothing. ‘Where ignorance is bliss’—you know the rest. Although I have married her to a Mohammedan—and roused your indignation by doing so—I did what I could to keep her happy as his wife. She does not know that I am an Englishman, and I have never even taught her English; although for years I used to hold long conversations with myself or with imaginary friends when I was alone, that I might not forget my own language.”

And Jahan Beg went on his way, leaving Georgia oppressed with a sense—which was by no means new to her, but had never made itself felt so clearly as to-night—of the complexity of life. She sat looking out over the Moslem city, and pondering the various problems which the Amir’s words had started in her mind, while Lady Haigh and Fitz settled down to a game of halma, and North carried off Dr Headlam to show him a new kind of locust, which one of the servants had caught and brought to him. The doctor welcomed the discovery with rapture, and conveyed the insect in triumph to his own quarters, while Dick returned to the terrace. Georgia turned to him impulsively as he mounted the steps close beside her.

97

“What is your opinion of compromises? Can they ever be morally justifiable?”

Now it was more than a month since Dick and Georgia had exchanged any conversation but the merest commonplaces, and Dick was so well satisfied with this state of affairs as to vow to himself every day that he would take care their acquaintance remained on this somewhat restricted footing for the future. Yet although he felt that Georgia had not intentionally appealed to him in preference to any one else, and would have attacked Sir Dugald or Stratford on the subject, if either of them had appeared at the moment, as readily as himself, he sat down near her, and hastily collected his views on the question of compromise.

“It rather depends upon the nature of the compromises, doesn’t it?” he asked—“whether they refer to essentials or non-essentials, I mean. For instance, one’s whole existence is a series of compromises.”

“In the sense in which all social life is a compromise between the demands of the individual and those of the race?” said Georgia. “Yes, but those refer to non-essentials, of course.”

“Non-essentials to the race now; but I dare say they seemed essential enough to the individual at one time. For instance, in the district in India in which I served first, the natives thought it essential to offer human sacrifices every year. Their crops depended upon it, they said. But we have taught them otherwise, and now they compromise matters by sacrificing goats.”

“But that was not really an essential matter; it was only that they thought it so. What I want to know is, how can one tell, in questions of right and wrong, where conciliation ends and compromise begins?”

“That is the office of all great leaders and statesmen, I 98 suppose; to point out a path which shall conciliate as many people, and compromise as few principles, as possible. On the whole, the world is on the side of compromise, I think—when it is called conciliation. The people who object to both the name and the reality generally become martyrs.”

“Martyrs!” said Georgia, slowly, “It is easy enough to say the word; but think what it means!”

“Ah! I see that it is our friend Jahan Beg’s story which has awakened your sudden interest in compromises.”

“Not exactly his story, but what he said to me. It made me wonder whether I had done right in coming here. Perhaps you don’t know that when I agreed to come it was expressly stipulated that I was to make no attempt to introduce Christianity into the King’s household?”

“That seems a very obvious and necessary precaution,” said Dick, delighted to find Georgia talking to him so frankly. “You could do no good, as Jahan Beg said; but you might do a great deal of harm, both to the poor women and to the Mission.”

“But it almost seems to me that I was wrong in reasoning in that way. It is like hiding one’s colours—nearly as bad as doing evil that good may come.”

“Not doing evil, surely, Miss Keeling? As a medical missionary, half your work is concerned with the bodies of your patients. You can do that half still, and you are not forbidden to answer questions if the ladies ask them.”

“But I know they won’t ask me questions of that kind. My Khemistan experiences have shown me that they will only talk about the merest trivialities, or else ask me for poisons.”

“Then it can’t be your fault. At any rate, you will make friends with the ladies, and perhaps the memory of your visit may prepare the way for a regular missionary 99 when the country is opened up later on,” suggested Dick, the fluency of his reasoning astonishing himself.

“I am afraid I looked upon Kubbet-ul-Haj too much as a stepping-stone to Khemistan. I thought perhaps the Government might allow me to settle on the frontier and practise there if I accomplished this business successfully.”

“Well, do you know, I think that was rather a good idea, Miss Keeling. You might even itinerate into Ethiopia if the King was well-disposed towards you, and there could be no mistake as to your status then. But you are not thinking of refusing to treat the poor Queen now that you are here, and leaving her to go on suffering until a lady doctor with a more elastic conscience can be sent out?”

“No, of course not; it would be cruel as well as absurd. Besides, it would be breaking my word. But don’t you ever feel puzzled about your duty, Major North, or afraid that in some particular case you may have acted wrongly?”

“I don’t think so,” returned Dick, meditatively. “Not that I am a very good judge, for things have always been pretty clear for me. I have been under orders a good deal, you know, and then my only business was to obey, and when you are thrown on your own responsibility, you only try to do your duty, and act on the square. You know your father’s motto, Miss Keeling? Two or three of his Khemistan men have told me that he gave it to them when they began to work under him. This was the way it usually went: ‘You are here for the honour of your country and the good of the natives,’ he would say when they joined. ‘Never desert a friend, never disown an agent, never deceive an enemy. You will go on duty tomorrow, and may God bless you.’ I wish I had known him. It is a distinction to have served under such a man.”

“Highness,” said a voice at Dick’s elbow, before Georgia 100 could answer, and they both turned to see Chanda Lal, who had mounted the steps noiselessly with his bare feet, standing beside them, “there is another old man in the court, wrapped up in a mantle, and he says he is the Grand Vizier, Fath-ud-Din. He asks to see the burra sahib, and he will not be turned away.”

“Good gracious!” cried Dick. “We shall have all Kubbet-ul-Haj here before long. It only wants the King and Rustam Khan to make things lively. But if Fath-ud-Din meets Jahan Beg, there’ll be murder done. Miss Keeling, while I go and parley with this old wretch, do you mind warning the Chief to get rid of Jahan Beg? I shouldn’t wonder if we have to let him down through a window into the street behind, for it won’t do for him to pass through the courtyard.”

He ran down the steps, and Georgia hurried to Sir Dugald’s private office, where she found him in earnest confabulation with Jahan Beg. The state of affairs was quickly explained, and Stratford hastened the visitor away to the back of the house. Here, when the new-comer was safely closeted with Sir Dugald, Dick joined him, and together they succeeded in letting Jahan Beg down into the lane, where he alighted softly on a convenient rubbish-heap, and whence he made the best of his way home.

It was not until the rest of the party were thinking of going to bed that Sir Dugald was able to get rid of his visitor and return to the terrace. He smiled grimly as he glanced at the expectant faces which awaited him.

“The worthy Fath-ud-Din has prepared a very pretty little plot,” he said, “which is meant to remove both Jahan Beg and Rustam Khan from his path, and we are expected to help.”

“We shall get into trouble,” remarked Lady Haigh, oracularly, “if all the conspirators in Kubbet-ul-Haj make 101 this house a rendezvous when they want to plot against one another.”

“We shall,” agreed Sir Dugald; “and it is a mystery to me what these good people see in our faces that leads them to think we shall be willing to forward their schemes. I suppose it is only natural that Bigg should wish to utilise us as a means of getting his son-in-law acknowledged as heir to the throne; but I did not expect Fath-ud-Din. It seems that he has for a long time suspected Jahan Beg of being an Englishman, and the suspicion became a certainty yesterday, owing to his ostentatious lack of interest in our entry. Jahan Beg thought that his bearing showed how patriotic an Ethiopian he had become; but Fath-ud-Din argued that such disregard of such a show could only be due to his having often seen similar sights before.”

“I hope you taxed Fath-ud-Din with being an Englishman on the same grounds,” said Lady Haigh.

“Certainly not,” replied Sir Dugald. “You forget that he was ill. His illness may have been diplomatic and momentary; but it has to be accepted as a fact. Well, Hicks supplied the next link in the chain. It seems that Fath-ud-Din granted him the interview which Jahan Beg refused, and in the course of conversation asked him casually what he would think if he heard that a solitary Englishman had lived in Ethiopia disguised for years. Hicks replied, as most men would naturally do, that he should conclude he had done something which had made British territory too hot to hold him, and had run away from fear of the law. That struck Fath-ud-Din as a bright idea, and he came to tell me of his suspicions, and to suggest that I should invite the King to give up Jahan Beg as an escaped criminal. He assured me that he and his party would give me all possible support, which I could well believe; and he let out that he anticipated that Rustam 102 Khan would be involved in his father-in-law’s downfall. That would leave the way clear for Antar Khan, to whom Fath-ud-Din hopes to marry his daughter. A suitable bakhshish was also understood, and in return for these various boons, Fath-ud-Din would be good enough to further the objects of the Mission, and guarantee its success.”

“And I hope you kicked him down the steps?” said Lady Haigh.

“No, Elma; I did not. I should have thought you knew by this time that my disposition was eminently a peaceful one. I merely told Fath-ud-Din that I knew of no criminal answering to the description of Jahan Beg, but that if he could find out what he had done, and it was sufficiently heinous, I would apply for his extradition with pleasure. With that he had to be content, which leaves us a breathing-space.”

“I suppose you will be able to get the treaty concluded while he is hunting about for proofs of Jahan Beg’s guilt?” said Georgia.

“That is what we must hope to do. I was most careful to make everything hinge on his own efforts. It was necessary to avoid like poison anything that might sound like offering him help in his quest, or he would have understood it as a definite pledge to assist him by fair means or foul to ruin Jahan Beg.”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter VII

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The King was obviously ill at ease, asking every now and then sudden questions as to the object of the Mission, and the intention of the Government in sending it
[I can’t say as how I blame him.]

Beatrice Wynn
[I thought this bit of backstory might turn out to be a reference to yet another Sydney Grier novel, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.]

Georgia was silent in dismay
[This chapter has not done much to raise my opinion of Georgia. Or, for that matter, of the author.]

but it seemed mean to go away and leave my wife
[Seriously, John?]

You need not describe to her English life and the Christian position of women
[Not to belabor the obvious, but: At the time this book came out, it was only about fifteen years since British lawmakers decided that a woman’s property could remain her own after she married. Intestate inheritance would continue to default to the oldest son for several more decades. Half may be less than a whole, but it is a heck of a lot more than nothing. We won’t even go into the author’s fixed belief that Christianity is unknown in Ethiopia.]

‘You are here for the honour of your country and the good of the natives’
[In that order.]

103

CHAPTER VIII.
EAST MEETS WEST.

In spite of the very moderate encouragement he had received, hope must have told a flattering tale to the Vizier Fath-ud-Din when he left the Residency after his interview with Sir Dugald, for it became evident very soon that the hindrances which had threatened to obstruct the path of the Mission had suddenly been removed. Rustam Khan was restored to a measure of his father’s favour and allowed to appear at Court, besides being permitted to speak in the council on behalf of the English alliance, while the Neustro-Scythian agent found his promises received with unconcealed incredulity, and was tantalised with evasive answers to his demands. Of these changes the party at the Mission were kept informed both by Jahan Beg and by the Vizier himself, the latter losing no opportunity of insisting on the virulence with which his rival was opposing the English proposals, and the eagerness with which he advised the extortion of every possible concession. If it had not been for the explanation given behind the scenes by Jahan Beg himself, it would have been difficult for Sir Dugald to resist the conclusion, towards which Fath-ud-Din laboured continually to urge him, that the Amir’s hatred of his native country was deep-rooted and had a sinister origin; but the Vizier’s object was so apparent that it was fairly easy to distinguish the embroidery which he added to the speeches he professed to report. Jahan Beg’s opposition was all on points of detail, not of principle; and although he would haggle for hours over the rate of an import duty, or the terms on which an imaginary passport was to be granted, 104 Sir Dugald forgave him the worry he caused in consideration of his services in bringing his colleagues and the King to look at matters from a business point of view. It was the Ethiopian idea that the King was the greatest monarch on earth, and that he could settle any trouble that might arise by the simple expedient of ordering the heads of the disturbers of the peace to be brought him, and it was difficult at first to wean the people, and especially the Amirs who formed the royal council, from this mediæval way of looking at things. In spite of Jahan Beg’s invaluable help in this respect, however, Sir Dugald did his best more than once to induce him to abandon his simulated policy of obstruction and support the Mission heartily, reminding him that he could not now deceive Fath-ud-Din, who knew him to be an Englishman. But Jahan Beg remained obdurate, declaring that if his proceedings did not blind Fath-ud-Din, at least they continued to deceive the rest of the Amirs, who would at once suspect him of having been bribed by the English should he appear to be suddenly converted to a warm interest in the treaty; while the Vizier himself, having already concealed for some time the fact which had come to his knowledge, was bound still to keep it secret, lest he should be punished for not revealing it before.

In consequence of Jahan Beg’s educational work, and Fath-ud-Din’s unexpected complaisance, Sir Dugald and the staff betook themselves day after day to the Palace, and were conducted at once to the King’s hall of audience. Here seats of rather an uncomfortable and nondescript character were arranged for them, for the camp-chairs they had brought with them were the only chairs in Kubbet-ul-Haj, or possibly in all Ethiopia, and a laboured conversation took place. When the King had satisfied a portion of his curiosity respecting men and things in England and Khemistan, 105 Sir Dugald would contrive to lead the talk round to the more important matters in hand, and in this way the various clauses of the proposed treaty were discussed in turn, notes of the proceedings being taken in Ethiopian by the King’s scribe and the interpreter Kustendjian, and in English by Fitz Anstruther. When the Englishmen had taken their departure, the points touched upon would be discussed afresh by the King and the Amirs, and if no satisfactory conclusion had been reached, they reappeared the next morning with great regularity, while if all was well, the discussion moved on to a fresh stage.

In this way time passed not unpleasantly, varied with a certain amount of incident, so far as regarded Sir Dugald and his staff; but for the ladies it was at first very different. True, they had their own terrace, where they could go about unveiled, and their own courtyard in which to take exercise. When Georgia was in a cheerful frame of mind she called this court her quarter-deck; when she was feeling depressed she alluded to it as her prison-yard,—and here she paced along during the cooler hours of each day until Sir Dugald told her that her feet would wear a path in the stones. Sometimes, when public business prevented the King from receiving the Mission, its members would escort the ladies for a ride, but it was necessary to choose secluded tracks for these excursions, since public opinion in Kubbet-ul-Haj did not permit women to ride with men, unless simply for protection on a journey.

But when the Mission had spent about a month in the city, there came a change for Georgia. By way of propitiating Sir Dugald, who was beginning to wax exceedingly wrathful over the King’s ostentatious forgetfulness of the urgent request he had made for a lady doctor, Fath-ud-Din ventured to remind his august master of Miss Keeling’s existence, and her presence at his desire 106 in Kubbet-ul-Haj. The King happened to be in a good temper at the moment, or perhaps his conscience had been pricking him for his neglect of Rustam Khan’s unfortunate mother, and the result of the reminder was the arrival at the Mission one morning of a covered litter carried by four men, and accompanied by an escort of cavalry, at the head of which rode a gorgeous negro, who brought the intimation that the doctor lady was requested to wait on the Queen.

That was only the first of many days on which Georgia ensconced herself in the litter with her maid Rahah, and with the curtains closely drawn was borne off to the Palace. A very short preliminary examination convinced her that the Queen was suffering from cataract in both eyes, and that an operation was absolutely necessary. But the matter did not appear by any means of so simple a character to the dwellers in the harem. Even when, with the aid of the Khemistani girl, Georgia had succeeded in getting things explained, in highly colloquial Ethiopian, to the Queen and her attendants, she found that they all shrank with horror from the idea of the operation. It was not merely that they distrusted herself, as an alien both in race and religion, but they were strongly of the opinion that whereas the use of any amount of medicine, the nastier the better, was lawful in cases of disease, the employment of the knife to give relief was a blasphemous interference with the designs of Providence. In vain Georgia told of the wonderful instances of recovery, following on operations such as she intended to perform, which had come within her own experience; it was Rahah who at last placed the question before the Queen in a way that appealed to her. Whatever happened was incontro­vertibly due to the decrees of fate: if it was fated that the Queen should be blind, blind she would continue 107 to be; but if the operation proved successful, it would be clear evidence that she was not fated to be blind. Influenced by Rahah’s logic, the Queen consented, with great reluctance, to allow the matter to be referred to her husband; and the next day Georgia, with Rahah as interpreter, held a colloquy on the subject with the King, through a grating which effectually precluded either party from gaining a glimpse of the other. The King was not so easily moved by Rahah’s eloquence as his wife had been, but eventually a compromise was agreed upon. It was evident to Georgia that, owing both to fright and to the sorrows of the past few months, the Queen was in no state for the operation to be performed at present. Some delay was therefore inevitable, and the King was at last brought to consent to the trial of the plan, if a week or two of careful diet and nursing, together with cheerful society and the blessing of hopefulness, should prove to have a beneficial effect on the patient’s general health.

It seemed to Georgia that, in view of the state of things in the Palace, each portion of the prescription was more unattainable than the rest; but after two or three days of vain endeavours to instruct the shiftless harem servants in the arts of nursing and of invalid cookery, and to restore tone to the mind of the poor Queen, weakened and saddened as it was by years of sorrow, she found a new ally at her side. Coming into the Queen’s room one day, she saw seated on the divan a tall girl with a fresh English face, blue-eyed and fair-haired, holding a closely-swathed baby in her arms. Although the stranger wore the Ethiopian dress, Georgia would have greeted her at once as a fellow-countrywoman, if she had not turned and stared at her with undisguised interest and pleasure, saying something in Ethiopian to the Queen. Then a great pang of pity seized Georgia’s heart, for she knew that the English 108 girl before her must be Nur Jahan, Jahan Beg’s daughter and Rustam Khan’s wife.

Remembering her promise to Nur Jahan’s father, however, Georgia composed her face and took her usual seat beside her patient. The Queen was so much more cheerful this morning, that it was evident she enjoyed the presence of her daughter-in-law and grandson; and after a while, to Georgia’s delight, she brightened visibly at Nur Jahan’s suggestion that, when the operation had been successfully performed, she would be able to see the baby. When the medical examination was over, the young wife felt herself at liberty to talk, and Georgia learnt that, although she had now come for a few days to the Palace solely for the purpose of cheering her mother-in-law, she had not quitted it very long. When Rustam Khan fell into disfavour, he had put his wife and her week-old baby under his mother’s protection at once, fearing that neither his house nor that of Jahan Beg would be safe from the rabble of the city, who were warm partisans of Fath-ud-Din. With high glee, Nur Jahan narrated how her husband had come to visit her in secret, always at hours when the King was not likely to enter the harem, disguised sometimes as a woman and sometimes as a negro, in order to escape the Vizier’s spies; and how once he had actually met his father outside the Queen’s door, but stepping aside respectfully, had passed him without being recognised under the thick veil. To Georgia, the possibility of such adventures within the sacred walls of the harem was a new thing, and she enjoyed the gusto with which Nur Jahan related them. But the Queen thought differently, and began to moan feebly, as she pulled at the edge of the coverlet.

“Thou art always thus, Nur Jahan,” she said, querulously; “laughing and rejoicing when thy lord is in peril of his life. An Ethiopian woman, seeing her husband in 109 such straits, would have shed an ocean of tears, and refused to be comforted until times had changed; but I have seen thee, when Rustam Khan had but just gone from thee, planning eagerly how he should enter the Palace on the next occasion, without letting fall a tear.”

“But it was that which pleased my lord, O my mother,” said Nur Jahan, eager to defend herself. “What delight had there been in our meetings, if I had only sat at his feet and bedewed them with tears? There was so much to tell, and so much to hear; how could I weep when my lord was with me? And when he was gone, was it not happier for me to consider how I might see him again, rather than weep because he could not be with me still?”

“Go thy ways, Nur Jahan,” said the elder woman, bitterly. “Thou too wilt one day learn that although the life of all women is sad, that of a woman who is also a king’s wife is saddest of all. How canst thou love thy lord as I, his mother, love him? Thine eyes are as bright as when he married thee, while mine are blind with weeping for him. But he loves the bright eyes better than the blind ones, and is it to be wondered at?” and the Queen rocked herself to and fro, and wailed hopelessly.

“O my mother, wilt thou break my heart?” sobbed Nur Jahan, throwing herself down beside her. “Can we not both love my lord? I know well that thy love for him has lasted longer, but must it needs be greater than mine? My lord’s love is my life, and yet thou wilt not believe it because I do not always weep when I am sad. O doctor lady, dost thou not believe that I love my lord?”

“What does the doctor lady know of it?” demanded the Queen. “But thou art my son’s beloved, Nur Jahan, and for that I love thee also. But I would thou wert as we are. Thou art of the idolaters through thy father, and thou dost not grow like us. But thy life is like ours, and, as years 110 pass on, it will be more and more like mine, and if thou dost not weep then, what wilt thou do? Those who do not weep go mad.”

It was evident to Georgia that Nur Jahan was comforting herself with the thought that her husband was very unlike his father, while the Queen expected that in course of time he would exactly resemble him; but she saw that the excitement was bad for her patient, and interposed prosaically, with a suggestion as to the preparation of beef-tea, which Nur Jahan took up at once, displaying practical powers which encouraged Georgia to give her a first lesson in home nursing. But in spite of this cheering fact, Georgia’s heart still ached as she was carried back to the Mission in her litter, for she could not forget the contrast between the girlish form of Nur Jahan and the bowed and broken figure of the old Queen, who seemed so sure that her daughter-in-law’s life must one day come to resemble her own. But there was a trait in Nur Jahan’s character which had no part in that of the Queen, and which would go far to render her lot even harder—the adventurous spirit which her mother-in-law so bitterly resented, and which had caused her to find a certain enjoyment in the shifts and devices to which her husband had been obliged to have recourse in order to see her.

“Jahan Beg ought to have escaped from the country and brought her to England, as he thought of doing,” was Georgia’s mental comment. “It is his spirit she inherits, and it is cruel of him to rest satisfied with the life to which he has condemned her. She is ready to welcome any excitement, even of a disagreeable kind, as a relief to the monotony of her existence. I can see that she is pining for outside interests, though she doesn’t know it. In a man of English blood this would seem quite natural and proper to every one, and why should it be different 111 for a woman? And what a life it is to which she has to look forward! Even if Rustam Khan keeps his promise and marries no other wife, she can only spend her days in doing nothing. Nothing to do for husband or children, in the house or outside, and to be surrounded by a number of other women as idle as herself! ‘Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.’ I had rather have my thirty-two years of life than the poor Queen’s fifty, queen and wife and mother though she is. Her only advantage in being Queen is that she must not do the little pieces of work which would have fallen to her in another position. As a wife she has to share her husband with an indefinite number of other women, and as a mother she sees her sons treated like Rustam Khan, and her daughters condemned to the same kind of life as herself. Perhaps Nur Jahan’s children may inherit enough of her character to enable them to break the spell; but I am afraid the change won’t come in her time. The East moves so slowly.”

Since Georgia’s thoughts had been so deeply stirred on this subject, it was not wonderful that she communicated her views to Dick when they happened to be talking on the terrace that evening. She felt it a necessity to share her reflections with some one, and to her surprise he received them with unwonted meekness.

“Kipling doesn’t agree with you,” was all he said in answer to her estimate of the probable happiness of the Eastern as compared with that of the Western woman.

“Kipling!” said Georgia, in high scorn.

“I thought you admired him?”

“So I do. I think he is an excellent authority on men—at least, the men seem to find it so—but what can he, or any man, know about women? At best they can only see results and guess at causes. They observe very carefully 112 all that they can see, and give us the result of their observations in knowing little remarks, half cynical and half patronising, and think they have gauged a woman’s nature to its very depths. Then she does something that throws all their calculations wrong, and they say that she is shallow and fickle, and, above all, unwomanly; whereas it is only that either their observations or their deductions were incorrect.”

“Still,” said Dick, “I am inclined to agree with a very comforting doctrine I heard you enunciating to Stratford the other night. You were speaking of the principle of balance, and you said that when one side of the truth had been exclusively insisted upon for a time the pendulum swung back and the other side became prominent until it was the first one’s turn again. I thought it was a very good idea—for the people who can keep just in the middle. Those who rush to either extreme must find themselves rather left when the pendulum swings.”

“But what has that to do with our present subject?” asked Georgia.

“It seems to me to apply. You see, the New—I beg your pardon; I know you dislike the term—the modern female has had rather a long innings lately. You have often said that you don’t agree with all her developments, which seems pretty clear proof that she has at any rate approached the extreme point. Well, Kipling comes to show us the other side of the matter, exaggerated, perhaps; but that is unavoidable, owing to the exaggerations on the lady’s part. At least, that is how it strikes me.”

“North, where are you?” said Stratford, appearing suddenly on the terrace. “The Chief wants you for something.”

Dick rose and disappeared, with an apology to Georgia, who leaned back in her chair and smiled.

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“He is improving wonderfully,” she said to herself. “Two months ago he would never have talked as he has to-night. Crushing assertions without any proof used to be his idea of arguments. He must have taken a lesson from Mr Stratford. Was he really listening all the time I was talking to him the other night? He has certainly changed very much, and I am very glad of it. It would have been most unpleasant if the only man who could not bring himself to be civil to me was such an old friend, and Mab’s brother.”

If Mabel could have heard this soliloquy, it is probable that she would have smiled darkly to herself, and remarked that her dear Georgie must have been considerably piqued by Dick’s cavalier behaviour for her to make such a point of having overcome his opposition to herself. However, there was no one at hand to point out to Georgia that she felt more satisfaction in one amicable conversation with her former lover than in all the attentions of Stratford and the doctor, who entertained no prejudice against medical women, and always appreciated the honour of a talk with her. It may be that it was merely the feeling that she had been victorious in disarming Dick’s hostility which gave such a zest to her intercourse with him; but if this was so, an incident which occurred a few days later ought to have cast some additional light upon the subject.

Matters had been going very smoothly at the Palace of late, and Sir Dugald had the satisfaction of knowing that all the clauses of the projected treaty had been in substance agreed to. It now only remained to draw it up in formal shape, and to ratify it by the signatures, or rather seals, of the contracting parties. While the draughtsmen on both sides were busy reducing the notes taken during Sir Dugald’s audiences of the King into suitably involved phraseology, the members of the Mission enjoyed a short 114 holiday. They made several expeditions into the districts lying around the city, and one day the King invited the gentlemen of the party to visit a summer-palace which he had erected on a spur of the hills some fifteen miles away. Mr Hicks, who had remained doggedly at his post in spite of the rebuff he had received, and contrived to glean sufficient news from his talks with Fath-ud-Din and the gossip of the Mission servants to fill the requisite number of columns per week for his paper when supplemented by his own lively imagination, was to be of the party, and the younger men anticipated some amusement in baffling his insatiable curiosity. They rode off in high spirits, the outward expression of which was modified in deference to Sir Dugald, to whom the excursion appeared in a light which was anything but pleasurable; and Lady Haigh and Georgia resigned themselves to a long, slow, quiet day. It was not one of the days on which Georgia visited her patient at the Palace, and therefore Lady Haigh and she wrote up their diaries with great industry, compiled several lengthy descriptive letters for the benefit of friends at home, and filled in odd corners of time with reading and talking. As the afternoon wore on, Lady Haigh went to remind the cook to make a particular kind of cake, likely to be appreciated after a long, dusty ride, for tea, and Georgia was left alone on the terrace.

As she sat there reading, the noise of horses’ feet in the outer court came to her ears, and she dropped her book, wondering whether the party had already returned. Presently Fitz Anstruther made his appearance under the archway which furnished a means of communication between the two courtyards, and catching sight of Georgia on the terrace, hurried towards her, followed by Dr Headlam. Fitz had something in his hand, carefully wrapped up in leaves and tied with wisps of grass, and as he reached the top of the steps he deposited it at Georgia’s feet.

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“There, Miss Keeling,” he cried, in high delight, “I’ve got a spotted viper for you, for the collection! He’s a really fine beast; that measly old specimen the doctor got hold of hasn’t a look-in compared with him. See him, now,” and he unrolled the wrappings and displayed, as he said, a remarkably good specimen of the deadliest snake known to Kubbet-ul-Haj. It was only about twenty-seven inches long, but the spots, from which the Mission had given it its hopelessly unscientific name, were unusually brilliant.

“You very nearly had the chance of labelling him as a murderer,” Fitz went on, holding up the snake’s head and examining its fangs with the air of a connoisseur. “He reared up suddenly, just behind North, and had his head stretched out to strike. North was leaning on his elbow on the cushions, and when he saw all the Ethiopians staring at him as pale as death, he turned round. There was no time to move away, and he cut at the thing with his knife and missed. We were eating fruit just then, all smothered in snow from the hills. Stratford had his revolver out in a moment, and was going to fire, but I yelled out to him to stop. I didn’t want the skin spoilt, and I knew that a shot at that distance would smash the head all to smithereens. I had my riding-crop handy, and I jumped up and managed to catch the beast such a whack that it broke his spine or something. Anyhow, he was killed, and I brought him home all the way on purpose for you, Miss Keeling.”

man swinging riding-whip at snake about to strike

“He reared up suddenly just behind North, and had his head stretched out to strike.”

Georgia had turned pale and stepped back a little as Fitz looked up for her approval. Seeing her hesitation, Dr Headlam interposed.

“It really was very neatly done, Miss Keeling, though it was a risky thing, both for Anstruther and North. When I saw the crop come down, I could hardly believe that in his ardour for science Anstruther had not sacrificed North. It was a frightfully near business.”

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“Who cares about North?” Fitz wanted to know. “It’s a jolly good specimen, Miss Keeling, and your beast is better than the doctor’s, at any rate. Your collection will take the cake now, I know.”

“Must it be stuffed?” asked Georgia, with unwonted timidity. “I don’t like it. It—it frightens me.”

“Oh, Miss Keeling!” cried Fitz, deeply wounded. But Dr Headlam interposed again.

“I should be pleased to stuff it for you, Miss Keeling; but don’t you think that under the circumstances it would be better to take it home in spirit? It is a new species, so far as we know, and this is quite the finest specimen we have come across, so that some toxicologist might be glad to dissect it. I think we must preserve it in the interests of science.”

“Oh yes, of course, in the interests of science,” said Georgia, unsteadily. “It is really very foolish of me to object to it,” she went on, with a nervous little laugh. “I can stand most creatures, but snakes are such horrible things. It makes me feel quite queer.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” said Fitz, moved to compunction. “I never thought you mightn’t like it. Miss Keeling. I’ll tell my boy to throw the beast away at once.”

“Oh no, please don’t,” said Georgia, “if Dr Headlam is kind enough to preserve it. You will keep it over at your house with the rest of the things, won’t you, doctor? And you mustn’t think I am not pleased with it, Mr Anstruther. It was most kind and considerate of you to think of me at such an exciting moment, and I shall value the snake always as a memorial of your bravery and coolness,” and Georgia rushed away to her own room, where she threw herself upon the divan and broke into wild peals of laughter. That Fitz should think of saving the snake’s skin whole for her when Dick North’s life was at stake! 117 It was too funny! Georgia laughed till she cried, and Lady Haigh came in and accused her of going into hysterics—an accusation which was vehemently denied—and administered cold water and parti­cularly pungent smelling-salts.

But the snake was duly deposited in a huge bottle of spirit, and, in common with the rest of the collection, became a prominent object in Dr Headlam’s waiting-room. It inspired both awe and interest in the patients, especially after Fitz—who sometimes assisted the doctor in receiving his visitors—had delivered a lecture on the subject.

“I don’t know when I have laughed so much,” said Dr Headlam, telling the story after dinner that evening. “I happened to be a little late in going into the surgery this morning, but when I got near the door I became aware that Anstruther was improving the shining hour in the waiting-room. His discourse sounded so interesting that I lay low just outside and listened. It was delivered in English, helped out with all the Eastern words he knew, but it was so vividly illustrated by gestures that it seemed to have no difficulty in penetrating into the minds of all the patients. ‘These all devils,’ he informed them, pointing to the bottles of specimens; ‘big devils, little devils, all shut up safe. See this one?’ he took down the celebrated snake, which certainly does look rather vicious, coiled up in its bottle. ‘This snake-devil—ghoul—jinnishaitan; you see? This one, eye-devil,’ pointing to that diseased eye which I removed for a man a fortnight ago, and took such pains to preserve, ‘finger-devil, tongue-devil,’ and so on. ‘Now, you like me to open one of these bottles?’ A delicious shiver of anticipation went through the audience as he took down the snake again. ‘You know what will happen if I throw it down? There will be a great crash, and you will smell the vilest smell you 118 ever smelt in your lives, and you will see—what you will see, and the devil will be loose! Now, one, two, three and——’ but they were all on their knees begging and imploring him not to do it, and I judged it as well to make my appearance at that juncture.”

“You win have the town-boys raiding your diggings and destroying the bottles to see what happens when the devil does get loose,” said Stratford.

“I don’t think so,” returned the doctor. “They are all so frightened that it is as much as I can do now to get them into the same room with the collection. It is as good as a watch-dog to me.”

“Anstruther will have to be careful,” said Sir Dugald, with an approach to a frown. “We don’t want our characters blackened by any suspicion of dealings with infernal powers. I rather wish you had broken one of the bottles before them, doctor, to convince them that it was a joke.”

“Rather it would have convinced them that I was letting out a pestilence on the country,” said the doctor; “and they would simply have gone away and died of fright, which would be clear proof that I was their murderer. I think we are safer with the bottles unbroken.”

“I never like fooling about with supernatural nonsense in these countries,” said Sir Dugald. “It gives the people a handle, and they are not likely to be slow in taking it. As we four are alone together, I may give you a hint that I expect trouble before long. Things have been going too smoothly of late, and Kustendjian tells me that Hicks said to him yesterday, ‘Your old man has squared Fath-ud-Din nicely up to now; but what will he do when the bill comes in? He ought to know by this time that the man who calls for the drinks pays.’ I cannot flatter myself, unfortunately, that I have squared Fath-ud-Din; but if he considers that I have attempted to do it, it is quite on the 119 cards that he will send in his bill. We can refuse payment, of course; but I am afraid that will not better our position very much.”

The justice of Sir Dugald’s words was recognised a little later, after another mysterious evening visit from Fath-ud-Din. The Vizier came to the Mission because he wished to know when his rival was to be permanently removed from his path. He had done all in his power to smooth the progress of the negotiations; but Sir Dugald had made no attempt to accuse Jahan Beg to the King or to demand his extradition. The answer was simple. Sir Dugald had declared his readiness to demand the surrender of Jahan Beg if it could be proved that he was in exile in consequence of any crime committed on British territory; but not a vestige of evidence that such was the case had been brought forward, and it was impossible to extradite him merely for the sake of pleasing the Grand Vizier. On hearing this, Fath-ud-Din flew into a transport of rage, and, from the words he let fall in his anger, Sir Dugald gathered that he had been expected to be prepared with a case against Jahan Beg, and false witnesses to support it, in return for the Vizier’s help. This was a little too much even for Sir Dugald’s self-control, and, in the few minutes that followed, Fath-ud-Din probably heard a larger number of home-truths, delivered in a cold, judicial voice that was more effective than any amount of shouting, than he had ever done before in his life. Baffled and disappointed, the Minister left the Mission, muttering curses between his teeth, and was observed by Kustendjian to pause outside and shake his fist at the building, and to spit towards the flagstaff on which the Union-jack was wont to be hoisted in the outer courtyard. From which signs the discerning Armenian inferred, as Mr Hicks had done before him, that there was trouble brewing.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter VIII

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a tall girl with a fresh English face, blue-eyed and fair-haired
[Sydney Grier, meet Anthony Hope. Anthony Hope, meet Sydney Grier. The two of you seem to have learned genetics from the same book.]

“Thou art always thus, Nur Jahan,” she said, querulously
[In fiction of this vintage, Generic Orientals always address each other as thee and thou. Meanwhile, Europeans—whose languages are neither more nor less particular about degrees of formality in pronouns—are consistently translated as you. It is not so bad here, where a woman is speaking to her daughter-in-law; familiar forms are to be expected. But in the following chapters we will also see Georgia being addressed as “thou”.]

I had rather have my thirty-two years of life than the poor Queen’s fifty
[It is easy to miss this line, which makes Georgia Keeling the rare romantic heroine who is over thirty.]

I’ve got a spotted viper for you, for the collection!
[Call it Chekhov’s Spotted Viper.]

I’ll tell my boy to throw the beast away at once.”
text has “I’ll with superfluous open quote

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CHAPTER IX.
STRAINED RELATIONS.

On the following morning there was no change to be observed in the aspect of the Mission. Only the gentlemen of the party were acquainted with the fact of the Vizier’s sudden declaration of war, and they shared Sir Dugald’s opinion that it would be bad policy to allow Fath-ud-Din to see that his threats had any effect upon their minds. The great gates were therefore opened as usual to allow the customary throng of country-people and other sellers of fresh provisions to enter and hold their market in the outer court, and the flag, hoisted at sunrise, floated proudly from its staff in front of Bachelors’ Buildings.

Fitz Anstruther left the Mission early that morning on an errand of his own. He had set his heart on getting Miss Keeling a Persian kitten in the bazaar, and immediately after disposing of his chota hazri he induced the interpreter to come out with him and assist him in making his purchase, as, although he had succeeded in making an Ethiopian audience understand his scientific lecture, he felt a well-grounded distrust of his own powers of conducting a bargain in the currency of the country. The absence of the two was soon discovered; but although Sir Dugald testified some displeasure when he found that Kustendjian was not at hand to go on with the drafting of the treaty, no anxiety was felt as to their safety, since none of the staff had hesitated to walk or ride about the city without an escort after the first week of their stay there.

It was considered advisable to take no notice of the 121 Vizier’s visit, and to exhibit a readiness to continue the negotiations as before, and therefore Sir Dugald and his staff assembled as usual in what was called the Durbar-hall, a large airy room on the ground-floor of Bachelors’ Buildings. Here they awaited the appearance either of Kustendjian or of an emissary from the Palace, Dr Headlam lingering for a talk before departing to his expectant patients opposite. He had just heaved a sigh and taken up his helmet, preparatory to seeking his own domain, when a distant sound, gradually increasing in volume, broke upon the ears of those in the room. It might have been rolling thunder, or the roar of wild beasts, or the rush of a torrent; but there was no reason why it should be any of these. Sir Dugald raised his head and listened attentively.

“I have heard that in the Mutiny,” he said. “The town is up about something, and they are coming in this direction. Have you all your revolvers here, gentlemen?”

Each man produced his weapon promptly, and Sir Dugald led the way out on the verandah, the whole party holding their breath to listen to the sound. The servants had noticed it also, and were standing about in the courtyard with pale faces, listening intently. Some, as the noise grew nearer, crept back to their own quarters in terror, the rest gathered in a group and looked to their masters for orders.

“Turn all those Ethiopians out,” said Sir Dugald, pointing to the salesmen and women who had been exhibiting their wares in the courtyard, “and shut the gates.”

No further command was needed. The servants obeyed the order zealously, bundling the unhappy country-people out neck and crop, and throwing their possessions after them. But before they could clear the courtyard of the bewildered and terrified crowd there was a fresh commotion 122 at the gateway, and Fitz forced his way in, followed by Kustendjian, and rushed up to Sir Dugald.

“There’s a regular howling mob coming this way, sir!” he cried. “We saw old Fath-ud-Din’s steward, who goes to the Palace with him, and another man, stirring them up against us in the bazaar, and when we came away they followed us, and then chased us. They are saying that we have annexed the country, and that the flag is the sign of it. They mean to tear it down.”

“Ah!” said Sir Dugald, quietly, stepping down from the verandah. “Put your revolvers into your pockets, gentlemen; we won’t use them at present. Fetch your riding-whips, if you please, or a good strong lithe cane, if you have one, any of you. We will not shed blood unless we are driven to it.”

The young men rushed to their quarters for the required weapons, returning to find Sir Dugald standing beside the flagstaff with his revolver in his hand. The confusion at the gate had been increased by the arrival of the mob outside, for they found their entrance impeded not only by the servants who were doing their best to close the doors, but by the mixed multitude of their own people who were in process of being expelled. But the piles of merchandise thrown down or dropped in the gateway made it impossible for the doors to be shut, and Sir Dugald turned to Fitz.

“Go back to the verandah, Mr Anstruther, and blow your whistle to call the servants in. Concentrate them in the front rooms on that floor, and serve out the rifles and ammunition; but, remember, not a shot is to be fired so long as we are out here. It would be the death of all of us. If we are driven in we will bring the flag with us; but until we come, you fire at your peril.”

As Fitz obeyed, and the sound of his whistle rang out clear and shrill, penetrating even the hubbub at the gate, 123 and causing the servants to abandon their futile efforts and turn to run to the house, Sir Dugald addressed his companions.

“Stratford, you are the tallest. Keep your revolver out, and stand by the flagstaff. Shoot down the first man that lays a hand on the halliards. No; on second thoughts I will take that post myself. It is possible that I am a little cooler in the head than you, and it is certain that you are a good deal stronger of arm than I am. Take your places in front of the flag, gentlemen; that’s it. Your business is to let no one pass you. This is not an armed mob; it is just Fath-ud-Din’s badmashes, and sticks and whips ought to keep them back. I needn’t tell you to lay it on well. Never mind how hard you hit.”

“Here they come!” said the doctor; and as the last servant broke out of the crowd by the gate and fled to the house the mob burst in with a roar. They made straight for the flag, but paused and recoiled at the sight of the three younger men with their whips, and Sir Dugald, revolver in hand, leaning idly against the flagstaff.

“Not much pluck in them!” muttered Dick, disgustedly; but as though they had understood the disparaging words, the mob gathered their courage together and came on again. In a moment the younger men found themselves engaged in a furious hand-to-hand encounter, in which fists and whips were opposed to the force of numbers. Fitz declared afterwards that he could hear over all the din of the struggle the sound of the blows as they fell, although the howling of those who received them ought to have drowned the noise. Once or twice Sir Dugald raised his revolver and let it drop again, for in the whole course of the short, sharp fight no one actually got within the ring of defenders, and presently Fitz, exceeding his orders, seized the psychological instant for a most opportune diversion. Besides rifles, he had 124 provided the servants with all the sticks he could muster; and when he saw the mob begin to give way, he led forth half his force to clear the courtyard. Fear of the defenders plainly visible at the windows had hitherto kept the space between the flagstaff and the house free of intruders, and now the sturdy frontiersmen, covered by the rifles of their friends behind, advanced against the foe, laying about them as they came with hearty goodwill. Gradually the mob yielded their ground. Firing they might perhaps have faced, but this extremely unheroic method of fighting disgusted them with the sport. As the defenders closed their ranks and pressed the fugitives harder, the retreat became a rout, nay, a headlong race—an obstacle race—in which every man was eager to save his back from blows. The last remnants of the mob struggled through the gateway at last, and the courtyard was clear, and the honour of the flag maintained, without the shedding of a drop of blood.

“Clear that rubbish away and close the gates,” said Sir Dugald. “We will keep them shut in future, and the people must bring their things to sell in the street outside. That market of theirs nearly did for us to-day.”

Although the non-arrival of any help from the authorities might have led to the conclusion that the riot had been inaudible in other parts of the city, no sooner was it over, and the enemy driven out, than an official appeared from the King to congratulate the victors—exactly, said Fitz, as he would have done had the result gone the other way, save that his congratu­lations might then have had a little sincerity in them. But the messenger who came to congratulate went away grave, for Sir Dugald committed to him a full statement of the morning’s proceedings, to be laid before the King, with the intimation that unless apologies were at once offered and the instigators of the 125 demonstration punished, the negotiations would be broken off forthwith and the Mission would return to Khemistan. There was no doubt that it was exceedingly injudicious of Fath-ud-Din to have allowed his servants to be seen stirring up the mob; and the official, in deep perplexity, turned over in his mind the relative disadvantages of offending the Vizier by informing the King of the truth, and on the other hand, of angering the King if Sir Dugald took his departure, and the facts which had brought it about became known.

How the messenger settled matters with his conscience was unknown for the present to the party at the Mission, for the next person they saw was Mr Hicks, who flew to the spot on the wings of zeal the moment that the news of the outbreak reached him. Stratford declared that his countenance expressed deep disappointment when he realised that the courtyard was not filled with the dead and dying, and that the flag hung unscathed; but the doctor maintained that he was prejudiced, and that Mr Hicks had hurried to offer his help in the defence, heedless of the danger he might incur in meeting the defeated mob. However this might be, Mr Hicks warmed with enthusiasm when he was told the story of the morning, and finally advanced to Sir Dugald and grasped him by the hand.

“General,” he said; “shake! You are a white man, you are. You have licked that poor ordinary crowd of niggers in a way to earn you the eternal gratitude of every Western stranger that circumstances may drive to sojourn in this uncared-for state. But I guess that your troubles are only beginning, sir.”

“Possibly,” said Sir Dugald, with perfect unconcern.

“Well, if things look black, you have only to pass me the word, General, and I will vamoose my ranche yonder 126 and come and give you a hand. I should be right down proud to fight shoulder to shoulder with the man that turned back that mob without shedding a drop of blood.”

“You are very kind,” said Sir Dugald, with a complete lack of enthusiasm. “I can assure you that things must go very badly with us before we seek to involve you in our troubles”—a reply delivered with so much urbanity that Mr Hicks could not at first decide whether his offer was accepted or refused.

The next visitor appeared in the course of the afternoon, and was no other than the Grand Vizier himself. It was evident that the royal messenger had decided upon telling his master the truth, for Fath-ud-Din came to offer suitable apologies for the conduct of his retainers. The steward, he said, was an old family servant, who, owing to his constant intercourse with his master, had imbibed from him such exalted ideas of patriotism that on hearing the treaty discussed, and conceiving it to be unduly advantageous to England, he had felt moved to stir up the townspeople against it, his religious zeal having also been inflamed by the memories and hardships incidental to the month of Ramadan, which had just ended. The other instigator of the outbreak was a young theological student, a member of a class which was often unruly and troublesome, and which had great influence with the people. It was preposterous to imagine that the Vizier could have had any previous knowledge of the doings of these two fanatics, and he had come to declare his sorrow that it had been in the power of such wretches not only to annoy and alarm the Mission, but also to involve in their disgrace his own spotless name. He had given immediate orders that they were both to be severely punished, and if Sir Dugald liked, he would have them brought in and bastinadoed before him, so that he might assure himself that they had received their deserts. 127 In any case (as Sir Dugald politely declined the proffered satisfaction for himself, while intimating that he would send a representative to see that the punishment was duly carried out), he brought assurances that the King of all kings felt the deepest regret for the way in which things had turned out, and entreated that the Envoy would not withdraw the light of his countenance from Kubbet-ul-Haj, but would overlook the fright and annoyance which had been caused to the Mission, and remain in Ethiopia until the treaty had been duly concluded.

“Fright?” said Sir Dugald—for the Vizier had emphasised the word, and repeated it more than once in different forms—“I saw no particular signs of fright about our people. What we felt was more like disgust. Apart from the violation of courtesy and propriety in the attack made on the flag, it was disagreeably close work down in the court there with that crowd pressing all round us.”

“Ah, my lord the Envoy is a soldier, and knows not fear, and his young men are brave also,” replied Fath-ud-Din, stroking his beard; “but the women—my lord’s household—surely their hearts became as water when they heard the shouts of the people?”

“This is the first I have heard of it, if they did,” replied Sir Dugald; “but then, I was not in a position to observe their behaviour. Mr Anstruther, you were in command at the rear. What were the ladies doing while the fighting was going on? Was there any fainting or screaming?”

“Oh no, sir. The ladies were on our roof here, watching the fun.”

“But that was extremely injudicious. If we had been obliged to evacuate Bachelors’ Buildings, their presence would have added immensely to our difficulties. You should have ordered them down, and insisted on their returning to their own quarters.”

128

“So I did, sir.” There was a gleam of fun in Fitz’s eyes. “I ran up there myself to insist with greater effect, and they laughed at me. It was flat mutiny, but I could not spare sufficient men to put them under arrest.”

“Ah, the women were driven mad by terror. Their feet were weighed down so that they could not move,” said Fath-ud-Din pityingly, when this had been translated to him.

“And just at the beginning, sir,” Fitz went on to Sir Dugald, “when there was that crush in the gateway, Miss Keeling sent her maid down to ask me whether I couldn’t tell the people not to move about quite so much, because she wanted to sketch them. That was how I first found out that Lady Haigh and she were up there; but I didn’t think that the remark showed a proper sense of the seriousness of the situation. I assure you that it pained me very much, sir.”

“Just translate that to the Vizier, Mr Kustendjian,” said Sir Dugald, but again incredulity was written on Fath-ud-Din’s face.

“Surely my lord knows, as I do,” he said, “that the young man is one of those who delight to laugh at the beards of their elders, and to utter the thing that is not true, to the confusion of their own faces?”

“I see that we shall have to convince this gentleman by the evidence of his own senses,” remarked Sir Dugald, addressing no one in particular. “Mr Anstruther, would you be kind enough to find out what the ladies are doing now?”

“They are working on the terrace, sir,” said Fitz, returning, “and the servants are just bringing in afternoon tea.”

“Very well. Be so good as to ask Lady Haigh to have coffee brought in as well, and tell her that Fath-ud-Din is coming to pay her a visit. She and Miss Keeling had 129 better put on those veils of theirs, by the bye, for we don’t want any more complications introduced into this business.”

Fitz departed on his errand in high glee, and when a decent interval had been allowed for the transformation to be effected, Sir Dugald, after a few preliminary remarks tending to impress Fath-ud-Din with a sense of the greatness of the honour about to be conferred upon him, led his guest into the inner courtyard, and up the steps to the terrace. Here, indeed, there was little sign of panic. There were books and work about, and Georgia’s sketching materials were visible in a corner. She herself had the Persian kitten, which Fitz had brought home in his pocket in the morning, asleep on her lap, while Lady Haigh was pouring out tea with a hand in which the keenest gaze could not distinguish the slightest tendency to tremble. The Vizier looked disappointed—this is putting it mildly, for the young men agreed afterwards that his expression was fiendish—but he appeared to be reflecting that the veils in which his hostesses were shrouded might be serving a useful purpose in concealing the traces of fear, for presently he turned to Sir Dugald.

“Let not my lord be offended if I entreat him to inquire of his household whether terror did not seize them this morning,” he said, meekly enough.

“By no means,” returned Sir Dugald, genially. “Elma, the Vizier would like to know whether you were frightened when his people were kicking up that row in the courtyard?”

“Frightened?” snapped Lady Haigh. “What was there to be frightened about, I should like to know?” The measureless scorn in her eyes and voice evidently reached Fath-ud-Din in spite of the double barrier of the foreign language and the burka, for he swallowed his cupful of scalding coffee hastily, and it was necessary to recover him from a choking fit before he could proceed with his inquiry.

130

“Then will my lord ask the doctor lady, who has no husband to protect her with the might of his arm and the power of his name, whether she was not terrified?” he asked.

“Frightened?” returned Georgia, when the question had been put to her. “Oh dear, no! I have a revolver. I think,” she added, carelessly, after a pause to let the information she had just given sink in, “that it was only the kitten which was frightened. Poor little thing! It was in a pitiable state when I rescued it from Mr Anstruther’s coat-pocket.”

“By the head of our lord the King,” hurst out Fath-ud-Din, rising hurriedly, “these are no women, but fighting men!”

“Isn’t it worth your while, then, to strain a point in order to gain an alliance with a nation that has such women?” asked Sir Dugald, seizing the opportunity to point a moral.

“Nay, rather,” said the Vizier, retreating to the steps as he spoke, “what are we doing to admit within our borders a nation whose very women are of such a temper as this?”

“I’m sure that was the sweetest compliment that the New Woman has ever received,” said Dick to Georgia, as Sir Dugald, followed by Stratford and Fitz, escorted his discomfited guest across the courtyard.

“Major North,” said Lady Haigh, briskly, “I consider that you are distinctly rude to your Chief’s wife. I don’t know whether you mean to deny me a share in Fath-ud-Din’s pretty speech, or to insinuate that I am a New Woman; but, in either case, I think that your conduct is sadly lacking in respect.”

“I don’t think Major North meant to be rude, Lady Haigh,” said Georgia, playing with the kitten’s tail. “His tongue ran away with him. It is a habit it has sometimes.”

131

“I apologise humbly, Lady Haigh,” said Dick. “In any case, what I have just heard would have forced me to believe that the New Woman was very like the old one. Now if either you or Miss Keeling would do me the honour of having the last word, my submission would be complete.”

“The question is,” said Sir Dugald, returning to the tea-table with Stratford while Lady Haigh and Georgia were still laughing, “what was it exactly that Fath-ud-Din hoped to gain by this attack on us?”

“Then you don’t think he was trying to wipe out the Mission at one blow?” asked Stratford.

“No, I don’t, unless he hoped that we should be provoked into firing on the mob, when the whole country would have risen against us. But I don’t fancy that was his game. I think he must have been trying to terrify us into withdrawing from Ethiopia at once, or else into bribing him largely to get the treaty signed immediately.”

“I think he has received a little enlightenment as to the possibility of squeezing us,” said Dick, with a grim smile. “My only cause for misgiving is a doubt whether the ladies could ever again rise to the superhuman height of heroism they displayed just now. Any weakening in that attitude in the presence of danger might lead to unfavourable remarks.”

“He is trying to punish us for what we said just now, Georgia,” said Lady Haigh, amiably. “Never mind; when the danger comes he shall see whether either of us weakens, as Mr Hicks would say.”

And the matter dropped amidst general laughter, which was perhaps what Dick wanted, for after tea he asked for an interview with Sir Dugald, and laid before him various expedients for rendering the Mission more easily defensible. These measures he was authorised to adopt, but without alarming the ladies, and he flattered himself that he was 132 successful in this, and that Lady Haigh and Georgia never perceived that he drilled the servants each morning in the outer court, or that he had divided them into watches, each of which took its turn in remaining under arms. He had the more reason for this belief of his, in that the ladies had other things to think of, for matters seemed to have quieted down, and Georgia went to the Palace as usual, while Sir Dugald’s audiences of the King were resumed, the subject of discussion at present being the exact wording of the treaty, the provisions of which had already been agreed upon.

It was noticed by the members of the Mission that the King’s manner seemed to have changed since the outbreak, and that he was by no means so easy to please even as he had been. He cavilled at points which had already been definitely settled, and did his best to produce the impression that he considered the treaty extremely disadvan­tageous to Ethiopia. This was the more serious in that Jahan Beg reported the reappearance upon the scene of the Scythian agent, with larger presents and more abundant promises, and it was calculated to suggest that the King wished to irritate Sir Dugald into breaking off the negotiations. But long experience of the East had made Sir Dugald the most patient of men—in public—and his staff were astonished at the mildness with which he altered the wording of a clause again and again, without ever abating one jot of the concessions he had determined to obtain. His mingled tact and resolution carried the day at last. The treaty was agreed upon in its entirety, and after being engrossed on parchment by the King’s scribes, was read through to the Envoy, behind whom stood the interpreter Kustendjian, ready to mark the slightest deviation from the prescribed formula. There now remained only the actual signing of the convention, and it was arranged that Fath-ud-Din should bring the instrument, 133 bearing the seals of the King and the Grand Vizier, to the Mission in the morning, there to receive Sir Dugald’s signature, after which the British expedition might take its departure peacefully and honourably from Kubbet-ul-Haj.

The day on which the treaty was to be signed was an important one also to Georgia, for she had decided, after much consultation with Dr Headlam, who could not, of course, see the patient, but who gave all the advice that his experience of like cases suggested to him, to undertake at last the operation on the Queen’s eyes. The state of the patient’s general health was not yet as satisfactory as her doctor could have desired, but when any day might bring about the departure of the Mission, Georgia felt that she dared not delay longer. Even as it was, there was little hope that she would be able to be present when, after the necessary interval, the bandages could be removed from the Queen’s eyes, and her professional conscience was troubled at the possibility of leaving her work only half-done. But Sir Dugald was far too anxious to get his followers safely out of Ethiopia to be willing to spend a week or a fortnight longer in the country in order that Georgia might see the result of her handiwork, and all she could do was to explain everything very carefully, with Rahah’s help, to Nur Jahan, and give her full directions in case of the occurrence of various possible contingencies. The actual operation was performed without a hitch, and Georgia felt deeply relieved as she fastened the bandages, impressing on the Queen and all her attendants that they were on no account to be removed until the specified time had elapsed. The Mission was not likely, in any case, to take its departure until three or four days had passed, and she promised to come in again at least once more in order to note the patient’s state, and oftener if she were summoned.

Nur Jahan escorted her to the door of the harem, plying 134 her with questions as to the treatment the patient ought to receive, and the means by which Georgia had gained her medical skill. The girl had already proved herself such an apt pupil that Georgia sighed again over the thought that a medical career was an impossibility for her, but she kept her promise loyally to Jahan Beg. The litter was not ready when they reached the harem courtyard, and while it was being prepared she stood in the doorway talking to Nur Jahan, but leaving the questions as to her own hospital experiences unanswered, devoted the time to reiterating her directions for the Queen’s treatment. Presently a burst of laughter and loud talking reached her ears from the rooms on the other side of the courtyard, and she looked across to a balcony in which the forms of several women could be descried. They were evidently attendants on the King’s second wife, Antar Khan’s mother, who was frantically jealous of her rival owing to her monopoly of the services of the doctor lady, and who had shown this feeling in various unpleasant ways. She was much too proud to invite a visit from Georgia, or even to feign illness as an excuse for summoning her, and therefore she and her faction chose to regard the doctor lady as the dirt under their feet. They drew aside their clothes when they passed her, affected to consider the rooms in which she had been received as unclean, and seized every opportunity of insulting her from a safe distance.

The adherents of Rustam Khan’s mother, on the other hand, fully appreciated the reasons for this state of things, and exulted over their opponents on every possible occasion. They prided themselves on their exclusive possession of the doctor lady, and would have rejoiced in the opportunity of denying her services to the opposite party in a case of dangerous illness. They had just shouted across the courtyard the news of the satisfactory performance of the operation, 135 and their rivals were naturally moved to wrath. Hence they had assembled in their balcony to point the finger of scorn at Georgia, and to jeer at her and Nur Jahan, whose own position in the Palace was so uncertain that she dared not run the risk of getting her husband into disgrace by appealing to the King.

“Thou art very proud, O doctor lady,” cried a strong-lunged damsel, leaning over the rail of the balcony, “but when next we see thee thou wilt be entreating mercy at our lady’s feet.”

Rahah translated the prophecy to her mistress at once, and Georgia, in sudden alarm, turned to Nur Jahan.

“You are our friend, Nur Jahan? If you knew of any plot against the Mission, you would warn me?”

“I would risk my life and all that I have to warn thee in such a case, O doctor lady,” replied Nur Jahan, earnestly; “but what I fear is a plot of which I should know nothing.”

With these ominous words ringing in her ears, Georgia entered the litter, and returned to the Mission in a somewhat perturbed state of mind. It seemed, however, that there was nothing going on that need excite her alarm. The Grand Vizier and his attendants had just brought the treaty to be ratified, and Georgia caught a glimpse of the assemblage as she passed through into the inner courtyard with Rahah. Had she guessed what was about to happen in the Durbar-hall, nothing would have induced her to leave the outer court.

On the table before Sir Dugald lay the treaty, written out with the greatest care and delicacy on a huge sheet of parchment, and displaying the most wonderful flourishes and other decorations at the beginning of every clause. At the other side of the table stood Fath-ud-Din, his attendants crowding behind him and peering eagerly over his shoulder 136 to watch Sir Dugald. The Envoy had taken the pen from the hand of Fitz, and was glancing down the parchment for the exact place at which he was to affix his signature. To all appearance the treaty was the same that had been read over to him the day before, and yet some suspicion entered his mind, prompted by his instinctive caution. He would not trust to his own slight knowledge of the Ethiopian language, but called Kustendjian forward.

“Be so good as to summarise that for me,” he said, laying his finger on the clause which concerned the appointment of a British Resident, with jurisdiction over British subjects in Ethiopia, who should take up his abode at Iskandarbagh.

The Armenian’s eyes grew wide as he advanced and scanned the passage pointed out by Sir Dugald. “The Resident is to have no power to decide any cause in dispute between a British subject and an Ethiopian, nor between two British subjects when the question concerns property or other interests situated in Ethiopia, your Excellency,” he said, in a low voice.

“And that,” said Sir Dugald, indicating the clause by which British goods, with the exception of munitions of war and ardent spirits, were to be allowed entrance into Ethiopia upon payment of duties not exceeding a certain percentage of the value, which were to be imposed by the King and approved by England.

“The minimum duty is to be a hundred per cent ad valorem, and there is no proviso as to the approval of her Majesty’s Government, your Excellency. Every one of the clauses has had additions or omissions made in it, which render it absolutely useless for all practical purposes.”

“Thank you, Mr Kustendjian.” Sir Dugald laid down the pen deliberately, and took up the treaty. The Ethiopians present had watched his actions with eager interest, but 137 could read nothing from his face. Now, however, he seemed to their guilty consciences to rise and tower above them (under normal circumstances he was under middle height), as he tore the tough parchment across and across, and flung the fragments over the table to Fath-ud-Din.

“Take those to your master,” he said; “and be thankful that I don’t call the servants to drive you out of the courtyard as they drove your hired ruffians last week. The Mission leaves Kubbet-ul-Haj to-day.”

bearded man tearing paper in half as variously dressed men look on

“. . . He tore the parchment across and across . . .”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter IX

skip to next chapter

He had set his heart on getting Miss Keeling a Persian kitten in the bazaar
[Spoiler: At no time will the author explain why Persian kittens are to be found in an Ethiopian bazaar.]

Never mind how hard you hit.
[I am not certain I understand the distinction between shedding blood (bad) and potentially breaking bones (acceptable, evidently).]

You are a white man, you are. You have licked that poor ordinary crowd of . . .
[Every now and then I stop and, masochistically, do a fresh count. Currently That Word is to be found in seventeen titles on this site. This is what happens when your world is made up of public-domain, largely English-language texts.]

to produce the impression that he considered the treaty extremely disadvan­tageous to Ethiopia
[Surely that goes without saying?]

“Thou art very proud, O doctor lady,” cried a strong-lunged damsel
[Does the author realize how insulting this is? A French character would never be shown calling an adult stranger tu. (You can tell it is authorial ignorance, not the speaker’s insolence, because a few paragraphs later we see Nur Jahan addressing Georgia the same way.)]

Rahah translated the prophecy
[Prophecy? Sounds more like a threat to me.]

CHAPTER X.
CAUGHT AND CAGED.

When the Grand Vizier and his companions had been conducted to the door by the servants, and the gates had closed behind them, Sir Dugald turned from the table at which he had been standing motionless, and addressed Dick. The work of months had been overthrown, and the success by which he had hoped to put the crowning touch to his official career rendered impossible of attainment; but his first thought was to vindicate the outraged dignity of his country, insulted in his person.

“When you made your inspection of the stables this morning, Major North, were the animals all in?”

“Yes, sir; this is my weekly inspection, and the camels which had been out at pasture were brought in by their drivers to be passed. They all looked very fit; but we have not much forage for them in store.”

“We must chance that. I should be glad if you would 138 have our riding-horses, together with a sufficient number of camels to carry the tents and their furniture, brought round here two hours before sunset. It would be impossible to travel far to-day, but if we are outside the city the required moral effect will be produced. I shall leave you and Anstruther behind to bring on the stores and the heavy luggage. We will travel by slow stages until you come up with us, and then we must make forced marches, and get out of the country as fast as possible, for we shall have no escort this time.”

For the first time in his life Dick hesitated to obey an order.

“But the ladies, sir,” he suggested. “Is it safe?”

“Is it safe for them here? The sooner we have them out of the city, the safer they will be,” and Dick, silenced, went to do his errand at the various stables in which the baggage-animals of the Mission were quartered.

To say that the sudden order to pack up and be ready to start on the homeward journey that very afternoon was startling to the ladies would be to mince matters, for it came upon them like a thunder-clap; but Lady Haigh was an old traveller, whom no vicissitudes could disturb for long, and Georgia was a soldier’s daughter, and they were both resolved that the honour of England should not be dragged in the dust on their account by the delay of a moment after the appointed hour of starting. Accordingly, they set to work immediately to take down and wrap up and stow away all the possessions with which they had made the house homelike during their tenancy of it, and were in the act of packing their dresses (which, as every lady will know, always occupy the topmost place in a box), when Dick made his appearance on the terrace. Georgia, who was standing at the table pulling out the sleeves of a favourite silk blouse, which she had just rescued from the 139 ruthless hands of Rahah, looked at him in surprise, for his face was grave and set.

“Please don’t say that you want us to start this moment,” she said, cheerfully. “Lady Haigh and I are willing to make any sacrifice in reason for our country, but we had rather not leave our best dresses behind.”

“It won’t be necessary,” returned Dick, trying, but with poor success, to speak in the same tone. “We shall not leave to-day, after all.”

“Not leave to-day!” cried Lady Haigh, coming out on the terrace, and folding up a skirt at the same time. “Then when do we start?”

“Not just yet, I fear. The fact is, the King is trying on a little joke with us. He has fetched away all our horses and camels, and we can’t get them back.”

“But when did he do it? and where are they gone?” asked Lady Haigh, in hot indignation.

“He must have done it immediately after I had come away from the stables after picking out the beasts for your start this evening. Where they are gone I don’t know; but we can’t hire any others, and we can’t very well walk, and therefore I suppose we must stay here.”

“But it is such a bad precedent to let him get the better of us like this!” cried Lady Haigh. “It is such absolute stealing, too. Are the servants gone as well as the animals?”

“Yes, they have all been marched off to fresh quarters somewhere. That thins our forces sadly.”

“So it does,” Lady Haigh assented, gravely. “But never mind; if the King won’t let us leave the city, we will make ourselves happy where we are.”

“And perhaps,” suggested Georgia, “it is merely that the King is sorry for his treachery about the treaty, and wants to prevent Sir Dugald’s leaving Kubbet-ul-Haj in anger. He may mean to resume the negotiations to-morrow.”

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“He may,” agreed Dick, but his face was not hopeful as he returned across the courtyard, while the ladies took the things out of the boxes they had just packed. Still, the events of the next morning seemed to confirm Georgia’s cheerful augury, for an embassy came from the King to Sir Dugald, headed, not by the Grand Vizier (possibly he felt a slight doubt as to the nature of the reception he was likely to meet with), but by the official who had superintended the establishment of the Mission in its present quarters. In the message which he brought, Sir Dugald was entreated to overlook the incident of the day before, which had been devised by the King merely as a test of his shrewdness, and was in no way a serious attempt to induce him to sign a false treaty. If he would only come to the Palace to-day, the original treaty should be ready for his signature, and the King would affix his seal to it in his presence. At first Sir Dugald returned an absolute refusal to this invitation, but the messenger reappeared with it twice, adding such solemn and earnest assurances of its genuine character, that he consented to talk the matter over with his staff. Lady Haigh and Georgia invited themselves to assist at the discussion, and the first thing that opened Georgia’s eyes to the gravity of the situation was the fact that Sir Dugald made no protest against the irregularity of this proceeding.

“You won’t go, Dugald?” said Lady Haigh, anxiously. “Probably it is only a trap. Remember Macnaghten.”

“Couldn’t you manage to suggest any more cheerful reminiscence?” asked Sir Dugald.

“You really mean to go, sir?” asked Dick.

“I think so. After all, what happened yesterday may have been only a trick, as this man says, though I don’t think the King would have hesitated to profit by it if I had signed the false treaty. At any rate, so long as there is a 141 chance of our coming off victorious, we ought not to let it slip. This treaty is of immense importance, for it brings Ethiopia within our sphere of influence, and when once it is concluded, we can snap our fingers at Scythia and Neustria. You see as well as I do that if we withdraw now and negotiations are resumed later, Scythia will have had time to slip in and conclude her treaty. I grant that we have a very slender chance of success, but if it depends on me I will not lose it. Still, I don’t wish to take you into danger against your better judgment, gentlemen. Your lives are at stake as much as mine, and if you think it advisable not to go to the Palace, I will dispense with your attendance on this occasion.”

“We will go wherever you go, Sir Dugald,” said Dick.

“Wherever you go,” echoed the rest.

“But I can’t take all of you,” said Sir Dugald. “Two of you must stay here and look after the ladies. I don’t like dividing our force, but it would be poor strategy to let them be seized as hostages while we were away. You see what I mean, Elma? I will leave you North and the doctor as a garrison, and you and the servants must put yourselves under their orders and help to defend the place if it is attacked.”

“No, Dugald,” returned Lady Haigh, resolutely, regardless of the fact that she was indulging in open mutiny, “unless Major North goes with you, you shall not go to the Palace at all. Dr Headlam and we can defend ourselves quite well behind stone walls; but it would be madness for you to trust yourself outside without a man with you that knew anything about fighting. Only take Major North, and I am content.”

For peace’ sake, Sir Dugald accepted this view of the case, and a little later the party set out with the ambassador, who had brought with him several horses from the King’s 142 stables for them to ride—huge fat animals, most of them a peculiar pinkish-white in colour, with highly arched necks and flowing manes and tails decorated with ribbons and sham jewellery. They were provided with high native saddles and elaborate saddle-cloths, and the ambassador explained that they were intended as gifts to Sir Dugald and to his staff. Asked what had become of the animals belonging to the Mission, he confessed ingenuously that the King had had them removed in order to frustrate Sir Dugald’s design of leaving the city, but that they would be returned as soon as ever the treaty was signed, so that the Envoy and his young men might depart in peace.

Arrived at the Palace, the members of the Mission were conducted to the usual hall of audience. It was not without some unpleasant sensations that they heard the gates of the courtyard close behind them, and Dick involuntarily loosened his sword in the scabbard, and noticed that Stratford and Fitz were feeling whether their revolvers were safe. Sir Dugald alone showed no signs of disturbance, even when on reaching the hall he was requested to enter the King’s presence-chamber by himself, the rest remaining in the outer room. Before he could answer, his staff pressed around him, regardless of etiquette.

“Don’t go, sir,” said Dick. “It’s a trap.”

“They mean mischief. Sir Dugald,” said Stratford. “The King has never asked to see you alone before.”

“Let us put a pistol to this fellow’s head, sir, and keep him as a hostage until we are safely back at the Mission,” suggested Fitz, looking daggers at the smiling official, who was bowing and spreading out his hands in token of the welcome which awaited Sir Dugald in the King’s presence.

“Nonsense!” said Sir Dugald, irritably, motioning Stratford aside. “You mean well, gentlemen; but we can’t make fools of ourselves in this way. Look there. You see 143 that there’s nothing but a curtain between the two rooms, and you would hear the slightest scuffle or cry for help. I give you free leave to interfere if you do hear anything of the kind, but pray keep cool.”

He went on, following the official, and passed under the heavy curtain which covered the doorway of the inner room. Some minutes of painful suspense ensued, while the three Englishmen and Kustendjian strained their ears to hear what was going on within. Suddenly there came a sound as of the ringing of metal on a marble floor, and Dick sprang to the doorway with a bound, followed by the rest, and tore aside the curtain. He never quite knew what he had expected to see, but it was certainly not the sight which met his eyes. The King was sitting on his raised divan, with Fath-ud-Din standing beside him. Before them there lay on a gorgeous Persian carpet a great pile of bags of money, one of which had been kicked across the room. It had burst open, and the clash of the escaping silver was the sound which the listeners had heard. They had no time to meditate further on the situation, for Sir Dugald, his face white with anger, was coming towards them, actually turning his back on the King, and as he reached the doorway he looked round over his shoulder and spoke.

“Your Majesty understands that under no circumstances will I consent to enter the Palace again. Any communication you may wish to make to me can pass through my secretary.”

“But which is he?” inquired Fath-ud-Din smoothly in Arabic, the language in which Sir Dugald had spoken. “Is he the mighty man of whose deeds the hillmen sing, and with whose name the women of Khemistan terrify their children?”

Sir Dugald silently indicated Stratford, and the Vizier looked at him and grunted softly to himself. But the 144 King sat up suddenly (he had been leaning forward with his chin on his hand, listening to what passed), and said—

“Ye cannot leave this place without camels, and camels ye shall not have until the treaty is signed.”

“No; but we can wait here until a British force comes to escort us away,” said Sir Dugald, and marched down the hall. His staff followed him, not without an uneasy feeling that they might he attacked from behind. Indeed, Kustendjian confessed afterwards that he had never felt quite so much frightened in his life as when Fitz gave him a poke in the ribs.

“What was it that they really did, sir?” asked Dick, when they were riding back to the Mission.

“They tried bribery and corruption, North—offered me the heap of money you saw on the floor if I would sign that precious treaty of theirs and make no bones about it. I have had experiences of the kind before, in out-of-the-way places, where the people knew little of British rule, but this is quite the biggest thing of its sort that has ever been tried with me. I don’t fancy they will attempt it again.”

“Was it the treaty you tore up yesterday?”

“Exactly the same. I knew it this time without Kustendjian’s help. Well, this is the last occasion on which we shall be tricked into going to the Palace on such an errand.”

But it was evident the next morning that the Ethiopian authorities had not given up hope, for a second deputation appeared, headed by an official even higher in rank than the preceding one, and entreated Sir Dugald to return to the Palace once again. This time the King had tried his loyalty, which had stood the test; and now, finding that he could neither be deceived nor corrupted, he would send with him an autograph letter to her Majesty, advising her to promote the Envoy above all her servants, since neither 145 threats nor bribes nor any devices could move him. Sir Dugald smiled grimly when he heard the message, which was brought him by Stratford, who had interviewed the embassy.

“Praise from such a quarter is praise indeed,” he remarked; “but you may tell them, Mr Stratford, that this fish will not bite.”

Again the deputation sent in earnest entreaties for merely a sight of Sir Dugald’s face, declaring that they dared not return to the King without having seen him, and on being dismissed they came back twice over, each time becoming more urgent in their request. Let Sir Dugald only come to the Palace once more, and sign the treaty in the King’s presence, and all would be well. But Sir Dugald was not to be moved. The utmost concession that he would make in answer to the prayers of the messengers was to consent to sign the original treaty if it were brought to him at the Mission already bearing the seals of the King and Fath-ud-Din, or else to allow Stratford to take to the Palace the copy made by Kustendjian and obtain the required signatures to it, after which Sir Dugald would affix his. Further than this he would not go, and the deputation retired disappointed once more.

No deputation appeared the next day, but the members of the Mission were not allowed to imagine themselves forgotten. Before the hour at which the gate was usually opened in the morning, a strong guard of soldiers took post before it, and signified that they would permit no one either to enter or leave the premises. Under these circumstances Sir Dugald, while intrusting to the officer in command of the troops a formal protest to be delivered to the King, considered it advisable to keep the gate shut, although the soldiers showed no disposition to attempt to force an entrance. The object of their presence, which appeared at 146 first as a somewhat purposeless insult, was soon discovered, for when the country-people came as usual with their baskets of eggs and vegetables for sale, intending to set up their market in the street, as they had done since the day of the riot, they were turned back and not allowed to approach the gate. In the same way the cooks, who made an attempt to get out as far as the town market to do their catering, were refused leave to pass, and returned disconsolately into the courtyard. It was evident that an endeavour was to be made to starve the Mission into surrender, and Sir Dugald ordered an examination of the stores to be instituted. The result was not reassuring. It had never been intended that the expedition should carry all its supplies with it, and therefore, although there was still a considerable quantity of tinned provisions and other articles of luxury, there was a great deficiency of corn and flour, and of course an absolute lack of fresh meat and vegetables. It was obviously necessary to put the whole party upon fixed rations at once, but this measure would be of little avail if the blockade outside were strictly kept up.

With night, however, a gleam of comfort arrived in the shape of Jahan Beg, who was discovered by Fitz lurking in the lane behind the house, and was drawn up to the window by a rope. He had heard of the King’s last measure of offence, and was anxious to know how it affected his friends. Sir Dugald’s refusal to go to the Palace he approved heartily, saying that any yielding now would be accepted as a sign of fear and weakness, leaving out of sight the extreme probability that the opportunity would be seized of making an attempt on his life. At the same time, the Amir confessed that he saw no way out of the situation which would combine honour and safety. Fath-ud-Din was paramount in the council, and while he was in power no one else could get a hearing. Rustam Khan was in fear of his life, and 147 had everything ready for flight at a moment’s notice should his spies inform him that it was expedient. The Scythian envoy was once more to the front, although no definite arrangement had as yet been concluded with him. It seemed to be Fath-ud-Din’s policy to play off one nation against the other, doing his best to secure concessions from each, while giving as little as possible in the way of equivalent to either.

“If you can get any treaty that in the slightest degree approaches your demands, sign it and go,” said Jahan Beg. “And if you can’t get your treaty, go in any case, if you can.”

“I was thinking of sending a man off to Fort Rahmat-Ullah to describe our plight, and ask for orders and help,” said Sir Dugald; “but the difficulty is that they will allow no one to pass. One does not care to court a rebuff by demanding facilities for the passage of a courier taking important despatches to Khemistan and finding them refused; and even if we could smuggle him out behind in any way, there would be a very slender chance of his passing the city gates, much less of reaching the frontier.”

“I will do what I can to help a messenger off if you are obliged to run the blockade,” said Jahan Beg; “but as you say, there is a very slight chance of success. Why not send a message by that fellow Hicks, who has been talking for weeks of returning to Khemistan immediately?”

“Because he only meant to return when our business was over, and now that things have become more exciting he is bound to be in at the death,” said Sir Dugald. “He must wait here and write our obituary notices, you see.”

“Well, I advise you to wait a day or two, in case anything occurs to alter the situation. The Scythian agent may turn rusty if it dawns upon him that he is being played with, and then your chance will come.”

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“The worst of it is that our chances are limited by our supplies,” said Sir Dugald. “We have not got the beasts and the camel-men to consider now, certainly, but it is no joke providing simply for ourselves and the servants here. Both Fath-ud-Din and the Scythian envoy have the whip-hand of us in that respect.”

“Yes,” put in Georgia, for the conversation was taking place on the terrace, “it would not do us much good personally even to get the treaty signed, when we were reduced to a ration of three tinned peas and a square inch of chocolate each a day.”

“Don’t be afraid, Miss Keeling,” said Stratford. “I think I can assure you that we men will each add one pea and an appreciable fraction of the chocolate to your ration and Lady Haigh’s.”

“And we shall hand it back to you, remarking gracefully that you need it more than we do,” said Georgia.

“By the bye,” said Jahan Beg, “I think I can help you about provisions a little. I can get a small supply of corn through the lanes at the back without attracting the notice of the soldiers, and you can draw up the sacks through the window. I will bring you a donkey-load to-morrow night, and another the next night, if all is well.”

In spite of the watch kept on the house, Jahan Beg was as good as his word, and succeeded in supplying the beleaguered garrison, in the course of the next three nights, with enough corn to relieve them from any present fear of starvation. In other respects, however, the situation showed no improvement. Once more a deputation from the Palace arrived to propose terms of peace, and departed as before without seeing Sir Dugald. But this time the official who headed it declared as he departed that no more messages of conciliation would be sent by the King. After this, if the British Mission desired to abandon its 149 attitude of suspicion, and meet the Ethiopian Government on a footing of mutual confidence, it must make the first move. The soldiers at the gateway had been ordered to allow Sir Dugald to pass at any hour of the day or night, either with or without his staff, and to escort him to the Palace with due honour. But no advantage was taken of this intimation, and inside the Mission councils were held daily as to the measures to be adopted in case the state of affairs should remain unchanged. Sir Dugald had decided to send a messenger to Fort Rahmat-Ullah asking for instructions, and Jahan Beg had chosen one of his servants, a man who was devoted to him and who knew the country well, for the dangerous errand. As soon as arrangements had been made for a supply of horses along the route to be traversed, this man was to come to the Mission to receive Sir Dugald’s despatches, which were to be sewn up in his clothes, and the imprisoned residents began to regard the state of affairs with somewhat greater equanimity, since the burden of decision in the dilemma in which they found themselves would be laid upon other shoulders than their own.

On the fourth day of the blockade, however, an unexpected change occurred. Again an embassy appeared, but this time it was a private one. It consisted of the two sons of Fath-ud-Din, who had brought Mr Hicks to introduce them and to guarantee their good faith, and a number of attendants, who bore gifts of fruit and vegetables. The object of their errand was soon imparted. Fath-ud-Din had been seized with a mysterious illness, the nature of which was unknown to the Ethiopian physicians and baffled all their remedies, and he had sent to entreat Dr Headlam, to whose skill all his patients in the city bore eloquent testimony, to come and prescribe for him. Sir Dugald and his staff looked at one another doubtfully when they heard the message.

150

“It looks remarkably like a trap,” said Sir Dugald.

“Still, Hicks would scarcely lend himself to such a thing,” said the doctor.

“Let us have him in,” said Sir Dugald; and Mr Hicks was invited into the Durbar-hall, leaving his young friends in the verandah.

“If you ask me, I think the old man is real sick,” he said, in reply to their questions. “I heard his groans when I called at his house just now, and they were awful. I guess the old sinner is nailed this time, any way.”

“But it is so exactly what one might look for in a plot to secure one of us as a hostage for the signing of the treaty,” said Dick.

“Well, two can play at that game,” said the doctor, who was eager to go. “I suppose I must have young Fath-ud-Din with me to do the honours of the house, but do you keep the boy here, and don’t let him go until you have me safely back. That ought to checkmate any intended move of theirs.”

“Doctor, there’s something like grit in you!” cried Mr Hicks, warmly. “What with your professional enthusiasm, and your level-headedness, you deserve to be immortalised. And your name shall be handed down in the pages of history, or I will cut my connection with the ‘Crier’ from that day.”

“Thanks,” said the doctor. “Now suppose you call in the young gentlemen and explain the state of affairs. I don’t want to get to the house and find the poor old villain beyond my skill.”

The Vizier’s eldest son understood the matter at once, and was perfectly willing that his young brother should remain at the Mission as a hostage for Dr Headlam’s safe return. The boy was therefore delivered over to Sir Dugald and taken into the inner court, and the doctor left the house with Mr Hicks and young Fath-ud-Din.

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“Make the most of your opportunities, doctor,” Stratford called after him as he departed. “Have the medicine ready, and refuse to give it him except as the price of the signing of our treaty.”

Dr Headlam went off laughing, and the evening passed quietly at the Mission. About eleven o’clock the doctor returned, escorted by young Fath-ud-Din, who received his brother back, and departed with profuse expressions of gratitude.

“What sort of time have you had with the boy?” asked the doctor of Stratford and Dick, who were accompanying him across the court on his way to his own quarters.

“Oh, not bad, under the circumstances,” returned Dick. “We set Anstruther down to teach him halma by signs, and Miss Keeling gave us a little music—that is to say, she did her best to sing to the strains of Kustendjian’s concertina. I never heard any one play so vilely as that fellow in all my life, but the boy seemed impressed. Afterwards we sat in a ring and tried to talk, with Kustendjian to interpret, and all got most fearfully sleepy. But how did you get on?”

“Well, I don’t quite know,” replied the doctor, somewhat reluctantly. “I have an uncomfortable kind of feeling, and yet I can’t be sure that it is justified. But I will tell you about the events of the evening, and then you can judge for yourselves whether the matter is of any importance.”

“Oh, go on!” said Dick and Stratford together. “Don’t keep us on the rack.”

“Well, as soon as I got to the house I was taken to see old Fath-ud-Din. It’s pretty clear to me that he has a tolerably severe attack of influenza, but he thought he was dying—or at any rate, he groaned as if he did. I prescribed the usual remedies, and gave various directions as to things which I thought might relieve him. He sent the servants 152 out of the room to get hot flannels and the other things I had ordered, and then turned to me. I was pouring out the medicine, which I had fortunately been able to make up from the drugs I had brought with me, and I went to give it to him. As I held the glass to his lips, he fixed me with his eye and said in Arabic, ‘A doctor has many opportunities.’ It was such a truism that I merely agreed, and he went on, ‘He holds in his hand the life of the man to whose help he is called.’ I thought he was afraid that I might he trying to poison him, and I said, ‘If your Excellency doubts me, I will sip the medicine myself first.’ At that he grinned in what he seemed to consider as a friendly and ingratiating manner, and said, ‘You mistake me. I trust you. So also does the Queen of England’s Envoy trust you, and our lord the King trusts his physician.’ I didn’t quite see the relevance of the remark, so I cut matters short by requesting him to take his medicine. He sat up and balanced the glass in his hand, and said, looking at me over the edge of it: ‘Doubtless you are acquainted with poisons which could be administered in a little draught like this, and do their work without causing suspicion?’ I didn’t at all like the turn the conversation was taking, but I told him shortly that I did know of such poisons, and he said at once, ‘There are great fortunes to be made by men who possess such knowledge as that, and who are willing to use it.’ I was partly flustered and partly angry, for I could not make out whether he was still harping on the idea of my poisoning him, or hinting at bribing me to murder Sir Dugald or perhaps the King, and I said very emphatically, ‘I don’t understand your Excellency, and I must ask you to remember that I have no wish whatever to do so.’ That was something of a cram, I’m afraid, but I was too much flurried to pick my phrases, and I gave him the medicine without another 153 word. Then the servants came back, and I saw them make him comfortable, and then Hicks and I had dinner, or supper, or whatever you might call it, with young Fath-ud-Din. Now, what do you think of it?”

“It looks fishy,” said Stratford. “If you ask me, I think we must look after the Chief.”

“Just so,” said Dr Headlam, “but without frightening the ladies. I will tell him the whole story to-morrow morning. They couldn’t attempt anything particular tonight, and it’s very late. Besides, I feel a bit seedy myself.”

“I hope they haven’t poisoned you,” said Dick, pausing and looking at him.

“Nonsense, my dear fellow. Why, Hicks and young Fath-ud-Din and I were all eating out of the same dish. If you had seen some of the messes of which politeness forced Hicks and me to partake, you would wonder that we are alive now. There was one concoction full of chillies, which has made me most consumedly thirsty.”

“Come back and have something to drink,” said Dick. “The servants are gone to roost, but I think we are capable of compounding you a peg between us.”

“No, thanks; I am looking forward to a glass of my own effervescent mixture. My servants always have orders to leave the filter full for me. Well, we must be thinking of turning in, I suppose.”

“Stay over here to-night,” said Stratford, moved by a sudden impulse. “We can manage to put you up in Bachelors’ Buildings, and it will be more convenient if you are really seedy. Besides, it is undoubtedly bad policy for one of us to sleep out in an isolated house at a time like this.”

“My dear Stratford, I have a rifle and a revolver and a whole armoury of surgical knives with which to defend my 154 hearth and home. Any midnight marauder who came to pay me a visit would find that he had undertaken a tough job. Moreover, my servants are good fellows, and they are armed after a fashion. And then I have the famous collection, with the reputation Anstruther has conferred upon it, to protect me. Good-night: I am really too thirsty to wait talking any longer.”

They unbarred the gate and let him out, watched him cross the street and knock at his own door, and saw him admitted. Then, after going the round of the sentries, they retired to their own quarters, where they spent some time in conversation. Before turning in, they went out to the gate once more, impelled by a common anxiety for which they made no attempt to account to one another, and looked across at the doctor’s house; but the door was shut, and all was quiet there.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter X

skip to next chapter

For peace’ sake
text unchanged

most of them a peculiar pinkish-white in colour
[Just like the printed book, which is similarly a peculiar shade of pink. Or, at least, that’s how it came out of the scanner.]

It seemed to be Fath-ud-Din’s policy to play off one nation against the other, doing his best to secure concessions from each, while giving as little as possible in the way of equivalent to either.
[In other words, to do exactly what any representative of any government would do in the circumstances.]

Have the medicine ready, and refuse to give it him except as the price of the signing of our treaty.
[Professional ethics were different in 1897.]

CHAPTER XI.
THE RANKS ARE THINNED.

“Mr Stratford! Mr Stratford!”

The words were accompanied by an emphatic knocking at the door, and Stratford sat up in bed.

“Come in!” he shouted, recognising the voice, and Fitz Anstruther entered, shutting the door carefully behind him.

“I’m afraid there’s something wrong over at the doctor’s,” he said. “His house-door is ajar, and yet none of his people seem to be stirring. I wanted to go over and see what was the matter, but old Ismail Bakhsh wouldn’t let 155 me pass out of the gate, and told me to call you and Major North. May I go now? I won’t be a minute.”

“No, call North, and he and I will go over,” said Stratford, beginning to dress, and Fitz, with a sense of deep disappointment, obeyed. In a very few minutes Stratford and Dick came down the steps together, and after posting Fitz at the gate in case a hurried return should be necessary, passed between the lounging forms of the Ethiopian soldiers who were occupying the street, and entered the doctor’s house. Its air of desolation surprised them, for they found the courtyard and verandah strewn with books and papers, and odds and ends of small value.

“Looks as though the place had been looted,” said Dick.

They crossed the verandah and entered the house, still without meeting a soul. Here again all was desolation. Everything of value seemed to be gone, and the furniture was broken and knocked about. The only things left uninjured were the glass bottles containing the natural history specimens, which still remained untouched on their shelves. The door into the next room was ajar, and a kerosene lamp was burning itself out on the table, filling the air with its pungent odour as the flame flickered, recovered itself, and sank again. Glancing into the semi-darkness, the intruders could make out the form of the doctor, lying half-dressed across his bed, the lamp-light gleaming on the barrel of a revolver in his hand.

Somewhat reassured by the sight, they advanced and pushed the door wide open, then recoiled precipitately. The face which met their view was that of a dead man—of one who had died in the extremest agony. The protruding eyeballs, the lips drawn back to the gums, the black and swollen tongue, all testified to the sufferer’s having endured the utmost torments of thirst.

Ashamed of their momentary panic, Stratford and Dick, 156 putting a strong constraint upon themselves, entered the room and lifted the corpse, unclasping the rigid hand from the revolver.

“They did poison him, then!” said Dick, fiercely. “Well, we will have Fath-ud-Din’s blood for this.”

“How?” asked Stratford. “When was he poisoned? Was it at dinner last night, or had his servants poisoned the water in the filter? If young Fath-ud-Din and Hicks are both unhurt, we can never prove that it wasn’t that. It has been very smartly managed.”

“Here is a piece of paper and a pencil,” said Dick, handing them to him. “He must have been writing as he lay.”

“Look here,” said Stratford, holding out the paper after glancing through it, “the poor fellow has put down his symptoms and the remedies he tried, as a guide to us. He wrote at intervals, evidently. You see, after recording his symptoms twice, he says, ‘Servants gathered round the door watching me. Refuse to bring water.’ Then more symptoms, and then, ‘Servants are looting the house. Afraid to touch collection.’ Now you see the writing becomes much weaker. ‘Ask Miss Keeling to keep collection in memory of me. Take my mother back the Bible she gave me. Good-bye all. Take care of Miss Keeling; they will strike at her next—the only doctor left. God have mercy——’ It breaks off there, you notice, with a scrawl right across the page. The pencil must have dropped from his hand. To think what the poor fellow must have been enduring all alone in the night, with those fiends gloating over him!”

They stood up on either side of the dead man and looked at each other. Both were men who would not have flinched in the hottest fight, and yet each now saw reflected in the other’s eyes the unutterable horror of his own. What chance was there of success against a foe who fought 157 with such weapons as this? Stratford was the first to speak.

“I must go over and get the Chief to come,” he said. “Will you stay here with—him? I won’t be longer than I can help.”

Dick nodded, and he went off swiftly. For a few moments Dick sat still, staring fixedly at the distorted face of the man who had been a true comrade and good friend to him during the last few months. Then he pushed back the box on which he had been sitting, and began to walk up and down the room, averting his eyes from the dreadful thing on the bed.

“What are we to do?” he cried in despair. “It’s not for myself—God knows it’s not for myself—but those poor women!”

Georgia’s face rose up before him—not an uncommon occurrence in these days—and he ground his teeth as he remembered the dead man’s warning. He was powerless, and he knew it. What could four Englishmen, with Kustendjian and the little handful of native servants, do against a whole nation? How could they defend the helpless women who had come to Kubbet-ul-Haj trusting in their protection?

“At any rate,” said Dick, clenching his fist involuntarily, “if they strike at her they shall strike me first!”

Presently Stratford came back with Sir Dugald, to whom he had explained hastily the doctor’s suspicions of the night before. Sir Dugald’s arrival and his immediate grasp of the situation did something to lessen the tension in the minds of the two younger men, an effect which was enhanced by the prompt and decisive orders which he proceeded to give.

“I shall send you to the Palace with Kustendjian, Stratford, to tell the King exactly what has happened, and to 158 insist that it shall be inquired into immediately. There is no such thing as an inquest here, of course, but I suppose we had better leave the body for the present as you found it, in case they send some one to see how things were.”

“But what about punishing the murderers, sir?” asked Dick, eagerly.

“Who are the murderers?” responded Sir Dugald.

“What is your opinion, sir?”

“My opinion is the same as yours and Stratford’s—that poor Headlam was poisoned at Fath-ud-Din’s dinner; but you must see for yourself that it is absolutely impossible for us to prove it. Fath-ud-Din will say that the servants murdered their master in order to steal his property. Why otherwise should they have looted the place and decamped?”

“Because they were afraid of being suspected,” suggested Dick.

“Possibly; although in that case it was an insane idea for them to meddle with the poor fellow’s things. Besides, three of them came with us from Khemistan, and were not like these Ethiopians here. They were British subjects, and would have known that we should protect them and give them a fair trial. No; my opinion is that the servants had been got at, and were in league with Fath-ud-Din. He was to administer the poison, and they were to loot the house and disappear, in order that suspicion might rest upon them. No doubt he guaranteed their escape, and provided a safe refuge for them. But, if this is the case, you see we are powerless. Nothing but a direct confession from one of those immediately concerned could enable us to bring the crime home.”

“Then you will not even charge Fath-ud-Din with it?”

“My dear North”—Sir Dugald laid his hand not unkindly on Dick’s shoulder—“pull yourself together, and 159 consider what our position here is. Don’t let your eagerness to avenge poor Headlam blind you to the fact that we are in an enemy’s country, with several women to protect, and four guns (I don’t count Kustendjian) to do it with. At present Fath-ud-Din is bound to work against us secretly, but if we brought such an accusation against him it would be open war. The King could not give him up for punishment if he would, and it would be far easier, in any case, to get rid of us than of him. You may put me down as cold-blooded and calculating—in fact, I know you do—but it is my duty to try to bring the Mission out of this most unfortunate business with as little loss of life as possible.”

“I quite see that, sir; but when I look at the poor chap lying there——”

“You must not look at the dead, North, but at the living. If it should so happen that I were to die as the doctor has died, my last care would be to give Stratford a solemn charge to get the rest of you safely out of the country before he hinted at suspicion or said a word about avenging me. I don’t deny that we ought never to have brought the ladies here, but, hampered as we are by their presence, we have given hostages to fortune. Heaven helping me, I mean to have that treaty signed yet, before we leave Kubbet-ul-Haj; but, if that is not to be, then I shall turn all my thoughts to getting the ladies across the frontier in safety. I hope I may feel assured that my staff will do all in their power to co-operate with me, and to take my place should I be removed.”

“You may count on me, Sir Dugald,” said Dick, slowly. “I hope you will forgive what I said just now. I was so much upset that I did not consider things properly.”

Before Sir Dugald could answer, Stratford, who had gone back to the Mission to prepare for his visit to the 160 Palace, returned with Kustendjian, and received his orders. He was on no account to enter the Palace, merely to stand without and demand justice; and he was to be satisfied with nothing less than a royal proclamation denouncing the murderers, and ordering an immediate search for the fugitive servants. Little success as could be hoped for from this measure, such an edict would at least vindicate the prestige of the Mission.

“Now,” said Sir Dugald to Dick when Stratford and the interpreter had taken their departure, “we will get two or three of the servants over here, and set them to work to knock together a coffin. We must make it out of some of these packing-cases, I suppose. It will only be a rough affair. And then we must see about a burial-ground and a grave. It is sad to leave behind one you have liked and trusted in a country like this!”

Sir Dugald’s iron face twitched as he spoke, and he stooped over the corpse.

“Can you find a pair of scissors, North? I must cut off a lock of his hair for Lady Haigh to take to his mother, for I will not allow either her or Miss Keeling to come over and see him like this. I must break the news to them presently, but they shall know as little of the truth as I can manage to tell them.”

Dick found a pair of scissors in the dead man’s medicine-chest, and Sir Dugald cut off a lock of hair and placed it carefully in his pocket-book. Then he went across to the Mission, returning in a short time with two servants, whom he set to work at their mournful task, and leaving Dick to superintend them, went back to break the news to his wife and Georgia. Presently he was summoned again to the doctor’s house to meet the official who had returned with Stratford from the Palace, and who bore assurances of the grief and wrath felt by the King on account of the 161 crime which had been committed. Stratford brought word that the monarch’s utterances seemed to be really sincere, and that it was probable that even if the murder was justly attributed to Fath-ud-Din, his master had no share in it. He had come to the door of the Palace to meet Stratford, finding that he would not enter, and to all appearance was struck with surprise and horror at his news. The thought that the Queen of England might suspect that he had plotted the murder of her officer seemed to impress him parti­cularly, and he was ready to order every possible step to be taken that could lead to the detection of the criminals. At the same time, he was persistent in fastening the guilt upon the runaway servants, and refused to listen to the hint thrown out by Stratford that they might have been instigated to their deed by some one higher in position; and neither Sir Dugald nor his subordinates could resist the conclusion, that although it was in all probability true that the King knew nothing of the crime before it had taken place, yet he had now no difficulty in assigning it to its true perpetrator, whom he was, moreover, determined to shield.

Short of allowing any real inquiry into the manner of the doctor’s death, however, the King was ready to do all he could in the painful circumstances. The desired proclamation was already being published in the different quarters of the town, and a price had been set on the heads of the servants. With regard to the funeral, as there was no Christian burial-ground anywhere in Ethiopia, Sir Dugald might choose a spot in the royal gardens outside the city, and that spot should be fenced off and held sacred. Deputations from the Ethiopian army and council should be present at the ceremony, and Rustam Khan should also attend it as his father’s representative. In the meantime, to show the King’s deep regret for the misunder­standing 162 which had existed during the last few days between himself and Sir Dugald, the guard of soldiers would be removed from the front of the Mission, and the country-people informed that they might bring their produce to sell as usual.

It was Stratford and Fitz to whom fell the task of riding out to the King’s garden and selecting the site of the first Christian cemetery in Ethiopia. They chose a spot on the border of the estate, which could be easily marked off from the rest, and the official who had accompanied them gave the necessary orders to the workmen. The funeral was to take place in the late afternoon, and there was need for haste. Fitz and Stratford had ridden out almost in silence; but as they mounted their horses for the return journey to Kubbet-ul-Haj, Fitz looked back at the garden and shuddered.

“I wonder how many of us will lie there before this business is over!” he said, only to be annihilated by Stratford’s reply—

“Shut up, you young fool, and don’t croak. Your business is to obey orders, and not to wonder.”

The boy relapsed into sulky silence at once, and brooded all the way home over the disgusting state of Stratford’s temper, never guessing that it was with this very end in view, of detaching his thoughts from the tragedy of the morning, that the rebuke had been administered to him. In the courtyard of the Mission they found Dick engaged in superintending the preparations for the funeral, and Stratford noticed at once that among the riding-horses, which were those presented by the King a few days before, there were two hired mules carrying a curtained litter.

“Surely the ladies are not going?” he said to Dick.

“They are, indeed. Lady Haigh declared that she could never face the doctor’s mother if she was unable to tell her 163 in what kind of place he was buried, and what the funeral was like, and it struck the Chief that it was just possible they might be safer with us than left behind here under Kustendjian’s charge. Our force is none too large now, you know.”

And thus it happened that Lady Haigh and Georgia formed part of the mournful procession that accompanied the doctor’s rude coffin to its resting-place in the King’s garden. The streets and house-tops were crowded with people, who gazed eagerly and in silence at the British flag which covered the remains, and at the little group of Englishmen, sad-faced and stern, who followed. Many of those in the crowd owed relief from disease, or even life itself, to Dr Headlam’s skill, yet no sign of grief was exhibited by any one. But neither was there any attempt at mockery or sign of unfriendliness; the people seemed to watch the proceedings with intense and absorbing curiosity, much, thought Georgia, as the inhabitants of Mexico might have contemplated a religious ceremony performed by Cortes and his Spaniards. The same interest was shown at the cemetery, where another crowd had assembled, that listened expectantly to the unfamiliar accents as Sir Dugald read the Burial Service, and pressed forward eagerly to see what was happening when Lady Haigh and Georgia came to the grave-side and threw their flowers upon the coffin. The party from the Mission remained beside the grave until it was filled up and a rough wooden tablet erected, bearing the doctor’s name and the date of his death, and then returned sadly home, parting from Rustam Khan and his attendants as soon as they reached the city gate.

Now that the last honours had been paid to the dead, it was time, as Sir Dugald had said to Dick, to think of the living, and the four Englishmen and Kustendjian met on the terrace to discuss the state of affairs. The latest cause 164 for anxiety arose from the fact that Rustam Khan had shown a strong disposition to emphasise the truth that he attended the funeral merely as the representative of his father. He had declined to ride side by side with Sir Dugald after the coffin, and had displayed a determination, which under less painful circumstances would have been almost ludicrous, to avoid direct communication with any of the party.

“The moral of which is,” said Sir Dugald, “that we are by no means out of the wood yet, but rather deeper in it than before, if possible. If Rustam Khan is afraid to be seen speaking to us, or even to show the friendly feeling the occasion might seem to demand, it looks to my mind as though he knew that he had been accused to his father of plotting with us to deprive him of the throne, and wished to assert his innocence.”

“It strikes one that such a very pointed change of manner would be calculated to awaken suspicion rather than to lull it,” said Stratford—“though, of course, Rustam Khan must be the best judge of that. But we are singularly destitute of information to-day. Even Hicks would be better than no one.”

“Mr Hicks came here after you had started,” said Kustendjian, who had been left in charge of the Mission during the funeral. “He would have wished to attend the ceremony at the grave, but he had only just heard what had happened, since all the morning he was suffering from a fit of indigestion, induced by the dishes at the Vizier’s dinner last night.”

“Well, it’s evident that he was not poisoned,” said Dick, “for Fath-ud-Din would have done his work more effectually, for one thing; and again, I know that I have invariably had the same experience myself after a big native dinner in India or Khemistan. But he seems to be no better provided 165 with news than we are. I wonder what has become of Jahan Beg.”

“That is just the question that has occurred to me,” said Sir Dugald. “It is possible that his house is watched, and that he does not dare to come here. But I hope his silence may mean merely that he has found a good opportunity for sending off his messenger, and that he did not wait for despatches or further directions from me, but packed him off at once.”

“But supposing you hear, in the course of the next two or three weeks, that the force you want is awaiting your orders at Fort Rahmat-Ullah, what action do you propose to take, sir?” asked Dick.

“Simply to inform the King that I am about to withdraw the Mission. If he will send troops to escort us to the frontier, as he did when we came, it will be all right; but, if not, I shall order a sufficient force to march to our assistance. It would not be a military expedition, of course—merely a baggage-train with an armed escort—but the King could not refuse it passage without open war. That would necessitate his throwing himself into the arms of Scythia, which he is very shy of doing; and it is my impression that when he discovers we have the help we need at no great distance, he will change his mind, sign the treaty, and allow us to take back to Khemistan peace with honour.”

“But he would naturally begin a war, if he did decide upon one, by wiping out the Mission,” suggested Dick, “or he might provide us with an escort which had instructions to murder us all on the way. It would come to pretty much the same thing in either case, so far as we were concerned.”

“Risks of that kind one must take in the course of business,” said Sir Dugald. “We can’t very well remain permanently at Kubbet-ul-Haj on our present footing, but 166 we will do our best to avoid playing the part of victims in another Kurd-Cabul disaster.”

“Do you think they will make any further attempts to induce us to accept their treaty, Sir Dugald?” asked Stratford.

“I think it is fairly certain that they will, believing that we have been thrown off our guard by their friendliness to-day. As soon as Fath-ud-Din is about again, we shall probably have him here, trying his old tricks once more; but I have a pleasant little surprise in store for him. I shall make it clear that all negotiations are to be carried on at this house, and that neither I nor any of you will go to the Palace on any business whatever connected with the treaty. I am not going to risk the loss of any more lives by dividing our force, but I shall not tell him that. It will be a disagreeable shock to him to find that we only become stiffer in our demands as our position grows more precarious, and he will think we possess some sort of moral support behind the scenes of which he is ignorant.”

“What a fire-eater the Chief is!” said Stratford later to Dick. “He ought to have commanded one of Nelson’s line-of-battle ships, and engaged a whole French fleet before he went down with guns double-shotted and colours flying.”

“A regular old fighting-cock!” said Dick, affectionately. “If we hadn’t had the ladies with us, we should have seen him bearding the King in the Palace itself, and defying Fath-ud-Din and the whole Ethiopian army to their faces, I’m convinced. As it is—well, our prospects don’t look parti­cularly brilliant just now, but I feel that if there is a man on earth who can get us out of this fix, it’s the Chief.”

They were superintending the removal of the collection from Dr Headlam’s desolate house to the Mission, and gathering together such poor scraps of personal property as the marauders had overlooked or left behind as worthless, 167 to take home to his mother. When the place was cleared they locked the door and delivered the key to the landlord, who received it with a gloomy face, remarking that he never expected to be able to find another tenant. Dick thought that he was attempting to gain an increase of the substantial rent (as things go in Ethiopia), which had already been paid him, but the landlord had gauged correctly the character of his fellow-citizens. The house stood empty for a long time, gaining a bad reputation without any tangible reason; but at last, for an ample remuneration, a man was found bold enough to sleep there, in order to prove that there was nothing wrong about the place. But that bold man let himself down over the wall into the street in the middle of the night by means of his turban, leaving his mattress behind him; and the next day he told his friends that he had been awakened by hearing the well-known clink of a medicine-bottle against the measuring-glass, and, cautiously uncovering his head, had looked out to see the ghost of the English doctor standing at a phantom table and mixing immaterial drugs. That was enough, and the house was left desolate until it ultimately fell into decay.

But this is anticipating, and we must return to the days when the presence of a British envoy was an abiding reality in Kubbet-ul-Haj, and not the shadowy tradition which it has since become. For a day or two the party at the Mission were left undisturbed, although the absence of any message from Jahan Beg robbed their tranquillity of some of its attractiveness. The enforced seclusion within the walls of the house could not fail to tell on the spirits of most of them; but it was a point of honour with all to maintain an appearance of cheerfulness for the sake of the rest, and those who possessed hobbies found them a great help in this endeavour. Stratford studied Ethiopian, Dick laboured at the map of the country which he had begun 168 during the journey from the frontier to the city, and Fitz, who was the unresisting victim of a camera which accompanied him wherever he went, photographed everything and everybody. Georgia had an object of interest peculiarly her own in the perplexing conduct of Dick, who had changed his place at meals, and contrived always to secure a seat between Lady Haigh and herself, so that he could appropriate the first cup of tea or coffee poured out, which it was naturally his duty to pass on to Miss Keeling. Georgia pondered over this behaviour of his for some little time without gaining any light upon it, and at last opened her mind to her usual confidante.

“Lady Haigh, have you noticed the queer way in which Major North behaves at meals? He won’t pass things, and I am sure it isn’t through absence of mind, for he apologises at the time, and looks so dreadfully confused.”

“Well, my dear child, I am sure there is nothing in all this for which to blame him. Certainly you ought to be the very last person to complain.”

“I, Lady Haigh?”

“Is it possible that you don’t guess his reason, Georgie?”

“Really and truly I haven’t an idea what it can be.”

“Then I think you ought to be enlightened. You remember that paper which the poor doctor left, in which he warned us that you would probably be the next of us to be attacked? Well, Major North doesn’t mean you to be poisoned if he can prevent it. That’s all, and it explains his eccentric behaviour fully.”

“Oh!” Georgia sat silent, a vivid crimson spreading over her face. “But it isn’t fair that he should be allowed to risk his life in that way, Lady Haigh,” she said at last.

“Very well, my dear; tell him so.”

“But that would sound so ungrateful. Couldn’t you tell him?”

169

“I could say that you would prefer to be poisoned rather than to be helped after him, certainly.”

“Oh, Lady Haigh, you are unkind; you know it isn’t that! It is that I can’t bear him to be always running the risk of being poisoned instead of me.”

“Well, if you want my opinion, I should say that was a matter for Major North to decide for himself.”

“Excuse me—I think it is a thing for me to decide.”

“My dear Georgie, you are very persistent. I can only repeat—settle it yourself with Major North.”

But as Lady Haigh had foreseen, Georgia decided that it was not advisable to broach the subject to Dick, and the matter was therefore left untouched.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XI

Somewhat reassured by the sight, they advanced and pushed the door wide open, then recoiled precipitately.
[My opinion of Stratford’s and North’s intelligence sinks to a new low. Did they really think Headlam would be found cozily napping in the midst of the wreckage?]

there was no Christian burial-ground anywhere in Ethiopia
[File under: Critical Research Failure. It was around this point that I began to suspect the author has no idea Ethiopia is a real, currently existing country.]

the force you want is awaiting your orders at Fort Rahmat-Ullah
text has Rahmut-Ullah

CHAPTER XII.
THE STANDARD-BEARER FALLS.

Sir Dugald’s prophecy as to the probable resumption of negotiations on the part of the Ethiopians proved correct, for within a week after the doctor’s death Fath-ud-Din, now completely recovered from his illness, appeared once more at the Mission. As the visit was ostensibly one of condolence, Sir Dugald granted him an interview; but when the Vizier had spent the orthodox length of time in bemoaning the loss of Dr Headlam, and in remarking piously, for the consolation of his host, that these things were ordered by fate and could not be averted, he turned suddenly to business. Taking from the hands of his confidential scribe, who alone of all his attendants had accompanied him into 170 the Durbar-hall, a roll of parchment which bore a family likeness to the various abortive treaties already discussed and rejected, he presented it to Sir Dugald and requested him to read it. Sir Dugald had now become so much accustomed to mental exercises of the kind that he could detect an unsound clause by eye or by instinct rather than by actual perception; but for the sake of appearances he beckoned to Kustendjian to come and read the document through to him quickly. When the reading was finished Kustendjian was pale with excitement, and Stratford and Dick were looking at one another in bewilderment over Sir Dugald’s head, for, with the exception of one or two minute alterations affecting the wording rather than the matter, the treaty was identical with that first agreed to, and ever since rejected by the King and Fath-ud-Din. That estimable person now sat smiling benevolently at the astonished faces of his hosts, and, while their eyes were still fixed upon him, began to make significant passes of the thumb of his right hand over the forefinger—a gesture which was immediately understood by all the members of the party except Fitz, for whom this journey was his first experience of Eastern life.

“So that’s it!” muttered Sir Dugald. “How much do you want, Fath-ud-Din?”

With a pained smile, directed towards the scribe, who was obviously watching the transaction while pretending to be absorbed in the study of the tiled floor, the Vizier held up his right hand, with the second finger turned down.

“Oh, nonsense!” said Sir Dugald. “You can’t afford to do it for that, you know. Or is there any other little thing we could do for you besides? Out with it; we are all friends here.”

“The life of man is uncertain,” sighed Fath-ud-Din.

“Quite so—especially in Ethiopia,” responded Sir Dugald.

171

“Even kings cannot rule for ever,” went on the Vizier.

“I quite agree with you;” yet Sir Dugald became portentously stern all at once.

“And happy is he to whom a son is given that may sit on his throne after him.”

“True. His Majesty is in that fortunate position.”

“But the son granted to him is young and tender, and there are those who might dispute his claim. How great, then, would be his felicity if the mighty Queen whom my lord serves would acknowledge, by the hand of her servant, the child’s right of succession, and grant him her countenance and the support of her soldiers!”

“I see. Fath-ud-Din stands to gain five thousand pounds, gentlemen,” said Sir Dugald, turning to his staff; “and when the king is removed from the scene, we are to acknowledge Antar Khan as his successor, and back him up with moral and physical force. How does that strike you?”

“It strikes me that the King had better set about making his will,” said Stratford, grimly, “if you accept the terms.”

“That is exactly the impression which the proposal has produced on me,” returned Sir Dugald; “and, as I have no wish to be accessory to a sudden change of ruler in Ethiopia, I think it will be as well to inform Fath-ud-Din that we must decline to do business with him on this footing.”

He folded up the treaty, rising at the same time to show that the interview was ended, and handed back the parchment to the Grand Vizier, who had been observing him in silence.

“Her Majesty’s Government has an objection to interfering in dynastic questions,” said Sir Dugald, pointedly; “and, when it does interest itself in such a matter, it prefers to adopt the cause of the elder son.”

“There are other governments of Europe,” said Fath-ud-Din, with equal meaning, “which are quite willing to take 172 the side of the younger. If the first purchaser will not pay me the price I ask for my sheep, I will take them further and find one who will.”

“I can only admire your Excellency’s keen business qualities,” returned Sir Dugald, as he escorted his visitor to the door. But no sooner was the Vizier’s train outside the gate than the scribe came back in haste, saying that his master had missed a valuable ring, which he must have dropped somewhere in the house. Half suspecting a trap, but yet determined to give no ground for an accusation of lukewarmness, Sir Dugald had the courtyard searched, and the rugs in the Durbar-hall taken up and shaken. But all was in vain until one of the servants, who had removed the tray of coffee which had been brought in out of compliment to the Vizier, came back into the room, and, with a salaam, produced the ring, which he had found at the bottom of Sir Dugald’s cup, and which the scribe seized upon immediately with a cry of triumph.

“Well, I’m glad that turned out all right,” said Dick, when the man had gone off rejoicing. “I was afraid it was a trap, and that they meant to accuse us of stealing the thing. Dim memories began to come over me of a book I read when I was a small boy, in which a virtuous family were imprisoned and tortured and given a bad time generally on account of a false accusation of having stolen a ring, and I must own that I had unpleasant forebodings as to the probable course of justice in Ethiopia.”

“I confess that I began to suspect they had hidden it somewhere,” said Sir Dugald, “and would try to make out that we had accepted it as a bribe.”

“Of course it must have dropped in when he handed you the treaty,” said Stratford; “but it’s queer that no one noticed it.”

“One of the ‘things no feller can understand,’” quoted 173 Sir Dugald, absently. “If you will find your way to the terrace, gentlemen, where I see Lady Haigh is just pouring out tea, I will follow you as soon as I have given an order to Ismail Bakhsh.”

Stratford, Dick, and Kustendjian crossed the court slowly, still discussing the incident of the ring, and, mounting the steps, perceived that Fitz had reached the terrace before them, and was engaged in conducting the education of the Persian kitten. He had an idea that it was possible, by dint of kindness and perseverance, to teach any animal to perform an unlimited number of tricks; but so far his theory did not appear to be justified by facts in the case of Colleen Bawn. At this moment he was holding a stick a few inches from the ground, and endeavouring, by means of bribes and encouragement, to induce his pupil to jump over it. Lady Haigh and Georgia were laughing at his efforts, and the kitten sat watching him with unconcerned interest, blinking lazily every now and then with one contemptuous blue eye and one uncompre­hending yellow one.

“How, you little beggar, this won’t do! I shall have to take you in hand seriously. I won’t hurt the little beast, Miss Keeling. You don’t imagine I would? But I must teach it to obey orders.”

He seized the white mass of fluff which ignored his blandishments so calmly, and proceeded to place it in the required position. The result was a short scuffle, from which the kitten retired in high dudgeon to seek refuge under Georgia’s chair, leaving Fitz defeated, with a long scratch on the back of his hand.

“Oh, Mr Anstruther, you have hurt her!” cried Georgia, reproachfully.

“I think she has hurt me,” was Fitz’s resentful answer.

“Poor little thing! I think she is only frightened,” said Lady Haigh. “We will give her some milk”—and she 174 filled a saucer, and, stooping down, tried to tempt Colleen Bawn out of her hiding-place.

It was at this moment that the rest, standing at the edge of the terrace, saw Sir Dugald coming through the archway from Bachelors’ Buildings.

“What in the world is the matter with the Chief?” whispered Stratford, quickly; for Sir Dugald was walking as though his feet refused to carry him in a straight line: first a few steps to the right, then a valiant attempt to reach the steps, then a divergence to the left. The men on the terrace watched him in amazement and horror.

“He walks as though he was drunk!” said Kustendjian, in a voice of bewilderment.

“I wish to goodness he might be!” was the astonishing aspiration which broke from Dick as he ran down into the court, while Stratford turned a look upon the interpreter which made him shake in his shoes.

“Give me your arm up the steps, North,” said Sir Dugald, looking at Dick in a puzzled, almost appealing fashion. “I don’t feel very well. Is Anstruther there?”

“Yes, sir. Do you want him to write anything!”

“Yes. It must be done at once.”

They had reached the top of the steps, and the horrified group on the terrace saw that Sir Dugald’s face was working strangely, and that his lips were twitching and refused to be controlled.

“Dugald,” cried his wife, rushing to him, “you are ill! Come indoors and lie down;” but he pushed her away from him with a shaking hand.

“Not yet, not yet,” he said, impatiently. “Sit down, Anstruther, and write. Quick!” as the boy’s frightened fingers bungled over their task. “Say this: ‘Fearing the approach of severe illness, I hereby appoint Egerton Stratford to the command of this Mission until her Majesty’s 175 pleasure is known, charging him——’” here he became incapable of speech for a moment, and passed his hand over his lips to steady them—“‘to secure, if possible, the conclusion of the treaty originally agreed upon; but in any case to conduct the Mission back to British territory without provoking, for any cause whatever, a conflict with the Ethiopian authorities.’ Now let me sign it.”

He sat down heavily in the chair which Fitz vacated, and groaned aloud as the pen dropped from his fingers.

“Let me guide your hand, dearest,” whispered Lady Haigh, restoring him the pen; but once more he motioned her aside, and, steadying his right hand with his left, succeeded, with infinite difficulty, in inscribing his name in large crooked characters.

“Now witness it. Witness it all of you,” he said, with feverish anxiety, and they all added their names to the paper as witnesses. When the last signature was written Sir Dugald’s head sank on his breast, and Lady Haigh darted to his side with a cry which none of those who heard it will ever forget.

“Dugald, not dead? and without a word to me!”

bearded man laboriously signing a paper surrounded by worried-looking people

He succeeded with infinite difficulty in inscribing his name in large crooked characters.

“Dear Lady Haigh,” said Georgia, gaining her voice first, and choking back her tears, “he is not dead. I think it is some kind of paralytic seizure. He may recover very soon. If we can get him indoors I shall be able to see better what it is.”

“If you will take his left arm, Mr Stratford,” said Lady Haigh, in a hard, even voice, “we can support him to his room. Please come with us, Georgie.”

Dick stepped forward to offer his help, but Lady Haigh refused to relinquish her position, and she and Stratford half-carried the unconscious form across the terrace and into the house. It struck those who were left behind with a fresh pang as they realised that in the course of the past 176 few weeks Sir Dugald’s iron-grey hair had turned quite white.

“What do you think?” asked Dick, when Stratford returned presently and sat down in silence.

“Heaven help us!” was the sole answer; and the group on the terrace waited there in speechless anxiety for more than an hour. The sun, as it neared its setting, began to cast the long shadows of the walls across the courtyard; the kitten curled itself into a ball of white fur in the middle of Georgia’s embroidery without rebuke, and still the four men waited, struck dumb by this sudden blow. At last Georgia came out and sat down in Lady Haigh’s place. There were traces of tears on her face, but she spoke in what Dick called her professional manner as they all looked at her, hesitating to ask the question whose answer they feared to hear.

“It is paralysis,” she said; “but I have never seen a case with quite the same symptoms.”

“All this worry has been too much for the Chief,” said Stratford, indignantly. “The Government had no business to send so old a man on such an errand so ill-supported. What with all he has gone through, and the shock of the doctor’s death, it is no wonder that he should break down.”

“I don’t know who started the idea of this precious Mission,” growled Dick, “but if any of us get back to Khemistan, we shall have something to say about the way they carried it out.”

“I think that perhaps poor Sir Dugald preferred to come with a small party, and to be left very much to his own responsibility,” suggested Georgia. “He has often said how much he hated being trammelled by directions from people at a distance who knew nothing of the circumstances.”

“Still, they should have arranged some safe means by which he might communicate with them in case of necessity, 177 instead of camel-posts which stopped running just when they were most wanted,” persisted Dick. “The responsibility has been too much for any one man.”

“I have an idea,” said Georgia, with some hesitation, “that the case is not quite so simple as you think. I have attended a large number of paralytic cases, but I have never met with symptoms quite like these. Sir Dugald has now passed into a state more resembling coma—that is to say, he is apparently asleep, but cannot be awakened. He seems incapable of originating any movement, and yet I am almost convinced that he is partially conscious of what is going on around him. He cannot speak or open his eyes; but his limbs are not rigid, and I believe he is alive to sensations of physical pain.”

“But to what conclusions do these observations lead you, Miss Keeling?” asked Stratford.

“It is merely a conjecture of mine, but I think I have one or two other facts to support it. I believe that this attack is the result of the administration of poison.”

“Poison!” broke from her hearers in various tones of incredulity; and Stratford added, “With all deference to you, Miss Keeling, I can’t help thinking that you are generalising too hastily from the circumstances of poor Headlam’s death. What opportunity has there been for poisoning the Chief that would not have affected all of us equally?”

“Chanda Lal said something to Lady Haigh about a ring.”

“Fath-ud-Din’s ring!” The men looked at one another for a moment, then Stratford spoke again.

“But we are not in the days of the Borgias now. How could these people have become acquainted with such a trick as that?”

“Surely,” said Georgia, “it is more likely that the Borgias owed their methods to the East than that the East 178 borrowed from them? We have learnt already, by sad experience, that Fath-ud-Din is a most expert poisoner, and we can guess that he would consider it to be to his interest to rid himself of Sir Dugald.”

“The thing is absolutely impossible,” said Dick, not considering the rudeness of his language. Georgia looked at him in some surprise.

“I may tell you that it was from examination of the symptoms that I first formed my theory, Major North, and that it was only when I was trying to find out whether there had been any opportunity of administering poison that I heard of the ring from Chanda Lal.”

“But are you acquainted with any poison which would produce exactly these effects?” asked Stratford. The rest waited eagerly for the reply, and their faces fell when Georgia answered—

“No, I am not. There are circumstances connected with the illness which I cannot explain by attributing it to the action of any specific poison of which I have ever heard. But you must have noticed in the papers about ten years ago various references to certain Asiatic poisons, the nature of which was quite unknown to Western medical men. It was supposed that a poison of this kind had been administered to a particular ruler whom it was desired to dethrone, and that it acted in such a way as to paralyse his will and his powers of mind. I do not say that this is the same poison—in fact I believe it can’t be, for that was supposed not to affect the physical powers in any way—but I think that this belongs to the same class. You saw how poor Sir Dugald struggled against the effects; only a man of indomitable will could have held out as he did. But he could not continue to resist, and when he had attained his great object, and signed that paper, his will-power collapsed suddenly. It is just possible that if the emergency had 179 continued to exist, he might have held out, and succeeded in throwing off the effects of the poison.”

“And you really think it possible that enough poison to produce such results as these could be contained in that ring?” asked Stratford.

“I do; and I want you to help me to persuade Lady Haigh to allow me to try the effect of different antidotes. She is so thoroughly convinced that the attack is a simple paralytic seizure, brought on by overwork and worry, that she refuses to let me make trial of any strong remedies lest they should retard Sir Dugald’s recovery. But I am very much afraid that unless we can expel the poison from the system, or at any rate neutralise it, he will not recover at all.”

“I wish we had a proper surgeon here!” said Dick, rising and walking restlessly up and down.

“We have,” cried Fitz, bristling up at once in defence of Georgia.

“I meant a medical man,” said Dick, casting a stony glance at him.

“It seems to me, North,” put in Stratford, “that you forget we ought to be very thankful to have a doctor here at all. You can’t mean to imply that it makes any difference that—that——”

“That I have the misfortune to be a woman, as Major North thinks,” said Georgia, quietly.

“Well, I know that I would never let a lady doctor touch me if I was ill,” said Dick, with painful candour.

“I don’t think there are many that would care to,” snapped Fitz, who was boiling over with rage.

“Anstruther, you forget yourself,” said Stratford. “Miss Keeling, I must ask you to forgive us. We have been so much upset by what has happened that we really can’t look at things coolly. We know that North has always been an 180 obstinate heretic on this subject, but I’m sure I need not tell you that if he was really ill he would be only too grateful if you would do what you could for him. Still, in the present case——”

“Yes?” said Georgia, eagerly, as he paused.

“It is such a fearful risk. If you could say definitely what poison you suspected, or even if we had any independent proof that poison had been administered at all, I would add my voice to yours in trying to persuade Lady Haigh to adopt your views; but as it is, you must confess that they are built up of a succession of hypotheses, and if the hypotheses are false, your treatment might do irremediable harm by weakening the patient to such an extent that he would have no power to rally from what may, after all, be what you called just now a simple paralytic seizure. You are quite convinced of the truth of your theory, I suppose?”

“I would stake my professional reputation upon it,” said Georgia; “but I suppose”—throwing back her head proudly—“that it would be quite useless to try to convince any one here that my reputation is as much to me as a professional man’s is to him. But it is not that—it is to see poor Sir Dugald lying there insensible, and Lady Haigh so miserable about him, and not to be allowed to try what I believe would set him right. After all”—her tone changed—“I am the doctor here, and I am not answerable to any one in authority. Why should I not try the remedies which commend themselves to me?”

“Scarcely without the consent of the patient’s friends——” began Stratford, puzzled by this new development; but Dick interposed roughly enough.

“No, Miss Keeling. If your hypothesis proved to be incorrect, and the result turned out badly, it might become a manslaughter case. It is quite out of the question that 181 you should be allowed either to run such a risk yourself, or to expose the Chief to it, and I shall back Stratford up in preventing you from attempting anything of the kind you propose.”

“By force, I presume?” asked Georgia, sarcastically. “You seem to be losing sight of the fact that, if my theory is correct, it would be incurring the same guilt not to take the steps I recommend, Major North.”

“Allow me to say. Miss Keeling, that there are very few juries that would not prefer the opinion of four men to that of one lady.”

“I can quite believe it,” returned Georgia, scornfully, “after what I have heard to-day. It would make no difference that the woman was an M.D. of London, and that none of the men knew enough of medicine to describe the symptoms of arsenical poisoning. They must know best. Oh, I might have known that when Lady Haigh refused to listen to me there was no hope of getting four men to look at things in a less biassed way. She turned against me because anxiety for her husband has blinded her judgment for the time, but your opposition springs from mere prejudice. Thank you for the things you have been saying, Major North. One conversation of this kind teaches one more than months of ordinary conventional intercourse. If I were not so angry, I could laugh to think that we are wrangling here while poor Sir Dugald is lying in this helpless state—and that you should all combine to prevent my doing what I can for him, simply because I happen to be a woman!”

“I think you are a little unjust, Miss Keeling,” said Stratford. “My objection is not that you are a woman, but that you confess you cannot be certain of the facts of the case.”

“How could any one be certain under the present circumstances, 182 unless Fath-ud-Din had confessed openly what he had done, and contributed a specimen of the poison for analysis? You know that if Dr Headlam had been alive you would not have thought of questioning what he saw fit to do. I only ask for fair play. Chivalry I don’t expect—perhaps it is as well that I don’t under the circumstances—but I have a right to ask for the justice that would be shown to a man in my position.”

And Georgia gathered up her work and the kitten, and retired very deliberately, with the honours of war, leaving the men disinclined for further conversation. Kustendjian betook himself to his own quarters, where he was in the habit of donning a semi-oriental costume in which to take his ease after work was done; and Stratford, accompanied by Fitz, who had listened with a certain mournful pride to Georgia’s indictment of North, adjourned to the office, there to compile the regular account of the proceedings of the day. When the record was complete, and Fitz had returned to the terrace, Stratford, who had lingered to arrange the papers in the safe, was surprised by the entrance of Dick, who lounged in moodily without saying anything, and propped himself against the wall.

“Why don’t you tell me that I am a dismal fool and a howling cad?” he inquired at last.

“If you know it already, though it’s rather late in the day now, it can’t be much good my repeating the information,” said Stratford, drily.

“Oh, go on! Swear at me, call me names—anything you like! I am positively yearning for a thorough good slanging—might make me feel a little better.”

“Then I should recommend you to apply to Miss Keeling. I don’t fancy you’ll want to repeat the experience.”

“Stratford, tell me what I am to do. I can’t think what possessed me just now. Of course, it stands to reason that 183 we couldn’t allow her to do what she wanted. If she tried her experiments, and the Chief died, she would probably let herself in for an inquiry when we got back to Khemistan. Her name would be bandied about all over the place, and every wretched native penny-a-liner in India would be cooking up articles to reflect on medical women.”

“And, by way of improving matters, you gave her a taste of the sort of thing beforehand. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that Miss Keeling would probably care comparatively little for having her name bandied about in the papers if she was convinced that her friends—and I suppose you would call yourself one—believed in her.”

Dick stared. “But that’s all rot, you know!” he said. “If a woman won’t look after herself in those ways, one must do it for her. To think of her becoming the subject of bazaar gup!—why, you know, one couldn’t allow it. No, I’m not a bit sorry that I took her in hand and quenched her aspirations; but I am perfectly sick when I think of the way I did it. If she hadn’t taken it for granted that she was in the right all the time, I shouldn’t have got so mad; but it makes a man look such a cub to—to lose his temper when he’s arguing with a lady. As she said, I have done myself more harm with her to-day than months would undo. How can I put it right?”

“I haven’t a notion,” responded Stratford, cheerfully. “Any one would have thought from your manner that you were bidding successfully for a final rupture. Of course, the only possible thing to do is to apologise. As a gentleman, you can’t avoid that, but I doubt whether it will do you much good. If you will excuse my saying it, North, I think you have tried this Revolt-of-Man business once too often.”

“Rub it in!” said Dick, mournfully. “The harder the better.”

184

“Oh, get out!” cried Stratford. “This office isn’t a confessional. Eat your humble pie as soon as you get the chance, and be jolly thankful if your penitence is accepted. That’s all I have to say. Now clear out. Why, I have more hope of young Anstruther than of you. The way that cub has been licked into shape is wonderful. Three months ago he would have been at your throat for half the things you said to-day. Slope!”

Dick departed, but he found no opportunity of following the counsel of his too candid friend. The men dined alone that night, and neither Lady Haigh nor Georgia appeared on the terrace afterwards. The next morning, as there was no change in Sir Dugald’s condition, Lady Haigh ventured, at Georgia’s earnest request, to leave him to the care of Chanda Lal while she presided as usual at the late breakfast. Dick took the place next to her, which he had occupied of late, and secured for himself the first cup of coffee, as he invariably did.

“Major North,” said Georgia, shortly, “will you kindly pass me my coffee?”

Taken by surprise, Dick did as she asked, and her eyes met his in a defiant glance as she raised the cup to her lips. He read her meaning at once. She would have none of his protection; she preferred, indeed, to run the risk of being poisoned rather than owe immunity from such a fate to him. The realisation of this fact cut him more deeply than anything she had said the day before, and he began to regret the temerity with which he had plunged into the fray, although in talking to Stratford he had scouted the idea of entertaining such a feeling.

About an hour later, when Georgia, after careful reconnoitring to make sure that the coast was clear, had settled herself in a shady corner of the terrace to study in peace a work on poisons which she had found among Dr Headlam’s 185 books, she was surprised by the sudden appearance of the man whom she least desired to see. He had evidently been engaged in inspecting the stores in the cellars under the terrace, for the first intimation she had of his vicinity was the sight of him as he came up the steps.

“I want to ask you to forgive me for what I said yesterday, Miss Keeling,” he said, standing before her.

“Can you forgive yourself?” asked Georgia, quickly.

“Not for the way in which I spoke—nor indeed for the things I said, but I think you would look more leniently on them if you realise that it was anxiety for you that prompted them.”

“Thank you,” said Georgia, raising her eyebrows, “but I am afraid that my poor feminine mind is scarcely capable of appreciating an anxiety which displays itself in such a marked—I might almost say such an unpleasant way. Perhaps you will kindly understand, after this, that I had rather be without it.”

It was undignified, she knew, but she could not resist the temptation to repay him in his own coin. Last night she had been angry and indignant when she realised how much his words had hurt her, and it gave her now a kind of vengeful pleasure to feel that she was hurting him.

“You are very cruel,” he said, “but perhaps I deserve it.”

“Perhaps?” Georgia sat upright, and her eyes flashed. “Major North, you conceived a prejudice against me the first time you saw me in the spring, and you spared no pains to make it evident. Thinking that you might possibly imagine yourself to have a just cause of complaint against me, on account of what happened long ago, although I should have thought it wiser and more dignified for both of us to forget the circumstance, I have done my best, for Mab’s sake, to treat you as I should wish to be able to treat her brother. I had begun to hope that you also had 186 recognised the advantage of continuing our acquaintance on this footing, and I have been in the habit lately of speaking to you more freely than I should have cared to do to a declared enemy. In return, you do your utmost to humiliate me in the presence of Mr Kustendjian and Mr Anstruther. You have taught me a lesson; I confess that I have taken some time in learning it, but I shall not make mistakes in future.”

“Then you won’t even let us be friends?”

“I think it will be better not, Major North. The honour of your friendship is rather a trying one for the recipient; a stranger might even mistake it for enmity. It will relieve you of the unpleasant necessity of showing your friendship if we remain henceforth on the footing of mere acquaintances.”

“Have a little pity for me, Georgie.”

If Dick had meant to make Georgia look at him, he had succeeded now. The glance she gave him withered him into silence.

“You forget yourself, Major North. At least, I have never given you reason to insult me.”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XII

skip to next chapter

“Her Majesty’s Government has an objection to interfering in dynastic questions,” said Sir Dugald, pointedly
[Except when it is in their interest to do so.]

“and, when it does interest itself in such a matter, it prefers to adopt the cause of the elder son”
[As we all know, God is an Englishman. One of the ways the British Empire gained hold in India was by refusing to recognize childless rulers’ adopted heirs. (To this day, the adopted sons of British peers cannot inherit the title. They have only recently and grud­gingly been allowed to use the courtesy titles of a daughter or younger son.)]

the rugs in the Durbar-hall taken up and shaken
text has Dunbar-hall

“I confess that I began to suspect they had hidden it some­where,” said Sir Dugald
[Add Sir Dugald to the list of people whose intelligence is not what it ought to be. This should have been his first thought.]

Colleen Bawn
[Goodness. What an odd name to give a kitten. “The Colleen Bawn” was, in real life, Ellen Hanley, victim of a sensational 1819 Irish murder. Unexpectedly, the story ends with an upper-class man hanged for killing his lower-class wife.]

“‘to secure, if possible, the conclusion of the treaty
double quote missing

Dugald, not dead? and without a word to me!
[How dare you, Dugald!]

people at a distance who knew nothing of the circumstances.”
close quote missing

I believe that this attack is the result of the administration of poison.
[Ya think?]

“Surely,” said Georgia, “it is more likely that the Borgias owed their methods to the East than that the East borrowed from them?
[I’m not certain I follow the reasoning. Does she mean that all good things were obviously invented in the West, while all bad things were equally obviously invented in the East?]

CHAPTER XIII.
A PROFESSIONAL SUMMONS.

The long hours of another day and night dragged slowly away, and Sir Dugald’s condition remained unchanged. The sight of her husband lying on his bed with half-closed eyes, speechless and incapable of changing his position, moved Lady Haigh to a fervent hope that Georgia’s conjecture as to his partial consciousness of what passed around him might 187 not be true. To know himself absolutely powerless, to perceive that things were going wrong but to be unable to rectify them, she could imagine no keener torment for a man of his stamp. If he continued in this state, she said to herself remorsefully, as she administered the liquids which were the only nourishment he could swallow, she would be inclined to allow Georgia to have her way, in spite of the misgivings of Stratford and North, for nothing could be worse than this living death. Even now, “If you could only tell me you were sure it was poison, Georgie dear,” she said, “I would put him into your hands unreservedly; but as it is, the risk is too fearful. He is all I have, you know.” And although Georgia regretted the decision, it did not affect her as the opposition of the men had done, for she knew that Lady Haigh would have withstood any male doctor with exactly the same pertinacity under the circumstances.

The political duties of the Mission were somewhat in abeyance just now, for Sir Dugald’s illness rendered it impossible to initiate any fresh diplomatic action, and this enforced idleness had a bad effect on the spirits of all. Even Fitz had lost his cheerfulness, and the kitten escaped its daily lesson in gymnastics. Kustendjian, his services as interpreter not being required, spent most of his time in his own quarters, where, as he informed Stratford with appropriate seriousness of demeanour, he occupied himself in making his will several times over, and in writing farewell letters to his friends. In spite, or perhaps in consequence, of the lack of active occupation, however, the post which Sir Dugald had bequeathed to Stratford promised to be no sinecure, and more especially as Dick, since his interview with Georgia, had been in a villainously bad temper, and snapped at every one in a way that made his friend long to kick him.

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“They all want a desperate emergency to calm them down,” said the harassed commander to himself. “This monotonous life within four walls, full of suspense, would get on anybody’s nerves, and they will take to quarrelling soon. When that happens, it’s all up with us. I shall have to go and eat humble pie to Miss Keeling if this goes on, and ask her not to treat North quite so much like an officious stranger who has spoken to her without an introduction. As the acting head of affairs, I could put it to her that her method of exercising discipline has a distinctly bad effect on the morale of the force.”

The emergency which Stratford desired was closer at hand when he longed for it than he expected, and as is usually the case with emergencies, it did not arrive quite in the form which he would have chosen had his wishes been consulted. Its inception was marked by the in no way unusual event of the arrival of Fath-ud-Din, desiring to reopen negotiations, on the morning of the second day after Sir Dugald’s seizure. All the day before, so the Vizier averred, he had been expecting to receive a message summoning him back to the Mission, and announcing that his terms were accepted. Hearing nothing, he might well have gone straight to the Scythian envoy and entered into an arrangement with him, but so great was the esteem which he felt for the English, and especially for the members of the present expedition, and so high was the King’s appreciation of the power and good fortune of the British Empire, that he was loath to bring about a definite rupture of diplomatic relations. He had returned, therefore, to lay his offer once more before Sir Dugald, and to find out whether it was impossible to effect a compromise.

Stratford was by no means anxious to undertake the delicate task of endeavouring to resist the Vizier’s blandishments without turning him into an open enemy, and did 189 his best to postpone the evil day by telling him that Sir Dugald was indisposed, and could not be troubled with business. But Fath-ud-Din displayed so much anxiety to see the Envoy, even though only for a moment, and in bed, that Stratford, in order to avoid the discovery of Sir Dugald’s real condition, no whisper of which had as yet been allowed to creep out into the town, was obliged to say that Sir Dugald must not be disturbed, but that the conduct of affairs had been delegated to himself.

The Vizier showed great interest in this piece of news, and immediately asked for a conference with Stratford, a conference so important that the servants were to be excluded from the room, and the greatest precautions taken to prevent eavesdropping or interruption. Stratford was heartily sick of these conferences, each one of which had hitherto resulted only in the offer of terms more impossible of acceptance than those last brought forward, and he was also convinced that the delay in settling matters with the Scythian envoy was due to no compunction on the part of Fath-ud-Din, but merely to the fact that he could not get the price he wanted. Still, even in view of the further possibility that the arrangement with Scythia had after all been concluded, and that the present visit was simply a blind, the Vizier’s request could not very well be refused, and a move was made into the Durbar-hall from the verandah, the servants being placed to guard the doors.

On the terrace in the inner court Lady Haigh, who had come outside for a breath of fresh air, was discussing the position of affairs with Georgia. They had not yet reached the point at which conversation of this kind ceases to bring some comfort, or at any rate distraction, for despair must be very near at hand when no one cares any longer to inquire “What is to be done?” and when there is no one else to take up the challenge and suggest some means, however 190 impracticable, for obtaining relief. To them, as they sat there, came a messenger from Ismail Bakhsh the gatekeeper, saying that there was a negro at the door belonging to the Palace harem, and asking whether he was to be admitted. Lady Haigh had him brought in at once, when he explained that he bore a message to the doctor lady, entreating her to come to the Palace immediately. The litter and the escort of horsemen were waiting outside, for Ismail Bakhsh would not hear of admitting them into the courtyard without orders from Stratford, and Stratford was not to be disturbed.

“Shall you go, Georgie?” asked Lady Haigh.

“Of course,” returned Georgia, astonished by the question. “I am afraid something must have gone wrong with the Queen’s eyes. I only hope they haven’t undone the bandages too soon.”

“I think that perhaps it might be as well before going to ask the gentlemen what their opinion is.”

“I really do not propose to ask leave from Mr Stratford and Major North before I go to visit my patients,” said Georgia, stiffening visibly.

“But they might have some reason for objecting. Of course, they have said nothing of the kind, and it may be only my fancy, but I don’t quite like your going, Georgie. It doesn’t seem safe, after the things that have happened lately.”

“Why, Lady Haigh, you wouldn’t have me disregard a professional summons on the plea of danger?” said Georgia, taking the burka which Rahah had brought her, and arraying herself in it.

“No, of course not; but I don’t feel certain about this one, somehow. In any case, Georgie, promise me that you will not take anything to eat or to drink at the Palace.”

“Nothing but coffee, at any rate,” said Georgia. “When 191 Nur Jahan pours it out for me herself, and takes a sip from the cup to show that it is all right, I can’t hurt her feelings by refusing it.”

“I wish I could ask Mr Stratford what he thinks,” said Lady Haigh, reverting to her former strain. “It could do no harm.”

“But you don’t think that he can see further into a millstone than you can, do you, Lady Haigh? What difference could it make what he thought? He doesn’t know anything more than we do, and I am sure he couldn’t conjure up worse fears than those we have been indulging in lately.”

“He might think it better that you should not go,” said Lady Haigh, without considering the effect of her words.

“Then we may regard it as just as well that he is not here, since what he thought would make no difference to me,” said Georgia, with an ominous tightening of the lips. “Are you ready, Rahah?”

And the two veiled figures passed under the archway and through the outer court, entering the litter at the gate without attracting the attention of any of the diplomatists in the Durbar-hall, about the doors of which Lady Haigh hovered unhappily for two or three minutes, feeling undecided how to act, and only returned to her own domain on being assured over and over again by the servants that the conference was on no account to be interrupted. She went slowly back to Sir Dugald’s sick-room, and sat down by the bedside; but she could not be still. An unwonted restlessness was upon her, impelling her to move about the room and alter the position of every medicine-bottle and every piece of furniture in it. Presently she stepped out again on the terrace, and looked across at Bachelors’ Buildings, feeling half inclined to force her way into the Durbar-hall and interrupt the conference; but she scolded herself for her folly, and returned to her patient. What good could it 192 possibly do to break up the durbar by calling Mr Stratford out in order to communicate to him the momentous intelligence that Miss Keeling had gone to visit her patient at the Palace? It was with this very object in view that she had come to Kubbet-ul-Haj.

“I am getting nervous,” said Lady Haigh to herself, “and I have always been so proud of being absolutely without nerves! I won’t give in to it. What is there to be frightened about? Georgia has gone to the Palace over and over again, and I have never minded it a bit.”

Nevertheless, she wandered desolately from the sick-room to the terrace and back again several times, and heaved a sigh of relief when she caught a glimpse through the archway of a bustle in the outer court, and gathered that the Vizier was taking his leave. Presently Stratford and Dick came in sight, and she had just time to decide that she would not trouble them with her ridiculous fancies, before they mounted the steps.

“Well, had Fath-ud-Din anything new to propose?” she asked.

“Oh no,” returned Stratford, with ineffable weariness. “It was the same old game all through. He wanted to bribe us to sign his treaty, or he didn’t mind our bribing him to sign ours. He has raised his terms, though—I think he imagines that we are of a more squeezable disposition than the Chief. He wants ten thousand pounds for himself, and a written promise that the Government will support Antar Khan in case of the King’s death. A little secret treaty all to himself would just meet his views.”

“He is really very tiresome,” said Lady Haigh, sympathe­tically. “One feels so dreadfully undignified staying on like this, when he is always making such insulting offers. I don’t want to interfere in your department, Mr Stratford, but if we hear nothing soon—say to-day or to-morrow—from 193 Jahan Beg, would it not be advisable to think about sending a messenger to report our position at Fort Rahmat-Ullah?”

“I think of it continually,” said Stratford; “but none of us here could hope to leave the city without being recognised, and if they mean to cut us off from communication with Khemistan, it would be certain death to the man who ventured to start, while we should be as badly off as ever.”

“Still, we can’t spend the term of our natural lives shut up here,” began Lady Haigh, emphatically; but Dick interrupted her.

“I’ll go,” he said, promptly; “it’s just the sort of thing I like. I have nothing to keep me here, and nothing to do. I am positively yearning for a job. I’ll start to-night.”

“Gently,” said Stratford. “We must figure out a plan of campaign first. But if any one could get through, North, you could, to judge by your Rahmat-Ullah performance; and Fath-ud-Din’s language to-day was really so unpleasantly threatening, that I think it is time for us to make tracks.”

“Did he go so far as to threaten you?” asked Lady Haigh.

“There certainly seemed to be a distinct suggestion of menace in his words, and that not merely the old bugbear of the Scythian envoy. But of course it may be all bounce. Hullo! I wonder I didn’t murder this little animal.” He stooped and lifted the white kitten, which had made a sudden dash at his boot from an ambush near at hand. “Why aren’t you with your mistress, Colleen Bawn? I thought you always stuck to her.”

“Oh, Miss Keeling can’t take her to the Palace,” said Lady Haigh, with a nervous little laugh. “It wouldn’t look professional, you know.”

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“Miss Keeling gone to the Palace!” Stratford’s eye sought Dick’s, but met no answering glance. “Why should she have gone there just now? I thought the operation was over.”

“Oh, the Queen sent a message to beg her to come, and she was afraid something must have gone wrong, so she hurried off. You don’t think there is any reason why she should have refused, do you?”

“I don’t know. It seems absurd, but I feel more at ease when we are all safe inside these walls. I can’t think how it is that we didn’t hear Miss Keeling start.”

“Oh, the escort did not come into the court, because Ismail Bakhsh would not open the gate, and we could not tell you she was going, for the servants said you were not to be interrupted.”

“That was Fath-ud-Din’s doing. It looks very fishy altogether. I hope it’s not a trap. I suppose there’s no possibility of stopping her now before she gets to the Palace?”

“Dear me, no!” said Lady Haigh, with conviction. “She ought to be on her way back by this time. No; it’s quite clear that we can do nothing.”

“Except await events,” said Stratford, drearily; and Lady Haigh remembered that she had left Sir Dugald alone for a long time, and returned to his side not much comforted.

In the meantime, Georgia had reached the Palace without mishap, and, on sending a message by one of the slaves, was welcomed at the door of the harem by Nur Jahan. To her dismay, she found the girl in deep mourning. She wore no jewels, her hair was unbraided, her dress was coarse and squalid, and her feet bare.

“What is the matter, Nur Jahan?” asked Georgia, anxiously. “Has anything gone wrong with the Queen or Rustam Khan, or is it your baby?”

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“It is my father,” said Nur Jahan, in a hurried whisper, so low that Rahah was obliged to come quite close in order to translate what she said. “O doctor lady, hast thou not heard? He was seized eleven days ago, and thrown into prison, by order of our lord the King.”

“But he is not dead?”

“God knows,” said Nur Jahan. “It may even be that, but we have not heard it. We know not where he is, nor what has befallen him since he was taken away.”

Georgia gasped. This news was the death-blow to the hopes which the party at the Mission had been cherishing. It was evident that Jahan Beg had been arrested almost immediately after his last colloquy with Sir Dugald, and before he could take any steps with reference to sending a messenger to Fort Rahmat-Ullah, so that help was as far off as ever. Had the King and Fath-ud-Din discovered his visits to the Mission, or was it merely that the Vizier’s hatred had at last burst its bounds? She turned to ask Nur Jahan on what charge he had been arrested, but smiled at her own folly when she remembered that in this happy land there was neither Habeas Corpus Act nor penalty for false imprisonment.

“It is good of thee to come to us, O doctor lady,” said Nur Jahan. “The Queen has been wearying to hear thy voice. She said that thou hadst heard of our trouble and forsaken us; but I said that it was not so, for that where there was sorrow there wouldst thou be to comfort it.”

“Then the Queen is no more cheerful than she was?”

“How should she be, now that this new trial is come upon us? Her slaves and I have kept from her all that we could; but she guesses what we do not tell her. Only she has not wept, for she knows that would injure her eyes, and her heart longs to behold my son before she dies.”

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“But have you pleaded with the King for your father’s life?”

“My mother has. She is his own cousin, and yet she went to him as a suppliant, and entreated mercy for her husband; but he refused to hear her, and the rabble of the city broke into her house and set it on fire. Then she took refuge here with her household, and we have waited in vain for news ever since.”

“But does your mother live here in the King’s house, and eat his bread, when he has treated her husband so badly?”

“What else could she do? Our lord the King is her uncle’s son. Where could she take refuge but in his house with his wife? He will suffer no harm to happen to her, for it is only against my father that he is wroth. But I will take thee to see my mother, O doctor lady, when thou hast first visited the Queen, for her heart is sad and it may cheer her to hear thy voice.”

They went on into the Queen’s room, and Georgia examined the bandages and found them intact. It was as yet too early to remove them in order to discover whether the operation had been successful, and she remarked to Nur Jahan that it would have been as well not to send for her until two or three days later, when she could have superintended their removal.

“But we have not sent for thee, O doctor lady,” said Nur Jahan in surprise.

“Not sent for me?” cried Georgia. “But I had a message from the Queen!”

Nur Jahan shook her head, and the Queen spoke in a weak, quivering voice—

“It is of my lord’s kindness, then, that we behold thee, O doctor lady. When he last visited me, I was mourning that we saw thee so seldom, and now he has brought thee hither.”

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“I should certainly not have come for a day or two if I had known that there was no change,” said Georgia; “nor should I have obeyed a message from the King, even though sent in your name.” But the poor Queen’s evident pleasure in her society moved her to pity, and she talked cheerfully to her for a while before taking her leave.

There were a few directions as to various points of treatment to be given to Nur Jahan, and when these had been duly explained and a fresh bottle of medicine promised, Georgia rose to go. Nur Jahan led her down the passage and into another room, which was filled with women in mourning. They were all sitting on the floor round an elderly lady, whose grey hair was besprinkled with dust, and they relieved one another at intervals in uttering a few words of lamentation and then breaking into a low, prolonged wail. Georgia had no difficulty in guessing that this was the bereaved household of Jahan Beg, and she felt some delicacy in interrupting the mournful proceedings; but Nur Jahan led her in and presented her to her mother, and the wailing women made room for her in their circle. At first she was afraid that it might be considered only proper politeness to take down her hair and cast dust upon it as they were doing; but she was not long in discovering that the duty of mourning had become a little monotonous after ten days’ diligent performance of it, and that the ladies were not indisposed to welcome the slight relief and distraction which might be afforded by the foreigner’s visit.

Nur Jahan’s mother raised her head, shook the dust out of her eyes, and after surveying Georgia from head to foot with great interest, began the invariable catechism. Was the doctor lady married? How had she learned her wisdom? Where did she get her clothes? Why did she do her hair in that way? Had she a father, mother, brothers, sisters? What had brought her to Kubbet-ul-Haj? Had her family 198 raised no objections to such an extraordinary proceeding? Was the Kaisar really a woman? Was it then true that in England the women ruled and the men obeyed? Why did the doctor lady wear no jewellery? Which member of the Mission was it that dealt in magical arts—herself, or the Envoy, or the doctor who was dead?

The Princess stopped at last for want of breath, and Georgia, having answered as many of the questions as she could remember, expressed the sorrow she had felt on account of the misfortune that had fallen upon Jahan Beg, adding a hope that he would soon be restored to liberty. From all sides came the answer that whatever happened to him would be his fate, which could not be averted; but when she asked presently to what cause his sudden arrest was to be attributed, a storm of passion swept over the crowd of women. It was all the doing of Fath-ud-Din—might he die unlamented in the flower of his age! might his children live but to disgrace him! and might the graves of his parents and grandparents be dishonoured, yea, those of his ancestors to the remotest generation! After this outburst they came to definite charges, the Princess speaking first, and one woman after another chiming in with corroborative evidence.

Fath-ud-Din robbed the treasury and deceived the King, ground the faces of the honest poor, and kept the lawless rabble in his pay. He meant to place his nephew, Antar Khan, on the throne after his father, instead of the rightful heir, Rustam Khan, to whom God had granted such a promising son as showed he was intended to be king. He had a daughter who was supposed to be the most beautiful child in Ethiopia, and he was bringing her up in the country in a fortress of his own, where no one could see her, intending (such was the height of his presumption) to marry her to Antar Khan when she was old enough. And for 199 her guardian there he had an old woman—a sorceress, who could destroy by her magic arts any undesirable stranger that might happen to approach the fortress, for she was one of the remnant of the Poisoners, a tribe of vagrants so noted for their evil deeds that the last King of Ethiopia had swept them almost out of the land. But this woman still remained, and that she worked at her old trade for Fath-ud-Din’s benefit there was no doubt, for did not all his enemies die mysteriously, and no man could tell who had hurt them? To this old woman had descended the evil secrets of the whole tribe, and she knew of poisons and antidotes with which no one else in the world was acquainted.

The women were so eager in their denunciations of the Grand Vizier that Georgia’s voice was unheeded when she tried to interrupt them, for the story of the witch and her poisons had recalled to her mind the recent events at the Mission, and she was anxious to know where the old woman was to be found. But the untiring accusers were hurrying on with a catalogue of other crimes committed by Fath-ud-Din, and they were only checked by a voice from the doorway.

“Dost thou not fear, O wife of Jahan Beg, thus with thy women to speak evil of those in authority? The arm of the Vizier has power to reach even to the house of the King.”

“The cat may seize the mouse, O mother of Antar Khan,” replied the Princess with dignity, “but the mouse may squeak.”

The intruder laughed contemptuously and waddled into the room between the rows of women, who had risen at her entrance. She was still a young woman, and might have been considered beautiful but for her exceeding stoutness (a quality, however, which is not considered a defect in Ethiopia), and she was dressed with the utmost magnificence 200 which Kubbet-ul-Haj could show. Rich satins of varying colours, Kashmir shawls, and transparent gauzes were heaped upon her person in a way which declared them to be intended for display rather than for use; her eyelids were blackened, and her hands and lips reddened, and she was literally loaded with jewels. Several women followed her, in one of whom Georgia recognised the girl who had shouted across the courtyard to her on the last occasion of her visiting the Palace, and these also had donned all their finest possessions in preparation for paying this call. It was the direst insult to come dressed in such a style for a visit which was nominally one of condolence; but Nur Jahan’s mother dissembled her wrath, and invited the young Queen to take a seat on the divan, while her attendants grouped themselves around her. When the visitor was comfortably settled, and had been accommodated with a pipe, she favoured Georgia with a prolonged stare.

“Thou art the English doctor-woman?” she asked, so insolently that her maids giggled at the tone.

“I am,” returned Georgia, looking her over calmly.

“Why hast thou never visited me, to eat bread in my chamber?”

“I have never received an invitation,” said Georgia.

Antar Khan’s mother turned to her attendants.

“Hear the doctor lady!” she cried. “She is waiting for an invitation, instead of sending humbly to ask that she might be allowed to kiss the Queen’s feet!”

Not considering that so self-evident a fact called for comment, Georgia remained silent, which her assailant was unable to do.

“Think not that I came here to see thee,” she said.

“Oh, not at all,” said Georgia, pleasantly; and there was a suspicious tremble in Rahah’s voice as she translated the answer.

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“Because, if I desire it, I shall be able to see thee continually from henceforth,” pursued the Queen. “But,” she added, with deep meaning, “I shall not desire it. I would not have thee in my sight.”

Georgia lifted her eyebrows slightly at this enigmatic and apparently uncalled-for remark, an action which seemed to irritate her opponent very much. She leaned forward when she spoke next, and her tone was full of menace.

“Thou art here—in the Palace.”

“I believe so,” returned Georgia, in some surprise.

“But how wilt thou depart hence—and when?”

“In a few minutes, and as I came, I suppose.”

The Queen laughed shrilly, and her women joined their voices with hers.

“Thou wilt never leave the Palace, O doctor lady. Before thou canst return to thy people there is a life to be given for thine, and who is there that will lay down his life for thee? Thou hast neither husband nor father nor brother, and what man is there that will give his life for a woman that is not even of his house?”

Georgia’s heart was in her mouth as the full import of the words dawned upon her; but she turned quietly to Nur Jahan’s mother.

“I never care to prescribe for patients in public,” she said. “Would it be possible for me to see the Queen in a separate room, with, perhaps, one of her attendants?”

A thrill of expectation went round the circle as Rahah translated the words with much emphasis. Georgia singled out an old woman standing behind the Queen.

“Tell me, O my mother,” she said, “whether thou hast long observed these symptoms in thy mistress? Is she often like this? Speak freely, for I cannot hope to cure her unless I know the truth.”

“Is the doctor-woman saying that I am mad?” burst 202 forth the Queen, glaring round at her attendants, whose faces assumed immediately an expression of pious horror, although they were unable to answer in the negative. “I will show thee whether I am mad, thou infidel daughter of a dog!” she cried. “My lord shall give thee into my hands, and thou shalt know what I have wit to do.”

“I think not,” said Georgia with a smile, as her fingers closed on the butt of the little revolver she carried in a special pocket. Her feelings were so highly wrought that it was easier for her at the moment to smile than to speak, but the smile seemed to rouse her adversary to fury. She burst into a storm of threats and revilings such as Rahah declined to translate; but Georgia gathered the impression that any one who was so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of Antar Khan’s mother would have little mercy to hope for, and might well welcome death as the chief blessing on earth. She rose and folded her burka around her, and addressed the Princess.

“I fear my presence merely excites the patient,” she said, “and therefore I will go now. Perhaps I shall be able to see her another day when she is quieter, and there are not so many people present.”

“Yes, go!” echoed the Queen and her women. “Go, if thou canst!”

Accompanied by Nur Jahan, and followed by Rahah, Georgia walked down the passage to the door. As had been the case on the previous occasion, the litter was not there. Turning to Nur Jahan, Georgia asked her to send one of the slave-girls to summon it.

“O doctor lady,” whispered Nur Jahan, fearfully, “it is no use. There is evil intended against thee. Come back and remain in the chamber of my lord’s mother. It may be that they would not dare to drag thee from her presence.”

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“Are you also turning against me, Nur Jahan? Send the woman at once, if you please. I shall not stay here.”

Tremblingly Nur Jahan obeyed, while the young Queen and her women, who had followed them out, laughed and jeered.

“Never again wilt thou enter the litter, O doctor lady. It is well to give orders, but it is ill when they are not obeyed.”

Nevertheless, after a delay of a few minutes, the litter appeared, to Georgia’s own astonishment, and the utter stupefaction of the Ethiopian women. Georgia’s spirits rose as she stepped into it, followed by Rahah, and she allowed herself to think that the Queen’s mysterious threats and extraordinary conduct had been part of a spiteful joke.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XIII

Nur Jahan’s mother raised her head, shook the dust out of her eyes
[As a longtime contact-lens wearer, I can attest that this is not how dust in the eyes works.]

“I believe so,” returned Georgia, in some surprise.
final . missing

CHAPTER XIV.
AN ULTIMATUM.

As the morning hours passed on, the feeling of uneasiness at the Mission grew in intensity. Although Georgia’s visits to the Palace were rarely less than two hours in duration, and another hour must be allowed for the journey thither and the return, she had not been gone an hour and a half before Lady Haigh began to appear from the sick room at intervals of ten minutes, and inquire whether she had not come back yet. The men waited on the terrace, too full of anxiety to settle to any occupation, and the servants watched them furtively as they went about their duties. Whether the uneasiness was due to the Vizier’s threat, or 204 to a feeling that the tension which had so long existed had nearly reached breaking-point, every one seemed to be conscious that there was danger in the air.

At length the shouts of running footmen at the outer gates announced an arrival of importance, and a sigh of relief broke from the watchers on the terrace. Miss Keeling had returned in safety after all, but this was the last time that she should leave the Mission unaccompanied, and confide herself to the tender mercies of the sovereign of Ethiopia and his Ministers. But the shouts were not followed by the usual sounds of the creaking open of the ponderous gates and the rush of feet into the courtyard as the litter was carried up to the steps; but only by a parleying between Ismail Bakhsh and some one outside, which was audible in the inner court owing to the loud tones in which it was conducted, although the actual words could not be distinguished. Presently a servant approached the group through the archway.

“Highness,” he said, addressing Stratford, “there are two lords outside, belonging to the King’s court, who desire to speak with the Sahibs, but they will not come inside the gate.”

“Whence this exceeding caution?” said Stratford, as he descended the steps. “They have never displayed any reluctance to come in before.”

No one replied to his observation, and he went towards the gate, the other men following him, with Lady Haigh, uninvited and unnoticed, close at their heels. One of the doors was opened as they advanced, and they found themselves face to face with their old friend, the official who had met them on their first arrival in the city, and introduced them to their present quarters. Now he looked uneasy and as though ashamed of the business on which he had come, while at his side was a hard-faced, eager man, whom the 205 English recognised as one of Fath-ud-Din’s chief supporters among the Amirs.

“Peace be upon you!” said Stratford.

“And upon thee be peace!” was the stereotyped reply.

“Will you not enter and eat bread with us?” asked Stratford.

“My lord’s servants are commanded not to enter his house, nor yet to break bread with him and his young men,” returned the official, “for their errand demands haste. Is the gracious lord, the Queen of England’s Envoy, yet recovered of his sickness?”

“No, he is still indisposed, and I am here in his place,” said Stratford, restraining his impatience with an effort.

“Will my lord command his own servants to withdraw a space?” pursued the ambassador, evidently embarrassed, “for I have to mention one who belongs to the great lord’s household.”

Stratford signed to the servants to withdraw a little, but intimated that Dick and Fitz were equally interested with himself in the matter now to be disclosed, while Kustendjian was necessary as interpreter. This having been made clear, they waited with breathless eagerness, for the ambassador seemed very much at a loss for words.

“My lord knows,” he said at last, “that the English doctor lady came this day to visit the household of our lord the King?”

“I know that she received an urgent message in the Queen’s name entreating her to come to the Palace, and that she hastened thither at once,” said Stratford. The official seemed to find a difficulty in proceeding, and his colleague took up the tale.

“However that may be,” he said, “the doctor lady is now in the hands of our lord the King.”

“And how is that, pray?” asked Stratford. “Since 206 when has the King of Ethiopia adopted the plan of getting women into his power by false messages, and then kidnapping them?”

“In dealing with enemies and infidels, our lord the King pays more heed to the end than to the means,” said the Amir.

“So it seems,” said Stratford, drily; “but does he fight with women?”

“Nay,” said the official, plucking up courage to speak again; “he fights with men, and therefore it is that we are here.”

“The King is evidently in need of money, and requires a ransom,” said Stratford, turning to the rest, and speaking with an airy confidence which he was far from feeling. “How much does he want?” he asked of the messengers.

“Our lord desires not money, nor does he war with women,” repeated the Amir. “In exchange for the woman he requires a man.”

A gasp from Fitz, an exclamation from Dick, and a stifled cry from Lady Haigh warned Stratford of the effect which the announcement of the King’s demand had produced on his friends. He himself felt a certain relief—almost akin to the “stern joy” of the warrior—in the conviction that the crisis for which he had been looking had at last arrived, and his voice rang out clearly as he asked, “And who is it that the King requires?”

“My lord must see,” said the old official reluctantly, “that our lord the King desires him who is chief in authority among you to be sent to him, that he may make the treaty with him which the Queen of England desired when she sent her servants hither.”

“But we have no stronger wish than that the King should sign that very treaty,” objected Stratford.

“But my lord’s treaty is not the King’s treaty,” was the unanswerable reply of the ambassador.

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“And if the man you desire should go to the Palace, and yet refuse to sign the King’s treaty, what then?” asked Stratford.

“It is not for the health of any man to withstand our lord the King,” was the evasive answer.

“But if—if the man was not given up,” broke in the agitated voice of Fitz from behind, “what would happen to the lady?”

“Oh, the woman would die—in a little while,” was the instant reply of the Amir, delighted to perceive his opportunity. “Not by the hands of the King’s executioners—that would be a man’s death. No; women can deal with women. There are certain in our lord the King’s household who bear no love to the doctor lady. I do not say that they would kill her; but she would not live very long in their hands—a day, perhaps, or it may be two. And it would not be an easy death.”

“For God’s sake, Stratford, put a stop to this!” muttered Dick, hoarsely, his face convulsed with rage. “Tell them I will go.”

“Unless,” pursued the Amir, apparently heedless of the interruption, although his greedy eyes had not missed the slightest change in the expression of any of the faces before him, “the woman should find favour in the eyes of our lord the King. Then she would live for a time. Afterwards it would be much the same; but whether——”

But the alternative which he had been about to state was left unuttered, for Dick sprang forward and dealt him a blow which stretched him on the ground.

“Say that again if you dare!” he growled, standing over him with clenched fists; but the Amir, evidently considering that discretion was the better part of valour, submitted to be helped up and brushed by his attendants, after which he retired to the rear, Dick turning contemptuously 208 on his heel and resuming his post beside Stratford.

young man taking a punch at man in Eastern garb

Dick sprang forward and dealt him a blow which stretched him on the ground.

“Let not my lord heed the sayings of that man,” entreated the old official, “for he has an evil tongue and loves to stir up strife.”

“Then is what he says not true?” asked Stratford, sternly. And, divided between a desire to maintain the effect produced and the fear of Dick’s fist, the ambassador preferred to take refuge in silence.

“We will consult together upon the matter and let you know our decision presently,” said Stratford, after waiting in vain for an answer. “If you will not enter, the servants shall spread carpets at the gate for you.”

The official expressed his gratitude for the courtesy, and the little party of English retired to the inner court in silence, a silence which was broken by Fitz as soon as they reached the terrace.

“What do you intend to do?” he demanded of Stratford, glaring at him with eyes still full of the horror inspired by what he had just heard.

“Don’t ask me!” said Lady Haigh, taking the question as addressed to herself; and sitting down at the table, she began to sob heavily. “I shall become a gibbering idiot if this sort of thing goes on,” she wailed.

“I don’t know what you wanted to pretend to discuss things for,” said Dick, gruffly. “What’s the good of fooling about with consultations when I told you I was going?”

“Excuse me,” said Stratford, “you are quite mistaken. I am going.”

Lady Haigh ceased her sobs and looked at him in astonishment, while Dick uttered an inarticulate exclamation. Fitz alone retained the power of speech.

“Let me go, Mr Stratford,” he entreated. “Not you; 209 you can’t be spared. My life isn’t of any value; but every one here depends on you in this fix. I would do anything for Miss Keeling, and be proud to do it. You will let me go, won’t you? It doesn’t signify what happens to me.”

“Stuff and nonsense, Anstruther!” said Stratford, good-humouredly. “There is plenty for you to do yet. Don’t you see that when the King has demanded the man in authority, he is scarcely likely to be willing to accept you instead? You are pretty well known in Kubbet-ul-Haj, certainly; but although Fath-ud-Din might be glad to welcome you as a fellow-victim with me, he would hardly regard you with favour as a substitute.”

“What are we to do without you, Mr Stratford?” asked Lady Haigh, piteously. “Sir Dugald left everything in your charge.”

“We must trust that the King will prove to be less bloodthirsty than his ministers,” he answered. “I am not without hopes of making him listen to reason. Still, one must prepare for the worst, of course. North, if you will come with me to the office a minute, I will give you the keys and the seal, and just put you in the way of things a little.”

Dick followed him in silence; but when they had entered the office he shut the door and put his back against it.

“Look here, Stratford,” he said, “you have got to let me go. It is my right, I tell you. I—I love her.”

“Of course you do,” returned Stratford. “I have seen that for some time. That is why I am glad that you will be left to look after her. You will have your work cut out for you if you are to get back to Khemistan after this——”

“Stratford,” said Dick earnestly, “listen to me. This is my business, and it is very unfriendly of you, though you mean well, to try to take it from me. I intend to go.”

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“Excuse me,” said Stratford, “but it is my business too. No, I am not hinting at cutting you out, old man—I couldn’t do it if I would. My reason for going is totally unconnected with Miss Keeling, except in so far as her danger has brought things to a climax. I am not going to sign Fath-ud-Din’s treaty; but neither do I intend to be killed if I can help it. I shall take our treaty with me, and if I leave the Palace alive I shall bring that treaty out with me, signed. You will observe that it is not for Miss Keeling that I am risking my life, but simply on a matter of business. I stake my life against the treaty, and if I keep the one I gain the other. Of course, if I fail I lose both. Now do you see it?”

“But I could look after the treaty just the same,” urged Dick.

“No, you couldn’t. You are not a diplomatist, North; you are a soldier, and tact is not exactly your strong point. I know that you could die like a hero; but you don’t shine in statecraft, and I am anxious that no dying shall be necessary, if that is possible. You understand? It is a matter of personal moment to me to get this treaty signed, and I ask you, as a favour, to waive your claim to sacrifice yourself for Miss Keeling.”

“Oh, hang it all!” burst forth Dick. “When you put it in that way, Stratford, what can a man do but make a fool of himself, and let you go? It’s my right, and you take away from me my only chance of showing her that I would die for her, though I can’t manage to please her. But we have rubbed through a good deal together, you and I—oh, there, you can go.”

“Thanks, old man; I thought I knew your sort. That’s settled, then. By the bye, if they should put an end to me it is just possible that they might have some one there capable of imitating my writing. They must have seen 211 my signature on notes and things of that kind. Well, if I sign any treaty you will find the words run into one another, so that the Egerton is joined to the Stratford. That is the test of genuineness, do you see?”

“All right.”

“I leave you in charge of everything here, of course. I am very much afraid that Jahan Beg must have come to grief, so don’t depend upon him any longer. You won’t he able to leave the Mission yourself now, of course; but if you can get one of the servants to venture, send him off to Fort Rahmat-Ullah. The absence of news ought to have put them on the alert, and if they have any sense they will be preparing a rescue expedition already; but you can’t count on that. If you see the faintest chance of getting every one off safely, I charge you most solemnly to seize it at once, without waiting to see what has become of me. Such a message as this means war to the knife, and you must take any opportunity that offers of an escort, for to fight your way through Ethiopia would be an impossibility, with the women and the Chief to guard, and no horses. Perhaps Hicks might join forces with you, if you approached him in a proper spirit, and he would be a real acquisition, for he has a good number of armed servants, and has seen something of Indian fighting on the Plains. If he doesn’t see it, you may have to stand a siege here until relief arrives; but what you are to do about food I don’t know. I can’t attempt to give you directions. All I say is, if the worst comes to the worst, leave me and the treaty alone, and escape as best you can.”

“All right,” said Dick again.

“Here are the keys. Young Anstruther will show you how the papers are arranged. And, by the bye, if I don’t come back, send my things to my sister, Mrs Rowcroft, Branscombe Vicarage, Homeshire, and tell her how it was. 212 She is the only near relation I have, and we haven’t met for nearly twenty years.”

They left the office together, and returned to the terrace.

“Mayn’t I go, Mr Stratford?” cried Fitz, starting up to meet them.

“Certainly not. I told you that before.”

“Mightn’t I come with you, then? We could fight back to back, you know.”

“No, thanks. But I will borrow that large old-fashioned pistol of yours, if you have no objection. You will probably not see it again in any case, so don’t lend it me if it is a favourite.”

Fitz was off immediately, and Stratford turned to Lady Haigh.

“You will think me an unconscionable borrower,” he said, “but there is a miniature revolver of Sir Dugald’s for the loan of which I should be most grateful. It is smaller than any of ours, and easier to hide.”

“I will tell Chanda Lal to look it out at once,” said Lady Haigh, and went to find the bearer.

“Now, Mr Kustendjian, I should like our treaty, please,” said Stratford. “You have nearly finished the second copy of it, I think?”

“Nearly,” said the Armenian, whose English seemed almost to have forsaken him under the influence of horror. “You will have need of me, Mr Stratford?”

“No, indeed. I will take no one into danger with me. Thank you, Anstruther,” as Fitz reappeared with a large brass-mounted pistol. “I will load it simply with powder, I think. It will be less dangerous if it should happen to go off in my coat-pocket. There! How does that look?”

“It sticks out a good deal,” said Fitz, surveying the coat critically. “Any one could see that you had a pistol in that pocket.”

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“That is exactly the impression I wish to produce. One thing more you can do for me, Anstruther. Just rummage among the stores, and see whether you can find any description of food that has a good deal of nourishment in very small compass.”

Fitz departed again, and presently Lady Haigh returned with the little revolver, which Stratford loaded carefully and slipped up his left coat-sleeve. Dick and Kustendjian watched him curiously and with respect. It was evident that he had some plan in his head, but neither of them could divine what it was. A minute or two later Fitz came up the steps with a box of meat lozenges in his hand, and presented it to him.

“Will these do, Mr Stratford?” he asked. “They were the smallest things I could find. There were tinned soups, of course, and chocolate; but I thought these would have more nourishment in them.”

“Quite right,” said Stratford; “they are the very thing. Is that the treaty, Mr Kustendjian? I think my preparations are complete, then. You will say good-bye to the Chief for me when he is better, Lady Haigh?”

“Must you go?” whispered Lady Haigh, hoarsely, as she held his hand.

“I must,” he said. “If I should escape, Sir Dugald’s work will have been completed. You will like to remember that.”

“I shall ride to the Palace with you,” said Dick, as they went down the steps.

“It will be just as well, for you will be able to escort Miss Keeling back. It would be a pity for them to keep her in their hands after all.”

Another interruption met them as they emerged from the archway into the outer court. Waiting for them there, with his hand lifted to the salute, was old Ismail Bakhsh the gatekeeper, a former trooper of the Khemistan Horse, the 214 celebrated force to which Dick was attached, and which had been raised in the first instance by Georgia’s father, General Keeling.

“Will my lord tell his servant,” he asked Stratford, “whether it is true what they are saying among the servant-people, that my lord goes to the Palace to give his life for the doctor lady’s?”

“It is true,” answered Stratford.

“Let my lord listen to his servant, for it is not fitting that my lord should accept death for the sake of one who has no claim on him. I served for ten years under Sinjāj Kīlin the general, and I will go in my lord’s place, because I have eaten of Sinjāj Kīlin’s salt, and it is not right that his daughter should come to shame or harm while Ismail Bakhsh lives.”

“Your loyalty to your old general is only what I should have expected from you, Ismail Bakhsh, but the King demands my presence, and not another’s.”

“But would my lord sacrifice himself for a woman—and that woman not even of his house?”

“I would do it for a woman, Ismail Bakhsh, and so would any of us, when we would not do it for a man.”

“It is the way of the English,” said Ismail Bakhsh, thoughtfully, with grieved surprise in his tone. “That my lord should give his life for his lord, the Envoy of the Empress, would be no great matter—but for a woman!”

Stratford laughed.

“Not only I, but all three of us, Ismail Bakhsh, would have given our lives rather than that a hair of the doctor lady’s head should be injured.”

“God forbid!” said Ismail Bakhsh, piously. “Let not my lord speak such words in the hearing of the scum of the earth out yonder, or there will be none, either of English men or women, to see Khemistan again.”

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“You observe that, North?” said Stratford. “Any undue display of chivalrous sentiments here is likely to land you deeper in difficulties, so keep them to yourself. Chivalry is at a discount in Kubbet-ul-Haj.”

They mounted their horses, and accompanied the ambassadors back to the Palace, half-a-dozen armed servants following them, in case the King should show a disposition to claim Dick’s life as well as that of Stratford in exchange for Georgia. When the greater part of the journey had been accomplished, and the frowning walls of the Palace courtyard were just in sight, they met the well-known procession of slaves and soldiers guarding the litter, which had so often come to the Mission to fetch the doctor lady.

“Evidently they sent off a swift messenger to tell them that we accepted the terms, and the King is anxious to show that he confides in our good faith,” said Stratford. “Funny mixture, isn’t he? Well, you will turn back here, North, I suppose? There is no particular use in your coming on further.”

“Let me go instead of you,” entreated Dick once more.

“My dear fellow, haven’t I wasted enough breath on you yet? I thought we had threshed all that out long ago, and that you were quite convinced. By the bye, now that we are abreast of the litter, it might be as well for you to make sure that Miss Keeling really is inside. It would be irritating to be fooled now.”

Doggedly Dick pushed his way through the guards, and raised the curtain of the litter, in spite of the loud protests of the slaves. He was fully prepared for a trick; but the eyes which looked up at him through the lattice-work of the burka were unmistakably Georgia’s, and it was undeniably Rahah who flung herself forward to draw the curtain close again, with a shrill rebuke to the slaves for letting some drunken wretch approach the litter.

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“Why, Major North, is it you?” asked Georgia, in astonishment. “Is anything the matter?”

“Not much—not exactly,” he stammered. “I—he—we fancied it might be safer if I turned up to escort you home.”

“It was very kind of you,” said Georgia, gratefully, “We had rather a fright at the Palace; but I will tell you about it presently.”

“Yes—very well,” he muttered incoherently, and, drawing the curtain again, turned to Stratford; but his lips refused to perform their office. Stratford held out his hand.

“Good-bye, old man,” he said. “God help you with the job you will have in hand now.”

“God bless you, Stratford!” hurst from Dick. “I wish with all my soul that I was in your place at this moment.”

He wrung Stratford’s hand, and turned silently to follow the litter with the servants, while the ambassadors and their prisoner rode on towards the Palace.

“How shall I ever tell her?” was the question which agitated Dick’s mind as they neared the Mission. He knew enough of Georgia to feel sure that, if she been made acquainted with the terms of the King’s ultimatum, she would promptly have gone back to the Palace, and refused to allow any one else to be sacrificed for her, and he quailed under the anticipated necessity of informing her of what had been done. But he was saved this duty, for as he entered the Mission courtyard Mr Hicks came hurrying to meet him.

“Well, Major,” he exclaimed, “the King has been playing it pretty low down on you, I guess. I’m always glad to look on at a fair fight, and it don’t so much matter to me which of the chaps gives the other beans so long as everything is done on the square. But when it comes to getting 217 hold of a woman, and by threatening to torture her, working on a man’s highest feelings to make him give himself up instead, you may bet largely that I don’t stand in with doings of that stamp—no, sir! The moment I heard a rumour of what was going on I made my darkies fly around, and in just half no time I had everything fixed up to come here. You may count on me as a fair shot with a Winchester or a six-shooter if it comes to fighting, and if old Fath-ud-Din and I catch sight of each other, one of us is bound to send in his checks, or I’ll never look a woman in the face again. Your nation and mine are not always sweet to each other, sir; but if there’s any question of a woman in danger, you may count upon Jonathan to the last drop of his blood.”

“Much obliged,” muttered Dick; but under his breath he grumbled, “I wish that voice of yours wasn’t quite so loud.”

Georgia was being helped out of the litter at the moment, and as she reached the ground she cast a quick, apprehensive glance about her. Her hand was on Dick’s arm; Fitz was coming through the archway, and Kustendjian was visible on the verandah of the Durbar-hall. Ismail Bakhsh and his subordinates stood by the gate, looking at her with disapproving eyes, silent and grim, and her mind filled up in a moment the gaps in Mr Hicks’ speech. A sob broke from her as she stood gazing from one to the other; then her hand dropped from Dick’s arm, and, gathering her burka around her, she passed on into the inner court. Dick followed, with a vague notion of saying something to comfort her; but at the foot of the steps she turned and faced him.

“You let Mr Stratford go to the Palace in exchange for me—you let him?” she asked sharply, and waited for his answer with breathless anxiety.

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“I tried to prevent him—he would go,” stammered Dick.

You let him sacrifice himself to save me? If anything happens to him I will never, never speak to you again as long as I live!” and she turned her back on him and fled up the steps. He stood looking after her, stupefied.

“She cares for him, and I never guessed it,” he muttered to himself. “I might have saved him for her, and I have let him go and get himself killed by those fiends yonder!”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XIV

skip to next chapter

a parleying between Ismail Bakhsh and some one outside
text has Ishmail

“Whence this exceeding caution?” said Stratford
[Social Distancing is the answer that presents itself. (I am proof­reading this in early summer 2020.)]

now that we are abreast of the litter, it might be as well for you to make sure that Miss Keeling really is inside
[Ya think? (I will shortly need to save this observation as a macro.)]

Rahah . . . flung herself forward to draw the curtain close again, with a shrill rebuke to the slaves for letting some drunken wretch approach the litter
[Why on earth would Rahah not recognize Dick? They have spent several months in close proximity, and the area is not exactly swarming with uniformed Englishmen.]

“Why, Major North, is it you?” asked Georgia
[Speaking through the curtain Rahah has just yanked shut?]

it don’t so much matter to me which of the chaps gives the other beans
[Some day Hicks will get through an entire sentence without a single dialectal solecism, and I will fall dead of shock.]

“I tried to prevent him—he would go,” stammered Dick.
[What’s he stammering for? Stratford outranks Dick—it was all spelled out in Chapter II—so there is ultimately nothing he could have done. In fact, as a soldier he ought to be offended at the idea that he could “let”, or not let, his superior do anything.]

CHAPTER XV.
ONE CROWDED HOUR.

Throughout that long day, Dick worked with feverish activity at anything that offered itself as an outlet for his energies, without cherishing the least hope that his friend’s sanguine anticipations of a possible change for the better in the attitude of the King and Fath-ud-Din would be realised. It was his opinion that the worst had come to the worst, and that as soon as Stratford had met his death at the Palace, a general attack upon the Mission premises would take place, with the view of making it appear that all the members of the expedition had been murdered in a popular tumult. With this cheering prospect in view, he prepared the building for defence, instructed the servants afresh as to their respective duties in case of an assault, and placed the stands of arms where their contents could most readily be seized on an emergency. Fearing that an attempt might be made to starve the Mission into a surrender, he bought up all the provisions which the country-people brought in, 219 and even induced them by liberal payments to sell him a supply of corn which they had intended to dispose of in the city market.

Having thus made preparations for resisting a siege as well as a sudden assault, he was forced by his very need of occupation to take somewhat wider views, and to consider the improbable possibility of evacuating the place safely. Accordingly he summoned Ismail Bakhsh, and, setting before him the facts of the case, asked whether he would undertake the dangerous task of conveying a message to Fort Rahmat-Ullah. He did not attempt to minimise the risks to be incurred; but the old soldier was faithful to his salt, and consented to attempt the journey in disguise. His trained eye had enabled him to observe the features of the route traversed on the journey to more purpose than his younger companions had done, and he was persuaded that if he were once safely outside the walls he could make his way to the frontier without much difficulty—provided, of course, that his absence was not discovered, and a hue and cry set on foot. A certain addition to his pension in case of his success, and compensation to his family if he was killed, were agreed upon, and Ismail Bakhsh retired, leaving Dick to face the inaction which he had been combating all day.

He could not think of anything else to do, beyond going the round of the walls at absurdly short intervals and seeing that the servants were keeping a good look-out; and the more personal troubles, which he had been trying to keep at bay, crowded upon him and would not be put aside. The day had cost him both his friend and the woman whom he loved—and who loved that friend. The miserable irony of the situation seemed to mock him afresh whenever he tried to face it. Georgia loved Stratford, and Stratford had gone to his death to save her—yet not because he loved her, but because he saw in the action a chance of doing a good stroke 220 of business—while he, who would willingly have died for Georgia’s sake, remained alive, to meet the grief and anger which she would naturally feel at his having allowed his friend to sacrifice himself for her.

Wretched as the outlook appeared to Dick, however, it is a question whether it was not even more dreary for Georgia, since his conscience was clear, and hers was not. She could not rid herself of the conviction that if she had done as Lady Haigh advised, and declined to go to the Palace without first consulting Stratford, he might even now be free and in comparative safety, while if he had given her leave to go, she would not have had herself to reproach for his untoward fate. It was so unlike her usual practice to act on the impulse of a moment of irritation, as she had done in this case, that she asked herself what could have made her refuse so decidedly even to communicate to the gentlemen her intention of visiting her patient. She had not far to seek for an answer. It was Dick whose opposition she had feared. She had been so obstinately determined not to appear in the slightest degree willing to ask either his opinion or his advice, after the words he had uttered in the heat of their discussion, that she had sacrificed his friend and hers to her wounded pride.

Nor was the realisation of this fact her sole punishment. Whatever Dick might think, she had no illusions as to the frame of mind in which Stratford had gone to the Palace. His story she had early heard from Lady Haigh, with the addition of the significant remark that he was never likely to marry now, and it had given her a distinct thrill of pleasure when she found that this faithful lover was willing to be her friend on the footing she liked best. The greater number of her medical confrères in London, and of the many men whose friendship she had gained and kept since her hospital days, had been content to accept her terms and to 221 meet her on the equal ground of comradeship. Some there had been, as Mabel had told Dick, who were anxious to go further, and had been courteously though firmly repulsed; but Stratford was not one of these. He had made a friend of her as if she had been a man, she thought, and he had sacrificed himself for her in exactly the spirit he would have exhibited if Lady Haigh had been in danger, and not Miss Keeling. She knew well enough that there was no personal feeling whatever in his case, but it was different with Dick. Why had he allowed Stratford to go instead of going himself? He did care for her—at least, she had begun to think so until his plain speaking of a week ago had created the breach between them. But now she was on the horns of a dilemma. Either he could not care for her, since he had left it to another man to give his life to save hers, or else, if he did care for her, he was a coward who was willing to shelter himself behind the other man’s self-sacrifice. But Dick’s past record was sufficient to put the latter supposition beyond the bounds of possibility, and Georgia was thrown back upon the former. He could not care for her, and she cared for him. To the woman whose heart had never been touched before, the thought was almost unendurable in the shame it brought with it.

And she had sent Stratford to his death! What would there have been in the slight humiliation—more fancied than real, after all—involved in asking his leave as head of the party before quitting the Mission, compared with the overwhelming remorse and misery which now oppressed her? She recalled the threats launched against herself by Antar Khan’s mother, and sobbed and shuddered at the thought that the tortures of which the mere mention had been considered sufficient to terrify herself were now being inflicted on another, and by her fault. Lady Haigh, who came wandering in and out of her room like a restless ghost, 222 could offer her no comfort, since the best they could hope for was that Stratford was dead already, cut down by the guard in some conflict provoked by himself, and that he had thus died without either torture or indignity. The two women could not endure to talk, could not even pray; they could only weep in concert and exchange half-uttered surmisings which were worse than certainties.

The day wore away, and Mr Hicks, who had spent the greater part of it busily and happily in passing all the rifles in review, cleaning them and adjusting the mechanism, came to Dick, as he sat brooding gloomily over the state of affairs in the office, and represented mildly but firmly that the whole party would be the better for some dinner. He had put up with the absence of tiffin under the painful circumstances of his visit, he said; but he could not see that because one poor fellow had got wiped out all the rest must necessarily starve. Thus reminded that he had taken no food since breakfast-time, Dick awoke to a perception of the duties of hospitality, and apologising to Mr Hicks for the inconvenience and discomfort to which he had been subjected, ordered the meal to be served at the usual hour. It was a very small and lugubrious company that met in the dining-room. Dick had sent a message to the ladies, asking whether they would appear at table, but no answer was returned; and Mr Hicks was the only person who possessed an appetite. He did his best to worry his hosts into eating something, but he was not very successful; and at last Fitz left the table suddenly, muttering something about the flag, which he feared had not, in the general confusion, been hauled down as usual at sunset. As the noise of his hurrying footsteps on the stones of the terrace died away, another sound became audible—the blare and din of native music, the shrill cries of triumph of women, and the approaching tread of a multitude.

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“It’s coming at last!” cried Dick, springing up from his seat and buckling on his sword. “You know your post, Hicks?”

“Wait a minute, Major,” said Mr Hicks. “Doesn’t it strike you that this is rather a new way of conducting an attack?”

“Why, what else could it he?” asked Dick.

The American turned aside, and would not meet his eye as he answered—

“Well, if they have put an end to the poor fellow, I would bet my last red cent that they would carry his remains about in procession to show the people—to show us, too, for the matter of that—and it won’t be a pretty sight for the ladies to see, any way.”

“Good gracious, no!” cried Dick. “Say nothing to them at present, Hicks. We will just order the servants to their posts without troubling the ladies, and then watch from the gate and see what happens.”

They went down into the outer courtyard, sent the servants to their appointed places without any noise or confusion, and took their stand at the window over the gateway, where they were joined by Fitz and Kustendjian. They stood there, waiting breathlessly, for some minutes, each man’s hand on his weapon, while behind them the fierce eyes and gleaming blades of Ismail Bakhsh and his subordinates reflected the glare of the torches which were now beginning to appear at the end of the winding street. Nearer and nearer came the crowd, apparently all mad with joy, leaping, dancing, tearing off clothes and flinging them on the ground, waving torches, shouting, singing, and yelling. Some looked up at the window as they passed it, and it seemed to the little band of white men standing there that their gestures became intolerably derisive, and that their faces took on a fiendish grin as they massed themselves 224 in the street beyond the Mission and waited—in so far as those still pressing upon them from behind would allow them to wait. Dick felt his heart thumping against his ribs; he was aware that Kustendjian had sat down in a corner and hidden his face from the horror he expected to see, that Fitz was leaning against the wall with white lips and staring eyes, and that Mr Hicks was uttering spasmodic exhortations at momentary intervals—“Steady, boys! Keep up; don’t let ’em see you wilt. Never give in!”—such as bespoke rather, perhaps, the turmoil of his own mind than his estimate of the state of feeling of his companions.

“Soldiers!” murmured some one, and a squadron of cavalry defiled slowly past, saluting as they came level with the window—a piece of mockery for which Dick cursed them in his heart. Then more torches, more musical instruments, more excited people, banners, dancing-girls, gliding and posturing to the sounds of the music, with their long coloured scarfs twirled daintily on the tips of their outspread fingers; and then two men riding alone, wearing robes of honour. As they reached the gate they paused and waited; then one of them looked up, and in tones of extreme calmness addressed the group at the window.

“You don’t mean to keep me here all night, North, do you? Mr Anstruther, I give you my word of honour that I am not a ghost yet.”

How they got down the stairs and opened the gate none of them ever knew, but in another minute Stratford was among them, unhurt, and indulging in a little chaff by way of maintaining his own composure.

“I wonder you didn’t shoot me when I looked up just now, North. If ever I saw murder in a man’s eye, I saw it in yours then. Mr Hicks, you have as keen a 225 scent for a battle as any vulture. The way you turn up when you think we are likely to be in trouble is positively pathetic. I have some further use for my arm, Anstruther, if you have finished wringing my hand off. Peace be with you, Ismail Bakhsh! I fear you are disappointed that there is to be no fighting to-night?”

“My lord is pleased to jest,” said Ismail Bakhsh, reprovingly, as he directed the closing of the gate. The processionists outside had turned back, and were marching homewards amid a fresh outburst of minstrelsy, with the man who had accompanied Stratford at their head. No one thought of asking who he was, nor, indeed, of paying the slightest attention to affairs outside, as Stratford was assisted, quite unnecessarily, to dismount, and escorted through the archway into the inner court. But he was not to arrive altogether unheralded. Brought to his senses by Stratford’s commonplace greeting, Fitz had dashed across the court and up to the terrace, the only man who remembered in the excitement of the moment that the joyful news ought not to be allowed to burst suddenly upon the ladies. The fresh hope in his voice—a hope to which they had been strangers for what seemed interminable hours—roused them from their lethargy of grief, and they came out into the verandah with tear-stained faces and ruffled hair, both looking as though they had cried until they could cry no more.

“Good news, Lady Haigh!” panted Fitz. “Miss Keeling, they haven’t murdered him after all. He is not a bit hurt. He will be here in a minute. He’s here now!”

This method of breaking the news, though strictly gradual, could scarcely be called gentle, and Lady Haigh and Georgia stood staring at Fitz without understanding him in the least. Seeing this, he tried a new plan, the first that recommended itself to his excited mind.

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“Aren’t you going to put on your best things to greet the hero in, Miss Keeling? He’s dressed up to the eyes himself. You never saw such a get-up—most awfully swagger. You will never he able to keep him in countenance.”

“Oh, you absurd boy!” cried Georgia, and she sat down at the top of the steps and laughed wildly.

“Fetch me a jug of water, Mr Anstruther,” said Lady Haigh, sternly. “You are getting into a way of going into hysterics, Georgia, and I mean to break you of it. This is the second time I have caught you at it since we came to Kubbet-ul-Haj, and it’s not professional.”

“Professional?” echoed Georgia, beginning to laugh again; “it is the circumstances that are unprofessional, not I. Besides, I am not in the least hysterical. Thank you—a little water—please—Mr Anstruther.”

The water, applied internally, and not as Lady Haigh had intended, proved efficacious, and when Stratford and the rest approached the terrace, Georgia had recovered her composure. She met Stratford as he mounted the steps, and held out her hand to him. Dick, seeing the action, turned his eyes away, and listened in sick terror for what would follow. After all, Stratford had the right to win her now if he chose to exercise it. But if he did not choose? Would he humiliate Georgia by repulsing her before them all? But Dick need not have been afraid. Even his jealous ear could detect in her tones merely the amount of feeling natural and unavoidable under the circumstances, although her eyes were swimming with tears as she said—

“I can never thank you enough for what you have done to-day, Mr Stratford. If I don’t seem as grateful as I ought to be, you must only think that I can’t blame myself properly for my foolishness and obstinacy in going 227 to the Palace without leave as I did, since it gave you the opportunity of doing such a deed of heroism.”

Every word went to Dick’s heart, as, alas! it was meant to do. He waited anxiously to hear Stratford say that he had gone to the Palace merely as a speculation of his own, and that Miss Keeling had had very little to do with the matter, but the words did not come. Stratford was not the man to hurt a woman’s feelings gratuitously by an uncalled-for rebuff, however true its nature, and he answered at once—

“You are too kind, Miss Keeling. I assure you that there was an eager competition for the honour of helping you out of your little predicament. Anstruther was bent on going; and as for North, I had to keep him back almost by main force. He was only restrained at last by a combination of definite orders, personal entreaties, and solemn assurances that my going was for the greater good of the Mission.”

Georgia’s eyes were raised to Dick’s for a moment, and the expression in them said, “You might have told me!” But his eyes met hers with a steady hostility, which revived all the bitter feelings which had tormented her during the day.

“I am afraid I did you an injustice, then, Major North,” she remarked, sweetly. “You must take into account the circumstances of the moment, and kindly forgive my hasty words. I am only a woman, you know.”

Dick bit his lip, and tried hard to think of something cutting to say. Was it fair that this woman, who had treated him so unfairly—no, not unfairly, cruelly—well, not exactly cruelly, slightingly—no, not that, carelessly, perhaps—should also have the power of making him writhe in this way? And he loved her! He had even told Stratford so! How Stratford must be laughing at him in his sleeve at 228 this moment! All this passed through his mind as he stood staring dumbly at Georgia until Lady Haigh, who had caught the look in his eyes, pushed her gently aside, and addressed herself to the hero of the occasion.

“And you escaped without signing their treaty?” she asked.

“I did not sign it, certainly,” he replied.

“And what about our treaty?” asked Fitz, eagerly.

“There is our treaty—signed,” returned Stratford, with a queer gleam in his eyes as he laid the parchment on the table. “When the Chief gets better he will find that his work was not all in vain, Lady Haigh.”

Lady Haigh blushed afterwards to remember that she was ready to kiss Stratford there and then in the first flush of her delight at the news; but she restrained herself sufficiently to do no more than wring his hand without a word. The rest were examining the treaty, which bore Stratford’s signature and another, as well as the King’s seal and that of the Grand Vizier.

“But that is not Fath-ud-Din’s signature,” said Kustendjian, who was looking at the parchment from the other side of the table.

“No,” said Stratford, drily; “it is Jahan Beg’s.”

“Jahan Beg’s?” was echoed, in tones of astonishment.

“Yes; he has succeeded Fath-ud-Din as Grand Vizier. You have a good deal to hear; but I should like some dinner first, if there is any going.”

“Have you had nothing but meat lozenges all day, Mr Stratford?” asked Fitz, laughing; and every one adjourned to the dining-room, where the dishes, which had been left untasted half an hour before, were still on the table. Everything was cold, of course, and the servants were in despair; but the makeshift meal was the most cheerful that had taken place during the whole sojourn of the Mission in 229 Kubbet-ul-Haj, and when it was over, the party returned to the terrace, and demanded clamorously of Stratford that he should tell his story.

“It is rather long, and I am afraid you will find it a little tedious,” he said, throwing away his cigarette; “but I can assure you that the experience was much more tedious to go through than to talk about. Well, no attempt was made to molest me when I got to the Palace, and I started off as usual in the direction of the hall of audience. Generally, as you know, when we have gone to the Palace, there have been a lot of chamberlains and fellows to clear a path for us and bring us to the King, but to-day I had to elbow my way through the crowd that was hanging about. It was a sign that times were changed; but that wasn’t all, for, before I had got half-way through the mob, I felt a pull at my coat-tail, and when I could put my hand there, I found that I had been eased of my pistol. However, as I had put the pistol into that pocket for the express purpose of having it seen and stolen, I didn’t mind much. When I got to the door of the audience-chamber, the guard made a fuss about letting me in; but I said that the King had sent for me, and I meant to see him. When they saw that I would stand no nonsense, they let me pass, and I found the King and Fath-ud-Din, as I had hoped, in the room in which they had tried to bribe the Chief to sign their treaty. It is quite small, you remember, and the walls are solid, without any of the lattice-work panels you see in the big hall. The windows are high up, and all the open carving is of stone, and not of wood. It was another score for me that the King thought fit to treat me as a criminal, and didn’t invite me to come close to him, so I chose my position, and camped in the corner in a line with the door, and opposite to the King’s divan. Of course this was nominally 230 in order that what we said should not be overheard outside. They brought in coffee; but I refused to taste it, for I didn’t see any advantage in being poisoned at the very outset, and there was no object in keeping on the mask of friendliness any longer.”

“Wait a minute,” said Dick. “How did you manage everything without an interpreter?”

“I got out my best Ethiopian for the occasion, and when that failed we had recourse to Arabic,” returned Stratford. “The King and Fath-ud-Din can both talk it pretty well when they like, as you know. Well, when war had once been declared by my refusing the coffee, we sat for hours arguing. It was intimated to me pretty clearly at the beginning that if I didn’t sign their treaty, I should not leave the Palace alive; but when they saw that that didn’t seem to affect me to any appreciable extent, they began to add inducements on the other side. They offered me money and precious stones—quite a comfortable little fortune, I should think—rising by degrees until either their tempers or their purses gave way. Then, evidently thinking that my obstinacy arose from a fear that the rest of you would split upon me, they offered to put every one else belonging to the Mission out of the way, and to send me back to Khemistan as a conquering hero, returning with the best treaty I could manage to obtain. When they found that wouldn’t do, they offered me Jahan Beg’s office and property if I would only sign. I was to disappear from the ken of mortals outside Ethiopia, of course, and they would represent that the Mission had all been carried off by a pestilence, leaving only the treaty behind them. Their ideas as to English credulity are distinctly Arcadian. Well, all this time the servants kept bringing in sweetmeats and sherbet and fruit; but I would not touch anything, though I was abominably thirsty, for I remembered what 231 Miss Keeling had said about some poison that destroyed the will, and I didn’t want to be hocussed into signing. Then they started on a fresh tack, and had in a crowd of dancing-girls——”

“The temptation of St Egerton!” cried Fitz, hugely delighted. “Were they very fascinating, Mr Stratford?”

“You might possibly have found them so,” returned Stratford, coolly; “but my tastes don’t happen to lie in that direction. I endured their performances for some time, and then they began to get tiresome. It was rather hard on the poor things, I know, for they were doing their level best; but I yawned aggressively, and suggested that we should go back to business. They bundled the girls out, and I found that the King and Fath-ud-Din had about reached the end of their patience. They took to threats now, and discoursed movingly for some time on the subject of tortures, with a strictly personal application. Fath-ud-Din did most of the talking; but when the King thought that his language was lacking in vigour, he added a few stronger touches to the picture. At last I remarked that this was all very interesting, but it wasn’t business, and that set them off. The King stamped on the floor, and immediately the curtain over the door was pulled aside, and a gang of the most villainous-looking negroes I ever saw filed in. ‘Seize that white devil,’ said Fath-ud-Din, ‘and let our lord the King behold your skill.’ That was all very well, but there were two sides to the question. ‘Stop,’ I said to the foremost black fellow as he turned towards me—‘cross that line in the floor at your peril!’ He laughed. I believe they thought I meant to take it fighting; but that was not my game at all. In a rough-and-tumble fight with those niggers I should have gone under in no time, and I didn’t exactly see being pulled to pieces with red-hot pincers to make a holiday for the King 232 and Fath-ud-Din. I had slipped the little revolver down my sleeve and into my right hand, and I had some extra cartridges in my left, and as the man set his foot on the line I had pointed at, I shot him straight off. It was rather a strong thing to do; but it was my only chance. The other black fellows drew back as the first man fell forward on his face, his arms almost touching the King, and Fath-ud-Din opened his mouth to yell out to the guard; but I spoke first, slipping in another cartridge into the chamber I had fired. ‘I have six shots here without reloading,’ I said. ‘The next two are for the King and the Grand Vizier, as soon as either of them moves or speaks; the rest are for the first four men that cross this line.’”

“Sir,” said Mr Hicks, approvingly, “there was a dreadful smart newspaper man lost when you were raised for a diplomatist.”

young bearded man aiming a pistol at cowering men in robes

“I have six shots here without re-loading,” I said.

Stratford smiled in acknowledgment of the compliment, which was delivered with even more than the amount of drawl which Mr Hicks chose usually to affect.

“Well, there was a moment’s pause,” he went on, “which I utilised in surveying the position. I had the King within easy range, with Fath-ud-Din standing beside him, and to reach the door they would have to pass me. I was in the corner, so that even if the guard came in they could only reach me in front. Of course they could have floored me easily if the black fellows had come at me in a body; but it would have been the last fight for two or three of them, and they knew it and kept quiet. The only danger was that they might fire at me from the door or from the outside of one of the windows when the guard found out what had happened, and I saw that if I was to get off we must come to terms before any one in the great hall suspected anything. What they made of the sound of my revolver-shot I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to have 233 struck them as anything suspicious; perhaps they thought that the King was amusing himself with practising shooting at me. No one appeared, at any rate, and I spoke to the King again. ‘Before we do anything further,’ I said, ‘I should be glad to know where Jahan Beg is.’ Fath-ud-Din instantly replied with great gusto that he was expiating his crimes in the King’s deepest dungeon, which he would never leave alive. I remarked that it was just possible some one in that room might die sooner than Jahan Beg did, which made him calm down a little, and then I asked the King what crime Jahan Beg had committed. He did not fly out as Fath-ud-Din had done, but told me quite quietly that it was unwise in me to inquire after the traitor who had done his best to deliver Ethiopia into our hands. I asked what he meant (of course I kept my eyes about me and the revolver ready all this time), and he told me a very circumstantial story, the recital of which was intended to cover me with confusion. It seemed that Fath-ud-Din, as soon as the Chief had definitely refused to gratify him by extraditing Jahan Beg on account of some imaginary crime, told the King that he had strong reason to suspect his rival of intriguing with us. He was sure he was an Englishman, and he believed that he was plotting with the English to dethrone the King and put Rustam Khan in his place. The King was loath to suspect Jahan Beg, and parti­cularly anxious not to have to find a substitute for him in the frontier work which he alone could do; but the Vizier was so positive that he consented to set spies to watch him. Of course they saw him come to us at night and found out that he was supplying us with corn, so he was promptly arrested and thrown into prison, and the charge considered proved.”

“You must have been pretty well stumped at that,” said Dick. “It was a mad thing for Jahan Beg to 234 continue to come here as he did when he knew that Fath-ud-Din suspected him.”

“Yes,” said Stratford; “my only chance was a sudden attack by means of a tu quoque. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Jahan Beg is an Englishman, and he came to the Mission to visit the Envoy, who was an old friend of his. But he did not come with any view of interfering in public matters. He has never sought to engage our help in placing Rustam Khan upon the throne, nor in making any change in the government of Ethiopia, and we should not have granted it if he had. In fact, his coming was so entirely unofficial that we did not even take advantage of his visits to the Mission to seek his assistance in the negotiations which the Grand Vizier was carrying on with us at the time. When Fath-ud-Din used to visit the Envoy by night, and even when he came to try and arrange the secret agreement about Antar Khan’s succession to the throne, we did not invite Jahan Beg to be present, because we knew that the matter was not intended to be made public, and we feared to produce the impression that our friend was endeavouring to thrust himself uninvited into the King’s counsels.’ I saw in a moment that the shot had told. The King turned and glared at Fath-ud-Din, and then again at me. ‘What!’ he cried. ‘Fath-ud-Din desired to set my son Antar Khan upon my throne?’ ‘He came merely to attempt to secure the support of her Majesty’s Government for the Prince in case that should happen which England and Ethiopia would alike deplore,’ I said, as soothingly as I could; but the King was not mollified. ‘He sought to obtain assurance of English support in case of my death?’ he cried. ‘Yes,’ said I; ‘and when we refused to enter into the arrangement, saying that the matter was one for the King and his Amirs to settle among themselves, he threatened that he would seek the assistance we denied him from the Envoy of 235 Scythia, who would not refuse it. Is it possible that he was not acting on behalf of your Majesty, after all?’ ‘Fath-ud-Din,’ said the King, ‘are the words of the Englishman true?’ ‘O my lord,’ said the old villain, flopping down on his face before the divan in an awful fright, ‘the Englishman’s tongue is forked. He seeks to save himself from the fate he merits by casting dirt upon the name of the meanest of my lord’s servants; but he shall yet eat his words.’ ‘The matter is in the hands of the King to prove,’ I said; ‘let him send and fetch Jahan Beg straight here from his dungeon, and let him be questioned as to all that has taken place. It is evident that he cannot have held communication with any member of the Mission since his arrest, and if his words agree with mine, mine must be seen to be true; if not, then let us both pay the penalty.’ The King seemed to think it rather a good idea, and was inclined to agree; but Fath-ud-Din interposed all sorts of objections as he lay grovelling on the floor, and at last I got tired. Some slave or chamberlain might have come in at any moment and spoilt everything. So I took out my box of lozenges, and said, ‘In this box I have food for several days, so that I can remain here without inconvenience. The King and Fath-ud-Din have no food, and cannot pass me to leave the room; therefore I would recommend that they follow my advice.’ The King saw the reason of it, and called one of the black fellows, whom he ordered to fetch Jahan Beg at once, without saying anything about what had been going on. You may judge that in spite of this I kept the revolver ready in case of any attempt to rush me; but none was made. I think the King felt that it was necessary to get to the bottom of the matter, for he even invited me to come and sit beside him; but I refused, ‘until my words were proved true,’ as I said. I don’t know whether Fath-ud-Din or I felt the more uncomfortable when the messenger was 236 gone, for it struck me that Jahan Beg might think it advisable not to tell the exact truth, in which case I should find myself badly left; but I made a great parade of eating one of the lozenges, and I hope I dissembled my uneasiness better than the Vizier did. Happily, when poor old Jahan Beg was brought in—a perfect shadow, wasted and ill, and ragged, and chained—he gathered the significance of the questions the King asked him at once, and confirmed exactly what I had said, being able to corroborate my account of the Vizier’s earlier visits to the Mission. Of course, he did not know anything of the Antar Khan business, which did not happen until after his arrest; but I had an inspiration there. I suggested an examination of Fath-ud-Din’s servants, with the view of discovering whether he had really held communication with the Scythian agent and with us. The King jumped at the idea, and improved upon it by ordering a search of his house as well. I thought that it was not likely to be much good; but I was mistaken, for his scribe, on being arrested, displayed such great anxiety to be allowed to take his copy of the Koran to prison with him that suspicion was excited, and in the cover of it they found concealed a written promise from the Scythian agent, pledging his Government to support Antar Khan in case of the King’s death, and to pay Fath-ud-Din eight thousand pounds in return for his getting their treaty signed. The greedy old beast must have had the paper in his possession when he came to us this morning—was it really only this morning?—and tried to get us to outbid him by two thousand pounds. It was exactly the evidence we wanted, and its discovery is only another warning never to commit compromising agreements to writing.”

“Yes; and then?” asked Fitz, eagerly, seeing that Stratford appeared inclined to moralise.

“Then? Why, a grand transformation scene, of course. 237 Fath-ud-Din’s signet was taken from him, and he was conducted to the dungeon which Jahan Beg had just vacated. Jahan Beg was taken to the bath, and rigged out at the King’s expense, and formally invested with the Grand Vizier’s signet. He was another man after a little care and attention. As for me, I was favoured with a seat by the King’s side, publicly thanked for exposing a traitor and saving the King (evidently he held the same opinion as to his chances of life under Fath-ud-Din’s fostering care that we did), and asked whether I had a copy of our treaty at hand. That was the crowning moment. I produced the treaty from inside my coat. Jahan Beg signed it—his first act in his new capacity—I followed, and the King put his seal to it. And that is all.”

“And now?” asked Lady Haigh.

“Now we have only to get back to Khemistan as fast as we can,” said Stratford.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XV

skip to next chapter

Why had he allowed Stratford to go instead of going himself?
[Because Stratford is his superior. Crikey. Has everyone forgotten this fact?]

He could not care for her, and she cared for him. . . . the thought was almost unendurable in the shame it brought with it.
[Sooner or later, every woman must remember that she is a character in a 19th-century novel.]

and the approaching tread of a multitude.
final . missing

“Doesn’t it strike you that this is rather a new way of conducting an attack?”
open quote invisible

Why, a grand transformation scene, of course.
final . missing

CHAPTER XVI.
A CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES.

If, after Stratford had told his story, the party at the Mission had been informed that the most anxious portion of their stay in Kubbet-ul-Haj was still to come, the idea would have seemed absurd, and yet the joyful night on which the treaty was signed proved to be merely the prelude to a fresh period of uneasiness. Far from being able to pack up and start at once on the return journey to the British frontier, the members of the Mission found that 238 their departure must necessarily be delayed for at least a week. The camels and other baggage-animals which had been taken from them had been sent for safe-keeping to a town three days’ journey off, the governor of which was a creature of Fath-ud-Din’s. It was therefore needful to send after them, and, if the governor would consent to give them up, then to bring them back, which in itself involved a considerable delay. But this was not all. Jahan Beg in Fath-ud-Din’s place bore a certain resemblance to the ass in the lion’s skin. As he said himself, he laboured under the great disadvantage, as compared with his predecessor, of being too scrupulous for the post.

“I should have thought I had learnt by this time to do in Ethiopia as the Ethiopians do,” he grumbled one day to Stratford and Dick, who were entertaining him on the verandah of the Durbar-hall with coffee and conversation; “but I find now that I have some remnants of a Christian conscience left somewhere about me still, old renegade though I am. I simply haven’t got it in me to take the measures which the situation demands. Fath-ud-Din in my place would have had no difficulty. He would merely have had his predecessor brought before him, and tortured until things went smoothly. But he knows that I am not the man to do that, and it gives him a tremendous pull over me when I want to find out something he knows, or when some of his people have to be kept quiet. It isn’t dignified for me to be always going to the mouth of the dungeon and shouting down questions which he refuses to answer, and I have put it to the King that we must try another plan.”

This meant that Fath-ud-Din was to be released from the dungeon and kept as a kind of state-prisoner in the Palace. The new plan was successful in so far as he was more disposed to answer questions relating to his past stewardship; 239 but it worked badly when it emboldened his adherents to resist the new Vizier on the ground that he was still afraid of his predecessor, and could not act without his help. The mob of the city, who had always been Fath-ud-Din’s warmest friends, resented his downfall keenly, and lost no opportunity of testifying their hatred to Jahan Beg and the English strangers, to whose influence that downfall was to be ascribed. Once more the Mission was guarded on all sides by soldiers, this time in order to prevent a murderous attack by the mob, whose attitude was extremely threatening. A further danger arose from the fact that there was reason to believe that the soldiers themselves were not altogether to be depended upon, and this added enormously to the anxiety of Stratford and of Jahan Beg. So long as the soldiers could keep down the townspeople, and the Grand Vizier could keep down the soldiers, things were fairly safe; but at any moment a chance spark might fire the train, and an explosion occur, the first results of which would be the murder of Jahan Beg and the massacre of the British Mission. No one left the house during these days of terror, and the gates were barely opened to admit traders and messengers. Within, every man had his revolver ready to his hand, and heaps of sand-bags were in readiness to barricade the entrance to the archway in Bachelors’ Buildings and the windows of the Durbar-hall. The Mission premises were in a state of siege.

During all this anxious time, however, no change was made in the social life of the little colony. In spite of alarms from without, and the abiding sorrow of Sir Dugald’s speechless and unconscious condition, the usual routine of work and meals remained unbroken, and the gatherings on the terrace after dinner were not abandoned. To Georgia there seemed at first something heartless, almost wicked, in keeping up appearances in this way at such a crisis; but it 240 was Lady Haigh herself who pointed out to her the reasons for the insensibility which she was inclined to reprobate.

“There is the effect on the servants to be considered, my dear,” she said. “If we went about looking dishevelled and woe-begone, and refused to take our meals at the proper hours, we should have them deserting right and left. It will help the men, too, more than anything if they see us cheerful and apparently unconscious of danger. I believe that Mr Stratford and Major North would be almost heartbroken if they imagined that we knew as much about the state of things as we do.”

“But that is very foolish,” objected Georgia. “Why don’t they take us into their councils and let us all know authori­tatively the worst we have to fear?”

“My dear, men are not made that way. They like to think that they have succeeded in hiding their apprehensions from us, and that we are pursuing our butterfly existence untroubled by thoughts of danger. And if it makes them happier to think so, we won’t undeceive them. We will dress for dinner, and talk cheerfully, and give them a little music in the evenings, and do our best to help them in whatever way we can.”

“But I don’t like it, Lady Haigh. They are treating us like babies.”

“Well, dear child, we know we are not babies. It is hard, I know, when you feel that you could give them valuable help—or, at any rate, moral support—if they would pay you the compliment of taking you into their confidence; but I believe that this is the way in which we can help them most, and sooner than add a finger’s weight to the burden those two dear fellows are bearing, I would take to bibs and a rattle again!”

And Georgia, while she marvelled, perceived that thirty years of married life teach some things about the other sex 241 which are not included in the curriculum of any university or medical school It was not without a certain degree of envy that she acknowledged to herself that she would have been willing to exchange a small portion—perhaps even an appreciable amount—of her medical knowledge for a share of that acquaintance with the world and with male human nature which lay behind Lady Haigh’s shrewd hazel eyes. For Dick was still obdurate and unapproachable, and after the enlightening which had come to her on the day of the signing of the treaty, she did not dare to make any of those overtures by means of which she had occasionally succeeded in re-establishing peace after their former quarrels. There was always the risk that he might misunderstand—or was it not rather that he might too well understand?—her motive.

“If it was merely an ordinary disagreement,” she said to herself, hopelessly, “I am not too proud to hold out a hand of friendship, but now!—I know I said some hard things to him, but he had said worse to me—though I shouldn’t mind now what he said if only I knew that he cared. And I thought he did care—that day when he called me Georgie—what could it have meant but that? It can’t be, oh! it can’t be, that he has been trying to lead me on, and make me care for him, in revenge for my refusing him long ago? I won’t believe it of him. It isn’t like him—he wouldn’t do it. If it was that—if he could be such a wretch, I would—yes, I could forgive him anything but that!”

Dick’s feelings during this period were scarcely more to be envied than Georgia’s. Having assured himself that nothing on earth could make him more miserable than he was already, he was fiercely eager that the crown should be given to his misery by Georgia’s engagement to Stratford, for the announcement of which he looked daily, but which did not take place. On the contrary, Stratford went about 242 his work as usual, apparently unconscious that anything of the kind was or could be expected from him, while Georgia looked “about as wretched—well, as I feel!” said Dick to himself. He could not reasonably believe that Stratford cared for her, after his friend’s explicit denial of the fact; but it became abundantly clear to him that he ought to be made to do so, if Georgia’s happiness depended upon it. For a day or two he thought seriously of informing him that he must—under penalties which Dick did not specify to himself—ask her to marry him, since he had evidently been trifling with her feelings; but, happily, a vague impression that a marriage entered upon under such conditions was scarcely likely to turn out well restrained him. The more immediate certainty that Miss Keeling would bitterly resent such an interference in her affairs did not trouble Dick; it maddened him to see her looking as she looked now, and her happiness must be secured in spite of herself. In the meantime, he did his best to hate Stratford, both for his past conduct and his present callousness as to its results, and found it very difficult. The man was his friend and good comrade, and absolutely innocent of any wish to quarrel, and Dick would find himself sitting on the office table and talking familiarly to him as of old. Then he would call up the haunting remembrance of Miss Keeling’s pale face and reproachful eyes, and divided between the desire to avenge her wrongs and the fear of betraying her secret, become so snappish that any one but Stratford would have taken offence and demanded an explanation. But Stratford had a large fund of patience to draw upon, and he was sorry for Dick. He saw that things were not going well with him, and although he was too prudent to seek to interfere, he was determined not to make matters worse by taking up any of the gauntlets which his friend was perpetually flinging down.

243

Another person who viewed the state of things with much interest and uneasiness was Lady Haigh. During her long and philanthropic, if slightly autocratic, experience of English life in the East, she had engineered to a satisfactory conclusion a good many love affairs, and she had welcomed the first signs of this one as affording a fresh scope for the exercise of her particular talent. But she had now for some days been driven to the opinion that Dick and Georgia were playing at cross-purposes, a form of recreation which she regarded with the utmost horror, and she yearned to do something to set matters right.

“Nothing on earth shall induce me to interfere,” she assured herself. “Interference is a thing I abhor. But if either of them should give me the chance of saying a word, I shall certainly step in.”

Fortune favoured Lady Haigh. Coming out on the terrace one evening at dusk, after a long watch in Sir Dugald’s room, she saw Dick crossing the court towards her. He had just seen that the sentries were properly posted, and the flag hauled down for the night, and now he mounted the steps and found the terrace apparently empty. Lady Haigh was standing motionless in the shadow of the doorway, and she heard him sigh, for no obvious reason, as he threw himself into one of the chairs, and then propound despairingly for his own benefit the well-worn conundrum, “Is life worth living?”

“I am sorry to hear you say that, Major North,” said Lady Haigh, in her brisk tones, as she moved forward out of the darkness, and sat down opposite to him. “You are very high in the Service for a man of your age, you have the best possible prospects, a sufficiency of money, and a record which would make most men’s mouths water. Don’t you think that you are a slightly unreasonable—not to say ungrateful—man?”

244

“I must beg your pardon for being so trite,” said Dick, on the defensive at once. “If I had known you were there, I would have tried to couch my question in more original language.”

“But you would still have asked it?”

“I’m afraid so. You think me a discontented beast, don’t you, Lady Haigh?”

“That I can’t decide until I know what grounds you have for your discontent.”

“It isn’t for my own sake—at least, I come into it too, of course, but it is chiefly on another person’s account.”

“Come, this does you great credit, Major North. That the world should become clouded for you on account of some one else’s troubles—when everything with which you have to do is going on so well”—she could not resist this hit at the reticence which Stratford and he had maintained on the subject of the dangers that threatened the party, but he did not notice it—“this shows a most unselfish spirit. Are the misfortunes of this other person absolutely beyond remedy?”

“They ought not to be, but I can’t for the life of me see how they are to be set right,” said Dick, moodily.

“Well, I am very sorry to hear it. If at any time you think I can be of any help towards setting them right, be sure you let me know. The chief, I may say the only, pleasure I have just now lies in helping other people.”

She rose as though to go indoors, but Dick stopped her.

“If you can spare me a few minutes, please stay and let me tell you about it now,” he entreated. “I am awfully puzzled—and worried—and—and miserable. I want you to look at things quite apart from me. If I could only see her happy, I might get over it in time, I suppose, but now——”

245

“My dear boy——” Lady Haigh began, then, hoping that he had not observed the slip, altered it to, “My dear Major North, you must please explain yourself a little. Who is the lady to whom you refer—not Miss Keeling?”

“Yes, it is Miss Keeling,” said Dick, rather guiltily.

“But is Miss Keeling unhappy?”

“How you women hang together!” he remarked, with some bitterness. “You must have seen it, Lady Haigh, and yet you won’t say a word to help me out. I feel as if I had no business to talk about it, even to you—and yet you are the only other woman here—and it isn’t as though I was betraying her confidence, for she never told me. She only let me see unmistakably——”

“I am afraid you won’t believe me,” interrupted Lady Haigh, “but I really don’t understand you. If I can do anything whatever to help either you or Miss Keeling, you may count upon me, as I said just now; but please don’t think I want to pry into your private affairs.”

“I’m a fearful bear,” said Dick, penitently, “and it’s awfully good of you to be willing to take so much trouble about us, when Sir Dugald is ill, and you have so much to be anxious about. I’ll make a clean breast of the whole thing, for I am quite at the end of my tether, and I can’t see what to do. It doesn’t signify what happens to me, you know, but——”

“Do you know that you are frightening me, Major North? What desperate enterprise has Miss Keeling got on hand that you should talk about her and yourself in this strain?”

“It’s nothing of that kind. It is only that I want to see her happy. Perhaps you don’t know that for some time lately I have been beginning to hope that one day she might get to care for me?” Lady Haigh smothered a smile, and nodded assent. “Well, it was on the day that the 246 treaty was signed that I found out all at once that it was Stratford she cared for.”

“Mr Stratford?” cried Lady Haigh, with a start. “Are you quite certain?”

“I had no idea of anything of the kind until she turned on me and asked why I had let him go to the Palace to save her, and said she would never speak to me again if anything happened to him. I couldn’t mistake that, could I?” he asked, with a dreary smile. “It was all clear to me at once, and I can’t tell you what an arrant and unmitigated and contemptible brute I felt for having let him go. I’m sure I should never have had the face to go near her again if he had got killed.”

“Well, but wasn’t it all right when he came back?”

“No, indeed; it is all wrong. He doesn’t care for her; he told me so himself before he went. Now, you know, no one can be astonished at her caring for him, he is such an out-and-out good fellow; but if he doesn’t care for her, what is to be done? That is what I am addling my brains over, and if you can suggest anything. Lady Haigh, I shall bless you for ever.”

“What was your own idea as to what ought to be done?”

“Well, it’s pretty clear to me that if Miss Keeling had a father or a brother out here, it would be his business to take the matter in hand, and bring Stratford to book—ask him his intentions, and that sort of thing. I don’t want to say anything against him, but it’s quite plain that he isn’t doing the proper thing; and if he has made her care for him with those high and mighty A.D.C. airs of his”—Dick spoke with the lively bitterness of a man who has known and suffered far from gladly the wiseacres of a viceregal entourage—“he ought not to be allowed to cry off like this without even asking her to marry him.”

247

“Then the propriety of your assuming the rôle of Miss Keeling’s brother, and representing the matter to him yourself, has not suggested itself to you?” Lady Haigh waited with keen anxiety for the answer, which came with a groan.

“Hasn’t it indeed? But how is a man to do such a thing without giving the girl away? Don’t tell me you think I ought to do it, Lady Haigh! I’ll do it if you say I must; but really, you know, I am absolutely the worst fellow that ever was born for a delicate job of that kind. Stratford told me himself on that very day that tact was not my strong point, which is putting it mildly, and this sort of thing simply cries aloud for tact.”

“You are quite right, it does, and I am truly thankful that you have not felt called upon to attempt it.” Dick heaved a sigh of relief. “But do tell me, Major North, why you are willing to put aside your own hopes in this way, and bring Mr Stratford to book?”

“Because I want to see her happy,” growled Dick.

“You think she is not happy?”

“Look at her face. Ever since that day, she has looked quite different. Perhaps you haven’t noticed it, for she keeps a cheerful expression for company. But I have come upon her unexpectedly, and seen her when she thought no one was looking, and her face—well, it made me want to pulverise Stratford, that’s all. She put on the cheerful expression again as soon as she caught me looking at her, just as though I didn’t know all about it, and wouldn’t give my right hand to help her,” he concluded, resentfully.

“Major North,” said Lady Haigh, solemnly, “if your insight into character was only equal to your goodwill, you would be a very clever man, but as it is——” there was an expressive pause, then Lady Haigh bent towards him, and spoke very low and distinctly. “You are quite right not 248 to speak to Mr Stratford, it would only do harm; but I think you ought to speak to Miss Keeling herself. What you have told me is news to me, and if I am not mistaken, it will also be news to her. You would tell her, of course, that you had discovered that she was in love with Mr Stratford, and was pining for him, because he would not ask her to marry him. That is the kind of fact about oneself which one has a right to know. Tell her, by all means. I don’t guarantee that you will escape with your life, but a storm clears the air sometimes. On second thoughts, don’t tell her. I really think it would be scarcely safe. Lay your own story before her—without any names, if you like—and see what she says. That is my honest and candid advice, without any kind of joking. If you won’t take it, I fear I can’t help you.”

And Lady Haigh rose and went into the house, leaving Dick stupefied. He felt utterly bewildered, and was conscious only that he must have made some egregious mistake, which Lady Haigh had perceived, but would not point out to him for fear of spoiling the game. In spite of her assurance that she was not joking, he yet hesitated to accept her last piece of advice. What possible good could it do to tell Miss Keeling his story, even supposing that he could succeed in finding her alone, and that she would vouchsafe to listen to him? It looked like stealing a march on Stratford, too; but, of course, that was absurd. Stratford was in possession of the field, and if it was no good attempting a serious attack on his position, how could it serve any useful purpose to make a feint of an assault upon it? It could only render Miss Keeling more unhappy still, for Dick felt sure that she would pity even him when she learnt how the words which had escaped her lips in her first grief and despair had gone to his heart. There seemed to be no way out of the dilemma, and Dick decided 249 very quickly that he would not in any case follow Lady Haigh’s counsel, for fear of complicating the situation further. At least he could keep his own feelings in the background, while waiting anxiously for something to turn up that might relieve him from the necessity of taking any step at all. As it happened, however, the explanation he dreaded was precipitated by an event of so much importance that it actually obscured in his mind for the time the whole question he had discussed with Lady Haigh.

Bad news reached the Mission on the following morning. The district which had hitherto been ruled by Fath-ud-Din was in open revolt. The governor of the town to which the baggage-animals had been sent refused to surrender them except to Fath-ud-Din or the King in person, and this necessitated the despatch of a military expedition to enforce compliance with the royal order. Jahan Beg could not venture to leave the capital, and although Rustam Khan was to be sent in command of the forces, the business was likely to be a long one in the present unsatisfactory state of the army. This meant a further period of detention at Kubbet-ul-Haj for the Mission, and Stratford and Dick, feeling that they could not impose upon the ladies much longer with any hope of success, broke the news to them with elaborate care. Lady Haigh, true to her self-effacing creed, received it with suitable alarm; but Georgia puzzled the two men by exclaiming, “Is that all?” in a tone which showed that their considerate method of making the announcement had prepared her to hear things much worse than the reality. Dick thought that she was failing to realise the gravity of the news, and anticipated a reaction when she began to perceive fully what it meant; and when he came upon her on the terrace after dinner that evening, he thought that the reaction had come. Lady Haigh had been called away, and Dick, emerging from the lighted dining-room to make 250 his usual tour of inspection, found Georgia sitting alone and gazing into the darkness. Something in the desolation of her attitude went to his heart, and he approached her impulsively and laid his hand upon her shoulder.

“For heaven’s sake. Miss Keeling, don’t give in now!” he said, hoarsely. “You and Lady Haigh have kept our hearts up all this week by your pluck and cheerfulness.”

“I don’t think I am afraid,” said Georgia, without looking at him. “One could always defend oneself, you see, if the mob broke in, and that would probably ensure death at once, and I have seen too many deathbeds not to know that death is generally easier than most people think. No, it is the isolation, the fearful loneliness, the feeling that there is not one of these people, to whom we have been trying to do good, that does not hate us heartily.”

“Oh, I hope it’s not so bad as you think——” began Dick; but his clumsy attempt at consolation died on his lips. “How long have you known that things were as bad as they are?” he asked her.

“As long as you have,” returned Georgia, with some scorn.

“Not really so long? We were trying to save you from the knowledge. We hoped——”

“Yes, I know; but, unfortunately, you had to deal with an old campaigner and a New Woman, you see. Lady Haigh and I were able to read the signs of the times as well as you and Mr Stratford; but we pretended that we knew nothing about things, for the sake of sparing your feelings. Now, do you think you have treated us properly? I don’t demand information as a right; I only ask whether it was fair—whether it was even kind—to try and keep us in ignorance? We have at least as much at stake as you have.”

“At least?” he repeated, bitterly. “I can tell you that I would give my life gladly to know that you were in 251 Khemistan and safe out of this. Now you can’t say that I haven’t spoken plainly.”

“But why not have told us the worst before, and let us talk it over, and get what comfort we could out of that? Facing a danger boldly makes it seem much less terrible. It is the guessing, and the wondering, and the putting two and two together, and the anxiety as to whether there has been any fresh trouble, of which we know nothing, to make you and Mr Stratford look graver and graver every day, that have been so dreadful this week.”

“Have a little pity for me, Georgia,” he said, almost roughly; and she realised, with a sudden tightening of the heart, that he had used the same words that other day. “Do you think it’s an easy or a pleasant thing for a man to tell the woman he loves—as I love you—that such things are before her as seem to be before us now? No, don’t start and turn your back on me—you have brought this on yourself. You laughed at me when I told you I loved you long ago, and again and again since we first met this year you have shown me pretty plainly that nothing I could do would ever change your tone. When I begged your pardon after that fuss about your doctoring the Chief, and you wouldn’t listen to me, I couldn’t have believed a woman would have spoken in such a way to the greatest blackguard on earth, let alone a man that had put himself at her mercy. Your mercy, indeed!—I believe you enjoy tormenting me. But you can go too far—even with me. Under ordinary circumstances I should have respected your wishes, and not persecuted you with my unwelcome attentions; but this is not an ordinary time, and you have goaded me beyond bearing, and I tell you—and you shall hear it—that I shall love you till I die—and beyond. You can’t alter it.”

He paused, expecting an outburst of anger, but Georgia’s head was turned away from him, and she made no answer.

252

“I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he said at last, apprehensively, his conscience smiting him for his roughness. “I know by what you have said that you have enough to hear already.”

“I am not crying!” said Georgia, resenting the accusation indignantly, and for one moment she turned her eyes upon him. They were shining, but not with tears. Dick thought that it was with anger, and her words served to confirm him in his belief. “I have tried to be patient with you,” she went on quickly, and her voice seemed to him to be throbbing with wounded pride, “but you are too unfair. You say you love me, but how do you treat me? Since we met last March—as you said just now; you see that I can hoard up grudges as well as you—you have done nothing but parade your contempt for me, and for everything I care for. What do you know about the New Woman? What do you know about me? and yet you have persecuted me continually with the name, which you, at any rate, meant to be one of reproach. I don’t know what your idea of love may be, but I think that it ought to teach a little tenderness—a little consideration for the other person’s feelings. How dare you tell me that you love me? You might, if you could bend me to your own pattern; but you can’t, and so you have done your best to show that you dislike me. Not that your dislike signifies to me in the least, of course,” with superb disdain, “but I don’t see why you should render yourself generally unpleasant by exhibiting it.”

“Make a little allowance for me, please. I loved you, and you would not listen to me. I daresay I have made an awful idiot of myself, but——”

“Don’t say that you had excuse. I was always willing to be friends with you, if you would only——”

“Friends? I don’t want your friendship. There can be no such thing between you and me. I must have all or nothing.”

253

“And by way of getting all, you did everything you could to make it impossible for me to give you anything? I am not a Griselda, and if you will excuse my saying it, I don’t think nature intended you for a Petruchio. Were you really under the impression that the best way of winning a woman’s heart was to abuse all her friends and pour contempt on all her interests? How could I learn to care for you?”

“I am very sorry, Georgie,” said Dick, humbly enough.

“It is possible to be sorry too late,” Georgia went on mercilessly; but he interrupted her with a burst of passion.

“Don’t I know that? Hasn’t it tormented me day and night since I knew that you cared for him? Don’t try me too far. I have done my best not to worry you since that day, and if I could do anything to make you happy with him, I would; but I can’t stand it if you begin to moralise on the subject. You expect too much of a man.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Georgia, turning round quickly. Her face had grown very pale. “Who is the person you are talking about?”

“Why, Stratford, of course,” said Dick, off his guard. Georgia’s eyes flamed.

“Stratford? You thought I was in love with Mr Stratford? After that, I don’t think there is anything more that need be said, Major North. Will you kindly let me pass?”

But he would not. Despair gave him courage, and he put his arm across the doorway. “Georgie, I’m an idiot and an ass and an utter fool, but give me another chance. I do love you, and if you will only let me try again, now that there’s no other fellow in the way, perhaps you might come to care for me a little in time.”

Georgia wavered, and was lost. She had caught sight 254 of his face in the moonlight, and there was an expression in his eyes which completed what his eager, halting words had begun. “Oh, Dick, don’t look at me like that,” she entreated, laying her hands on his arm. “You may try again.”

“Try again? Georgie, may I really? How much does that mean?”

“Take the night to think over it,” said Georgia, trying to slip past him indoors; but he caught her hands and held her prisoner.

“You said just now ‘how could you learn to care for me?’ I thought you meant that it was impossible. Did you mean that there might be a chance? Just the one word, dear.”

“Yes,” said Georgia, in a voice which was somewhat muffled. “At least, I mean no. I have cared for you a long time.”

“What a beast I have been!” was the next coherent remark uttered by Dick.

“You were rather a trial,” was the murmured answer.

“But I am going to reform now, Georgie. You must pull me up if I let out at anything in which you have the smallest interest. But I could praise up the New Woman herself to-night.”

“Considering that I am the embodiment of the New Woman to your mind,” began Georgia, “that is a very poor——”

“I say, North, is there anything wrong? Haven’t you finished your rounds yet?” shouted Stratford, coming to the dining-room window with a half-smoked cigar in his fingers.

“No, it’s all right,” answered Dick’s voice, unexpectedly near at hand. “I’ll do the rounds in a minute.”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XVI

That is the kind of fact about oneself which one has a right to know.
[So that’s where all the brains went. Lady Haigh has got them in safekeeping.]

255

CHAPTER XVII.
POINTS OF VIEW.

“Well, Georgie?”

“Well, Dick?”

Georgia’s eyes danced with merriment, for Dick was lying in wait for her on the verandah, with a bunch of roses in his hand. Kubbet-ul-Haj roses are not roses of Damascus, or of Kashmir, or of any other locality famous for the culture of the plant; but poor as they were, they were flowers, and of flowers the prisoners at the Mission had seen but few of late. He held them out to her with quite unusual timidity.

“Will you have them?” he asked, somewhat shyly.

“Of course I will, Dick. Thank you so much.” She took them from his hand, kissed them, and fastened them in her dress. “Are you satisfied now?” she asked, smiling.

“Satisfied!” he said, looking at her admiringly. “I feel now that what happened last night was a reality.”

“Why, had you begun to hope it was a dream?”

“It might have been merely imagination—too good to be true. Stratford has just been declaring that I was mad last evening. He says that I wanted to sit up all night and talk, and that he had to turn me out of his room by main force.”

“Poor fellow! Were you trying to drown the remembrance of what had happened?”

“Drown it, indeed! burn it in, more likely. I can’t imagine how you ever came to—Georgie, there’s one thing that puzzles me still. Why were you so angry because Stratford went to the Palace instead of me? I did all I 256 could to go, of course, because I wanted to do something for you; but why did you mind so much?”

“Never mind,” said Georgia, growing rather red; “it was absurd and unreasonable of me. I know you must have thought that I wanted you to be killed.”

“But why was it?”

“I suppose you will give me no peace until I tell you. It was because I couldn’t bear to think you cared so little about me as to let him go instead.”

“I wish I had gone!” said Dick, enviously.

“Then you would probably have been killed, and the treaty would not have been signed, and we should never have known what we know now—about our caring for each other, I mean. I might have guessed the truth when I heard that you had gone, but I could never have been sure; it might only have been a way of taking a noble revenge on me, you know. And you would have sacrificed yourself and perhaps even died, believing all the time that I detested you. I know you deserved it, but still, I should have been sorry. No, things are much better as they are. It was very silly of me to think and say what I did.”

“I like you to be silly about me.”

“And you don’t like me under other circumstances? I hope I am not always silly.”

“I don’t care about circumstances, or wisdom, or foolishness, or anything. I love you because you are yourself.”

“Dick, you are incorrigible!” There was a slight soreness in Georgia’s tone. It was undeniable that Dick was lacking in tact.

“Now I have gone and hurt your feelings again! I wish I wasn’t such a blundering idiot.”

“Dick, listen to me. I want you to do me a favour.”

“If there is any single thing in the whole world I could do for you——”

257

“You would do it, I know, however great it was. But it is a number of little things, Dick. I know you don’t mean to hurt me, but you often do. Think a moment. I don’t love you any more because of your Victoria Cross, but it makes me glad and proud to think that you have it. I know I can’t expect you to be glad that I am a doctor, and proud of being one, because you dislike the very idea; but I want you to treat the subject tenderly, because it is connected with me. I daresay it seems very strange to you that I should be as sensitive about my profession as you are about yours, and I know you will never look at the two things in the same light, but I ask you to regard it as a concession to my weakness when you let an opportunity pass without a sneer. We must agree to differ on this question, I suppose, but I want you to do it gracefully, for my sake.” There were tears in her eyes as she looked at him, and Dick felt the enormity of his conduct more keenly than he had ever done in the days when he delighted to provoke her to arguments and the delivery of lectures.

“What a brute I must have been, that you should find it necessary to ask such a thing of me!” he burst out. “It makes me feel thoroughly ashamed to think what a cad I am. Do you think that it’s safe to have anything to do with me, Georgie?”

“I don’t know whether it’s safe or not, but I love you so much that I couldn’t do without you,” said Georgia, unsteadily.

“To hear you say that makes me feel that I could do anything you asked me. Help me to be more worthy of you, Georgie. If I hurt your feelings after this I deserve to be hung. Pull me up—simply slang me—if I say anything unkind. I never thought I was such a blackguard. No, only look at me, as you did just now, and if I don’t wilt, as Hicks puts it, that instant, then throw 258 me over, for I shan’t be worth troubling about. I will get over that habit of letting out at the things you care for. I feel as though I could go anywhere and do anything to-day.”

“And I feel so ridiculously safe,” said Georgia, smiling at him with an April face.

“And yet nothing is really different from what it was yesterday.”

“Oh, Dick! everything is different. There is hope to-day, and there was none then. Think how dreadful it would have been to be killed when everything was wrong between us.”

“What a remark!” said Dick, lazily—“it’s almost worthy of young Anstruther; and how parti­cularly cheerful the subjects of your thoughts are! Now that I am in a position to keep you from making rash expeditions to the Palace, I must say that I don’t see any present danger of your being killed.”

“The calmness with which you contemplate such a contingency does infinite credit to your strength of mind, sir. But it is rather strange that you should have mentioned the Palace, for I am going there this morning.”

“Not with my consent.”

“Then without it, I am afraid. Dick, you are not going to get up a quarrel over such a little thing, surely? You don’t imagine that I should think of going now without taking every possible precaution, and getting Mr Stratford’s leave?”

“What has Stratford got to do with it? It’s my affair.”

“Excuse me, I think it’s mine. Now, Dick, you don’t deserve to be reassured and made to feel comfortable about it, but I am going to be magnanimous. While you were out in the early morning there came a messenger from the King. He said that they had not yet taken the bandage from the Queen’s eyes, because they were afraid to touch 259 it if I was not there. He was so anxious that I should be present and direct operations that he offered of his own accord to send Antar Khan here as a hostage for the whole time I am gone. Now are you satisfied?”

“Not unless I go with you.”

“But that’s impossible. Rahah and I make the passage in the litter, and we couldn’t manage to smuggle you in. Besides, what should we do with you when we got to the Palace?”

“That wasn’t what I meant. I will take five or six of the servants and ride beside you. Then I shall wait in the men’s part of the Palace while you go to see the Queen, and bring you back again. You won’t find me leaving the place without you.”

“I’m afraid you’ll find it rather dull. We shan’t be able to talk, you know. But of course I should like it much better if you were there. You will come, then?”

“Rather. If you will run into danger, you shall not go alone—now.”

“Your permission is slightly grudging,” said Georgia, laughing, but she was heartily glad to have his escort. The unpleasant circumstances of her last visit to the Palace had made her shrink from going there again, although she had a particular reason for desiring to do so. The thought that Dick would not be far off was a reassuring one, even though there was no reason for anticipating any unfriendliness from the royal household. And in this way it came to pass that when the Palace litter, closely guarded by soldiers, conveyed Georgia and her handmaid to visit her patient, Dick rode behind it with six of the servants of the Mission, who were divided between delight at being outside the walls of the house once more, and a certain degree of terror at the prospect of finding themselves inside the Palace.

260

Reclining luxuriously on the cushions, with Rahah crouching opposite to her, Georgia spent the time occupied by the transit in recapitulating to herself the points of the inquiry which she was anxious to make, and which had as its primary object the re-establishment of Sir Dugald’s health. The disagreeable interruption of her interview with Nur Jahan’s mother, by the entrance of the King’s younger wife, had prevented her from putting to the women present the questions which had been suggested to her by their mention of the witch whose poisons Fath-ud-Din was wont to employ to rid him of his enemies. The name and dwelling-place of this old woman had become matters of the deepest interest to Georgia, and she was also eager for any information that it might be possible to obtain as to her methods and the poisons she used. On what she could discover this morning, Sir Dugald’s life, or at any rate, his restoration to health, might depend, and this in itself was enough to determine Georgia to leave no stone unturned in the effort to ensure success. But it must be confessed that she had an additional motive—a sufficiently weighty one, although completely secondary—and this was the subjugation, or conviction, or conversion, whichever it might be called, of Dick. She did not give the process any of these names in her own mind, but she recognised that in the present state of affairs between them the old difference of opinion was only lying dormant, and that sooner or later it must revive. Shrinking with all her heart from the idea of paining, or even opposing him, she was none the less aware that any surrender on her part would only bring her grief and remorse later, and she longed to be able to do something that might justify her in Dick’s eyes, might bring him to acquiesce of his own free will in her continuing the practice of her profession, and thus avert the crisis she foresaw and feared. 261 There was only one thing that could come between Dick and herself, and that was her work; but she knew that if she was true to her principles, she must uphold it against Dick. She had gained a temporary advantage that morning, but she was already ashamed of the weapons of which she had made use.

“Mine was a weak impulse,” she said to herself, “for it led me to appeal merely to Dick’s feelings, instead of to his reason and his sense of right. I made him ashamed of himself, but it was in an unfair way—almost as bad as it would have been if I had cried. I can’t think what led me to do it—I suppose it was simply a reversion to the tactics of the Old Woman. It was lowering myself, and it lowered Dick—he would never have stooped to try to coax me, but he yields when I coax him. Of course he liked it—he naturally would, but that doesn’t make it any better. I asked him to do as a favour to me what he ought, as a gentleman, to do as a mere matter of justice, and if he follows the thing out logically he will feel at liberty to sneer at any other medical woman he may meet, even though he makes an exception in my case. I have gone to work in the wrong way—no doubt it is the most comfortable, but that doesn’t signify if it isn’t right. It’s no use pretending that Dick is perfect—he isn’t, any more than I am; but I want to see him getting nearer to perfection the more I have to do with him, and it wouldn’t be the way to bring that about if I helped him to grow into a tyrant whose most unreasonable wish was law unless he could be wheedled out of it. No, I see that he has a great deal to learn yet: I am only afraid that I may not be the right person to teach it him. I am so much afraid of hurting his feelings—and I don’t know how I could ever do without him now.”

In short, Georgia was in a difficult position, between an exacting professional conscience and a sufficiently masterful 262 lover, but it is possible that her very tenderness for Dick’s feelings afforded her a better guarantee of success than if she had cared for him less. He, on his part, was quite content to enjoy to the full his unexpected happiness, without troubling himself about the future, and he knew nothing of the heavy sigh with which Georgia at last put her own affairs from her, and dismounted from the litter in the harem courtyard at the Palace, prepared to throw herself wholly into the joys and sorrows of its inmates.

“O doctor lady!” cried Nur Jahan, rushing to meet her with much clashing of bangles and rustling of stiff satin, “it rejoices my eyes to behold thee again. We feared that after the evil words of Antar Khan’s mother thou wouldst never return to us. Truly the world has changed for us all since thou wert here, and were it not for my lord’s absence with the army I should have nothing to wish for.”

She led Georgia into the Queen’s room, where the patient was waiting in pitiable anxiety. The long delay, which she had been too nervous to terminate at the proper time, had tasked the poor lady’s patience to the utmost, and she was feverishly eager that the result of the operation should be known, and the final verdict uttered. The room was carefully darkened, and Georgia unfastened the bandages. For a moment the Queen’s weakened eyes could see nothing, and a low despairing wail broke from her, but almost as Georgia laid her hand upon her shoulder and exhorted her to be calm, the moan changed to a cry of joy.

“I can see!” she cried. “God is great, and great is the power He has given to the English and to the doctor lady. With these eyes of mine I shall behold my son’s son before I die.”

“Here is the child, O my mother,” said Nur Jahan, laying her baby eagerly in the Queen’s arms. “Bless him 263 now, and bless also the doctor lady, through whose skill thou beholdest him.”

“Almost I might believe myself young again, with my son Rustam Khan in my arms,” said the grandmother, looking fondly at the baby, “and yet this is Rustam Khan’s son that I hold. O doctor lady, if the blessing of one who has suffered much, and whom thou hast by thine art brought back from the gates of despair, can benefit thee, thou hast it now, and may it follow thee and thy children and thy children’s children for ever!”

Georgia’s own eyes were dim with tears as she turned away to put together the things she had brought with her, and the slaves crowded round her in grateful reverence, kissing the hem of her dress and laying her hand on their heads, while Nur Jahan despatched a messenger to inform the King that the operation had been successful. The slave returned in a short time, accompanied by the chamberlain who presided over the treasury, bearing a mass of jewellery tied up in a thick silk handkerchief as a gift to the doctor lady, together with the King’s grateful thanks. Georgia knew her duty with respect to presents of this kind, and having raised the handkerchief to her forehead, she placed it again on the tray on which it had arrived, and choosing out of the heap a necklace of curious workmanship, but of comparatively small intrinsic value, she returned the remainder to the bearer, desiring him to convey her thanks to the King. Rahah was made happy by the gift of a massive pair of anklets, in which she clanked about as though in fetters; and the negro, as he withdrew, intimated that the King intended to mark the occasion by gifts of jewellery to his wife and daughter-in-law and their respective attendants. Hence it was a very merry party which partook presently of coffee and sweetmeats in the Queen’s room, and Georgia observed with some amusement that now it was the Queen’s 264 servants who shrieked shrill defiances across the courtyard at the attendants of Antar Khan’s mother, and that they were powerless to retaliate. They sat in a scowling and disconsolate row on the verandah, and, as Mr Hicks would have put it, “squirmed” under the infliction.

“Must thou leave us when thy friends depart, O doctor lady?” asked the Queen. “There are many women blind and sick and lame in Kubbet-ul-Haj, much more in all Ethiopia. Wilt thou not stay and cure them?”

“I am afraid I must go back when the Mission does,” said Georgia, “though I shall be very sorry to have to leave you all, and I wish I might hope to come back. But I shall not be my own mistress for very long now.”

“Has the wife of the Queen of England’s Envoy found a husband for thee, then, O doctor lady?” asked Nur Jahan with deep commiseration, forgetting the unfavourable impression of her own married life which the words would convey; “I thought thou wert free and happy.”

“Peace, Nur Jahan!” said the Queen, quickly. “Knowest thou not that the caged birds should entice the wild ones into the trap, and not warn them away? Hath the lot of all women overtaken thee at last, O doctor lady? I would have thee give God thanks that it comes so late.”

“O my ladies,” said Rahah, indignantly, “surely ye know not the ways of the English. The great lord that is to marry my lady is a mighty captain, and his name is known throughout all Khemistan. He is rich also, and his hand is bountiful,” and Rahah surveyed complacently a new bracelet she had made for herself that very morning by stringing together certain silver coins, “and to please my lady he would give all that he has. In his own eyes he is but the dust under her feet.”

“Art thou so young as to be thus deceived, girl?” asked the Queen, compas­sionately. “Surely it is ill with thy 265 mistress if thou art led away and withheld from warning her by a few pieces of silver. These that thou hast mentioned are the ways of all men at the first, but sooner or later the change comes. I warn thee, O doctor lady, when thy lord brings another wife into the house, however solemnly he may have assured thee that thou shalt always reign there alone, reproach him not, but be friendly with her, if she will have it so, for otherwise she will prevail upon him to cast thee out.”

To the astonishment of the whole circle, Georgia was laughing so heartily over the idea thus presented to her that she could scarcely speak, but Rahah explained with haughty superiority the difference between English and Ethiopian marriage customs, although her explanation was received with manifest incredulity. It was not until Georgia had declared solemnly that if her husband brought a second wife into the house she would instantly leave it, and that the law of England and public opinion would support her in doing so, that the ladies began to perceive that there might he advantages attaching to matrimony in Europe which were lacking to it in Kubbet-ul-Haj. Nur Jahan possessed the moral support of Rustam Khan’s promise to her father that he would not take a second wife; but it was evident that the Queen and her women regarded this as a temporary concession which might or might not continue to be observed, and that public opinion would think no worse of Rustam Khan if he withdrew it.

“It is right, O doctor lady,” said the Queen, “that thou shouldest have a prospect of happiness in marriage, for thou hast dealt well indeed with me and with my house.”

“Nay, O my mother,” said Nur Jahan, “is it not rather that the doctor lady has brought us good luck, from her first coming until now? Since she came, the wicked Fath-ud-Din has been cast down and punished, and my father is 266 put into his place. Thine adversary has been made to eat dirt, and the faces of all our enemies are humbled before us. My lord is restored to his honours and to his command, and my mother has returned to her house in peace with many gifts, sent her by our lord the King. And thine eyes are opened also. Is not the doctor lady truly a bringer of good luck?”

“And yet our coming to Kubbet-ul-Haj has not brought good fortune to ourselves,” said Georgia, sadly. “One of our party has been murdered, and the Envoy himself lies like one dead——”

“And a husband has been found for thee,” murmured the irrepressible Nur Jahan.

“I see you won’t believe me when I tell you that I don’t count that a misfortune,” said Georgia. “I am not joking, Nur Jahan. I need help very much, and I think that some of you can give it me, but it is in quite a different matter.”

“Speak, O doctor lady,” said the Queen, “and may the blindness thou hast taken from me rest on any that refuse to help thee.”

“You were speaking the other day,” said Georgia, “of some old woman who was supposed to help Fath-ud-Din by poisoning his enemies. Is this known to be true, or is it merely common talk?”

“It is quite true,” replied the Queen, “that several of Fath-ud-Din’s enemies have died in agonising torments which no physician could alleviate. One expired in torturing thirst, with such pains as those experience who have lost their way in the desert and can find no water.” Georgia nodded quickly. “Another died of hunger, which tormented him with its pangs, while he could swallow nothing to alleviate them. Yet another went mad, and rushing through the city, cast himself headlong from the 267 walls; and of one the wives and children died one after the other, until, broken down by misery, he died also.”

“Tell me,” said Georgia, eagerly, “has any one whom Fath-ud-Din hated ever fallen into a sleep so heavy that he could not be awakened, in which he remained for weeks and yet lived?”

The ladies turned and looked at one another. “It is the Father of sleep!” were the words that passed between them.

“You know something about it?” cried Georgia.

“We know nothing, O doctor lady,” said Nur Jahan; “but we have heard much concerning a certain drug of this wicked woman’s. Others of her poisons are drawn, men say, from strange plants of distant lands; but this is taken from a fish which is found upon a certain island of the southern seas, and whose scales and bones and flesh, so they say, have been all filled with poison by wicked enchantments, and they call it the Father of sleep.”

“Then have you ever known an instance when it was used?” asked Georgia, filled with eager anticipation.

“I have, O doctor lady,” said one of the Queen’s confidential slaves, “and I will tell thee of it if my mistress will suffer me to speak freely.”

“Speak,” said the Queen. “Have not I commanded all my household to assist the doctor lady in every way?”

“It was many years ago, when our lord the King married the Vizier’s sister, who is now the mother of Antar Khan,” said the slave, rather reluctantly, “and our lord the King’s sister, the Lady Fatma, in whose service I was at that time, was very angry about the match. It was even said that she had almost succeeded in breaking it off. That wicked woman, the sorceress, the accursed Khadija, was sent by Fath-ud-Din to warn the Lady Fatma to withdraw her opposition, if her life was dear to her; but the Princess mocked at Khadija, and derided her powers. Then Khadija 268 made an evil sign, and foretold that before the next morning light the Lady Fatma should know her power; and surely enough, when her slaves sought to awaken her at dawn, she did not hear them, but lay as one still asleep. Then, when they had failed again and again to arouse her, they ran to tell the King of the matter, and of the words of Khadija. He sent for the woman, and threatened her with death, but he could in no way wring from her a promise to remove the spell, except on condition that no punishment whatever should be inflicted on her. Now the King had an enemy, a rebel chief, and it seemed to him that he might well be rid of him by this woman’s means, and he covenanted with her that, as the price of her life, she should not only remove the spell from the Lady Fatma, but also bring about the death of Zohrab Khan. And this was done.”

“And it was well done,” said the Queen, decisively, as the slave looked towards her with some anxiety. “The man was a traitor, and false to his salt.”

“But was it poison that Khadija had administered to the Lady Fatma?” asked Georgia, too eager for information to turn aside to the moral question involved in the death of Zohrab Khan. “And how did she counteract it?”

“She had put the poison (very little is needed) into the Lady Fatma’s coffee, and in order to awaken her from the magic sleep she gave her a potion that she mixed. It was whispered among the slaves that it was made of the shavings of a porcupine’s teeth, mixed with the juice of a plant that is brought from the land of the poison-fish; but the secret of it is known only to Khadija herself, and the antidote is useless unless it is administered in one particular way, but none of us who belonged to the Princess’s household were allowed to see what was done.”

“This must be the very thing I want to know!” said Georgia. “And now, where is Khadija to be found?”

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“In Fath-ud-Din’s fortress of Bir-ul-Malikat, where she watches over his daughter Zeynab,” said Nur Jahan, with lively contempt. “The Rose of the World, they call the girl, and she is to marry Antar Khan, if Fath-ud-Din and the witch together can bring it about.”

“But where is this fortress?” asked Georgia.

“In the desert, on the way to Khemistan. There are two forts on two hills, Bir-ul-Malik and Bir-ul-Malikat. Bir-ul-Malik used to belong to my father, but Khadija dried up the water in the well by her arts, and the garrison almost died of thirst. My father complained to our lord the King, and he, thinking that the place was now useless, commanded Fath-ud-Din to give my father another town in exchange, and this he did, in another part of the kingdom. But as soon as my father’s men were gone from Bir-ul-Malik, Fath-ud-Din took possession of the place, and Khadija brought back the water into the well, and now he holds the only two forts and wells in all that region.”

This was all the information that could be gained from the household at the Palace, and Georgia’s desire not to alarm her friends kept her from uttering aloud the thought that was in her mind, so that she allowed the subject to drop. During the remainder of the visit, however, and while she was being carried home in the litter, the determination rose strong within her to find Khadija and get hold of the secret of that antidote, if she had to make an expedition into Ethiopia all by herself, after the Mission had returned to Khemistan, for the sake of doing so.

After the farewell visit to the Palace, there was still another visit to be paid, and this was to Nur Jahan’s mother, who had returned with her husband to her own house, which might now be considered a place of comparative safety. The Princess sent her litter to the Mission, and Georgia made the transit in the usual seclusion, escorted 270 by Dick and a number of armed servants. Arrived at the Grand Vizier’s house, Dick whiled away the time by a chat with Jahan Beg, and Georgia and Rahah were conducted to the harem, where the Princess received them with great kindness. There was even a touch of compassion in her manner, for which Georgia was at a loss to account until she learnt that Nur Jahan had told her mother of the doctor lady’s intended marriage.

“Art thou well advised in this that thou art intending, O doctor lady?” asked the Princess. “If it is true that thou art free to act in the matter according to thine own will, consider what thou doest before it is too late. My daughter tells me that thou hast no fear, since thy betrothed husband is an Englishman; but I know too well that all husbands are alike, for I also am married to an Englishman, although I was not aware of the truth until Fath-ud-Din’s servants shouted it at me as they drove me from my own house a month ago.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Georgia, diffidently, “the Amir Jahan Beg was not then acquainted with the customs of Ethiopia, which differ from ours, and he may have appeared unkind through ignorance.”

“Not so,” said the Princess, decisively, “for had that been all, my love would have won him to honour our customs for my sake,” and her hard eyes softened at the touch of some early memory. “Listen to me, O doctor lady, and judge between my lord and me. My first husband was very old, and when he died I mourned for him almost as for a father. To him I was a child and a plaything—he was not unkind, but I was nothing to him, and I knew it. Then for some time I dwelt at the Palace, under the protection of my cousin the Queen. In those days every one was talking of the valour and wisdom of a new favourite of our lord the King, a captive from among 271 the hillmen of the south, but a convert to the faith of Islam. He had repelled the hostile tribes on our northern border, and extended the kingdom beyond the utmost limits it had hitherto attained, and he was coming in triumph to Kubbet-ul-Haj to lay his spoils at the King’s feet. When that day came, the Queen and I, with our women, were watching the ceremony from our balcony above the throne. The slave-girls exclaimed at the vastness of the spoil, but I saw only the victor. Surely, I thought, he is as an angel of God! While I watched him, the Queen came close to me and whispered in my ear, ‘That is the bridegroom our lord intends for thee, my Nafiza. Doth he please thee?’ O doctor lady, I thought that I should die of joy! On all sides I heard congratu­lations, but I congratulated myself most of all. Surely never did woman gain her heart’s desire more speedily, nor more speedily see it turn to dust and ashes when gained! My nurse told me afterwards that on our wedding-night she had seen how things would fall out. I was waiting for my bridegroom, she with me, that she might remove my veil and leave him to behold my face. He came in without a salutation to either of us, and sat down beside me upon the divan. My nurse was angry, and said sharply, ‘It is not the custom in Ethiopia to sit uninvited in the presence of the daughter of the King’s uncle.’ ‘O mother,’ he replied, ‘I stand before no woman in Ethiopia, least of all my own wife.’ My nurse was much disturbed. ‘Wilt thou still marry him, Nafiza, my dove?’ she whispered, so that only I could hear; ‘the King will not suffer thee to be insulted.’ But I, thinking, ‘He must surely be a great prince in his own country, to speak thus to a king’s granddaughter!’ motioned to her to lift my veil, saying, ‘It is well, O my nurse; go on.’ And thus was I married, and evil was my marriage. For in the night I would hear 272 my lord speaking in his own tongue in his sleep, and I knew that he spoke of his own land. But more; I learnt why nothing that I could do could please him, or bring his eyes to look upon me with favour. He had no love for me, he had married me at the King’s command, and I could not even hope that in time I might be able to win his affection, for always in the night he called upon the name of another woman.”

“Oh, but how could you tell?” cried Georgia, quickly, appalled by this revelation of the tragedy which Jahan Beg had brought into the life of his slighted wife. “You don’t understand English. You may have mistaken what he said.” The Lady Nafiza smiled.

“How could I tell, O doctor lady? My heart told me. Though I might not understand the words, yet I could not mistake the tone. And thus my dream faded. But when my daughter Nur Jahan was born, my lord left off crying out to the other woman, but he spoke more and more in his sleep of his own land. I knew it, O doctor lady, though I could not understand. And one day, sitting at his feet, with my baby in my arms, while he held up the hilt of his sword so that the light might flash upon the jewels and make the child laugh, I plucked up my courage and said, ‘Does my lord long very sorely for his own land that he cries out for it every night?’ I would have gone on to tell him that for his sake I was ready to leave my people and flee with him to his land, but his brow darkened, and he sprang up and seized me by the shoulder. ‘Am I not safe in my own house?’ he cried in a dreadful voice. ‘Do they set my wife to spy upon me? Woman, no one that has betrayed Jahan Beg lives another hour!’ What could I do but embrace his knees and kiss his feet, and entreat his mercy for my child’s sake, since he had no pity for me? And he thrust me from him and went out. Never again 273 did I speak to him of the words he uttered in sleep. But I loved him still, and cast about how I might win him to me. At last it seemed to me that there was indeed a reason for my ill-success, for I had given my lord no son. Then, after many tears shed in secret, and many struggles with myself, I said to him, ‘Let my lord choose another wife, who may bear him sons, and I will welcome her into my house, and she shall be to me as a sister, for my lord’s sake, and her children as my own.’ This I did, thinking that he feared to supplant me because I was the King’s cousin—and indeed, all this house and the slaves were part of my dowry, and belong to me—but he laughed, O doctor lady, he laughed at me, though I was giving him that which it broke my heart to offer, and he said, ‘If I desired other wives, I would take them, but one is enough for me.’ Why should my lord visit upon me the evil deeds of that other woman, O doctor lady? for I know that she must have deceived him. But from that day I sought no more to speak to my husband’s heart. And my daughter grew up; but she was like him and his people, and not like me, and he loved her for that reason, so that sometimes I almost hated my own child. But that is long ago, and I remember it to-day only as a warning to thee.”

Georgia’s eyes were full of tears as she took her leave. She had bestowed all her pity hitherto on Nur Jahan, but now she felt more deeply for her mother, whose love, passionate and unrequited, had been to her only a source of pain. The wrong which Jahan Beg had done had been visited not only upon himself, but upon his innocent wife and daughter, and it could not be redressed.

“Sweetheart,” said Dick, anxiously, as he helped Georgia out of the litter on their return, and assisted her to remove the enshrouding burka, “you look awfully fagged. Come and have a turn round the courtyard with me.”

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“Do you know, Dick,” she said, looking round at him, “that I am being advised continually not to marry you?”

“No?” said Dick, highly diverted. “What a joke: Who is the faithful warner—young Anstruther?”

“Dick! As if I would ever let him say a word against you to me! No, it is all my Ethiopian ladies. They are firmly of opinion that marriage is a failure.”

“I hope you oppose them with all the ardour of a new convert, then?”

“I can’t convince them, unfortunately. Their arguments are unanswerable, they are their own husbands.”

“And you have no favourable counter-experience to draw upon?”

“No. I have to defend you on trust, Dick.”

“Poor little girl! and that’s very hard upon you, isn’t it, when you know so little of me, and what you do know is so bad?”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XVII

skip to next chapter

If I hurt your feelings after this I deserve to be hung.
[Is this some arcane Generic Oriental torture? No, I suppose he means hanged.]

He, on his part, was quite content to enjoy to the full
line-break hyphen in “con-/tent” invisible

The slave returned in a short time, accompanied by the chamberlain who presided over the treasury
[Both eunuchs? If not, what are they doing in the women’s quarters?]

partook presently of coffee and sweetmeats in the Queen’s room
text has sweatmeats

thou shouldest have a prospect of happiness in marriage
spelling “shouldest” unchanged
[The mistake is carried over from Argosy—which, incidentally, has “It is well” where the book has “It is right”.]

CHAPTER XVIII.
RETREAT CUT OFF.

Two or three days after Georgia’s visit to the Lady Nafiza, messengers from Rustam Khan reached the city, announcing that his expedition had been entirely successful, and that he was bringing back with him the servants and baggage-animals of which the travellers had been deprived. This was good news, and once more preparations for departure occupied all those in the Mission. But before the triumphant general had returned to the capital, and while Stratford and Dick were still superintending the packing of 275 cases which it was necessary to pile up in the front courtyard until the means of transport arrived, Mr Hicks looked in to bid farewell to his English friends. His mules and camels had not been impounded, and he was therefore able to start on the morrow. Stratford was somewhat surprised that he did not defer his journey for a few days, and ask permission to attach himself to the Mission caravan; but Mr Hicks explained that he preferred to travel in comfort, and not to find all the inns occupied, and the markets cleared at every stopping-place along the route, by the train of the British Envoy. He did not add that he was calculating on bringing to Khemistan the first news respecting the Mission that had arrived since the interruption of communications, or that he anticipated driving an excellent bargain for himself and the paper he represented by the sale of the unique information he possessed; but he had a proposal to make to Stratford which rather surprised him.

“I guess you calculate on being able to make tracks in safety now, Mr Stratford, but I don’t know that I am quite with you there. I allow that you have had almighty luck, and that you have plucked the flower success from the nettle danger in a style I admire. A month ago I would have bet my bottom dollar that you would never leave Kubbet-ul-Haj without conducting another high-class funeral in that burial-lot of yours, and reading the Episcopal service over the old man, any way. But there’s real grit in you, sir, and I don’t mind making you a present of that acknowledgment before the general public throughout the universe gets hold of it in the columns of the ‘Crier.’ Still, I don’t consider that the prospect before you is exactly a shining one. It would have taxed Moses himself to fix your return trip satisfactorily. Once you get outside these walls, you will have to defend the whole outfit by the light of nature, for you have never been on the Plains, any of you.”

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“Still,” said Stratford, with some coldness, “Major North is an experienced soldier, and Mr Anstruther——”

“Is an amusing young cuss. I beg your pardon for taking the words out of your mouth, Mr Stratford, but I can reckon up those two boys as well as you can. Major North is a pragmatic piece of wood, that would stand to be cut to pieces rather than budge an inch——”

“Excuse me if I interrupt you in my turn, Mr Hicks. Major North is my friend, and if I hear any more disparaging remarks about him I shall feel bound to turn you over to Miss Keeling. She would know how to resent them properly.”

“You are right, sir, she would. And that brings me to my point. Thinking over your position here, and the probability of the King’s turning nasty (for I guess there are few crowned heads that would care to send away in peace a man that had driven them to change their minds by the gentle compulsion of a cocked six-shooter), I concluded this morning to offer to escort the ladies to the frontier. I travel lightly, and stand to cover the ground much faster than your big camel-train, and there is no animosity against me. If they are once safe in Khemistan you can come on behind with the old man and the baggage, and feel easy in your minds. Now don’t get riled and say things you’ll be sorry for afterwards, Mr Stratford. I am not impugning your prudence, nor yet your powers of fighting. We have to face facts. It gives any one who is inclined to be troublesome a colossal pull over you that you have the ladies to look after, and if they were put in safety it would diminish at once your anxiety and your liability to attack.”

“What do you think North will say to this?”

“Who bosses this show, Mr Stratford? If Major North displays an unbecoming spirit, put him under arrest. You are too sweetly reasonable with the boys ever to do much good with ’em.”

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“But you don’t imagine that the ladies would go?”

“That is for them to decide. Give them their choice, any way. I guess if they won’t go, they won’t; but let ’em have the chance.”

Stimulated by the equitable spirit displayed by Mr Hicks, Stratford broached the subject to the ladies during tiffin, and was not surprised to find that they received it with most ungrateful scorn. Lady Haigh simply expressed her determination to remain with Sir Dugald at all hazards (a resolution which Mr Hicks, in a talk with Stratford afterwards, unfeelingly likened to that of Mrs Micawber), and Georgia refused with much emphasis to desert her patient. To the no small amusement of Mr Hicks, he discovered, from a piece of by-play which attracted his notice, that Dick, once fully assured that she would not go, was disposed to suggest, with an air of superior wisdom, that it might be wiser if she did.

“You know, Georgie,” pathetically, “that I should feel ever so much happier if I knew you were in safety.”

“My dear Dick,” solemnly, “nothing would induce me to go, under any circumstances.”

“Not if I told you that it was my wish?” tenderly.

“If you are wise, Dick, you won’t attempt to bring into play in this case any authority you may imagine that you possess,” warningly; “nor in any other case in creation, either,” interjected Mr Hicks, sotto voce.

Thus it happened that Mr Hicks started on his journey alone, and that the ladies formed part of the procession which filed out of the Khemistan gate of Kubbet-ul-Haj about a week later. A comfortable litter, carried by two mules, had been procured for Sir Dugald, but only the household servants were aware of the nature of his illness, or knew how completely it incapacitated him for ordinary life, and Ismail Bakhsh and his subordinates formed a bodyguard 278 round the litter. It was their business to keep any idea of the truth from reaching the camel-men and mule-drivers, who were regarded with a certain amount of suspicion on account of their long separation from the rest of the party. One or two of the servants who had originally accompanied the Mission from Khemistan had died during the interval; several, according to the testimony of their jailers, had succeeded in making their escape, and the places of these had been filled up by Ethiopians, so that it was just as well to allow them to imagine that although the terrible Envoy was so ill as to be unable to mount his horse, and must be carried in a litter like a woman, yet he still directed the course of affairs, and gave orders which Stratford merely carried into effect. Jahan Beg accompanied the travellers for the first few miles of their journey, and parted from them on the crest of a rise from which the first view of Kubbet-ul-Haj could be obtained by those approaching the city.

“I wish I could have gone with you as far as the frontier,” he had said to Stratford, “but I daren’t leave the city just now. I believe I am on the brink of discovering a very neat plot between the Scythian agent, who ought to be across the border by this time, but is supposed to be detained by illness at a village only a day’s journey off, and Fath-ud-Din’s adherents. I think I have tracked nearly all the participators, and when I am ready I shall give them a surprise. The plan is, of course, to get rid of me and destroy the English treaty. By the way, I hope you are careful of your copy. Accidents will happen, and if that should be stolen or destroyed, it would be a big score for them. If you should chance to be detained anywhere by sickness or a difficulty in obtaining provisions, you will do well to send on some one you can trust, with ten or twelve well-armed men, to make a dash for Rahmat-Ullah, 279 and put the treaty in safety. Our copy, of course, is safe as long as I am, but no one can tell how long that will be. All Fath-ud-Din’s fortresses are refusing to yield except to force, which is another thing that makes me think they anticipate a speedy return to the old state of affairs, and I shall be obliged to send Rustam Khan with the army to reduce each one in turn. You will have to pass not far from two of them; but if your guides are trustworthy and know their business, they ought to take you by without even coming in sight of them. One of the forts ought to be mine, which makes its resistance all the more irritating. Fath-ud-Din did me out of it with the help of some devilry practised by the old witch whom he keeps to get rid of his friends for him. Perhaps I shall get it back now. Well, good-bye; keep an eye on your guides and a tight hand over your men and the escort, and when you get the welcome you deserve at home, don’t quite forget the man who disappeared.”

He shook hands with the rest of the party, and turned away abruptly to begin his ride back to the city. As Georgia looked after him, something of pity rose in her heart. After all, the only tragedies in Kubbet-ul-Haj were not those of the older women with their woful past, and Nur Jahan with her comfortless future. There was tragedy also in the story of the man who for life’s sake had given up all that ennobled life, and who had gained so much that he found was valueless, and lost so much that he now knew was invaluable. Alone in the great cruel faithless city, his only memorial of the visit of his friends the rough tablet which marked Dr Headlam’s grave, his only trustworthy companion the wife whose love he had slighted, his daily occupation the search after any means by which he might succeed in maintaining his position on the slippery height he had reached—there was little reason to envy Jahan Beg.

The march which now began was by no means devoid of 280 incident, but during the first few days, while the caravan was still in touch with the city, everything went well. It was when the dried-up pasture-lands and the scattered villages had all been left behind, and only the sands of the desert were to be seen on every side, that the troubles of the Mission began again. Their commencement was marked by a small but alarming mutiny among the escort of irregular cavalry, who accused their captain of appropriating to his own use half of the bakhshish promised them as a reward for their services, which had been handed over to him at the beginning of the journey for distribution among his troopers. It had been arranged that each man should receive the remainder of his share when Fort Rahmat-Ullah was reached, but they demanded that it should be paid down immediately, if they were to escort the Mission any further. To yield to this attempt at extortion was manifestly impossible, since there was nothing to prevent the men’s demanding extra gifts until the travellers were bereft even of the necessaries of life; but nothing less than a complete surrender to their wishes would satisfy the mutineers. The English met informally in Stratford’s tent to consider the situation (it was early in the morning, and the preparations for the day’s march were interrupted by this untoward event), and admitted to their councils the Ethiopian captain, who had brought the news that the men refused to move until their demands were conceded.

“If we don’t stop this at once,” said Dick, “things will get serious. Stratford, I should be glad if you would leave the matter to me to deal with.”

“By all means,” said Stratford; “but what do you intend to do?”

“Make an example of the chaps that are stirring them up,” said Dick, grimly, taking out his revolver and making sure that all the chambers were loaded.

281

“But we shall have to get hold of them first,” objected Stratford.

“Exactly. That’s what I’m going to do.”

“Stuff! You are not going down among them alone, I can tell you.”

“We can’t waste more than one man over this business. Look there,” and he threw a significant glance at the trembling Ethiopian captain, “you can see what he thinks of it. I’ll take Ismail Bakhsh with me. Lend him your revolver.”

“Oh, Dick, what are you going to do?” asked Georgia in astonishment, as she met Dick outside the tent, revolver in hand, with Ismail Bakhsh stalking after him with inimitable dignity and determination, his right hand thrust into his girdle.

“Never mind. Go back into your tent, and don’t show yourselves, any of you,” returned Dick, sharply. She obeyed without hesitation; but since he had not forbidden her to watch him, she took advantage of a hole in the canvas to gain a view of all that passed. From the sandhill on which the tents were pitched she could see the soldiers in their camp below, gathered round an orator who was haranguing them, while no preparations for starting were visible. She saw Dick march calmly into the throng, elbowing his way through the men with little ceremony, and dislodge the orator forcibly from the unsteady rostrum of biscuit-boxes which he occupied. When she next caught a glimpse of him he was on the outskirts of the crowd again, holding his prisoner by the rags which represented his collar, and propelling him vigorously in the direction of the tents, assisting his progress now and again by a hearty kick. The rest of the troop appeared to have been stupefied by the suddenness of the onslaught, but just as Dick was free of the throng, Georgia saw another man leap up upon a box and call out to his fellows to rescue their leader. The spell was 282 broken, and there was an ugly rush, while weapons were hastily caught up.

“Arrest that man, Ismail Bakhsh,” said Dick, without looking round; “and if he won’t come quietly, shoot him.”

Ismail Bakhsh obeyed in perfect silence, and led his captive up the hill after Dick, the troopers once more making way for him without attempting to use their weapons. Arrived at the summit, Dick paused and looked back.

“Dismiss!” he said, in a sharp, harsh voice such as Georgia had never heard from him before, and the mutineers, understanding the order by a species of intuition, dispersed quietly, while Dick and Ismail Bakhsh passed on to the tent with their prisoners.

“Georgie, what is the matter?” cried Lady Haigh, as Georgia dropped the canvas flap with a gasping cry, and staggered back against the tent pole.

“Only that I have just watched Dick take his life in his hand,” she explained, breathlessly. “For the last ten minutes I have been thinking that I should never see him alive again.”

In Stratford’s tent a hasty and extremely informal court-martial was held immediately for the purpose of trying the two prisoners, and here the management of affairs passed out of Dick’s hands. He was in favour of shooting both men on the spot, as an encouragement to the rest, but Stratford shrank from the idea; and the piteous entreaties of the Ethiopian captain, who pointed out that if such a sentence were carried into execution his life would not be worth a moment’s purchase when he started to return home alone with his troops, were allowed to prevail upon the side of mercy. It was difficult to devise a suitable punishment under the circumstances; but finally the two men were deprived of the semblance of uniform they possessed, and driven out into the desert on foot by the servants, provided 283 with a meagre allowance of bread and water. They would not starve, unless they wilfully remained where they were instead of retracing their steps along the road they had come, but it was probable that they would have an extremely unpleasant experience before they found their way back to the habitations of men.

The lesson proved to be a sufficient one, and the troopers, with sullen faces, returned to their duty, imbued with an added respect for Dick and an increased hatred and contempt for their own commander. They made no parade of either of these sentiments during the day’s march, but the net result of them was visible the next morning, when no soldiers could be found. They had ridden away during the night from their bivouac on the outskirts of the camp, leaving their watch-fires alight to deceive any observers, and in his tent the body of their captain, pierced with many wounds.

“A wound for each man,” said Ismail Bakhsh, contemplating the dead man with mingled curiosity and disgust; “and see here, the rebels have left a gift for my lord.”

two men standing over dead man with no visible wounds

“See here, the rebels have left a gift for my lord.”

He lifted from the spot where it had been laid at the side of the corpse a long curved dagger, the handle and sheath of which were of silver, curiously chased and encrusted with turquoises. A scrap of paper partially burnt, which had apparently been picked up after being used as a pipe-light and thrown aside, was wrapped round the lower part of the blade, and a few words in Arabic characters were traced upon it.

“‘To the General Dīk,’” read Ismail Bakhsh with interest. “It is the dagger which my lord admired when he saw it worn the other day by one of those forsworn ones. At least they know a man when they see one, evil though they are.”

“You can bring the thing to my tent,” said Dick. “I 284 will keep it as a curiosity. And now, Ismail Bakhsh, we must see this poor wretch decently buried before we go on. You and your men had better perform the proper ceremonies, and we will fire a volley over his grave by way of giving him a military funeral.”

Leaving the scene of the tragedy, he communicated to Stratford his impressions of the state of affairs, and they agreed to minimise as far as possible the importance of what had occurred when in the presence of the ladies. Accordingly, they talked cheerfully of the advantage of being rid of the escort of a mutinous and discontented body of troops, and said nothing of the unwelcome thought which had suggested itself to Dick, that the mutineers might have taken it into their heads to ride on in advance, so as to lie in wait for the caravan at some awkward corner. The body of the unfortunate Ethiopian captain was buried with military honours, and the cavalcade, now much diminished in numbers, took the road again.

The next difficulty that confronted the leaders of the party was caused by the action of the guides, who came to Stratford that evening and begged that he would allow the usual order of the march to be changed for the next few days, so that the journey should be carried on at night, and the necessary halt take place during the hours of daylight. The Mission, they said, was now approaching the region dominated by Fath-ud-Din’s two fortresses, Bir-ul-Malik and Bir-ul-Malikat, and it was all-important that its passage should not be perceived by the watchmen upon the walls. This appeared at first sight very reasonable, and Stratford and Dick, having heard what the men had to say, and dismissed them, found themselves somewhat at a loss as to their answer.

“If we were sure that we can trust these fellows,” said Stratford, “it would be all right, but Jahan Beg warned 285 us against them parti­cularly. Then, again, why didn’t they state when we engaged them that it might be advisable to make night marches for part of the way, at any rate while we are in the sphere of influence of the garrisons of these forts?”

“Oh, as to that,” said Dick, “no doubt they would say that they didn’t bargain for the soldiers mutinying and deserting us, and thought that under their escort we should be safe enough, even in the daytime. But I don’t like this nocturnal idea for two reasons. We should be quite unable to identify the features of the country at night, and they might lead us astray without our discovering it; and moreover, if the mutineers or Fath-ud-Din’s friends should happen to mean mischief, a night-attack on the column as it marched would simply smash us up. We should have more chance in daylight, or even in case of a night-attack on the camp, for the baggage gives us a certain amount of cover when it is properly piled and the beasts picketed.”

“But on the other hand, if the guides are trustworthy, we are doing a very mad thing in rejecting their advice.”

“Quite so; we have a choice of evils. But if you remember, Jahan Beg was of opinion that the fellows ought to be able to take us past the forts without our even coming in sight of them, so that this exaggerated carefulness seems unnecessary.”

“Then you are for going on as we are? It’s an awful risk, North, if things should go wrong.”

“I have more at stake than you have, old man, and you may depend upon it that nothing but the firmest conviction that this course is the safest would make me advocate it. Of course, you boss this outfit, as Hicks would say——”

“Oh, nonsense!” said Stratford. “I am not going to back half an opinion of my own against all your experience. 286 We will stick to our morning and afternoon marches, North.”

The decision thus reached was duly communicated to the guides, and received by them with sulky acquiescence. The next day’s march was uneventful; but the aspect of the country was gradually changing, and becoming more rocky, although it remained as barren and parched-looking as before. The halt that night was made at the foot of a steep cliff, which afforded protection in the rear, while a breastwork of baggage and saddles, arranged in the form of a semicircle, gave some guarantee against a successful attack in front. Again the hours of darkness passed without alarm, but the equanimity of the party was disturbed at breakfast by a domestic misfortune. Rahah, in floods of tears, came to inform her mistress that the white cat was lost. On the journey Colleen Bawn was always Rahah’s special care, travelling on the same mule, and occupying the pannier which contained Miss Keeling’s toilet requisites, and which was balanced by the maid in the opposite one. On this particular morning Rahah had sought her charge in vain. She knew that the kitten was generally to be found by Georgia’s side at breakfast-time, laying a white paw on its mistress’s wrist with dignified insistence when it had reason to imagine itself forgotten; but this morning the tit-bits remained unclaimed on Georgia’s plate. Rahah had searched the whole camp, she said, and Ismail Bakhsh’s son Ibrahim had helped her, but they could not find the white cat; and would the doctor lady request the gentlemen to stop the loading, and set all the men free to look for it? They had sworn to find the doctor lady’s pet if it took them all day to do it, and they knew that the little gentleman (this was the undignified name by which Fitz was invariably known among the servants) would help them.

“I am afraid we can hardly sacrifice a day for such a 287 purpose,” said Stratford, wavering between politeness and a sense of his responsibility as leader, as Georgia looked across at him; but Dick showed no such hesitation.

“Miss Keeling would never think of your doing such a thing, Stratford. To hang about here, of all places, while Anstruther and the servants looked for a lost cat, would be a piece of criminal folly—one might almost say wickedness. We can’t risk the lives of the whole party for the sake of a cat. Here, ayah—take another good look about while we finish breakfast, and if you haven’t found the beast when we’re ready to start, we must leave it behind.”

Georgia’s face flushed as she stirred her coffee deliberately. She had no wish to risk the lives of the whole party by insisting on delay, but it was not Dick’s place to say so for her. It looked as though he had no confidence in her, that he should not allow her even the semblance of a choice, and confidence was what she demanded above all things. It flashed upon him presently, noticing her silence, that he had hurt her, and he bent towards her to say in a low voice—

“I say, Georgie, you don’t mind much, do you? Are you awfully keen on the little beast? I’ll buy you dozens when we get to Khemistan. But you wouldn’t have us waste time now?”

“You have quite put it out of my power even if I wished it,” returned Georgia, coldly; and Fitz, at the other side of the makeshift table, was filled with a sudden and violent hatred against Dick. It was not the first time that this feeling had entered his mind—in fact, it merely slumbered intermittently, and awoke whenever Dick and Georgia had a difference of opinion, no matter which side was in the right. Fitz had no desire to quarrel with Georgia’s choice, for his loyalty was too unquestioning to admit a doubt of her wisdom in the matter; but that the highly-favoured man who was honoured by the love of this peerless lady should 288 be so blind to the grace bestowed upon him as actually to contradict and even to bully her (this was Fitz’s rendering of what he saw) was only an awful illustration of the depths to which human depravity could descend. At such times as this all the boy’s faculties were on the alert to render some service, however great or small, to his lady, which might assure her that even though Major North possessed no due sense of the overwhelming privileges she had granted to him, there were others who still counted it an honour to be able to anticipate her least wish. It is slightly pathetic to be obliged to record that Georgia accepted his good offices without at all appreciating the sentiment from which they sprang—indeed, so ungrateful is human nature that, had she discovered it, she would probably have rejected them with contumely, and poured out the vials of her wrath on the head of the luckless youth who dared to criticise Dick—and that she valued the slightest attention from her lover far above all that Fitz could offer, in spite of the much greater disinter­estedness of the latter’s endeavours. But this only proved to Fitz more clearly still her excellence, as exemplified by her absolute loyalty to the man of her choice, and stimulated him to continue to render his unselfish services.

The efforts of Rahah and her fellow-servants to find Colleen Bawn proving ineffectual, the march began at the usual time, although not until after Dick had personally conducted Georgia to the top of the cliff, that she might see whether the kitten had found its way thither; but the rough scramble to the summit and the difficult descent were alike undertaken in vain. Doubtless, said Rahah, with an indignant glance at Dick, the white cat had curled itself up in some cleft of the rocks and gone to sleep, and it would be easy for the men to discover it if they searched systematically, although a cursory look round was useless. But 289 no delay was allowed, and Rahah settled herself mournfully in her pannier, and snubbed Ibrahim whenever he came near her—a course of treatment which, while it failed to irritate him, proved most serviceable in working off her own bad temper.

Important though this storm in a tea-cup was to the two or three persons immediately interested, the leaders of the party had far weightier matters to consider. The march had lasted some two hours and a half when Stratford, who had been riding at the head of the caravan with one of the guides, turned back and joined Dick, whose post, when he was not on duty, was naturally at Georgia’s side.

“What do you think of the look of the weather, North?”

“I don’t like it. See what a dirty sort of colour the sky has turned. I should say we were in for a storm.”

“That’s just what these fellows say. A sand-storm is what they prophesy; but that’s all rot, I suppose.”

“Oh no. We can get up very tolerable imitations of the real thing in these desert tracts, but they are not parti­cularly frequent. However, the guides ought to know; and if they say there’s one coming, we had better look out for some sort of shelter.”

“The guides make out that there’s a ridge of rocks somewhere about which would protect us to a certain extent, but they don’t seem very sure of their ground. The ridge might be any distance between ten minutes’ walk and half a day’s journey ahead of us, from all I can discover.”

“We’ll send young Anstruther and two men on in front to reconnoitre a little, while you and I and Kustendjian see what we can get out of these fellows. Why, where is the child gone? Hi, Ismail Bakhsh, where is the chota sahib?

With a face as ingenuous as that of the youthful Washington 290 when he resisted the historic temptation to mendacity, Ismail Bakhsh replied that he had last seen the little gentleman at the rear of the column, not thinking it necessary to add that it was at a considerable distance to the rear, and that Fitz was riding in the opposite direction to that in which the column was proceeding.

“Well, we can’t wait to fetch him up from the rear,” said Dick, looking back over the long caravan. “I will ride on and do the scouting, Stratford, while you and Kustendjian cross-examine the guides. It would be just as well to pass the word along for the men to step out a little faster, don’t you think?”

Stratford agreed, and the pace of the caravan was a good deal accelerated in a spasmodic kind of way. Dick and his followers returned from their reconnaissance in a little over half an hour, by which time the gloomy hue of the sky was much intensified, and the air had become quite hazy. Stinging particles of grit were driven against the face as the riders moved along, and sudden gusts of wind, coming short and sharp, now from one point of the compass and now from another, were chasing the sand hither and thither in little eddying whirls.

“We have found the place!” cried Dick, as he rode up. “Pass the word to hurry, Ismail Bakhsh; it’s not much further on. And bring up one of the camels with the tents. We must get up some sort of shelter for the ladies.”

The ordinary dignified pace of the caravan was now exchanged for a helter-skelter mode of progression, which was extremely trying to the mind of Dick, when he saw the confusion which was engendered in the ranks by the haste he had recommended. It was more like a disorderly race than peaceful travelling, and the different bodies of servants were inextricably mixed up.

“What a gorgeous chance for the enemy if they saw us 291 now!” he said to himself. “The only thing is that they are probably just as much taken up with the storm as we are.”

No long time elapsed before the friendly ridge of rocks was reached, and the tent erected under its shelter. Sir Dugald was carried inside, Lady Haigh and Georgia and their maids followed, and the canvas was fastened down tightly. Stratford and Dick, remaining outside, did their best to create some sort of order out of the chaos which surged around them as the servants and baggage-animals came pouring up. There was no time to unload the mules and camels, but they were brought as close under the rocks as possible, and the men found shelter among them. When the last straggler had come in, Stratford turned suddenly to Dick.

“Where can Anstruther be?” he said.

Before Dick could hazard an opinion, the storm burst upon them with a roar, and they were glad to follow the example of the guides, and hide their faces from the blast. The wind shrieked among the rocks, and swept down with tremendous force upon the closely-packed mass of men and animals, carrying with it quantities of sand and minute pebbles, which had a blinding effect upon the eyes. Inside the tent the women waited in hot stifling darkness, with the fine sand making its way in at every seam and covering everything. During what seemed hours they heard no sounds but the whistling and howling of the wind without. Then there arose a chorus of shouts and yells and curses, mingled with the grunting of camels and the shrill squeals of protesting mules. Some kind of fierce struggle seemed to be going on outside; but it was impossible to discover its nature, for the fastenings of the tent refused to yield to the efforts of the prisoners, and no one answered their calls or appeals for information. At last, just as Georgia drew 292 out a pair of surgical scissors and began deliberately to cut a slit in the tough double canvas, the flap of the tent was thrown back, and Stratford entered, bare-headed and breathless.

“The beasts have stampeded,” he explained, “and the guides and servants are all gone after them. We have been rushing hither and thither, catching and securing any animal we could get hold of, and shouting to the men to keep quiet and not to give chase. But we might as well have spoken to the rocks. Ismail Bakhsh and his men and the house-servants were the only ones that listened; the rest all rushed away after their own animals. Of course that only drove them further off, and they must be scattered over the whole country round by this time. I fear we must have lost most of the baggage, for what we have saved is a very small amount, and strikingly miscellaneous in character. But no doubt the men will manage to find their way back here by degrees, and then——”

A sudden exclamation from Dick interrupted him, and he stepped outside. Lady Haigh and Georgia followed, only to be pushed back into the tent, and desired angrily to cover their faces with their burkas. Facing the little knot of startled men and frightened baggage-animals which now represented the great Mission caravan were a troop of horsemen, who had taken up, under cover of the storm and the stampede, such a position as to preclude any attempt to escape on the part of those they were hemming in.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XVIII

skip to next chapter

for you have never been on the Plains, any of you.”
close quote missing

“Who bosses this show, Mr Stratford?
[Mr. Hicks seems to have a better understanding of the chain of command than either Dick or Georgia.]

his right hand thrust into his girdle
text has thurst

The rest of the troop appeared to have been stupefied
text has appear
[Corrected from Argosy.]

shooting both men on the spot, as an encouragement to the rest
[More often expressed in French: Pour encourager les autres.]

[Illustration] “See here, the rebels have left a gift for my lord.”
[I can’t help but notice the absolute and complete absence of wounds in the pictured body, which ought to look something like a prop from Murder on the Orient Express.]

“‘To the General Dīk,’” read Ismail Bakhsh
[“Sinjāj Kīlin” with macrons makes sense, but now the author is just being silly. The vowel in “Dick” is unambiguously short. And besides, how do the Ethiopians know his first name, let alone his nickname?]

the pannier which contained Miss Keeling’s toilet requisites, and which was balanced by the maid in the opposite one
[This would seem to imply that Georgia travels through the Generic Orient with a hundred pounds of essential toiletries.]

it was not Dick’s place to say so for her
[For heaven’s sake, author. He’s not speaking for Georgia; he’s making a decision on behalf of the entire mission.]

293

CHAPTER XIX.
THE VALUE OF A REPUTATION.

“Get the men together while I try a parley with these fellows,” said Stratford to Dick, when he took in the facts of the situation. “They are not our friends the mutineers, at any rate.”

“My lord’s topi,” said Ismail Bakhsh, stepping up with a salute, and offering Stratford his helmet, which he had found caught in a crevice of the rocks. Stratford put it on, and, carrying his riding-whip carelessly in his hand, advanced to meet the strangers, who had remained motionless on their horses since Dick had first caught sight of them.

“Peace be upon you!” he said as he approached them.

“And upon thee be peace!” responded an old man, who appeared to be the leader of the party. “My lord is one of the envoys of the Queen of England to our lord the King?”

“I am temporarily in command of the Mission, owing to the illness of the Envoy,” answered Stratford. “To whom have I the honour of speaking?”

“My lord’s servant is Abd-ur-Rahim, Governor of the fortress of Bir-ul-Malik for our lord the King.”

“Not for the late Grand Vizier, Fath-ud-Din, then?”

“How should that be so? My lord knows that another now holds the King’s signet. Surely his servant only retains his office until he be confirmed or superseded in it by orders from Kubbet-ul-Haj. But the only orders he has received as yet have concerned the Mission of the English Queen, and they have commanded him to do all in his power to help it, and to facilitate its return journey.”

294

“Then the orders have arrived in the nick of time,” said Stratford. “A little assistance will be of great use to us in our present circumstances. Our baggage-animals were alarmed by the storm, and are scattered about, and if your soldiers would help us to get them together again it would be a great boon. But will you not dismount and eat and drink with us, Abd-ur-Rahim? We have but little to offer, yet it is our delight to share it with a friend.”

“Nay, but my lord and all his company shall eat and drink with me,” was the hospitable reply. “In Bir-ul-Malik there is room for the whole number, and they shall rest in the fortress this night in peace, and refresh their souls before starting again on their journey. I will send out my young men to seek for the camels of my lord, and in the morning his caravan shall be as great as when he left Kubbet-ul-Haj a week ago.”

“Yet let Abd-ur-Rahim first honour our poor tents by condescending to eat bread and drink water with us,” urged Stratford.

Again the old man shook his head. “Not so, my lord. Surely when my watchmen cried from the towers that there was a great company out on the plain, fleeing towards the rocks for shelter from the storm, and I knew that they must be the servants of the English Queen, I vowed a vow that I would neither eat bread nor drink water until I had brought the Englishmen into my house, that they might rest themselves and be refreshed at my table, and afterwards depart in peace.”

“And how did you know that we were the servants of the English Queen?” asked Stratford, endeavouring, with considerable success, to exhibit in his tones no trace of suspicion, but merely a natural desire for information.

“The orders I received had warned me of the approach of my lord and his servants,” replied Abd-ur-Rahim, guilelessly, 295 “and the watchmen told me that among those whom they saw were men with strange head-gear, such as our people who have journeyed into Khemistan have seen the English lords wear. But will not my lord make haste to call his young men together, and bid them follow him into the fortress? The feast is being prepared, and the best rooms are ready for my lord and his servants and his household, and only the guests are wanting.”

“I must take counsel with my friends before I accept your kind invitation,” said Stratford. “We are in haste, and it may he that we cannot venture to lose even the remaining half of this day’s march.”

“Nay, my lord,” exclaimed Abd-ur-Rahim, in the eagerness of his hospitality, “far be it from me to compel any to become my guests by force—and yet, sooner than allow my lord to depart without honouring by his presence my humble roof, I would command my young men to bring him and his servants to my dwelling whether they would or no.”

“One might indeed say that yours was a pressing invitation, Abd-ur-Rahim,” said Stratford, smiling good-humouredly as he turned to go back to the rest; but there was no smile upon his face when he reached them.

Dick stepped forward to meet him, and they walked a few paces aside, out of earshot of the little band of servants whom Dick had posted in such a way as to protect the tent and the remaining baggage-animals.

“Well?” asked Dick, eagerly.

“Oh, he’s a deep one! He means to get us up to the fort by hook or by crook, and the only question is, shall we go peaceably or wait for him to take us?”

“He has been looking out for us, then?”

“Undoubtedly. He says he was warned of our approach by orders from Kubbet-ul-Haj. Now you know that the King and Jahan Beg never anticipated that we should halt 296 anywhere near Bir-ul-Malik, so that the orders can’t have come from them. They must have been sent by Fath-ud-Din or some of his people, and very likely Abd-ur-Rahim has had additional information since then from the mutineers. We can’t hope that he is merely hospitable and friendly. If we go into the fort, we go with our eyes open.”

“But hasn’t he showed his hand at all?”

“Not a bit. He is all blarney and butter, only anxious for the honour of our presence and so on, but he means business.”

“But we can be all blarney and butter too, and merely regret our inability to pay him a visit, and pass on. If he doesn’t try force, it’s quite evident that he hasn’t any to try. He is doing his best to allure us to put ourselves into his power, trusting in the simplicity evidenced by your childlike and bland demeanour, and there is no doubt that if he once got us inside the fort we should be in something like a hole. But as it is, we can merely bow and say good-day.”

“I’m afraid not, North. It is Abd-ur-Rahim who has the cards up his sleeve this time. When I stood out there on the plain talking to him, I could see further than you can from here. He is very sweet and smiling, and he doesn’t want to make a show of force if he can do things pleasantly; but behind these rocks here he has men enough stationed to account for us all five or six times over.”

“Then we are trapped!” said Dick, grimly, drawing his sword half out of its scabbard and feeling the edge. “Well, better here under the open sky than between stone walls. We can give a good account of two or three times our number, posted as we are here, and they won’t get much change out of us.”

“North, you bloodthirsty villain! Think of the poor 297 women and the Chief, and don’t talk of running amuck in that cast-iron way.”

“Don’t I think of the women? Do you imagine I am made of stone, Stratford? My first shot is for Georgia, and after that—well, I suppose I shall run amuck.”

“Draw in a little, old man. That way madness lies. Keep cool, and listen to me for a moment. Since I have no one specially to look after, it may be that I am able to see things more calmly than you are. At any rate, it strikes me, leaving out of sight that ferocious idea of yours, that if we were cut to pieces we could do no possible good to any one—whereas if we accept Abd-ur-Rahim’s overtures in a friendly spirit, and go with him, keeping possession of our weapons and holding together, we might spot a chance of escape, and at any rate we should be no worse off than we are now. If I were you, I should be thankful to keep clear of murder a little longer.”

“Don’t talk to me!” said Dick, savagely. “You have not my reasons for anxiety.”

“Nor your reasons for prudence, either. Look at things quietly, North. I am certain this old fellow is not quite on the square, or he wouldn’t refuse to eat and drink with us; but I don’t think his intentions are necessarily murderous. If they were, he could easily have wiped us all out here and now, without taking the trouble to get us up to the fort. My own impression is that he means to hold us as hostages for Fath-ud-Din’s safety. If that is the case, we shall certainly be in no danger. It will only mean a slight delay, for when our Government find out from Hicks that we ought to reach the frontier soon after him they will send to inquire after us if we don’t turn up.”

“But supposing Abd-ur-Rahim’s intentions are murderous after all?”

“Then we shall end up with a big fight, I presume, and 298 the result will be much the same in the fort as it would be here. Come, North, don’t let us give up hope too soon. If the worst comes to the worst, the ladies have revolvers and can use them—and I don’t know two women anywhere who would be more certain to use them if it was necessary. Just you go to the tent and tell them quietly the state of affairs, while I inform Abd-ur-Rahim that we accept his offer of a night’s lodging. Then you and Kustendjian had better come and be presented. We will do everything in style, and with the most lively imitation possible of perfect confidence. The great thing is to avoid giving them the slightest excuse or opportunity of depriving us of our arms.”

Doggedly and unwillingly Dick took his way to the tent, while Stratford returned to Abd-ur-Rahim, who had remained stationary, with his immediate followers, during the colloquy. But he had profited by the interval to draw closer the cordon of armed men of whom Stratford had caught sight behind the rocks, and it was evident that, if such a fight as that contemplated by Dick had taken place, there would have been no possibility of escape for any member of the English party.

“I must apologise for keeping you waiting so long, Abd-ur-Rahim,” said Stratford, as he approached. “My friend is a great soldier, and very zealous in carrying out the business with which we are charged. He feared to lose even this half-day’s journey; but I have succeeded in making him see that it is the act of a wise man to accept rest and refreshment whenever it is proffered by one worthy of respect.”

“Truly the wisdom of my lord is great!” responded Abd-ur-Rahim, a smile of gratification curling his white moustache, while an officer behind him muttered to a companion some words in Ethiopian which sounded to 299 Stratford like, “It is not so easy to hoodwink the soldier as the man of many words,” a remark which was distinctly unjust to the listener. He made no sign of having heard it, however, but went on speaking to Abd-ur-Rahim in Arabic.

“There is only one thing I should like to say before we accept your hospitality, Abd-ur-Rahim. It is our habit to guard with great jealousy the women of our party. I believe your own custom in Ethiopia is much the same, and you will not, therefore, take it amiss if we surround them closely while on our march with you?”

“Surely not,” responded Abd-ur-Rahim, somewhat puzzled. “The customs of my lord’s land are even as our own, and his care for the household of his master gives the lie to the shameless tales that have been told me as to the habits of his nation. I have even heard it said that in Khemistan the women of the English go about unveiled!”

Stratford was saved from the necessity of either confirming or denying this tremendous accusation by the approach of Dick and Kustendjian, whom he presented formally by name to Abd-ur-Rahim, mentioning the rank held by each in the Mission. The old man looked at them in some surprise.

“Are these all the English that are with my lord?” he asked. “I heard that he had three white men under him.”

“There is one other,” said Stratford, “a youth; but we have seen nothing of him since the storm broke upon us, and we fear that he has missed his way and been lost.”

“Let not my lord be troubled about the young man,” said Abd-ur-Rahim. “The storm did not last long enough for him to have come to any harm. Surely he has but taken shelter in some cave or hollow of the rocks, and my 300 young men shall go in search of him, and bring him again to my lord.”

Having acknowledged this offer in suitable terms, Stratford and the rest returned to superintend the arrangement of their party under the new conditions. The tent was taken down and packed on its camel again, the mules were harnessed afresh to the litter which carried Sir Dugald; the ladies, mere masses of white linen, were helped to their saddles; the diminished cavalcade of baggage-animals was ranged in order, and the column was ready to start. Stratford considered it only polite and expedient that he should ride beside Abd-ur-Rahim, much to the annoyance of Dick, who brought up again the memory of the murdered Macnaghten, and urged sotto voce that if any one’s life was to be risked, Kustendjian’s was the one that could be best spared. Stratford laughed at the idea, and retained his place, and the other two rode on either side of the litter, with the ladies following close behind them, while Ismail Bakhsh and his men formed a modest bodyguard. The household servants and the few muleteers and camel-men who had not been scattered by the stampede followed with the baggage-animals, and before and behind and all around, when the column had advanced into the open plain, came Abd-ur-Rahim’s wild soldiery. A few stray mules and camels were picked up by the way and added to the cavalcade, and presently the procession wound round a spur of the cliffs, and began to ascend the winding road which led up to the hill-fortress of Bir-ul-Malik, the stronghold of Fath-ud-Din.

The town itself was small in extent, and it was evident that the garrison formed the larger proportion of its inhabitants, for the rock-hewn streets were almost deserted when Abd-ur-Rahim passed through the gate with his guests. The town-walls surrounded a considerable area on the 301 summit of the cliff, and this in its turn sloped upwards at its further extremity, on which was erected the citadel, which thus commanded the town on one side and a sheer declivity on the other. Towards this fortification the procession made its way, Dick glancing grimly at the tortuous streets and massive walls of the town as he rode, and muttering to himself that he and his party were in a trap which would take a good deal of getting out of. Passing in at the gate of the citadel, they found themselves in a large courtyard, above which rose a pile of buildings, constructed on and in the sloping face of the rock, the roofs of those lower down forming terraces by which the higher ones could be approached. The lower range of dwellings appeared to form the quarters of the garrison and servants, and those next above them the abodes of the officers, while the highest pile of buildings was evidently intended as the residence of the governor of the city. It was in this building, Abd-ur-Rahim intimated, that he had caused a lodging to be prepared for the illustrious English party; and Stratford, while appreciating the honour done him, felt that he could readily have dispensed with it, since escape would be out of the question save by passing all the lower dwellings and the inner and outer circuit of defences, the only alternative being the possibility of finding some means of descending the precipitous cliff on the other side.

It was necessary to dismount in the courtyard, and to ascend to the Governor’s palace by a winding path cut in the rock and varied by several flights of steps. There was considerable difficulty in conveying Sir Dugald’s litter up this path, and what remained of the luggage had also to be carried up piece by piece, at a large expenditure of time and trouble. When the palace was once reached, however, there was no fault to find with the rooms allotted to the Mission. It was evident that they had remained uninhabited 302 for some time, and they were rather dirty, rather dilapidated, and parti­cularly bare of furniture; but they were large and airy, and, as Stratford and Dick noticed with great satisfaction, the apartments appropriated to the ladies, which had formed part of the original harem, could only be approached by a passage from their own portion of the building. Behind, they looked out on a terrace formed by the top of the ramparts, beneath which the cliff fell steep and unbroken to the desert below. It was an alarming experience to come suddenly to the brink of this declivity, from which the unwary were protected merely by a crumbling parapet, and Rahah only consented to contemplate it when standing at least six yards from the edge, and holding firmly to her mistress’s clothes.

Returning from the terrace into the harem, Georgia began to examine the waifs and strays of luggage which had been cast up with her on this hill-top. Sir Dugald had been conveyed into one of the inner rooms, and Lady Haigh, with the assistance of Chanda Lal, was engaged in making him comfortable. In the large hall, into which the other rooms opened, lay a confused heap of boxes and cases, just as they had been left by the porters who had carried them in.

“Let us see what we have, Rahah,” said Georgia to her handmaid. “You had my dressing-case and my small medicine-chest on the mule with you, so they are safe, at any rate, and your own clothes too. That box there has books in it, I know, and here are our folding-chairs. I don’t see any of my clothes—any of my own things at all, in fact. I shall have to borrow some from Lady Haigh, for I see that two of her tin boxes are there. Those cases are Sir Dugald’s, of course; and now there are only these two great boxes left, marked with my name. What can they have in them? Nothing very useful, I’m afraid—no 303 dresses, at any rate. Just borrow a hammer and chisel from Chanda Lal, Rahah. He was opening a packing-case a minute ago.”

Returning quickly with the desired implements, Rahah forced open part of the lid of one of the boxes.

“Medical stores!” said Georgia, bringing out a packet of cotton-wool, and a tin case containing a roll of prepared india-rubber. “I might be going to start a dispensary up here. Well, we are satisfactorily provided with medicines and surgical appliances, at any rate. Now the other box, Rahah. I only wish there was the slightest possibility of finding some of my clothes in it.”

But no. Rahah drew back with a scream when she plunged her hand into the mass of crumpled paper which guarded the contents of the box; and Georgia, guessing the state of affairs, brought out a huge, carefully-stoppered bottle, containing a gruesome-looking object swimming in a muddy yellow fluid.

“The collection!” she said, disdainfully. “And of course that parti­cularly detestable snake turns up first of all! Well, Rahah, we are in a nice plight, with no clothes or fancy-work or sketching materials, but with a good many of those creatures to amuse us instead.”

Rahah’s countenance expressed unutterable disgust, and her mistress was not proof against a modified feeling of the same character, for it is the reverse of agreeable, even for a highly qualified lady doctor, to find oneself reduced to a single dress, and that a riding-habit. But while this small although sufficiently unpleasant matter was occupying the minds of Georgia and her maid, Stratford and Dick were experiencing a very bad quarter of an hour in their part of the building. When their host left them they had occupied themselves in sorting the few possessions that remained to them; but while they were in the midst of this somewhat 304 melancholy process, Abd-ur-Rahim returned, accompanied by two or three of his officers.

“Is my lord graciously pleased to be contented with the accommodation afforded by my poor house?” asked the old man.

“I am sure we could ask nothing better,” returned Stratford, pleasantly.

“That is well, seeing that it will now be my lord’s abode during certain days,” said Abd-ur-Rahim.

“How is that?” asked Stratford. “You offered us merely a night’s lodging, and we accepted it.”

“True; but a man of my lord’s wisdom will not need to be reminded that it is only fools who allow the gifts of destiny to slip through their fingers. My lord and his companions have been brought into my hand, and here they will remain so long as our lord Fath-ud-Din is kept in prison at Kubbet-ul-Haj.”

“Thank you. There’s nothing like knowing what one has to expect. How many years do you intend to entertain us here?”

“That depends upon another matter. The liberation of Fath-ud-Din hangs upon the treaty that my lord holds, for if that is destroyed, our lord the King is free to do as he will, and the treaty, on account of the means by which it was gained, he finds disgraceful and irksome to him.”

“Show me the King’s mandate demanding the surrender of the treaty,” said Stratford, quickly.

Abd-ur-Rahim shook his head.

“My lord knows that there are certain services that a man may render to his sovereign for which no orders can be given beforehand, although they may be richly rewarded when performed,” he said. “Of such a kind is this matter of the treaty.”

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“Don’t you wish you may get it?” asked Stratford, aware that Dick’s fingers were gripping his revolver.

“My lord must know that we shall get it. We have but to compass the death of my lord and his companions, and the treaty must be found; but we would fain not shed blood. Let my lord tell his servant where the treaty is hidden.”

“I absolutely decline to say,” returned Stratford.

“Then we must search my lord’s baggage.”

“You can search where you like, but you cannot make me tell you where the treaty is. I presume you do not intend to search the baggage of the ladies?”

“Nay, my lord! What hiding-place is so safe or so probable as among a woman’s belongings? But there need be no search if my lord will only tell what he knows. Did he bring the treaty into the fortress with him?”

“I refuse to say. One word, Abd-ur-Rahim. There can be no idea of searching the ladies’ things. You may ask what questions you like, but the ladies must have notice beforehand, and it must be in the presence of one of us, or—well, whoever goes into the harem, you will not be alive to do it.”

“My lord need have no fear. He may go now and bid the women prepare for my coming. I will but question them, and believe what they say, for the English always tell the truth. I would accept the word of my lord even now, if he could assure me that he had not the treaty with him when he entered the fortress.”

There was some eagerness in the old man’s tone, as though he found his task distasteful, and would have welcomed this chance of dispensing with the performance of it; but Stratford shook his head.

“I can say nothing. Stand at the door, North, while I go in to warn the ladies. And keep cool. Cheek may 306 possibly bring us through this fix yet, as it did through the other.”

With a frowning brow, Dick took up the position indicated, and Stratford entered the passage and knocked at the door. Georgia looked up from her doleful examination of her possessions as he came in.

“We are trying to discover what we have saved from the wreck of our fortunes,” she said, lightly. “But what is the matter, Mr Stratford? Does your venerable old friend intend to murder us after all?”

“Not unless he is obliged,” returned Stratford; “but it may come to that yet. He means to get hold of the treaty. Fath-ud-Din seems to think that if he enables the King to destroy it, he will be restored to power. I don’t think the King is in the plot at present, but far be it from me to say that he wouldn’t come into it with a good grace if he got the chance.”

“And you want me to hide the treaty?”

“Certainly not. By no manner of means. I merely came to tell you that Abd-ur-Rahim insists on questioning you and Lady Haigh as to whether you know anything about it. He will come in here when he has finished ransacking our place, so put your burkas on again, please.”

“But, Mr Stratford, where is the treaty?”

“Here,” said Stratford, exhibiting the front of his coat, “in a pocket which my bearer and I contrived for it. You see, it goes between the cloth and the lining, and is sewn in. It is rolled up so tightly that it does not show at all under ordinary circumstances; but if they search me, they are bound to find it immediately.”

“And what then?”

“I can’t give it up, of course, so that if they attempt to search us, we must show fight. We must only hope they 307 won’t, for our opposing the idea would arouse suspicion at once.”

“If they have any sense whatever, it is the first thing they will do,” said Georgia, promptly. “No, Mr Stratford, I am not going to allow you and Dick to run such a risk, and perhaps bring destruction upon us all. Give me the treaty, and I will hide it.”

“And transfer the risk to yourself? How, Miss Keeling, do you really think me capable of doing such a thing?”

“There will be no risk whatever. I have an idea. Take off your coat, Mr Stratford—quick!” with a stamp of the foot—“there is no time to lose. Give me those scissors, Rahah, and thread a needle with grey cotton. That’s it; now sew up that slit as neatly as you can.”

“What are you going to do?” inquired Stratford, standing helplessly by in his shirt-sleeves, while Georgia was rolling the fateful parchment into the smallest possible compass, and Rahah stitched up with marvellous rapidity the yawning hole in his coat.

“Never mind, for I won’t tell you. You are to know nothing. There is your coat, Mr Stratford. Keep Abd-ur-Rahim outside for two minutes, and then let him do his worst.”

Half-reluctant and wholly perplexed, Stratford allowed himself to be gently impelled in the direction of the door, and went out, to find Dick, still on guard, protesting vehemently that he would never allow himself to be searched, and that the first man that laid a finger on him with that purpose in view would have little opportunity for repenting his rashness afterwards. Perceiving at once that his friend guessed he had the treaty upon him, and was endeavouring to divert suspicion to himself, Stratford proceeded, not without a little malicious pleasure in the 308 circumstance, to cut the ground from under Dick’s feet by remarking calmly—

“Keep cool, North; we are prisoners, though we were seized by a mean trick, and we must submit to the treatment our jailers think fit to inflict upon us. Abd-ur-Rahim”—he turned with dignity to his too hospitable host—“we are your prisoners. As to the means by which you induced us to put ourselves in your power I say nothing. Still, I ask you as a gentleman, is this insult necessary?”

“By no means,” returned Abd-ur-Rahim, promptly. “If my lord and his friends will give their word that they have not the treaty about them, they shall not be touched.”

To the utter stupefaction of Dick, Stratford at once gave the required assurance, which was repeated by his friend and Kustendjian. Some demur was made as to accepting the word of the latter, on the ground that he was not an Englishman; but on Stratford’s volunteering the assurance that he was speaking the truth, his statement also was considered satisfactory.

In the meantime, Georgia and her maid were not idle in the inner room. The moment that the door had closed behind Stratford, Georgia flew to the box which contained the collection, and drew out the bottle enshrining the historic snake. The roll of prepared india-rubber from the case of medical stores was the next requisite, and, unfastening it, she made Rahah cut off a piece a little longer than the treaty in its rolled-up form, and wide enough to wrap round it twice. When the roll had been made as tight and smooth as possible, she tied up the ends very securely.

“Now, Rahah, take off the bladder from the top of that bottle as carefully as you can. Don’t break it, whatever you do. Now get the cork out. Dig it out with the point of the scissors if it won’t come easily; we mustn’t 309 use a cork-screw. Turn your head away if you don’t like the smell. There,—what a good thing that the spirit has sunk a little!” She dropped the roll containing the treaty into the great bottle, in the midst of the coils of the snake, replaced the cork, tied the bladder over it again, and, holding the bottle up, looked at it critically. The effect was perfect. The dull-brown of the india-rubber wrapping combined with the bolder tones of the serpent’s skin and the unpleasant yellow of the spirit so completely, that scarcely a trace of the intruder was perceptible even to her practised eye.

“So far, so good. Now on with our burkas, Rahah. That’s right, put the bottle back into the box. There is a smell of the spirit about. Knock over that bottle of camphor and break it. Oh, they are coming! Kneel down, Rahah, and be nailing the cover on the box in a most tremendous hurry.”

young woman examining tall specimen jar

The effect was perfect.

Rahah entered into her part with keen delight, jerked the camphor-bottle to the floor with her elbow, and jumped up with a most artistically guilty start when Dick and Stratford entered with the four Ethiopians, while Georgia dropped the hammer with a clatter on the stones.

“What is in that box which the women are nailing up?” demanded Abd-ur-Rahim, sharply, while the faces of his followers betrayed much excitement, not unmixed with triumph.

“Do they really want to know?” asked Georgia, with something like pity in her tones, when the question was translated to her. “Well, I will show them if they are so anxious to see it.”

Lifting the lid, she drew out with one hand the bottle containing the snake, and with the other one which enclosed a very evil-looking deformed frog, and held them out to the inquisitors, who recoiled precipitately.

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“They are the devils which obeyed the English doctor who was carried off by Shaitan from his house at Kubbet-ul-Haj!” was the murmur which went round.

“There are plenty more in the box,” said Georgia, cheerfully. “You can unpack them for yourselves if you would like to look at them; only I would advise you for your own sakes to take care not to break the bottles.”

“Is it true that if the bottles were opened the devils would get loose?” asked one of the Ethiopians, in an awful whisper.

“It is quite true that if the bottles are opened what is in them will come out,” responded Georgia, setting down on the box the two she had been holding; “but you shall see for yourselves what will happen.”

She lifted the bottle containing the frog, as though to hurl it in the direction of the visitors, but Abd-ur-Rahim interposed hastily in much agitation.

“Let my lord entreat the doctor lady to let the evil things remain where they are,” he said to Stratford. “Surely he must know that I have but obeyed the commands I have received, and that I have done my best to save him and his company from all annoyance. Moreover, though the doctor lady should destroy these men and myself by her magic, my soldiers outside would certainly set the palace on fire, and burn her and all my lord’s company, when they found out what had happened. Suffer her not, then, to work us evil, and we will but ask her a few questions and depart.”

With a face of the utmost gravity, Stratford translated the entreaty, and the questions which followed it, to Georgia, who was much impressed by the opinion entertained by Abd-ur-Rahim as to her powers and her willingness to use them.

“Has the doctor lady the treaty concealed about her, or has her maid got it?”

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“Certainly not.”

“Is it in any of those boxes?”

“No, it is not in any of them.”

“Is it hidden anywhere in the floor or the walls?”

“Nowhere in the floor or the walls.”

“Does the doctor lady know where it is?”

“I refuse to say.”

“Who can trust the words of a woman?” asked one of the officers, rudely. “The doctor lady has it hidden.”

“Tell them that I am St George Keeling’s daughter, Mr Stratford,” cried Georgia, angrily, guessing the drift of the remark from the tone, “and ask them whether it is likely that I should tell a lie?”

Stratford translated the words, and the name produced an impression which showed that the fame of the Warden of the Marches had spread beyond his own border.

“In my youth,” said Abd-ur-Rahim, “I have faced Sinjāj Kīlin in peace and war, and I know well that no son or daughter of his house could be a liar.”

Georgia’s wrath calmed down, and Rahah, feeling that she was responsible for maintaining the honour of the house of Keeling, suppressed the falsehood which rose to her lips when she was asked whether she knew where the treaty was, and imitated her mistress in declining to say.

“And now we need only question the great lady,” said Abd-ur-Rahim, when Rahah’s examination was over; and Georgia went in search of Lady Haigh, and brought her into the hall, worried and protesting, and determined that no one should approach Sir Dugald’s sick-room. She was much easier to deal with than the rest.

“I haven’t an idea where the treaty is, and if I had, I wouldn’t tell you,” was her answer to Abd-ur-Rahim’s question. “Why do you come bothering me about treaties? Ask Mr Stratford; he is the proper person.”

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“But is it not hidden anywhere in the great lady’s apartments?”

“I should think not, indeed! I have something else to do besides hiding treaties. Georgie, I want you to come and see Sir Dugald at once. I am sure he is not so well.”

“The man of many words must have dropped the treaty into the sand as he came hither,” said one of the Ethiopians in a low voice to his chief, as Georgia retired with Lady Haigh.

“Nay, that he could not have done without my seeing him,” objected Abd-ur-Rahim.

“He may have hidden it among the rocks where we first came upon these English,” suggested another.

“It is well thought of; I will have the place searched,” said Abd-ur-Rahim. “But mark me—my opinion is that none of those here know where it is. It has been given to the youth who is missing, and he is to escape with it or to hide it. Therefore let the youth be pursued and taken. The rest are trying to lead us to think that they have it concealed among them here, that so he may get away in safety.”

This explanation of their defeat appeared to satisfy the Ethiopians, and they returned to the outer rooms, accompanied by Dick and Stratford, who were almost as much mystified as they were.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XIX

Stratford and Dick were experiencing a very bad quarter of an hour
[The author likes sneaking in French expressions, doesn’t she? This time it’s a mauvais quart d’heure, which English writers like to render as mauvaise. Possibly they are confused about which noun is being modified.]

for the English always tell the truth
[Insert editorial comment ad lib. The remainder of the chapter will show that Abd-ur-Rahim is remarkably inept at framing questions to take advantage of this putative trait, and especially inept at inter­preting the answers to the questions he does ask.]

CHAPTER XX.
FOR THE HONOUR OF ENGLAND’S SAKE.

Half an hour later, Georgia stepped out of the great latticed window on the terrace, and kneeling beside the parapet, rested her arms on it, and looked away over the 313 desert. There in the distance rose the walls and towers of Bir-ul-Malikat, Fath-ud-Din’s second fortress, which crowned the top of a conical hill some four miles from Bir-ul-Malik. Within those walls old Khadija, the sorceress, bore rule, and held in her grasp the knowledge which alone could save Sir Dugald’s life. Lady Haigh’s intuition had been a true one, although there was no outward change in her husband’s condition. Whether the sand-storm and the hurried journeyings of the day had brought about a loss of vitality, or whether they had merely rendered perceptible a failure which had hitherto been too gradual to be noticed, it was undeniable that the pulse was less regular, and the action of the heart more feeble than before. The insidious poison administered by Fath-ud-Din was sapping Sir Dugald’s life away, and, unless the mysterious antidote could be obtained, his protracted uncon­sciousness would before long pass into death.

“I must see this Khadija,” said Georgia to herself, as her eyes wandered over the desert, “and find out whether anything will induce her to sell her secret. I might introduce myself to her as a sister in the craft—Abd-ur-Rahim and his men would bear me out—and suggest an interchange of ideas. There must be quite a number of things I could tell her, and I could set her up with a few medicines. The effects would be wonderful to her. But then, she might not care for remedies, and I am certainly not going to put more poisons into her hands. I fancy that killing is more in her line than curing. What was it that Rahah told me she said when a girl asked her for a love-philtre? ‘I shall make no love-philtre but one, and that will be for my Rose of the World to give her bridegroom on the marriage-night.’ I’m afraid she would not care about the opportunity of doing kindnesses. She must be fond of the girl Zeynab—perhaps it might be possible to work upon her feelings 314 through her. At any rate, I must see her; but how am I to manage it? Dick would be very angry if I went without telling him, and yet I am sure he would prevent my going if he knew of it. But I will go, even if I have to break with Dick about it. To leave Sir Dugald to die, and make Lady Haigh a widow, when I knew where the remedy was to be found, just for fear of vexing Dick, would be shameful. I shall be obliged to oppose him some day, and it is a good thing to do it for the first time in such an absolutely righteous cause. There can be no doubt whatever as to my being in the right this time, but I’m sure he won’t see it. I do wish people would be a little more reasonable!”

She was tapping her stethoscope impatiently against the stones as she spoke, and it slipped suddenly from her fingers and rolled over the edge of the parapet. Looking after it, she saw that, instead of dropping or rolling down into the plain, as she had expected, it had lodged on a projection in the cliff, not more than twenty feet below the parapet, where a few tufts of withered-looking grass had found holding-ground. Still, it was quite beyond her power to reach it.

“How careless of me!” she said, with deep vexation. “My dear old hospital stethoscope! I wonder whether it could be reached from here? I think a man with a rope might be able to get it. How much astonished Dick would be if I asked him to go down for it! I wonder whether he would go? He would send one of the servants, I should think. It would be quite easy to let him down and draw him up again. What a convenient little shelf that is! It would be rather a good place to put the treaty in, for if they catch Mr Anstruther and find he has not got it, they may come back and make another search. I wonder whether it would be safe? I don’t think the cover would show among that grass.”

Leaning over the parapet, she scanned the face of the 315 cliff, and raised herself to her former position with some disappointment.

“It would be very difficult to drop it just in the right place,” she went on meditatively; “and, if there was a storm, the rain would be sure to wash it away. Of course, it might lodge somewhere lower down—or it might not; and, if it did, we might not be able to get at it. Why, it looks as though there might be a path right up the cliff to the shelf! It is quite a series of steps and ledges, and projecting stones, and tufts of grass. It would need a very cool head to climb it, and a sure foot too, but I believe it could be done. It might be very dangerous, for any one could get in and attack us without our knowing. They could hide among those ruined huts at the foot of the cliff, and choose a time when none of us were out here. Of course, they couldn’t very well get up as far as this from the shelf, for the cliff overhangs just at the top, and there are no projections; but they might have a rope-ladder with a hook at the top to throw up and catch in something, or some other way of doing it. It doesn’t feel a bit safe. I know I shall dream that there are men getting up here all night; but I won’t be silly and frighten the rest. It’s all nonsense! No one could climb this last piece of the cliff.”

Notwithstanding the certainty of this assurance, the memory of that giddy path, probably made in the rainy season by the wild goats, haunted Georgia, and when bedtime came she stole out again to make sure that there was no one climbing up it. In the great bare room behind her, Rahah, sitting cross-legged on the floor, was contemplating with much satisfaction the arrangements she had devised for the night. It so happened that among the luggage that had gone astray was Georgia’s mattress and pillow. This loss Rahah had repaired by lying in wait for Dick and informing him of it, receiving, as she had anticipated, an 316 order to carry off his bedding for Miss Keeling’s benefit. She obeyed promptly, regardless of the wrath of his bearer, who cursed her audibly whenever he saw her, for the duty of spoiling the Egyptians was one very congenial to Rahah’s mind. In her view, it was part of a lady’s-maid’s business to exploit every other human being with an eye to her mistress’s pleasure or welfare, and if the Major Sahib was willing to sleep on the floor in order that the doctor lady should be in comfort, it was not for her to baulk him. Georgia, of course, knew nothing, and was to know nothing of this little arrangement; and Rahah sat and yawned, and blinked sleepily at the lamp, and wished that her mistress would come to bed quickly and not stay looking down that horrible cliff.

But Georgia, leaning over the parapet and staring down into the darkness, saw more than the indeterminate outlines of rocks and sun-dried bushes. Her heart was in her mouth as she peered down the cliff, for she felt certain that she had seen something moving below, and that it, whatever it might be, was climbing the hazardous path she had noticed by daylight. Too much fascinated and horror-stricken to move, she remained leaning over the edge until Lady Haigh stepped out of the carved doorway behind her and startled her by speaking suddenly.

“Oughtn’t you to be coming to bed, Georgie? It is very late, and you have had an anxious day. What are you looking at down there?”

“Oh, Lady Haigh, there is some one—a man or several men—climbing up the cliff!” was the gasping answer, as Georgia turned round with a blanched face.

Lady Haigh pushed her gently aside and looked over as she had done.

“There is something there, certainly,” she whispered; “but it is almost sure to be only a goat.”

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Somewhat reassured, Georgia returned to her post of vantage, and side by side they watched together the upward progress of the dark body, until the sound of labouring breath reached them, showing that the climb must be a severe one.

“It is a man,” said Lady Haigh. “Can they get quite to the top?”

“No, about twenty feet down the cliff begins to slope outwards.”

“Then we won’t alarm the gentlemen just yet. It may be only one of our own servants trying to discover us, and we don’t want him to fall into Abd-ur-Rahim’s hands. We shall soon see whether this man’s intentions are hostile.”

“He has reached the ledge now,” gasped Georgia. “He is resting.”

The mysterious visitor seemed inclined to make no further effort for the present, for he remained motionless during several anxious moments; but at last a very low, clear whistling became audible, to which Lady Haigh and Georgia listened in astonishment and trepidation.

“It must be a signal,” whispered Georgia. “No,” she cried, suddenly, “I know that tune! It is the ‘Battle of the Boyne,’ and a minute ago it was ‘Derry Walls.’ Lady Haigh, it’s Mr Anstruther!”

“Is it you, Mr Anstruther?” asked Lady Haigh, in a low voice. The answer came back promptly.

“It is myself, very much at your service, Lady Haigh, if I could only get near enough to serve you. Are you all right?”

“Quite safe at present,” returned Georgia; “but we have gone through some thrilling experiences during the day. How did you find us out?”

“Lost my way in the sand-storm, and wandered round the wrong side of the hill. I took shelter among those ruins down below, and my horse is there still. When I ventured 318 out to scout a little, I saw the Mission taking a prominent part—and I guessed an unwilling one—in a procession up the hill and into the fortress, so I returned to my hiding-place and planned doughty deeds. But could you get me up this last piece of cliff by any means?—for it’s rather exhausting to carry on a long conversation in a stage-whisper, craning one’s neck upwards all the while. Besides, I have some of your property about me, Miss Keeling, which I should be glad to restore to you. By the bye, did you lose anything about five o’clock this afternoon, when you stood looking over the edge for such a long time? It was that which enabled me to locate you so smartly.”

“Yes, I dropped my pet stethoscope, and I shall be extremely grateful if you can find it. It fell on the ledge where you are sitting. But I will just go and send Rahah to see whether it is safe to call the rest to pull you up.”

She returned in a few minutes with her arms full of pieces of rope.

“We can do nothing at present. Rahah reconnoitred through the key-hole or in some such way, and she says that the gentlemen have got a ‘party.’ Mr Stratford is playing chess with Abd-ur-Rahim, and the other two are talking to his officers. She is to bring us word at once when the party breaks up, and in the meantime I have taken all the ropes from the boxes, and Lady Haigh and I can fasten them together. The rope will be fearfully knotty, but perhaps that will make it safer.”

“It will be all the better,” said Fitz, decisively, “for we need not wait for the other fellows to come and pull me up. If you and Lady Haigh will fasten the rope round something firm, and pull at it both together with all your strength to test the knots, you can send me the end, and I will come up hand over hand if you will help to hoist me over the parapet.”

319

The two ladies agreed to this proposition with fear and trembling, and many hopes that Dick and Stratford would arrive before the construction of the rope was completed. But they did not come, and the knots were tied and tested, and the rope fastened with extraordinary care round the stone pillar which formed the central support of the carved lattice-work of the window. With many cautions, the other end was passed down to Fitz, and he came up it in a way which extorted mingled admiration and terror from the watchers. Helping hands assisted him over the parapet, and at last he stood safe and sound upon the terrace.

“Well,” he said, cheerfully, “I shall have to tell the gymnasium instructor at Whitcliffe Grammar School how useful his teaching has been when I get home. Without it I might have remained on that ledge all night, and serenaded you with Orange ditties at a hopeless distance, Miss Keeling. But I mustn’t forget to restore you your lost property. There is your stethoscope, and here is your cat.”

Untying the handkerchief he presented to her, and which had been secured in some complicated way to the buttonholes of his coat, Georgia released Colleen Bawn, very much rumpled and highly indignant, from her imprisonment, and deposited her on the ground, soothing her ruffled feelings and fur by a little friendly stroking.

“I am ashamed to think you should have taken so much trouble about her, Mr Anstruther. Thank you very, very much, and for finding the stethoscope too. What do you think of doing now?”

“I should rather like some grub, if there is any going. I haven’t had anything since breakfast, for I hadn’t the forethought to take meat lozenges with me, as Stratford did. Biscuits, or something of that sort that is at hand, and won’t need preparing, for I don’t intend to stay here, and I don’t want to be caught.”

320

A frugal meal of biscuits, potted meat, and water, in which Colleen Bawn claimed a share, was quickly set before Fitz, and when his hunger was partially satisfied he looked up.

“Lady Haigh, I want you to exert your authority. When I found that you were all in here, and I was outside, I had some thoughts of making for the frontier at once and fetching help; but then I hit on another plan. I want Miss Keeling to come too. My horse has been resting ever since the storm, and is perfectly fresh, and she could ride him splendidly if we changed the saddle. I could walk all right, and we should be a good way towards Fort Rahmat-Ullah in the morning.”

Lady Haigh sat down upon the parapet and burst into stifled but irrepressible laughter, which failed, however, to disconcert Fitz.

“My dear boy,” she gasped, while he looked at her resolutely and without a smile, “it is quite untrue to say that the age of chivalry—of the wildest knight-errantry—is gone. Can you really think it possible that we should allow Miss Keeling to go wandering off like Una, with you as a protector instead of the lion? Why, it is fully three days’ journey to the frontier from here, and there are enemies all the way.”

“I would take care of her, really. I would die before any harm should happen to her.”

“I haven’t a doubt of that, but you forget that when you were once dead, the situation would be rather serious for Miss Keeling. And how do you imagine that Major North would receive your proposal?” and Lady Haigh collapsed again helplessly.

“But, Lady Haigh,” said Georgia, quickly, afraid that Fitz’s feelings might be hurt, “Mr Anstruther might take the treaty with him, if he is going to ride to Fort Rahmat-Ullah. 321 Mr Stratford told us this morning that Abd-ur-Rahim and the rest think he is already on the way there with it, and it would be splendid to get it into a place of safety.”

“Come, that is worth thinking about!” said Lady Haigh. But, after a moment’s consideration, she shook her head decidedly. “No, Georgie, it won’t do. Sir Dugald would never have trusted any one so young with the treaty, and I am sure Mr Stratford won’t.”

“Oh, really now, Lady Haigh,” said Fitz, much wounded, “I have my compass, and I can find my way about as well as most people. There’s my horse as fresh as he can be, and I would simply ride night and day until I got to the Fort.”

“Or until your horse dropped dead in the desert, and left you stranded with the treaty,” said Lady Haigh. “No, Mr Anstruther, you are not at all the man for such an enterprise. It needs prudence and caution even more than reckless riding and dare-devil bravery. Georgie,” she turned to her impatiently, “don’t you see what I mean? There is only one person here to whom the treaty could be intrusted with any hope of saving it and us, and that is Major North.”

“Dick!” gasped Georgia, catching at the lattice to steady herself. “Oh no, Lady Haigh, you can’t mean that! Why should Dick go?”

“Because he is the only man who could possibly carry the thing through; and he is a soldier, and it is his duty,” responded Lady Haigh, tersely.

“Don’t be afraid, Miss Keeling,” said Fitz, with an aggressive indifference to Lady Haigh’s line of argument. “North is not going to take my job away from me, and ride off upon my gee—not if I know it!”

“Here are Mr Stratford and Major North,” said Lady 322 Haigh, as, conducted by Rahah, they emerged from the lattice, and explained that Abd-ur-Rahim and his subordinates had only just departed, finding their prisoners oppressed with unconquerable fatigue. The moment they were left alone, Rahah had delivered her message, and they waited only to place Kustendjian on guard in case of the return of Abd-ur-Rahim, and followed her guidance. Georgia watched them helplessly as they congratulated Fitz on his safety, and examined the rope, and peered down into the gulf below. She remained leaning against the pillar, unable to quit its friendly support, even when the murmur of low voices told her that Lady Haigh was repeating her former suggestion.

“I call it beastly unfair, the way I am done out of everything!” she heard Fitz grumble at last. “When you had that jolly row in the Mission courtyard round the flagstaff, I had to stay in and guard the house, and that other time when I wanted to go to the Palace you wouldn’t let me. And now you mean to keep me here, while North uses my horse and my way out of this place, though I’m the only one of you that didn’t manage to get shut up here.”

“And you managed that by desertion and disobedience to orders,” said Stratford, impatiently, for he had succeeded by this time in extracting from Ismail Bakhsh the particulars of Fitz’s mysterious disappearance. “Try not to be more of a fool than you can help, young Anstruther. We can’t risk the honour of the country and the fate of the Mission on the hope that you may chance to act sensibly for once.”

“I say that it is my right to go, Mr Stratford,” returned Fitz, doggedly; but Dick broke through the group, and came to Georgia.

“Shall I go, Georgie?”

“Oh, Dick, must I decide for you?”

323

“You have a right to do it, I think. At any rate, right or no right, I am not going if you ask me not to. I put myself in your hands, Georgie, and the treaty and everything else may slide if you tell me to stay here. What good would it all be to me if—if anything happened to you while I was gone?”

He spoke hoarsely, his words tumbling over one another, and Georgia felt that the hands which clasped hers were hot and shaking. She looked at him in amazement which was almost terror. Was it possible that in some ways she was stronger than he was—that he was confessedly looking to her for the strength which should enable him to tear himself away from her?

“It is an awfully risky thing, Miss Keeling,” said Stratford, interposing with an honest determination to let Georgia know the worst before she made her decision. “He takes his life in his hand if he goes. I am sure no one could wonder at your keeping him back. In fact, under the circumstances, I should think it quite probable that no one would expect him to leave you here and ride off to Rahmat-Ullah to save the treaty.”

“If I were not here,” said Georgia, “would you think it right for him to go?”

“Well, things would be different then, you see—and really this is such an important business——”

“Why?”

“We are tolerably safe, I suppose, in any case; but to get back without the treaty would be rather a bad blow for our prestige, of course. All the old troubles would begin again, and England would become a laughing-stock——”

“I see,” said Georgia. “Dick, you must go.”

“All right,” said Dick, gruffly, restored to composure by the decision with which she spoke; “but why?”

“For England’s sake—for honour’s sake,” she replied. 324 Dick looked at her in some alarm. Had the greatness of the crisis, which for the moment had unmanned himself, turned her brain, or could she really find comfort in fine language at such a time? He did not know the sustaining power which is contained for a woman in a phrase of the kind. It gives her something to lean upon, as she repeats it to herself with a determination to be worthy of it.

“You are sure you don’t mind, Georgie?” he asked in his blundering way.

“Oh no; I am not likely to mind, am I?” she said, with a sudden fierceness in her voice. “Do you want to break my heart, Dick?”

A sob broke from her lips, but she choked it down as he put his arm round her, and he only felt her hands fondling his rough coat-sleeve. “If you do that, I can’t go,” he muttered.

“Then I won’t,” said Georgia, with an effort; but she held his arm tightly as he returned to the rest.

“We may as well get things settled,” he said. “Where is this horse of yours, Anstruther?”

Fitz explained the position of the ruined hut in which he had left his horse tied up, while Stratford tested the rope.

“I say,” he said, “we must add some more to this. It won’t take you half-way down, and you will want something to hold on to while you are feeling for a foothold. You had better have the end fastened round you, for though the moon isn’t bad, you might easily slip, since you have not seen the cliff by daylight. I will hunt up Ismail Bakhsh, as he has charge of the baggage-ropes, and it might be a good thing if he was to lend you a turban and cloak. They would pass muster at a distance, but it is hopeless to think of disguising you satisfactorily if you meet any one at close quarters, for there are no hillmen about here. You will want food and water, too.”

325

He hurried away, returning with Ismail Bakhsh just as Georgia was fishing the treaty out of its place of concealment. It was none the worse for its immersion, and she wrapped it in another cover and sewed it into Dick’s coat.

“It was an excellent idea, that hiding-place,” said Stratford, as she and Dick rejoined the rest. “I couldn’t imagine what in the world you had done with the thing, unless you had tied a string to it and hung it out of the window. Look here, North, you had better not take your sword. It will only make a clatter, and won’t do you much good. Take the dagger the mutineers bequeathed to you instead; it is nearly long enough for a sword.”

“Take care of this for me then, Georgie,” said Dick, unbuckling the sword he had just fastened on, and Georgia received the charge with gratitude, for she knew that Dick’s sword was his most cherished possession. The work of lengthening the rope was going on rapidly, the provisions for the three days’ ride, a little bread and dried fruit, a little corn for the horse, and a scanty supply of water, were fastened round Dick’s waist for the descent of the cliff, and the turban and the mantle were arranged by Ismail Bakhsh. All was ready. Dick shook hands with the rest, and turned to Georgia as she stood white and tearless beside the parapet.

“Georgie, if you tell me not to go, I’ll stay now,” he whispered, as he saw her face.

“No, Dick, go—for honour’s sake”—and she repeated mechanically the words which had been burning themselves into her brain during the last half-hour—

“‘I could not love thee, dear, so much,

Loved I not honour more.’

Go, dear,” she said again, and took his face between her hands and kissed him on the forehead.

326

“It’s women like you that make men heroes in spite of themselves,” broke out Dick. “Oh, Georgie, I was a brute to you this morning—about that cat of yours. Say you forgive me.”

“Dick!” she almost laughed. “As though I could remember such a thing as that now! Good-bye, my dearest, and God go with you.”

“God keep you, my darling!” He held her in his arms for a moment longer, then released her with a last kiss. “Take care of her,” he said to the rest, as he stepped up on the parapet, and let himself down by the rope. They lowered him carefully to the ledge, and from thence, with the rope still round his waist, he made his way down the precarious path to the foot of the cliff. Presently the strain on the rope ceased. Those above drew it up, and listening intently, fancied they could hear the sound of a horse’s hoofs as it was led cautiously over the fallen rocks into the open plain, but the shadows were too confusing to allow them to distinguish anything by the sense of sight. They listened anxiously for any alarm from the walls which might indicate that some sentry had been more successful, but none came, and they returned slowly to their several quarters, Fitz taking possession of the room which had been assigned to Dick. As for Georgia, she kissed the sword-hilt on which her lover’s fingers had so often rested, and allowed her tears to have free course, now that he was no longer at hand for his heart to be troubled by them.

Very early the next morning, before any of Abd-ur-Rahim’s dependants were about, Stratford, Fitz, and Ismail Bakhsh might have been seen hard at work by the light of a smoky lamp. They were taking the long rope to pieces, or, in other words, restoring its component parts to their original form as box cords, and returning them to the places where they might reasonably be expected to be found under 327 ordinary circumstances. When Rahah had been intrusted with the fragments out of which Lady Haigh and Georgia had formed their first rope, and Ismail Bakhsh had carried away the rest to put them back with the luggage of which he had charge, the prisoners breathed more freely, and Stratford took advantage of the momentary pause to arrange plans for the day.

“Look here, Anstruther—we must keep it dark as long as possible that North is gone and that you are here in his place. It strikes me that the fellows who were looking for you yesterday all went too far afield, and that’s how they missed you. To-day they will argue that they had better look at home first, and they will set to work to search the ruins down below, and the rocks near the spot where we halted, and any caves there may be in the neighbourhood. I don’t know what sort of trackers they are here, but if they are anything like so good as the natives in India, they will find out in no time that the ruins were occupied until last night, and that a man on horseback left them and took a certain course. They may even be able to discover our way up and down the cliff by means of your footprints and North’s. Still, it will all take a certain amount of time, and every hour of delay is so much gain for North. On the other hand, if they don’t happen to light upon his trail, and we keep you well out of sight, they may waste the whole day in an exhaustive search of the desert just round here, which would be nuts for us. You must pretend to be seedy, and stay in your room. If you don’t show up, perhaps they won’t find out the state of affairs for a day or two.”

“Beastly dull for me!” grumbled Fitz; but he yielded to the inevitable, and returned to his room, resolved to make up for the fatigues of the night by a few hours’ additional sleep. Indeed, the whole party slept late that morning, and 328 when Abd-ur-Rahim came in to inquire after the health of his prisoners, he found only Stratford prepared to receive him. This was fortunate, in that it postponed the danger of discovery, and Stratford gladly accepted the old man’s offer of a ride round the city in his company, as tending still further to avert suspicion. By one means or another, the whole of the day was tided over successfully, and the spirits of the captives began to rise. The next day, however, a new difficulty confronted them, in the shape of a deputation from the mutinous cavalry escort, who had found their way to Bir-ul-Malik, and demanded an interview with their hero Dick. In vain were they assured that he could not and would not see them. They expressed their readiness to await his convenience for any length of time; and Stratford guessed that, fearing they had made their native land too hot to hold them, they entertained the design of crossing the frontier under Dick’s leadership, taking their women and children with them, and transferring their allegiance to Her Most Gracious Majesty, as a preliminary to enlisting in the Khemistan Horse. It was a distinct relief to Stratford, when he considered the spirit in which Dick would probably have received this precious offer of service, to remember that he was not in the place; but it was a very embarrassing thing to have these men continually waiting and watching for an opportunity of seeing him. They were not interfered with in any way by Abd-ur-Rahim and his men—a fact which confirmed Stratford’s conviction that it had been arranged with them beforehand by Fath-ud-Din’s emissaries that they were to mutiny and desert when they did, and that their indignation respecting the misappro­priated bakhshish was only part of a deep-laid plot.

For some two or three hours the deputation sat waiting patiently outside the quarters allotted to the prisoners, while ambassadors went to them at intervals to represent 329 the uselessness of their remaining, and to advise them to withdraw. Then fortune favoured them, and they stole a march on Stratford. He had gone into the inner rooms to speak to the ladies, while Kustendjian was busy in his own quarters, and the deputation grasped their opportunity, and, after surprising and binding the man on guard at the door, walked in. Dick’s bearer was the only person who saw them enter, and he seized the moment, while they were admiring Stratford’s toilet arrangements, in the first room they reached, to rush to his master’s quarters and throw a sheet over Fitz, who was lying on the bedstead, very hot and discontented, in his shirt and trousers. There was just time for him to turn his face to the wall and for the man to arrange the sheet over his head in the manner of the natives when they sleep, before the deputation entered. A murmur of delight broke from them when they saw the shrouded figure, and they sat down in a semicircle on the floor, to wait until their desired leader should awake, all with their eyes fixed on the sheet, beneath which Fitz lay writhing in agonies of laughter. In vain did the bearer attempt to dislodge them by threats of his master’s anger when he awoke, in vain prophesy that their presence would do him harm; they simply reiterated their determination to see the General Dīk. At last, between laughter and the sheet, Fitz could bear no more; and, almost suffocated with heat, he threw out an arm and pushed the covering partially aside. A murmur of astonishment showed him at once that he had done more than he intended.

“But the General Dīk has light hair, and this man’s is black!” were the words he heard, and the leader of the party added authori­tatively—“That is not the arm of the General Dīk!”

“The General Dīk!” exclaimed the bearer, trying to improve matters—“nay, this is the chota sahib. Think 330 ye that the Major Sahib would have suffered you to enter his quarters, ye sons of swine?”

“But the little gentleman was lost!” was the cry, as Fitz threw off the sheet and sat up. “Where, then, is the General Dīk? Let us even seek Abd-ur-Rahim and ask him of the matter, for surely they have murdered our Lord Dīk!”

In an incredibly short space of time Abd-ur-Rahim had been informed of the miracle that had occurred, and was on the spot, only to become more and more mystified in the course of his inquiries. That Dick was gone and Fitz had taken his place was evident, but when or how the exchange had been effected was a mystery. None of the prisoners would offer any explanation. “That is for you to find out,” was their answer to all questions, and Abd-ur-Rahim and his officers beat their brains in vain. Means, motive, and opportunity for the change alike appeared wanting, and the puzzled Ethiopians took refuge at last in the hypothesis put forward by one of their number—

“It is the magic of the doctor lady! She has changed one into the other to lead us astray and to baffle our search for the youth.”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XX

skip to next chapter

but I won’t be silly and frighten the rest
[Don’t be an idiot, Georgia. Tell Dick and let him decide what, if any, action to take. Besides, it will soothe his masculine ego to think you rely upon him.]

and ride off upon my gee
[I’ll be darned. Consider:

In short, when I’ve a smattering of elemental strategy,

You’ll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee

where “a gee” or “agee” is supposed to mean askew or sideways, possibly related to the horse-driving word “gee” (counterpart to “haw”). Is it, in fact, military slang for a horse? Or did the author herself misunderstand the Major-General?]

the words which had been burning themselves into her brain during the last half-hour
[Funny, I was thinking the identical words.]

CHAPTER XXI.
FOR A CONSIDERATION.

“I can’t go on wasting time like this,” said Georgia to herself the next morning as she stood on the terrace, drawn thither by the fascination of the distant view of Bir-ul-Malikat. “Two whole days have slipped away already, 331 and I have not got a step nearer to discovering the antidote, nor even to communicating with Khadija. What am I to do? When those women and children came to ask for medicine yesterday, I thought it was a hopeful sign, and I suppose that if I stayed here long enough my fame might spread even as far as Bir-ul-Malikat; but what good is that when Abd-ur-Rahim won’t hear of our setting foot outside the walls? It was bad enough before, when I knew Dick would be angry if I hinted at going over to pay Khadija a visit, but I think I might have talked him round. I only wish the dear boy was here now to be angry, instead of being taken out of the way just when I had been thinking so unkindly about him. But I don’t see how Abd-ur-Rahim is to be worked upon, unless any of his own wives or children should happen to fall ill, and even then I am afraid I shouldn’t be able to persuade him to let me leave the town, if only for an hour or two. I wonder whether Rahah and I could concoct a letter to Khadija, and whether we could get it taken to her if we did? I should think we ought to be able to pique her curiosity, or perhaps her covetousness, supposing that she could read the letter when she got it. Let me see, what could we say?”

She knelt down with her arms on the parapet, and was revolving in her mind honied sentences which might cover an even more tempting meaning, and thus appeal to the witch’s cupidity, when her attention was attracted by a moving object between her and Bir-ul-Malikat. Now that the search for Dick had once more quitted the immediate neighbourhood of the fortress, the solitude of the desert was so seldom disturbed by any traveller that Georgia watched the approaching speck with interest. As it came nearer she saw that it was a man mounted on a donkey, but when it passed out of sight round the slope of the hill 332 she thought no more about it. Presently, however, Rahah came in hot haste to seek her mistress.

“There is a messenger from Bir-ul-Malikat waiting outside the door, O my lady, and he will not give his message to me. Is he to be allowed to speak to you?”

“Oh, of course. Some one must be ill,” said Georgia, and she returned indoors and donned her burka. The man whom she had seen riding across the desert was standing in the outer hall at a suitable distance from the doorway of the passage which led into the harem, and the door was open to allow of conversation. The visitor was respectably dressed, and had the appearance of a steward or other responsible servant, but his first words were not calculated to recommend his mission, at any rate as Rahah translated them.

“O doctor lady, Khadija, the mother of Yakub, sends thee greetings, and desires thee to visit her at Bir-ul-Malikat.”

“Why?” asked Georgia. “Is she ill?”

“I know not,” answered the man, doggedly.

“Then why does she send for me?”

“That is her business. It is not for any man to dispute the will of Khadija.”

Georgia pondered the matter for a moment. Her first impulse was to accept the invitation which had arrived thus opportunely, but its tone was so unpleasant that she began to suspect a trap. If her presence was really needed, Khadija could well afford to send her a more explicit message. It was evident that the matter was not one of life and death, or more would have been made of it, and Georgia had a lively recollection of the way in which she had been lured to the Palace at Kubbet-ul-Haj, to warn her against putting faith in mysterious messages. In any case, nothing could be lost, and the respect in which 333 she was held would probably increase, if she declined to pay any attention to a summons worded as this one had been.

“I go nowhere unless the messenger tells me plainly why I am wanted,” she said, sharply.

“That is not a reply to satisfy Khadija,” returned the messenger.

“Then she must find satisfaction elsewhere,” said Georgia.

“Her power is greater than the doctor lady knows.”

“Thou art a fool,” said Rahah, contemptuously, her wrath aroused by the veiled threat. “My lady also has medicines. Is she likely to fear Khadija?” and she dropped the curtain as a sign that the interview was at an end.

The messenger departed baffled, but it was not without many misgivings that Georgia heard his retreating footsteps crossing the tiled floor. Had she acted foolishly in refusing so peremptorily the witch’s request? It was possible that the terms in which it was couched had been adopted merely in order to try her, and that she had lost once for all the opportunity of gaining an entrance to Bir-ul-Malikat. The thought troubled her a good deal, in spite of the persistence with which she assured herself that it was only prudent to act as she had done, and she wandered in and out of the various rooms, unable to settle to any occupation, pausing now and then on the terrace to look across the desert in case the messenger should be returning. Engrossed in watching for him, she failed to notice the approach of another traveller, and it was with some surprise that she received the news which Rahah hurried out to bring her.

“O my lady, another messenger! He says that he is Yakub, the son of Khadija, but he will not say why he is come.”

Once more Georgia assumed her burka and went to interview 334 the visitor. He was a young man, somewhat foppishly dressed, and evidently a dandy in his way, his appearance producing in Georgia’s mind the impression that his mother had spoilt him as a boy, and now lavished upon him all the money she had to spare. He came forward with a slight swagger, and salaamed in rather a perfunctory way.

“O doctor lady, thy handmaid Khadija, my mother, sends thee greetings, and entreats thee to visit her at Bir-ul-Malikat.”

“Why?” asked Georgia, with a directness which he seemed to find embarrassing, for he fidgeted with his girdle as he replied—

“Nay, O doctor lady, is it strange that my mother, having heard of thy fame, should be anxious to see thee?”

“But why does she not come here? Is she ill?”

“No; thanks be to God!” was the answer.

“Then is there any one ill in her house?”

“That is not for me to tell the doctor lady.”

“Then neither is it for the doctor lady to go there,” and Georgia was about to retire into the harem again when he sprang forward.

“Let not the doctor lady turn away the light of her countenance from her servant. There is one ill in the house.”

“But who is ill, and what is the matter with him or her?”

“I cannot tell. I have given my message.”

“You must tell me if I am to come.”

“But it is not in my power, O doctor lady! My mother has told me no more than that, and I know only that it is one of the women.”

“In that case, my friend, you had better return to Bir-ul-Malikat at once, and find out the age of the patient and her symptoms. Then I will either give you medicine for 335 her, or I will ask leave from Abd-ur-Rahim to go and see her. It is absurd to come to me in this way. I should have no idea what to take with me.”

“But it cannot be, O doctor lady. My mother will tell me no more than I have told thee.”

“She must tell me more, if she wishes me to go and see her. You must make her understand that unless she is perfectly open with me she need not expect me to come. She can send me a letter if she likes, but I must have some idea what is the matter.” And Georgia retired into the interior of the harem, feeling that she was acting with a prudence such as Stratford himself could not have exceeded. That caution was necessary in this case she could not doubt. The repetition of the message, and the persistent mystery in which it was enwrapped, had raised strong suspicions in her mind that there was no sick person at all in the case, and that the request was merely a bait to lure her into the power of the sorceress—a trick which she did not intend should succeed a second time. Her desire was to be able to dictate terms to Khadija, not to be obliged to sue for her own release, and she awaited the further development of the situation with much interest and some anxiety. To pass away the time, she occupied herself in putting her medicine-chest in order, setting Rahah to work to polish her surgical instruments, a task in which the girl took a keen delight, and even before the business was finished to her satisfaction, another visitor was announced. As before, Rahah went out to see who it was, and returned in a high state of excitement.

“O my lady, it is Khadija the sorceress herself! Surely she has heard of my lady’s power, and comes to prove it.”

Georgia’s heart beat a good deal faster than before, as she walked slowly down the long room, refusing resolutely to quicken her steps, but she succeeded in keeping her 336 anxiety from betraying itself in her voice as she gave her visitor the usual greeting. The sorceress, a small shrunken old woman, with white hair and piercing dark eyes, looked at her sharply before making her hurried reply.

“And upon thee be peace, O doctor lady! Will my lady be pleased to accompany her handmaid back to Bir-ul-Malikat, where one of the household is grievously sick?”

“I must hear more about the matter before I come,” said Georgia, turning and leading the way through the passage back into the harem. “Sit down and rest, O Khadija, and tell me who is ill,” and as she spoke she seated herself upon the divan opposite the visitor, while Rahah took her stand beside her to interpret what was said.

“Nay,” said Khadija; “surely the doctor lady, who is so wise, needs not to be told anything? She knows all things by her own wisdom.”

This was a direct challenge, and Georgia saw that it would be necessary to administer a lesson to her visitor. She drew herself up and fixed her eyes sternly on Khadija.

“You are right, O Khadija. I know many things without hearing of them from you, and before we talk again of your matters I will ask you certain questions, and according as you deal truly with me in answering them or not, so will I decide whether I will grant your request.”

Khadija looked up in evident surprise, not unmixed with apprehension, and Georgia went on, speaking in a low voice, but very slowly and distinctly—

“You are learned in poisons, Khadija. Tell me, then, what was the drug that Fath-ud-Din used to poison the Queen of England’s Envoy—that drug which you gave him?”

“God forbid!” cried Khadija, raising her skinny hands in indignant protest. “Does the doctor lady think that her handmaid is as one of the evil women in the corners of 337 the bazaars, who sell poisons to wives tired of their husbands? Far be it from me to deal with deadly drugs to such an end!”

“I have other questions to ask, Khadija, but I shall speak with you no more unless you answer this one. Also it would be well for you to answer it truly, for I know the answer.”

“If the doctor lady knows, why should she ask me?” grumbled the old woman; but the response was prompt—

“That I may see whether you are dealing truly with me or not, O Khadija.”

“It might have been the juice of a plant?” was the tentative suggestion. “Yea, doubtless it was the juice of a plant,” with the air of one who had just remembered a forgotten fact.

“It might have been, but it was not.”

“It might have been some metal, or a deadly fruit, or the venom of a serpent?” the last with a cunning side-look at Georgia.

“No, it was none of those; but we are coming to the point. Hasten, O Khadija; my patience will not last for ever.”

“Could it have been the essence distilled from the dried body of—some beast?”

Georgia rose from her seat and turned away, but the old woman threw herself before her and clutched her dress.

“O my lady, was it the poison of a deadly fish?”

“Ah! now we are getting at the truth,” said Georgia, turning, but refusing to sit down again. “It was a fish, then; but how was the poison administered?”

“Surely the doctor lady knows all things. It would be vain if one should try to deceive her. There was but one small drop of the medicine, and it was to be given in a cup of coffee.”

338

“And it was carried for safety in the jewel of a ring, which was to be dropped into the coffee. Is it not so, Khadija? But we will speak of the Father of sleep again presently. Tell me now who it is that is ill in your house, and what the sickness is.”

As they resumed their seats on the divan, Khadija gave a lingering look into Georgia’s eyes, trying to discover whether she was possessed of information upon this point also, but finding herself baffled, leaned forward and spoke in a whisper.

“O doctor lady, I will not deceive thee. It is my master’s daughter—my Rose of the World, my child Zeynab.”

“And what is the matter with her?”

“O my lady, I will hide nothing from thee. The maiden is light of foot and venturesome as the wild goats. Some days ago—it may have been four or five—she was climbing upon the walls of the garden with the slave-girls, and she declared to them that she could go further than any of them along the wall where it was broken. Thy handmaid called to her with many rebukes to come down, but she was headstrong and went on, and presently a part of the wall fell with her to the ground. Nor was that all, for a great stone lay upon her foot and crushed it, and nothing that I have done will cure it.”

“What have you tried?” asked Georgia—and the old woman gave a list of various native remedies she had administered, all of them sounding equally inadequate to a European listener, and the greater number either painful or disgusting.

“And now, O my lady, the foot is swollen to the size of twice my head, and it has turned black, and the maiden sobs and moans day and night.”

“That sounds as though the bones were crushed,” said Georgia. “I may have to take off the foot.”

339

“Never, O doctor lady! Better that the child should die, though she is the light of my eyes, and Fath-ud-Din will slay me if any ill befalls her. Rather than lose her foot she must die, for who will marry a woman with only one foot?”

“I will have a look at it, and see what I can do,” said Georgia. “It may be possible to remove the shattered bones without amputation. But you must understand that if I come I take the responsibility and the authority in the case. If it is only possible to save the girl’s life by amputating her foot, it will have to be done. You must leave me to settle it with Fath-ud-Din, and I will take the blame.”

“Nay!” cried Khadija, with still more energy. “Fath-ud-Din must know nothing of this, whether the maiden recover or not. O doctor lady, she is all that I have, saving my son Yakub, and when I have seen her married to the King’s son Antar Khan I can die happy; but Fath-ud-Din would take her at once from my keeping if he heard what had happened to her, or knew that I had brought in an English doctor-woman to see her. Thou wilt not tell him, O doctor lady? I know that the English speak the truth. Fath-ud-Din hates them; but if they have the skill to save his daughter, it is well to make use of it without his knowledge.”

It is sad to be obliged to confess the humiliating truth, but it was this speech that decided Georgia to embark upon a course so unprofessional that, if it had become known in England, it would have been the duty of her medical confrères to drive her with ignominy from their midst. She made up her mind deliberately to haggle for her fee before she visited the patient.

“Why was it that you gave Fath-ud-Din the poison with which to injure the Envoy?” she asked, suddenly. Khadija looked astonished at the unexpected change of subject.

340

“Nay, O my lady, is it not the duty of a servant to do her master’s will?”

“You are not in the position of an ordinary servant to Fath-ud-Din—you are more of an adviser and helper. Why did you make it easy for him to poison a man who had done you no wrong?”

“I hate the English,” responded the old woman, sullenly. “They came and burnt my village because our men had raided into Khemistan, and my husband and my elder son were killed.”

“And now you are obliged to rely upon an Englishwoman to help you to avoid the wrath of Fath-ud-Din? Hear me, Khadija—I will come to Bir-ul-Malikat and do my utmost to cure Zeynab, but only on one condition.”

“And that is, O doctor lady——?”

“That you give me the antidote for the poison you call the Father of sleep, and tell me how to apply it. If I find you have deceived me, Fath-ud-Din shall know everything; but if the Envoy recovers, all will be well.”

“O my lady, she will poison you as soon as you have cured the girl,” put in Rahah, in a frightened whisper.

“I think not,” said Georgia. “Tell her that before I leave this house I shall write out an account of the circumstances, to be sent immediately to Fath-ud-Din in case anything should happen to me.”

Khadija received the information with a grunt. “And what will the doctor lady do in return for the antidote?” she asked.

“I will go with her to Bir-ul-Malikat,” replied Georgia, “and do all I can to save the girl’s foot. Whether I find that amputation is necessary or not, I will remain in the house until the patient is fairly on the way to recovery, that she may have the best possible chance.”

The old woman nodded her head meditatively. “Thou 341 wilt cure my Zeynab, and I will give thee the antidote. That is fair. Thou wilt come at once, O doctor lady?”

“I must make a few arrangements first. You are prepared to give my maid and me a room to ourselves, I suppose, as we shall be obliged to remain over the night? It may be necessary for us to spend four or five days with you.”

“Oh yes; the doctor lady shall be lodged in the best part of the harem, in the rooms of my Zeynab’s mother—may she rest in peace!—and the women of the household shall see to her comfort.”

“That is well,” said Georgia, as she left the room and went to seek Lady Haigh. Rahah followed her.

“It is not safe, O my lady. She will kill you if she can, and there will be many opportunities if you are staying in her house.”

“We must try to take adequate precautions, and baffle her, Rahah. In any case, the possibility of success is worth the risk.”

Nevertheless, as Georgia knocked softly at the door of the sick-room, the thought crossed her mind: “At any rate, I will make sure before I go that I shall be allowed to try my remedy if I succeed in bringing it back. It is a risk, undoubtedly, to go, and I shall hear a good deal about it from Dick if I ever return, so that I won’t enter on it as a mere speculation.”

“What is it, Georgie?” asked Lady Haigh, coming out. “Is anything fresh the matter?” for the repressed excitement in Georgia’s manner caught her attention at once.

Instead of answering immediately, Georgia drew her to the window and threw open the lattice, so that the light fell full on the faces of both.

“Have you confidence in me, Lady Haigh?—as a doctor, I mean?”

“Every confidence, Georgie. I would sooner have you to 342 attend me if I was ill than any male doctor I know. But why do you ask? Oh, my dear, don’t—don’t tell me that it is anything about Dugald! He doesn’t seem quite so strong here, I know; but it is only the change of air. Don’t say that he is really worse!”

“No, that is not what I wanted to say, though it has to do with Sir Dugald. Just before we left Kubbet-ul-Haj, Lady Haigh, I found out the name of the poison Fath-ud-Din used against him. Now I have the chance of obtaining the antidote; but that involves my going to Bir-ul-Malikat, and perhaps remaining there for several days, attending Fath-ud-Din’s daughter. If I can cure her, I am to have the remedy given to me. What I want to know is, if I obtain the antidote, will you let me use it for Sir Dugald?”

“But you must not go, Georgie! I can’t let you run into danger, and what you propose would be fearfully dangerous.”

“That is not the question, Lady Haigh; and the danger is my affair. You can’t prevent my going, except by assuring me that you won’t let me try the antidote.”

“Oh, Georgie, how can you be so unkind?” And Lady Haigh fairly broke down. “He is getting worse, I know it; and he will slip away without ever recognising me or speaking to me again. I ought to prevent your going, I know; but I can’t. Oh, what will Major North say to me? No, Georgie, don’t go! We have had our share of happiness, Dugald and I; and how can I dare to risk your future and Major North’s? Oh, why did you ask me, and make me pronounce my husband’s death-sentence? No, don’t mind what I say; I am nearly mad with trouble. You are not to go.”

“Nevertheless, I am going,” said Georgia, her face very pale. “My only condition is that you are to use the antidote, if I can get it sent to you, whatever happens to me. You are quite right—I ought not to have asked you. 343 It was only that it struck me suddenly that you might listen to Dick and Mr Stratford again, and it would all be no use. You promise me that you will try the antidote, if I can get it?”

“Nothing can be worse than his state now,” sobbed Lady Haigh. “Yes, I will use it, Georgie. How could I do otherwise, when you are risking your life to obtain it for him? You believe in it, I can see that.”

“I do, and I hope that before long you will have good cause to believe in it too. Now I must tell Mr Stratford of my intended mission. I shall say nothing about the antidote, but I won’t get into trouble again by going off without leave.”

Stratford was busied, with Fitz and Kustendjian, in compiling the official chronicle of the events of the last few days, and it did not strike him that there was any special danger in Georgia’s going to visit a patient who had asked for her attendance. He knew nothing of the evil fame of Khadija, and thought that if Abd-ur-Rahim could be brought to give his consent, the ride to Bir-ul-Malikat would be a pleasant change for Georgia after her imprisonment within the four walls of the harem.

“One of us might go over with the escort and fetch you back,” he suggested, “if you could fix any special time.”

“I’m afraid I can’t,” said Georgia, with a guilty feeling of concealment, “for I don’t know how long I shall be. If it is necessary to perform an operation, I shall probably be detained some time. Could you spare Mr Anstruther to help me get my things together, and to see that the horses are properly saddled?”

Fitz jumped up from the divan with great alacrity, and when Georgia had him alone she confided her plan to him, explaining the importance of her going to Bir-ul-Malikat at this juncture, and the probability that her stay there might 344 extend over several days. His first impulse was naturally to declare that he would go too, and to reproach her with unkindness and lack of confidence in him when she refused his escort somewhat decidedly. But Georgia had her answer ready.

“I don’t want you at Bir-ul-Malikat, Mr Anstruther, because I think you would be more useful here. I want to arrange a code of signals which will show whether all is going well or not. Do you know anything of heliography? I have a small mirror in my dressing-case, and, if you have another, we could each signal night and morning how things were going, for I ought to know if Sir Dugald gets worse. I suppose one flash would mean ‘All right!’ and two ‘Send help!’”

“Oh, we can do better than that,” said Fitz, whose face had brightened perceptibly when he found that he might be of use even though he was not allowed to act as Georgia’s escort. “I will jot down the Morse code for you, Miss Keeling, and then we can hold conversations. Long and short flashes will represent dashes and dots, you see, and none of the natives will be able to imitate our signals, though they might easily twig what one flash meant, and signal ‘All right!’ when it was all wrong. You didn’t know I studied telegraphy a little before I came out, did you? One never knows when things may prove useful, and I chummed up with a clerk in the Whitcliffe post-office, and got him to put me up to the dodges.”

Leaving Fitz occupied in writing out the code, Georgia next made a raid on the stores under the care of Ismail Bakhsh. She felt it to be a matter of the greatest importance that Rahah and she should take their own provisions with them, since to depend on Khadija’s liberality would be merely a gratuitous invitation to her to poison them both, and with this danger in her mind she secured 345 a sufficient quantity of meat extract and other portable articles of food to last for three or four days. Ismail Bakhsh demurred persistently to parting with the stores in his charge, except in obedience to an officially signed order, yielding only under protest; while, when he discovered, from some chance words let drop by Rahah, the real object of the journey, he could scarcely be restrained from going at once to Stratford and begging him to prevent it. Rahah overwhelmed him with shrill reproaches, for, little as she approved of the expedition herself, she was determined not to allow any man living to thwart her mistress’s wishes; but it was Georgia herself who forced him to give an unwilling acquiescence to the plan. Her plea that she was going to secure a medicine that might cure the Burra Sahib he dismissed with contempt, remarking that the Burra Sahib’s illness did not concern her—a slight to her profession which aroused all the ire of which Georgia was capable. Looking straight at him, she spoke sternly—

“Am I to ask your leave to go where I will, Ismail Bakhsh—you who have eaten my father’s salt? I am going to Bir-ul-Malikat, and I forbid you to interfere. You take too much upon yourself.”

Ismail Bakhsh saluted in dumb amazement as Rahah translated the words with much gusto.

“Truly Sinjāj Kīlin himself speaks in his daughter!” he murmured submissively, as Georgia increased by another tin the pile which Rahah was carrying, and left the room without vouchsafing him another glance. He watched the two women out of sight, and after securing the door of the store-room, went off to his quarters, revolving many things in his mind.

Georgia’s preparations were now almost complete. Rahah had added several native loaves and a quantity of flour to 346 her stock of provisions, together with a saucepan and a new water-jar, and Fitz brought Georgia the paper on which he had written out the Morse code, and reminded her that it was possible, by means of two mirrors placed at right angles to each other, to obtain a flash when the sun might seem to be too low in the heavens for signalling to be attempted with success. The only thing now left to be done, although it was a very important one, was to obtain Abd-ur-Rahim’s consent to the expedition. It occurred to Georgia that in this she might find a powerful ally in Khadija, and before sending Rahah to ask the old commandant to come and speak to her, she returned to the room in which she had left the sorceress. When Abd-ur-Rahim appeared, Rahah was walking meekly behind him, and passing into the inner room, took her place behind her mistress without a word; but it struck Georgia presently that she must have made a suggestion to him on the way.

“What does the doctor lady require?” asked Abd-ur-Rahim.

“I wish to go to Bir-ul-Malikat with Khadija, who has one sick in the house that she desires me to see,” said Georgia.

“But the doctor lady must remember that it was not even permitted to her yesterday to visit the sick in the town, outside the citadel. How, then, could her servant suffer her to cross the desert to Bir-ul-Malikat?”

“But surely you will make an exception in favour of Khadija, who is the servant of your lord Fath-ud-Din?” urged Georgia, aghast at this new possibility of failure just as success seemed to be in her grasp.

“I know not,” replied Abd-ur-Rahim, cautiously. “Who is it that is sick?”

“Make no inquiry into matters that concern thee not, O Abd-ur-Rahim,” put in Khadija, with more than the usual 347 touch of sharpness in her tone. “It is enough for thee that one of thy lord’s household is sick, and that I desire the doctor lady to come and see her. It will not be for thy health, nor for that of thine house, for thee to put difficulties in the way of her coming.”

Abd-ur-Rahim grew visibly paler under the implied threat. “But what shall I say to my lord and to the English if any evil befalls the doctor lady?” he asked, helplessly.

“What evil should befall her?” snapped Khadija. “Am I a dog, to ill-treat the one who comes to help me?”

“Nay,” stammered Abd-ur-Rahim. “Far be it from me to hint evil concerning thee. But there are dangers in the desert, and perhaps among the servants at Bir-ul-Malikat there might be—— Nay, I cannot let the doctor lady go unless I have a surety in her place.”

“Whom dost thou seek?” demanded Khadija.

“Thy son, Yakub, that he may remain here until the doctor lady has returned in peace.”

“It is well,” returned the old woman, after a scarcely perceptible pause. “Why should I fear for my son, since I mean well to the doctor lady? Let him come, and welcome.”

“Then I will ride with thee to Bir-ul-Malikat, and receive the young man before the doctor lady arrives there,” said Abd-ur-Rahim, determined to leave no opening for the evasion of his conditions.

Khadija gave an angry snort, but to demur would have been to cast a doubt on the honesty of her own intentions, and she submitted to the inevitable. Abd-ur-Rahim departed to order the horses to be got ready, and Georgia went to say good-bye to Lady Haigh, and to give her last directions respecting the treatment of Sir Dugald. Fitz received a parting injunction to take care of Colleen Bawn, and was further honoured by having Dick’s sword committed to his 348 keeping. Georgia would have liked to take it with her, but it was rather an unmanageable piece of luggage, and she gave it into his charge with no little reluctance.

There was still another parting to be undergone, for as the three women passed through the front portion of the house and reached the steep path which led down into the courtyard, Ismail Bakhsh came to meet them, with his hand on the shoulder of his son Ibrahim.

“O my lady,” he said to Georgia, “thy servant would entreat thy forgiveness for his words of an hour ago. It was not for him to order thy doings, but he would fain serve thee still, for thy father’s sake. He is old, and cannot now fight as he did once, but let my lady permit his son to take his place, and guard her in her journey and in her sojourn in the strange house.”

“O my lady, let him come,” whispered Rahah, and Georgia assented to the old man’s request. Ibrahim was not likely to be of much service as a guard, but he might contrive to escape with the antidote if she and Rahah were prevented from leaving when they wished.

“It is well,” said Ismail Bakhsh. “Guard well the doctor lady, O my son, for thy father ate her father’s bread for many years. Count thine own life nothing in comparison with the life of Sinjāj Kīlin’s daughter, and it shall please thy father well, whatever issue it may please God to send to this matter.”

“What says the old fool about Sinjāj Kīlin?” demanded Khadija, catching the name.

“My lady is Sinjāj Kīlin’s daughter,” said Rahah, with much pride; but the look on the old woman’s face made her recoil terrified. “O my lady, she means to kill us,” she whispered fearfully when she could gain Georgia’s ear.

“We can’t turn back now, Rahah.”

“If the doctor lady should run into some danger in spite 349 of me, and evil should befall her, thou wilt not hold me guilty?” Khadija was saying to Abd-ur-Rahim.

“Nay, surely, if it is no fault of thine,” was the response.

“It is well,” said Khadija.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXI

It is not for any man to dispute the will of Khadija.”
close quote missing

to help you to avoid the wrath of Fath-ud-Din
text has to kelp you

explaining the importance of her going to Bir-ul-Malikat at this juncture
text has Bir-ul-Mulikat

CHAPTER XXII.
A SILENCE THAT WAS GOLDEN.

Although she would not for the world have allowed either Rahah or Khadija to discover the fact, Georgia was conscious of a distinct sense of shrinking as she rode under the gateway of Bir-ul-Malikat, after seeing Abd-ur-Rahim start on his homeward journey with young Yakub among his followers. The place was less of a fortress, and more of a country seat, than Bir-ul-Malik; but the high walls which surrounded the grounds of the great house, and about which a number of smaller buildings and huts were clustered, were quite capable of defence, and the assemblage of men visible about the gate and courtyard showed that a respectable garrison could be collected in time of need. Still, the fortifications were not of such a character as to be able to stand a protracted siege, and Georgia guessed what was indeed the truth, that while they were useful to withstand the sudden raid of any marauding border tribe, who might be supposed to be swayed by the hope of plunder more strongly than by superstitious fear, the real bulwark of the place was Khadija’s reputation as a sorceress. Here she was supreme, and her fame protected alike her precious charge and the servants and labourers who formed the little colony. When she had 350 once for all secured the transference of Jahan Beg’s rights in Bir-ul-Malik to her master, by diverting the water-supply, she had removed from her path the only enemy on whom the universal belief in her supernatural power for ill had no effect, and who had been able to keep an eye on her doings. Every man and woman in the place was bound to Khadija’s service both by interest and by fear, and Georgia felt that it was indeed well that Abd-ur-Rahim had insisted on receiving her son as a hostage before he would intrust his prisoners to her tender mercies.

Dismounting from their steeds in the inner courtyard of the great house, where a number of slave-girls were gathered to stare at them, the new arrivals were led by Khadija into the rooms which she had promised them, and which, as Georgia was delighted to find, looked out on the desert in the direction of Bir-ul-Malik. After a short interval to allow them to arrange their possessions and to remove a little of the sand of travel, the old woman came to fetch them, and led them through the rambling, half-deserted house to the opposite wing. Everything in the rooms through which they were conducted spoke of vanished wealth and a gorgeous past. The divans were covered with rich silks, now faded, torn, and dirty, and costly ornaments of European manufacture stood broken and tarnished in corners. It was evident that Fath-ud-Din’s ambitious plans for his daughter’s future had not impelled him to keep her present abode even in tolerable repair, while it was not difficult to discern that Khadija cherished a strong preference for muddle and dirt over cleanliness and order. The state of the passages and of the bedrooms opening from them was extraordinary—they seemed to be filled both with the dust and with the rags of ages; while in the innermost room of all, and therefore the one with the smallest allowance of air and light, was to be found the jewel enshrined in this sorry 351 casket, Fath-ud-Din’s daughter Zeynab, the destined bride of Antar Khan.

“This is my Rose of the World, O doctor lady,” said Khadija, when she had led Georgia into the dark close room, and as she spoke she indicated a small form crouched among a heap of cushions on a broken bedstead. It was so dark that there was no possibility of seeing anything distinctly.

“Get up on that chest, Rahah, and open the lattice a little way,” said Georgia; and as the girl, with a vigorous wrench, forced open the small high window, which moved so stiffly that it was evident it had not been touched for years, the light disclosed a very white little Rose indeed, with a face drawn with pain, and grimed and blistered with crying. The child (she could not have been more than ten) was lying in an uncomfortable cramped position, with the injured foot fastened down to one of the legs of the bedstead. This was Khadija’s latest idea of the way to reduce a swelling. Before saying anything, Georgia stooped and cut the cord, replacing the foot gently on the cushions, but the slight movement drew an uneasy little cry from the patient.

“Who are these people?” she demanded fretfully of Khadija, trying to arrange the folds of the dirty wrapper she was wearing into some semblance of dignity. “I do not want visitors when I cannot put on my best clothes. Why hast thou brought these women here, O my nurse? Who are they, I say?” sharply.

“It is the great doctor lady, who will cure thy foot, my dove,” replied Khadija, somewhat shamefacedly.

“The Englishwoman?” exclaimed the child, starting up and glaring at Georgia with eyes like those of a hunted stag. Then, sinking down again, she burst into a storm of angry sobs, striking Khadija passionately when she tried to calm her. It was useless for Georgia to speak, and equally 352 useless for the old woman to entreat her Rose, her dove, her eyes, her soul, her Queen Zeynab, to be quiet and let the doctor lady look at her foot. The sobs continued with unabated violence, mingled with torrents of vituperation directed at Khadija, and the child fought like a wild cat when any one attempted to touch her.

“Leave her alone,” said Georgia, with an imperative gesture, to Khadija; “come here, and let her have her cry out. Now tell me what you have been saying to her to make her afraid of me.”

“Nothing, O doctor lady—nothing, in the name of God! It is only that the maiden fears the face of strangers.”

“That would not account for her terror on finding out who I was. Speak, Khadija, and tell the truth, or I leave the house at once.”

Terror-stricken by the threat, the old woman mumbled out an explanation, which Rahah translated to her mistress.

“She says, O my lady, that since she heard you were at Bir-ul-Malik she has frightened the child with your name. When she was going to try a new medicine, or to hurt her at all, she would say, ‘If you cry or struggle, I will send for the cruel English doctor lady, who will cut off your foot in little pieces,’ and the child was quiet at once.”

“That is quite enough,” said Georgia, observing that Zeynab, guessing that the rest were talking about her, had hushed her sobs in order to try to hear what they were saying, and she returned to the side of the bed. The sobs began again at once, but Georgia laid a firm hand on the child’s shoulder and signed to Rahah to interpret for her.

“When you have quite finished crying, Zeynab, you can let me know, and I will show you something I have got here.”

The sobs continued for a minute or two with equal 353 violence, but presently they slackened a little, and Zeynab inquired brokenly, “What kind of thing is it?”

“Something you will like to see,” said Georgia; and Rahah added on her own account as she translated the words: “The doctor lady says so, and the English always tell the truth.”

“Do they?” asked Zeynab, with interest. “I thought they were very bad people.” She had ceased to sob, but was too proud to ask for the sight she had been promised, and Georgia took something out of her bag, and waited. More from habit than from any expectation of making use of it, she had slipped in with her instruments a German toy which she had found very useful in winning the friendship of children in her old hospital days, and which had proved a source of great delight to Nur Jahan and the other women in the Palace at Kubbet-ul-Haj. It was carved in wood, and represented a cock standing on a barrel. The barrel contained a yard-measure, and when the tape was drawn out the bird flapped his wings, faster or slower according to the rapidity of the movement.

“What is it?” inquired Zeynab at last, looking curiously at the cock, her interest stimulated by the doctor’s silence. For answer, Georgia pulled out the tape, and the child gave a shriek of wild delight.

“Wonderful, wonderful!” she cried. “Is it alive?”

Rahah explained that the bird was merely one of the marvels of the white people, and Zeynab, after a somewhat timid approach, ventured to pull the tape for herself. Then she was fairly won, and screamed with pleasure as the cock flapped his wings for her. Not to make the wonder too cheap, Georgia reclaimed it after a short time; but the ice was broken. Zeynab lay back on her cushions and looked at her musingly.

“Art thou really a woman?” she asked at last.

354

“Yes. What else could I be?” asked Georgia, smiling.

“I thought thou wert perhaps a man,” said the child, shyly; and Georgia felt devoutly thankful that Dick was not there to hear her. “Shall I tell thee why, O doctor lady?” she went on, then turned suddenly to Khadija. “O my nurse, I am thirsty. Bring me some sherbet.”

“One of the slaves shall prepare it for thee, my soul.”

“No, there is no one who makes it as thou dost. Fetch it for me, O my nurse, or I shall scream.”

With a very bad grace Khadija complied with the imperious command, and hobbled out of the room. The moment she was gone, Zeynab took a folded piece of paper from beneath her pillow and laid it in Georgia’s hand.

“There!” she said, with a radiant smile. Georgia unfolded the paper, and found it to contain a wretched native print, vile alike in drawing, colour, and intention, and purporting to represent an English ball-room. Some resemblance between the open coat and cotton blouse which Georgia wore with her riding-skirt, and a man’s dress-coat and shirt-front, had struck the child, and led her to the conclusion that Georgia was a man.

“I see what you mean,” said Georgia, whose one glance at the print had filled her with loathing; “but, Zeynab, this is not a very pretty picture for you to have. If you will give it to me, I will find you a book with several pictures in it instead.”

“Give me the book first,” was the prudent answer, as Zeynab reclaimed her treasure jealously. “This is all I have. What are thy pictures like, O doctor lady?”

“There is one of the Queen of England and many of her family,” said Georgia, thinking of some odd numbers of illustrated papers which had thus far survived wonderfully the various vicissitudes of the Mission. “I might even 355 find you two or three books if you will be good and let me look at your foot.”

“Oh, my foot!” Zeynab’s face was pursed up once more in readiness to cry. “It hurts so dreadfully, and Khadija said thou wouldst cut it off.”

“Not if I can possibly help it, I promise you. Will you be a brave girl, and let me look at it quietly? I don’t mind your crying out if I hurt you very much; but you must not struggle, and I will be as gentle as I can.”

“But why should I be hurt? I am Queen Zeynab.”

“Because I must hurt you a little now if you are to get well afterwards. If you are queen here, show it by being braver than any one else would be. I am treating you like a grown-up person, Zeynab, not like a baby.”

“It is well,” said Zeynab, with a frightened little smile. “Thou wilt not cut my foot off bit by bit?”

“Certainly not. If I should have to cut it off, I will give you something to prevent your feeling it at all, so that you won’t even know that it is being done; but I hope it will not be necessary. Now let me see it.”

With great bravery the child allowed her foot to be disencumbered of the mass of dirty rags in which it was enveloped, and lay still with compressed lips while Georgia made her examination. The theory which the doctor had formed on hearing Khadija’s report she saw at once to be the correct one. The splintered bone was accountable for the swelling, and would have induced mortification if it had remained much longer in the wound. The foot was in a frightful state, but there was still just a possibility of operating with success. The operation must be undertaken at once, Georgia decided, if the limb was to be saved, and she turned to Rahah to tell her to get out the necessary anæsthetic. The movement, slight as it was, gave a jerk to the rickety bedstead, which communicated itself to the 356 wounded foot, and forced a moan of pain from the child’s lips. Almost simultaneously with the sound, Khadija precipitated herself into the room with a suddenness which suggested that she must have been listening at the door, and seizing Georgia by the shoulders, thrust her violently away from the bed and to the other side of the little room.

“What art thou doing to my child?” she demanded, standing between the doctor and Zeynab, who was sobbing and wailing with the pain of the rough jar which the impetuous onslaught had caused to her foot. “Answer me, O doctor lady! I sent for thee to cure her, and wouldst thou torment her when I am not by?”

“It is thou who art hurting me, O my nurse,” moaned Zeynab. “The doctor lady did but shake me a little, but thou hast killed me. Go away, and let the doctor lady do what she likes.”

“What! has the doctor lady bewitched thy heart away from me already?” cried the old woman, turning upon her. “Ah, wicked girl, what hast thou there?” and she pounced upon the vile daub which was as good as a whole art gallery to Zeynab, and tore it to pieces. “Have I not forbidden thee to see or hear anything of the evil doings of the wicked white people?”

“I hate thee!” screamed Zeynab, flinging herself upon her nurse, and attacking her with all her might. “The white people are good, and thou hast torn my picture. I love the doctor lady, but thou art a pig!”

“Hush, Zeynab, you will make your foot worse,” said Georgia, interposing between Khadija and her charge. “I am going to give you something that will keep you from feeling pain, and then I hope I shall be able to do you some good.”

“Nay,” cried Khadija; “wouldst thou steal away the child’s soul under pretence of saving her pain? I know 357 thee, O doctor lady, and thou shalt never shut up my Zeynab’s soul in a bottle with snakes and devils and unclean animals. I have heard of thy doings, and of the demons thou hast to serve thee, and how thou dost steal souls that thou mayest make them work evil at thy will. Thou shalt not charm my Zeynab’s soul away to imprison it with them.”

But it only needed this to determine Zeynab immediately in favour of the anæsthetic.

“Shut up my soul in a bottle?” she exclaimed, with eager interest. “But thou wilt not keep it there always, O doctor lady? I should like it for a little while, but not for long.”

“I couldn’t put your soul in a bottle if I wanted it there,” said Georgia, laughing; “but I promise you that I won’t keep you without it longer than I can help.”

“I tell thee thou shalt not use thy vile drugs on the maiden,” declared Khadija stoutly, as Rahah began to get out the necessary implements.

“Then how am I to perform the operation?” asked Georgia.

“I will call two of the slave-women, and they shall hold the child quiet.”

“O doctor lady, thou wilt not let her bring them to hold me down?” entreated Zeynab piteously. “They hurt so dreadfully.”

“Certainly not. I am in charge of this case, Khadija, and I refuse to undertake the operation unless the patient is put under chloroform. If she struggled, frightful harm might be done.”

“At least I shall be here to wake her if I see that thou art taking away her soul.”

“If you do, I shall have to chloroform you too. No, if you stay in the room, you will not move unless I tell you to do anything. Otherwise I must send you away.”

358

Khadija was vanquished. With a grunt she wrapped her head in her veil, and sat down on the floor at the head of the bed, while Georgia and Rahah proceeded with their preparations, the carved chest in which Zeynab’s best clothes were kept serving as an impromptu operating-table. The poor little patient grew paler and paler as she caught sight of one horror after another, for she insisted on raising herself on her elbow to look at everything, and demanded that Rahah should show her the instruments one by one. Georgia put a stop to this at once, but the child’s terror was already so extreme that nothing but the determination not to allow Khadija to triumph kept her from entreating the doctor lady to postpone the operation. She looked up with a pitiful smile when the chloroform was about to be administered, and seemed almost ready to beg for a respite; but Khadija was leaning forward and scanning her face keenly, on the alert to take advantage of the slightest willingness to yield, and she said with a little gasp—

“O doctor lady, I am not frightened. Go on, O girl.”

But when the chloroform had taken effect, and Rahah moved aside a little to enable Georgia to reach the patient more easily, Khadija caught a glimpse of her charge and sprang up.

“Thou hast killed her, O doctor lady! Alas, my Rose of the World, that thy Khadija should have given thee into the hands of the infidel!” and she was about to shake the child violently, in the hope of restoring her to consciousness; but Georgia’s patience was at an end.

“Take her out,” she said sharply to Rahah, to the intense delight of the handmaiden; and before Khadija realised what was happening to her, she was outside the door, and the door was bolted on the inside, while Rahah assured her emphatically through the crack that the child was alive, and would remain so if she would only keep quiet, but that if 359 she made any noise or disturbance the worst results might confidently be expected to ensue. Terrified by the realisation of the fact that her darling was now absolutely in the power of the strangers, Khadija crouched silently at the door and made no sign, while in the respite afforded by her exclusion from the room, Georgia, with Rahah’s assistance, performed her task speedily and successfully. The splinter was extracted and the broken bone set, after which the wound was carefully dressed, with the aid of appliances such as had never been seen in Ethiopia before, and Rahah contemplated the result with pride.

“Regular hospital treatment!” she said, adopting the words she had once heard Dr Headlam use to Georgia with reference to a case of his own, and then turned her attention to making as comfortable a bed as possible out of the coverlets and cushions scattered about, that the patient might not return to consciousness on the wretched bedstead she had occupied hitherto. When everything was finished the door was opened and Khadija again admitted. She came in suspiciously, and looked askance at all she saw; but, on finding that Zeynab was sleeping quietly, sat down beside her without uttering a word.

The operation once successfully completed, Georgia and Rahah settled down to an extremely monotonous mode of life for several days. Their sole interest and excitement was caused by the improvement or relapses of the patient, and by the necessity of keeping an eye on Khadija. Not only was it extremely likely that the old woman would try to poison them, but she also cherished a lively distrust of Georgia’s dressings, and there was a constant risk that in a frenzy of rage she might tear them off, and even interfere with the wound itself, in which case poor Zeynab would have been worse off than before. But as the days passed on and Zeynab continued to make progress, the old woman 360 began to believe once more in the possibility of her charge’s regaining perfect health. The little face which had been so pinched and pain-lined began to recover its bloom, and Georgia found it possible to believe in the loveliness the report of which had spread even to Kubbet-ul-Haj, and which had earned for Zeynab her pet-name of Rose of the World. Warm water and the gift of a piece of the doctor lady’s soap were powerful inducements to the child to keep her face clean, and the consequent improvement in her appearance surprised no one more than Khadija. Her wild outbreaks of wrath ceased gradually as Zeynab’s eyes grew brighter and her cheeks less thin, and her manner to Georgia became markedly gracious. But this did not lead to any slackening of the precautions observed by the visitors, for they knew that their danger was considerably increased by the fact that they had performed their part of the bargain, whereas Khadija had not as yet discharged hers. Every day Rahah cooked their food over a spirit-lamp and drew from the well the water they needed, while Ibrahim also was provided for out of the stores they had brought with them. For the hours of darkness, moreover, Rahah patented a scheme of defence of which the idea was entirely her own. Before leaving Bir-ul-Malik, she had begged from Ismail Bakhsh a box of tin-tacks, and every night she strewed these upon the floor, with the points upwards. Georgia remarked that if the house should catch fire, and Rahah and she found it necessary to escape hurriedly, they themselves would be the first to suffer; but Rahah was not deterred from adopting her plan by this consideration. She had also possessed herself of a whistle, with which it was her intention to summon Ibrahim from his slumbers to the rescue, in case of an attack in force; and she explained this to him very clearly, only to discover that the idea of entering the harem, even on an 361 errand of such urgency, appalled him almost more than the prospect that murder would be done if he stayed outside.

“But I have found out something else from Ibrahim, O my lady,” said Rahah, when describing the result of the interview to her mistress. “I know why it is that Khadija hates the name of Sinjāj Kīlin, your father. He it was who attacked her village, and whose soldiers killed her husband and son, and she has been thirsting for vengeance ever since. That is why I think we are not safe here for a moment, for in revenging herself upon you she would obtain her heart’s desire.”

But Georgia turned a deaf ear to the suggestion that she should leave her patient before her recovery was assured, although it was repeated in Fitz’s first heliographic message on the morning after her arrival. He appeared to be in a conversational mood.

“Stratford was like a dozen wild cats last night when he found you were not coming back just yet. He is afraid North will skin him alive when he turns up again. Lady Haigh is awfully unhappy about you. She says she is certain you are in great danger, and begs you to come back at once, and not to mind about the medicine.”

In answer to this, Georgia flashed back by slow degrees:

“We are quite well and safe. Operation successfully performed, but I must stay here a few days to look after patient.”

To this determination she continued to adhere firmly, notwith­standing the agonised entreaties to return which Fitz transmitted to her every day from Lady Haigh. He kept her informed of Sir Dugald’s condition, and she directed any slight changes of treatment she thought advisable, but consent to come back without the antidote she would not, in spite of the alarms of her present position. For the knowledge of these she was in large measure 362 indebted to Ibrahim, who, for a professed fatalist, took an extraordinary delight in prophesying evil, and communicated all his anticipations of danger most faithfully to Rahah. Consequently, when Rahah came running back in much excitement one evening, after taking Ibrahim his supper, her mistress was not affected by her news to the extent she had expected.

“O my lady, Ibrahim says he is sure some evil is going to happen. Several messengers have come in during the day, bringing news to Khadija, and he is certain that one of them was from Kubbet-ul-Haj. And Khadija has been going round among the men here, stirring them up against the English, and they have all got out their weapons, and they are cleaning their muskets and sharpening their swords. Ibrahim knows that they must be going to kill us to-morrow—at least he says so; but I bade him tell the men of the vengeance the English would take on them if any ill befell us, and of the great power and hunger for war of the Major Sahib, and how he was going to marry you. I said it very loud, so that Khadija might hear, for she was not far off, but she only laughed.”

“She was probably amused by your suspicions of her,” said Georgia, absently. The fact that she had been able this evening to alter the dressings on Zeynab’s foot, and allow the wound to close, was much more interesting to her at the moment than Ibrahim’s suspicions. If all continued to go on as well as it had done hitherto, she ought to be able to return in triumph to Bir-ul-Malik in a day or two with the all-important antidote.

Rahah shook her head over her mistress’s lack of interest in her great news, and watched jealously for an opportunity of proving that her own excitement had been justified. She found one the very next day, and immediately rushed into Georgia’s room once more with her veil flying behind her.

363

“O my lady, there is really something wrong! Ibrahim is gone—at least, I cannot find him—and when I asked the men where he was, they only laughed at me and reviled me. And there are watchmen upon the towers, making signs to one another, and all the men and boys are gathered together with their weapons in their hands, and the women and children are sharpening knives and talking of plunder. What shall we do?”

“We can’t do anything, except keep quiet and show no fear,” said Georgia. “I don’t think they would have needed so much stirring up to attack two women, Rahah. No doubt they are not thinking of us at all. Very likely they know that some of the wild tribes intend to attack the place, and they are preparing to defend it. Perhaps Ibrahim is helping them down at the gate. Whatever you do, don’t look frightened.”

“Frightened!” said Rahah, with high scorn, and sat down in the corner to polish Georgia’s instruments. A little later Khadija entered, and asked Rahah to go and sit beside Zeynab and amuse her, since she seemed restless, and she herself was anxious to take the doctor lady into the garden and point out to her some of its beauties. Rahah looked appealingly at her mistress, entreating her mutely not to accept the invitation, but Georgia was firm in the principles she had just enunciated. Any show of fear or suspicion would only serve to irritate Khadija and put her on her guard; and moreover, if her purposes were evil, she could carry them into execution as well in the house as out of doors. Her decision seemed to be justified by the old woman’s behaviour, for she hobbled along beside her, talking as pleasantly as an ingrained habit of snappishness would permit her, and appeared anxious to exhibit the different nooks and arbours which formed the chief attraction of the garden. Georgia could not understand nearly all she said, 364 but an emphatic word now and then, eked out by signs, gave her some idea when admiration was expected of her, and the walk was marred by no difference of opinion.

Passing through the garden, they came at last to one of the watch-towers of which Rahah had spoken, perched upon the crest of the hill, and overlooking the great gateway and the paved court, containing the famous well and surrounded by stables and other outbuildings, into which the gate opened. Khadija proposed that they should ascend the tower and look at the view, and Georgia acquiesced at once in the suggestion. To her surprise, the summit was occupied by several men armed to the teeth, in addition to the watchman; but these made way without a word for the two women, and they stood looking out on the desert. The view thus obtained was a very wide one, and Georgia noticed at once a distant cloud of dust, which appeared to be nearing the place. Khadija’s eyes were also fixed upon this cloud, and Georgia concluded that it must denote the approach of the invading band against whom the warlike preparations were being made.

For some time those on the top of the tower stood watching the dust-cloud without uttering a word. As it came nearer, there were occasional glimpses of moving men and animals and the momentary flash of steel, and Georgia felt that the men behind her were pressing closer and fairly panting with excitement.

“O doctor lady,” said Khadija, “thou seest these horsemen. Knowest thou who they are?”

“They ride in order. No doubt they are soldiers.”

“Is that all? Look again, O doctor lady.”

“They wear turbans—some of them, at least. They have lances with pennons. They seem to be in uniform. It is dark, like the uniform of the Khemistan Horse. They are the Khemistan Horse!”

365

“Look again, O doctor lady!”

Georgia looked. The cloud of dust had become much less opaque as it approached, and the forms of the mounted men could be clearly discerned. There were two or three officers among them, and Georgia’s gaze was riveted on the foremost. From the moment in which she had obtained her first glimpse of him through the flying dust, it had seemed to her that there was something familiar in his appearance; and now, as she bent over the parapet and shaded her eyes with her hand, she knew that she had not been mistaken. It was Dick, leaning forward on his horse, as though from utter weariness, and looking neither to right nor left as he rode.

ancient woman and burka-clad woman stading on battlements looking at approaching riders

“Look again, O doctor-lady.”

“Thou seest now, O doctor lady?” asked Khadija.

“Yes, I see; but what of that?”

“Only this—and this.” Khadija’s bony finger pointed first to a spot some distance in advance of the little British column, where the track wound through rocky ground, with sand-cliffs of some height rising on either side—the dry bed of a winter torrent, probably—then to the force as it marched. “All the men of Bir-ul-Malikat in ambush there, O doctor lady, and here the English riding into the ambuscade without knowing of it.”

“But why have you brought me here?” asked Georgia.

Khadija understood the tone of the question, though not its words.

“To see what happens, O doctor lady. Not to warn thy friends—oh no! One cry—one sign of warning—and thou diest. Thou seest these men here. Their daggers are ready, and they fear not to use them.”

Georgia stood looking over the parapet, with both hands gripping its rough edge. The situation was quite clear to her without the aid of Khadija’s words, which she understood only partially, and there was no doubt in her mind as 366 to the course to be taken. Behind were the daggers of the fanatics, who were Khadija’s willing tools—in front, Dick and his comrades, riding unconscious to their doom. Of course she would warn them. They were almost abreast of the tower now, as she stood with beating heart making her hurried calculation. The warning must necessarily be the work of a moment, for there would be no more time allowed her. One moment to tear off her burka and wave it wildly as a signal, and to shriek “Dick! ambush!” using her hands as a speaking-trumpet. She knew the extraordinary distance to which voices are carried by the dry desert air, and she had no fear as to his hearing her.

But as she stood waiting for the critical moment, with her hands already raised to fling off the burka, a sudden disturbing thought came to her. Why had Khadija brought her to that spot at that moment, when she must know her well enough by this time to be sure that she would at least make an attempt to warn the column of its danger? Was it not possible that for some reason or other she wished her to give the alarm? It was an awful moment, but Georgia’s whole training had been such as to inculcate presence of mind and prompt decision in emergencies. Just as the British force reached the point at which she had determined that her warning should be given, she turned her back deliberately on the desert, and, sitting down on the parapet, buried her face in her hands.

“Ah, the doctor lady is prudent!” said Khadija, in a low snarl of intense rage. But Georgia scarcely heard her. She was praying as she had never prayed before, and at the same time listening intently for any sound of conflict. For, after all, she might have decided wrongly. At last she could bear the uncertainty no longer, and looked round. The dreaded nullah had been reached, and the troops were passing through it without opposition, two or three dismounted 367 men scrambling along the brink on either side as scouts. There was no ambuscade there, at all events. Almost before she had had time to realise the full significance of this, the gleam of a weapon in the courtyard below her caught her attention, and she became aware that the outbuildings around it were filled with armed men crouching low, while the gate was standing partially open. There had been a trap laid here, that was evident, for a low growl of concentrated anger rose to her ears, as the liers-in-wait began to perceive that the prey had escaped them. Then the sound was echoed by the men on the tower, as they drew their daggers and turned towards Georgia with words and looks which intimated that in her they had, at any rate, a scapegoat for their disappointment. With a calmness which surprised herself, she did not even spring to her feet, but remarked quietly to Khadija—

“Zeynab is not yet recovered, and Yakub is still at Bir-ul-Malik.”

With a muttered curse the old woman pushed her way through the group and ordered the men back. They obeyed sulkily, and Georgia, struck by the irony of the situation and the utter discomfiture of her enemies, began to laugh. She laughed until the tears came into her eyes, and the men looked at one another and muttered, “She is certainly mad,” while Khadija, with disappointed hate depicted on her face, motioned to her to return to the house. Still laughing weakly, Georgia obeyed, and found her way back to Rahah, to whom she recounted what had happened during the last half-hour. Deeply interested, the girl promised to do her best to unravel the mystery, and when evening came she returned to her mistress overflowing with news.

“O my lady, I have found it all out. I have seen Ibrahim. He is set free now, but they had shut him up in a 368 dungeon, that he should not warn the Major Sahib, because he had discovered their plans, and he says that all the men are cursing you. The messenger from Fath-ud-Din yesterday brought orders that on no account were his servants to attack the English, for that then his life would be forfeited; but Khadija could not bear to lose her revenge when she had so nearly obtained it, and she thought it would be all right if she could make the English attack first. She wanted you to cry out, O my lady, because she thought that the Major Sahib would know your voice, and thinking you were a prisoner and in danger, would rush to save you. The men in the courtyard were told to shut the gate when as many as possible of the English had come in, and to kill them if they resisted—as naturally they would. Then she could not be held to blame if the servants killed the English, who had forced their way into the place and provoked a fight, or if you were found to have fallen from the tower in trying to reach the Major Sahib. But you have brought all her plans to nothing, and the Major Sahib ought to be proud that he will have such a wife.”

CHAPTER XXIII.
HARDLY WON.

Unfortunately, the Major Sahib, not knowing all the circumstances of the case, did not look at things quite in the same light as Rahah, and Georgia was not left long in doubt as to his view of the matter. Betaking herself to the terrace outside her room at the hour when she usually carried 369 on her heliographic communications with Fitz, she was surprised to find that the conversation was opened by a complicated series of flashes in such rapid succession that she could not read them off.

“It can’t be Mr Anstruther,” she said to herself; “he never begins in that way. Can it be Dick who is doing it? It looks like some kind of private signal—or it might be ‘Attention!’ flashed very fast. Oh, here is the message!”

But the perplexity on her face only became deeper when she had written down the words, for their tone was not of the pleasantest.

“Get your things ready at once. I am coming to fetch you. Dick.”

Was the victory to be snatched away when it was so nearly within her grasp? Georgia set her teeth hard as she flashed back—

“Cannot possibly leave to-night. Come for me in the morning. Georgia.”

The answer arrived quickly.

“I am starting immediately, and shall expect to find you ready.”

This was a little too much. Georgia’s calmness, which had been subjected to a considerable strain already by the excitements of the day, gave way altogether, and it was with a hand that trembled a good deal that she signalled back—

“I must beg of you not to come, as I decline to start tonight.” Then, repenting of the tone of her message, she added, “I am longing to see you, but it is absolutely impossible for me to come before to-morrow morning.”

This time no answer was returned; but after a while, during which she stood watching anxiously, and wondering 370 whether Dick was actually on his way to fetch her, she saw a solitary flash. This was the sign that Fitz was beginning operations, and she signalled at once—

“What is Major North doing?”

“Gone to his quarters,” came the answer, “in a vile temper. Excuse me, but this is true. Looks seedy, too; but he brought a surgeon with his force, so don’t worry about him.”

“Please tell him from me——” began Georgia, but the flashes came again—

“He won’t let me in. Stratford is calling me. I must go.”

Georgia left the heliograph with a sigh, for it was growing too late to catch the sunlight properly, and she had a hard piece of work before her this evening, the very crown and object, indeed, of her visit to Bir-ul-Malikat. Returning to Zeynab’s room, she found Khadija sitting crouched in her usual attitude upon the divan, and addressed her—

“I have performed what I promised, Khadija. Zeynab’s foot is getting on most satisfactorily, and needs only proper treatment and careful dressing, so that it is quite safe for me to return to Bir-ul-Malik to-morrow. I have shown the slave-girl, Bilkis, how to dress the wound, and I will send her over a good supply of lint and bandages and the other things I use, so that she may continue the treatment. She can do the work as well as I can, if she has the right materials. Now I am come to claim my reward. Give it to me, and let us go in peace.”

“What was it that I promised thee?” asked Khadija slowly, when Rahah had translated her mistress’s words.

“The antidote for the poison which they call the Father of sleep, and the directions for applying it,” said Georgia, promptly.

“Ah, the antidote!—it is well; I have it here,” and 371 Khadija drew a small square box from one corner of her ample veil, which was tied up in a knot. “Take it, O doctor lady, and may it succeed in thy hands!”

“Is this all that is necessary?” asked Georgia, opening the box, and finding in it only a small quantity of flaky white powder.

“I swear to thee that it is all thou canst need.”

“And how is it to be applied?”

“Nay; I made no promise to tell thee that.” Khadija’s sharp little eyes gleamed cunningly.

“Very well, Khadija; then I shall remain here, and Yakub at Bir-ul-Malik, and my friends there will send a message to Fath-ud-Din at Kubbet-ul-Haj.”

“Nay; I was but joking, O doctor lady. Thou shalt do as I bid thee,” and Georgia noted down the details of what sounded like a rude Turkish bath, repeated three or four times, and varied by the administration of copious draughts of a decoction made with the powder in the box.

“And you are sure that you have given me all that is necessary for effecting a cure?” asked Georgia, suspiciously, for the powder possessed no healing qualities that were perceptible either to sight, smell, or taste.

“O doctor lady, I have given thee all. I swear it to thee by——” and Khadija ran glibly through a catalogue of sacred persons and objects, followed by an even more solemn list of divine names. Still Georgia was not satisfied. She looked helplessly at Rahah, for she could not hit upon any means of convicting Khadija of her falsehood, if falsehood there was. But Rahah was equal to the occasion.

“I will make her tell the truth, O my lady. Lay thy hand on the head of the child Zeynab, O Khadija, and swear as I shall bid thee.”

“O doctor lady! O my nurse! let it not be on my head!” expostulated Zeynab in a terrified voice, as Khadija rose 372 reluctantly from her seat to comply with the imperious demand.

“Dear child, it can’t hurt you,” said Georgia. “It is merely a form.”

“Nay,” said Rahah, “rather is it that if any evil befalls thee, it is through Khadija’s lies, and by her fault. Go to the other side of the room, O my lady. Stoop down, O Khadija; lay thy hand here, and say after me, ‘If I have told lies to the doctor lady, and have not given her all that I promised, and if the Envoy cannot be cured by the medicine she holds in her hand, then let a curse light upon this child. May she wither away in her youth, and not live to see her marriage night. May the disgrace of her father ever continue and increase, and his name be blotted out without a son to bear it after him. May the house that should have mated with princes fall and perish in dishonour, and may all that remain of it live only to shame it.’”

“O my nurse, let not the curse light upon me!” sobbed Zeynab.

“Be quiet, O daughter of iniquity!” said Khadija angrily, and laying her hand on the child’s head with a menacing pressure, she repeated the words after Rahah. Zeynab made no further protest, but lay silent, looking white and frightened, much to the alarm of Georgia. She regretted deeply that she had allowed Rahah to make so solemn an attempt to work upon the superstitious fears of the old woman, and urged her to withdraw the curse, lest the thought of it should do Zeynab harm, but Rahah refused stoutly.

“I cannot withdraw it, O my lady. Khadija has invoked it, and if she was trying to deceive thee, she knew the danger that she was bringing upon the child. If she has dealt with us honestly, all will yet be well; but if evil 373 befalls her master’s house, we shall know that it was her own doing.”

“You are certainly not so well to-night, Zeynab,” said Georgia, laying her hand on the child’s forehead as she prepared to leave her at bedtime. “Is anything the matter? Surely you are not thinking of those foolish words? I am very sorry that I let Rahah say them, but they can’t do you any harm.”

The child made no answer, but looked up with a frightened face, and Rahah translated Georgia’s first remark for the benefit of Khadija. The old woman sprang up from the divan instantly, in a towering rage, and after a hasty glance at Zeynab, turned upon Georgia and Rahah, and drove them out of the room with a storm of curses, alleging that they had bewitched the child in order to frighten her. When they reached their own room, Georgia was inclined to be low-spirited over the issue of her mission, but her maid displayed no signs of discouragement.

“Wait!” she said mysteriously, and they waited, taking the opportunity of gathering their possessions together in view of the return to Bir-ul-Malik the next day. They had been in their room about an hour, when the jingling of anklets along the passage, and a hurried knock at the door, announced a visitor. Rahah opened the door cautiously, and Khadija entered and walked up to Georgia.

“Give me the medicine,” she said abruptly, and taking from her bosom a small phial, half filled with a clear colourless liquid, she emptied the powder into it from the box, shook up the resultant mixture, and closing the phial, handed it back to Georgia.

“Take it, O doctor lady,” she said. “But for the curse, thou shouldst never have had it. But truly God is great, and He is good to the accursed English, so that the old spells and the magic of our fathers cannot stand before 374 theirs. And now come and take away the curse from my Rose of the World, for I cannot see her fade and die before my eyes.”

Followed by Rahah, Georgia returned to Zeynab’s room, where they found the child tossing restlessly on her bed.

“O my nurse, take it away!” was her cry. “I feel the curse; I know it has come upon me. I cannot sleep. There is a weight on my heart and a fire in my bones, and it is thou that art killing me.”

“The curse is gone, my dove,” said Khadija. “I have given the rest of the medicine to the doctor lady.”

“But how can I believe thee? I feel no better,” moaned Zeynab.

“O doctor lady, wilt thou still kill my child?” cried the old woman in a frenzy. “I could give thee no more if she were dying at this moment. Take away from her thy curse and thy evil enchantments.”

Sitting down beside the bed, Georgia took the hot little hands into one of hers, and with the other smoothed back the tangled hair from the child’s brow. It was more than an hour before all her stories and her talk could banish the haunting horror from Zeynab’s mind, and induce her to close her bright eyes, and her doctor was nearly worn out when she was at last able to leave her. Sheer fatigue made Georgia sleep soundly, in spite of the excitement of the past day, and she and Rahah were not disturbed again that night. In the morning Fitz flashed an inquiry as to the time at which she would like to be fetched from Bir-ul-Malikat, and about eleven o’clock she saw the cavalcade she was expecting enter the courtyard. There was a hurried collecting together of packages, a hasty farewell to Zeynab, who wept copiously, and would not be comforted even by the promise that she should receive every picture-paper Georgia could lay her hands on, and then, accompanied by 375 Khadija, the visitors went down to the courtyard. To Georgia’s surprise and disappointment, it was Stratford and Fitz who came eagerly to meet her as she appeared at the door shrouded in her burka.

“Where is Dick? He is not ill, is he?” she asked anxiously of Stratford, remembering Fitz’s message of the night before.

“He is so busy that he was obliged to send his apologies, and allow us the honour of escorting you instead of coming to fetch you himself,” said Stratford, in tones which were absolutely devoid of any suggestion of ulterior meaning.

“Oh!” said Georgia, blankly.

“He found himself compelled to hold a full-dress review of his detachment, or inspect their kits, or do stables, or something complicated and professional of that kind,” said Fitz, with a dogged resentment aggressively conspicuous in his manner.

“Nonsense, Anstruther! You know as well as I do that he would have allowed nothing but absolute necessity to keep him from coming,” said Stratford.

“Oh yes, of course,” said Georgia, in the most natural tone she could command. She would not let it be seen that she perceived the flimsy character of the excuse, but she felt deeply mortified as she allowed Stratford to mount her on her horse, and she resented his evident determination to smooth things over almost more than Fitz’s undisguised incredulity. “How horrid of Dick!” was what she said to herself as she gathered up the reins, and the hot tears rose to her eyes under the shadow of the burka.

“Stay, Englishman!” cried Khadija from the doorstep, when Stratford, having seen Rahah and the luggage safely bestowed, was about to mount his own horse. “Where is Yakub, my son, whom I left at Bir-ul-Malik as a pledge for the safe return of the doctor lady?”

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“I hope that Yakub will come back to you safe and sound in a few days,” returned Stratford in Ethiopian, speaking so carefully that it was evident he had studied his sentences with Kustendjian before starting. “For the present, however, I think it well to detain him, on my own responsibility. We don’t want any mistakes made about that medicine for the Envoy. As soon as he has recovered, you shall have your son back.”

For answer, Khadija threw herself upon the ground, wailing and tearing her hair and beating her breast, and calling upon Heaven and upon Georgia to witness that she had performed all that was required of her, and that she had given her all the necessary ingredients for the medicine. Georgia, remembering the scene in Zeynab’s room the night before, and indignant at being compelled to bear a part in what was not far removed from a breach of faith, espoused her cause, and joined her in demanding that Yakub should be at once released. In spite, however, of all that she could say, Stratford remained immovable, and mounting his horse, ordered an immediate start. But before the horses had gone more than a few steps, Khadija rose from the ground, and forcing her way through the escort, caught hold of Georgia’s rein.

“O doctor lady,” she cried, with such reluctance that she seemed almost to be torn in two by the conflicting passions in her mind, “I had forgotten one thing. After the first administration of the medicine, the sick man will sleep for two days and two nights a natural sleep. If he is awakened in that time he will die, but if he awakes of himself, all will be well. And now”—her tone changed suddenly—“now go thy way, O thrice accursed daughter of an accursed father, and when first thy bridegroom looks upon thy face on thy wedding-night, may he turn his back on thee and say, ‘O woman, I divorce thee!’ and so thrust thee out.”

377

“Come, that’s enough,” said Stratford peremptorily, loosening her hand from the rein. “You know now that it depends on yourself whether your son returns to you in safety or not. Has Anstruther told you, Miss Keeling, that we had a messenger from Jahan Beg the day before yesterday?”

“No, I had not heard of it,” returned Georgia, following his example in ignoring the baffled Khadija, who stood shaking her fist and shrieking curses after the party. “What news did he bring?”

“The best news possible. Jahan Beg has succeeded in unearthing the conspirators who were troubling him when we left the city, and has made it impossible for them, at any rate, to do more plotting. Among other things, he discovered that they meant to stop us and keep us here in order to get hold of the treaty, and therefore he sent stringent orders to Abd-ur-Rahim to let us go at once with all our property, on pain of death. Messengers were also sent to all the towns and forts on the road and along the frontier, ordering the governors on no account to oppose the advance of any English relieving force coming from Khemistan, but to afford it every assistance, as if they didn’t Fath-ud-Din would suffer. That accounts for North’s getting back to us so quickly.”

“How far had he to go?” asked Georgia.

“Only as far as Rahmat-Ullah, for Hicks had got there before him, and frightened the Government about us a good deal, so that they had already ordered up a couple of troops of the Khemistan Horse, in addition to those usually stationed at the fort, and as soon as they arrived he started back with them. Of course such a small force would have been no use if the country had been up, but it was intended merely as an armed escort, just to make a dash for Bir-ul-Malik and back to Rahmat-Ullah.”

378

“Then they must have travelled very fast,” said Georgia, her mind reverting to her glimpse of Dick the day before.

“Yes, they made forced marches all the way. North kept them at it, but he looks awfully done up now,” said the wily Stratford.

“It would have done him good to ride out here,” said Georgia, refusing to commit herself.

“Yes; but you know how conscientious he is. So long as there is anything to be done, he will simply work till he drops.”

“Oh dear, I do hope he isn’t going to be ill!” sighed Georgia, and Stratford judged that his scheme had succeeded. He guessed rightly, for all the resentment in Georgia’s mind was swallowed up in anxiety, and she could not spare a thought for her own insulted dignity when Dick was suffering, perhaps had even endangered his life, through his eagerness to rescue her. She said little during the remainder of the ride, and could scarcely devote a moment even to glancing at the camp of the Khemistan Horse, which was pitched beside the hill of Bir-ul-Malik. Arrived at the palace, she bestowed a hasty greeting on Kustendjian and Ismail Bakhsh, and hurried into the harem in search of Lady Haigh, who rushed to meet her, and in the intervals of kissing and crying over her, scolded her soundly for her persistence in remaining away.

“But I have got the antidote!” cried Georgia, exhibiting the little bottle proudly; “and remember, Lady Haigh, you promised that I should use it.”

“How could I prevent your trying it, my dear child, when you risked your life in obtaining it? But it was not even your danger that I was thinking about so much at the moment. It was Major North, and his view of the case.”

“Oh, Dick and I must settle our little differences together,” 379 said Georgia, as lightly as she could. “Where is he? I haven’t seen him yet.”

“I think I hear his step outside,” said Lady Haigh. “He must have followed you into the house. But, Georgia, I must warn you, he looks very seedy, and I think he is just a little bit cross. Don’t be harder on him than you can help, dear, for he has been through a fearfully anxious time. He has had very little sleep since he left here, and has been at work day and night, almost without a rest.”

If Lady Haigh considered it advisable to offer her this warning, Georgia judged that Dick’s fit of ill-temper must be of an extremely pronounced character; but her conscience was clear, although her heart beat a little faster than usual as she left Lady Haigh in the inner room and went out into the larger one. Dick was leaning against the framework of the lattice, and raised himself slowly to greet her.

“Oh, Dick, how ill you look!” she cried. “My dear boy, you ought to be in bed.”

As soon as the words had passed her lips, she was struck by their singularly malapropos character under the circumstances, and Dick frowned heavily.

“Well, Georgia?” was all he said.

“Why, Dick, have you nothing more to say to me than that? Do you know that you haven’t seen me for over a week?”

“I was under the impression that you might have seen me yesterday evening, and preferred not to do so.”

“But I couldn’t help that. It was not a matter of choice. One can’t leave a patient before his cure is fairly complete.”

“You prefer your patient to me, then?”

“To see you would have been a pleasure; to stay there was a duty.”

380

“Even when I had desired you to come back at once?”

“That couldn’t alter my duty.”

“Indeed?” Dick lifted his eyebrows. “Then my wishes have no weight with you whatever?”

“They have great weight with me, but mine ought to have just as much with you.”

“This is rather a new theory,” said Dick, with elaborate politeness. “Is its application intended to be permanent, or only temporary?”

“I see no reason to anticipate any change that would render it out of date.”

“Thank you. That’s pretty clear, at any rate. Perhaps you will kindly explain to me your views of the marriage relation? So far as I can see, they involve two heads of one house.”

“I don’t want to discuss the question now, especially since we used to argue it so often in the old days,” said Georgia; “but if you insist upon it, I will. I know very well that there can be only one head, practically speaking, to a household—that when two people ride one horse, one must ride behind—and because I love you and trust you, I am quite willing to take the second place. But I do expect to be consulted as to the way the horse is to go. You could never have imagined that I would allow myself to be carried off anywhere blindfold. I think that we should discuss everything together and agree upon our course, and if at any time circumstances should prevent our discussing some special plan, I expect you to trust me if I find it necessary to act on my own responsibility, just as I should be ready to trust you in a like case.”

“This is the New Woman’s idea of marriage!” sneered Dick.

“It is my view of it, at any rate. Did you expect to find in me a slave without any will of her own, Dick? I am not 381 a young girl, but a woman, who has led a sufficiently lonely and independent life, and you knew that when you asked me to marry you.”

“Yes, and I was a fool to do it,” said Dick, roughly.

Georgia turned away, deeply wounded, and he stood at the lattice, looking out over the desert with gloomy eyes. She did not know that more had happened to try his temper than even the hardships and anxiety of which Lady Haigh had spoken. An ill-advised comrade, who had heard of his engagement through Mr Hicks, had seen fit to chaff him that morning on the eagerness with which he had pressed forward to rescue a lady who neither wanted his help nor desired his presence, and the words had rankled in his mind. But although Georgia was ignorant of this fact, she could not consent to leave things in their present state. To take offence at his hasty speech, and break off her engagement there and then, would be a course of conduct worthy only of a mythical lady who always acted the part of an awful warning for Georgia and her friends, and whom they were in the habit of calling “The Early Victorian Female.” It is, perhaps, needless to add that this person was given to gushing over indifferent poetry, fainted with great regularity at the most inconvenient moments, and when she had a misunder­standing with her lover, accepted the fact meekly, and pined away and died. Georgia felt it morally impossible to imitate her. To what purpose had been her own education and her experience of life if they did not enable her to stoop to conquer, and to hold her own without being aggressive? Was all that had passed between herself and Dick to be blotted out by a few words spoken in a moment of irritation? She crossed the room to his side and put her hands on his shoulders.

“Look at me, Dick,” she said. But Dick would not turn round.

382

“You goad a man into saying beastly things to you,” he muttered, “and then you try and get round him when he is feeling ashamed of himself.”

young woman behind young man looking out window grille, with kitten in the background

She crossed the room to his side and put her hand on his shoulder.

Such an unpromising reception of her effort to make peace might well have daunted Georgia, but she could forgive much to Dick, simply because he was Dick. She turned his moody face towards hers and made him look at her.

“Don’t think of it any more, Dick,” she said. “My dear boy, do you imagine I don’t care for you enough to forgive you that? And let us leave the question of our married life to right itself. If it hadn’t been for this, we should have glided into it naturally, and things would have settled themselves. Surely two people who are neither of them by nature quarrelsome, and who are anxious to do right, ought to be able to get on together, if both are willing to give and take? I can trust you, Dick; won’t you trust me?”

It added considerably to the discomfort of Dick’s present state of mind that he was conscious that Georgia was behaving with a magnanimity to which he could lay no claim, but he had started with the determination to put his foot down, and to show Georgia before they were married that he would stand no nonsense, and he stuck to his point doggedly. “I don’t intend to be made to look a fool before all the world,” he growled.

“But who would want to make you look a fool? You must know that your honour is as dear to me as to yourself. Haven’t I shown that I won’t keep you back when duty calls you? Can’t you trust me, Dick? If you can’t, things had better be over between us, indeed. Suppose you were out, and I was summoned to a dangerous case, and couldn’t possibly let you know. It would be my duty to go, just as it would be yours to start if you were ordered somewhere on 383 special service, and couldn’t even say good-bye to me. Can’t we act on this understanding?”

“But how can you be sure that you can trust me, may I ask? Many men make rash promises before marriage, and break them like a shot afterwards. How do you know that I am not one of them?”

“Oh, not you, Dick! You are a gentleman; I can trust you fully. Tell me that you will agree, and let us forget all this worry.”

“You are trying to get round me,” said Dick again, helplessly. “I can’t think what I was going to say; everything seems to have gone out of my head. What is the matter?” looking irritably at her frightened face. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I think—things had better be—over between us, Georgie. We should never—agree. What was I saying last? What’s the matter with the walls? Is it—an earthquake?”

He was reeling as he stood, and clutching wildly at the frame of the lattice for support. Georgia caught him by the arm, for he had missed his hold and was swaying backwards and forwards, and succeeded in guiding him to the divan.

“I feel—awfully queer,” he said, and fainted away before Georgia could seek a restorative. She cried out, and Lady Haigh and Rahah came rushing in, the latter followed by Dick’s bearer, whose countenance declared plainly that he considered his master’s illness to be entirely due to Georgia, and that it was just what he had expected. With the help of some of the other servants, Dick was carried to his own room, where for several days he was to lie moaning and tossing under a bad attack of fever. Georgia had her hands full during this period, even though the bearer declined respectfully to allow her any share in the actual nursing, for besides her care for Dick, she was 384 engaged in testing, with scarcely less anxiety, the effect upon Sir Dugald’s health of the antidote she had obtained with so much difficulty. She would have preferred to choose a time when she could give her whole attention to his case, but he had appeared so much weaker of late that Lady Haigh was feverishly eager for the remedy to be tried at once, and in fear and trembling Georgia put into practice the directions she had received from Khadija. Her courage revived to a certain extent when she found that the resulting symptoms corresponded exactly with those described by the old woman, but the two days of heavy slumber proved to be a period of intense anxiety. Every sound was hushed in the neighbourhood of Sir Dugald’s sick-room, and the watchers scarcely dared to move or breathe. At last, just as Georgia had returned to her other patient after a heart-breaking visit to Dick, who was calling on her constantly, although he refused to recognise her when she stood beside him, there was a sudden movement on the part of Sir Dugald, and Lady Haigh grasped her arm convulsively.

“Go to him, and let him see you first when he wakes,” said Georgia, in a low whisper, and Lady Haigh obeyed.

“Well, Elma!” It was Sir Dugald’s voice, very weak, but without a hint of delirium. “Haven’t you got the place rather dark?”

Georgia threw the lattice partly open, and he looked round.

“Still at Kubbet-ul-Haj, I see.” They had purposely arranged the bed and the camp-furniture in the same positions that they had occupied in his room at the Mission, with the object of avoiding a sudden shock. “I should have said we must have left it long ago, but I have had the most extraordinary dreams. Could it have been a touch of fever, do you think? But is that Miss Keeling? Ah, this explains it. I must have been ill?”

385

“Yes, you have frightened us all very much, Sir Dugald,” said Georgia, for Lady Haigh was incapable of speech.

“Ah, it was a bad attack, then, was it? Queer that I don’t remember feeling it coming on. The treaty is not signed yet, I suppose!”

“Yes, it is signed. You have been ill for some time—longer than you think.”

“I always knew that Stratford was a clever fellow. This is the best news you could have brought me, Miss Keeling. But we ought to be thinking of returning to Khemistan if we have secured the treaty. How long do you give me to get well enough to mount a horse again!”

“You mustn’t be in too great a hurry. We might carry you in a litter.”

“No, thank you. It would be too much like my dreams. I have suffered agonies through imagining that I was in a trance, and about to be buried alive, because they thought I was dead. It seemed to me that I could see people moving about all round me, but I could not move, or speak, or feel. Then I was put in a coffin, and carried off to be buried. It always ended there, but it came over and over again. It was the horrible helplessness—my absolute powerlessness to make any sign to show that I was alive—which was the worst thing about it.”

“Oh, Dugald!” cried Lady Haigh, in a strangled voice—and kissing him hastily, she hurried out of the room.

“Lady Haigh has been very much frightened about you. Sir Dugald,” said Georgia. “She has watched over you night and day, and I have often wondered that she did not break down.”

“Please look after her,” he said, anxiously. “She has wonderful pluck, but sometimes she is obliged to give way altogether, and I’m afraid from what you say that she must be quite overdone.”

386

Georgia left the room, and found Lady Haigh sobbing on the divan outside, with her face buried in a cushion that Sir Dugald might not hear her. Sitting down beside her, Georgia began to cry too, out of pure sympathy, until Lady Haigh suddenly choked back her sobs, and throwing her arms round her, cried—

“Oh, Georgie, Georgie, you have given me back my husband, and it has cost you Major North!”

“You mustn’t think of that. There ought to be a change in Dick’s state before long.”

“Georgie, I will nurse him night and day—every moment that I can spare from Sir Dugald, that is. And if I can’t put things right between you when he is better. I’ll—I’ll——”

“But what if he doesn’t want things put right?” asked Georgia, sadly.

• • • • • •

When Dick recovered consciousness, after a very long and fatiguing dream, in which many people and events had played more or less inappropriate parts, he found himself in bed with a cold bandage on his forehead, and a feeling all over him that he had lost more strength than he had ever possessed. There was some one in the room, and he gathered that it was Lady Haigh. She was speaking to some one else at the door.

“I will leave him to you, then, Georgie. He is beautifully asleep still, and I have just changed the bandage.”

The door closed softly, and Dick was aware that Lady Haigh had gone out and that the other person had come in, and was sitting just out of his sight as he lay in bed. That was not what he wanted, and he tried painfully to turn his head in her direction. She was at his side in a moment.

“Are you tired of lying in that position?” she asked. “Shall I help you to turn over?”

387

“Not if you will sit where I can see you,” he answered, and his voice sounded to himself weak and far-away. Georgia changed her place as he wished, but she took up the book she had been reading and went on with it.

“Why won’t you speak to me, Georgie?” he asked, querulously.

“Because you are forbidden to talk until you are a little stronger.”

“I don’t care! Put down that book and sit nearer me.”

“No,” said Georgia, with decision. “You are not to excite yourself with talking. Lie still, and try to go to sleep.”

“Why do you talk to me like that? I haven’t done anything to make you angry with me, have I? Why are you so unkind?”

“I don’t want to be unkind,” returned Georgia, hastily; “but you really ought not to talk. I will answer any number of questions when you are better.”

“But why won’t you call me Dick? We didn’t quarrel, did we? I have a sort of idea—— But my head was awfully queer, and I daresay I talked a lot of rot. I can’t apologise properly until I remember more about it. But if we quarrelled, why are you here looking after me like this?”

“Simply and solely as your medical adviser.” There was the slightest possible suspicion of triumph in Georgia’s tone, the reason for which Dick did not perceive until afterwards. She returned to her book, and he lay and looked at her in a puzzled kind of way.

“I wish you would take my temperature,” he said at last.

“What, are you feverish again?” she asked anxiously, getting out her thermometer as she rose and came towards him.

“I don’t know; but I remember you were doing it once 388 when I was just about half awake, and I liked it. You put your arm under my head.”

“If you will talk so much, I shall call Lady Haigh.”

“But do take my temperature! I thought sick people always had everything they wanted.”

“Everything in reason. Patients are expected not to trouble their doctors unnecessarily. Now try to go to sleep.” And Georgia returned the thermometer resolutely to its case.

“Would it be considered a thing in reason if a patient asked his doctor to give him a kiss? What would the doctor say?”

“That anything of the kind would be highly unprofessional.”

“Well, this patient,” said Dick, weakly, “refuses to try to go to sleep unless his doctor acts in that unprofessional way.”

And his doctor did.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXIII

If only Rahah weren’t trapped in the role of Loyal Native Servant! I would love to see her as the heroine of her own story.

[Illustration] She crossed the room to his side
[The attentive reader will notice that the text does not actually say Colleen Bawn is present in this scene. But, then again, it doesn’t say she isn’t.]

CHAPTER XXIV.
VIS MEDICATRIX.

“Georgia,” said Lady Haigh, some two or three days later, “I want to ask you a question. Are you still engaged to Major North, or not?”

The shadow of a smile glimmered on Georgia’s lips.

“It seems a ridiculous thing to say, but really I haven’t the smallest idea whether I am or not,” she answered.

“But what does Major North think about it?”

“I believe he is under the impression that we are still 389 engaged. That is what makes the matter doubtful, for I should certainly say that we were not.”

“But how long is this state of things to go on?”—impatiently.

“I don’t know. Happily I have never had an engagement-ring, so that no one can notice any difference.”

“My dear, this must be put a stop to!” said Lady Haigh, with conviction. “Now that Major North is so much better, there is no need for you to pretend that two doctor’s visits a‑day are necessary. Once a‑day is quite enough for the present, and then you can drop it altogether.”

“Oh, Lady Haigh! But he looks out for me so eagerly, and is so glad to see me. And I like to see him too.”

“You mustn’t make yourself too cheap, my dear Georgia. Surely you would not wish to cling to a man who has told you in so many words that he is anxious to break off his engagement to you?”

“Oh, but I don’t think he meant it.”

“Then he has nothing to do but to say so. You had far better bring about an explanation, and have it over. It is certainly Major North’s turn to eat humble pie, and it will do him a world of good, and smooth your path very much in the future. Take my advice, dear, and let him see (or at any rate think) that you are prepared to abide by what he said.”

It was with great reluctance that Georgia consented to follow her friend’s counsel; but when she thought it over its wisdom commended itself to her, and she decided to carry it out rigorously, with results which seemed very hard to Dick. He only saw his doctor once a‑day, and then she persisted in ignoring sternly all his attempts to extend the scope of the conversation beyond the business in hand. Then she discontinued her visits altogether, and the only explanation his bearer could offer was that the Doctor Miss 390 Sahiba was very busy, and he supposed that she took no more interest in the protector of the poor now that he was so much better. It was the same when Stratford and Fitz came to see him. They agreed that Miss Keeling was very busy, and seemed rather surprised that he should ask after her. It even appeared to him that there was a slight constraint in their tones when they answered his questions. Dick pondered over the mystery without any satisfactory result for two days, and then announced that he was going to get up, and demanded his clothes. The bearer had anticipated this step, and replied promptly that the entire wardrobe of the protector of the poor was at the moment in the hands of a tailor in the town, to whom he had intrusted it for needed repairs, and who preferred to execute them on his own premises. Hari Das invited his master’s reproofs for his own remissness in postponing the operation for so long, but to his dismay discovered that Dick declined to be drawn into a tirade on the vices of bearers in general, illustrated from his experience of this particular specimen. He was too much in earnest in his determination to have time to waste in useless altercations, and, moreover, he knew his man.

“Ask the chota sahib to come to me,” he said. “I will borrow a suit of his clothes.”

The bearer looked blank.

“But the chota sahib’s clothes will not fit my lord,” he objected.

“That doesn’t signify,” said Dick. “Fit or no fit, I am going to get up,” and he only smiled in secret when the bearer returned after a short absence with one of his own suits, and announced that the tailor had brought it back unexpectedly soon. He found himself much weaker than he had anticipated as he dressed, but he disregarded the bearer’s doleful assurances that he would kill himself, and 391 declined to return to his couch, although he was glad to accept the support of the servant’s arm as he crossed the hall and entered the passage leading into the harem. Lady Haigh, writing her home letters busily at a camp-table (for letter-writing had been dropped by common, though unexpressed consent, during those past days, when it seemed unlikely that either the letters or their writers would ever reach home), looked up in astonishment when he came in, and made haste to arrange a comfortable place for him with cushions upon the divan, remarking that he had better lie still and rest for a little and not talk. But this was not what Dick had come for.

“Lady Haigh, where is Georgie?” he asked, the moment after the bearer had departed.

“Well, I think she is busy just now,” Lady Haigh replied, with distinct coldness in her manner. As a matter of fact, at that moment Georgia was sitting outside on the terrace with Sir Dugald, who had by this time been promoted to a knowledge of the whereabouts of his party, and was entertaining him with an account of her visit to Bir-ul-Malikat and of the charms of Khadija.

“Every person that I have asked about her for the last three days has told me exactly that!” said Dick, with a good deal of indignation in his tone. “I should like to see her, if you please,” he went on, in the voice of one determined to obtain his just rights.

“I assure you that I have not got her locked up,” said Lady Haigh, with some tartness. “I will tell her what you say, if you like, but I must say that after all that has happened——”

“What is the object of tormenting me like this, Lady Haigh?” asked Dick impatiently, raising himself on his elbow. “I know that Georgia must be ill—I suppose she fell ill through overtiring herself in nursing me—and you 392 are all doing your best to keep it from me. I insist on knowing what is the matter with her, and how she is getting on. I have a right to know.”

“Indeed?” said Lady Haigh. “I was not aware of that. But you are mistaken in supposing that Miss Keeling is ill. I am glad to say she is quite well.”

“Then what is the matter? Why are you keeping her away from me like this? What has come between us?”

“Really, Major North, you are a little inconsistent. Why you should accuse me of trying to separate Miss Keeling and yourself, I don’t know. I can only suppose that your illness has caused you to forget the trifling fact that your engagement is broken off.”

Dick stared at her in astonishment and dismay.

“I don’t remember,” he murmured. “Some one said something about a quarrel, but it was nothing after all. When did she do it? What had I done?”

“Pray don’t try to put it upon Miss Keeling. You told her yourself that things had better be over between you.”

“I must have been mad,” said Dick despairingly, “or am I dreaming now?” He pinched his arm to assure himself that he was awake, then looked round the room in a vain search for explanation, until his gaze rested again on Lady Haigh, but he found no comfort in her face. “You wouldn’t humbug me on such a subject, Lady Haigh!” he cried, as he met her accusing glance. “You helped me once before; tell me what to do now. She can’t think I really meant it!”

“So far as I know, you explained your views pretty clearly,” said Lady Haigh, rejoicing to find Dick delivered into her hands in this teachable spirit, and hoping devoutly that Georgia would remain outside and out of hearing. “You mustn’t play fast and loose like this, Major North. Why did you say what you didn’t mean?”

393

“I don’t know—I must have been angry. I have a beastly temper at times, you know. I suppose Georgia had made me very mad about something. Oh yes, I remember now, it was about her going to Bir-ul-Malikat. She would insist that she had a right to go, and stay too, whether I liked it or not, and she wouldn’t give in. But as for breaking off our engagement——”

“But you are convinced that Miss Keeling ought to have given in?”

“Well, I think that when she saw what a point I made of it——”

“There was no question of your giving in because she also made a point of it?”

“Oh no,” said Dick, innocently.

“Then I think it is a very good thing indeed that your engagement is broken off.” Lady Haigh spoke with her usual decision of manner, but Dick looked so absolutely astonished and appalled that she condescended to an explanation. “I should like to talk to you a little on this subject very seriously, Major North, for as a looker-on I can perhaps see more clearly than you do where you have gone wrong. I daresay you will regard me as a meddling old woman, but at any rate you can’t say that I have turned critic because I have failed in matrimony, for my married life has been as happy as even I could have wished. Besides, it was in getting the medicine to cure Sir Dugald that poor Georgia incurred your royal highness’s displeasure, so that I feel bound to do all I can to put things right between you.”

“But if you think that it is better for her not to be engaged to me?” The question was asked a little stiffly, for Dick did not altogether appreciate the tone of his monitress’s remarks.

“That is a matter which depends solely on yourself. 394 You possess many estimable qualities, Major North, but you were born a few centuries too late. Of course I don’t mean that you were to blame for the fact—on the contrary, it is distinctly a misfortune, both to yourself and others. You would have made an ideal husband in the days when it was considered quite the proper thing for a gentleman to correct his wife with a stick not thicker than his middle finger.”

“Really, Lady Haigh, this is beyond a joke!” Dick was angry now—there was no mistaking the fact.

“Quite so; but I am not joking. I don’t mean that if you married Georgia, you would keep her in order with a horsewhip—I don’t for a moment believe she would let you, for one thing. But I think you would certainly need some resource of the kind to fall back upon if your ideal of domestic discipline was to be maintained. In your house, according to your theory, there would be one law and one will, and that law would be your law, and that will your will. That is a beautiful ideal—for you—and it would no doubt produce, in course of time, a saintly submissiveness of character in your wife. But any woman who is to be subjected to such a course of training ought to be warned beforehand, and agree to accept it with her eyes open. And that Georgia would never do.”

“I don’t know why she shouldn’t. All women do.”

“Do they?” asked Lady Haigh, with as little sarcasm in her tone as the subject admitted—and Dick was silent, recognising that he had, to use his own phrase, given himself away. His counsellor went on, “I am going to ask you a personal question, Major North. Why do you want to marry Miss Keeling?”

“Because I love her, and I can’t do without her,” very gruffly.

“But why didn’t you fall in love with that beautiful 395 Miss Hervey, whom we met at Mrs Egerton’s before we came out here?”

“Because she is not my sort—an empty-headed doll!”

“Exactly; but if you want a woman without any mind or reason of her own, she would just suit you. She would adore you, and defer to all your wishes when they didn’t clash with any particular fancies of her own, for six months at least, and you would adore her for the same length of time—until you each found the other out. After that, you would know that you had married a fool, and she a tyrant. Georgia is not a fool. She loves you, but she sees your faults, and she has a certain amount of self-respect. If you wanted her to do anything that seemed to her unreasonable, she would talk it over with you, and she might end by refusing to do it, but she would never cry or sulk until you gave it up in despair. It is a great thing to recognise fully that you are both human beings, after all. Georgie doesn’t imagine that the possession of the Victoria Cross necessarily implies that of all the domestic virtues, any more than she believes herself to be perfect because she possesses a London medical degree. She would consider that she had exactly as much right to be the sole arbiter of the house as you had, and that is none at all.”

Dick murmured a feeble protest against this way of looking at things, to which Lady Haigh refused to listen.

“The fact is, you would wish to marry a clever woman, only she must be willing to let herself be treated like a fool. You can’t reconcile two extremes in that way. Georgia has lived her own life, and that a very full and useful one, and you cannot expect her to become a puppet all at once, simply out of love for you. She is used to acting on her own initiative. Well, I will tell you what I learned from her maid, for she won’t talk about it herself. Do you know that when she was at Bir-ul-Malikat, that wicked old woman 396 Khadija tried to get her to lead you and your men into a trap, on the pretence that by calling to you and beckoning you she would warn you of an ambuscade. An ordinary woman would have yielded to the impulse of the moment—I should have myself—and destroyed you, with the purest desire for your safety; but Georgie had the strength of mind to reason the matter out, all in an instant. She refused to call to you, and you were saved. And it is a woman like that whom you expect to fall down and worship your slightest whim!” with intense scorn.

“Not guilty, Lady Haigh. I abjure, I recant—anything! But why didn’t you tell me this before? What an ungrateful brute she must think me!”

“I didn’t begin by telling you of it, because I wanted to make you see reason, instead of working upon your feelings. I’m sure I hope I may have done both.”

“I will give you my solemn promise, if that will satisfy you, that Georgia shall ride roughshod over my most cherished convictions as often as she likes. She is a heroine. I feel ashamed to lift my eyes to her. Oh, Lady Haigh, tell me what to do. How can I begin to make things right?”

“Put yourself in her place. Would you like it if she expected you to give up your military career for her sake?”

“She would never ask or expect such a thing. She knows that I could not do it, even to please her.”

“Then return the compliment. She is willing to give up for your sake any hope of distinguishing herself further in her profession by means of original research, but she will not relinquish the practice of it. Allow her the freedom you claim for yourself—in fact you must allow it, if you mean to marry Georgia Keeling. She will be yours heart and soul, but a certain portion of her time and interest she will always give to her work.”

397

“But come now, Lady Haigh, doesn’t that strike you as slightly rough on a man?”

“It strikes me as merely just,” snapped Lady Haigh. “No portion of your time and interest will ever be given to your work, of course?”

“Oh, but that’s different, you know,” said Dick, uncomfortably. “Do you really think that this sort of thing is meant for women?”

“My dear Major North, I am not holding a brief for Women’s Eights. I am merely trying to bring you into line with facts. If you want arguments, no doubt Georgia will argue with you by the hour.”

“I wish she was here to do it!” sighed Dick. “Would it be rude to remind you, Lady Haigh, that I haven’t seen her for three whole days?”

“I suppose that means that you want me to fetch her for you. Well, I will just say this. Once you lamented to me that you had no tact. Now I believe that, until she finds him out, a bad man with tact will make a woman happier than a good man without it.” Lady Haigh paused triumphantly, as though to say, “Contradict that atrocious sentiment if you can!” but Dick made no attempt to do so, and she went on. “I’m afraid you would find it difficult to cultivate tact now, but if you will only try to consider things that affect Georgia from her point of view as well as your own, you will have made a good beginning.”

She stepped out through the lattice, and presently Georgia entered, stethoscope in hand.

“Well, and how do we find ourselves to-day?” she asked cheerfully, hoping that Dick would not notice the trembling in her voice.

“How can you expect a patient to get better when his doctor does not come near him for days?”

“You have always expressed such a dislike to lady 398 doctors, that it struck us you might prefer to be without one.”

“Ah, how did you come to be my doctor, by the bye?”

“I knew you would have preferred the surgeon who came with you,” said Georgia, with resignation in her tones. “I will tell you how it was. He is very young and very new, and knows nothing about fever in practice, which makes him all the more sure about it in theory. He has half-a-dozen infallible remedies, and he was rejoicing at the prospect of being able to test them all on you, when I stepped in and claimed you as my patient. And now I suppose you will tell me that you would prefer to be killed by him rather than be cured by me?”

No suitable repartee occurring to Dick at the moment, he took a mean advantage of his position as an invalid, and lay back on his cushions with a slight groan, which melted Georgians heart at once.

“You have a headache, and I have been teasing you!” she said, remorsefully, changing her position and coming behind him. “Keep your head like that, my poor boy,” and she began to pass her fingers slowly across his forehead with such a soothing effect that Dick only kept himself by a violent effort from falling asleep. Pulling her hands down, he looked at them critically.

“Have you been taking lessons in witchcraft from Khadija?” he asked. “Do you think it’s fair to practice magic arts on me? What chance has a man when you begin to mesmerise him with those cool, firm fingers of yours? What nice soft hands you have, Georgie!” emphasising the remark by lifting the said hands to his lips.

“One has to keep one’s hands nice for surgical work,” said Georgia, apologetically, and expecting an outburst. But Dick only gave a rather ostentatious sigh, and went on meditatively.

399

“Your magic is thoroughly successful, at any rate. Lady Haigh will testify to the change in my demeanour since you came in. Well, Georgie, you have won. Let’s make it up. I surrender at discretion.”

“I begin to think that you are delirious again,” said Georgia, in a puzzled voice, bending forward to look at him.

“I think not. I am merely anxious not to do things by halves. Come, impose your conditions on me while I am in this softened state. As an honourable man, I shall feel bound to carry them out when I return to my right mind. I will only ask you, as you are strong, to be merciful. There, could submission go further than that?”

“You are certainly not fit to be sitting up. I shall call your bearer, and request him to see you back to bed. You may not be delirious, but you are undoubtedly queer in the head.”

“Thank you. You will not call the respectable Hari Das at present—at any rate until I have had a longer talk with you.”

“That sounds more like your usual self,” said Georgia.

“The self which is to vanish from henceforth. Oh, Georgie, I know I’m talking like a lunatic, but it’s because I should make a fool of myself if I didn’t. When I think of what Lady Haigh has just been telling me, of the way in which you saved all our lives the other day, I feel as though I could simply die of shame. How could you—how could you—do it?”

“Pure selfishness,” returned Georgia, with elaborate composure. “I couldn’t do without you, you see.”

“I’m not worth it, Georgie. I couldn’t even behave decently to you an hour after it happened. And I daren’t make any promises for the future, remembering all those I have broken already. But I do ask you to believe that 400 I didn’t know what I was saying when—when I talked about breaking off our engagement the morning you came back. I couldn’t have believed that even when I was off my head I could be such an idiot; but, unfortunately, you heard me say it. Take me on again, dearest. You’ll have a lot to put up with, but——”

“My dear boy, I have never given you up—of my own free will, at any rate.”

“That doesn’t make it any better for me. After you had done a thing that not one woman in a million—or one man either—could have done——”

“Oh yes, they could, if the idea had struck them. It was just that—a sudden inspiration. But you are getting excited, Dick, and I will not have it. As your medical attendant, I forbid you to think about Bir-ul-Malikat any more. I shall break off our re-engagement at once if you don’t talk about something else.”

“Yes, there it is. You have such an awful pull over me, Georgie. I can’t do without you, but you could get on very well without me. Confess now—couldn’t you?”

“By going back to England and joining the Forward Club, and impressing on the world that the grapes were sour?” asked Georgia. “No, I should have to keep to my old plan, and settle down to missionary work in Khemistan; then I should get a glimpse of you sometimes.”

“I don’t know whether you call that a pure motive? Yes, I think I see myself riding past a Zenana hospital every day, and about once a‑week catching a distant view of you teaching a lot of native girls to roll up bandages.”

“And I can imagine myself rushing to the verandah to look after you when you had passed,” said Georgia. “It would be a modern version of Roland and his lady.”

“It would be far worse than never seeing one another at all.”

401

“Oh no, Dick—not worse, much better than that.”

“It would be much worse to me. I should have to look out for an appointment somewhere at the other end of the Empire.”

“Dick, how unkind of you to say such a thing!” There were tears very near to falling in Georgia’s eyes, but with an extraordinary access of tact Dick pretended not to notice them, and looked up at her with a friendly smile.

“Yes, I know I’m a brute. I warn you not to have me, Georgie. I have had a good fright just now, and I’m properly subdued for the moment, but I am bound to break out again. It isn’t safe, is it?”

“I don’t care whether it is safe or not,” and she stooped and kissed him.

“Does that mean that there is to be no more doctoring?”

“Not at all. Did you think you were going to catch me off my guard in a moment of weakness? It means that you agree to my doing what medical work I can, and that I won’t let it come between you and me.”

“That first part is what one might call a cool assumption, but I told you to make your own conditions, and as I said before, I am prepared to accept them abjectly. Do you know, Georgie, that when I was at Rahmat-Ullah it was hinted to me that I might be made assistant political agent when they establish the agency at Iskandarbagh? How would you like that?”

“Dick, it’s too good to be true! It is like a dream. To have you, and my work, and to be able to reach not only Khemistan but my dear Ethiopian women!”

“How do you propose to employ yourself, then?”

“In doctoring the women and children, and teaching where I am allowed.”

“And leaving your house to take care of itself?”

“Yes, of course, and my husband too. It would set 402 such a good example to the Ethiopian women, wouldn’t it?”

“Oh, well, if I am only to be regarded in the light of an object-lesson——”

“You will accept the position with resignation, and be thankful. Oh, Dick, don’t let us tease one another any more! Can’t you understand that I am glad and proud to have the chance of helping you a little in your work? It was my father’s work too, you know.”

“Yes, I know. You might come a little closer, Georgie. You don’t seem to understand yet that I make my doctor pay for the privilege of attending me.”

“Come, Mr Stratford, you mustn’t tire Sir Dugald. I am sure he has done quite enough work this morning.”

Stratford looked at Lady Haigh rather guiltily, almost as though he felt that he ought to tell her something, but could not make up his mind to do it.

“I didn’t want him to go on so long, Lady Haigh, but he insisted on looking through the journal. Of course he wanted to be posted up in everything before we start tomorrow, in view of reaching Rahmat-Ullah so soon. I’m afraid you will find that—that he has been doing a little too much.”

Lady Haigh went into the room with a scolding on her lips, but it died away when her eyes fell upon Sir Dugald, sitting at the table with his head leaning on his hand. As she entered, he pushed aside wearily the papers before him and turned to her.

“It’s no use, Elma; I am done for—a worn-out, useless wreck. I always hoped to die in harness, but now I am laid on the shelf. It is all right until I get to business, but I cannot grasp things. My brain refuses to work.”

This confirmation of fears which had already occurred to 403 herself and Georgia struck a chill to Lady Haigh’s heart, but she dared not hold out any hope of improvement by way of comfort. She came forward silently, and standing at her husband’s side, laid her hand rather timidly on his shoulder.

“It’s all up, Elma,” he said again. “The very ad valorem duties in the treaty—over which I spent so much time before I was ill—stump me now. We lose everything—position, occupation, influence, even reputation.”

“You have nothing left but your poor old wife,” she said, stifling a sob.

“I don’t count you,” he said, with something of his old manner; “you are part of myself. We have gone through everything together, Elma.”

Lady Haigh murmured something about going home to Scotland and ending their days together, but she left the sentence unfinished. How she managed to get out of the room without absolutely breaking down she did not know, but Georgia found her a short time later dissolved in tears.

“He never spoke to me like that before,” she sobbed. “We have never been a sentimental couple—not even when we were first married. He couldn’t bear that sort of thing; and though I might have liked a little—just a little—more expression, don’t you know? I was not going to worry him. We were good comrades always, and I think I can say that I never stood in his way when he was ordered to do anything. He would come to me in the morning and say, ‘Elma, I am ordered to such and such a place,’ a thousand miles off, perhaps—and I would say, ‘Very well, dear; what time must I be ready? or will it do if we start to-morrow?’ He never said anything, but I knew he liked it, and he was as proud as I was that I could shift quarters as quickly as any soldier of them all. And we have always been together, 404 as he says, and now he must give up work at last!”

“But you have your place in Scotland, Lady Haigh, and Sir Dugald will find plenty to do there, and be very happy. It would not surprise me if he recovered entirely when he had no official work to worry him.”

“But that very official work has been the mainspring of his life. He will be lost without it. And how will things go on without him? To escape so many dangers and recover from that poisoning just for this! No, Georgia, don’t try to show me the bright side of it yet. Let me have my cry out now, and, God helping me, I’ll say no more about it, and he shan’t know. I won’t fail him after all just when he needs me most.”

“Dick,” said Georgia that evening when they met before dinner, “who is the bravest woman you know?”

“You,” he replied, promptly.

“Don’t be absurd; I wasn’t fishing for compliments. I should be satisfied if I were half as brave as Lady Haigh. I think that she and Sir Dugald are just worthy of one another.”

“I suppose there’s a concealed snub somewhere in that remark intended for me, but I can’t quite locate it yet. I have a good mind to ask Stratford to find it out for me—I always want to apply to him for an explanation when your reproofs are couched in too learned language—but he isn’t down yet.”

“Here he comes,” said Georgia, as Stratford entered somewhat hurriedly and cast a hasty glance round the room; “but if you ever venture to ask him to interpret me, Dick, why, beware!”

“I should never think of doing it in cold blood. It might be too much for his brain. What’s the matter, Stratford?” he asked, raising his voice. “You’re not late.”

405

“The Chief not down yet?” asked Stratford, looking round again and making sure that Sir Dugald and Lady Haigh were the only members of the party who were missing. It was the first time that the two invalids had been allowed to join the rest at dinner, and the servants were obviously unhappy at the delay.

“No,” said Fitz; “the poor old chap is so thin after his illness that Lady Haigh is making Chanda Lal pad his dress-clothes a hit to keep him from looking quite so like a scarecrow.”

“I wish you would have the goodness to confine your jokes to other people, Anstruther, and not go sharpening your wit on the Chief,” said Stratford, irritably. “Look here, all of you—there was something I parti­cularly wanted to say when I got you all together, and this is just the chance. I beg and entreat you all not to allude after to-day—even in private letters or in talking to friends—to the way in which I managed to get the treaty signed.”

“Why, Stratford, there was nothing to be ashamed of!” cried Dick. “It was one of the finest things I ever heard of.”

“You don’t see what I am driving at. At present the Chief has got it into his head that the sudden change in the King’s attitude was entirely due to the discovery by independent means of Fath-ud-Din’s treachery, and the consequent promotion of Jahan Beg. He thinks that I happened on the spot exactly at the right moment and got the treaty signed without a bit of trouble, and I want him to go on thinking so.”

“But do you mean to say you don’t want him to know that it was all through you that the old fraud was unmasked, and that you went to the Palace for the sake of rescuing Miss Keeling, and at the risk of your life? What on earth is your reason?”

406

“I should have thought you would have seen it at once. I want the Chief to get the full credit for this piece of work.”

“But this is nonsense!” cried Dick. “Why should the Chief get the credit for what you did? He is the last man in the world to wish to wear borrowed plumes.”

“Of course he is, and that’s the reason that I want no one beyond our immediate selves to know that they are borrowed. Lady Haigh honestly believes that he did all the work, and that I merely reaped the fruit, so that she won’t let out. Sir Dugald has never been properly appreciated at home, and it is hard on him to lose the reputation he deserves for the way he has managed this affair, which he will do if it once gets known that it was not he who got the treaty signed after all. He is an old man, and he will do no more work after this. His illness has left marks on him. You have noticed it, Miss Keeling, I am sure?”

“There is some loss of brain power,” said Georgia, hesitatingly, “which may be only temporary. But I fear his official career is over.”

“You see that, then? Let him get his peerage and the credit of having made the treaty. After all, he did by far the greater part of the work.”

“Only you came romping in at the finish,” said Fitz. “But what about your own prospects, Mr Stratford?”

“They can look after themselves. I may mention that the Chief let out this morning that he intended to mention us all very honourably in his report, so that we shall none of us lose in the long-run.”

“It is splendid of you to leave Sir Dugald the credit in this way, Mr Stratford,” said Georgia; “and we shall all think far more highly of you than if you had claimed the honour for yourself.”

407

“But what about your archives—your official journal?” asked Dick, who was still unconvinced.

“I wrote that entry myself. Hush, here comes the Chief!”

And the conspiracy of silence was an accomplished fact, although Dick continued to argue the matter vainly with both Stratford and Georgia all the evening, as often as he could get either of them alone. They succeeded at last in reducing him to a condition of grumbling acquiescence, and during the journey of the next few days all the conspirators did their best to accustom themselves to the new view of what had happened, until they were almost ready to accept it as the true one. Strangely enough, however, they had left out of account an important element which ought to have entered into their calculations, and it was through this oversight that their deep-laid schemes failed eventually of success. The blow came suddenly on the last day of the march, when the officers at Fort Rahmat-Ullah, riding out to welcome the returning travellers, had met them on the frontier. The Mission was being escorted back to the Fort in triumph, and Sir Dugald, able now to mount his horse, was talking to the Commandant as they rode side by side.

“Your staff seem to have come uncommonly well out of this business,” remarked the Commandant. “Of course we expected great things from North, and we were not a bit astonished when he turned up with the treaty, after a three days’ solitary ride; but that Foreign Office fellow of yours—Stratford his name is, isn’t it?—appears to have developed in a wholly unexpected direction.”

“My staff have all behaved extremely well, and I shall have great pleasure in representing the fact in the proper quarter.”

“Oh, come, Haigh, it’s more than that—or do you 408 include absolute heroism in the bond of your requirements? It is not every civilian that would take his life in his hand in the way your man did, and have the nerve to carry through a palace revolution and secure the object of the Mission all at once. I can tell you that when we heard the story from Hicks, there wasn’t one of us but was simply yearning to have had Stratford’s chance, and to have made as good use of it as he did.”

“I wish I had scragged Hicks!” muttered Stratford, behind, to Dick; but Sir Dugald’s face betrayed no astonishment.

“Then I suppose our friend Hicks is beforehand with us now in the matter of news, as he was a short time ago in reaching Kubbet-ul-Haj?”

“You bet he is—as he would say himself. The story of your Mission is all over the world by this time, and Hicks and the proprietor of the ‘Crier’ are raking in the shekels like so much dust. Upon my word, it is rather rough on you. But for that illness of yours, you would have carried the whole thing through yourself, and now you have lost the biggest advertisement you were ever within an ace of getting. Stratford is the popular hero from end to end of the Empire, and no one else will have a look-in beside him.”

“You would not wish me to rob Mr Stratford of the honour which is due to him?” inquired Sir Dugald, raising his eyebrows. “If I know him at all, he will owe Hicks just as much thanks for his advertisement as I should in his place, and that is—nothing. He is so touchy on the subject of his visit to the Palace that I have scarcely yet been able to mention it to him myself. Still, it is a little disappointing to find that we have been forestalled in the announcement of our great coup. You agree with me, Mr Stratford?” and Sir Dugald turned partially round in his saddle, and cast 409 a side-glance at the guilty Stratford, who looked extremely unlike a popular hero at the moment. He muttered something unintelligible in reply to his leader’s question, and Sir Dugald smiled and changed the subject as he rode on with the Commandant.

In the bustle and confusion of arriving at the Fort, Stratford heard no more of his attempted deception until late that evening, when he and Fitz, who had been dining with the officers at mess, walked over to the verandah in front of the Haighs’ old quarters to say good-night. Sir Dugald had employed the interval in catechising Lady Haigh and Georgia, as well as in collecting stray pieces of information from Dick and Kustendjian, so that he was now well acquainted with the history of all that had passed on the eventful day when the treaty had been signed.

“Sit down, Stratford, and don’t be in such a hurry,” he said, as they came up the steps, divining Stratford’s evident intention of seeking safety in flight to his own quarters as soon as the requisite farewells had been exchanged. “We may not have the chance of being together again without any strangers present. Do you know that you have been plotting all this time to play me a very shabby trick—to make a fool of me, in fact, in the eyes of everybody?”

“Pray don’t think that I agree with your description of our aims, Sir Dugald, when I say that I can only wish they had succeeded.”

“And left me at the mercy of our friend Hicks? Don’t you see that as soon as he gave his version of your proceedings, I should be suspected either of concealing the facts or of being ignorant of them? I have no particular fancy for either alternative.”

“Unfortunately, we had all left Hicks out of our calculations.”

410

“Most fortunately, if you will allow me to correct you, Hicks declines to be ignored in such an unceremonious fashion. I suppose you imply that if he had occurred to your memory you would have tried to square him? You ought to know by this time that there is no one on earth so incorruptible as the newspaper man who has a big sensation in charge. The wealth of India would not move him, if the condition of receiving it was the suppression of his ‘copy.’ And what a fine story he could have made out of your eager attempts (instigated, without a doubt, by myself) to bribe him not to publish the true facts of the case! The issue would have been simple ruin for both of us. Not that that is the worst of it. Since when, Mr Stratford, have you imagined me capable of trading upon another man’s reputation?”

“Honestly, Sir Dugald, our only idea was to preserve for you the credit which we know you deserve, but which Hicks and the world are determined to award to the wrong man.”

“My dear Stratford, I have no doubt as to the entire excellence of your intentions, although I can’t congratulate you on the steps you took to carry them out. I cannot be too thankful that your Quixotic scheme has failed. Leaving out of sight all the other considerations, I have still a little pride left, and I can’t stand being indebted, even to my friends, for a reputation which doesn’t belong to me. I have had my day, and I am quite ready to walk off and leave the stage to the younger men.”

“Ah, Sir Dugald,” said Stratford, earnestly, “none of the younger men can hope to do what you have done.”

“Stuff!” said Sir Dugald, but he could not help allowing a gleam of pleasure to be seen. “You have all done your duty under very trying circumstances, and I am proud of you, gentlemen.”

411

“And we of you, Sir Dugald,” said Dick, finding his tongue suddenly.

“You are bringing home peace with honour, as you said once at Kubbet-ul-Haj,” said Stratford.

“The Chief gets the peace, and Stratford the honour,” observed Fitz, sotto voce, to Georgia. “Do you call that a fair division or not, Miss Keeling?”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXIV

You told her yourself that things had better be over between you.
[She’s not gaslighting him. He said it on page 383 of the previous chapter, mere seconds before he fell into a convenient fever.]

It would set such a good example
[The words “It would set”—the last part of the last line on page 401—are wholly invisible. I have filled them in from Argosy.]

there was something I particularly wanted to say when I got you all together
text has altogether
[Corrected from Argosy.]

412

EPILOGUE.

(Being part of a letter addressed by Mr Fitzgerald Anstruther, about a year after the return of the English Mission from Kubbet-ul-Haj, to Mrs North, M.D., British Residency, Iskandarbagh.)

“. . . I have just come back from my visit to Sir Dugald and Lady Haigh at Inverconglish. The Chief is all right again, and looks quite bucolic in knickerbockers and a deerstalker—a regular ‘tyrant of his little fields,’ indeed. I had promised myself the pleasure of seeing him in a kilt, but he says that his tenants are a serious-minded people, unaccus­tomed to laughter, and he is afraid the sight of him so arrayed might do them severe physical injury. He is a great power in the neighbourhood, and the people bring their disputes to him to settle instead of going to law, so that he is quite busy and happy, though he has not got his peerage. Lady Haigh, who directs the affairs (parti­cularly the love affairs) of the locality generally, told me something about Stratford that will amuse you and North. He is destined, so they say, to get a high appointment before long, and meanwhile he has devoted his leave to falling in love with a girl just out of the school­room, who is desperately frightened by his attentions, and won’t have a word to say to him. Lady Haigh says she is rather like 413 a lady whom Stratford knew long ago, and who died. She is a hero-worshipper, and has adored him from a distance since Hicks first made him known to the British public, but she doesn’t want him to come any closer. However, if old Stratford makes up his mind to stick to a thing, I fancy he is pretty sure to get it. By the bye, I met Hicks the other day. He was just off to Thracia again, drawn by the rumour of these new distur­bances. He quite considers himself as one of us, and says that when we of the old Kubbet-ul-Haj gang meet next to celebrate the signing of the treaty, he will be there, if he has to come from the other side of the world in order to be present. . . .”

THE END

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.