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Banked Fires
by E. W. (Ethel Winifred) Savi
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"Where is Mrs. Meredith this evening?" a voice was heard to ask on one occasion.

"Joy-riding as usual with Captain Dalton," from Mrs. Fox venomously. "It will be interesting to watch the result when Mr. Meredith awakes to what's going on."

"What's going on?"

"The doctor is a 'dark horse.' You don't suppose he would waste so much of his valuable time if he did not hope to get some entertainment out of Mrs. Meredith? She is such a coquette." This from Mrs. Fox, maliciously.

"She's a simple little thing," said the first speaker charitably. "I shouldn't imagine there was any harm in her."

"'Still waters run deep,'" quoted Mrs. Fox.

"There is another instructive proverb I could quote," cried Honor striking savagely at a ball.

"And what is that?" from Mrs. Fox.

"About 'glass houses and stones.'"

"If that is meant for me, thanks, awfully! But so many panes have already been broken, that I am most indifferent to stones," Mrs. Fox returned languidly as she smiled on the company, who laughed in embarrassment.

"So it would appear," murmured Mrs. Ironsides to a friend.

"Hateful creature!" Honor snapped in Tommy's ear as he handed her a ball.

Jack, playing on the other side with Mr. Ironsides for his partner, had deteriorated so much of late that Tommy and Honor, who had both a genuine regard for him, were much exercised in mind.

He had lost his frank look and easy good-humour; was rarely to be seen at the Club without Mrs. Fox, whom he usually drove down in a side car attached to his motor cycle, a recent purchase,—and was no longer the same man. A constraint had arisen between him and his chum who poured out his fears to Honor in the hope of receiving advice and comfort, but he had succeeded only in alarming her.

"Can't anything be done to save him, Tommy?"

"I can't think of anything, unless Meredith gets him transferred at once."

"But who's to suggest that?"

"His wife, I should think; otherwise some day there might be an unholy row. Fox is no fool. I dare say he is biding his time. He was fond of Bobby Smart and got him out of this while there was time, but he may prefer to sacrifice Jack."

"How terrible!" Honor was sincerely afraid for Jack. He was too young to be mixed up in such a bad business, and Mrs. Fox was clever enough to play him like a fish till he was landed.

Honor walked home at dusk escorted as far as her door by Tommy. It was her intention to call on Joyce after dinner with a proposition concerning the transfer of Jack from Muktiarbad. It seemed the only thing left to do. Incidentally, she would repeat her warnings to her friend concerning herself, for which she expected no thanks. Still, it had galled her badly listening to the coarse remarks of Station people at the Club. She would speak, however disagreeable the task.

At nine o'clock when she reached the Bara Koti she discovered that Joyce was not in. Usually, she returned from her drive at dusk, but as she had not done so up to that late hour, the Collector's servants had come to the conclusion that she was dining at a neighbour's in the happy-go-lucky way that sahibs took "pot-luck" at one another's houses without reference to their domestics.

It was odd in Mrs. Meredith's case, for never before had she failed to return to her baby that she might tuck him into his little cot herself and see that all was right. The ayah was not a little perturbed, but did not voice her feelings until speaking to Honor, fearing that they were foolish and unfounded. What did the Miss-sahib think?

Honor did not know what to say. The more she thought of it the less likely did it seem that Joyce would dine out without coming home to change into dinner things and kiss her precious infant good-night. She decided to return home at once and ask what her parents thought about it.

This she did without loss of time, and Mr. and Mrs. Bright took a grave view of circumstance.

"The car has either broken down somewhere, or they have met with an accident," said Mr. Bright.

Mrs. Bright maintained a stiff reserve.

The thought of an accident caused Honor's knees to give way beneath her and she collapsed into a chair. "How shall we know? Supposing they don't return—?" The bare idea was intolerable.

"I have never liked these constant motorings in her husband's absence. Mrs. Meredith is very foolish to court gossip in the way she is doing. Presently there will be a scandal," said Mrs. Bright shortly.

"Joyce is not a flirt, Mother."

"She goes far enough to earn the reputation of one, however innocent she may be."

Honor knew it was the truth and was silent with an indefinable dread. Was Joyce altogether safe with Captain Dalton?—Should he fall in love and grow intensely attracted by her beauty and childlike charm, was he the sort to consider morality and the law? Was he strictly an honourable man? None knew him; none trusted him; not even Ray Meredith who was afraid to betray his jealousy and incur his wife's resentment; or why had he said: "Take care of my wife—she is such a kid?"

"What had best be done?" she asked anxiously.

"We had better beat up the Station and see what has happened," said Mr. Bright, rising to put his suggestion into effect. "She might be stupid enough to be dining with the doctor at his bungalow."

"Oh, never!" said Honor indignantly. "She is not so foolish as all that!" A hot flush surged over her face at the idea. Joyce dining with the doctor at his bungalow, alone! It was too preposterous, yet—was it? She was "such a kid," and might be foolish enough to dare any folly so long as she felt sure of herself and the purity of her own intentions.

But the pain at Honor's heart was out of all proportion to her concern at Joyce Meredith's indiscretion.

She tortured herself imagining the possible scene in Dalton's dining-room—Joyce at dinner, tete-a-tete with Captain Dalton!—on familiar terms with the man who rarely condescended to be agreeable to others! It was a picture inconceivably hurtful.

"You had better lose no time, Dad. If you find her—anywhere—tell her that her servants are alarmed—the ayah particularly. I shall see her in the morning," she said, resolutely shutting out the vision conjured up by imagination.

If Joyce were not dining somewhere, there must have been an accident, in which case they would have to send out search parties.

She watched her father leave in the dogcart and wondered what the upshot would be, her mind restless with forebodings.

It was fully an hour later that Mr. Bright returned home to report that Captain Dalton and Mrs. Meredith were nowhere to be found. Dalton's servants were waiting to serve him with dinner, and were growing anxious as his habits were usually automatic and punctual. He so far considered them that they were always informed of his plans. If he intended to dine out they were given liberty to spend the evening with their friends in the bazaar. As it was clear that something unusual had happened, Mr. Bright had called round on Tommy and a search was already in progress. Jack had taken the Sombari road on his motor cycle and Tommy had taken the main road in an opposite direction. It was more than possible that the car had broken down somewhere, in which case the stranded ones would probably find a bullock-cart to bring them ingloriously home.

Honor hung about on the verandah for news till midnight, and was almost speechless with alarm when both boys appeared, one after the other to report the failure of their quest. The car was nowhere to be seen.

To add to the difficulty, clouds which had gathered in the evening had discharged smart showers of rain at intervals, as is familiar to Bengal about Christmas time, and not a trace of wheel-marks could be discovered on the road.

By morning the excitement had spread all over the Station. Inquiries poured in on the Brights. The subject of Mrs. Meredith's disappearance with the doctor was discussed at every chota hazri table with and without sympathy, and even in the bazaar it was passed along from one to another. The Collector's memsahib had gone off with the doctor, leaving her little child to the tender mercies of an ayah! Alack! even to the homes of the mighty came shame and dishonour through a woman! And all through the European custom of giving women so much liberty! On the whole, the "black man" knew best how to protect his honour and his home!

Meanwhile, a mounted messenger had gone at great speed to inform the Collector, who arrived by midday looking dazed and ill from the shock. It was pitiful to see how helpless he had become in the face of such an appalling tragedy as the complete disappearance of his wife. Telegrams to various stations on the line had brought no information; mounted policemen had returned without having discovered a clue. The car had vanished with its occupants, though all who knew Joyce intimately, knew that she would cheerfully have given her life rather than have abandoned her child.

"One can scarcely believe that she has eloped," Mrs. Bright said to Honor. "She is so wrapped up in the child."

"Someone would have seen the car," said her husband. "It is an unaccountable thing."

Joyce eloped!—it was unthinkable.

Honor, who from anxiety, had not slept all night, mounted her bicycle and rode out into the fresh and brilliant sunlight on a forlorn hope. An idea had come to her as an inspiration which, though unlikely, was not an impossibility. In the search for the missing ones, every road in the District was being scoured without success. Since the rain had obliterated all tracks there had been nothing to guide any one in the quest, and nothing had been gleaned from villagers. No one had seen the familiar two-seater after it had passed the boundaries of the Mission, which was a circumstance as mysterious as it was unaccountable, for it must have gone somewhere.

Why not off the road? Not a soul had conceived it likely that Captain Dalton would have risked his fine machine over the bumpy side-tracks that formed short-cuts in various directions, notably one to the ruins which Joyce had often expressed a wish to see. They were not difficult of access by motor-car, although the road to them was almost covered by weeds and undergrowth. Supposing that the doctor had yielded to persuasion and taken Joyce to see the old Mogul Palace, and supposing that they had subsequently met with an accident, their plight might be truly pitiable. Very few natives found it necessary to travel by the jungle path so long disused, for the Government having constructed metalled highways in all directions, travellers had ceased to travel uncomfortably even if the old path was a short-cut between villages. Occasionally woodmen in search of timber prowled around the ancient pile and jackals gathered in packs to howl their grievances to the moon; otherwise, a stray tourist on a visit to the Station or a winter picnic party were the only visitors to the gaping halls and crumbling arches.

Just where the unused and overgrown track left the Sombari Road, Honor stepped off her bicycle and searched the ground again for a clue without success. None was to be found in the slush and puddles of the uneven way.

Nothing daunted, she led her bicycle over the ruts towards the jungle in which the palace lay buried, its dome and minarets visible through the tangled tree-tops. It was not easy going on foot, much less could it have been for a motor-car; moreover, Honor was not at all sure she liked venturing on her visit of exploration alone, but all who were capable of continuing the search were already occupied in its prosecution in different parts of the District, and there was no one she could have asked to keep her company.

It was when Honor came to shadowed glades where the undergrowth almost hid the track and obstructed her progress, that she found the first clue—snapped twigs and branches bent backward. These suggested the passage of a cumbrous body on wheels, for sodden leaves were pressed into the wet earth and creepers which had barred the way had been torn and flung on the path.

If it had been Captain Dalton's car, why had it not returned? Honor's heart grew sick with fear.

She pressed on. Presently, she came upon the car itself, beneath overhanging boughs and a dense entanglement of bamboos. It had been saturated by the rain, the hood lay back, and an empty luncheon basket lay open on the seat.

Evidently, they had left the car with the full intention of returning to it immediately, and were prevented by some unforeseen calamity. Honor quivered with alarm and misgiving. Where were they if not in the palace—killed, or injured and unable to help themselves?

Her mind flew to wild animals.

Though it had been a long accepted legend that tigers and leopards had been driven out of the neighbourhood, and had not been seen for years within a radius of twenty to thirty miles, it was still possible that a stray leopard or tiger had lately found a refuge in the neglected precincts of the ruins.

Honor was unarmed and terribly afraid. The fate that had overtaken her friends might easily be hers a few steps further. Prudence and self-preservation dictated immediate flight and a call for a search-party. At the same time, having come so far it seemed her duty to continue till she was convinced that she could do no more. There was the possibility that Captain Dalton had met with an accident and Joyce, unable to leave him, was in dire need of help. Honor felt she would cease to respect herself forever if she deserted her friends at the moment of their greatest need.

She hesitated no further, but stumbled forward over the uneven ground, desperately anxious and frightened, yet nerved to face any danger.

Another bend of the track brought the palace into view—a dark conglomerate pile of crumbling masonry which looked frowningly down upon her, its walls weather-beaten and scarred by time, and with rank vegetation sprouting from every crack. A pipal tree flourished aloft above its dome, its roots buried in the concrete and clinging to the walls; while festoons of wild convolvulus hung in profusion from the lower branches.

Moisture still dripped from the leaves, and the earth was sodden underfoot. Lofty arches yawned in the sunlight and a silence as of the grave reigned, broken only by an occasional caw from an inquisitive crow, or the intermittent chattering of apes.

Again Honor came upon signs of forcible penetration—wild creepers torn aside to make a path, and jungle hacked out of the way; no easy task. Her friends had evidently been determined not to accept defeat in their effort to reach the interior of the ruin.

It was a year since Honor had visited the spot and it seemed to her that the shape of the building had changed. One wing had partially collapsed; whether recently, or some months ago, she could not tell, but it did not look quite the same. Here and there, boulders of freshly fallen masonry strewed the path. There was no doubt that the edifice was slowly falling to pieces.

Raising her hands to her lips, she gave a loud, Australian "coo-ee!" and listened while its echo called back to her....

Was it an echo?

Honor held her breath to listen, and heard it again—a man's voice calling—"Hulloa!—coo-ee!"



CHAPTER XIV

THE INDISCRETION

Joyce had started out on her motor ride with the doctor as happy as a child on a holiday. Her baby was well and there was no cause for anxiety; in fact, all the world seemed smiling and kind. At last she was learning that a short absence from home made no difference to an infant in the care of so capable a nurse as her Madrassi ayah, trained in the way of infants by the remarkable "Barnes-Memsahib."

All things considered, there seemed no earthly reason why she should not be happy with the light-heartedness of youth helped by a kind friend to pass the time agreeably while she remained in India. In the spring——

But she would not look ahead. Why borrow trouble? When the hot, March winds began to blow, Ray himself would recognise the necessity of sending the little one home. No father could be so selfish as to allow his own son and heir to fade away under his own eyes, and neglect the only chance of saving his little life. As to the hills!—the innumerable infantile diseases incurred in the hills owing to the dampness of the climate made life a constant terror. No! It would have to be Home in March. Passages were usually booked long beforehand but people often dropped out at the last, and a passage for a "lady and infant" could easily be found at the eleventh hour.

Meanwhile, this was December, and she was capable of enjoying herself amazingly in circumstances that were innocent and harmless.

With a friend like Captain Dalton at her service, so to speak, and Honor to love her almost as a sister would, she was very lucky and could afford to be as happy as the season would permit.

Station gossip whispered that Dalton would not have spared so much of his precious time unless he were receiving some return by way of compensation; which was a logical deduction in estimating a masculine nature not governed by religious scruples; but with this Joyce was hardly concerned, having little comprehension of all that gossips implied. She was delighted to requite so much self-sacrifice on the doctor's part with all the geniality she could command.

As a matter of fact, Captain Dalton was finding a cynical amusement in the study of this—to him—new type of feminine creature: a married woman with the mind of a child, unawakened as yet to the deeper emotions, in whom the instincts of sex were still asleep. He was quite sure that, like most pretty women, she was vain and easily led, and, if it were not himself, it would be some other fellow who would undertake her awakening, since her husband was trustingly content to leave her mental development to chance and nature.

Having passed the stage of desperate infatuation for mere physical beauty, he could play at his leisure with the idea of encompassing her ruin, as he sat beside her in his car, watching the dimples come and go. Life had done him a bad turn at the beginning of his career, and he was envious of men who had escaped suffering such as he had known. Out of sheer devilry he would like to pull Meredith's house about his ears and teach him that no woman of extraordinary physical attractions was a safe asset as a wife. Sooner or later, vanity would be her undoing and she would join the ranks of the fast and free. His experience was fairly wide and his faith, nil. Already Joyce Meredith coquetted delightfully. In a little while she would be doing it dangerously; by and by, audaciously, and so on, till she developed into the accomplished flirt, the sport of men in the East. He had watched the evolution till he had arrived at the theory that, with time and opportunity, the generality of women could be brought to capitulate.

This afternoon they had set out with the intention of visiting the ruins, taking with them a rug and a tea basket for a tete-a-tete picnic. At first Dalton had thought of leaving the car on the high road and walking the rest of the way, but on second thoughts he decided to risk the tires and springs over the bumpy ground, forcing a passage through the obstacles in the way. Remembering the nature of the jungle, he came prepared with the necessary implements for hacking a passage through, so that he was enabled to take the car much farther than he had at first thought possible. After they had partaken of refreshment under the drooping boughs of a great banyan tree, with a screen of bamboos on the west sheltering them from the afternoon sun, they proceeded on foot to the ruins, he carrying the rug in case she should need to rest.

"How fairy-like and lovely it all is!" cried Joyce clinging to his arm and picking her way among the dead leaves. The speckled sunlight dancing through the leaves, the spreading branches overhead, the graceful foliage of the tropical vegetation, the beautiful birds, made the spot peculiarly fascinating. "It gives one such a sense of isolation," she added.

"We are completely isolated," he returned. "Hardly a soul comes this way. Some months ago when I wandered down here, a native who was chopping wood said the place was haunted, for which reason the people give it a wide berth."

"Haunted!" exclaimed Joyce fearfully, as she crept closer to his side.

"The natives are terribly superstitious and easily scared. The devil is said to be in possession of the palace, and ill-luck or disaster to overtake any who enter it. Are you nervous?"

"Not if you are not. You see, I have such immense faith in you," she said with charming flattery.

"Then we'll brave the fellow together." He hacked at the creepers and tore them aside, and having cleared a path, drew her towards the gloomy walls visible through gaps in the foliage. It was a friendly little hand that nestled confidingly in his. "These wild convolvuli grow with such amazing rapidity, that in a month of rainy weather the whole path is blocked. If you were put to sleep in the ruin by a wave of the devil's wand, the creepers would make a wall and shut you in, like the princess in the fairy tale. How would you like to sleep here for a hundred years walled in by creepers as high as the tree-tops?"

"And be awakened by a splendid prince?" she laughed, entering into the spirit of his raillery.

"I can picture him tearing his way through with the instinct to kiss you, so as to learn the true meaning of Life! You don't need enchantment to turn you into the Sleeping Beauty; you are that now. It would be interesting to see what would happen were the Prince to arrive."

"He arrived when I met Ray," she said colouring richly.

"You think he did, but that was in your dreams. You are not awake yet, so your experience has yet to come." He avoided her eyes while he spoke and left her puzzled to follow his thought.

"I cannot understand you. Why should you say I am asleep?"

"Because it is written in your eyes."

"Then I am a somnambulist?" she laughed.

"Yes. A dangerous one," and they laughed together.

"Who is going to wake me?" she coquetted with a pretty drooping of her lashes.

Dalton stole a look at her pouting lips, thinking he would defer the reply to her question for a while. She put him in mind of a child consciously playing with fire, yet expecting to escape unscorched. Of course, she would have to learn her mistake. She knew perfectly that nine out of ten men would be on fire with passion for her under such intimate circumstances, and reveal the fact without loss of time; she was not quite so sound asleep as not to be aware of her own beauty and its spell, yet she dared to experiment on men and rouse their emotions. Let her, then, take the consequences!

Soon, Joyce found herself in front of the ruined palace, standing on higher ground, its dome and minarets visible for miles in a setting of dense foliage and drooping palms. It had been built in the sixteenth century for heathen worship, and subsequently converted by a Mohammedan grandee into a residence for his own accommodation and that of his harem. To Joyce it looked an irregular mass of ruined masonry, roofless in parts and overgrown with jungle. The portion which had been reserved to the women formed a separate wing which at one time had been enclosed by a high wall, but which was now reduced to mounds of fallen brick-work and shattered concrete. "The place looks almost as though it had suffered bombardment," she said, "how desolate and weird!"

"I could tell you a romance connected with that wing which savours of the Arabian Nights," said Dalton. "Want to hear it?"

"How do you know so much more about it than any one else?" she asked, accompanying him gingerly over the fallen masonry to gain a better view of the harem. All around them the undergrowth was dense and matted; date-palms reared themselves from thickets and mingled their drooping branches with tamarind trees, the prickly babul, and the wild jamun[16].

[Footnote 16: Indian blackberry.]

"I make it my business to know all about every place I live in," he returned.

"Tell me the romance," she commanded.

Dalton spread the rug on a grassy mound, and when they had seated themselves, he began his tale in true Oriental fashion, with a charm of style that captured her fancy.

"Once upon a time, when the land belonged to those who could hold it by the sword, a rich Nawab built himself a costly residence out of a heathen temple. Behold the residence!"—with a wave of his hand. "And with him dwelt his retinue and his sycophants, his child-wife, and the women who contributed to her needs and his pleasures.

"Alas, for masculine confidence! In a moment of weakness, this great prince took into his service a young warrior of Rajputana as the chief of his bodyguard—a Hindu by religion and of exclusive caste—because of his great strength and the beauty of his youth and person. This one, tradition tells, conceived a burning passion for the favourite wife of his master, having seen her face by chance, unveiled, at the bars that protected her window;—a girl of extreme loveliness, and as slender as a wand, whom custom prevented from disclosing her features to the eyes of men who were not her near relatives. She had therefore been closely guarded within the harem walls in company with other women of her lord's establishment, and left to find entertainment for herself in the priceless jewels that adorned her person.

"Every day the Rajput, by name Ramjitsu Singh, would pass and repass below the high wall that enclosed the women's quarters, hoping again to see, by favour of the gods, this beauteous vision whose wondrous charms were the talk of the bazaars; their fame having been spread by her female attendants. Small was she, they said, with eyes like a gazelle's, and lips of the redness of ripe berries. Her hands and her feet were the hands and feet of a babe, so slender were they, and soft; and the hair of her head could have robed her.

"One day, the Rajput's patience was rewarded by a sight of the beautiful face which made his senses swim as in a sea of delight. She stood again, unveiled, at the bars of her window, and gazed down at him with great sadness and yearning. Like a bird in its cage she looked upon the free world with longing, and sighed. The foolish one!—The faithless one!"

"How can you call her foolish and faithless?" Joyce interrupted indignantly.

"That is how the Indian story-teller speaks of her."

"It was only natural. Think of her youth and the conditions to which she was obliged to conform!"

"Well, see what happened. Are you interested?"

"I am thrilled. Go on!"

"Thereafter, the Rajput neither ate nor slept till he had devised a plan for carrying her away; for what are laws to lovers? or bolts and bars? Neither caste nor creed can hold a man back whose soul is on fire for a woman." He paused to allow his words to take effect.

"How very romantic!" laughed Joyce, unmoved. "It is like a poem, as unreal as it is picturesque!"

"Don't you believe a man's soul can be aflame with love and desire for a woman?" he asked, picking up a stone idly and flinging it after a disturbing crow.

"Books tell one so, but how am I to know?"

"It must have been proved to you times without number!—but I said you were asleep!" he remarked with his inscrutable smile. "Know, then, that men have cheerfully risked hell for a woman's favours. They have broken every law for the transcendent bliss of lovers' kisses!—Anyhow, that's not the story.

"To proceed: Poor old Ramjitsu was ready to dare or die for his Love, as many another man has been since the world began, and will continue to be while the world lasts. Every night, when darkness covered the land, and the people within and without the palace slept, Ramjitsu Singh would climb the wall by means of a stout bamboo, and clinging to the sill, would wait for the gods to grant him the opportunity to plead his love.

"At last, one night, attracted by the silvery radiance of the moon, she came to the grating to gaze without, and hearing a quivering sigh, she turned and beheld her gallant lover. He looked like a god himself in the bright moonlight, and the words of his mouth, uttered with breathless passion, held her spellbound. With her flower-face pressed to the bars she received his caresses."

"Oh, poor little thing!" cried Joyce, her breath hurried with sympathy. "Did she love him, too?"

"She must have, in that moment, for nature at such times speaks loudly to youth. Listening to his impassioned vows, she, who was of a different religion, as apart from his as the East is from the West, was willing to place her destiny in his hands. Human nature, you will see, is stronger than caste or creed, and tradition is brought to naught by romance and passion.

"One night, when all seemingly slept, Ramjitsu, who had from time to time cautiously loosened the iron bars in their sockets, removed them altogether and received in his arms the form he coveted. Conceive that thrilling moment of ecstasy! Suddenly, however, a lightning stroke from a sword descended upon the faithless one from within, and she was slain in her lover's arms. The weight of her falling body, thus violently flung forward, unbalanced the Rajput whose foothold at the best was precarious, and together they were hurled to the paved court below, Ramjitsu breaking his neck in the fall.

"So ended the love story of the Palace—a tragedy which has remained an everlasting tribute to love, and serves as an example to the Indians of a just vengeance on the unfaithful. The spies of the Nawab had betrayed the young wife and her lover, and the husband had punished them both with death."

"Just vengeance!" repeated Joyce scornfully. "A brutal murder, I call it."

"The Mohammedans speak of it with pride."

Joyce brushed away the tears and laughed hysterically. "It is a horribly tragic tale and I wish you had not told me of it, for the memory of it will haunt me."

"Why do you mind?"

"I can't help feeling for that poor little prisoner who wanted to be loved and was killed! They had probably married her off as a little child to the Nawab whom she afterwards learned to hate."

"You wish she had escaped with the Rajput? That would have violated every law of their religion and tradition." He watched her keenly.

She looked distressed. "Why are laws so hard and fast? These poor women! Can they never choose for themselves who they will marry?"

"Never. Among Eastern races marriages are always arranged. So you don't condemn the Rajput for wanting to steal her?"

"Oh, no. How could he help it?"

"Or her for wanting to run away with him?"

"Not for wanting to run away. But laws have to be kept, I suppose, or no homes would be safe. Individuals have to be sacrificed to communities," she said thoughtfully. "Show me where it all happened."

He rose, and taking her by the hand, helped her to her feet, after which they passed together through a gap in the wall which led to a room on the ground floor from where a winding, brick stairway took them to the apartments above. Each step had to be carefully negotiated because of the mortar crumbling under foot, and the loosened bricks that threatened an accident. Presently, they were in a narrow corridor into which slits or loop-holes admitted the daylight. An arch at the far end from which the door had long since vanished, introduced them to a series of chambers, one leading into another. The walls were black with cobwebs and the dust of ages, while the concrete flooring was strewn with the debris of fallen plaster. Heavy cracks in the roof let in shafts of the fading daylight, and roots of weeds and pipal trees had penetrated and hung below. On the whole it was anything but a desirable spot in which to linger, but Joyce's desire to view the interior of the romantic chamber had to be satisfied.

"This is supposed to be the room, and that the window. You can see the holes in which the iron bars must at one time have been embedded. The story goes on to tell of great calamities befalling the fortunes of the Nawab; of battles fought in the neighbourhood between Hindus and Mohammedans, and the immediate withdrawal of the Moslems to another part of Bengal. Now let us get out. I am not at all sure the place is safe."

"Let me first take a souvenir!" she pleaded. An enamelled brick above the arch had attracted her eye. Its design and colouring were still fresh and clear despite the ages that had passed since it was fashioned. "Look at it!" she coaxed. "Isn't it wonderful? You would think it had come straight out of a jeweller's shop. How did they learn such work in those far-off days?"

"Italian workmen were known to have been imported by wealthy princes for the decoration of their temples and homes."

"Can't I have it?"

"Quite out of reach," he answered, stretching an arm upward.

"But I might try to punch it out with your knife, if you put me on your shoulder."

Dalton was sure that no effort of hers would dislodge the brick; moreover, he was doubtful of the wisdom of the experiment, considering its position in the arch; but the blue eyes lifted to his were undeniably bewitching, and the suggested method of the operation, too much of a temptation to be resisted. He would let her try till she admitted failure: the impulse to grant her the moon if she demanded it was strong at the moment, so he gave her his knife and without much effort hoisted her to his shoulder and allowed her to dig at will into the arch. Her delicate fingers would soon tire of forcing the brick from its solid bed. He, therefore, held her securely and closed his eyes not to be blinded by the fine dust that showered over them both.

"Look out!" he warned her once, when the sound of falling mortar was heavier than he had anticipated. "Don't bring the place about our ears."

"I don't want to be buried alive!" she replied. "It isn't as difficult as I imagined. See, it is already loosening."

But he could not look up out of regard for his sight. For a moment he had no actual concern with the work she was engaged upon, having allowed himself to suffer distraction. With his arms about her, his face at her waist, he was assailed with the temptation to bring matters between them to a crisis. He was done with philandering and desired to end her folly and his patience. What was easier than to draw her down to his breast that he might cover her tempting lips with kisses? Though he was not in love with Joyce after the manner of Ramjitsu, her mouth was alluringly sweet, and her possible response to his passion would reward his daring. There was the novelty, too, of acting the Prince Charming to her role of Sleeping Beauty; for her woman's nature was asleep and waiting only to be startled into comprehension. All the afternoon he had played with the idea till his desire for possession had mastered prudence. What right had she to imagine him a bloodless being, as passionless as a stone? He was a man, and a very human one at that. He would prove that to her without delay. What a fool he had been to have wasted so much time! He would kiss her till he infected her with his passion; which would not be difficult if she were like those of her sex who traded on a husband's trust and confidence!

The glamour of the moment intoxicated his senses: contact with her person, the perfume of her, her complete helplessness in that retired spot, assisted to turn him temporarily insane.

Just as desire was about to master reason and self-restraint, a shriek of terror from Joyce paralysed his nerves and suspended thought.

The arch, already heavily cracked and depending solely for stability upon structural pressure, being further weakened by the dislodgment of that particular brick, showed signs of collapsing.

On looking upward, Dalton saw their danger and had time only to spring backward to a far corner of the room before the arch subsided, bringing with it a portion of the roof. He stood stock still with Joyce clinging to his neck, watching the building crashing about him. The shock and vibration of the fall had brought about the collapse of precarious parts of the ruined edifice, till, roar followed roar, and the air was thick with dust.

Dalton momentarily expected the shaking floor to give way beneath their feet, or the roof to descend upon them and bury them alive. It was something to remember all his life: his impotence to help himself or his companion in the midst of the calamity, while believing himself face to face with the horror of a slow death by entombment.

After a while, when all was still and the dust began to settle, the spectacle disclosed to view beggared description.

Tons of material lay between them and the stairs up which they had come; the window was buried behind a dense mass of fallen bricks and mortar; a great hole torn in the roof showed the sky overcast with clouds. Possibly there would shortly be rain to add to their misfortune.

How was it possible to extricate themselves from their terrible predicament? Dalton cast his eyes about him towards an inner chamber, only to see that the roof there had also collapsed barricading the only other outlet.

In the midst of his anxieties he had to soothe the girl's fears. Joyce was shivering with terror and nearly speechless.

"Pull yourself together," he said shortly. "It is a devilish catastrophe, but we must face it. Just as well we are not killed!" He endeavoured to unclasp her clinging arms, but she only clung the closer.

"Oh, I am so frightened!—don't leave me!" she whimpered.

"I am not going to leave you," he said reassuringly, "but I must take a good look around." Releasing the rug from beneath a weight of debris, he induced her to sit down while he made a careful survey of the conditions of their prison, for that it undoubtedly was. They were as completely shut out from the outer world and as helpless as prisoners in a dungeon. Both rooms were isolated from the rest of the building; both were partially roofless and without means of exit.

Gad!—what a commotion there would be in the Station when it was discovered that they had not returned! Dalton wished with all his heart that he had left his car on the high road and not brought it into the wood. Who would think of looking for it there?

He was partly comforted by the thought of the wheel-marks left in the dust, but this source of hope was cut off when the rain began to descend later in the night.

In the meantime he had to make the best of the situation and not allow Mrs. Meredith to fret.

"You have to thank a special Providence interested in your fate that you are not buried alive," he told her cheerfully.

"And so have you," she said solemnly.

"Providence doesn't usually bother much about me; relations have long been strained. Possibly I have been preserved for your sake," he laughed.

"How can you talk in that irreverent way!" she said reproachfully.

"Sorry, if it offends you."

But Joyce fell to weeping. Was it possible that they would ever be found?—they would die of starvation—and what about her baby?

Dalton had much ado to allay all her fears. When it was discovered that they were missing, did she suppose that a stone would be left unturned to trace them? She was to cheer up and show how brave she could be.

"I am not like Honor Bright," she sobbed. "I cannot face such a horrible prospect as a night spent in this ghastly place all among snakes and creeping things!"

The mention of Honor seemed to silence the doctor completely. For some time he was moody and depressed; Joyce was allowed to weep into her hands till exhausted.

Only when it was getting dismally dark did he arouse himself from his abstraction and take up again the task of cheering her.

"Can't we dig ourselves out?" Joyce asked before the darkness descended wholly upon them.

"Without implements of any sort?" Even the knife was lost in the confusion, and in any case it would have been utterly useless.

"Do you think they are sure to find us?"

"I am confident of it—in the morning. It will be too late and dark for them to think of looking here tonight, but in the morning someone is sure to find the car and discover our whereabouts."

"How hungry we shall be!" she sighed, and Dalton laughed.

"How thirsty we shall be, is more to the point!—Poor child!" taking her hand in his and recalling how near he had been to madness. He was not too far from it even now with her hand resting confidingly in his, and the consciousness of their unique position.

"Anyhow, there is the sky and fresh air, and at least we are not quite alone. I have you!" she said with dangerous flattery.

"Yes. You have me," he returned eagerly. "And I—have—you!"

"What about snakes?" she asked, casting her eyes about her fearfully.

"They are more upset than we. At any rate, I don't believe we'll be troubled by snakes tonight. You will have to forget we are lost, so to speak, and talk till you are tired, and then try to sleep."

"Sleep—here?"

"On the rug."

"I couldn't. It is so uncomfortable!"

In the growing darkness, he was again mastered by the evil thoughts which had possessed him in the moments preceding the catastrophe. Their isolation produced a host of ungoverned impulses. As the evening advanced his manner changed, growing suggestive of possession; his manner became more tender.

"You will always remember tonight!—there will never be another like it in your life," he whispered, leaning towards her and stealing her hand. "You have been horribly frightened, haven't you?"

"I am more hopeful now, thinking of the morning," she returned, her soft breath on his cheek. "It is only the snakes I fear!"

Dalton drew her into his arms. "I shan't let you think of snakes, you pretty little thing! At last I have you close. You have tantalised me with your loveliness every day, till Fate has given you to me!" his lips found hers and pressed them roughly. "Wake up, sleeping Princess! see, this night is ours. Let me love you as I want to. Let me teach you how to love!"

Joyce seemed paralysed in his arms. She lay as still as death under his kisses as though mesmerised and dreaming. Emboldened by her silence Dalton continued to caress her with increasing ardour, till Joyce, coming suddenly to her senses, was seized with panic and horror.

"Who are you?" she cried in a frenzy of fear, struggling to escape. It seemed she was entrapped by some human monster in the doctor's likeness, against whom she was powerless to struggle.

"Why do you ask? You know me well—don't be foolish! Won't you let me love you?"

"Love me?—like this?—Do you forget I am married?" she gasped, still struggling to escape. "Let me go. I hate you for daring to touch me—to kiss me. I hate you! How dare you do it!" Joyce had never known such terrifying moments, even worse than when the building seemed falling about her ears. The horrors of the night were multiplying a thousandfold, now that the doctor had failed her and gone mad.

Dalton made several efforts to pacify her, thinking he had only to deal with a phase of childishness, but found her unmistakably determined to break away from him.

"Stop it, and listen to me," he said angrily. "You want it all your own way, but it is my turn now. Why did you lead me on and tempt me, if you meant to back out in the end? I could have kissed you twenty times, but refrained for reasons you would not understand. Now when those reasons are finally swept aside and I am ready to be your lover, you pretend to be surprised."

"Surprised! I am horrified! I thought so well of you—I believed you would respect me, not treat me as you might—Mrs. Fox for instance! Let me go, you coward and bully!—I have trusted you and treated you as a brother—for this?—you unspeakable cad!"

Dalton released her instantly, and she burst into tears, crying as though her heart would break. "Honor warned me, but I would not listen!" he heard her say amid her sobs.

"What did Honor warn you about?" he asked sternly.

"She said," Joyce sobbed, "to go 'easy with my favours'—that you were 'a man—like most——'"

"Did Honor say that? and why?"

"Because—she thought I was being foolish to—to become so—friendly—with you—when I am a married woman. She was right! I have been a fool!" A fresh outburst of weeping.

"Did she say that because of her contempt for me, or because you are a wife?" he pressed.

"I—don't know. All I know is that she was right and I should have listened to her warning; now I shall never, never respect myself again."

"I see no reason why you shouldn't," said Dalton, a sense of humour overcoming his wrath. "You've done nothing but tell me in polite language to go to the devil."

"You kissed me!"

"What of it? Many women in your position are kissed, and they are in no wise cast down," he laughed sardonically.

"I feel degraded—I feel unfit to kiss my own, dear little baby again!"

"You should have thought of all that when you were so anxious to charm me," he returned cruelly.

"You are a beast, and the most hateful man I know!" She made an attempt in the gloom to crawl away to some distance from him and his rug, but he ordered her to stay where she was, adding,

"I shan't trouble you again. You have nothing to fear from me."

"I don't want to share the same rug!—I wish I was a mile away!"

"The rug has done you no harm. If you prefer it, I'll shift off it. The best thing you can do is to go to sleep."

"I couldn't with this sin on my conscience."

"What sin?" he asked repressing his impatience with difficulty.

"This sin against my husband."

"You have committed none. If my kissing you was a sin, mine is the conscience to be troubled; but it was slain quite a long time ago," he added with a short laugh.

"I am not joking," she said angrily. "How do you suppose I can face my husband knowing that I have behaved so as to make another man kiss me?" What a child she seemed!

There was no doubting her distress, and Dalton exhausted every argument in his attempt to understand her attitude of mind. "What do you want me to do?" he asked finally. "If an apology is of any use, I apologise humbly for behaving as I did. I grant you, I am a perfect specimen of a cad. If it will do you any good, tell your husband all about it when you get back, and send him round to give me a horse-whipping. I promise I shall not injure a hair of his head."

"He is much more likely to shoot you."

"Even so. He is perfectly welcome to. I am not in love with my life. Only let him do it by stealth so that they don't hang him afterwards."

Joyce cried again hopelessly, till Dalton felt himself a sort of criminal.

"Please don't! I cannot tell you how sorry I am to have upset you so. I had no idea you would take it like this. There are so many women who——"

"Like Mrs. Fox?" she interrupted scornfully.

"Perhaps. I don't know much of Mrs. Fox. She doesn't appeal to me."

"You couldn't offer me a worse insult than to think that I might be like her!"

"I am sorry. Forgive me, will you?"

"I cannot forgive myself for my blindness and folly!"

Joyce spoke as though she were shivering, and Dalton was stricken with concern. "You are cold?" he asked anxiously.

Her teeth chattered. In December the nights in Bengal are often bitter, and Joyce had left her driving cloak in the car. Dalton immediately divested himself of his coat and made her wear it. His manner having returned to the professional, she was no longer afraid of him, so obeyed meekly.

"Now the rug," said he. And she was wrapped to her ears in the rug, after which he left her to herself for the night. Both listened to the patter of the rain as it fell on the debris around them, and, eventually overcome with fatigue, Joyce dropped off to sleep.



CHAPTER XV

THE AFTERMATH

In the early morning, Joyce realised that she was both hungry and thirsty. Her lips were parched, her throat dry, nothing having passed them since early tea the previous afternoon, and she was at the lowest ebb of despondency and depression. Her surroundings helped to increase her misery, for the ground was a mixture of puddle and slush, and there seemed no chance of help anywhere. She seemed to have fallen into a deep crater, and but for a projection of roof that still held firm owing to a network of pipal roots, she would have been as drenched as the bricks and mortar with which she was surrounded.

To add to her alarm, she was all alone. Captain Dalton was nowhere to be seen.

Though he had behaved horribly the evening before, he had not troubled her since; the tramp of his feet as he paced up and down the circumscribed space that was left to them of the chamber, being the only evidence she had till she dropped off to sleep that she was not without company. But with the daylight he was gone, and feeling almost panic-stricken with ghostly fears and loneliness, she called aloud to him.

"Captain Dalton!"

"I'm here," his voice cheerily announced as he emerged from the inner room which had suffered an equal amount of damage. "See what the gods have sent you!" and he handed her a pipal-leaf cup, full of water to drink.

It was eagerly seized and gratefully drunk. "Where did you get it from?"

"That other room is full of branches torn from the roof when it fell in," he returned. "I discovered them by the light of a match and amused myself making cups out of the leaves by the light of a few more. They don't hold much, but I managed to set a good few to catch the rain drops as they fell, and that's better than nothing."

"Have you had any?" she asked politely.

"I was waiting for you, but I'll take a drink now." He retired and did not return till she called him again.

"I wish you would take your coat. You must be so chilled," she ventured. "The rug will do for me."

"Are you quite sure?" he asked and Joyce noticed that his hands were blue with cold. After putting on his coat he was about to retire again when she stopped him wistfully. "Please stay—I feel so frightened alone."

"I thought you preferred not to have me around," he said dropping down beside her.

For answer she wept into her arms as they rested on her knees.

"I was beastly, last night, wasn't I—poor little kid," he said in gentler tones than she had ever heard from him. "Can't you have it in your heart to forgive me?—just wipe it out as though it had never happened?"

"I can forgive you, but—I—could never wipe it out. I feel so degraded. It is like having an ugly stain on a page you had always wanted to keep clean."

Dalton studied her as something entirely new to his experience. "I have never in my life met anyone like you. It has been an eye-opener to a man like me. I didn't understand you all this time. I am just beginning to, now. Tell me frankly your idea."

"It is nothing extraordinary," she said drying her eyes. "It is only that I did not believe a gentleman could treat a decent married girl as you did me. I wanted to be like brother and sister, and I thought you understood. Anything else never entered my head as possible to self-respecting people."

"And I have spoilt all your pretty illusions!—let down my sex too, rather badly! What don't I deserve! It would relieve my feelings if you slanged me for all you are worth. Believe me, you have done no wrong. It is only that I see things crookedly, and am just what you called me, an 'unspeakable cad.' I should have respected your helplessness. Truly, I deserve to be shot."

"I have been very silly, I don't care what you say. But I never can remember I am grown up!" she said pathetically. "Honor told me that people would talk, but I did not believe they had any cause. Now I realise what they are thinking! and it breaks my heart. They will believe I am like Mrs. Fox. She does things that look bad, and people despise her. Now they will despise me."

"Never! they have only to look at you and hear you speak, to see what you are."

"Honor said it was not enough to be good but to avoid doing the things that make people think we are not. Now they are thinking perhaps that I flirt with you and let you kiss me!" Her face was suffused with crimson shame. Nothing was so horrible to contemplate as the fact that he had kissed her! She was stripped of self-respect forever.

Dalton might have been tempted to smile at her self-accusing attitude had it not been for her perfect sincerity. He felt overcome with contrition and longed to atone.

"You make me infinitely ashamed," he said humbly. "Perhaps if you knew what went towards making me such a brute-beast, you would feel just a little sorry for me and understand—even bring yourself to like me a little bit as you say you once did. I have never had a sister. It might have made a difference if I had." After a pause—"Some years ago there were two persons in whom I believed as—I believe—in God. One was a woman and the other, my dearest pal. He and I were like brothers. I would have trusted him with my life. I did more. I trusted him with my honour." A pause. "And he whom I trusted and loved, robbed me of all that made life dear to me, and of what I valued more than life. And the woman I loved and believed pure and true, conspired with him to betray my honour! I was their dupe. A blind confiding fool!"

"Oh!" was wrung sympathetically from Joyce.

"When I found out all I went mad, I think. I have been pretty mad—and bad—ever since; but at the time, if I could have laid hands on both I might have ended my career on the gallows. But Fate intervened. He was killed in a railway accident shortly afterwards, and a year later, she came whining to me for forgiveness."

"Did you forgive her?"

Dalton's eyes glowed with cruelty and an undying contempt. "Forgive her? Not if she had been dying! There are things impossible to forgive. She had killed my soul, destroyed my faith in human nature—which others, since, have not helped to restore!—turned me into a very devil, and without an incentive to live. Do you think I could forgive her? If I hated her then, I loathe the very memory of her now."

"Yet you tried your best to make me one of the same sort?" Joyce asked wonderingly.

"I did not believe, till you proved it to me, that women are of any other sort," he replied.

"You forget Honor Bright?"

"I never forget Honor Bright," he replied unexpectedly. "I have looked upon her as the exception that proves the rule."

"Your mother?" Joyce interposed gently.

"My father divorced her," he said harshly. "So you see I have had rather a bad education!"

"I am very sorry for you."

"You are?—that's good. Then there is hope for me."

"I am sorry that you should have such a contempt for women, owing to your unfortunate experience."

"I owe you an eternal debt of gratitude for teaching me what an egotistical jackass I have been."

"Tell me," she asked, suddenly waking up to their dust-laden condition, "am I covered with smuts and grime?"

Dalton surveyed her quizzically. "You are covered from head to foot, like a miller, with fine white dust."

"So are you!" and they laughed together for the first time since the calamity.

"Let's wash, there's a pool in the next room. Quite a respectable amount of clean water is collected about the floor."

He showed her the pool and left her to make her toilet while he explored their prison for some possibility of escape. Putting his hands to his mouth he sent forth stentorian cries for help with no result. Without a pick-axe to work with, he saw no chance of cutting a way through the tons of material that lay around them.

It was midday, when Joyce was feeling weak with hunger, and Dalton fighting a strong tendency to pessimism, that he heard Honor's "Coo-ee!" and replied.

"Thank God!—at last here's someone to the rescue!" he exclaimed, and Joyce burst into tears.

When Honor was able to locate the spot from which the answering voice proceeded, she contrived with difficulty to get near enough to the opening to hear what had happened. It was good to know, however terrible had been the experience of the pair, that both were unhurt, and that Joyce was bearing up wonderfully.

"I shall run back and get help at once, cheer up!" she called out.

"We don't, either of us, feel cheerful, I can assure you. It has been ghastly here all night," the doctor shouted back.

"But it is great to have found you! I am so thankful," and she sped to her bicycle and travelled at top speed to the Mission. Mr. Meek could provide the labour at a moment's notice for the work of digging out the imprisoned couple, and to him she went direct.

Immediately the Settlement hummed with activities; coolies swarmed to the spot with pickaxes and spades, crowbars and ropes, and as news flies from village to village with almost the rapidity of "wireless," hundreds of natives gathered at the scene to view operations, the women with infants astride one hip, and naked children swarming around. They camped on the ground chewing pan and parched rice, and chattered incessantly of the mysterious workings of Providence, the folly of humanity, and the decrees of Fate.

The bare-footed, semi-nude rescuers, climbed over the face of the ruins with complete disregard of life and limb, and with wary tread and light touch, began the work of removing the debris.

In due course, the rescue was effected, and Joyce was assisted to climb out of the wrecked chamber to safety. Honor half-supported her to the car which Captain Dalton drove in silence to the Bara Koti. His eyes avoided Honor's and in manner he was quiet and constrained.

"So you never got the souvenir after all!" she said to Joyce when she had heard a disjointed account of the catastrophe.

"I should have hated to look at it again, if I had," was the hysterical reply. "I shan't want to pass this road again, or get a glimpse of that terrible place as long as I live. I hate India more than ever, and Ray must send me home at once. Otherwise, I shall live in dread of some other calamity befalling either Baby or me. Oh, Honor, persuade him to let me go!"

By the time she was put to bed she was suffering from nervous prostration. Meredith, who had returned from his fruitless search, looked like a man walking in his sleep. His wife had clung to his neck in passionate relief, but she had avoided his lips as she had never done before, and a sword seemed to have entered his heart.

"Oh, I am so glad to be back!" she kept repeating, with her babe pressed to her bosom.

"Memsahib habbing one great fright!" commiserated the ayah.

Silent and stunned, Meredith hovered about the room. He had uttered no word of reproach to his wife for her imprudence,—she had suffered enough, mentally and physically; but resentment was fierce within him towards the doctor. The impulse to walk round and horse-whip him for having had the impudence to lead his foolish, but adored girl-wife into such a scrape, was well-nigh unconquerable, and he refrained only for fear that scandalous tongues would give the unhappy event a sinister character.

"Kiss me, Sweet," he once whispered, leaning over her in passionate anxiety. He wanted to look deep into her eyes; not to see them fall away from his with a shrinking expression foreign to them.

Joyce offered her cheek.

"Your lips," he commanded.

But Joyce fell to weeping broken-heartedly. Meredith kissed her cheek with a pain at his heart, and turned away.

"Won't you tell me everything?" he asked another time, studying her intently. Normally, he imagined she would have babbled childishly of all her experiences, and have been insatiable in her demands for petting. Why did she seem crushed and silent as to details? Honor had said the shock would account for her shaken and hysterical state; but it did not explain her strange aloofness.

"You know it all," Joyce returned listlessly, the tears springing to her eyes at his first question as to the experience she had undergone.

"I know the barest outline—and that from Honor Bright. You wanted a particular stone for a souvenir, and in digging it out, the arch collapsed, which brought down a large bit of the roof and a lot more besides. What happened after that? How did you manage to spend the night? It must have been horrible!"

"Some day I may be able to talk about it, but not now," she cried with quivering lips. "It is cruel to question me now."

Meredith leaned back in despair. "I hope Dalton was properly careful of you?" he asked, devoured with jealousy.

"He gave me his coat and his rug, and made cups out of pipal leaves to catch the raindrops as they fell. We were so thirsty," she said monotonously.

"Rather a brainy idea!"

"Please don't recall all that to me. I don't want to think of it!" she cried; and that was all Meredith could learn of the events of that night.

The following day it was discovered that the doctor was suffering from a feverish chill and was confined to bed. By nightfall, it was reported by Jack who had been to visit him, that he was in a high fever, and that the Railway doctor had been called in by the Civil Hospital Assistant for a consultation.

The next day it was known that Captain Dalton was seriously ill with pneumonia; a locum arrived from headquarters, nurses were telegraphed for, and for some days his life hung in the balance.

Joyce, who still kept her bed with shaken nerves, incapable of interesting herself in her usual pursuits, was startled out of her lethargy at the news. "If he dies, it will be my fault," she cried. "Oh, Honor! I was so cold that he gave me his coat as well as the rug, and did without them himself till morning. He must have taken a chill, for he looked so bad in the dawn."

"He did what any other decent man would have done in his place."

"It was rather surprising of him, considering how fiercely we quarrelled!" and feeling the need of confession, she poured out the whole story of her shame into her friend's ears. "Even now I grow hot with humiliation when I think of it! I cannot understand why he did it, for it was not as if he had fallen in love! Only because he thought I was a—a—flirt, like others he had known."

Honor's face was very white as she listened, silent and stricken.

"I just had to tell you, dear, or the load of it on my mind would have killed me. I feel as if I were guilty of a crime against Ray; and, poor darling, he does not understand what is wrong!"

"Why don't you tell him and get it over? He loves you enough to make the telling easy. And if you love him enough, why, it can only end happily," said Honor with an effort.

"There would be a tragedy!—I dare not. Ray would kill him for having dared to insult me like that! You have no idea of what I have been through! Captain Dalton said I was asleep and needed awakening! I have awakened in right earnest and know that I have been a wicked fool. How I long to be loved and forgiven! Oh, Honor! when Ray looks at me so anxiously and lovingly, I just want to be allowed to cry my heart out in his arms and confess everything; but I simply cannot, with this dread of consequences. Nor can I make up to him with this wretched thing on my conscience! Why didn't I listen to you!"

"There is not much use in crying over spilt milk, is there? The best thing you can do is to bury it and be everything to your husband that he wishes. You must try to atone. If you love him——"

"I do! There is no other man in the world so much to me. I did not realise how much I cared till Captain Dalton made me, by his outrageous behaviour! I am not fit for Ray's love after knowing how I have lowered myself!"

"You will not mend matters by creating a misunderstanding between yourself and your husband. What is he to think if you continue to shrink from his caresses?"

"He will think I don't care at all, and that is so untrue!"

"Can't you see that, with your own hand, you are building up a barrier between you which will be difficult to pull down at will?"

"When I am able to tell him all about it, he will understand. At present I feel shamed and degraded. I feel myself a cheat! I, whom he believes a good and virtuous wife, have actually been kissed by a man who thought I was the sort to permit an intrigue! Don't you see, that if I behaved as though nothing wrong had happened, I would be putting myself on a par with Judas?"

Having wrought herself up to the point of hysteria, she was not to be reasoned with.

"How I wish I had never set foot in that dreadful place! It seems, after all, that the devil is really in possession of it, and that disaster overtakes people who enter there."

"Disaster invariably overtakes people who give the devil his chance," said Honor unable to resist a smile.

"I dare say you are right. I have been very foolish, for I had no idea of the sort of man I was growing so intimate with. But he was truly sorry, and tried afterwards in a hundred ways to show how he regretted his behaviour. Indeed, I think, on the whole, he received quite a good moral lesson for thinking most women are without any conscience," and Joyce proceeded to relate the sequel of her story, which involved that of the doctor's past.

"It is a most painful history," said Honor gravely.

"And he has never known home-life; his mother was a wicked woman, and was divorced!"

"How pitiful!"

"It quite accounts,—doesn't it?—for his badness?"

"I don't think he is at all bad," Honor said unexpectedly. "He's been badly hit and wants to hit back; that's about what it is. To him women are all alike"—

"Not you!—he said you were, to his mind, the 'exception that proves the rule.'" Joyce interrupted.

Honor coloured as she continued,—"And he has very little respect for the sex. He requires to meet with some good, wholesome examples to set him right, poor fellow!"

"He thinks the world of you, Honey!"

"Does he?" with an embarrassed laugh. "Then he takes a queer way of showing it."

"That was your fault. You turned him down over Elsie Meek's case, and he was too proud to plead for himself. But I have watched him, Honey, and there isn't a thing you say or do he misses, when you and he are in the same room."

"Your imagination!" Honor said uncomfortably. "You forget he has just been trying to make love to you!"

"True. But he has never been in love with me. It was sheer devilment. Even I could tell that. Love is such a different thing. Ray loves me. There is no mistaking it, for it is in his eyes all the time, and proved in a thousand ways."

"Did Captain Dalton say much more about that girl who jilted him?" Honor asked with embarrassment. Joyce had failed to grasp the full significance of Dalton's unhappy experience, and Honor had accordingly derived a wrong impression.

"Only that he loathes her now. That she killed his soul!—which is absurd, seeing that the soul is immortal."

"It can therefore be resurrected."

How, and in which way, Honor had not the slightest idea, but her heart instead of recoiling from the sinner after all she had heard, warmed with sympathy towards him. She could not help a feeling of pity and tolerance for the unfortunate victim of deception who through disillusionment and wounded pride, had gone astray.

When Honor returned home, it was to hear that her mother had gone over to the doctor's bungalow to nurse the patient till professional nurses should arrive; and had left word that her daughter should follow her.

"We have to do our 'duty to our neighbour' no matter how much we may disapprove of him and as no one in the Station is capable of tending the sick with patience and intelligence, I must do it with your help."

So Honor superintended the making of beef-tea for the sick-room, fetched and carried, ran messages, and made herself generally useful, much to Tommy's disgust. It was hateful to him that a man so generally disliked as the Civil Surgeon, should be tenderly cared for by the women he had systematically slighted.

"I don't see it at all," he grumbled to Honor when he caught her on the road on her way home for dinner. "Surely his servants could do what is necessary till the nurses arrive?"

"The least little neglect might cost him his life, Tommy."

"It wouldn't be your fault. For weeks the fellow has not gone near your people."

"Would you have us punish him for that by letting him die of neglect?"

"It is no business of mine, of course."

Honor quite agreed with him, but softened her reproof with a demand for his help. "At any rate, it is everyone's duty to lend a helping hand in times of trouble. We want a message sent to the doctor-babu at the government dispensary, and it is a mercy I have met you." She gave him a list of the things required by the local Railway doctor who was in charge of the case, and Tommy cycled away, obliged to content himself with the joy of serving her whenever and wherever possible.

That evening, while Honor was left on guard at Dalton's bedside to see that he made no attempt in his delirium to rise, she experienced a sudden sinking of the heart in the thought that he might die.

He was very ill.... Pneumonia was one of the most deadly diseases. As yet there was no means of knowing how it would go with him. With gnawing anxiety she watched his flushed face and closed eyes and the rapid rise and fall of his chest. How strong and well-built he was! and yet he lay as weak and helpless as a child.

The thought that he might die was intolerable. It gave her a sense of wild protest, a desire to fight with all power of her mind and will against such a dire possibility. He must not die till he had recovered his faith in human nature, his belief in womanhood. If there were any truth in the New Philosophy he would not die if her determination could sustain him, and help him over the crisis.

"Honey...?" the sick man muttered. His eyes had unclosed and were looking full at her.

"Yes?" she replied, trembling from head to foot with startled surprise at hearing him speak her name.

"Have they let you come at last?" he asked in weak tones.

"They sent for me to help," she returned gently.

"Was it because I wanted you so much? My soul has been crying out for you. There is only one face I see in my dreams, and it is yours. You will not leave me?" he asked breathlessly.

"I will stay as long as they let me," she said kneeling at the bedside that she might not miss a syllable that fell from his lips.

"How did you know that I loved you all the time?"

"I did not know." Surely it was wrong for him to speak when he was so ill? yet she longed to hear more. Every word thrilled her through and through.

"Ever since that day—you remember?—when you came to me for help in your danger and suspense; when I saw into that brave, staunch heart of yours, and, for the first time, knew a true woman!" His face was alight with emotion. It was transformed.

"Oh, hush!—you must not talk."

"Yes. I am horribly ill," he panted. "It is ghastly being tucked up like this, unable to get up. But it is worth while if you will stay with me." A pause while he frowned, chasing a thought. "What was I saying? My mind is so confused."

"It does not matter, I understand."

He caught her hand and pressed it to his burning lips, then laid the cool palm against his rough, unshaven cheek.

"If I have longed for anything it is for this—to hold your hand—so—to feel that you'd care just a little bit whether I lived or died—nobody else does on this wide earth!"

"I care a very great deal," she said brokenly. "So much, that I beg of you not to talk. It must hurt."

"Every breath is pain. If I give a shout you must not mind. It is a relief sometimes. Pleurisy is devilish. They told you, I suppose, I have that as well? If I don't pull through——"

"Stop! You shall not say that. You will get well. I know it. I am sure of it," she said. "Try to rest and sleep."

"I shall try, if you say you love me."

"I love you," Honor said with fervour. It did not matter to her that he might presently be rambling and forget all about her and his fevered dreams of her. It was the truth that she loved him, and she spoke from her heart.

He did not seem to hear her, for, already his thoughts wandered. "I keep thinking and dreaming the wildest things and get horribly mixed," he said frowning and puzzled. "Was I buried for days and nights in the ruins—with someone? then how is it I am here?"

"You were buried for one night with Mrs. Meredith, and you were both rescued in the morning."

His eyes contracted suddenly. "A pretty little creature—dear little thing!—brainless, but beautiful. One could be almost fond of her if she did not bore one to tears!" He turned painfully on his side and Honor placed a pillow under his shoulders. "Ah, that's easier!—thanks, nurse," he said mechanically. "Tears?... What about tears? Ah, Mrs. Meredith's tears. She cried almost as much as the rain, poor kid! and we were nearly washed out—like 'Alice,'" and he laughed huskily, forgetful that he was again in possession of Honor's hand which he held in a vice. "I am a damned fool to have tried it on with her. Beastly low-down trick," he muttered almost inaudibly. "'You unspeakable cad!' she said, and, by God! I deserved it. I should have known that she was not the sort to play that rotten game. Ah, well! it is only another item on the debit side of the ledger!" His eyes closed and he drifted into unconsciousness. Honor's hand slipped from his hold and she rose to her knees, choked with grief and longing. Oh, for the right to nurse him tenderly! "Oh, God! give him to me!" she cried in frenzied prayer.

Dalton did not recognise her again after that, and the next morning Mrs. Bright handed over the case to the nurses from Calcutta.



CHAPTER XVI

CORNERED

When Joyce made her final plea to be sent home to her people without waiting for the spring, it met with little opposition. Meredith had come to the point of almost welcoming a break in the impossible deadlock at which his domestic life had arrived. His beloved one's nerves had broken down from one cause and another, and she was drifting into the habits of a confirmed invalid. If he did not let her go, he would, perhaps, have to stand aside and watch her increasing intimacy with the doctor whom he could not challenge without creating a disgusting scandal; which would make life in Bengal intolerable for himself as well as for her. So he agreed to her departure with the child in the hope that "absence would make her heart grow fonder," and that she would come back to him, restored, when the cold season returned and made life in India not only tolerable, but pleasant.

Hurried arrangements were put through, a passage secured, and Joyce roused herself to bid her friends a formal farewell.

At the Brights', only Honor was at home, her mother having driven to the bazaar for muslin to make new curtains. Christmas was approaching and a general "spring cleaning" was in full swing in order that everything should look fresh for the season.

"It is the greatest day in the year, and even the natives expect us to honour it. Our festival, you know," Honor explained.

"It always looks so odd to have to celebrate Christmas with a warm sun shining and all the trees in full leaf!" said Joyce. "That is why it never feels Christmas to me. I miss the home aspect,—frost and snow, and landscapes bleak and bare."

"The advantage lies with us. We can calculate on the weather with confidence, and it is so much more comfortable to feel warm. And then everything looks so bright!"

"I am glad you like it since you have to stay. I hate India more than ever."

Honor looked earnestly at her, and wonderingly. "Isn't it rather a wrench to you to leave your husband?" Joyce had grown so apathetic and cold.

For answer her friend broke down completely, and wept as though her heart would break. "We seem to be drifting apart. Oh, Honey, I love him so!"

"Then why go?"

"I must. I want to think things over and recover by myself. I am trying to forget all about that night in the ruins, and hoping for time to put things to rights. Perhaps I shall return quite soon. Perhaps, if the doctor is transferred, I shall find courage to write and tell Ray all about it. I am all nerves, sometimes I believe I am ill, for I can't sleep well and have all sorts of horrid dreams about cholera, and snakes, and Baby dying of convulsions! So, you see, a change is what I most need; and I am so homesick for Mother and Kitty! I cry at a word. I start at every sound, and if Baby should fall ill, it would be the last straw."

"But what is to happen when you are away, if, while you are here you feel you are drifting apart?"

"When I am away, he will forget my silly ways and remember only that I am his wife and how much he loves me. He does love me, nothing can alter that; but lately I have held aloof from him for reasons I have explained to you, and he is hurt. You may not understand how desperately mean I feel, and how unfit to kiss him and receive his kisses after what has happened. For the life of me I could not keep it up without telling him all. And how could I, when Captain Dalton is convalescent and my husband will have to meet him when he is able to get about again? Already he is talking of going round to chat with him. You see, he does not know!"

Honor was deeply perplexed. "Of course, you must do as you please, but in your place, I would tell him everything, and as he knows how dearly you love him, and only him, he will, I am certain, give up all desire for revenge. At a push, he might ask for a transfer."

Joyce shuddered. "I'd rather leave things to time. Later on, I can tell him all about it, and, perhaps, by then, Captain Dalton will have been transferred. Don't you love me, Honey?"

"Of course I love you."

Joyce flung her arms round Honor's neck and kissed her warmly. "You were looking so cold and disapproving! Take care of Ray for me, will you? and write often to me about him. I shall miss him terribly," and she sobbed unrestrainedly.

When Meredith saw her safely to Bombay, preparatory to her embarkation, he allowed himself to show something of the grief he felt at having to give up for an indefinite time what he most valued on earth. In the seclusion of their room at the hotel, he held her close in his arms and devoured her flower-like face with eyes of hungry passion.

"So, not content with holding yourself aloof from me, you are leaving me to shift for myself, the best way I can!" he said grimly.

Joyce's lips quivered piteously and she hid her face in his shirt-front.

"Has it never occurred to you," he said, "that a man parted too long from his wife, might get used to doing without her altogether?"

Two arms clung closer in protest. "But never you!" she replied with confidence.

"Even I," he said cruelly. He wanted to hurt her since she had walked over him, metaphorically, with hobnailed boots. "India is a land of many temptations."

"But you love me!"

"God knows I do. But I am only a very ordinary human man whose wife prefers to live away from him in a distant land."

"Ray, you are saying that only to be cruel!"

"Because I am beginning to think you have no very real love for me."

"I love you, and no one else!"

"I have seen very little evidence of love, as I understand it. A great many things count with you above me. The child comes first! God knows that I have idolised you. Perhaps this is my punishment! but I worshipped you, and today you are deliberately straining the cord that binds us together. The strands will presently be so weak that they will snap altogether. Then all the splicing afterwards will never restore it to its original strength. It will be a patched-up thing—its perfection gone. Remember, a big breach between husband and wife may be mended—but never again is there restored what has been lost!" He lifted her chin and kissed her cold lips roughly. "When do you mean to return? Can't you suggest an idea of the time?"

"Whenever you can get leave to fetch me," she answered with sobbing breath.

"I swear to God I will not do so!" he broke out. "You may stay as long as you choose. I shall then understand how much I count with you. I refuse to drag back an unwilling wife."

"Oh, Ray! Don't talk like that! Won't you believe that I love you?"

"I would sell my soul to believe it ... to bank all my faith on it!"

"It is true!"

"Prove it now."

"How can I?"

"Let me cancel the passage, and come back with me."

Her face fell. "I could not do that after all the arrangements have been made. Mother will be so disappointed—besides, people will think me mad!"

Meredith released her and turned away, a fury of jealousy at his heart. "Ever since that night at the ruins you have become a changed being. I tried not to think so, but, by God! you have forced me to. One might almost imagine you are running away from Captain Dalton. Is there anything between you?" he asked coming back to face her, white and shaken.

Joyce burst into tears. "I don't understand what you are accusing me of!" she sobbed, panic-stricken.

"Are you in love with that man?"

This was something tangible and Joyce was roused to an outburst of honest indignation. "No!—no! A thousand times, no! How dare you think so! How dare you imply I am lying? I have said I love you, but I shall hate you if you hurt me so!"

Meredith's face lightened as he swung about the room. "It all comes back to the same thing in the end. It is good-bye, maybe, for years!"

Early the next morning, he saw his wife on board with the child and ayah, and then returned to his duties at Muktiarbad, a lonely and heavy-hearted man.

Captain Dalton recovered, was granted sick leave by the Government, and disappeared from the District for a sea trip to Ceylon.

Tommy mentioned the fact to Honor having just learned it from him on the platform of the railway station where he was awaiting the Calcutta express, surrounded with baggage and with servants in attendance. He was looking like a ghost and was in the vilest of tempers; not even having the grace to shake hands on saying good-bye!

Honor turned aside that the boy might not see the disappointment in her face. Her heart was wrung with pain. Not once had Captain Dalton made an effort to see her.

Her father had smoked a cigar with the invalid one evening when he was allowed to sit up on a lounge in his own sitting-room, and had been asked to convey thanks and gratitude to Mrs. Bright for her many kindnesses to the patient in his illness; but there had been no reference to "Miss Bright"; nor did he give any sign that he remembered what had passed between them at his bedside, the one and only time that he had seemed to recognise her and had spoken unforgettable words.

It was cruel; it was humiliating!

Honor had been trying by degrees to teach herself to believe that he had spoken under the influence of delirium. Perhaps he had been thinking of someone else outside her knowledge? But she could not forget how sanely he had recalled the time he had treated her for snake-bite. His words were burned into her brain as with fire—"When you came to me for help in your danger and suspense; when I saw into that brave, staunch heart of yours, and, for the first time, knew a true woman!"

There was no delirium in that!

What did it all mean? If he really loved her, why did he not want her as she wanted him? Why did he treat her with such indifference and wound her to the heart?

There was no answer to her questioning. Captain Dalton was, as always, unaccountable, and Honor lifted her head proudly, and determined to think no more of him. She gave herself up to the arrangements for a happy Christmas, and, for the next week, was the busiest person at Muktiarbad.

Tommy, claiming assistance from his chum, Jack, was ready to draw up a programme for a gala week. There would have to be polo, tennis, and golf tournaments if the residents entered into the spirit of enjoyment and were sporting enough to fill the Station with guests.

"Who do you suppose will care to come to a dead-and-alive hole like this?" Jack remarked, throwing cold water, to begin with, on his friend's enthusiasms. "It will be a waste of energy especially when they are having a race meeting at Hazrigunge!"

"Even this dead-and-alive hole might be made entertaining if we put our shoulders to the wheel."

"There are not enough of us. You might count the doctor out—he's away. Meredith is no good. His wife's left him for the present and he lives in the jungles with a gun. With half-a-dozen men, one girl, and a host of Mrs. Grundies, you are brave if you think you can manage to engineer a good time. Take my advice, old son, and leave people to spend their time as they please. After all, Christmas is a time for the kiddies; not old stagers like you and me."

Jack's spirits were conspicuously below par, and there had been signs and symptoms of boredom, reminiscent of Bobby Smart whenever he had been seen in company with Mrs. Fox.

"Can't you work up some little interest?" Tommy asked impatiently. "It's beastly selfish of you, to say the least of it."

"I might spend Christmas in town."

"I might have known that. I heard something last night about Mrs. Fox having an invitation to spend Christmas with friends in Calcutta," was the pointed rejoinder.

"Pity you did not think of it before."

"Chuck it, Jack!" said Tommy earnestly, putting a hand affectionately on his friend's shoulder.

"I wish to God I could," was the gloomy reply. "It's so easy to get into trouble, but so devilishly difficult to get out of it again, decently."

"I'd do it indecently, if it comes to that! You think it's 'playing the game' to keep on with an affair of that sort? It's a damned low-down sort of game, anyhow, with no rules to keep; so chuck it before worse happens."

Jack lighted a cigarette deliberately and made no reply. His good-looking, young face was looking lean and thoughtful; he had suddenly changed from boyish youth to blase middle age; the elasticity of his nature was gone; his laugh was rarely heard, and he seemed to keep out of the way of his friends. Even Tommy had ceased to share his confidence. There was a rumour that the Collector had spoken to him like a father and was seriously thinking of having him transferred—a suggestion which had been made by his wife, prompted by Honor. But transfers were not effected in a twinkling, and Jack still remained at Mrs. Fox's beck and call, took her out in his side car, and was often missing of an evening when it was expected of him to turn up at a special gathering of his friends.

In desperation Tommy confided to Honor that Christmas was going to be as dull as Good Friday, as there would be nothing doing. And Honor not to be beaten, collected subscriptions, sent out invitations, and threw herself heartily into the task of organizing a good time.

In the end, Christmas week at Muktiarbad was a season of mild amusement and effortless good-fellowship. A few guests arrived to assist in making merry, and there was no discordant note to jar the harmony of the gatherings.

* * * * *

Jack arrived at the crisis of his life, on Christmas Eve, in Calcutta, when he felt that the invisible bonds threatening to enslave him were suddenly tightened, rendering his escape well-nigh impossible.

He had taken a box at the theatre, from which he and Mrs. Fox watched the "Bandmann Troupe" in their latest success.

"What a mercy we are not staying at the same hotel, Jack," said Mrs. Fox. "It did feel rotten at first, but as it turns out, it will be all for the best, old thing. I have extraordinary news for you."

"You have?—out with it!" he said absently. She had so often surprises on him which generally ended in some new suggestion of intrigue, that he was both unmoved and incurious.

"First tell me how fond you are of me. You haven't said much about it since we came to town."

"We haven't been so very much alone, have we?"

"No, worse luck! but there is no reason why you should not make up for it whenever we are together. You must have heaps of quite charming things to say? In fact, you do love me tremendously, Jack, don't you?" she coaxed.

"I thought I had proved it sufficiently," he said colouring with annoyance while he tried to look amiable.

"You are a darling—like your silly old name which I adore! What a topping world this is! You don't know how much you have altered everything for me. I feel such a kid, and everyone tells me I might be in my teens!" she said with a pitiable attempt to be kittenish.

Jack turned away, sickened by her vain folly, and frowned involuntarily. What an outrageous ass he had been! However, some day he would break away from his chains; only, he must do it decently. Let her down gently, so to speak, as she was so damned dependent on his passion, which had long since died a natural death.

Mrs. Fox snuggled her hand into his. "Say something nice, my Beauty Boy," she wheedled.

Jack squirmed inwardly; nevertheless, to oblige her he admired her gown and called up the ghost of the smile which had once been his special charm.

"How lovely it would be if you and I were husband and wife, Jack?—sitting here, together, in the eyes of all the world?"

"Lovely," echoed Jack, dutifully.

"You would never fail me, dearest, would you? Say, supposing I were, by some miracle, free?"

Knowing that she was securely bound, Jack felt safe in assuring her that he would never dream of failing her. It was his belief that this, and other vows he had unthinkingly made, were impossible of fulfilment in their circumstances.

"What a boy it is!—always so shy of letting himself go. Look at me. I want to see if your eyes are speaking the truth. There is something of importance I have to tell you relating to our two selves and the future."

Jack obeyed, curious and not a little anxious because of the half-suppressed note of excitement she could not keep out of her voice. The shaded lights of the theatre were not too dim to show the fine lines at the corners of her mouth and the obvious effort to supply by art what nature had failed to perpetuate. But the egotism of a woman grown used to her power to charm, dies hard.

Jack's eyes fell nervously before the questioning in hers.

"Tell me, don't you believe we could be very happy together?"

"Why should you doubt me?" he said evasively.

"I don't doubt you, but I want the joy of hearing you say so. To me it is so wonderful,—what is about to happen,—that I am afraid I shall wake up and find it is all a dream!" she said fatuously, gazing with adoration at Jack's fine physique and boyish, handsome face. "You have often feared possibilities, and said you would stand by me if anything went wrong between Barry and myself."

Jack remembered having often said much that had made him hotly uncomfortable to recall afterwards.

"Didn't you, Jack, dear?"

"Of course," he said desperately. "What else do you suppose, unless I am a howling cad?"

"I know you are not, that is why I simply adore you. You are so true, so sincere! My beau ideal of manhood!——"

"Well, it is like this. Barry has come to the conclusion that it isn't fair to either of us to keep dragging at our chains when we have long ceased to care for each other, so he wrote, yesterday, to tell me that he would put no obstacle in my way if I wished to divorce him. There is someone he is keen on and whom he will marry in due course. I can do the same. He has heard about you—just rumour—but as a woman is always the one to suffer most in a suit for divorce he has most generously suggested that the initiative should come from me. Rather decent of him, what?"

"Tremendously decent," said Jack his heart becoming like lead in his breast. For a moment the lights of the theatre swam; he felt deadly sick and cold, and failed to take in the sense of what she continued to say. In the midst of his mental upheaval the lights mercifully went down and the curtain up, so that much of his emotion passed unnoticed.

"Why Jack!—think of it, we shall be able to marry after it is all finished!—only a few months to wait!"

"Yes," said he with dry lips.

"Try to look as if you are glad!" she teased. "You know you are crazy with delight. It is what we were longing for. Be a little responsive, old dear," she said, giving his hand a squeeze.

Jack returned the pressure, feeling like a trapped creature with no hope of escape. Marriage with Mrs. Barrington Fox had never at any time entered into his calculations. He was too young, to begin with, and certainly did not wish to be tied down to the woman who had played upon his untried passions.

Waves of self-disgust and dread seemed to overwhelm him.

He sat on for the next few minutes seeing nothing, hearing nothing, saying nothing, while he anathematised himself mentally as every kind of a fool, Barrington Fox as a contemptible blackguard, and the woman beside him as something unspeakable. He could not deny his own culpability; but he had felt all along that a nature like his was as wax in such unscrupulous and experienced hands.

He had been weak—yes, damnably weak! that was about the sum and total of it. And he would have to spend the rest of his life in paying for it!

What would the mater say? He thought of her first; the proud and handsome dame who had placed all her hopes on her eldest son—who thought no one good enough to be his wife.

His pater?—and the girls?

He had never associated them in his thoughts with Mrs. Fox, nor dreamed of their meeting even as acquaintances. The contrast was too glaring.

His career?

Well!—the Government did not approve discreditable marriages; but, on the other hand, it did not actively interfere with a Service man's private affairs. A good officer might make his way in spite of an unfortunate marriage. There were worse instances in the "Indian Civil" than his. But he was certain, at any rate, he would be socially done for!

Gradually he had come to realise that all the stories concerning Mrs. Fox must have been true, and that she had been tolerated by society purely on account of her husband—and he was now proved no better than she!

Be that as it may, he saw no way out of his dilemma save by dishonouring his written and spoken word. One was as good as the other and he felt himself hopelessly snared. The lady would have to become his wife, and he would spend the rest of his life dominated by her personality, fettered by her jealous suspicions, and suffering in a thousand other ways, as men suffer, who rashly marry women several years older than themselves.

Mrs. Fox laughed merrily at the comic situation in the performance to give Jack time to recover himself, but her eyes gleamed anxiously.

She was sufficiently woman of the world and quick-witted enough to comprehend the shock to Jack and his consequent stupefaction. But he was young enough for his nature to be played upon, and she was determined not to lose her advantage. She banked all her hopes on his sense of honour, and continued to thank her stars that her luck was "set fair."



CHAPTER XVII

BREAKING BOUNDS

Honor lived in dread of Captain Dalton's return to the Station.

Did he remember anything of what had passed between them in the hour which she had spent at his bedside? Or had he completely forgotten the episode and her confession? She would have been glad to think he had forgotten, for she had brought herself to believe that he had been labouring under the influence of delusions. If it were true that he loved her, his manner would have been very different in the days preceding his illness. True, she had been aloof; but men in love are not usually balked by such trifles as had stood in his way.

No. He had been dreaming.

His fever-stricken brain had been wandering among unrealities, and her face had filled the imagination of the moment. Facts and fancies had intermingled, till they had misled him in his delirium into believing that it was she he loved.

The truth was, she argued to herself, that he loved nobody. It was certain that a woman by her treachery and double dealing had killed his better nature, or drugged it; and his capacity for love and trust had gone. If it were not so, he would have loved Joyce who was beautiful and winning, and have respected her because of her ingenuous innocence. It was a thousand pities that such a strong character had been tricked and perverted!

And now that there was no one to monopolise his leisure moments, it was to be hoped that he would, on his return, confine himself to his music and the treatise he was at work upon. It would be a relief, Honor felt, if he would only continue to keep out of her way; otherwise, life would be intolerable. It was the acme of humiliation to have discovered herself in love with a man who had no need of her whatever! and the sooner she could find something to do outside the District, either in a hospital or in connection with some charitable organisation, the better it would be for her peace of mind and self-respect.

However, when she broached the subject of work away from home, her parents would hear nothing of it.

"Our only child, and not to live with us!" Mrs. Bright exclaimed, horrified. "What is the use of having a daughter if we are to let her leave us—except to be married?"

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