He saw the house-door, which the Indian maid had a short time before closed behind him, open, and in the flood of light which streamed out into the darkness, perceived that several men dressed in white garments hurried, closely following each other, up the steps.
Remembering Mrs. Irwin's enigmatical references to a danger which possibly threatened her, and seized by a horrible dread of something about to happen, he pushed open the garden gate and rushed towards the house.
He had not yet reached it, when the shrill cry of a woman in distress fell upon his ear. Heideck drew the revolver he always carried from his pocket and sprang up the steps at a bound. The door of the drawing-room, where he had shortly before been in conversation with the Captain's wife, was wide open, and from it rang the cries for help, whose desperate tones brought home to the Captain the certainty that Edith Irwin was in the gravest peril. Only a few steps, and he saw the young English lady defending herself heroically against three white-dressed natives, who were evidently about to carry her off. Her light silk dress was torn to shreds in this unequal struggle, and so great was Heideck's indignation at the monstrous brutality of the assailants that he did not for a moment hesitate to turn his weapon upon the tall, wild-looking fellow, whose brown hands were roughly clutching the bare arms of the young lady.
He fired, and with a short, dull cry of pain the fellow reeled to the ground. The other two, horror-stricken, let go their victim. One of them drew his sabre from the sheath and rushed upon the German. Heideck could not fire a second time, being afraid of harming Edith, and so he threw the revolver down, and with a rapid motion, for which his adversary was fully unprepared, caught the arm of the Indian which was raised to strike. Being much more than his match in physical strength, he wrested the sabre with a quick jerk from his grasp. The man, now defenceless, gave up the struggle and like his companion, who had already in silent, cat-like bounds made his escape, hurried off as fast as his legs would carry him.
Heideck did not pursue him. His only thoughts were for Edith, and his fears were that she had perhaps received some hurt at the hands of these bandits. In the same moment that the violent hands of the Indians had let her loose, she had fallen down on the carpet, and her marble-pale face looked to Heideck as that of a dead person. Whilst, curiously enough, neither Edith's screams for help nor the crack of the shot had had the effect of summoning any one of her servants to her aid, now, when the danger was over, all of a sudden a few scared brown faces peered in through the open door; and the peremptory order that Heideck addressed in English to the terrified maid brought her back to her sense of duty to her mistress.
With her assistance, Heideck carried the fainting woman to a couch, and perceiving one of the little green flasks of lavender water, which are never wanting in an English house, on the table, he employed the strong perfume as well as he was able, whilst the Indian maid rubbed the soles of her young mistress' feet, and adopted divers other methods, well known among the natives, of resuscitating her.
Under their joint attentions, Edith soon opened her eyes, and gazed with bewildered looks around her. But on seeing lying on the floor the corpse of the Indian whom Heideck had shot, her consciousness returned with perfect clearness.
Shaking off the last traces of faintness with a firm will, she got up.
"It was you who saved me, Mr. Heideck! You risked your life for me! How can I thank you enough?"
"Solely, madam, by allowing me to conduct you at once to the Colonel's house, whose protection you must necessarily claim until your husband's return. Whoever may have been the instigator of this hellish plot—whether these rogues were common thieves or whether they acted on orders, I do not feel myself strong enough, single-handed, to accept the responsibility for your security."
"You are right," Edith replied gently. "I will get ready at once and go with you—but this man here," she added, shivering, "is he dead, or can something be done for him?"
Heideck stooped down and regarded the motionless figure. A single look into the sallow, drawn face, with the dilated, glassy eyes, sufficed to assure him that any further examination was useless.
"He has got his reward," he said, "and he has no further claim upon your generous compassion; but is there no one to help me get the body away?"
"They are all out," said the maid; "the butler invited them to spend a jolly evening with him in the town."
Edith and Heideck exchanged a significant look; neither of them now doubted in the least that the audacious attack had been the result of a plot to which the Indian servants were parties, and each guessed that the other entertained the same suspicion as to who was the instigator of the shameful outrage.
But they did not utter a syllable about it. It was just because they had been brought as near to each other by the events of this night as fate can possibly bring two young beings of different sex, that each felt almost instinctively the fear of that first word which probably would have broken down the last barrier between them. And Captain Irwin's name was not mentioned by either.
It was noon the next day when Captain Irwin stepped out of the Colonel's bungalow and turned towards home. The interview with his superior officer appeared to have been serious and far from pleasant for him, for he was very pale. Red spots were burning on his cheeks, and his deep-set eyes flashed darkly, as though with suppressed wrath. A few minutes later the Colonel's horse was led to the door, and a company of lancers under the command of a sergeant rode into the courtyard.
The commander came out in full uniform, and, placing himself at the head of the company, galloped towards the Maharajah's palace.
The cavalry drew up before the palace gates, and Colonel Baird shouted out in a loud commanding voice to the servants lounging at the door that he wished to speak to the Maharajah.
A few minutes passed, and a gorgeously attired palace official made his appearance with the answer that His Highness could not receive at present; the Colonel would be informed as soon as the audience could be granted.
The commander leapt from the saddle, and with jingling spurs walked firmly into the palace, trailing his sword noisily over the marble floor.
"Tell the Prince I desire to see him at once," he called out in a threatening voice to the palace officials and servants who followed him in evident embarrassment. It was evident that no one dare disobey such a peremptory command. All gates flew open before the Englishman, and he had hardly to wait a minute in the anteroom before the Prince consented to receive him. On a small high-raised terrace of the ground floor the Maharajah sat at luncheon. He purposely did not change his easy attitude when the English resident approached, and the glaring look which his dark eyes cast at the incomer was obviously intended to intimidate.
With his helmet on his head and his hand resting on his sword the Colonel stood straight before the Prince.
"I desire to have a few words with you, Maharajah!"
"And I have instructed my servants to inform you that I am not at your service. You see I am at luncheon!"
"That, in your case, is no reason for refusing to receive the representative of His Britannic Majesty. The message you sent me was an insult, which, if repeated, will have to be punished."
In a transport of rage the Prince sprang up from his chair. He hurled an abusive epithet into the Colonel's face, and his right hand sought the dagger in his belt. The attendant, who was about to serve up to his master a ruddy lobster on a silver dish, recoiled in alarm. But the Colonel, without moving an inch from his place, placed the silver hunting whistle that hung from his shoulder to his mouth. Two shrill calls, and at once the trotting of horses and the rattle of arms was audible. The high, blue-striped turbans of the cavalry and the pennons of their lances made their appearance under the terrace.
"Call my bodyguard!" cried the Prince, with a voice hoarse with rage.
But in a voice of icy calm the Colonel retorted, "If you summon your bodyguard, Maharajah, you are a dead man. That would be rebellion; and with rebels we make short shrift."
The Prince pressed his lips together; the rage he had with the greatest difficulty suppressed caused his body to quiver as in a paroxysm of fever, but he had to realise that he was here the weaker, and without a word more he fell back again into his chair.
The Colonel stepped to the balcony of the terrace.
"Sergeant Thomson!" he called down into the park.
Heavy steps were heard on the marble stairs, and the man summoned, followed by two soldiers, stood at attention before his superior officer.
"Sergeant, do you know the gentleman sitting at that table?"
"Yes, sir! It is His Highness the Maharajah."
"If I gave you orders to arrest this gentleman and bring him to camp, would you hesitate to obey?"
The sergeant regarded his superior officer as if the doubt of his loyal military obedience astonished him. He at once gave the two soldiers who were with him a nod and advanced a step further towards the Prince, as though at once to carry out the order.
"Stop, sergeant!" cried the Colonel. "I hope that His Highness will not let matters go as far as that. You are perhaps ready now, Maharajah, to receive me?"
The Indian silently pointed to the golden chair at the other end of the table. At a sign from the Colonel the sergeant and the two soldiers withdrew.
"I have a very serious question to put to you, Maharajah."
"Last evening, during Captain Irwin's absence, several rascals entered his house with the intention of committing an act of violence on the person of the Captain's wife. What do you know about the matter, Maharajah?"
"I do not understand, Colonel. What should I know?"
"Perhaps you would be well advised to try and remember. Do you mean to tell me that you now hear of this business for the first time?"
"Certainly! I have not heard a word about it until now."
"And you have not been told that one of the assailants who was killed on the spot was one of your servants?"
"No. I have a great many servants, and I am not responsible for their actions, if they are not done by my orders."
"But this is exactly what I believe to have been the case. You will hardly expect me to believe that one of your servants would have dared to make such an attack on his own initiative. Unfortunately, the other villains have escaped, but one of them left behind him a sabre belonging to a man in your bodyguard."
It was evident that the Maharajah had a hard struggle to keep his composure. Endeavouring to conceal his rage behind a supercilious smile, he answered—
"It is beneath my dignity, Colonel, to answer you."
"There can be no question of dignity justifying you in a refusal to answer the British resident, when he demands it. You are dealing not with an ordinary British officer, but with the representative of His Majesty the Emperor of India. It is your duty to answer, as it is mine to question you. A refusal might have the most serious consequences for Your Highness; for the Government Commissioners that would be despatched from Calcutta to Chanidigot on my report might be but little impressed by your dignity."
The Indian set his teeth and a wild passionate hate flashed from his eyes, but, at the same time, he probably reflected that he would not have been the first of the Indian princes to be deprived of the last remnant of sham sovereignty for a paltry indiscretion.
"If you consider it necessary to make a report to Calcutta, I cannot prevent your doing so; but I should think that the Viceroy would hesitate before giving offence to a faithful ally of England, and at the very moment when he has to ask him to despatch his contingent of auxiliary forces."
"Since you refer to this matter—whom have you appointed to command your force?"
"My cousin, Tasatat Maharajah."
"And when will he start?"
"In about four weeks, I hope."
The officer shook his head.
"That would be much longer than we can allow. Your force is to join my detachment, and I am starting at latest in a fortnight from now."
"You are asking what is impossible. At present we have not a sufficient number of horses, and I do not know where to procure two thousand camels in such a short time; and I have not nearly enough ammunition for the infantry."
"The requisite ammunition can be provided by the arsenal at Mooltan and debited to your account, Highness. As for the horses and camels, you will, no doubt, be able to furnish them in time, if you take the trouble. I repeat that in a fortnight all must be ready. Do not forget that the punctual execution of these orders is in a way an earnest of your fidelity and zeal. Every unwarranted delay and all equivocation on your part will be fatal to you."
The emphasis with which these words were spoken showed how seriously they were meant, and the Maharajah, whose yellow skin had for a moment become darker, silently inclined his head.
Colonel Baird rose from his seat.
"As to the affair touching Mrs. Irwin, I demand that a thorough investigation shall be immediately set on foot, and require that it shall be conducted with unsparing rigour, without any underhand tricks and quibbles. The insult that has been offered by some of your subjects to an officer of His Majesty and a British lady is so heinous that not only the criminals themselves, but also the instigators of the crime, must be delivered up to suffer their well-merited punishment. I allow you twenty-four hours. If I do not receive a satisfactory report from you before the expiry of this time, I shall myself conduct the inquiry. You may rest assured that the information required will then be obtained within the shortest space of time."
He made a military bow and descended the steps of the terrace, this time taking the shortest way. The cavalry dashed off amid a jingling of swords and accoutrements. The Maharajah followed their departure with lowering, flashing eyes. He then ordered his servant to fetch his body physician, Mohammed Bhawon. And when, a few minutes later, the lean, shrivelled little man, with his wrinkled brown face and penetrating black eyes, dressed entirely in white muslin, was ushered into his presence, he beckoned to him graciously, inviting him to be seated by him on the gold-embroidered cushion.
A second imperious wave of the hand dismissed the attendant. Placing his arm confidentially round the neck of the physician, the Maharajah talked long and intimately to him in carefully hushed tones—but in a friendly and coaxing manner, as one talks to someone from whom one demands something out of the way, his eyes flashing the while with passionate rage and deadly hate.
In vain did Heideck, on the day following the night-attack, wait for a message from Edith, giving him an opportunity of seeing her again. He was prepared to be taken to task by Irwin on account of his evening visit at the villa. But the Captain did not show himself.
In the early morning Heideck had been summoned to the Colonel to report on the incident of the preceding night. The conversation had been short, and Heideck gained the impression that the Colonel observed a studied reserve in his questions.
He evidently desired the German to believe that in his own conviction they had only to deal with bold burglars, who had acted on their own responsibility. He mentioned quite incidentally that the dead man had been recognised as one of the Maharajah's bodyguard. To Heideck's inquiry whether the killing of the man could involve him in difficulties with the civil authorities, the Colonel answered with a decisive—
"No. You acted in justifiable self-defence in shooting the fellow down. I give you my word, you will neither be troubled about it by the authorities nor by the Maharajah."
His inquiry after Mrs. Irwin's health was also satisfactorily answered.
"The lady, I am glad to say, is in the best of health," said the Colonel. "She has admirable courage."
The next morning again, Captain Irwin neither made his appearance nor sent any message. Heideck and Prince Tchajawadse were sitting in their bungalow at breakfast discussing the important intelligence brought by the morning papers.
The India Times declared that Russia had infringed the treaties of London by her invasion of Afghanistan, and that England was thus justified, nay compelled, to send an army to Afghanistan. It was earnestly to be hoped that peaceful negotiations would succeed in averting the threatened conflict. But should the Russian army not return to Turkestan, England also would be obliged to have recourse to strong measures. An English force would occupy Afghanistan, and compel the Ameer, as an ally of the Indian Government, to fulfil his obligations. To provide for all contingencies, a strong fleet was being fitted out in the harbours of Portsmouth and Plymouth to proceed to the Baltic at the right moment.
"Still more significant than this," said Heideck, "is the fact that the two and a half per cent. Consols were quoted at ninety yesterday on the London Exchange, while a week ago they stood at ninety-six. The English are reluctant to declare openly that war has already commenced."
"War without a declaration of war," the Prince agreed. "In any case we must hurry, if we are to get over the frontier. I should be sorry to miss the moment when fighting begins in Afghanistan."
"I can feel with you there. But there really is no time to lose."
"If you agree, we will start this very day. At midnight we shall arrive at Mooltan, and at noon to-morrow in Attock. To-morrow night we can be in Peshawar. There we must get our permits to cross the Khyber Pass. The sooner we get through the Pass the better, for later we might have difficulties in obtaining permission."
"I hope you are carrying nothing suspicious about you—charts, drawings, or things of that sort."
The Russian smilingly shook his head. "Nothing but Murray's Guide, the indispensable companion of all travellers; I should take good care not to take anything else. As for you, of course you need not be so careful."
"Because you are a German. There is no war with Germany, but I should at once be in danger of being arrested as a spy."
"I really believe that neither of us need fear anything, even if we were recognised as officers. I should think that there are quite as many English officers on Russian territory at this very moment as Russian officers here in India."
"As long as war has not been actually declared, it is customary to be civil to the officers of foreign Powers, but, under the circumstances, I would not rely upon this. The possibility of being drumhead court-martialled and shot might not be remote. Luckily, not even Roentgen rays could discover what a store of drawings, charts, and fortress plans I keep in my memory. But you have not answered my question yet, comrade!—are you prepared to start to-day?"
"I am sorry, but I must ask you not to count upon me; I should prefer to stay here for the present."
On noting the surprise of the Russian he continued: "You yourself said just now that I, as a German, am in a less precarious position. Even if I am recognised as an officer, it is hardly probable that I should find myself in serious difficulties. At least, not here, where there is nothing to spy into."
He did not betray that it was solely the thought of Mrs. Irwin that had suddenly made him change his plans. And the Russian evidently did not trouble further about his motives.
"Do you know what my whole anxiety is, at this moment?" he asked. "I am afraid of Germany seizing the convenient opportunity, and attacking us in our rear. Your nation does not love ours; let us make no mistake about it. There was a time when Teutonism played a great role in our national life. But all that has changed since the days of Alexander the Third. We also cannot forget that at the Berlin Congress Master Bismarck cheated us of the prize of our victory over the Turks."
"Pardon me, Prince, for contradicting you on this point. The fault was solely Gortchakow's in not understanding how to follow up his opportunity. The English took advantage of that. No doubt Bismarck would have agreed to every Russian demand. But I can assure you that there is no question of national German enmity against Russia, in educated circles especially."
"It is possible, but Russia will always consider this aversion as a factor to be taken into account at critical moments, otherwise the treaty with France would probably never have been made. I, for one, can hardly blame your nation for entertaining a certain degree of hostility towards us. We possess diverse territories geographically belonging more naturally to Germany. If your country could take eight million peasants from your superfluous population and settle them in Poland it would be a grand thing for her. Were I at the head of your Government I should, first, with Austria's consent, seize Russian Poland, and then crush Austria, annex Bohemia, Moravia, Carinthia, Styria and the Tyrol as German territory, and limit the Austrian dynasty to Transleithania."
Heideck could not help smiling.
"Those are bold fancies, Prince! Rest assured that nobody in Germany seriously entertains such plans."
"Strange, if that is so. I should think it would seem the most natural thing for you. What, then, do you mean by a German Empire, if the most German countries do not belong to it? Do you not consider the population of Austria's German provinces is more closely related to you than that of North-East Prussia? But possibly you are too conscientious and too treaty-abiding to carry out a policy of such dimensions."
Heideck, not unintentionally, turned the conversation back to the original subject of discussion.
"Which route do you intend taking? Have you decided for Peshawar, or are you also taking Quetta into your consideration?"
"I have not as yet quite made up my mind. In any case, I mean to take the shortest way back to our army."
"If that is so, I would suggest Quetta. Most probably the Russian main army will turn southwards. Their first objective will probably be Herat. The best roads from the north and north-west converge on that point. It is the meeting-place of the caravan roads from India, Persia, and Turkestan. In Herat a large army can be concentrated, for it is situated in fertile country. Once your advance guard is firmly established, 60,000 men can be conveyed there in a relatively short time. If the English advance to Kandahar the collision between the forces will take place at that point. But the Russians will outnumber the English so greatly that the latter will hardly venture the march upon Kandahar. Reinforced by the Afghan forces, General Ivanov, with 100,000 men, can push on without hindrance to the Bolan Pass."
"If he should succeed," said the Prince, "the way would then be open for him to the valley of the Indus. For England would be unable to hold the Pass against such a force."
"Is it really so difficult to cross the Pass, as it is said to be?" inquired Heideck.
"The Pass is about fifty versts in length. In 1839 the Bengal corps of the Indus army advanced through it against the Afghan army, and managed without difficulty to take with them twenty-four-pound howitzers as well as eighteen-pound field guns."
"If I remember rightly they arrived, without having met with any opposition worth mentioning, at Kandahar, and occupied the whole of Afghanistan. But, in spite of this, they finally suffered a disastrous defeat. Of their 15,000 men only 4,500 succeeded in returning in precipitate flight through the Khyber Pass back to India."
Prince Tchajawadse laughed ironically.
"Fifteen thousand? Yes, if one can trust English sources of information! But I can assure you, according to better information, that the English in 1839 advanced upon Afghanistan with no less than 21,000 combatants and a transport of 70,000 men and 60,000 camels. They marched through the Bolan Pass, took Kandahar and Ghazni, entered Cabul, and placed Shah Shuja upon the throne. They did not suffer any decisive defeat in battle, but a general insurrection of the Afghans drove them from their positions and entirely wiped out their force."
"I admire your memory, Prince!"
"Oh! all this we are obliged to have off by heart in the General Staff College, if we are not to be miserably ploughed in examination. In November, 1878, we were rather weak in Central Asia through having to devote all our resources to bringing the war with Turkey to a close, and so the English again entered Afghanistan. They meant to take advantage of our embarrassments to bring the country entirely under their suzerainty. They advanced in three columns by way of the Bolan Pass, the Kuram Valley, and the Khyber Pass. But on this occasion too they were unable to stand their ground, and had to retire with great loss. No Power will ever be able to establish itself in Afghanistan without the sympathies of the natives on its side. And the sympathies of the Afghans are on our side. We understand how to manage these people; the English are solely infidels in their eyes."
"Do you believe that Russia merely covets the buffer-state Afghanistan, or do its intentions go further?"
"Oh, my dear comrade, at present we mean India. For more than a hundred years past we have had our eye on this rich country. The final aim of all our conquests in Central Asia has been India. As early as 1801 the Emperor Paul commanded the Hetman of the army of the Don, Orlov, to march upon the Ganges with 22,000 Cossacks. It is true that the campaign at that time was considered a far simpler matter than it really is. The Emperor died, and his venturesome plan was not proceeded with. During the Crimea General Kauffmann offered to conquer India with 25,000 men. But nothing came of this project. Since then ideas have changed. We have seen that only a gradual advance can lead us to our objective. And we have not lost time. In the west we have approached Herat, until now we are only about sixty miles away, and in the east, in the Pamirs, we have pushed much nearer still to India."
"It is most interesting to hear all this. I have done my best to get at the lie of the land, but till now the Pamir frontiers have always been a mystery to me."
"They mystify most people, you will find. Only a person who has been there can understand the situation. And he who has been there does not know the frontier line either, for there is, in fact, no exact boundary. The Pamir plateau lies to the north of Peshawar, and is bounded in the south by the Hindu-Kush range. The territorial spheres of government are extremely complicated. The Ameer of the neighbouring country of Afghanistan claims the sovereignty over the khanates Shugnan and Roshan, which form the larger portion of the Pamirs. Moreover, he likewise raises pretensions to the province of Seistan, which is also claimed by Persia. Now this province is of peculiar importance, because the English could seize it from Baluchistan without much difficulty, and, if so, they would obtain a strong flank position to the south of our line of march, Merv-Herat, by way of Kandahar-Quetta."
"The conditions are, certainly, very complicated."
"So complicated, indeed, that for many years past we have had differences with the English touching the frontier question. Our British friends have over and over again forced the Ameer of Afghanistan to send troops thither; an English expedition for the purpose of frontier delimitation has been frequently camped on the Pamir Mountains. Of course, in this respect, we have not been behindhand either. I myself have before now taken part in such a scientific expedition."
"And it really was merely a scientific expedition?"
"Let us call it a military scientific excursion!" replied the Prince, smiling. "We had 2,000 Cossacks with us, and got as far as the Hindu-Kush—the Baragil Pass and another, unnamed, which we called, in honour of our colonel, the Yonov Pass. There we were confronted by Afghan troops, and defeated them at Somatash. By order of the English, who were paying him subsidies, Ameer Abdur-Rahman was obliged to resent this and petition their assistance. An English envoy arrived in Cabul, and negotiations were entered into, which we contrived to spin out sufficiently to gain time for the erection of small forts in the Pamirs. Finally an arrangement was arrived at in London to the effect that the Pench should be the boundary between Russia and Afghanistan in the Pamir territory. A few months later we were met by an English expedition on the Sarykul; we were to determine the exact boundary-line together. It was great fun; our English comrades tried hard not to let us see that they had orders to be complacent. We had soon discovered it, and drew the line just as we pleased. The upshot was that only a very narrow strip of land between Bukhara and the Indian border remained to the Ameer, and that he had to undertake neither to station troops there nor to erect fortifications. Our territory had been pushed forward up to within about twelve miles of English territory. It is there that we are closest to India, and we can, if we choose, at any time descend from the passes of the Hindu-Kush to the Chitral Valley, within the British sphere of influence."
A servant, bringing an invitation to Heideck from Mrs. Baird to dine with them that evening, interrupted the conversation. The Captain was scarcely able to disguise his pleasure; he had no doubt that this invitation was due to Edith, and was happy in the prospect of seeing her again.
"You are on good terms with the Colonel," said the Prince, as soon as the servant had left with Heideck's letter of acceptance. "This can be of the greatest assistance to you under present circumstances. Do make him give you a passport and come with me."
"I am sorry, Prince! I should be delighted to travel in such pleasant company, but business keeps me here a little longer for the present."
"Well—as you please—I must not try to over-persuade you; but I will not abandon the hope that we shall meet again, and it is unnecessary to assure you that you can count upon me in any situation in which you may find yourself."
THE GERMAN EMPEROR
The German Emperor was paying his annual visit to the moors at Springe. But this year he had little time to spare for the noble sport which usually brought him fresh vigour and recreation in the refreshing solitude of the forest. The telegraph was busy without interruption, and statesmen, diplomats, and high officers arrived daily at the hunting-box, and held long conferences with the Emperor. The windows of his study were lit up till late at night, and the early morning generally found the monarch again at his writing-desk.
After a night half spent at work, to-day the yearning for a breath of fresh air had taken the Emperor at early dawn into the silent pine-woods.
A light hoar-frost had fallen during the night, covering the ground with fine white crystals. The shadows of dawn still lingered between the tree-trunks. But in the east a glowing light suffused the pale, greyish-blue sky.
The Emperor directed his gaze in that direction. He halted under a tall, ancient fir-tree, and his lips moved in silent prayer. He asked for counsel and strength from Him who decides the fate of nations, to enable him to arrive at his weighty and difficult decision at this grave crisis. Suddenly, the sound of human voices struck his ear. He perceived two men, evidently unaware of his presence, coming towards him hard by, on the small huntsman's track in the wood, engaged in lively conversation. The Emperor's keen huntsman's eye recognised in one of the two tall gentlemen his Master of Horse, Count Wedel. The other was a stranger to him.
It was the stranger who now said—
"It is a great pleasure to me, at last, to be able to talk to you face to face. I have deeply mourned the rift in our old friendship and fellowship. On my side, the irritation is long since past. I did not wish to enter the Prussian service at that time, because I could not bear the thought of our old, brave Hanoverian army having ceased to exist, and I was angry with you, my dear Ernest, because you, an old Hanoverian Garde du Corps officer, appeared to have forgotten the honour due to your narrower Fatherland. But the generous resolution of the Emperor to revive Hanoverian traditions, to open a new home to our old corps of officers, and to inscribe our glorious emblems upon the flags and standards of these new regiments, has made everything right. I hope the time is not far distant when also those Hanoverians, who still hold aloof in anger, will allow that a war lord of such noble disposition is the chosen shepherd and leader of the universal Fatherland."
"Well, I have never misjudged you and your iron will. Meanwhile, you have thoroughly made acquaintance with the world, and since you are a merchant prince of Hamburg, I suppose you are the possessor of a large fortune."
"My life has been both interesting and successful, but I have not got what is best after all. I long for a sphere of activity in keeping with my disposition. I am a soldier, as my forbears have been for centuries before me. Had I entered the Prussian army in 1866, I might to-day be in command, and might perhaps in a short time have the honour to lead my corps into the field under the eyes of our Emperor himself."
"You believe Germany will be brought into this war? Against whom should we fight?"
"If our Emperor is really the sharp-sighted and energetic spirit for which I take him—"
The monarch did not care to let the gentlemen talk on longer in ignorance of his presence.
"Hallo! gentlemen!" he called out merrily. "Do not betray your secrets without knowing who is listening!"
"His Majesty!" the Count said under his breath, taking off his hat and bowing low. His companion followed his example, and as the Emperor looked at him with a questioning glance, said—
"At your Majesty's command; Grubenhagen, of Hamburg."
The monarch's eyes travelled over the tall, broad-shouldered figure of the fine man, and he asked smilingly—
"You have been in the service?"
"Yes, your Majesty—as lieutenant in the Royal Hanoverian Garde du Corps."
"There were then commoners as officers in that regiment."
"May it please your Majesty, my name is Baron von Grubenhagen, but the 'Baron' was in the way of the merchant."
The open and manly bearing of the Baron, combined with the deference due to his sovereign, appeared to please the Emperor. He gazed long into the clear-cut, energetic face, with its bold and intelligent eyes.
"You have seen much of the world?"
"Your Majesty, I was in America, and for many years in England, before entering business."
"A good merchant often sees more than a diplomatist, for his view is unbiassed, and freer. I love your Hamburg; it is a loyal city, full of intelligence and enterprise."
"The Alster people would reckon themselves happy to hear your Majesty say so."
"Do not the Hamburgers suffer great losses from the war?"
"Many people in Hamburg think as I do, your Majesty."
"And what is your opinion?"
"That, under the glorious reign of your Majesty, all Germans on the Continent will be united to one whole grand nation, to which all Germanic races of the north will be attracted by the law of gravitation—Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians."
"You have the courage of your opinions."
"Your Majesty, we live in an age, the characteristic of which is the formation of great empires."
The monarch interrupted him with a friendly movement of his hand.
"Let us go in to breakfast, gentlemen. Baron von Grubenhagen, you are my guest. I shall be interested to hear more of your bold ideas."
Immediately after his return to the hunting-box, the Imperial Chancellor, who had arrived from Berlin by a night train, had been announced to the Emperor. With the monarch's suite he also was present at the breakfast-table, probably not a little surprised to find a strange guest in the company of the Emperor, who was evidently very kindly disposed to him.
After breakfast, when the company were seated around the table in the smoke-room, and when, upon a sign from the Emperor, the aide-de-camp du jour had ordered the servants to withdraw, the Emperor William turned with a grave face to Baron von Grubenhagen.
"And now let us hear, openly and without reserve, how, according to your observation, the German nation regards the possibility of a war."
The Baron raised his fine, characteristic head. Looking openly and naturally into the Emperor's eyes, he replied—
"Your Majesty, no one is in doubt that it would, on the one hand, be a fatal step to declare war. By it many thousands will be sent to an early grave, lands devastated, and commerce perhaps ruined for many long years to come; and countless tears are the inevitable concomitants of war. But there is a supreme law, to which all others must yield—the commandment to preserve honour unsullied. A nation has its honour, like the individual. Where this honour is at stake, it must not shrink from war. For the conservation of all other of this world's goods is dependent upon the conservation of the national honour; where peace has to be preserved at any price, even at the price of national honour, all the benefits and blessings of peace will by degrees be lost, and the nation falls a prey to its neighbours. Iron is more precious than gold, for it is to iron we owe all our possessions. What use would be our army and navy? They are the outward sign of the political truth, that only courage and power are guarantees for the continuance and prosperity of a nation. Russia and France have joined hands to fight England. And the German nation feels it is time to take its share in these struggles. But nowhere is there any uncertainty as to which side Germany ought to join. Our nation has for a long time past been exasperated by English intrigues and encroachments. The human heart knows no other feeling so profound and powerful as the sense of justice, and the sense of justice has constantly been wounded by England's policy. Only one word from the Emperor is needed to strike the deepest chords in the German soul, and to raise a flame of enthusiasm that will swallow up all internal dissension and all party quarrels. We must not ask what might possibly happen; we must obey the dictates of the hour. If Germany fights with the whole of her strength, she must be victorious. And victory is always its own justification."
FIVE LAKHS OF RUPEES
At noon Prince Tchajawadse departed northwards accompanied by his page Georgi and his Indian servant. Heideck had observed great reserve during the short time he had known the beautiful Circassian, and had never betrayed that he had guessed the secret of her disguise. She seemed to be grateful, for although they never had exchanged words, she smiled at him and gave him very friendly glances at their chance meetings. There could be no doubt concerning the relation of the beautiful page and his master. Heideck may have felt some jealousy—he hardly ever had seen a more charming girl than this Circassian beauty in her picturesque dress; but all his thoughts were with Edith. The Russian was indeed a lucky fellow to have found such a charming travelling companion. She never forgot her assumed part of the page, when strangers were near, and yet it was clear to Heideck that she in truth was master. A single glance of her flashing eyes was sufficient to keep the Prince in order, when under the influence of intoxicants he would have otherwise given way to his brutal instincts. In her presence he never dared to use ambiguous and frivolous language.
With sincere regret Heideck saw the Prince depart. He did not share the hope, which the latter expressed to him, that they would meet again. But he remembered him as one of his most interesting acquaintances and a very charming comrade notwithstanding those little foibles he had noticed.
. . . . . . .
It struck seven o'clock when Heideck in full evening dress entered the Colonel's drawing-room. He felt a wave of keen joy surging through him when he noticed that it was empty, except for Edith Irwin. The horrible events she had passed through had left her a little pale. To him she seemed more beautiful than ever. She met him with a smile and gave him her hand, which he kissed with great emotion.
"Mrs. Baird and the Colonel beg to be excused for a quarter of an hour," said she. "The Colonel has still much to do with the preparations for the mobilisation. Mrs. Baird is suffering from one of her bad attacks of headache and has had to lie down for a short time."
Heideck's face told Edith clearly enough that he gladly forgave his host and hostess this little impoliteness. After having taken a chair opposite hers, he began—
"I hope most sincerely, Mrs. Irwin, that you have had no annoyance on account of my late call. All day long yesterday this was on my mind."
With a sad smile she replied, "No, no. On the contrary, my husband has asked me to tell you that he is very sorry not to be able to thank you personally for your heroic behaviour. He hopes to be able to do so later on. He has been ordered to go to Lahore in great haste and for an indefinite period. There was not time for him to see you, in order to thank you."
Heideck imagined that he knew what this order meant. But he only asked: "And are you going to stay on here under the protection of the Colonel?"
"Nothing definite has been arranged as yet. Nobody knows what may happen to-morrow. It is certain that extraordinary events are in preparation. In case of war, we poor women have to do as we are told, you know."
"And the Maharajah? You have not heard about him?"
"Colonel Baird saw the Prince officially yesterday; but I do not know anything more; I had not the courage to ask. It seems to me quite certain that the Maharajah is hostilely disposed towards the Colonel. The event which happened here to-day is, I think, immediately to be connected with the Maharajah. I know the ways of these Indian despots!"
"May I venture to ask what has happened?"
"An attempt to poison the Colonel at his own table."
"To poison the Colonel?" asked Heideck surprised.
"Yes. Colonel Baird's habit is to drink a tumbler of ice-water before each meal. To-day, at tiffin, the Indian butler gave it him as usual. The water appeared to him rather cloudy. He did not drink it at once, and after a few minutes he noticed distinctly a white sediment at the bottom of the tumbler. When he called for the Indian butler, the man had disappeared, and has not been found yet. That increased our suspicion that an attempt at poisoning had been made. A small quantity of the fluid had been put into a dish which contained the food for the dogs. It was then placed into a rat-trap which contained five or six of these ravenous beasts. Ten minutes later they were dead. The remains of the water have been given to Doctor Hopkins. He is going to make a chemical analysis, and to tell us about it at dinner-time."
Before Heideck could find the time again to resume the discussion of Edith's personal affairs, Mrs. Baird came in, accompanied by the Colonel and his adjutant. They all shook hands with him in the most charming way, and after Doctor Hopkins had also arrived, a small man with a very vivacious manner, they went in to dinner.
Perhaps the Colonel would have preferred that nothing should be said in Heideck's presence about the poisoning attempt. His wife's impatience and excitement, however, could not be restrained.
"Well, Doctor Hopkins," she asked, "and what have you found?"
The Doctor evidently had been waiting for this.
"One of the most deadly poisons the Indians know," he answered. "The diamond powder. There is no antidote for it, and it is impossible to trace it in the body of the poisoned person, because it is of vegetable nature, and gets absorbed in the tissues."
A cry of horror escaped Mrs. Baird. She covered her eyes with her hand.
Mr. Hopkins continued: "I have never before come across the diamond powder, notwithstanding its use is said not to be uncommon. The preparation of it is a secret, anxiously guarded by the Indian physicians. It seems to play the same part at the Courts of the Indian princes that the celebrated 'aqua tuffana' did in the Middle Ages amongst the Italian despots."
These learned explanations of Doctor Hopkins were not adapted to raise the spirits of the company. Everyone remembered that this horrible attempt had only been frustrated by a lucky chance. The Colonel, who seemed to feel very uncomfortable on listening to the Doctor's conversation, gave a sign to his wife to rise, rather sooner than usual.
Tea and drinks cooled in ice were served in the verandah, charmingly illuminated by coloured lamps. Heideck had only had eyes for Edith all the evening. But he had avoided anxiously everything which might have betrayed his feelings. And, even now, he would not have dared to join her in the half-dark corner of the verandah, where she had seated herself, unless she had called out to him asking him to take the empty seat at her side.
"Mr. Heideck, here is another chair," she said, in a perfectly natural voice, drawing aside the pleats of her foulard skirt in order to let him pass. Again their eyes met unnoticed by the others. The violent beating of his heart would have told him that he was entirely in the thraldom of this beautiful young woman had he not known it already.
Suddenly the well-known shouts and cries of Indian drivers were heard. The conversation stopped and everybody looked and observed with astonishment the curious procession of waggons which they could see approaching, as the night was pretty clear. The Colonel excepted, no one understood the meaning of this spectacle. There were five waggons drawn by richly harnessed bullocks and escorted by a bodyguard of the Maharajah on horseback. Their captain rode till close to the verandah, then dismounted, and went up the steps. His mien was distinguished, and at the same time dignified. He was young and handsome, with Greek features and big, melancholy eyes. He wore a blouse of yellow silk, held around the waist by a shawl of violet silk, English riding-breeches, and high, yellow boots. A string of pearls was laid round his turban of violet-striped silk, and diamonds, large as hazel-nuts, sparkled on his breast as they caught the light of the lamp.
"That is Tasatat Rajah, the cousin and favourite of the Prince," whispered Edith, in answer to a question which she read in Heideck's face. "No doubt the Maharajah is sending him with a special mission."
The Colonel had risen and gone to meet his visitor, but he neither shook hands with him nor asked him to be seated.
"Greetings, long life and happiness, sahib, to you in the name of His Highness," he began with that noble air peculiar to the high-born Indian. "In token of his friendship and his respect he is sending you a small gift. He hopes you will accept it as a proof that you have forgotten the conversation which you had yesterday with His Highness in consequence of an unfortunate misunderstanding."
"His Highness is very kind," was the Colonel's answer, in a voice rather formal, "may I ask in what consists the present he is sending me?"
"Every one of these five waggons, sahib, contains a hundred thousand rupees."
"That is as much as five lakhs?"
"It is so. And I ask you once more kindly to favour His Highness with a reply."
The Colonel considered a moment, and then answered with the same quiet demeanour and impenetrable expression, "Thanks to you, Prince. Have the contents of these waggons carried into the hall. The Viceroy will decide what is to be done with it later on."
The Prince's face clearly showed his disappointment. For a little while he remained there standing as if considering what to do. But recognising that the Englishman wished to end the conversation, he touched the middle of his forehead with his right hand and descended the steps of the verandah. With the assistance of English soldiers a great many small casks were carried into the hall. The procession moved on again with the same cries and shouts which had accompanied its approach and soon disappeared.
A smile flitted across the Colonel's face, erstwhile so unemotional, as he turned towards his guests, probably feeling that some sort of explanation for his attitude was due to them.
"I consider this half-million a very desirable acquisition towards the war expenses of my detachment. But these Orientals never can understand our way of thinking, and our ideas of honour will always remain an insoluble riddle to them. With a present, that he, of course, has meant for me personally, this despot believes he has smoothed over everything that could possibly spell trouble for him—the plot against Mrs. Irwin as well as the diamond powder business. For, of course, he has already been informed by the butler who has disappeared of the failure of his plot, and he is well aware of what is in store for him if I report the scandalous story to Calcutta."
It was the first time the Colonel had openly declared his conviction that the Maharajah was the author of both plots. No doubt he had especial reasons for this, and Heideck fancied he had fathomed them, when, in reply to the question of the regimental surgeon as to his intention of sending in such a report, the Colonel replied—
"I do not know—I really do not know yet. According to the principle, fiat justitia, pereat mundus, I ought to do so, no doubt. But the pereat mundus is, after all, a debatable point. Probably war is imminent, and I am afraid the Viceroy would not be grateful to me were I to add fresh cares to all his other anxieties. At present these Indian princes are indispensable to us. They have to place their troops at our disposal, and we must not have any enemies in the rear when our army is engaged in Afghanistan. A harsh procedure against one of them, and all these princes might revolt. And a single defeat, or even only the false report of one, might entail incalculable consequences."
Doctor Hopkins assented without further discussion, and also the other officers present shared the opinion of their chief. As usual, during these last days a lively discussion had arisen as to the probabilities of war, and as to the probable course events would take. Heideck, certain of learning nothing new from the mouths of these gentlemen, all so confident of victory, utilised the opportunity afforded by the noisy conversation to ask Edith, in a low voice—
"Not only political considerations, but also your wishes, have prevented the Colonel from reporting the outrage of the other night to Calcutta—is it not so?"
"Yes, I begged him not to do so," she answered in the same low whisper. "But to-day, after the abominable plot upon his life, I told him that I do not ask any longer for any consideration to be shown me, or my—husband."
"You seriously think it possible that Captain Irwin—"
"Pray do not let us talk about it now, and not here, Mr. Heideck," she begged, raising her eyes to him imploringly. "You cannot have any idea how terribly I suffer from these dreadful thoughts. I feel as if before me lay only dark, impenetrable night. And when I reflect that some day I may be again forced—"
She did not finish her sentence, but Heideck knew well enough what she had omitted to say. An irresistible impulse made him answer—
"You must not allow yourself to be driven to take any course repugnant to your heart, Mrs. Irwin. And who is there who would dare to attempt to force you?"
"Oh, Mr. Heideck, you have no idea what regard for so-called 'GOOD FORM' means for us English people. No scandal—for Heaven's sake, no scandal! That is the first and prime law of our Society. Kind as the Colonel and his wife have been to me until now, I am very much afraid they would drop me, without question of my guilt or innocence, if I should allow anything to take place which they consider a scandal."
"And yet you must obey solely your own feeling—only the commands of your heart and conscience, Mrs. Irwin; not the narrow views of the Colonel or any other person. You must not become a martyr to a prejudice—I simply cannot hear the idea. And you must promise me—"
He stopped short. A sudden lull in the general conversation caused him to be silent also. And he fancied he saw the intelligent and penetrating eyes of Mrs. Baird directed upon himself with an expression of mistrust. He was displeased with himself. Displeased, because the intoxicating proximity of the adored being, and his aversion for her husband, that had almost increased to passionate hatred, had led him into the danger of compromising her. But when, soon afterwards, he took his leave, together with the other guests, a soft pressure of Edith's hand gave him the delightful assurance that she was far from being angry with him.
Every day now brought fresh news, and the threatening spectre of war drew nearer and nearer. The order for mobilisation had been given. The field-troops were separated from the depot, destined to remain in Chanidigot. The infantry were provided with ammunition, and were daily exercised in firing and bayonet drill. Horses were bought up and a transport organised, which comprised an enormous number of camels. The commissariat stores were replenished, and the officers eagerly studied the maps of Afghanistan.
According to Heideck's ideas of mobilisation progress was much too slow, and the Maharajah appeared still less in a hurry with the equipment of his auxiliary troops.
Military trains from the South passed without cessation through Chanidigot, carrying horses and troops further north. Their immediate goal was Peshawar, where Lieutenant-General Sir Bindon Blood, Commander-in-Chief of the Punjab Army Corps, had concentrated a large field-army. Heideck noticed with surprise that the regiments which were being hurried up had been drafted from the most heterogeneous corps, so that, therefore, the tactical union of these corps, as well as their organisation, had been destroyed. No doubt the Government wished, at any cost, to mass large bodies of troops as rapidly as possible on the frontier, and to this end left all calculation of later events out of consideration. Viscount Kitchener, the Commander-in-Chief of India, as well as the Viceroy and the Cabinet Ministers in London, seemed to entertain no doubt that the English army would be victorious from the very beginning, and could not possibly be forced to retire to the fortresses of the North-west provinces. The contempt with which the officers in Chanidigot talked about the Russian army and the Afghans sufficiently confirmed this general belief.
At last it was clear that war had become a fait accompli. On the tenth day after the announcement of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan uncertainty was at an end.
The Cabinet in London had inquired in St. Petersburg as to the meaning of that invasion, and it received the answer that Russia felt compelled to come to the rescue of the Ameer at his request, for the Afghan ruler was anxious for his independence, in view of the measures which were taken by England. Nothing was further removed from the intention of the Russian Government than to challenge England, but she felt it impossible to look on at the embarrassment of the Ameer with equanimity, and so determined to fight for the independence of Afghanistan.
Thereupon England declared war, and Lieutenant-General Blood received the order immediately to advance through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. Further, Lieutenant-General Hunter, the Commander-in-Chief of the Bombay Army Corps, was ordered to march with an army from Quetta towards Kandahar. At the same time an English fleet was to leave Portsmouth.
Although the English papers published in India had evidently been instructed to maintain silence about matters which might place England in an unfavourable light, they furnished a good deal of news which gave the intelligent reader all manner of clues as to the present warlike situation. It could be seen that England was also arming against France. Only as to the attitude of Germany in the universal war that threatened every clue was wanting.
The intention of removing the families of the military and civil officers, stationed in Chanidigot, south to Bombay, or to Calcutta in the east, had soon been dropped. The spreading of the plague in both cities and the difficulties of the journey were against it; for the railways were completely given over to the transport of troops. It was determined that the women and children should, for the time being, remain with the depot in Chanidigot. Captain Irwin, who had returned from Lahore and who, apart from his duty, in which he displayed an almost feverish zeal, led the life of a hermit, was appointed to command this depot. But his wife, whom he had not yet once met since his arrival, was not to be placed with the others under his charge. Colonel Baird, who had given way to his wife's urgent entreaties to be allowed with her children to accompany him to Quetta, had asked Edith Irwin to join them.
Orders had been given that the detachment should start in conjunction with the forces of the Maharajah of Chanidigot. Heideck had obtained permission to accompany it. The Colonel was well disposed towards him, and it was evidently pleasant for the former to have about him, as protector to the ladies, such a chivalrous man, upon whom he could always implicitly rely when his military duties prevented him from looking after them. On the day preceding the start Heideck was at tiffin with the Colonel, and coming events were being discussed in a serious manner, when from outside the dull screech of an automobile's horn caught their ears. Two minutes later, covered with dust and with his face a dark red from the heat, an officer appeared on the verandah who introduced himself as Captain Elliot, General Blood's adjutant.
"The General," he said, adopting the proper military attitude, "has sent me to report that all the plans have been altered. Your orders are not to march to Quetta, but to hasten your preparations and start as soon as possible for Mooltan."
"And what is the reason for this change of orders?" asked the Colonel.
"The Russians are coming down from the Hindu-Kush, and are marching down the valley of the Indus, thus taking our army in the rear. General Blood is marching south, so as not to be cut off. I am sent round to direct all detachments upon Mooltan."
"No! is that possible? Is there not perhaps some mistake? How can the Russians cross the Hindu-Kush?"
"I have myself seen Russian infantry in the gorges of the Indus Valley, Colonel. The march upon Herat and the occupation of Cabul under General Ivanov were mainly blinds. Ivanov, with twenty thousand men under his command, and reinforced by a like number of Afghans, is advancing from Cabul upon the Khyber Pass. But the main attack will be made from the Pamirs in the direction of Rawal-Pindi and Lahore."
"Rawal-Pindi?" exclaimed the Colonel. "If the Russians come down the Indus, they will first of all arrive at Attock, and this strong fortress will check their advance long enough."
"Let us hope so, but we must not absolutely reckon upon it. The strength of the Russian army is not at present known to us; but their advance has evidently been magnificently planned. Their engineers must have done perfect wonders in the difficult passes of the Hindu-Kush; and these Russian soldiers are like iron."
"Well," said the Colonel, "we will soon show them that we are of steel."
The adjutant handed over the written instructions, and after having read them, the Colonel replied—
"To-morrow morning early I start for Mooltan, and expect to arrive there with my detachment by tomorrow evening. The commissariat and ammunition columns will, of course, not be able to get there until a few days later, and then only in part. What in all the world can have possessed the General not to meet the enemy in Rawal-Pindi? That town is fortified and surrounded by strong forts; it is one of the greatest depots in India. Why must the General retire so far back, so far as Mooltan?"
"The General is expecting a decisive battle, and intends for the purpose to co-operate with the army of General Hunter. But both armies are, at present, equidistant from Mooltan, and the Russians would, the General thinks, hesitate to advance so far, from fear of having their left flank attacked from Lahore. In Lahore there is at present a force of ten thousand men, which is being reinforced every day from Delhi."
With the departure of the adjutant, who, owing to the exigencies of duty, was obliged to decline the Colonel's offer of a seat at table, the luncheon-party broke up, and the Colonel made apologies to his guest for being unable, under existing circumstances, to devote more time to him. His officers accompanied him, and soon after Mrs. Baird was also called away. Quite unexpectedly Heideck and Edith Irwin found themselves alone.
For a few moments neither spoke, as though neither wished to give expression to the feelings that filled their hearts. The young wife first broke silence.
"You were intending to go with us into the field, Mr. Heideck, and I know that your decision was prompted by a desire to assist us women with your protection. But now all the arrangements are altered, and I beg of you to abandon your intention."
He looked at her surprisedly. "What, Mrs. Irwin? do you intend to deprive me of the pleasure I had looked forward to of accompanying you, and being your protector? And why?"
"You also have just heard that all the arrangements are altered. Had we gone to Quetta, then, as soon as our army had crossed the frontier, you would have been easily able to find another place; but if the battle takes place on Indian soil you will find yourself in constant danger."
"In my quality as foreigner? Certainly. I should, under the circumstances, be exposed to much unpleasantness, but before I change my plans, I should like to hear from you if you, too, intend to remain with the troops under these altered conditions?"
"Since Mrs. Baird has given me permission to accompany her, yes."
"And you believe that I shall show less courage than you, who will also certainly be exposed to serious risks?"
"How could I doubt your courage, Mr. Heideck? But that is, after all, something quite different. The place of us soldiers' wives is at the side of our husbands, whom we have followed to India. And, moreover, we are, perhaps, nowhere safer than with the army. But you have no concern with this war and with our army. If you, now, were to leave here to take up your quarters in one of the hill stations far from the seat of war, and where you were not exposed to the risks of battle and the plague, you would be certainly allowed, as a German merchant, to remain there unmolested."
"And why do you not yourself go to such a hill station, Mrs. Irwin? I should suggest Simla, if it were not so near to the seat of war. But do, pray, go to Poona, or into one of the other mountain stations in the south."
The young lady shook her head.
"I expect that that would be going straight to destruction."
"And what, may I ask, makes you think this?"
"I have already told you that in case of war English women are, here in India, only tolerably safe when in the immediate neighbourhood of soldiers. If we were to be defeated, the revenge the people would take on its oppressors would be terrible. Are you aware of the cruel instincts which slumber in these men, apparently so polite and submissive? The defenceless women and children would, without doubt, be their first victims. It was so in the Mutiny of 1857, and so it will be again under similar conditions. Nana Sahib and his crew wallowed at that time in the fiendish tortures of white women and children, and shed streams of innocent blood. And the civilisation of the lower classes has certainly since then not improved."
"You speak as if you considered a defeat of your army probable."
"I cannot get rid of my melancholy forebodings. And you, yourself, Mr. Heideck—please be straightforward with me! When the adjutant was standing there a little while ago, and when every one of his words showed the want of circumspection in our generals, I watched your face, and I read more from its expression than you have any idea of. I will not try to enter into your secrets, but I should be grateful if you would be candid with me. You are not the person for whom you here give yourself out."
He did not hesitate for a moment to confess to her the truth.
"No, I am a German officer, and have been sent here by my superiors to study the Anglo-Indian army."
Edith's surprise was evidently not great.
"I had an inkling of it. And now please answer my question quite as straightforwardly. Do you believe that the British army will be victorious?"
"I would not permit myself to give an opinion on this point, Mrs. Irwin."
"But you must have an idea. And I would give a great deal to know what it is."
"Well, then—I believe in English bravery, but not in English victory."
She heaved a deep sigh, but she nodded her head in assent, as if he had only expressed her own conviction. Then she gave him her hand and said softly—
"I thank you for your confidence, and as a matter of course no one shall ever learn from me who you are. But now I must insist more than ever that you leave us for your own safety's sake."
"And if I were to refuse? Supposing that in my position as soldier I were to consider it to be my duty not to leave you in the lurch? Would you be angry with me? Would you no longer permit me to enjoy the happiness of your society?"
Her breast heaved, but she bowed her head and was silent. Heideck plainly saw the glistening tears which stole from under her eyelids, and slowly rolled down her delicate cheek.
That was answer enough for him. He bowed, and kissing both her hands, whispered—
"I knew that you would not be so cruel as to drive me from you. Wherever fate may lead me, it will find me at your side as long as you require my protection."
For a few seconds she let him keep her hand. She then gently withdrew it from his grasp.
"I know that I ought to forbid you for your own safety to follow me; but I have not the strength to do so. Heaven grant that you may never reproach me for having acted as I have done."
THE CAMP OF LAHORE
An unusually beautiful and dry spring favoured the advance of the Russian army through the mountains. In the north of India the temperature kept at an average of 68 degrees F., and day after day the sun streamed down from a cloudless blue sky upon the broad plains of the Punjab, through the bright green of which the Russian troops, in their white summer uniforms, pushed on like long streaks of silver.
Everything pointed to the fortune of war being on their side, for they had overcome the difficult and dreaded passage at Attock with unexpected ease.
The commander of this lofty fortress received orders not to break down the bridge across the Indus until General Blood's army, which was directed to hold Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, had effected its retreat and had to the last man passed the river.
The bridge at Attock, which is a high structure built across the narrow bed of the Indus, which here foams down with swirling swiftness, is considered a masterpiece of engineering. It is built in two tiers, the upper of which carries the railway, while the lower forms a road for carriages, beasts of burden, and foot-passengers. On either side of the river is a fortified gate. The English commander of Attock trusted to the strength of the forts standing some 800 feet above the river, and imagined the Russians to be still far away.
The Russian vanguard had crossed the river Cabul, which joins the Indus at Attock, at a point a few miles above the city, and thus appeared simultaneously with General Blood's troops before the fortress.
Blood's troops were passing the bridge in endless long columns. Their movement was often checked by blocks, caused by the dislocation of the several units, and so it came about that, in the early morning, a superior Russian force had, unperceived by the English, reached the northern end of the bridge just as a gap had been caused in the English columns.
The thick fog of the morning had hidden the approach of the Russians from the English outposts. The Russians at once occupied the bridge, and so cut off the remainder of the English that were on the northern bank from their main body that had already crossed the bridge. The commander of the Russian advance guard was himself quite astounded at the success that the fortune of war had thrown into his lap: had not the fog rendered the scouting on both sides illusory, and had not chance allowed him to fall in with this gap in the English columns, the chances would, considering the narrowness of the road, have been much more favourable to the English than for him, and the battle would probably have ended with the defeat of his forces. As it was, General Ivanov, who had crossed the Khyber Pass, came upon the English rearguard, and five thousand men of the Anglo-Indian troops had to surrender after a short struggle. Two thousand English and three thousand Mohammedans fell into the hands of the Russians. As soon as the Mohammedan-Indians were informed by the victors that they were fighting for the true faith against the infidels, they went over without more ado to the Russian side.
The commander at Attock refused to surrender the fortress, and trained his guns upon the Russian columns; but, in consequence of the fog, the batteries did not inflict much damage upon the Russians, who being now in possession of the bridge continued their advance to the south.
But, however, before the march that had thus been so successfully begun was continued, the Russian commander-in-chief collected, not far from Attock, all the troops that had crossed the Hindu-Kush in small detachments, and united them with the army corps advancing from Afghanistan, so that he now disposed of an army of seventy thousand men.
It was a blood-stained road upon which this host travelled behind the retreating English army. This was the road upon which Alexander the Great in days of yore entered India. Here, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Afghan sovereign Ibrahim Lodi had fought with the Grand Mogul Baber; here, a few decades later, Mohammed Shah Adil, the generallissimo of the Afghans, when at the head of fifty thousand horse, five hundred elephants, and innumerable infantry, was defeated by the youthful Grand Mogul Akbar. Still more bloody was the battle, which about the middle of the eighteenth century the Afghan Sultan Ahmed Shah Durani fought with the great Mahratha princes, Holkar Sindhia, Gaekwar and the Peschwas; and here, once again, all the horrors of war raged, when in the year 1857, the English Generals Havelock, Sir James Outram, Sir Colin Campbell, Sir Hugh Rose, Sir John Lawrence, and Sir Robert Napier, crushed with pitiless severity the dangerous sepoy mutiny. East and West had, in gigantic struggles, fought together on this spot so full of legends, this the cradle of mankind. Hundreds of thousands of human lives had been sacrificed on this blood-drenched soil, and yet again was a decisive battle impending, destined to be engraved with a steel pencil on the tablets of the world's history.
The movements of the Russian army had upset the plan of the English generals. The English corps which had collected at Mooltan were quickly pushed on to Lahore, as soon as the Russians' intention to proceed to the south-east became clear. The time which General Ivanov required for concentrating his troops at Attock rendered it possible for the English to reach Lahore. Here their forces were considerably increased by the strong garrison, and each day new regiments came in from Delhi and Lucknow, which brought the strength of the army commanded by Sir Bindon Blood up to the number of one hundred thousand combatants.
The English prepared for a decisive battle, for already the head of the Russian columns was no further than ten English miles north of the mausoleum of the Emperor Jahangir at Shah Dara, a military station scarcely eight English miles north-west of Lahore.
The English troops advanced in their concentrated formation in single line; their left wing occupied the Shah Dara plantations and the pontoon bridge across the river Ravi that flows close to Lahore. It extended thence five English miles further eastwards to a canal which flows past the Shalimar Park towards the south. This park and a place called Bhogiwal, lying next to it, formed the right wing. Before their front stretched a tributary of the sinuous Ravi with its marshy banks. To the rear of their position lay the fortress of Lahore with its brick wall, fifteen feet in height, pierced by thirteen gates.
The Ravi, a tributary of the Indus, had at this time but little water. The bed of the river was for the most part dry, and only consisted of rapid, irregular rivulets, which here and there exposed between them larger and smaller, but for the most part, muddy islands. The bed of this river formed the chief obstacle to the Russian attack, for they had to pass it before reaching the English front and the city of Lahore.
Heideck occupied a small tent that he had brought with him from Chanidigot. Morar Gopal's horse had carried it on its back during the march from Mooltan to Lahore, for the lancers, whom Heideck had joined as being a friend of their officers, had not covered the distance by railway. They were now encamped in the Shalimar Park, an extensive enclosure surrounded by a wall and full of the most beautiful mango trees, and among them many small fountains and pretty pavilions. As Heideck wore a khaki suit and a cork helmet, he looked, in spite of his having no distinctive military dress, quite like an English officer, the resemblance being increased by his martial bearing.
During the march and during his stay in the camp he had had an opportunity of closely observing the British system of campaigning. But he took good care not to mention it to the English officers, for they were not very favourable conclusions at which he had arrived. He had gained the impression that the troops were neither well led, nor displayed any special knowledge of campaigning. The men both in bivouac and in camp were often in want, and, indeed, frequently suffered real distress, because the necessary material was not always at hand, and their food was not regularly supplied; the greatest confusion reigned in the commissariat department.
Not alone there, but also in the tactical units serious confusion was everywhere apparent, in consequence of the unpractical and heterogeneous composition of the detachments. First of all, the regiments which were to make up the army corps in Peshawar and Quetta were all jumbled up together, because as soon as ever they appeared to be ready to march, they were separately taken away from their garrisons and placed upon the railway. Concentration upon Mooltan and the hurried march to Lahore had resulted in downright inextricable confusion.
Heideck found himself in the middle of an army which had never engaged in a great war and certainly never in one against regular troops. It is true that the English were accustomed to fighting, for they had been constantly obliged to measure themselves with barbarous and semibarbarous peoples. They had made expensive expeditions and gained dearly purchased victories; but it was always the undisciplined, dark-skinned, and black hordes with whom they had had to deal. The experiences of the Boer War had not entered into the flesh and blood of the troops. The personal bravery of the individual had almost always been regarded as the main thing, and it was easy to understand why all the officers should be puffed up with vanity. They looked down with contempt upon all foreigners, because they had, as a matter of fact, almost always gained their victories over superior numbers.
Heideck noticed with astonishment that the tactical rules and instructions in the British army were still often at variance with modern armament, particularly in the case of the infantry; volley firing was habitually employed as the general way of engaging the enemy. The men were drilled at the word of command to open and keep up a steady even fire and then in close ranks to rush with the bayonet on the enemy. This powerful nation was, in fact, too listless to utilise the most modern experiences of the science of war: proud Albion blindly believed everything English to be good and despised everything new and foreign. Or did the English perhaps only avoid advancing in loose order in action because they were afraid that they would otherwise not be able to control their Indian soldiers?
The environs of Lahore, particularly to the north of the city between the wall and the camp, presented a very lively scene. The innumerable camels which had served as baggage animals and formed the major portion of the transports afforded a very peculiar spectacle. They were either lying on the ground closely packed together or solemnly paced along, while the shrill yells of the drivers filled the air. Moreover, there was here congregated a huge crowd of men belonging to the army in one or other capacity without being combatants, and the eye fond of picturesque impressions could feast with delight on the gay, ever-changing kaleidoscopic effects of the wide plain; while the distant scenery was also interesting enough in itself. Between the widely scattered villages and suburbs of the city, which contained 180,000 inhabitants, beautiful parks and gardens shone in fresh green foliage, mostly surrounding the burial-place of a sultan or a famous Mohammedan saint. Towards the south-east there stretched away the great encampments of the cavalry and artillery in which were included many elephant batteries.
The city itself was choked full of military and the families of the officers. Almost all the women and children of the garrisons lying to the north-west of Lahore had fled here at the advance of the troops. Mrs. Baird, too, with her two little daughters and Mrs. Irwin were also in the city, where they were lodged in the Charing Cross Hotel. Although the city was packed to a most alarming degree and the military situation was decidedly critical, Heideck did not anywhere observe any particular excitement.
The English preserved their peculiarly calm demeanour, and the natives kept silence out of fear: upon the latter the fully unexpected and incomprehensible change in the situation had probably had a certain bewildering effect.
When Heideck, shortly before sunset, went from the camp to the city to visit the ladies, he only became more firmly convinced, as he passed through the surging crowd outside the walls, that the position of the army had been very badly selected. Far too large a number of men and animals had been crowded within a comparatively small space. If Russian shrapnel were to fall among this dense mass a terrible panic was inevitable. The proximity of the fortified city was sure to induce the soldiers to take refuge behind its walls. Heideck had hitherto not gained the impression that resolute courage was to be expected of the native soldiers. In the street which led from the Shalimar Park to the railway station in the suburb of Naulakha, Heideck had constantly to go out of his way to allow the long columns of heavily laden camels and ox-waggons which came towards him to pass, and he therefore took nearly two hours to reach his goal. The Charing Cross Hotel was full up to the attics, and the two ladies had, with the children, to be content with a small room on the third floor which had been let to them at an enormous price.
Mrs. Baird, a lady of small, delicate build, but of energetic spirits and genuine English pride, appeared perfectly collected and confident. She did not utter a single word about her own evidently very uncomfortable position and of the privations which, under the existing circumstances, her children had to suffer, but only about the victory of the British arms, that she was convinced would immediately take place. The march from Mooltan to Lahore was, in her eyes, an advance, and she did not entertain the smallest doubt that the Russian insolence would in a short time meet with terrible chastisement.
"It is terrible to think," she said to Heideck, "that a nation that calls itself Christian should dare attack us in India. What was this unhappy land before we took pity on it? England has freed it from the hands of barbarous despots and brought it happiness! The Indian cities have grown in prosperity because our laws have paved the way for free development of commerce and intercourse. It is in the highest sense of the word a mission of civilisation that our nation has here fulfilled. If Heaven gives Russia the victory, this now so happy land will be hurled back into the blackness of barbarism." She appeared to wait for a word of assent from Mrs. Irwin, but the latter sat in serious silence.
"You ought not to be so silent, dearest Edith, and ought not to pull such a melancholy face," said the Colonel's wife, turning to her with a gentle reproach. "I perfectly understand that the sad events of your private life are distressing you. But all personal sorrow should now be merged into the general grief. What is the fate of the individual, when his country is exposed to such danger? I know that you are as good a patriot as any Englishwoman, but it appears to me that it is necessary to prove it in these hours of danger. Anxiety and moroseness have at such times upon one's surroundings the effect of a contagious disease."
"But possibly I am not the good patriot you take me for."
"Ah! What do you mean by that?"
"I cannot look at wars from your point of view, dear Mrs. Baird. It almost seems to me that there is not a very great difference between men and brute beasts, who fight each other out of hunger, or jealousy, and all kinds of low instincts."
"Oh, what a comparison to draw!"
"Well, it is true we know better how to wage war. We invent complicated instruments wherewith to destroy our fellow-beings in enormous numbers, whilst animals are limited to their own natural weapons. But do we, therefore, know better what we are doing than the animals? Don't you think that, when hosts of ants, or bees, or weasels, or fishes in the sea sally forth to destroy other creatures of their species, they may be guided perhaps by the same instincts that govern us also?"
"I cannot follow you there, Mrs. Irwin," the little lady replied, with a shade of irritation in her voice. "Human beings are endowed with reason, and are conscious of their aims and actions."