A fearful dread overcame Heideck.
"In the company of Indians? And does nobody know whither she was taken? Did she leave no message for me or anyone else?"
"The lady had no opportunity of speaking to her. She saw the departure at a distance."
"But she must have noticed whether Mrs. Irwin left the mausoleum of her own free will or under compulsion?"
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"I cannot, unfortunately, say anything about that. My inquiries were without result. Neither any one of the English prisoners or of the Russian sentries was able to give me further information."
A meeting of the Cabinet Council was being held at the Foreign Office in London. With gloomy faces the Ministers were all assembled. The foreboding of a catastrophe brooded over England like a black cloud; all manner of rumours of disaster were current in the land, and coming events were awaited with sickening dread.
"A telegram from the general in command," said the Prime Minister, opening the paper he held in his hand. A deadly silence fell upon the room:
"With painful emotion, I communicate to His Majesty's Government the news of a great reverse I suffered the day before yesterday at Lahore. I have only to-day reached Delhi with the remnant of my army, which has been pursued by the Russian advance guard. We had taken up a very favourable position on the left bank of the Ravi and were on the point of preventing the Russian army from crossing the river, when unexpectedly a violent onslaught made upon our left wing at Shah Dara compelled us to send reinforcements to this wing and thus to weaken the centre. Under the cover of jungle on the river-bank, the Russian cavalry and the Mohammedan auxiliaries of the Russian army succeeded in forcing the passage and in throwing our sepoy regiments into disorder. The troops of the Maharajah of Chanidigot traitorously went over to the enemy and that decided the day against us. Had not all the sepoy regiments deserted, I could have maintained my ground, but the English regiments under my command were too weak to resist for long the superior numbers of the enemy. The bravery of these regiments deserves the highest praise, but after a battle lasting several hours I was compelled to give the order to retreat. We fell back upon the city of Lahore, and I contrived to convey a portion of my troops by railway to Delhi. This city I shall defend to the bitter end. Reinforcements are being sent from all military stations in the country. The extent of our losses I am unable to give at the time of writing. I have been able to bring five thousand troops intact to Delhi."
The reading of this terrible report was succeeded by a chilling silence. Then the Minister of War arose and said:—
"This despatch certainly comes upon us as a staggering blow. Our best general and his army, composed of the flower of India's troops, have been defeated. We may rightly say, however, that our power is still established on a firm basis, so long as England, this seagirt isle, is safe from the enemy. No defeat in India or in any one of our colonies can deal us a death-blow. What we lose in one portion of the world, we can recover, and that doubly, in another, so long as we, in our island, are sound in both head and heart. But that is just what makes me anxious. The security of Great Britain is menaced when we have almost the whole world in arms against us. A strong French army is standing ready opposite Dover to invade us, and a German army is in Holland also prepared to make a descent on our coasts. I ask what measures have been taken to meet an attack upon our mother country?"
"The British fleet," replied the First Lord of the Admiralty, "is strong enough to crush the fleets of our enemies should they dare to show themselves on the open seas. But the Russian, French, and German navies are clever enough to remain in harbour under the cover of the fortifications. We have, too, fleets in the Channel, one of ten battleships and eighteen cruisers, and the necessary smaller vessels, told off to engage the German fleet; and a second, a stronger force, of fourteen battleships and twenty-four cruisers, destined to annihilate the French fleet. A third fleet is in the harbour of Copenhagen in order to prevent a union being effected between the Russian and German fleets. The plan of sailing for Cronstadt has been abandoned, from the experiences of the Crimean War and the fear that we should be keeping our naval forces too far apart. Our admirals and captains will, owing to the Russian successes, be convinced that England's honour and England's very existence are now at stake. When in the eighteenth century we swept the sea power of France from all the seas and vanquished the fleet of the Great Napoleon, the rule was laid down that every defeated admiral and captain in our navy should be court-martialled and shot, and that even where the victory of our ships of war was not followed up and taken the utmost advantage of, the court-martial was to remove the commander. The time has now arrived when those old, strict rules must be again enforced."
"According to the last Admiralty reports," said the First Lord of the Treasury, "the fleet consists of twenty-seven new ironclads, the oldest of which is of the year 1895. The ironclads of 1902, the Albemarle, Cornwallis, Duncan, Exmouth, Montagu, and Russell, as well as those of 1899, Bulwark, Formidable, Implacable, Irresistible, London, and Venerable are, as I see from the report, constructed and armed according to the latest technical principles. Are all the most recent twenty-seven battleships with the Channel fleet?"
"No; the Albion, the Ocean, and the Glory are in other waters. The twelve newest ironclads which your lordship mentioned are included in both Channel fleets; in addition, several older battleships, such as the Centurion, Royal Sovereign, and Empress of India are in the Channel. I may say with truth that both the Channel Squadrons are fully suited for the tasks before them. We have, besides, twenty-four ironclads of an older type, all of which are of excellent value in battle."
"Among these older ironclads are there not many which are equipped with muzzle-loaders?"
"Yes, but a naval battle has yet to determine whether the general view that breechloaders are more serviceable in action is correct or not. In the case of quick-firing guns it is certain that the breechloader is alone the right construction; but in our heaviest guns, which have a bore of 30.5 centimetre, and require three to four minutes to load, the advantage of quick-firing is not apparent, for here everything depends upon accurate aim, so that the heavy projectile may hit the right place. For this purpose clever manoeuvring is everything. Moreover, the battles round Port Arthur show us the importance of the torpedo and the mine. The Russian fleet has met with its heaviest losses owing to the clever manoeuvring and the superior torpedo tactics of the Japanese. It looks as if in modern naval battles artillery would prove altogether inferior to mines, and here our superiority in submarines will soon show itself when we attack the fleets of Germany and France in their harbours. Only a naval engagement between our squadrons and those of the French and Germans can teach us the proper use of modern ships of war. And it will be a lesson, a proper lesson for those misguided people who dare expose themselves to the fire of a British broadside and the attack of our torpedo and submarine boats. Let the steel plating of the vessels be as it will, the best cuirass of Great Britain is the firm, true breast of Britons."
"When I hear these explanations," the Colonial Minister interjected, "I cannot suppress the suspicion, that the whole plan of our naval strategy is rotten."
"I beg you to give your reasons for your suspicion," the First Lord of the Admiralty replied, somewhat irritated.
"It has ever been said that England rules the waves. Now the war has been going on for a considerable time and I perceive nothing of our boasted supremacy."
"How can you say so? Our enemies' commerce has been completely paralysed, while our own ships carry on their trade everywhere as freely as ever."
"That may be the case, but by naval supremacy I mean something quite different. No naval victory has as yet been gained. The enemies' fleets are still undamaged: until they are annihilated there is always a danger that the war may take a turn prejudicial to us. Only the struggle on the open sea can decide the issue. If the English fleet is really supreme, she can force the enemies' ships to a decisive action. Why do we not blockade the French and German fleets in their harbours, and compel them to give us battle? Our guns carry three miles, we can attack our enemies in their harbours. What is the meaning of this division of our fleet into three squadrons? Our whole fleet ought to be concentrated in the Channel, in order to deal a crushing blow."
"The right honourable gentleman forgets that a combination of our fleet would also entail the concentration of our enemies' fleets. If we leave our position at Copenhagen, a strong Russian fleet will proceed from Cronstadt and join the German warships in the Baltic. This united fleet could pass through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal into the North Sea. England in its naval preparations has always adopted the 'two power standard,' and although we have aimed at the 'three power standard,' our resources in money and personnel are not capable of fitting out a naval force superior to the fleets of the now three allied Powers. All the same, our own prestige holds these three Powers so far in check that they dare not attack us on the open seas. Should we not be hazarding this prestige in provoking a naval battle without a definite chance of success? This naval battle will take place, but the favourable moment must be carefully chosen. Considering the present state of the war, it would be in the highest degree frivolous to stake all upon one throw of the dice. Well, that is exactly what we should be doing were we to force on a naval conflict. If the attack failed, if our fleet suffered a defeat, England would be then exposed to the invasion of a Continental army. It is true that our fleet is weakened by being split up, but the same is also true of the fleets of our enemies, so that this apparent disadvantage is equalised. We must keep on the watch for the moment when some alteration of the present situation permits us to attack our enemies' fleets with a superior force."
"There might be a way of enticing the German fleet into the open," maintained the Colonial Minister. "Let us send an ironclad squadron to Heligoland and bombard the island and its fortifications until it crumbles into the sea. The acquisition of Heligoland was the Emperor William's darling idea, and this monarch will take good care that Heligoland does not disappear from the earth's surface. But if, in spite of the bombardment of Heligoland, the Germans do not come out into the open sea, let us send our fleet up the Elbe and lay Hamburg in ashes. Let our warships put to sea from Copenhagen and destroy Kiel harbour and all the German coast towns on the Baltic. Then the German fleet will soon enough put out to meet us!"
"This plan has already been considered, and will perhaps be acted upon. There are, however, two difficulties in the way. First of all, by the destruction of unfortified towns we should be conjuring up odium against us, which—"
"Nonsense! there is no 'odium' for a victor! England would never have attained its present might and grandeur had it allowed itself to be deterred by a too delicate regard for humanity and the law of nations from taking practical steps."
"Well, and then there is, at any rate, the second consideration."
"And that is, my lord?"
"A battle of ships, even though they have the finest possible armour, against land fortifications, is always a hazardous undertaking, and more especially when the coasts are defended by innumerable mines and torpedo boats. Moreover, ironclads are very expensive, and are, in a certain sense, very fragile things."
"The Germans have removed all their light-ships, all their buoys, and, like the French, the German ports are also defended by mines. An ironclad, given calm sea, is strong as against another ship, but the nature of its build makes it weak in a storm and in insecure waters. An ironclad, owing to its enormously heavy armament, goes to the bottom very rapidly, as soon as it gets a heavy list either on the one side or the other. Again, owing to its enormous weight, it can never ram another vessel for fear of breaking to pieces itself; if a torpedo strikes its armour, or if the ship runs upon a mine, the explosion will send it to the bottom with greater ease than it would a wooden ship of a century ago. And then, if it runs on a shallow or a rock it cannot be brought off again. Moreover, its supply of coal requires to be constantly renewed, so that it cannot be sent on long expeditions. Our ironclads have their own specific purpose—they are intended for a naval battle. But they are like giants, are rendered top-heavy by their own weight, and are thus easily capsized, and the loss of an ironclad battleship, apart from the effect it might have upon our chances in the war, entails the loss of more than a million pounds. The cruisers, again, I would not without urgent necessity expose to the steel projectiles of a Krupp's coast battery. Let us take care not to suffer the smallest disaster at sea! It would be as dangerous for our prestige and for our position as a world-power as a steel shot would be for the water-line of one of our ships of war."
The Colonial Minister was silent. He had nothing to urge against these objections.
"Our Indian troops are greatly in need of reinforcements," began the Prime Minister again. "We must put English soldiers into the field, for we cannot rely longer upon the sepoys."
"Certainly," said the Minister of War, "and drafts are constantly being despatched to Bombay. Forty thousand men have been embarked; of these more than twenty thousand have been landed in India; the remainder are still on the sea. A great fleet is on the road, and eight ironclads are stationed in Aden to meet any attack upon our transports. But it is really a question whether we are well advised in still sending more troops to India. My lords! hard as it is for me to say so, we must be prudent. I should be rightly accused of having lost my head if I did more than bare prudence demanded. Great Britain is denuded of troops. Now, I know full well, and England also knows it full well, that an enemy will never plant his foot on these shores; for our fleet assures us the inviolability of our island, but we should not be worthy of our responsible positions were we to neglect any measure for the security of our country. Let us, my lords, be cowards before the battle, provided we are heroes in it! Let us suppose that we had no fleet, but had to defend England's territory on land. We must have an army on English soil ready to take the field; failing this, we are guilty of treason against our country. The mobilisation of our reserve must be further extended. Ten thousand yeomen, whom we have not yet summoned to the ranks, are to-day in a position to bear arms and wave the sword. To-day every capable man must be enlisted. The law provides that every man who does not already belong to a regular army or to a volunteer corps can, from eighteen to fifty years of age, be forced to join the army, and thus a militia can be formed of all men capable of bearing arms. If His Majesty will sanction it, I am ready to form a militia army of 150,000 men. I reckon for India 120,000 men, for Malta 10,000, for Hong Kong 3,500, for Africa 10,000, 3,000 for the Antilles, for Gibraltar 6,000, and 10,000 more for Egypt, apart from the smaller garrisons, which must all remain where they are at present; I shall then hope, after having called up all volunteers and reserves, to be in a position to place an army of 400,000 men in the field for the defence of the mother country."
The First Lord of the Treasury shook his head. "Do not let us be lulled by such figures into false optimism! Great masses without military discipline, unused to firearms, with newly appointed officers (and they chosen, moreover, by the men whom they are to command), troops without any practical intelligence, without any understanding of the requirements of modern warfare, such are the men, as I understand, we are to place in the field against such splendid troops, as are the French and German. Whence should we get our artillery? In 1871 we saw the result, when masses of men with muskets were pitted against regularly disciplined troops. Bourbaki was in command of an army that had been disciplined for months gone by, and yet his host, although they took the field with cavalry and artillery, suffered enormous losses on meeting an army numerically inferior, yet well-organised, and commanded by scientific and experienced officers. They were pushed across the frontier into Switzerland, like a great flock of sheep pursued by a bevy of wolves."
"But they were French, and we are Englishmen!"
"An Englishman can be laid low by a bullet as well as a Frenchman. The days of the Black Prince are past and gone, no Henry V. is to-day victorious at Agincourt, we have to fight with firearms and magazine rifles."
"The Boers, my lord, showed us what a brave militia is capable of doing against regular troops."
"Yes, in the mountains. The Tyrolese held out in the same way against the great Napoleon for a while. But England is a flat country, and in the plain tactical strategy soon proves its superiority. No, England's salvation rests entirely on her fleet."
A despatch from the Viceroy of India was handed to the Prime Minister: "The Viceroy informs His Majesty's Government that the Commander-in-Chief in Delhi has massed an army of 30,000 men, and will defend the city. The sepoys attached to his army are loyal, because they are confined within the fortifications and cannot flee. The Viceroy will take care that the Mohammedan sepoys shall all, as far as possible, be brought south, and that only Hindu troops shall be led against the Russians. Orders have been given that the treacherous Maharajah of Chanidigot, whose troops in the battle of Lahore gave the signal for desertion, shall be shot. The Viceroy is of opinion that the Russian army will have to halt before Delhi in order to collect the reinforcements which, though in smaller numbers, are still coming up through Afghanistan. He does not doubt that the English army, whose numbers are daily increasing by the addition of fresh regiments, will, when massed in the northern provinces, deal the Russians a decisive blow. The Commander-in-Chief will leave to General Egerton the defence of Delhi, and concentrate a new field army at Cawnpore, with which it is his intention to advance to Delhi. All lines of railway are now constantly engaged in forwarding all available troops to Cawnpore."
"This news is, at all events, calculated to inspire new courage," said the Prime Minister after reading the telegram, "and we will not disguise from ourselves the fact, my lords, that we need courage now more than ever. This new man in Germany, whom the Emperor has made Chancellor, is arousing the feelings of the Germans most alarmingly against us. He appears to be a man of the Bismarck stamp, full of insolent inconsiderateness and of a surprising initiative. We stand quite isolated in the world; Russia, France, and Germany are leagued against us. Austria cannot and will not help us, Italy temporises in reply to our advances, says neither 'yes' nor 'no,' and seeks an opportunity of allying herself with France and wresting the remainder of the Italian territories from Austria and of aggrandising herself at the expense of our colonies. Yet, whenever England has stood alone, she has always stood in the halo of glory and power. Let us trust in our own right hand and in the loyalty of our colonies, who are ready to come to our aid with money and men, and whom, after our victory, we will repay with all those good gifts that His Majesty's Government can dispense."
"Our colonies!" the Minister of the Board of Trade intervened. "You are right, they are ready to make sacrifices. Only I am afraid that those sacrifices which the Right Honourable the Minister for the Colonies demands of them will be too great, and that, having regard to the tendency of the modern imperialism of our Government, they will not believe in those rewards that are to be dangled before their eyes."
"My lord," replied the last speaker, "I am considered an agitator, and am accused of being responsible for the present perilous position of England. Well, I will accept that responsibility. Never in the world's history did a statesman entertain great plans without exposing his country to certain risks. I remind you how Bismarck, after the war of 1866 had been fought to a successful issue, said that the old women would have beaten him to death with cudgels had the Prussian army been defeated. But it was not defeated, and he stood before them as a man who had united Germany and made Prussia great. He exposed Prussia to the greatest risks, in that by his agitation he made almost the whole world Prussia's enemy, declared war upon Austria and upon the whole of South Germany, and forced the latter eventually to engage in the war against France. England at that time pursued the luckless policy of observing and waiting for an opportunity, merely because no agitator conducted its policy. Had England in 1866 declared war against Prussia, Germany would not to-day be so powerful as to be able to wage war upon us. Since those days, profound changes have taken place in England itself, and entirely owing to the growth of the German power. Since the fall of Napoleon, we have not troubled ourselves sufficiently about events upon the Continent, but in our proud self-assurance have thought ourselves so powerful, that we only needed to influence the decisions of foreign governments, in order to pursue our own lines of policy. But this self-assurance suffered a severe shock in the events of 1866 and 1870, and England has, and rightly enough, become nervous. The Englishman down to that period despised the forward policy of the Continental powers. This is no longer the case, but, on the other hand patriotic tendencies are at work even in England itself, which are branded by the weak-minded apostles of peace as chauvinistic. Let that pass, I am proud to call myself a chauvinist in the sense that I do not desire peace at any price, but peace only for England's welfare. The patriotic tendencies of our people have been directed into their proper channel by my predecessor Chamberlain. And has not the Government for the last thirty years hearkened to these patriotic feelings, in that, whether led by Disraeli or Gladstone, it has brought about an enormous strengthening of our defensive forces both on land and sea? These military preparations, whilst not only redounding to the advantage of the motherland, but also to that of the colonies (which they shall ever continue to do) have saddled the mother country with the entire burden of expenditure. But how shall the enormous cost of this war be met for the future? How shall the commerce of the English world-empire be increased in the future and protected from competition, if the colonies do not share in the expense? I vote for a just distribution of the burdens, and maintain that not England alone but that the colonies also should share in bearing them. The plan of Imperial Federation, a policy which we are pursuing, is the remedy for our chronic disease, and will strengthen the colonies and the mother country in economic, political, and military respects. Certainly, my lords, such utterances will appear to you to be somewhat impertinent, at a time when a Russian army has invaded India and our army has suffered a severe defeat, but I should wish to remind you that every war that England has yet waged has begun with defeats. But England has never waged other than victorious wars since William the Conqueror infused Romanic blood into England's political life and thus gave it a constitution of such soundness and tenacity that no other body politic has ever been able permanently to resist England. We shall again, as in days of yore, drive the Russians out of India, shall force the fleets of France, Germany, and Russia who are now hiding in their harbours into the open, annihilate them, and thwart all the insolent plans of our enemies, and finally raise the Union Jack as a standard of a world-power that no one will for evermore be able to attack."
THE YOUNG RUSSIAN CAPTAIN OF DRAGOONS
The news of Edith's kidnapping—for, in Heideck's opinion, this was the only explanation, because she would otherwise have left a message for him—fell upon Heideck as a crushing blow.
He remembered the terrible cruelties narrated of the period of the Sepoy mutiny. And he only needed to remember his own experiences in Lahore to be convinced that all those horrible stories were no exaggeration, but, rather, well within the actual truth of the facts.
But if it was not a like fate that awaited Edith Irwin, yet perhaps another ignominious lot would be hers, and this could not fail to appear, to the man who loved her, more terrible even than death itself.
His alarm and deep despondency had not escaped the notice of the Prince. He laid his hand sympathetically on Heideck's shoulder, and said—
"I am really quite miserable, comrade! for I now see what you and the lady are to each other. But perhaps you make yourself uneasy without cause; the departure of the lady is capable, perhaps, of a quite simple explanation."
Heideck shook his head.
"I do not entertain any hope in this respect, for everything points to the fact that the Maharajah of Chanidigot is the man who has got the lady into his power. This sensual despot has for months past schemed how to obtain possession of her. What, in Heaven's name, is to be done to free the unhappy creature from his clutches?"
"I will inform the General, and doubt not that he will institute an inquiry. If your supposition is correct, the Maharajah will, of course, be compelled to set the lady free. But I doubt if this is the case. The despot of Chanidigot is at present far away."
"That would not prevent others from acting on his orders. And do you really believe that your General would, for the sake of an English lady, offend an influential Indian prince, whose alliance would at this present moment be very advantageous for Russia?"
"Oh, my dear friend, we are not the barbarians we are held to be in Western Europe. We do not intend to be behind the rest of the world in chivalrous actions, and we certainly should not begin our rule in India by allowing execrable deeds of violence to take place before our very eyes. I am convinced that the General does not in this matter think differently from myself."
"You do not know what a great comfort it is to me to hear that; for I shall myself be unable to do anything more for Mrs. Irwin. Since I know that Germany is engaged in the war, I can have no further interest but to join my army as quickly as possible."
"Of course! A soldier's duty first. But how shall you manage to get to Germany? It will be a devilish hard job."
"I must try all the same. Under no circumstances could I remain quietly here."
"Well, then, let us consider matters. The best plan would be for you to return by sea from Bombay or some other port, like Calcutta, Madras, or Karachi. Karachi is nearest. It has even been given the name of the Entrance Gate to Central Asia. And from Lahore, Quetta, or Mooltan, Karachi can be most readily reached by the railway. Steamship communication between Karachi and Europe is only possible by way of Bombay; there is thence no other direct line of steamers than that plying up the Persian Gulf. You must accordingly go by one of the English steamers of the P. and O. line, which start twice a week. The French Messageries Maritimes, which usually sail between Karachi and Marseilles, will, of course, have long since discontinued their services. You could, therefore, just as well go by railway to Bombay. Via Calcutta or Madras would be a roundabout journey."
"And I should be entirely dependent upon the English steamship lines?"
"I consider it quite out of the question that the ships of the North German Lloyd or the Austrian Lloyd are still running."
"Then I shall have to give up the idea of this route altogether. For if I am not to make use of a forged passport, which, moreover, will be very hard to obtain, no English steamer will take me as a passenger."
"That is certainly very probable," the Prince rejoined, after some thought. "And then—how are you to get to Bombay? The English are, of course, destroying all the railways on their line of retreat."
"Well, so far as that is concerned, I could go on horseback."
"What! right through the English army? and at the risk of being arrested for a spy? Are you not aware that the conquered are, as a rule, smarter at shooting those whom they regard as spies than are the victors?"
Heideck could not suppress a smile.
"In this respect the promptness of the Russian procedure could scarcely be excelled. But I allow, that your fears are quite justified. Accordingly, only the road to the north remains open."
"Yes, you must go to the Khyber Pass on an empty train or with a transport of English prisoners, and then on horseback through Afghanistan to the frontier, and thence again by railway to Kransnovodsk. Your journey would then be across the Caspian to Baku or by railway by way of Tiflis to Poti on the Black Sea and thence by ship to Constantinople. But, my dear comrade, that's a very long and arduous journey."
"I shall have to attempt it all the same. Honour commands; and you yourself say that there is no other route than that you have described."
"Right!—I will take care you are provided with a passport, and will request the General to furnish you with an authority which will enable you to have at any time an escort of Cossacks upon our lines of communication through Afghanistan—But—"
A gleam of pleasure in his face showed that in his view he had hit upon a very happy thought—"Might there not, perhaps, after all be found some solution which would save you all this exertion? The Germans and the Russians are allies. In the ranks of our army you would also be able to serve your fatherland. And an officer who knows India as well as you, would be invaluable to us at the present time. I will, if you like, speak at once with the General; and I am certain that he will not hesitate a moment to attach you to his staff with the rank that you hold in the German army."
Heideck shook his friend's hand with emotion.
"You make it difficult for me to thank you as you deserve. Without your intervention, my existence would have come to an inglorious close, and the proposal you now make to me is a new proof of your amiable sympathy. But you will not be vexed if I decline your offer—will you? It would certainly be a great honour to serve in your splendid army, but you see I cannot dispose of myself as I would, but must, as a soldier, return to my post irrespective of the difficulties I may have to encounter. I beg you—Lord! what's that? in this land of miracles even the dead come to life again."
The astonishment that prompted this question was a very natural one, for the lean, dark-skinned little man who had just appeared at the entrance of the tent was no other than his faithful servant Morar Gopal whom he had believed to be dead. Round his forehead he wore a fresh bandage. For a moment he stood stock-still at the entrance to the tent, and his dark eyes beamed with pleasure at having found his master again unharmed.
Hardly able to restrain his emotion, Morar Gopal advanced towards Heideck, prostrated himself on the ground, Hindu fashion, in order to touch the earth with his forehead, and then sprang to his feet with all the appearance of the greatest joy.
But Heideck was scarcely less moved than the other, and pressed the brown hand of his faithful servant warmly.
"These lunatics did not kill you after all then? But I saw you felled to the ground by their blows."
Morar Gopal grinned cunningly.
"I threw myself down as soon as I saw that further resistance was useless. And, because I was bleeding from a wound in the head, they thought, I suppose, that they had finished me. Directly afterwards the Cossacks came, and in front of their horses, which would otherwise have trampled upon me, I quickly scrambled to my feet."
"You have great presence of mind! But where did you get this fine suit of clothes?"
"I ran back to the hotel—through the back door, where the smoke was not so stifling—because I thought that sahib would perhaps have taken refuge there. I did not find sahib, but I found these clothes, and thought it better to put them on than to leave them to burn."
"Quite right, my brave fellow! you will hardly be brought up for this little theft."
"I looked for sahib everywhere, where English prisoners are; and when I came to Anar Kali just at the moment that Mrs. Irwin was being driven away in a carriage, I knew that I was at length on the track of my master."
Heideck violently clutched his arm.
"You saw it? and you know, too, who it was that took her away?"
"Yes, sir, it was Siwalik, the Master of the Horse to Prince Tasatat; and the lady is now with him on the road to Simla."
"Simla! How do you know that?"
"I was near enough to hear every word that the Indians spoke, and they said that they were going to Simla."
"And Mrs. Irwin? She didn't resist? She didn't cry for help? She allowed herself to be carried off quietly?"
"The lady was very proud. She did not say a word."
An orderly officer stepped into the tent and brought the Prince an order to appear at once before the Commander-in-Chief.
"Do you know what about?" asked the Colonel.
"As far as I know, it concerns a report of Captain Obrutschev, who commanded the file of men told off for the execution. He reported that the Colonel had carried away a spy who was to be shot by order of the court-martial."
Heideck was in consternation.
"Your act of grace is, after all, likely to land you in serious difficulties," he said. "But, as I need now no longer conceal my quality as German officer, I can, in case the field telegraph is working, be able to establish my identity by inquiry at the General Staff of the German Army."
"Certainly! and I entreat you not to be uneasy on my account; I shall soon justify the action I have taken."
He disappeared in company of the orderly officer; and Heideck the while plied the brave Morar Gopal afresh with questions as to the circumstances connected with Edith's kidnapping.
But the Hindu could not tell him anything more, as he had not dared approach Edith. He was only concerned with the endeavour to find his master. He had learnt that Heideck had been carried off by Cossacks and indefatigably pursued his investigations until at last, with the inborn acumen peculiar to his race, he had found out everything. That he, from this time forth, would share the lot of his adored sahib appeared to him a matter of course. And Heideck had not the heart, in this hour of their meeting again, to destroy his illusion.
After the lapse of half an hour Prince Tchajawadse returned. His joyous countenance showed that he was the bearer of good news.
"All is settled. My word was bond enough for the General, and he considered an inquiry in Berlin quite superfluous."
"In truth, you Russians do everything on a grand scale," exclaimed Heideck. "A great Empire, a great army, a wide, far-seeing policy, and a great comprehension for all things."
"I also talked to the General touching my suggestion to include you in the ranks of our army, and he is completely of one mind with me in the matter. He also considers the difficulties of a journey to Germany under the present conditions to be almost unsurmountable. He makes you the offer to enter his staff with the rank of captain. Under the most favourable conditions you would only be able to reach Berlin after the war is over."
"I do not believe that this war will be so soon at an end. Only reflect, half the globe is in flames."
"All the same, you ought not to reject his offer. We could, to ease your mind, make inquiries on your behalf in Berlin. The field telegraph is open as far as Peshawar, and there is consequently connexion with Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Berlin."
"I accept without further consideration. I should be happy, if permission were granted, to fight in your ranks."
"There is no doubt of that whatever. I will at once procure you our white summer uniform and that of a captain of dragoons; and this sword, comrade, I hope you will accept from me as a small gift of friendship."
"I thank you from my heart, Colonel."
"I salute you as one of ours. I might even be in a position to give you at once an order to carry out."
"But not without permission from Berlin, Prince?"
"Well, then, we will wait for it; but it would be a great pity if, contrary to our expectation, it were to be delayed. The commission that I was on the point of procuring for you would certainly have greatly interested you."
"And may I ask—"
"The General has the intention to send a detachment to Simla."
"To Simla, the summer residence of the Viceroy?"
"But this mountain town is at the present moment not within the sphere of hostilities; the Viceroy remains in Calcutta."
"Quite right; but that does not preclude the news of the occupation of Simla having a great effect on the world at large. Moreover, in the Government offices there there might possibly be found interesting documents which it would be worth while to intercept."
"And you consider it possible that His Excellency would despatch me thither?"
"As the detachment to which my dragoons, as well as some infantry and two machine guns, would belong is under my command, I have begged the General to attach you to the expedition."
Heideck understood the high-minded intentions of the Prince, and shook his hands almost impetuously.
"Heaven grant that permission from Berlin comes in time! I desire nothing in the world so earnestly as to accompany you to Simla."
ON THE ROAD TO SIMLA
Almost quicker than could have been expected, considering the heavy work imposed upon the telegraph wires, the communication arrived from Berlin that Captain Heideck should, for the time being, do duty in the Russian army, and that it should be left to his judgment to take the first favourable opportunity to return to Germany.
He forthwith waited upon the commanding general, was initiated into his new role formally and by handshake, and was in all due form attached as captain to the detachment that was commanded to proceed to Simla.
The next morning the cavalcade set out under the command of Prince Tchajawadse.
Their route led across a part of the battlefield lying east of Lahore, where the battle between the sepoys and the pursuing Russian cavalry had principally taken place.
The sight of this trampled, bloodstained plain was shockingly sad. Although numerous Indian and Russian soldiers under the military police were engaged in picking up the corpses, there still lay everywhere around the horribly mutilated bodies of the fallen in the postures in which they had been overtaken by a more or less painful death. An almost intolerable odour of putrefaction filled the air, and mingled with the biting, stifling smoke of the funeral pyres upon which the corpses were being burnt.
The greater part of the Russian army was in the camp and in the city. Only the advance guard, which had returned from the pursuit of the fleeing English, had taken up a position to the south of the city. The reinforcements which had been despatched from Peshawar, and which had been impatiently expected, had not yet arrived.
Heideck heard that about 4,000 English soldiers and more than 1,000 officers were dead and wounded, while 3,000 men and 85 officers were prisoners in the hands of the Russians. The losses of the sepoy regiment could not at present be approximately determined, as the battle had extended over too wide an area.
Prince Tchajawadse, although showing the same friendly feeling towards Heideck, now adopted more the attitude of his military superior. He narrated during the journey that the Russian army was taking the road through the west provinces, and would leave the valley of the Indus, and the country immediately bordering it, unmolested.
"We shall march to Delhi," he said, "and then probably advance upon Cawnpore and Lucknow."
The detachment was unable to make use of the railway which goes via Amritsar and Ambala to Simla, because it had been to a great extent destroyed by the English. But the rapidity of the march naturally depended upon the marching capabilities of the infantry. And although Heideck could not fail to admire the freshness and endurance of these hardened soldiers, they yet advanced far too slowly for his wishes.
How happy he would have been if, with his squadron, he had been able to make a forced march upon the road which the unhappy Edith must have taken!
On the second day after their start, the blue and violet peaks of the mountains were silhouetted in the distance. It was the mountainous country lying beneath the Himalayas, whose low summer temperature induces the Viceroy and the high officials of the Indian Government every year to take refuge from the intolerably hot and sultry Calcutta in the cool and healthy Simla. Moreover, the families of the rich English merchants and officials living in the Punjab and the west provinces are accustomed to take up their quarters there during the hot season.
The vegetation as they advanced became ever richer and more luxuriant. Their way led through splendid jungles, which in places gave the impression of artificially made parks. Hosts of monkeys sprang about among the palms, and took daring leaps from one branch to the other. The approach of the soldiers did not appear to cause these lively creatures any appreciable fear, for they often remained seated directly over their heads and regarded the unaccustomed military display with as much inquisitiveness as they evidently did with delight. Parrots in gay plumage filled the air with shrill cries, while here and there herds of antelopes were visible, who, however, always dashed away in rapid flight, in which their strange manner of springing from all fours in the air afforded a most strange and delightful spectacle.
On the third day a gay-coloured cavalcade crossed the path of the detachment. They were evidently aristocratic Indians, who in the half-native, half-English dress were seated upon excellent horses, a cross-breed between the Arabian and Gujarat. At their head rode a splendidly dressed, dark-bearded man upon a white horse of special beauty.
He halted to exchange a few words of civil salutation with the Russian colonel. When he had again set himself in motion with his lancers, soon to be lost to view in the thick jungle, the Prince motioned Heideck to his side.
"I have news for you, comrade! The aristocratic Indian with whom I just spoke was the Maharajah of Sabathu who is on the look-out for his guest and friend, the Maharajah of Chanidigot, who is engaged on a hunting expedition."
"The Maharajah of Chanidigot?" Heideck exclaimed with sparkling eyes. "The rogue is then really in our immediate neighbourhood?"
"The hunting-camp that the two Princes have formed lies directly in our line of march, and the Maharajah has invited me to camp this night there with my men. I have really more than half a mind to accept his kind invitation."
"And did you not inquire about Mrs. Irwin, Prince?"
The Colonel's face assumed at Heideck's question a strangely serious, almost repellent expression.
"But it is more than probable that she is in his camp."
"Possibly, although up to now every proof of that is wanting."
"But you will institute inquiries for her, will you not? You will compel the Maharajah to give us news of her whereabouts?"
"I can, at most, politely ask him for information. But I cannot promise you even that with certainty."
Heideck was extremely surprised. He could not explain in any way the change in the Prince's demeanour. And he would have been inclined to take his strange answers for a not too delicate jest, had not the frigid, impenetrable expression of his face at once excluded any suggestion of the sort.
"But I don't understand, Prince," he said, surprised. "It was only a few days ago that you were kind enough to promise me your active support in this matter."
"I am to my regret compelled to cancel that promise; for I have received strict instructions from His Excellency to avoid everything that can lead to friction with the native Princes, and that my superiors laid great stress upon a good understanding with the Maharajah of Chanidigot was not known to me at the time of our conversation. He was the first who openly declared for Russia and whose troops have come over to our side. The happy issue of the Battle of Lahore is perhaps in no small degree due to him. You understand, Captain, that it would make the worst possible impression were we to come into conflict with a man so needful to us for such a trifling cause."
"Trifling cause?" Heideck asked earnestly, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
"Well, yes, what appears to you of such great importance is, when regarded from a high political point of view, very trifling and insignificant. You cannot possibly expect that the political interests of a world empire should be sacrificed for the interests of a single lady, who, moreover, by nationality belongs to our enemies."
"Shall she then be handed over helpless to the bestiality of this dissolute scoundrel?"
Prince Tchajawadse shrugged his shoulders, while at the same time he cast a strange side-glance at Heideck, who was riding beside him, which seemed to say—
"How dense you are, my dear fellow! And how slow of understanding!"
But the other did not understand this dumb play of the eyes; and, after a short pause, he could not refrain from saying in a tone of painful reproach—
"Why, my Prince, did you so generously procure for me permission to take part in this expedition if I was at once to be doomed to inaction in a matter, which, as you know, is at present nearer my heart than aught else!"
"I do not remember, Captain, to have imposed any such restraint upon you. It was purely my own attitude as regards this matter which I wished to make clear to you. And I hope that you have completely understood me. I will not, and dare not, have anything officially to do with the affair of Mrs. Irwin, and I should like to hear nothing about it. That I, on the other hand, do not interfere with your private concerns, and would not trouble about them, is quite a matter of course. It entirely suffices for me, if you do not bring me into any embarrassment and impossible situation."
That was, at all events, much less than Heideck had expected after the zealous promises of his friend. But after quiet reflection he came to the conclusion that the Prince could, as a matter of fact, scarcely act otherwise, and that he went to the utmost limits of the possible, if he did not absolutely forbid him to undertake anything for the advantage of the unhappy Edith. Heideck's decision to leave not a stone unturned to liberate the woman he loved was not thereby shaken for a moment, but he knew now that he would have to proceed with the greatest circumspection, and that he could not reckon upon anyone's assistance—an admission which was not exactly calculated to fill him with joyous hope.
After a short march the detachment reached the spot lying immediately at the foot of the first hill, a wide space shaded by mighty trees, upon which the Maharajah had erected his improvised hunting-camp. A great number of tents had been pitched under the trees. A gay-coloured throng of men surged amongst them.
It was perfectly clear to Heideck that he could not himself search the camp for Edith Irwin without exciting the attention of the Indians, thereby at once compromising the success of his venture. And he had no one to whom he could entrust the important task, except the faithful Morar Gopal, who, in spite of all the terrors of war, had also followed him on this march to Simla, although Heideck had offered him his discharge, together with the payment of his wages for several months more.
Accordingly, after the signal had been given to halt and dismount, he took him aside and communicated to him his instructions, at the same time handing him a handful of rupees to enable him to give the necessary bribes.
The Hindu listened with keen attention, and the play of his dark, clever face showed what a lively personal interest he took in this affair nearest his master's heart.
"Everything shall be done according to your wishes, sahib," he said, and soon afterwards was lost to view among the innumerable crowd of the two Indian Princes' servants and followers.
A FRIEND IN NEED
Whilst the Russians were digging their cooking trenches somewhat aside from the main camp, and making all necessary arrangements for bivouacking, Heideck had an opportunity of admiring the magnificence with which these Indian Princes organised their hunting excursions.
The tents of the two Maharajahs were almost the size of a one-floor bungalow, and on peering through the open entrance of one of them into the interior, Heideck saw that it was lavishly hung with red, blue, and yellow silk, and furnished with most costly carpets.
About half a hundred smaller tents were destined to receive the retinue and servants. Behind them again was a whole herd of camels and elephants, which had carried the baggage and material for the tents. The bleating of countless sheep mingled with the hundred-voiced din of the Indians as they busily ran hither and thither, and Heideck computed the number of buffaloes and tethered horses which grazed round the camp at more than three hundred.
The Maharajah of Sabathu regarded the Russians, who had here made halt at his invitation, as his guests, and he discharged the duty of hospitality with genuine Indian lavishness. He had so many sheep and other provisions placed at the disposal of the soldiers that they could now amply compensate themselves for many a day's privation in the past. But the officers were solemnly bidden to the banquet that was to take place in the Maharajah's tent.
Heideck's hope of meeting on this occasion the Maharajah of Chanidigot once more, and of perhaps finding an opportunity of conversation with him, was disappointed.
On returning from a walk through the camp, in which he did not discover anywhere a trace of Edith, back to the Russian bivouac, Heideck learnt from the mouth of Prince Tchajawadse that the Maharajah of Chanidigot had met with a slight accident in the hunting excursion that day, and was under surgical treatment in his tent, whither he had been brought.
It was said that the tusks of a wild boar, which had run between his horse's legs, had inflicted a severe wound on the foot, and it was in any case certain that he would not be visible that day.
On this occasion Heideck also learnt the circumstances to which the meeting with the two Indian Princes was due.
The Maharajah of Chanidigot, who knew full well that the English had sentenced him to death for high treason, had fled from his capital. With a hundred horse and many camels, carrying the most precious part of his movable treasures, he had advanced northwards out of the sphere of British territory into the rear of the Russian advancing army. He had visited his friend, the Maharajah of Sabathu, who was likewise a Mohammedan, and both Princes had for their greater safety proceeded hither to the foot of the mountain chain, where, for the present, despite the exciting times, they could pursue the pleasures of sport with all the nonchalance of real gentlemen at large.
The treacherous despot of Chanidigot would probably have preferred to have gone direct to Simla, and it was only the intelligence that had reached the Russians, that English troops were still in Ambala, that probably caused him to stop half-way.
Prince Tchajawadse was also induced by this intelligence to abandon his intended route via Ambala, and to proceed in a direct line through the jungle. In this way he could confidently hope to reach Simla without a battle, and, moreover, should it turn out that the garrison of Ambala was not over strong, he might deliver a surprise attack upon the English from the north. In time of peace Ambala was one of the larger encampments, but now it was to be expected that the main body of the troops stationed there had been ordered to Lahore.
The whole opulence of an Indian Court was unfolded at the Maharajah's banquet. At the table covered with red velvet and luxuriously laid with gold and silver plate, the Russian officers sat in gay-coloured ranks with the chiefs of the Prince's retinue. The viands were excellent, and champagne flowed in inexhaustible streams. The Russians required but few invitations to drink, but the Mohammedan Indians were not in this respect far behind them. It is true that the drinking of wine is forbidden by the tenets of their religion; but in respect of champagne, they understand how to evade this commandment by christening it by the harmless name of "sparkling lemonade," a circumlocution which of course did not in the slightest counteract its exhilarating effects. The Indians who were less proof against the effects of alcohol were much more quickly intoxicated than their new European friends; and under the influence of the potent liquor universal fraternisation inevitably resulted.
The Maharajah himself delivered a suggestive speech in praise of the Russian victors who had at last come as the long-desired saviours of the country from the British yoke. Of course he had to employ the accursed English language, it being the only one that he understood besides his own mother tongue; and Prince Tchajawadse had to translate his words into Russian in order that they should be intelligible to all the Russian heroes.
In spite of this somewhat troublesome procedure, however, his words roused intense enthusiasm, and embracings and brotherly kisses were soon the order of the day.
When the universal jollity had reached its height, two Bayaderes, who belonged to the suite of the Maharajah of Sabathu, made their appearance, Indian beauties, whose voluptuous feminine charms were calculated to make the blood even of the spoilt European run warm. Dressed in gold-glittering petticoats and jackets, which left a hand's breadth of light brown skin visible round the waist, with gold coins upon the blue-black hair, they executed their dances to the monotonous tone of weird musical instruments upon a carpet spread in the middle of the tent. The bare arms, the bones and toes of their little feet were adorned with gold bracelets set with pearls and rings bedizened with jewels. Though their motions had nothing in common with the bacchanalian abandon of other national dances, yet the graceful play of their supple, lithe limbs was seductive enough to enchant the spectators. The Indians threw silver coins to the dancers, but the Russians, according to their native custom, clapped applause and never tired of demanding amid shouts of delight a repetition of the dance.
Amid the general wantonness there was only one who remained morose and anxious, and this was Heideck, the newly-made captain in the Russian army.
He knew that it would be easy for Morar Gopal's shrewdness to find him in case he had something to report. And that the Hindu did not make his appearance was for him a disheartening proof that his servant had not hitherto succeeded in discovering Edith's whereabouts or in obtaining any certain news of her fate.
What did it avail him, that after much thought he had already evolved a plan for her liberation, if there was no possibility of putting himself in communication with her!
Believing her to be kept prisoner in a harem tent, his idea was to send Morar Gopal with a letter to her, fully convinced that the wily Indian would succeed by stratagem and bribery in reaching her. Before the banquet he had negotiated with one of the Indian rajahs for the purchase of an ox-waggon, and if Edith could by his letter be prevailed upon to make an attempt at flight, it would not in his view be very difficult to bring her under Morar Gopal's protection to Ambala, where she would again find herself among her English countrymen.
But this plan was unrealisable so long as he did not even know where Edith was. Incapable of bearing any longer this condition of uncertainty, he was just on the point of leaving the tent in order, at all risks, to hunt for the beloved lady, when a Russian dragoon stepped behind his chair and informed him with a military salute that a lady outside the tent wished to speak to the Captain.
Full of blissful hope that it was Edith he jumped up and hurried out. But his longing eyes sought in vain for Captain Irwin's widow. Instead of her whom he sought he perceived a tall female form in the short jacket and short-cut coloured dress which he had seen on his journeys among the inhabitants of the Georgian mountains. The hair and the face of the girl were almost entirely hidden by a scarf wound round the head. Only when, at his approach, she pushed it back somewhat he perceived who stood before him.
"Georgi—you here!" he exclaimed with surprise. "And in this dress?"
He had indeed reason to be surprised, for he had not again seen the handsome, blonde page, to whom he chiefly owed his life, since their meeting on the way to the place of execution.
When on the evening of that for him so eventful day he asked Prince Tchajawadse about Georgi he had received only a short, evasive reply, and the Prince's knitted brows showed such evident anger that he well perceived that something must have taken place between them, and so it appeared to him to be best to him not to mention again the name of the Circassian girl.
When the detachment started he had in vain looked for the page who had hitherto been inseparable from "his master," and only the anxiety for Edith, which was so much nearer his heart, was the cause that he had not thought much about the inexplicable disappearance of the disguised girl.
He had certainly least of all expected to find her here, so far from the Russian headquarters, and in woman's dress to boot. But the Circassian did not seem inclined to give him detailed information.
"I have begged you to come out to see me, sir," she said, "because I did not want the Prince to see me. I met your Indian servant. And he told me about the English lady whom the Maharajah of Chanidigot has carried off from you."
"He did not carry her off from me, Georgi, for I have no claim upon her. She only placed herself under my protection, and therefore it is my duty to do all that I can to set her free."
The girl looked at him, and there was a glance as of suppressed passion in her beautiful eyes.
"Why do you not speak the truth, sir? Say that you love her! Tell me that you love her and I will bring her back to you—and this very evening."
"You, Georgi, how in all the world will you be able to manage that? Do you know then where the lady is to be found?"
"I know it from your servant, Morar Gopal. She is there, in that tent of the Maharajah of Chanidigot, before whose door the two Indians are standing sentry. Take care and do not attempt to force your way in, for the sentries would cut you to pieces before allowing you to put a foot in the tent."
"It may be that you are right," said Heideck, whose breast was now filled with a blissful feeling at having at last learned with certainty that the adored woman was close by. "But how shall you be able to get to her?"
"I am a woman, and I know how one must treat these miserable Indian rogues; the Maharajah of Chanidigot is ill, and in his pain he has something else to think of than of the joys of love. You must make use of this favourable moment, sir! and in this very night whatever is to happen must happen."
"Certainly! every minute lost means perhaps a terrible danger to Mrs. Irwin. But if you have a plan for saving her please tell me—"
The Circassian shook her head.
"Why talk of things that must be first accomplished? Return to the banquet, sir, that no one may suspect of you. At midnight you will find the English lady in your tent, or you will never set eyes on me again."
She turned as if to go; but after having taken a few steps came back once more to him.
"You will not tell the Prince that I am here, do you understand? It is not time yet for him to learn that."
With these words she disappeared, before Heideck could ask another question. Little as he felt inclined after what he had just experienced to return to the mad riot of the banquet, he perceived that there was scarcely anything else open to him, for any interference with the unknown plans of the Circassian would scarcely be of any advantage to Edith.
But if the minutes had hitherto appeared endless, they now crept on with quite intolerable slowness. He scarcely heard or saw anything that was taking place about him. The rajah who had the next place to him tried in vain to open a conversation in his broken English, and at last, shaking his head, abandoned the silent stranger to his musings, which in the middle of this riotous festivity must certainly have appeared very strange to him.
Shortly before midnight, before Prince Tchajawadse and his other comrades thought of moving, Heideck once more left the state tent of the Maharajah and turned his steps towards the Russian camp, which was far away visible in the red glare of the bivouac fires, around which the loudest merriment was also taking place.
In reality he entertained very little hope that the Circassian would be able to fulfil her bold promise, for what she had taken upon herself appeared to him to be absolutely impracticable. Yet his heart throbbed wildly when he thrust back the linen sheet that covered the entrance of the tent which had been assigned to him.
On the folding-table in the middle of the little room were two lighted candles beside a burning lantern. And in their light Heideck discerned—not Edith Irwin, but instead, the handsomest young rajah who had ever crossed his eyes under the glowing skies of India.
For a moment Heideck was uncertain, for the slender youth, in the silken blouse tied round with a red scarf, English riding-breeches and neat little boots, had turned his back to him, so that he could not see his face, and his hair was completely hidden under the rose-and-yellow striped turban. But the blissful presentiment which told him who was concealed beneath the charming disguise could not deceive him. A few rapid steps and he was by the side of the delicate-limbed Indian youth. Overpowered by a storm of passionate emotions, he forgot all obstacles and scruples, and the next moment clasped him in his arms with an exultant cry of joy.
"Edith! my Edith!"
"My beloved friend!"
In the exceeding delight of this reunion the confession which had never passed her lips in the hours of familiar tete-a-tete, or in the moments of extreme peril which they had endured together, forced its way irresistibly from her heart—the confession of a love which had long absorbed her whole life.
It was a long time before the two lovers were sufficiently composed to explain to each other fully the almost fabulous events that had lately occurred.
Heideck, of course, wanted to know, first of all, how Edith had contrived to escape without making a disturbance and calling for the aid of those about her. What she told him was the most touching proof of her affection for him. The Maharajah's creatures must have heard, somehow or other, of Heideck's imprisonment and condemnation, and they had reckoned correctly on Edith's attachment to the man who had saved her life.
She had been told that a single word from the Maharajah would be sufficient to destroy the foolhardy German, and that her only hope of saving him from death lay in a personal appeal to His Highness's clemency. Although she knew perfectly well the shameful purpose this suggestion concealed, she had not hesitated, in her anxiety for her dear one's safety, to follow the men who promised to conduct her to the Maharajah, full of hypocritical assurances that she would come to no harm. She had had so many proofs of the revengeful cruelty of this Indian despot that she feared the worst for Heideck, and resolved, in the last extremity, to sacrifice her life—if she could not preserve her honour—to save him.
The Maharajah had received her with great courtesy and promised to use his influence in favour of the German who had been seized as a spy and traitor by the Russians. But he had at the same time thrown out fairly broad hints what his price would be, and, from the moment she had delivered herself into his hands, he had treated her as a prisoner, although with great respect. All communication, except with persons of the Maharajah's household, was completely cut off; and she was under no delusion as to the lot which awaited her, as soon as the Prince again felt himself completely secure in some mountain fastness unaffected by the events of the war.
Feeling certain of this, she had continually contemplated the idea of flight; but the fear of sealing the fate of her unhappy friend, even more than the ever-watchful suspicion of her guards, had prevented her from making the attempt.
Her joy had been all the greater when, the same evening, Morar Gopal appeared in the women's tent with the Circassian, to relieve her from the almost unendurable tortures of uncertainty as to Heideck's fate.
The cunning Hindu had managed to gain access to the carefully guarded prisoners for himself and his companion by pretending that the Maharajah had chosen the Circassian girl to be the English lady's servant. He had whispered a few words to Edith, telling her what was necessary for her to know for the moment.
After he had retired, it roused no suspicion when she asked to be left alone for a few moments with the new servant. With her assistance, she made use of the opportunity to put on the light Indian man's clothes which the Circassian had brought with her in a parcel. The guards, who were by this time intoxicated, had allowed the slender young rajah, into whom she had transformed herself, to depart unmolested, and Morar Gopal, who was waiting for her at a place agreed upon close at hand, had conducted her to Heideck's tent, where she might, for the moment at least, consider herself to be safe.
"But Georgi?" asked the Captain with some anxiety. "She remained in the women's tent? What will happen to her when her share in your flight is discovered?"
"The idea also tormented me. But the heroic girl repeatedly assured me that she would find a way to escape, and that in any case she would have nothing to fear, as soon as she appealed to Prince Tchajawadse."
"That may be so; but that hardly agrees with her wish to keep the fact of her presence in the camp a secret from the Prince. The girl's behaviour is a complete riddle to me. I do not understand what can have induced her to sacrifice herself with such wonderful unselfishness for us, who are really only strangers to her, in whom she can feel no interest. Certainly she was not actuated by any thought of a reward. She has the pride of her race, and I am certain that she would consider any offer of one as an insult."
"I think the same. But perhaps I can guess her real motives."
"And won't you tell me what you think?"
Edith hesitated a little; but she was not one of those women who allow any petty emotion to master them.
"I think, my friend, that she loves you," she said, with a slight, enchanting smile. "Some unguarded expressions and the fire that kindled in her eyes as soon as we mentioned your name, made me feel almost certain of it. The fact that, notwithstanding, she helped to set me free, is certainly, in the circumstances, only a stronger proof of her magnanimity. But I understand it perfectly. A woman in love, if of noble character, is capable of any act of self-denial."
Heideck shook his head.
"I think your shrewdness has played you false on this occasion. I am firmly convinced that she is Prince Tchajawadse's mistress, and, from all I have seen of their relations, it seems to me inconceivable that she would be unfaithful to him for the sake of a stranger, with whom she has only interchanged a few casual words."
"Well, perhaps we may have an opportunity of settling whether I am wrong or not. But now, my friend, I should first of all like to know what you have decided about me."
Heideck was in some embarrassment how to answer, and spoke hesitatingly of his intention to send her to Ambala with Morar Gopal. But Edith would not allow him to finish. She interrupted him with a decided gesture of dissent.
"Ask of me what you like—except to leave you again. What shall I do in Ambala without you? I have suffered so unutterably since you were carried off before my eyes at Anar Kali, that I will die a thousand times rather than again expose myself to the torture of such uncertainty."
A noise behind him made Heideck turn his head. He saw the curtain before the door of the tent slightly lifted, and that it was Morar Gopal who had attempted to draw his attention by coughing discreetly.
He called to the loyal fellow to come in, and thanked him, not condescendingly, as a master recognises the cleverness of his servant, but as one friend thanks another.
The Hindu's features showed how delighted he was by the kindness of his idolised master, although there was no alteration in his humble and modest demeanour even for a moment. As respectful as ever, he said: "I bring good news, sahib. One of the Maharajah's retinue, whose tongue I loosened with some of your rupees, has told me that the Maharajah of Sabathu is going to give the Russians forty horsemen to show them the best roads to Simla. The country here is under his rule, and his people know every inch of ground to the top of the mountains. If the lady joins these horsemen to-morrow in the dress of a rajah, she will be sure to get away from here unmolested."
The excellence and practicability of this plan was obvious, and Heideck again recognised what a treasure a lucky accident had bestowed upon him in the shape of this Indian boy. Edith also agreed, since she saw how joyfully Heideck welcomed the proposal, although the prospect of being obliged to show herself in broad daylight before everybody in man's dress was painful to her feelings as a woman.
She asked Morar Gopal whether he had heard anything of Georgi in the meantime. He nodded assent.
"I was talking to her half an hour ago. She had escaped from the women's tent and was on the point of leaving the camp."
"What?" cried Heideck. "Where in the world did she intend to go?"
"I don't know, sahib. She was very sad, but when I asked her to accompany me to the sahib, she said she did not want to see him and the lady again; she sent her respects to the sahib, and begged him to remember his promise that he would say nothing to Prince Tchajawadse of her having been here."
Heideck and Edith exchanged a significant look. This singular girl's behaviour set them riddles which for the moment they were unable to solve. But it was only natural and human that in their own affairs they very soon forgot the Circassian.
Edith had to consent to Heideck leaving his tent at her disposal for the rest of the night, while he himself spent the few hours before daybreak at one of the bivouac fires. But Morar Gopal was to take up his quarters before the entrance to the tent, and Heideck felt confident that he could not entrust his valuable treasure to a more loyal keeper.
. . . . . . .
Fortune, which had reunited the lovers in so wonderful a manner, still continued favourable to them. Very early on the following day, Heideck had purchased a neat little bay horse, already saddled and bridled, for Edith's use. When the troop of Indian horsemen, who were to serve as guides and spies for the Russians, started on their way, the boyish young rajah joined them, and no one made his strange appearance the subject of obtrusive questions. The Indians probably at first thought he was a very youthful Russian officer, who wore the native dress for special reasons, and on that account preserved a most respectful demeanour. Tchajawadse, who accidentally found himself close to Edith before starting, said nothing, although he certainly looked keenly at her for a moment.
The bad reports of the health of the Maharajah of Chanidigot, which spread through the camp, were sufficient explanation why he made no attempt to regain possession of the beautiful fugitive. He was said to be suffering from such violent pain and fever, caused by his wounds, that he had practically lost all interest in the outside world.
Having taken a hearty leave of their Indian hosts, the Russian detachment advanced further into the hilly country, and at noon spies reported to Prince Tchajawadse that the English had completely evacuated Ambala and had set out on the march to Delhi. Probably the strength of the Russian division, whose advance had been reported, had been greatly exaggerated at Ambala, and the English had preferred to avoid a probably hopeless engagement.
With a woman's cleverness, Edith managed, without attracting observation, to keep near Heideck, so that they often had the opportunity of conversing. Her tender, fair skin must have appeared striking amongst all the brown faces, but the will and caprice of Russian officers demanded respect, and so no one appeared to know that there was an English lady in the troop wearing the costume of a rajah. Besides, the march was not a long one. The hunting-camp was only about 150 miles from Simla, situated below Kalka. On the next morning the column arrived before Simla and found that Jutogh, the high-lying British cantonment to the west of the far-extended hill city, had been evacuated.
Prince Tchajawadse quartered his infantry and artillery in the English barracks, and marched with the horsemen into the crescent-shaped bazaar, the town proper, surrounded by numerous villas, scattered over the hills and in the midst of pleasure-gardens. He at once sent off patrols of officers to the town hall, the offices of the Government and Commander-in-Chief, while he himself made his way to Government House, a beautiful palace on Observatory Hill.
Although it was spring, Simla still lay in its winter sleep. It had been deserted by the lively, brilliant society which, when the intolerable, moist heat of summer drove the Viceroy from Calcutta, enlivened the magnificent valleys and heights with its horses and carriages, its games, parties, and elegant dresses. Only the resident population, and the servants who had been left to look after the buildings and keep them in good order, remained, English Society being kept away by the war.
The hills were about a mile and three-quarters above the level of the Indian Ocean, and frequent showers of rain made the climate so raw that Heideck rode with his cloak on, and Edith flung a dragoon's long cloak over her shoulders to protect herself against the cold.
The officers were commissioned to search the Government buildings for important legal documents and papers, which the English Government might have left behind in Simla, and which were of importance to the Russian Government.
Heideck had to examine the seven handsome blocks of Government offices, especially the buildings set apart for the Commander-in-Chief, the Quartermaster-General, the general railway management, and the post and telegraph offices.
He found none but subordinate officials anywhere until he came to the office of the Judge Advocate General. Here he found a dignified old gentleman, sitting so quietly in his armchair that Heideck was involuntarily reminded of Archimedes when the Roman soldiers surprised him at his calculations.
As the officer entered, accompanied by the soldiers, the old gentleman looked at them keenly out of his large, yellowish eyes. But he neither asked what they wanted, nor even attempted to prevent their entrance. Heideck bowed politely, and apologised for the intrusion necessitated by his duty. This courteous behaviour appeared to surprise the old gentleman, who returned his greeting, and said that there was nothing left for him but to submit to the orders of the conqueror.
"As there seems nothing to be found in these rooms but legal books and documents," said Heideck, "I need not make any investigation, for we are simply concerned with military matters. I should be glad if I could meet any personal wishes of yours, for I do not think I am mistaken in assuming that I have the honour of speaking to a higher official, whom special reasons have obliged to remain in Simla."
"As a matter of fact, my physicians were of opinion that it would be beneficial to my health to spend the winter in the mountains. You can imagine how greatly I regret that I took their advice—I am Judge-Advocate-General Kennedy."
"Is your family also in Simla?" asked Heideck.
"My wife and daughter are here."
"Sir, there is an English lady with our column, the widow of an officer who was killed at Lahore. Would you be disposed to let her join your family?"
"An English lady?"
"She is the victim of a series of adventurous experiences, as to which she can best inform you herself. Her name is Mrs. Irwin. Would you be disposed to grant her your protection? If so, I should certainly be the bearer of welcome news to her."
"My protection?" repeated the old gentleman in surprise. "My family and I need protection ourselves, and how can we, in the present circumstances, undertake such a responsibility?"
"You and your family have nothing to fear from us, sir. On the contrary, we intend to maintain quietness and order."
"Well, sir, your behaviour is that of a gentleman, and if the lady wishes to come to us we will offer no objection. Can I speak to her, that we may come to an understanding?"
"I will make haste and fetch her."
In fact, he did not hesitate for a moment. As he expected, Edith was very grateful to him for his friendly proposition.
Mr. Kennedy was extremely astonished to see a young rajah enter the room, and did not seem quite agreeably impressed by the masquerade.
"Is this the lady of whom you spoke?" he asked in surprise. But his serious face visibly cleared when Edith said, in her sweet, gentle voice—
"A countrywoman, who owes her life to this gentleman here, and who has only escaped death and dishonour by the aid of this disguise."
"Mrs. Irwin, if you decide to join Mrs. Kennedy," said Heideck, "I will send your belongings to Mr. Kennedy's house. I must now leave you for the present. I have other official duties to perform, but I will return later."
"In any case I am glad to welcome my countrywoman," protested the old gentleman. "You can see my house from the window here, and I beg you will call upon me when your duties are over."
It was not till after sunset that Heideck called at Mr. Kennedy's house. He stood for a moment at the garden-gate and saw the snow-clad heights glowing in the fire of the evening light. Long chains of blue hills rose higher and higher towards the north, till at last the highest range on the distant horizon, bristling with eternal glaciers, mounted towards the sky in wondrous brilliancy.
Mr. Kennedy lived in a very imposing villa. Heideck was received with such friendliness by the master of the house and the ladies that he recognised only too clearly that Edith must have spoken warmly in his favour. She must also certainly have told them that he was a German. She was dressed as a woman again, and had already won the hearts of all by her frankness. Mrs. Kennedy was a matron with fine, pleasant features, and evidently of high social standing. Her daughter, about the same age as Edith, appeared to have taken a great fancy to the visitor.
Heideck sat with the family by the fire, and all tried to forget that he wore the uniform of the enemy.
"I wish we could manage to leave India and get back to England," said Mrs. Kennedy. "My husband wants to remain in Calcutta to perform his duties, but he cannot stand the climate. Besides, how could we get to Calcutta? Our only chance would be to obtain a Russian passport, enabling us to travel without interference."
"My dearest Beatrice," objected her husband. "I know that you, like myself, no longer care what happens to us, at a time when such misfortune has overtaken our country. Amidst the general misfortune, what matters our own fate?"
"I should think," interposed Heideck politely, "that the individual, however deeply he feels the general misfortune, ought not to give way to despair, but should always be thinking of his family as in time of peace."
"No!" cried Mr. Kennedy. "An Englishmen cannot understand this international wisdom. A German's character is different; he can easily change his country, the Englishman cannot. But you must excuse me," he continued, recollecting himself. "You wounded my national honour, and I forgot the situation in which we are. Of course, I had no intention of insulting you."
"There is some truth in what you say," replied Heideck, seriously, "but allow me to explain. Our German fatherland, in past centuries, was always the theatre of the battles of all the peoples of Europe. At that time few of the German princes were conscious of any German national feeling; they were the representatives of narrow-minded dynastic interests. Thus our German people grew up without the consciousness of a great and common fatherland. Our German self-consciousness is no older than Bismarck. But we have become large-hearted, generous-minded, by having had to submit to foreign peoples and customs. Our religious feeling and our patriotism are of wider scope than those of others. Hence, I believe that, now that we have been for a generation occupied with our material strength and are politically united, our universal culture summons us to undertake the further development of civilisation, which hitherto has been chiefly indebted to the French and English."
The old gentleman did not answer at once. He sat immersed in thought, and a considerable time elapsed before he spoke.
"Anyone can keep raising the standpoint of his view of things. It is like ascending the mountains there. From each higher range the view becomes more comprehensive, while the details of the panorama gradually disappear. Naturally, to one looking down from so lofty a standpoint, all political interests shrivel up to insignificant nothings, and then patriotism no longer exists. But I think that we are first of all bound to work in the sphere in which we have once been placed. A man who neglects his wife and children in the desire to benefit the world by his ideas, neglects the narrowest sphere of his duties. But in that case the welfare of his own people, of his own state, must be for every man the highest objects of his efforts; then only, starting from his own nation, may his wishes have a higher aim. I cannot respect anyone who abandons the soil of patriotism in order to waste his time on visionary schemes in the domain of politics, to wax enthusiastic over universal peace and to call all men brothers."
"And yet," said Edith, "this is the doctrine of Christianity."
"Of theoretical, not practical Christianity," eagerly rejoined the Englishman. "I esteem the old Roman Cato, who took his life when he saw his country's freedom disappearing, and England would never have grown great had not many of her sons been Catos."
"Mr. Kennedy, you are proclaiming the old Greek idea of the state," said Heideck. "But I do not believe that the old Greeks had such a conception of the state as modern professors assert, and as ancient Rome practically carried out. Professors are in the habit of quoting Plato, but Plato was too highly gifted not to understand that the state after all consists merely of men. Plato regarded the state not as an idol on whose altar the citizen was obliged to sacrifice himself, but as an educational institution. He says that really virtuous citizens could only be reared by an intelligently organised state, and for this reason he attached such importance to the state. A state is in its origin only the outer form, which the inner life of the nation has naturally created for itself, and this conception should not be upset. The state should educate the masses, in order that not only justice, but also external and internal prosperity may be realised. The Romans certainly do not appear to have made the rearing of capable citizens, in accordance with Plato's idea, the aim of the state; they were modern, like the great Powers of to-day, whose aim it is to grow as rich and powerful as possible. We Germans also desire this, and that is why we are waging this war; but at the same time I assert that something higher dwells in the German national character—the idea of humanity. With us also our ideals are being destroyed, and therefore we are fighting for our 'place under the sun,' in order to protect and secure our ideals together with our national greatness."
At this point a servant entered and announced dinner.
At table the conversation shifted from philosophy and politics to art. The ladies tried to cheer the old gentleman and banish his despair. Elizabeth talked of the concerts in Simla and Calcutta, mentioning the great technical difficulties which beset music in India, owing to the instruments being so soon injured by the climate. The moist air of the towns on the coast made the wood swell; the dry air of Central India, on the other hand, made it shrink, which was very injurious to pianos, but especially to violins and cellos. Pianos, with metal instead of wood inside, were made for the tropics; but they had a shrill tone and were equally affected by abrupt changes of temperature.
After dinner Elizabeth seated herself at the piano, and it did Heideck good to find that Edith had a pleasant and well-trained alto voice. She sang some melancholy English and Scotch songs.
"I have never sung since I left England," she said, greatly moved.
Heideck had listened to the music with rapture. After the fearful scenes of recent times the melodies affected him so deeply that his eyes filled with tears. It was not only the music that affected him, but Edith's soul, which spoke through it.
"What are you thinking of doing, Mr. Kennedy?" he asked the old gentleman. "Shall you remain in Simla and keep Mrs. Irwin with you?"
"I have thought it over," he replied. "I shall not stay here. I shall go to Calcutta, if I can. It is my duty to be at my post there."
"But how do you intend to travel? The railways still in existence have been seized for the exclusive use of the army. Remember that you would have to pass both armies, the Russian and the English. You would have to go from Kalka to Ambala, and thence to Delhi."
"If I could get a passport, I could travel post to Delhi, where I should be with the English army. Can you get me a passport?"
"I will try. Possibly Prince Tchajawadse may be persuaded to let me have one. I will point out to him that you are civilian officials."
. . . . . . .
Prince Tchajawadse most emphatically refused to make out the passport for Mr. Kennedy and his family.
"I am very sorry, my friend," said he, "but it is simply impossible. The Judge-Advocate-General is a very high official; I cannot allow him to go to the English headquarters and give information as to what is going on here. The authorities would justly put a very bad construction upon such ill-timed amiability, and I should not like to obliterate the good impression which the success of the expedition to Simla has made upon my superiors by an unpardonable act of folly on my own part."
Heideck saw that any attempt at persuasion would be useless in the face of the Prince's determination. He therefore acquainted Mr. Kennedy with the failure of his efforts, at the same expressing his sincere regret.
"Then I shall try to return to England," said the old gentleman, with a sigh. "Please ask the Prince if he has any objection to my making my way by the shortest road to Karachi? Perhaps he will let me have a passport for this route."
Prince Tchajawadse was quite ready to accede to this request.
"The ladies and gentlemen can travel where they please in the rear of the Russian army, for all I care," he declared. "There is not the least occasion for me to treat the worthy old gentleman as a prisoner."
On the same day Heideck had a serious conversation with Edith about her immediate future. He inquired what her wishes and plans were, but she clung to him tenderly and whispered, "My only wish is to stay with you, my only plan is to make you happy."
Kissing her tender lips, which could utter such entrancing words, he said, deeply moved: "Well, then, I propose that we travel together to Karachi. I am resolved to quit the Russian service and endeavour to return to Germany. But could you induce yourself to follow me to my country, the land of your present enemies?"
"My home is with you. Suppose that we were to make a home here in Simla, I should be ready, and only too glad to live here for the rest of my life. Take me to Germany or Siberia, and I will follow you—it is all the same to me, if only I am not obliged to leave you."
For a moment Heideck was pained to think that she had no word of attachment for her country; but he had already learnt not to measure her by the standard of the other women whom he had hitherto met on his life's journey, and it ill became him to reproach her for this want of patriotism.
"Mr. Kennedy has assured me that he is ready to take you under his protection during the journey," said he. "I will speak to the Prince again to-day, and, as he has no right to detain me, it will be possible for me, as I confidently hope, to start with you for Karachi."
"But I shall only accept the Kennedys' offer if you go with us," declared Edith in a tone of decision, which left no doubt as to her unshakable resolution.
As a matter of fact, Prince Tchajawadse put no difficulties in his way.
"I sincerely regret to lose you again so soon," he declared, "but it is for you alone to decide whether you go or stay. It was arranged beforehand that you could leave the Russian service as soon as it became worth your while. Women are, after all, the controlling spirits of our lives."