Of course the Prince had long since been aware that the Kennedys' visitor was Edith Irwin, but this was the first time he had alluded to his German friend's love affair.
As if he felt bound to defend himself against a humiliating reproach, Heideck hastened to reply.
"You misunderstand my motives. It is my duty as a soldier which summons me first of all. Hitherto I have had no prospect of getting a passage on an English steamer. But, in the company of Mr. Kennedy, and on his recommendation, I have hopes that it will not be refused me."
"Pardon me. I never for a moment doubted your patriotic sense of duty, and I wish you from my heart a happy voyage home. Of course, notwithstanding the alliance of our nations, it is not the same to you, whether you fight in the ranks of the Russian or the German army. And if the prospect of travelling in such pleasant society has finally decided you, you have, in my opinion, no reason at all to be ashamed of it. Certainly, for my own part, I am convinced that it is better, for a soldier to make the female element play as subordinate a role as possible in his life. He ought to do like most of my countrymen, and get a wife who will not resent being thrashed, with or without cause. It may be that I am mistaken on this point, and I have been severely punished for it."
His countenance had suddenly become very grave, and as he could only be alluding to his lost page, Heideck thought he might at last venture to ask a question as to the whereabouts of the Circassian.
But the Prince shook his head deprecatingly.
"Do not ask me about her. It is a painful story, which I do not care to mention, since it recalls one of the worst hours of my life. It is bad enough that we poor, weak creatures cannot atone for the mistakes of a moment."
Then, as if desirous of summarily cutting short an inconvenient discussion, he returned to the original subject of conversation.
"From my point of view, for purely practical reasons I must regard it as a mistake that you should so soon give up your career in the Russian army, which has begun under the most favourable auspices. A brilliant career is open to capable men of your stamp amongst us, for there is more elbow-room in our army than in yours. But I know that it is useless to say anything further about it. One word more! You need not at once take off the uniform to which you do honour before you leave Simla. To-morrow I am returning to Lahore, and during the march I beg you will still remain at the head of your squadron. It will be safest for your English friends to travel with our column. At Lahore you can do as you please. Since the course of the campaign is in a south-easterly direction, the west is free, and you may possibly be able to travel by train for a considerable portion of the journey to Karachi."
In this proposal Heideck recognised a fresh proof of the friendly disposition which the Prince had already so often shown towards him, and he was not slow to thank him most heartily.
The idea of being obliged to travel under the enemy's protection was, of course, not a very pleasant one to Mr. Kennedy; but in the interests of the females who accompanied him he was bound to acquiesce in the arrangement, since there was really no better chance of reaching Karachi quickly and safely.
"You cannot imagine," he said to Heideck, "how hard it is for me to leave India, so dearly purchased. I have devoted twenty years of my life to it, years of hard, unremitting toil. And now my work, like that of so many better men, is rendered useless at a single stroke."
"You have spent two whole decades in India without a break?"
"Yes; I could not make up my mind to accompany my wife and daughter on their occasional visits to Europe for a few months' relaxation. I was passionately fond of my work, and I can hardly get over the idea that all is lost. And it IS lost; I am under no illusion as to that. After the Russians have once set foot here, they will never give up the country again. Their rule will be more firmly established than ours, since they are at heart much closer to the Indians than we are."
. . . . . . .
On the following day they set out.
Mr. Kennedy and the ladies rode in a mail-coach drawn by four Australian horses, which had been originally intended for driving to the Anandale races. He had brought with him his own English coachman, an English servant, and an English maid; he had paid off and discharged his numerous Indian servants before starting.
The march proceeded by way of Kalka, the last station on the railway to Simla, without any incidents, as far as Lahore. Here Prince Tchajawadse was informed that the Russian army had started on the previous day for Delhi, and that he was to follow as rapidly as possible with his detachment.
During the entry into the streets of Lahore, the sight of which awoke in him so many painful recollections, Heideck was suddenly roused from his reverie. Behind the pillars supporting the balcony of a house he thought he caught sight of the form of a woman, who followed with staring eyes the march of the glittering, rattling troop of horsemen with their clattering swords. Although her face was almost entirely hidden by a veil, he felt instinctively that she was no other than his own and Edith's preserver—the page Georgi. He turned his horse and rode up to the house. But the vision disappeared as he drew near, as if the earth had swallowed it up. He accordingly was driven to assume that it was merely a delusion of his senses.
He took leave of Prince Tchajawadse with a heartiness corresponding to their previous relations. The Prince embraced him several times, and his eyes were moist as he again wished his comrade a prosperous journey and the laurels of a victorious warrior. Nor was Heideck ashamed of his emotion, when he clasped the Prince's hand for the last time.
"If you see your page again, please give him my own and Mrs. Irwin's farewell greeting."
The Prince's face clouded over.
"I would do it with all my heart, my friend, but I shall never see my page again. Let us speak of him no more. There are wounds of which a man cannot feel proud."
With this they parted.
Heideck, who had resumed his civilian attire, slept at the hotel, and then took the place Mr. Kennedy offered him in his carriage. He had found out that the railway between Lahore and Mooltan from Montgomery Station was still available for travelling.
The English, with their peculiar tenacity, still continued the regular service in the parts of India that were not affected by the war. The enormous extent of the country confined the struggle between the two armies in some degree to a strictly limited area. In the west, the east, and the interior of India there were few traces of the conflict. Only the troop trains between Bombay and Calcutta revealed a state of war.
Since the retirement of the English army from Lahore, no more troops were to be seen on the western railway, and this section was again perfectly free for ordinary traffic.
Even the Indian population of this district showed no particular signs of excitement. Only the actual presence of the Russian troops had disturbed the patient and peaceful people. The travellers even passed through Chanidigot without any interruption of their occupations or meeting with any unexpected delay.
The weather was not too hot; the stormy season had begun, and travelling in the roomy, comfortable railway carriages would have been in other circumstances a real pleasure.
The travellers safely reached Karachi, the seaport town on the mouths of the Indus with its numerous tributaries, where Mr. Kennedy's high position procured them admission to the select Sind Club, where the attendance and lodging were all that could be desired. The club was almost entirely deserted by its regular visitors, since, in addition to the officers, all officials who could be dispensed with had joined the army. But neither the Kennedys nor Edith and Heideck had any taste for interesting society. Their only wish was to leave the country as soon as possible, and to see the end of the present painful condition of affairs. As the result of inquiries at the shipping agency, they had decided to travel to Bombay by one of the steamers of the British India Company, and to proceed thence to Europe by the Caledonia, the best vessel belonging to the P. and O. line.
In the afternoon, before going on board, Heideck hired a comfortable little one-horsed carriage and drove to Napier mole, where an elegant sailing-boat, manned by four lascars, was placed at their disposal at the Sind Club boathouse. They sailed through the harbour protected by three powerful forts, past Manora Point, the furthest extremity of the fortified mole, into the Arabian Sea.
"Really, it is hard to leave this wonderful land," said Heideck seriously. "It is hard to take leave for ever of this brilliant sun, this glittering sea, and these mighty works of men's hands, which have introduced luxury and the comforts of a refined civilisation into a natural paradise. I have never understood Mr. Kennedy's sorrow better than at this moment. And I can sympathise with the feeling of bitterness which makes him shut himself up in his room, to avoid the further sight of all this enchanting and splendid magnificence."
Edith, clinging to his arm and looking up fondly into his face only answered, "I only see the world as it is reflected in your eyes. And there its beauty is always the same to me."
THE ETHICS OF ESPIONAGE
The steamer from Karachi to Bombay had about twenty officers and a larger number of noncommissioned officers and men on board who had been wounded in the first engagements on the frontier. The sight of them was not calculated to relieve the gloomy feelings of the English travellers, although during the three days of the voyage the weather was magnificent as they proceeded through the bright, blue sea along the west coast of India, so lavishly supplied with the beauties of Nature.
The harbour of Bombay, one of the most beautiful in the world, presented a singularly altered appearance to those who had seen it on previous visits. There was a complete absence of the French, German, and Russian merchantmen, which usually lay at anchor in considerable numbers; besides English steamers there were only a few Italian and Austrian vessels in the roadstead.
The steamer from Karachi cast anchor not far from the Austrian Lloyd steamer Imperatrix, from Trieste, and the passengers were taken from the Apollo Bandar in small boats to the landing-stage.
Heideck took up his quarters with his new English friends at the Esplanade Hotel. The admirably conducted house was well known to him, since he had stayed there a few days on his arrival in India. But the appearance of the hotel had altered during the interval as completely as that of the European quarter of the city, from which all life seemed to have disappeared. The ravages of the plague might have had something to do with it, but the main cause was the war, which made its presence felt in the absence of various elements of life which at other times were especially remarkable.
Formerly the meeting-place of fashionable society, nearly all its guests at the present time were connected with the army; the few ladies were in mourning, and an oppressive silence prevailed during meals.
Mr. Kennedy, immediately on his arrival, had paid a visit to the Governor in Heideck's interest and returned with good news. He had obtained permission for the young German to leave India by the Caledonia, which was starting in a few days with a considerable number of sick and wounded officers. The route to be taken was the usual one by Aden and Port Said. Those passengers who intended to travel further by the railway would be landed at Brindisi, the destination of the steamer being Southampton.
"So we shall have the pleasure of your company as far as Brindisi," said Mr. Kennedy, turning to Heideck. The latter bowed, to show the old gentleman that he had interpreted his intentions correctly.
An expression of violent alarm overspread Edith's face, when the contradiction which she might assuredly have expected did not follow. She got up to go to her room, but, passing close by Heideck, she found an opportunity to whisper, "To-night on the balcony! I must speak to you!"
After dinner Heideck and Mr. Kennedy sat smoking on the terrace in front of the dining-room. A warm sea-breeze rustled through the banyan trees, with their thick, shining arch of foliage. Heideck again thanked the old gentleman for his kindly efforts on his behalf.
"I have only repaid to a very moderate extent all you have done for us," replied Mr. Kennedy. "Besides, there was no difficulty in the matter. I told the Governor that you were a German and a friend of my family, who had rendered most valuable service to an English lady and myself. Certainly, I thought that I might with a good conscience say nothing about your being a soldier, which might easily have caused all kinds of difficulties. With all my patriotism, I do not reproach myself very severely for this reticence. For what military secrets could you disclose in Berlin? Our disasters are plain for all to see, and the papers are filled with news and conjectures."
"Certainly. The real purpose of my journey has been overtaken by events and rendered pointless."
"And this object—if I may speak without mincing words—was espionage. Is not that the case, Mr. Heideck?"
"Espionage in the same sense that the despatch of ambassadors, ministers plenipotentiary, and military or naval attaches is espionage," replied Heideck, visibly annoyed.
"Oh, I think there is a slight difference in their case. All these gentlemen's names and duties are known beforehand, and they are expressly accredited in their character of diplomatists."
"Mr. Kennedy, I could never think of justifying myself to you, for I have not the least reason to be ashamed of my mission. The military authorities of every country must have information as to the military condition of other powers, even though war is not definitely expected or contemplated. In order to be equipped against all eventualities, it is necessary to know the forces and resources of other powers, no matter whether, in case of war, they would be enemies or allies."
Mr. Kennedy, evidently irritated, replied: "It almost seems as if we English had grossly neglected this precaution. The Russians would hardly have surprised us, if we had known how to calculate with German astuteness."
"Well, I hardly believe that the English method in this respect is different from ours. Your Government, like the German, doubtless sent officers everywhere to obtain information. Just as the General Staff in Berlin collects information about all foreign armies, fortifications, and boundaries, I have no doubt that the same thing happens in London. Besides, it is a purely theoretical procedure, just like the drawing up of schemes of war to suit all cases. In reality, things usually turn out quite differently from what is expected. The present war is the most convincing proof of this. I was sent here to study the Anglo-Indian army and the Russo-Indian frontiers, although we had no presentiment that war was imminent, and had made no plans for attacking India. The folly of such an idea is obvious. Further, if you regard me as a spy, Mr. Kennedy, I beg you will have no scruple about informing the Governor of my real character. I am ready at any time to justify myself before the English authorities."
Mr. Kennedy held out his hand to him.
"You have misunderstood me, my dear Mr. Heideck. Your personal honour is to me so far beyond all doubt, that I should never think for a moment of putting you on a level with those spies who are tried for their lives when caught."
At this moment one of the barefooted waiters, dressed in white, came running and shouting into the saloon, "Great victory near Delhi! total defeat of the Russian army!" at the same time triumphantly waving a printed paper in his hand.
Mr. Kennedy jumped up, tore the paper from the boy's hand, and read the news given out by the Bombay Gazette.
"Yes, it is true," he cried, his face beaming with joy. "A victory, a great, decisive victory! Heaven be thanked—the fortune of war has changed."
He gave the bearer of the joyful news a piece of gold and hastened to inform the ladies. Heideck, however, remained behind, immersed in thought. The hotel soon became lively. The English ran here and there, shouting to one another the contents of the despatch, while a growing excitement gradually showed itself in the streets. In the so-called fort, the European quarter of Bombay, torches were lighted and feux-de-joie fired. Heideck took one of the traps standing in front of the hotel and ordered the driver to drive through the town. Here he observed that the rejoicings were confined to the fort. As soon as the conveyance reached the town proper, he found that it presented the same appearance as on his first visit, and that there was nothing to show or indicate the occurrence of extraordinary events. In spite of the lateness of the hour, the narrow streets were busy and full of traffic. All the houses were lighted up, and all the doors open, affording a view of the interior of the primitive dwellings, of the artisans busy at their work, of the dealers plying their trade, of the housewives occupied with their domestic affairs. Evidently the inhabitants troubled no more about the war than about the terrible scourge of the Indian population—the plague. The despatch announcing the victory, although no doubt it was known in the native quarter, had evidently not made the slightest impression.
About eleven o'clock Heideck returned to the hotel, where he found the Kennedys and Edith still conversing eagerly on the terrace.
"Of course we shall not leave now," he declared. "As soon as the Russians have evacuated the north, we shall return to Simla."
Heideck made no remark, and since the openly expressed and heartfelt joy of the English affected him painfully, he soon took leave of them, and went up to his room, which, like Edith's, was on the second storey.
According to the custom of the country, all the rooms opened on to the broad balcony which ran round the whole floor like an outer corridor. As a look from Edith had repeated her wish that he should wait for her there, he stepped out on to the balcony. His patience was not put to a severe trial. She must have quickly found an opportunity of escaping from the Kennedys' society, for he saw her coming towards him even sooner than he had expected.
"I thank you for waiting for me," she said, "but we cannot stay here, for we should not be safe from surprise for a moment. Let us go into my room."
Heideck followed her with hesitation. But he knew that Edith would feel insulted if he expressed any scruples at her request, for her firm confidence in his chivalrous honour relieved her of all apprehension. Only the moon, shining faintly, shed a dim light over the room. The clock on the tower of the neighbouring university struck twelve.
"Destiny is playing a strange game with us," said Edith, who had seated herself in one of the little basket chairs, while Heideck remained standing near the door. "I confess that since the arrival of the news of the victory I have spent some terrible hours, for the Kennedys have, in consequence, abandoned their idea of leaving, and seem to take it for granted that I shall remain with them in India."
"And would you not, in fact, be forced to do so, my dearest Edith?"
"So then you have already reckoned with this contingency? You would not, surely, think of travelling without me? But perhaps you would even feel relieved at being freed from me?"
"How can you say such things, Edith, which, I am sure, you do not believe?"
"Who knows? You are ambitious, and we poor women are never worse off than when we have to do with ambitious men."
"But there is probably no necessity for us to torment ourselves with the discussion of such contingencies. I have never for a moment believed in any alteration of our arrangements for the journey."
"That is to say you doubt the trustworthiness of the report of the victory?"
"To speak frankly, I do. I did not wish to mortify the old gentleman and spoil his shortlived joy. That is the reason why I did not express my distrust in his presence. But the despatch does not really convey the impression of being true. It does not even contain a more exact statement of the place where the battle is said to have taken place. It must, at least, strike the unprejudiced observer as being very suspicious."
"But who would take the trouble to obtain the melancholy satisfaction of deceiving the world in such a manner for a short time?"
"Oh, there are many who would be interested in doing so. In the course of every war such false reports are always floating about, in most cases without their origin being known. It may be a money-market manoeuvre."
"So you think it quite impossible that we can beat the Russians?"
"Not exactly impossible, but extremely improbable—at least while the military situation remains what it is. Again, it is the absence of definite information that surprises me. A victorious general always finds time to communicate details, which the vanquished is only too glad to defer. I am convinced that the bad news will soon follow, and that, as far as our plans for the journey are concerned, everything will remain as before."
Edith was silent. Her belief in Heideck was so unbounded that his words had completely convinced her. But they did not restore the joyful confidence of the last few days.
"Everything will remain as before?" she said at length. "That means you will leave us at Brindisi."
"Certainly. There is no other way for me to reach the army."
"And suppose you abandon the idea of returning to the army altogether? Have you never thought that we might find another foundation on which to build our future happiness?"
Heideck looked at her in amazement.
"No, dearest Edith, I have not thought of it. It would have been a useless and foolish idea, so long as my duty and honour prescribe most definitely what I have to do."
"Duty and honour! Of course, I ought to have known that you would at once be ready again with fine words. It is so convenient to be able to take shelter behind so unassailable a rampart, if at the same time it falls in with one's own wishes."
"Edith! How unjust the melancholy events of the last few weeks have made you! If you think it over quietly, you will see that my personal wishes and my heart's desires are not in question at all. And really I do not understand what you think I could possibly do."
"Oh, there would be more than one way of sparing us the pain of a separation, but I will only mention the first that occurs to me. Couldn't we very well remain together in India? If it is the question of money that makes you hesitate, I can soon make your mind easy on that point. I have enough money for both of us, and what is mine is yours. If we retire to a part of the country which the war cannot reach, a hill station such as Poona or Mahabeleshwar, no one will trouble you with questions or think of following you. And if you live there and devote yourself to your love instead of slaying your fellow-men, it will be more acceptable to God."
In spite of the seriousness with which she spoke, Heideck could not help smiling as he answered: "What a wonderful picture of the world and its affairs is sometimes drawn in a pretty woman's little head! It is really fortunate that we sober-minded men do not allow our heart to run away with our head so easily. Otherwise we should come badly off, for you yourselves would certainly be the first to turn away from us with contempt, if we tried to purchase the happiness of your love at any price—even at the price of your respect."
Edith Irwin did not contradict him. Silent and sorrowful, for a long time she looked out upon the bright moonlight Indian night. Then, when Heideck approached her, to take leave of her with tender words, she said in a voice which cut him to the heart: "Whether we understand each other or not, in one thing at least you shall be under no delusion. Whereever you may go—into a paradise of peace or the hell of war—I will not forsake you."
With passionate impetuosity she flung herself into his arms and pressed her burning lips upon his. Then, as if afraid of her own heart's passion, she gently pushed him towards the door.
As Heideck had foreseen, the announcement of the victory was followed by disastrous tidings for the English. Up to noon on the following day Bombay had waited in vain for confirmation of the despatch and fuller particulars. Very late in the evening, amidst a general feeling of depression, the Governor published the following despatch from the Commander-in-Chief:—
"The enemy having been reported in great force yesterday to the north of Delhi, our army took up a favourable defensive position, and a battle was fought with great honour to the British arms. The Russians suffered enormous losses. The approach of darkness preventing us from following up the advantages we had gained, I ordered the main body of the army to carry out a strategic retreat on Lucknow, chiefly along the railway. Simpson's brigade remained behind to defend Delhi. The heavy guns of the Sha, Calcutta gate, and north gate bastions were very effective. All arms distinguished themselves, and deserve the highest praise. The bridge over the Jumna is intact and affords direct communication with General Simpson."
While Mr. Kennedy was sitting pondering over this despatch, Heideck came up to him.
"A decisive defeat, isn't it, Mr. Heideck?" said he. "As a military man, you can read between the line, better than I can. But I know Delhi. If the Jumna bridge batteries have been firing, the Russians must be on the point of capturing this passage. The north gate bastion is the head of the bridge."
Heideck was obliged to agree; but he had read more in the despatch, and drew the worst conclusions from the general's retreat on Lucknow.
No more despatches from the theatre of war were published during the day, since the Governor was desirous of concealing the melancholy state of affairs from the people. But Mr. Kennedy, who had been in Government House, knew more. He told Heideck that the English army had fled in complete disorder, having lost 8,000 killed and wounded, twenty guns, and a number of colours and standards. The Government had already abandoned all hope of saving Delhi, for General Simpson could not possibly hold it. "We have lost India," sorrowfully concluded Mr. Kennedy. "It is the grave of my last hopes."
. . . . . . .
The Caledonia was moored in Victoria Dock, which formed part of the magnificent harbour on the east coast of the peninsula. In the midst of a seething crowd the passengers were making their way on board. Many wounded and sick officers and soldiers were returning on the fast steamer to England, and filled the places intended for passengers. No travellers to Europe on business or pleasure were to be seen. All the women on board belonged to the families of the military. The general feeling was one of extreme melancholy.
Before embarking Heideck had discharged his faithful servant. Morar Gopal, with tears in his eyes, had begged him to take him with him, but Heideck was afraid that the European climate would be the death of the poor fellow. Besides, he would have been obliged to part with him on active service. So he gave him a hundred rupees—a fortune for Morar Gopal.
The great steamer moved slowly out of the basin of the harbour, past English merchantmen and the white ships of war, which had brought troops and war material.
As the Caledonia, continually increasing her speed, made her way through the outer harbour, Heideck saw some twenty men-of-war in the roadstead, including several large ironclads. English troops from Malta were being landed in boats from two transports, the decks of which glistened with arms.
The Caledonia proceeded with increasing rapidity into the open sea. The city and its lighthouses disappeared in the distance, the blue mountains of the mainland and of the island were lost in a floating mist. A long, glittering, white furrow followed in the wake of the steamer.
It was a wonderful journey for all whom a load of anxiety had not rendered insensible to the grandeur of Nature. Heideck, happy at being at last on the way home, enjoyed the beauty of sea and sky to the full. The uneasy doubts which sometimes assailed him as to his own and Edith's future were suppressed by the charm of her presence. Her impetuosity caused him perpetual anxiety, but he loved her. Ever since she had declared that she would never leave him she had been all devotion and tenderness, as if tormented by a constant fear that he might nevertheless one day cast her off.
So they sat once again, side by side, on the promenade deck. The azure billows of the sea splashed round the planks of the vessel. The boundless surface of ocean glittered with a marvellous brilliancy, and everything seemed bathed in a flood of light. The double awning over the heads of the young couple kept off the burning heat of the sun, and a refreshing breeze swept across the deck beneath it.
"Then you would land with me at Brindisi?" asked Heideck.
"At Brindisi, or Aden, or Port Said—where you like."
"I think Brindisi will be the most suitable place. Then we can travel together to Berlin."
Edith nodded assent.
"But I don't know how long I shall stay in Berlin," continued Heideck. "I hope I shan't be sent to join my regiment at once."
"If you are I shall go with you, wherever it may be," she said as quietly as if it were a matter of course.
"That would hardly be possible," he rejoined, with a smile. "We Germans make war without women."
"And yet I shall go with you."
Heideck looked at her in amazement. "But don't you understand, dear, that it would be something entirely novel, and bound to create a sensation, for a German officer to take the field with his betrothed?"
"I am not afraid of what people think. I don't care what the Kennedys may say if I leave the ship at Brindisi and go with you. Of course it will be a sad downfall for me. They would look on me as a lost woman from that moment. But I care nothing about that. I have long been cured of the foolish idea that we must sacrifice our happiness to what the world may say."
Of course Heideck refused to take her words seriously. He did not believe she meant to accompany him to the field, and seized the opportunity of making a proposal which he had already carefully considered.
"I should think the best thing for you to do, my dear Edith, would be to go to my uncle at Hamburg and stay there till the war is over. Then—if Heaven spare my life—there will be nothing to prevent our union."
As she made no answer Heideck, who wanted to give her time to think, hastened to turn the conversation.
"Look how beautiful it is!" he said, pointing to the water.
A long succession of white, foaming waves kept pace with the vessel on either side. The keel seemed to be cutting its way through a number of tiny cliffs, over which the sea was breaking. But closer inspection showed that they were no cliffs, but countless shoals of large fish, swimming alongside the ship, as if in order of battle. From time to time they leaped high out of the water, their bright, scaly bodies glistening in the sun.
"I should like to be one of those dolphins," said Edith. "Look, how free they are! how they enjoy life!"
"You believe in the transmigration of souls?" said Heideck jestingly; "perhaps you have once been such a dolphin yourself."
"Then certainly I have made no change for the better. There is no doubt that our higher intellectual development prevents us from properly enjoying our natural existence. But it teaches us to feel more deeply the sorrows, which are far more numerous than the joys of human life."
. . . . . . .
The journey through the Indian Ocean took six days, and Heideck frequently had an opportunity of hearing the views of English officers and officials on the political situation. All blamed the incapacity of the Government, which had brought England into so perilous a situation.
"The good old principles of English policy have been abandoned," said a Colonel, who had been severely wounded and was returning home invalided. "In former times England made her conquests when the continental Powers were involved in war, or she carried on war with allies, to enlarge her possessions. But she has never allowed herself to be so disgracefully surprised before. Of course we shall beat France and Germany, for it is a question of sea power. But even when they are beaten, we shall still have the worst of it; the loss of India is as bad for England's health and efficiency as the amputation of my left leg for me. I am returning to England a cripple, and my poor country will only be a cripple after she has lost India."
"Quite true," said Mr. Kennedy; "I am afraid it will be difficult—impossible, to recover India. We were able to rob the French, the Dutch, and the Portuguese of their Indian possessions, since their only connexion with India was by sea; but the Russians will annex the peninsula to their Empire and, even in case of a defeat, will be able to send fresh troops without number overland. I can already see them attacking Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras, occupying the harbours built with our money, and building a fleet in our docks with the resources of India."
"We have no right to blame the continental Powers," continued the Colonel, "for using our defeats for their own aggrandisement. There is no Power at whose expense we have not grown great. We took all our possessions by force of arms from the Spaniards, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the French; we have always opposed Russia, since she began to develop her power. We supported Turkey, we invaded the Crimea and destroyed Sebastopol, we suffocated her fleet in the Black Sea. But this time we are out of our reckoning. We have allowed the Japanese to attack Russia; but if our ministers believed that Japan would fight for any one but herself, they have made a great mistake. Russia is making us pay for her losses in the Far East."
"It is not Russia, but Germany, that is our worst enemy," contradicted Mr. Kennedy. "Russia has only been our enemy since we let Germany grow so powerful. I remember how our ministers exulted when Prussia was at war with France and Austria. The continent of Europe again seemed paralysed for a long time by internal disruption. But our triumph was short-lived! No one had suspected that Prussia would prove so strong. Then the first defects in our policy became apparent. After the first German victories on the Rhine, England ought to have concluded an alliance with France and declared war against Prussia. Great political revolutions require considerable time, and a clever government should always look ahead. Bismarck slowly prepared England's defeat. Thirty years ago we had a presentiment of this; it threatened us like a storm-cloud, but our Government had not the courage to look things in the face and lacked the energy."
A general, who had hitherto said nothing, took up the conversation. He belonged to the engineers, and was on his way to take over the command of Gibraltar.
"We talk about the loss of India," said he; "but who knows whether we have not to fear an invasion of England herself?"
"Impossible!" exclaimed all the gentlemen present; "England will never allow her men-of-war to be driven out of the Channel."
"I hope so too, but I don't know whether you gentlemen remember how close the danger of Napoleon landing an army on English soil once was."
"And if it had made its appearance, it would have been smashed to pieces by British fists!" cried Mr. Kennedy.
"Perhaps. But why have we never consented to the Channel Tunnel being made? All military authorities, especially Wolseley, are absolutely opposed to opening a road so convenient for traffic and trade. They have always declared that England must remain an island, only accessible by sea. This is certainly the first and most essential condition of England's power."
"Well, then," said Mr. Kennedy, "as England is still an island, and we have always adhered to the principle of keeping a fleet superior to that of the two strongest naval powers, where is the danger?"
"Danger? There is always a danger, when one has enemies," replied the General. "I maintain that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was a toss up whether Napoleon crossed or not; and I don't believe that we should have been a match for our great opponent, if he had once got a firm footing on our coast."
"His plan was a visionary one and therefore impracticable."
"His plan only failed because it was too complicated. If he had had modern telegraphic communication at his disposal, this would not have been the case. He could have directed the operations of his fleet by cable. If Admiral Villeneuve had sailed to Brest (instead of Cadiz) as he was ordered and joined Admiral Gantaume, he would have had fifty-six ships of the line to cover Napoleon's passage from Boulogne to the English coast. No, gentlemen, you must not think England's strategical position unassailable. I am as confident of the superiority of our naval forces as you are, but in these days of steam and electricity England is no longer as safe as she was when the movement of ships depended on the wind and orders had to be given by mounted messengers and signals."
"So you really think, General, that Napoleon's plan would have been practicable?"
"Most certainly. Napoleon had no luck in this enterprise. In the first place, his greatest misfortune was the death of Admiral Latouche-Treville. If he had been in Villeneuve's place, he would most likely have proved a competent commander. He was the only French naval officer who could have opposed Nelson. But he died too soon for France, and his successor, Villeneuve, was his inferior in ability. But there are other special circumstances, more favourable to a landing in England than in Napoleon's day. For instance—to say nothing of cable and steam—the fact that modern transports can carry an enormously larger number of troops. Napoleon had to fit out 2,293 vessels to transport his army of 150,000 men and to protect the transports, had 1,204 gunboats and 135 other armed vessels at his disposal, in addition to the transports proper. As nearly all his ships were constructed to land men, horses, and guns on the level beach without the aid of boats, they wanted calm weather for crossing the Channel. They would have taken about ten hours, with a calm sea, to reach a point between Dover and Hastings. It is different now. The large French and German companies' steamers are at the disposal of their Admiralties."
"And yet things are just the same as before," said Mr. Kennedy. "Victory on the open sea turns the scale. No hostile fleet will be able to show itself in the Channel without being destroyed by ours."
"Let us hope so!" said the General.
On the way to Aden the Caledonia only met a few ships—all English. Several transports with troops on board and a few men-of-war passed her; as she travelled on the average twenty-two knots an hour, no vessel overtook her. On the morning of the sixth day the reddish brown rocks of Aden appeared, and the Caledonia cast anchor in the roadstead. A number of small vessels darted towards her. Naked, black Arab boys cried for money and showed their skill in diving, fishing up pieces of silver thrown from the ship. As the Caledonia had to coal, those passengers who were able to move went ashore in boats rowed by Arabs.
Heideck joined the Kennedy family.
When the boat reached the deeply indented harbour, which with its numerous bends between fortified heights afforded a safe shelter for a whole fleet, Heideck saw some twenty English men-of-war, and at least three times that number of French and German and a few Russian merchantmen, which had been captured by the English. Several cruisers of the three Powers at war with England also lay in the harbour. They had been captured in the Indian Ocean at the outbreak of war by superior English naval forces.
As the party had the whole day at their disposal, Mr. Kennedy took a conveyance, and Heideck drove with the family to the town, which, invisible from the roadstead, lay embedded between high, peaked mountains. The road went past a large, open space, on which thousands of camels and donkeys were exposed for sale. Here Heideck had the opportunity of admiring, close at hand, the mighty fortifications which the English had constructed on the important corner of the mountain commanding the sea since the capture of Aden by them from the Turks on the 9th of January, 1839. They also inspected the remarkable tanks, those famous cisterns which supply Aden with water, some fifty basins said to hold 30,000,000 gallons of water, whose origin is lost in the hoary mist of antiquity. They are said to have been constructed by the Persians.
About seven o'clock in the evening the passengers were again on board. While the Caledonia continued her journey, they were absorbed in the perusal of the English, French, and German newspapers which they had bought at Aden. The papers were ten days old, certainly, but contained much that was new to the travellers.
It was very hot in the Red Sea, and most of the first-class passengers slept on deck, as they had done just before they reached Aden. Part of the deck, over which a sail had been stretched, was specially reserved for ladies.
The Caledonia, having again coaled at Port Said, where a number of English men-of-war were lying, resumed her journey, with unfavourable weather and a rather rough sea, into the Mediterranean. Passing along the south of Crete, the steamer turned northwest in the direction of Brindisi, where she was due on the eighth day after leaving Aden. On the morning of the seventh day a ship was seen coming from the north side of Crete, whose appearance caused the captain of the Caledonia the liveliest anxiety, which soon communicated itself to the passengers. All the telescopes and field-glasses were directed towards the vessel, whose course was bound to cut across that of the Caledonia. She soon came near enough to be recognised. She was the small French cruiser Forbin, and was bound to meet the Caledonia if the latter continued her course.
The Forbin was a third-class cruiser, not so fast as the Caledonia (the officers estimated her speed at twenty-one knots), which could have beaten her in a race; but if the Caledonia made for Brindisi, she was bound to meet the Frenchman, and could only expect to be captured. Accordingly, the captain altered his course and turned westwards towards Malta, without heeding the signal to stop or the shots that were fired, one of which only went through the rigging, without doing any damage worth mentioning.
"It is now noon," said Heideck. "We ought to be in Brindisi to-morrow. Instead, we shall be in La Valetta, unless the captain changes his course again and trusts to the speed of the Caledonia to reach Brindisi in spite of the Forbin."
Then a loud shout was heard. The look-out man reported a ship on the port side, and in a few minutes two other vessels suddenly appeared.
One of them afterwards proved to be the French second-class cruiser Arethuse; the others were the protected cruiser Chanzy and a torpedo-destroyer.
The Caledonia could not possibly get past the French in the direction of Malta, for the destroyer was much faster and capable of making, at full speed, twenty-seven knots an hour. The captain had no choice; he accordingly turned round, and began to make for Alexandria again.
While the great vessel was wheeling round, those on board perceived that the French had seen her and had started in pursuit.
Meanwhile the Forbin had approached considerably nearer and was attempting to cut off the Caledonia. The captain accordingly gave orders to steer further south.
Heideck, standing with Edith on the promenade-deck, followed the movements of the vessels.
"What would happen to us if the French overtook us?" asked Edith. "Surely they would not fire on an unarmed ship?"
"Certainly not. But they would call upon us to discontinue our journey, and then they would take the Caledonia to the nearest French port."
"Is that the rule of naval warfare? Is the general law of nations so defective that a passenger steamer can be captured? The Caledonia is not a combatant. She is taking home wounded men and harmless passengers."
"Our captain doesn't seem to have much confidence in the laws of naval warfare or nations in this case," said Heideck. "In fact, nothing is more uncertain than these definitions. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as international law; the stronger does what he likes with the weaker, and the only check on the arbitrariness of the victor is the fear of public opinion. But this fear does not weigh much with him who has might on his side, especially as he knows that public opinion can be bribed."
"Then," said Edith, with a pitiful smile, "international law is very like the law which is generally practised amongst human beings on land."
"Besides, the French would not make a bad catch if they brought in the Caledonia," continued Heideck. "Of the eight hundred passengers about three hundred belong to the army, and I have heard that there are large sums of money on board."
The promenade-deck was full of first-class passengers, who anxiously followed the movements of the ships. The second-class and steerage passengers were equally anxious. In the most favourable circumstances, if the Caledonia escaped her pursuers, her passage would, of course, be considerably delayed. But it was hardly to be expected that she would reach Alexandria; for though the Chanzy (travelling about twenty-two knots) was obviously outpaced, the destroyer kept creeping up and the Forbin was dangerously near.
Then a fresh surprise was reported. Two steamships were coming towards the Caledonia. All glasses were directed to where the tiny pillars of smoke appeared above the surface of the water, and it was soon seen beyond doubt that they carried the British flag.
The second officer informed the passengers that they were the first-class cruiser Royal Arthur and the gunboat O'Hara. He expressed his hope that the Caledonia would reach their protection before the French overtook her.
The water was fairly calm. Sky and sea had ceased to shine and sparkle since the Caledonia had left the Suez Canal and emerged into the Mediterranean. The grey colouring, peculiar to European latitudes, was seen instead, and streaky clouds scudded over the pale-blue sky. The movements of the ships could be closely followed by this light.
The English vessels approached rapidly. When the distance between the Royal Arthur and the French destroyer was about two knots and a half the cruiser opened fire from her bow-guns upon the destroyer, which only stood out a little above the surface of the water. One of the heavy shot whizzed so closely past the Caledonia, which was now between the two, that the passengers could plainly hear the howling noise of the shell as it cut through the air.
The Frenchman, without returning the fire, slackened speed, to wait till the Chanzy came up. Meanwhile the Forbin advanced from the north and opened fire from its bow-guns upon the British gunboat, and soon afterwards the Chanzy fired its first shot. The position of the vessels was now as follows: the gunboat lay broadside opposite the Forbin, the two cruisers were firing with their bow-guns on each other, while the destroyer kept in the background. In the meantime the Caledonia had advanced so far that she was completely protected by the British guns.
If the captain had now continued his course he would probably have reached Alexandria in safety. But he wished to avoid the delay, which would have been considerable, and the entreaties of the passengers, who, greatly excited, begged him to remain near the scene of action, coincided with his own wishes.
Accordingly the Caledonia slackened speed, and took up a position to the south-east of the field of battle, whence she could make for Brindisi or Alexandria as soon as the result was decided.
For some time neither side gained the advantage. The Chanzy and Royal Arthur had turned broadsides to each other and fired, but the effect was not visible from the Caledonia.
Suddenly the Royal Arthur began to move in a northerly direction, firing upon the enemy from her stern-guns.
"It almost looks as if he meant to help the O'Hara," said Heideck to Edith, who was standing by his side with a field-glass. "The gunboat is clearly no match for the Forbin, and has perhaps been hopelessly damaged."
In fact, the Royal Arthur continued her course northwards, maintaining an incessant fire upon the Chanzy and the destroyer, which still kept on the watch in the rear, and made for the Forbin, on which she immediately opened fire with her bow-guns.
As the scene of action thus shifted further and further north, the captain of the Caledonia resolved to turn westwards again. It did not seem advisable to call at Malta, but assuming that the Royal Arthur could hold the French ships for a considerable time, he might fairly hope to reach Brindisi, his original destination.
But the course of events disappointed his hopes. A ship was reported ahead, which proved to be the Arethuse, bearing down straight on the Caledonia. To avoid meeting her the captain immediately headed northwards. This brought the Caledonia closer to the scene of action than had been intended, so close that a British shell, discharged at the destroyer lying to the east, flew over the low French vessel, and fell into the sea right before the bows of the Caledonia, raising great jets of water.
A few seconds later the French destroyer moved rapidly in the direction of the Royal Arthur, and the passengers of the Caledonia, and all the sailors on the now more restricted field of operations, witnessed a fearful sight. The destroyer had seized the right moment to attack, and from one of its tubes had launched a torpedo with splendid aim against the enemy. In the centre of the Royal Arthur, just above the water-line, a tiny cloud of smoke was seen, and then a large column of water spurting up. At the same time a dull, loud report was heard that shook the air for a considerable distance round and drowned the thunder of the guns.
It looked as if the cruiser was being torn asunder by the hands of giants. The enormous hull split in two. Slowly the prow leaned forwards, the stern backwards. Immediately afterwards both parts righted themselves again, as if they would close up over the gaping breach. But this movement only lasted a few seconds. Then the weight of the water rushing in drew the gigantic hull into the depths. The Royal Arthur sank with awe-inspiring rapidity. Now only her three funnels were seen above the surface of the water; a few minutes later nothing was visible save the top of the mast and the top-pennants hoisted for battle. Then a mighty, foaming billow rose on high, and only the breaking of the waves marked the spot where the proud cruiser lay.
The guns had ceased firing, and deep silence reigned on all the ships. The passengers were paralysed by overwhelming horror. The captain ordered all the boats to be launched to go to the assistance of the crew of the Royal Arthur. The Chanzy also was seen to be letting down boats. The O'Hara fled, to avoid falling into the hands of the superior French forces, and withdrew from the scene of action in an easterly direction, pursued by the Forbin, which sent shot after shot after her. If the captain of the Caledonia had abandoned all idea of flight, he was not only following the dictates of humanity, but obeying the signals of the destroyer, ordering him to bring to. He knew that there was no longer any chance of escape for the steamer entrusted to his care, since the shells of the Royal Arthur had ceased to threaten the enemy.
The struggles of the unhappy men, who had reached the surface from the gloomy depths, and were now making desperate efforts to save themselves, presented an affecting sight. Those who could not swim soon went under, unless they succeeded in getting hold of some floating object. Every second more of the numerous heads, which had been seen above the water immediately after the sinking of the cruiser, disappeared, and there was no doubt that the crews of the boats, though working heroically, would only be able to save a small part of the crew.
Meanwhile the commander of the Chanzy's gig lay to at the gangway of the Caledonia. The first officer, with four marines and a non-commissioned officer, boarded the steamer and saluted the captain with naval politeness.
"I greatly regret, sir, to be compelled to inconvenience you and your passengers. But I am acting under orders, and must ask you to show me your papers and to allow me to search the ship."
"It is yours to command, as things are," replied the Englishman gloomily.
He then went down with the Frenchman into the cabin, while the non-commissioned officer remained with the soldiers on the gangway. The proceedings lasted nearly two hours, during which the work of rescuing the crew of the Royal Arthur was continued unremittingly. A hundred and twenty soldiers and sailors and five officers, besides the commander, were saved. Most of the officers and crew were lost.
Unusual steps were taken to secure the prize. The captain, with the first and second officers, was taken on board the Chanzy. The first officer of the Chanzy took command of the ship, and two lieutenants and fifty men were transferred to the Caledonia. These precautions were sufficiently justified by the great value of the cargo. According to the ship's papers, the Caledonia carried no less than 20,000,000 rupees, some in specie, others in silver bars, consigned from Calcutta to England. The French commander was naturally very anxious to take so valuable a cargo safely to Toulon.
A further triumph fell to the lot of the French. The British gunboat, flying the tricolour in place of the Union Jack, was brought back to the scene of action by the Forbin. All four French ships accompanied the two captive vessels on the voyage to Toulon—full steam ahead.
THE ADVENTURES OF THE CALEDONIA
The passengers of the Caledonia were in a state of hopeless dejection and violent exasperation. An attempt was made to throw the blame of their misfortune on the unpardonable carelessness of the responsible military authorities, rather than attribute it to an accident that could not have been reckoned upon.
"Here we have another striking example of English lack of foresight," said Mr. Kennedy. "The idea of allowing the Caledonia to travel without protection! Think of all the men-of-war lying idle at Bombay, Aden, and Port Said! And yet nobody thought there was any occasion to send one or more of them to escort this splendid ship, with nearly a thousand Englishmen on board, and a cargo worth more than a million. Had our commanders no suspicion that the French ships were so near?"
"Our commanders relied upon there being enough English ships cruising in the Mediterranean to prevent such enterprises," said the General.
But this excuse was not accepted, and bitter were the reproaches hurled at the English way of managing the war. When night came on the majority of the passengers, utterly exhausted by the exciting events they had gone through, retired to their cabins. But Heideck remained on deck for some time, cooling his heated forehead in the delightful night breeze. The squadron quickly pursued its course through the gently rushing waves, the position of each ship being clearly defined by the sidelights. On the right was the Chanzy, on the left the Arethuse, in the rear the Forbin and the O'Hara, manned by a French crew. Nothing could be seen of the destroyer. At length Heideck, tired of hearing the regular steps of the French sentries pacing up and down the deck, went down to his cabin. He was soon asleep, but his rest was broken by uneasy dreams. The battle, of which he had been a spectator, was fought again. His dreams must have been very vivid, for he thought he heard, without cessation, the dull roar of the guns. He rubbed his eyes and sat up in his narrow berth. Was it a reality or only a delusion of his excited senses? The dull thunder still smote on his ear; and, having listened intently for a few moments, he jumped up, slipped on his clothes, and hurried on deck. On the way he met several passengers, who had also been woke by the report of the guns. As soon as he reached the deck, he saw that another violent naval engagement was in progress.
The night was rather dark, but the flash from the guns showed fairly the position of the enemy, which became perfectly clear, when a searchlight from the Arethuse played over the surface of the water with dazzlingly clear light. The huge hulks of two battleships, white and glittering, emerged from the darkness. In addition, there were to be seen five smaller warships and several small, low vessels, the torpedo-boats of the British squadron, which was advancing to meet the French. Then, bright as a miniature sun, a searchlight was turned on also by the English. It was an interesting spectacle to notice how the two electric lights, slowly turning round, as it were lugged each ship out of the darkness, showing the guns where to aim.
The French squadron, whose commander was well aware of the enemy's superiority, began to bestir itself rapidly. All the vessels, the Caledonia included, turned round and retreated at full speed. But the heavy English shells from the guns of the battleships were already beginning to fall amongst them, although the distance might have been three knots. Suddenly, when the Caledonia, in the course of a turning manoeuvre, showed a broadside to the British fire, a sharp, violent shock was felt, followed by the report of a violent explosion. The Caledonia stopped dead, and loud cries of agony were heard from the engine-room. The passengers, frightened to death, ran about the deck. It could not be concealed from them that the ship had been struck by a shell, which had exploded.
But it proved that the Caledonia, although badly injured, was in no immediate danger. Only her speed and manoeuvring capacity had suffered considerably owing to a steampipe having been hit.
The French warships retired as rapidly as possible, leaving the Caledonia and the prize crew on board to their fate, since it was impossible to take her with them. They were obliged to abandon the valuable prize and rest content with their great success in the destruction of the Royal Arthur and the capture of the O'Hara. The Caledonia, being recognised by the searchlight thrown upon her, had no fear of being shot at again. She moved slowly northwards, and in the early morning was overtaken by two British cruisers. An officer came on board, declared the French prize crew prisoners of war, and was informed by the third officer, who was now in command, of the events of the last twenty-four hours.
While the British squadron followed the French ships the Caledonia, only travelling eight knots an hour, made for Naples, which was reached without further incidents. The passengers were disembarked, the large sum of money was deposited in the Bank of Naples to the credit of the English Government, and only the cargo of cotton, carpets, and embroidered silkstuffs was left on board.
The Kennedys and Mrs. Irwin went to the Hotel de la Riviera. They were accompanied by Heideck, who intended to stay only one day at Naples, and then to take the through train to Berlin.
Although he had said nothing to her about going to Berlin Edith suspected his intention. A few hours later she spoke to him in the reading-room, where he was eagerly studying the papers.
"Any news of importance?"
"Everything is new to me. Up to the present we have only had a glimpse of what has been going on; these papers have given me a comprehensive view of events for the first time."
"And now, of course, your only desire is to see your colours again? I know that it is only ambition that guides you."
"Can you reproach an officer for that?"
"Yes, if he forgets humanity as well. But make your mind easy, I shall not attempt to hinder you. I will not stand in the way of your ambition, but neither will I sacrifice myself to it."
"Certainly you should not do so. We shall be happy when the war is over. I will be as true to you as to my duty. If I return alive my existence shall be devoted to making you happy."
"Love is like a bird; it must not be allowed too much freedom. Remember, I have always told you I will never leave you."
"But, dearest Edith, that is utterly impossible! Have you any idea what war is like?"
"I should have thought I had seen enough of it."
"Yes, in India and on sea. But in Europe war is carried on somewhat differently. Every seat in the trains is calculated exactly; it is the same in barracks, cantonments, and bivouacs. There is no room for a woman. What would my comrades say of me if I appeared in your company?"
"You can say I am your wife."
"But, Edith, the idea is not to be seriously thought of. As a Prussian officer I need permission before I can marry. How can I join my regiment in the company of a lady? Or how could I now get leave to marry?"
"Quite easily. Many officers marry at the beginning of a war."
"Well, but even if I get leave now, according to the law we could not be married for some months. I have already proposed that you should go to my relatives at Hamburg and wait there till the war is over, and I still think that is the only right thing to do."
"But I will not go to your relatives at Hamburg."
"And why not?"
"Do you think that I, an Englishwoman, would go and live in a German family to be stared at? Do you think I could bear to read all the lies about England in the German newspapers?"
"My uncle and aunt are people of great tact, and my cousins will show you due respect."
"Cousins! No, thank you! I should be out of place in the midst of the domestic felicity of strangers."
"If you won't go there, you might stop at a pension in Berlin."
"No, I won't do that either. I will stay with you."
"But, dearest Edith, how do you think this could be managed?"
"I will have nothing to do with conventionalities; otherwise life in Germany would be intolerable. I should die of anxiety in a pension, thinking every moment of the dangers to which you are exposed. No, I couldn't endure that. I have lived through too much—seen too much that is terrible. My nerves would not be strong enough for me to vegetate in a family or a Berlin pension in the midst of the trivialities of everyday life. Have pity on me, and don't leave me! Your presence is the only effectual medicine for my mind."
"Ah! dearest Edith, my whole heart is full of you, and I would gladly do as you wish. But every step we take must be practical and judicious. If you say you will stay with me, you must have some idea in your mind. How, then, do you think we can manage to be together? Remember that on my return I shall be an officer on service, and shall have to carry out the orders I receive."
"I have already thought of a way. Prince Tchajawadse had a page with him; I will be your page."
"What an absurd idea! Prussian officers don't take pages with them on active service."
"Never mind the name. You must have servants, like English officers; I will be your boy."
"With us soldiers are told off for such duties, my dear Edith."
"Then I will go with you as a soldier. I have already gone as a rajah."
Heideck knitted his brows impatiently. The young woman, whose keen eyes had noticed it, went on impetuously: "Although it seems you are tired of me, I will not leave you. Distance is love's worst enemy, and you are the only tie that binds me to life."
Heideck cast down his eyes, so as not to betray his thoughts. Since he had read the papers, which gave him a clearer idea of the political situation, his mind was fuller than before of warlike visions. He loved Edith, but love did not fill his life so completely as it did hers. The news in the Italian and French papers had put him into a regular fever after his long absence from Europe. The dissolution of the Triple Alliance, and Germany's new alliance with France and Russia, had caused a complete alteration in the political horizon. He heard the stamping of horses, the clash of arms, the thunder of cannon. The war was full of importance and boundless possibilities.
It was a question of Germany's existence! Her losses up to the present were estimated at more than three milliards. All the German colonies had been seized by the English, hundreds of German merchant-men were lost, German foreign trade was completely paralysed, German credit was shaken. Unless Germany were finally victorious, the war meant her extinction as a great Power.
He sprang up.
"It must be, dearest Edith; we must soon part!"
She turned pale. With a look of anguish she caught at his hand and held it fast.
"Do not leave me!"
"I must have perfect freedom—at present. After the war I belong entirely to you."
"No, no, you cannot be so cruel! You must not leave me!"
"We shall meet again! I love you and will be true to you. But now I ask a sacrifice from you. I am a German officer; my life now belongs to my country."
She slid from her chair to the ground and clasped his knees.
"I cannot leave you; it will bring you no happiness, if you destroy me."
"Be strong, Edith. I always used to admire your firm, powerful will. Have you all at once lost all sense, all reason?"
"I have lost everything," she cried, "everything save you. And I will not give you up!"
"Mrs. Irwin!" cried a voice of horror at this moment, "can it be possible?"
Edith got up hurriedly.
Mrs. Kennedy and her daughter had entered unobserved. They had witnessed the singular situation with utter astonishment and heard Edith's last words.
"Good Heavens, can it be possible?" stammered the worthy lady; then, turning to her daughter, she added, "Go, my child."
Edith Irwin had quickly recovered her composure. Standing up, her head proudly raised, she faced the indignant lady.
"I beg you to remember, Mrs. Kennedy, that no one should pass judgment without knowing the real state of things."
"I think what I have seen needs no explanation."
"If there is anything blameworthy in it, I alone am responsible," interposed Heideck. "Spare me a few minutes in private, Mrs. Kennedy, and I will convince you that no blame attaches to Mrs. Irwin."
"I want no one to defend me or intercede for me!" cried Edith passionately. "Why should we any longer conceal our love? This man, Mrs. Kennedy, has saved my life and honour more than once, and it is no humiliation for me to go on my knees before him."
Perhaps there was something in her face and the tone of her voice that touched the Englishwoman's heart, in spite of her outraged sense of propriety. The stern expression disappeared from her features, and she said with friendly, almost motherly gentleness—
"Come, my poor child! I have certainly no right to set up for a judge of your actions. But I am certainly old enough for you to trust in me."
Edith, overcome by this sudden kindness, leaned her head on Mrs. Kennedy's shoulder. Heideck felt it would be best to leave the two ladies to themselves.
"If you will permit me, ladies, I will leave you for the present."
With a rapid movement Edith laid her hand upon his arm.
"You give me your word, Captain Heideck, that you will not leave without saying good-bye to me?"
"I give you my word."
He left the room in a most painful state of mind. It seemed as if, in the fulfilment of his duty, he would have to pass over the body of the being who was dearest to him on earth.
In the evening Mrs. Kennedy's maid brought him a short note from Edith, asking him to come to her at once. He found her in her dimly-lighted room on the couch; but as he entered she got up and went to meet him with apparent calmness.
"You are right, my friend; I have in the meantime come to my senses again. Nothing else is possible—we must part."
"I swear to you, Edith—"
"Swear nothing. The future is in God's hands alone."
She drew from the ring-finger of her left hand the hoop-ring, set in valuable brilliants, which had given rise to their first serious conversation.
"Take this ring, my friend, and think of me whenever you look at it." Tears choked her utterance. "Have no anxiety for me and my future. I am going with the Kennedys to England."
A SUSPICIOUS FISHING-SMACK
A raw north wind swept over the island of Walcheren and the mouth of the West Schelde, ruffling into tiny waves the water of the broad stream, which in the twilight looked like a shoreless sea. Only those acquainted with the ground knew that the flashing lights of the beacons at Flushing on the right and at Fort Frederik Hendrik on the left marked the limits of the wide mouth of the harbour. Here, in 1809, when Holland was under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, a powerful English fleet had entered the Schelde to attack Flushing, and take the fortress. In the centre, between the two lights, which were about three miles apart, the German cruiser Gefion lay tossing at anchor. On the deck stood Heideck, who on his return had been promoted to major and appointed to the intelligence department for the coast district of Holland.
In the afternoon he had seen a vessel entering the Schelde, which the pilot had identified as one of the fishing-smacks plying between the Shetland Islands and the Dutch ports. Heideck had informed the captain of the Gefion of his suspicion that the smack might be intended for another purpose than trading in herrings. The little vessel had put in on the left bank, between the villages of Breskens and Kadzand, and Heideck decided to row across to it.
Six marines and four sailors, under the command of a mate, manned one of the Gefion's boats, and set out for the left bank in the direction of the suspected vessel. It cost the oarsmen, struggling with the tide and wind which came howling from the sea, nearly half an hour's hard work before they saw the dark hull of the smack emerging clearly outlined before them. A hoarse voice from on board asked what they wanted.
"His Majesty's service!" answered Heideck, and, as the boat lay to, he threw off his cloak, so as to spring on deck more easily. Three men, in the dark, woollen smock and tarpaulined hat of coast fishermen, approached him and, in answer to his inquiry for the master, told him, in an unintelligible mixture of Dutch and German, that he had gone ashore.
"What is the name of this vessel?"
The answers were given with hesitation and sullenly, and the three men showed such evident signs of irritation that Heideck felt they would have gladly thrown him overboard had it not been for the respect inspired by his uniform.
"Where from?" he asked.
"We are going to sell our herrings. We are respectable people, Herr major."
"Where are you going to sell your herrings?"
"Where we can. The skipper has gone to Breskens. He intended to be back soon."
Heideck looked round. The smack had put to in a little bay, where the water was quiet. The village of Breskens and the little watering-place, Kadzand, were both so near that the lighted windows could be seen. It was nine o'clock—rather late for the business which Maaning Brandelaar intended to transact at Breskens.
Heideck sent the marines on deck with orders to see that no one left the ship before the captain returned. He then ordered a lantern to be lighted to examine below. It was a long time before the lantern was ready, and it burned so dully that Heideck preferred to use the electric lamp which he always carried with him as well as his revolver. He climbed down the stairs into the hold and found that the smell of pickled herrings, which he had noticed on deck, was sufficiently explained by the cargo. In the little cabin two men were sitting, drinking grog and smoking short clay pipes. Heideck greeted them courteously and took a seat near them. They spoke English with a broad Scotch accent, and used many peculiar expressions which Heideck did not understand. They declared they were natives of the island of Bressay. Heideck gathered from their conversation that the smack belonged to a shipowner of Rotterdam, whose name they appeared not to know or could not pronounce. They were very guarded and reserved in their statements generally. Heideck waited half an hour, an hour—but still no signs of the captain. He began to feel hungry, and throwing a piece of money on the table, asked whether they could give him anything to eat.
The fishermen opened the cupboard in the wall of the cabin and brought out a large piece of ham, half a loaf of black bread, and a knife and fork. Heideck noticed two small white loaves in the cupboard amongst some glasses and bottles. "Give me some white bread," said he. The man who had brought out the eatables murmured something unintelligible to Heideck and shut the cupboard again without complying with his request. His behaviour could not help striking Heideck as curious. He had, as a matter of fact, only asked for white bread because the black was old, dry, and uncommonly coarse; but now the suspicion forced itself upon him that there was some special meaning behind the rude and contemptuous manner in which his request had been received.
"You don't seem to have understood me," he said. "I should like the white bread."
"It belongs to the captain," was the reply; "we mustn't take it."
"I will pay for it. Your captain will certainly have no objection."
The men pretended not to hear.
Heideck repeated his request in a stern and commanding tone. The men looked at each other; then one of them went to the cupboard, took out the white bread, and set it on the table. Heideck cut it and found it very good. He ate heartily of it, wondering at the same time why the men had been so disobliging about it at first. When he took up the bread again to cut himself off a second piece, it occurred to him that it was remarkably heavy. He cut into the middle and, finding that the blade of the knife struck on something hard, he broke the loaf in two. The glitter of gold met his eyes. He investigated further and drew out, one after the other, thirty golden coins with the head of the Queen of England upon them. Thirty pounds sterling had been concealed in the loaf.
"Very nourishing bread of yours," said he, looking keenly at the men, who merely shrugged their shoulders.
"What has it to do with us how the captain keeps his money?" said one of them.
"You are quite right. What has it to do with you? We will wait till the captain comes. There, put the bread and the money back into the cupboard, and then make a nice glass of grog for my men, the poor fellows will be frozen. Here are three marks for you."
The men did as they were asked. One of them went upstairs with the smoking jug, bringing it back empty some time afterwards, with the thanks of the Herr major's men.
A few minutes later one of the soldiers appeared at the cabin door and announced that two men were approaching from land. "Good," said Heideck; "keep quiet, till they are on deck; then don't let them go down again, but tell them to come here."
Almost immediately steps and voices were heard above, and in a few minutes two men entered the cabin. The first, who wore the dress of a skipper, was of unusually powerful build, broad-shouldered, bull-necked, with a square weather-beaten face, from which two crafty little eyes twinkled. The second, considerably younger, was dressed rather foppishly, and wore a beard trimmed in the most modern style.
"Mynheer Brandelaar?" queried Heideck.
"That's me," replied the man with the broad shoulders, in a brusque, almost threatening tone.
"Very glad to see you, mynheer. I want to speak to you on a matter of business; I have been waiting for you more than an hour. May I ask you to introduce me to this gentleman?"
The Dutchman was slow in answering. It was evident that he was in a very bad temper and did not quite know what to do. The officer's quiet, somewhat mocking tone obviously disconcerted him.
He signed to the two sailors to withdraw, then turned to Heideck.
"This gentleman is a business friend. And I should like to know what I and my affairs have got to do with you at all. I am here to sell my herrings. I suppose that isn't forbidden?"
"Certainly not. But if you have your business, mynheer, I have mine. And I think it would be pleasantest for both of us if we could settle the matter here at once without having to row over to the Gefion."
"To the Gefion? What's the meaning of that? What right have you to use force with me? My papers are in order; I can show them to you."
"I should like to see them. But won't you be kind enough to tell me this gentleman's name? It is really of interest to me to make your business friend's acquaintance."
The second visitor now thought it advisable to introduce himself.
"My name is Camille Penurot," said he; "I am a grocer in Breskens. Maaning Brandelaar has offered to sell me his cargo, and I have come with him to inspect the goods."
"And no doubt night is the best time for that," rejoined Heideck in a sarcastic tone, but with an imperturbably serious air. "Now let me see your papers, Mynheer Brandelaar."
Just as he had expected, the papers were in perfect order. The fishing smack Bressay, owner Maximilian van Spranekhuizen of Rotterdam, sailing with a cargo of pickled herrings from Lerwick. Captain, Maaning Brandelaar. Attested by the English harbour officials at Lerwick. Everything perfectly correct.
"Very good," said Heideck. "Rear-Admiral Sir Frederick Hollway of Dover has not endorsed them, but that was not necessary at all."
These words, uttered with perfect calmness, had an astounding effect upon the two men. Penurot's pale face turned almost green; Brandelaar's hard features were frightfully distorted in a grimace of rage. Half choking in the effort to keep down a furious curse, he drew a deep breath, and said—
"I don't know any Admiral Hollway, and I have never been in Dover in my life."
"Well, well! Let us talk about your business—or yours, M. Penurot. Of course the cargo of herrings which you want to buy is not meant to be sold at Breskens, but to some business friend at Antwerp? isn't it so?"
No answer was given. Heideck, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, turned to the cupboard and, before the others had grasped his intention, took out the second white loaf and broke it in two. This time a folded paper came to light. Heideck spread it out and saw that it was covered with a long list of questions written in English.
"Look here," said he, "the gentleman who had this paper baked with your breakfast bread must be confoundedly curious. 'How strong is the garrison of Antwerp? What regiments? What batteries? Who are the commanders of the outer fort? What is the exact plan of the flooded district? How is the population disposed towards the German troops? How many German men-of-war are there in the harbour and in the Schelde? How are they distributed? Exact information as to the number of cannon and crews of all the men-of-war. How many and which ships of the German navigation companies are allotted to the German fleet? How many troops are there on the island of Walcheren? How many in the neighbourhood of Antwerp? How are the troops distributed on both banks of the Schelde? Are troops ready to be put on board the men-of-war and transports? Has a date been settled for that? Is there a plan for employing the German fleet? What is said about the German fleet joining the French?' That is only a small portion of the long list; but it is quite enough for anyone to guess at the nature of the rest of the questions. What the deuce! Admiral Hollway would like to learn everything for his paltry thirty pounds! or were they only a little on account? I cannot believe, M. Penurot, that your Antwerp correspondent would be willing to sell so much for thirty pounds."
The two men were clearly overwhelmed by the weight of the unexpected blow. For a moment, when Heideck drew the paper out of the bread, it looked as if Brandelaar would have thrown himself upon him and attempted to tear it from him by force. But the thought of the soldiers probably restrained him opportunely from such an act of folly. He stood where he was with tightly compressed lips and spitefully glistening eyes.
"I don't understand you, Herr major," exclaimed Penurot with a visible effort. "I know nothing whatever about this paper. I am an honest business man."
"And of course, Herr Brandelaar, you had no suspicion of the important stuffing in your white bread? Now, I am not called upon to investigate the matter further. It will be for the court-martial to throw light on the affair."
The grocer turned as pale as death, and lifted up his hands imploringly.
"Mercy, Herr major, mercy! As true as I live, I am innocent."
Heideck pretended not to have heard his assertion.
"Further, I must tell you, gentlemen, that you are confoundedly bad men of business, to risk your lives for a miserable thirty pounds. That was an inexcusable folly. If ever you wanted to make money in that way, really you would have done better to work for us. We would pay a man five times as much without haggling, if he would furnish us with really trustworthy information of this kind about the English fleet and army."
At these words, spoken almost in a jovial tone, a gleam of hope showed itself in the countenance of the two men. The grocer had opened his mouth to reply, when Heideck signed to him to be silent.
"Be so good as to go on deck for a while, Penurot," said he. "I will call you when I want to continue the conversation. You shall give me your company first, Brandelaar. I should like a few words with you in private."
The man with the fashionably pointed beard obeyed. Then Heideck turned to the Dutchman—
"This Penurot is the guilty party, isn't he? As a skipper you have probably never troubled yourself much about politics during your lifetime: you scarcely had a correct idea of the risk you were running. If the court-martial condemns you, you will only have your friend Penurot to thank for it."
"What you say is quite true, sir," replied Brandelaar with well-acted simplicity. "I have my cargo to sell for the firm of Van Spranekhuizen, and I don't care a damn for war or spying. I beg the Herr major to put in a good word for me. I had no suspicion of what was inside the bread."
"So this Penurot has drawn you into the affair without your knowing it. Did he intend to go with you to Antwerp?"
"I will tell you the whole truth, Herr major! Admiral Hollway at Dover, who is in control of the intelligence department for the Channel and the coast from Cuxhaven to Brest, gave me the two loaves for Camille Penurot. That is all I know of the matter."
"Was it the first time you had to carry out such commissions for Admiral Hollway?"
"So help me God, the first time!"
"But Penurot was not meant to keep these peculiar loaves for himself? He, like yourself, is only an agent? If you want me to speak for you, you must tell me unreservedly everything you know about it."
"Penurot has a business friend in Antwerp, as the Herr major has rightly guessed."
"What is he?"
"A wholesale merchant. My cargo is intended for him."
"And how is he connected with Penurot?"
"I don't know. Penurot is an agent who does all kinds of business."
"Oh! and what does the owner, Mynheer van Spranekhuizen, say to your having anything to do with such things as the conveyance of these loaves?"
"Mynheer van Spranekhuizen and Mynheer Amelungen are near relations."
"In other words, these two gentlemen have agreed to send the Bressay from the Shetlands to Dover, and from Dover to Antwerp."
"I know nothing about that, Herr major. I have told you everything I know. No vessel can go further up the Schelde than Ternenzen, and I can unload at Breskens just as well as at Ternenzen and send the goods by rail to Antwerp."
"Now, Brandelaar, go upstairs again and send M. Penurot down to me."
With heavy tread the skipper mounted the narrow ladder, and almost at once Penurot entered. Heideck, with a wave of his hand, invited him to sit down opposite and began to speak.
"From what I have seen of Brandelaar I am convinced that he is an arrant rascal. It was very imprudent on your part to have anything to do with a man like that. If you are brought before a court-martial, you have him to thank for it."
"For God's sake, Herr major—my life isn't in danger? I implore you, have pity on me!"
"It will matter little whether personally I have pity on you. You will go with me to the Gefion and be brought before a court-martial at Flushing. The fact that you have been Brandelaar's accomplice cannot be got rid of. He has just now declared definitely that the two loaves were intended for you."
"For me? That is a vile lie. I have never received a penny from the English."
"Well—but, without special reasons, a man doesn't amuse himself by paying a visit to a herring-smack at night. The cargo could have been delivered to Herr Eberhard Amelungen without your inspection."
"Don't pretend to be so ignorant. Brandelaar has already confessed so much, that you can easily admit the rest. Amelungen and Van Spranekhuizen are in a conspiracy to carry on a regular system of espionage in the interests of England. You are used as an agent, and Maaning Brandelaar is trying to get out of it by sacrificing you."
"So it seems, really. But I am quite innocent, Herr major. I know nothing of all that. The last time Brandelaar left the Schelde, he came to see me here in Breskens and told me that he would soon be back again and that it would be a good business for me."
"When did that happen?"
"Three weeks ago. I had no reason to distrust Brandelaar, since he had often supplied goods for Amelungen."
"But why did you come on board to-day?"
"Brandelaar wanted it. He said I could look at the cargo and discuss whether it should be unloaded here or at Ternenzen."
"Now, M. Penurot, I will tell you something. You will go with me to Antwerp, where I will call on Herr Amelungen and convince myself whether you are really as innocent as you say, and as I shall be glad to believe you are for the present."
The grocer appeared to be getting still more uneasy.
"But you won't take me before the court-martial?"
"That remains to be seen. I can promise you nothing. Everything will depend on the information which Herr Amelungen gives me about you, and on your future behaviour. I will now have Brandelaar down again, and you will remain silent while I speak to him."
"Of course, I will do everything the Herr major tells me."
Brandelaar having been summoned to the cabin, Heideck addressed him as follows:—
"Listen to me, Maaning Brandelaar. I know everything, and I need not tell you that it is more than enough to put your neck in danger according to martial law. But I will show you a way to save yourself. Go to-morrow to Ternenzen and wait there till you hear from me. I will make it easy for you to execute your commission; I will write the answers to Admiral Hollway's questions myself. You can then take them to Dover to your customer. But at the same time I will give you a number of questions, to which you will bring me trustworthy answers at Flushing. If you carry out this mission to my satisfaction, I will pay you 3,000 marks on your return. As you will also have your fee from the Admiral, you will make a very good thing out of it. But beware of attempting to betray me; it would turn out an extremely bad job for you. I know where I can catch you, and you would be imprisoned as soon as you showed yourself anywhere on the Dutch coast. So you had better think it over carefully."
The skipper's broad countenance had gradually brightened, and at these words a cunning grin overspread his features.
"Three thousand marks! If that's a bargain, Herr major, you can count upon my serving you honourably."
"Perhaps it isn't so much a matter of your honour as of your cleverness. Unless the information you bring me corresponds with my expectations, of course the payment will suffer accordingly. The price depends upon the quality of the goods."
"Oh, you will be satisfied with me. I have connexions over there, and if you want anything else, you shall see what Brandelaar can do."
"Good! It will be to your own interest to serve me well and faithfully."
Suddenly the skipper again looked thoughtful.
"There is still one thing that troubles me, Herr major."
"What is that?"
"My men have seen an officer and soldiers visit my ship. Suppose they talk about it over in England and the Admiral should suspect me?"
"He will have no reason to do so, if he is convinced that your information is correct. He will have other sources of information besides yourself, and if he finds your statements confirmed, he will have complete confidence in you."
These words did not allay Maaning Brandelaar's uneasiness.
"Yes, but—you don't mean to give me correct information?"
"Certainly I do. Everything I write for you will be perfectly correct."
This reply was clearly too much for the skipper to understand. He stared in speechless amazement at Heideck, who proceeded quietly—
"The Admiral wants to know the strength of the German army at Antwerp, and I will tell you the condition of affairs. We have 120,000 men in Holland and the small portion of Belgian territory which we have occupied round Antwerp. In the fortress itself there are 30,000 men; on the island of Walcheren only 5,000, in occupation of Flushing and other important points. These are entirely trustworthy facts."
The Captain shook his head.
"If it were not disrespectful, I should think you were making a fool of me."
"No, my friend, I have no reason to do so; you can go bail for everything I write, and your fee will be honourably earned. It would be somewhat different with the news you might take over to the Admiral on your own responsibility."
"I understand, Herr major, and I will act accordingly. But I must certainly get a fresh crew; these men know too much; that is bad, and they might make it unpleasant for me."
"No, no, that would be quite a mistake. Keep your men and make no fuss. When I get to Ternenzen, I will have you and the crew arrested. You will be examined by me and in a few days set at liberty."
The skipper did not seem to relish this prospect.
"But suppose you should change your mind in the meantime, and take me before the court-martial?"
"You may confidently trust my word. It will only be a sham examination to prevent your men getting unprofitable ideas into their heads and betraying anything which might arouse suspicion across the water. On the contrary, it will look as if you had had to endure all kinds of dangers and disappointments; and if my estimate of you is correct, my worthy Brandelaar, you will not lose the opportunity of extracting an extra fee from the Admiral to make up for the anxiety you have suffered."
When Heideck and his prisoner, Penurot, reached the Gefion he found the Commander on deck, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour. He reported himself, and asked him to treat Penurot as a guest.
"I was getting anxious about you," said the Captain, "and was on the point of sending the steam pinnace after you. Have you found out anything important?"
"I believe I have. The two rascals whom I caught there don't seem to belong to the ordinary class of spies. They are the skipper Brandelaar and the man I have brought with me."