In Love and War by Henry Seton Merriman
"Secret de deux, secret de Dieu."
"Guess anybody could be a soldier and swing a sword, while it takes brains
to make a doctor."
Now I was a doctor, and a very young one in those days, new to the
regiment and conscious of my inferiority to its merest subaltern. The
young person who made the above observation was, moreover, pretty, with
dark eyes and the most bewitching lips that ever gave voice to an American
accent. My heart was young, and therefore easily stirred by such vanities—nothing
stirs it now but the cry of the bugle and the sullen roar that rises from
the ranks when, at last, T. Atkins is allowed to get to the bayonet.
We were sitting in the verandah of the Residency in the capital of a
northern tributary state which need not be further specified here. The
Rajah was in difficulties and unable, without our aid, to dispose of a
claimant to his throne, whose hereditary right originated somewhere in the
lifetime of St. Paul. General Elias J. Watson, of Boston, U.S.A., was
travelling for the enlargement of his own and his daughter's mind.
"Pa is just going to write a book about things in general," explained Miss
Bertha Watson, with a wise little smile, when her father's thirst for
information became irksome.
Hearing in Simla that an expeditionary force was about to be despatched to
the assistance of the Rajah of Oadpur, General Watson hastened thither. He
had letters of introduction from sundry persons who wished to get rid of
him to sundry others who had no desire to assist in any way. But the old
man's naivete and characteristically simple interest in details soon made
their way, while Bertha's wise little smile carried all before it. It
somehow conveyed the impression that she knew a thing or two of which we
were ignorant, and like one man we fell to desiring knowledge of those
things. I was nowhere. Doctors never are anywhere in regimental
competitions, for they are usually, like myself, deadly poor. Sometimes
Bertha danced with me, as on this occasion, at the impromptu
entertainments given by the Resident.
"Say, shall we have another?" she observed before my heart had recovered
from the effect of the last remark. And she handed me the stationery
department envelope which served as a programme on these occasions.
I fumbled for my pencil in a seventh heaven of joy. I had read somewhere
that women sometimes give their hearts to small and insignificant men. But
it seemed unlikely that this referred to such women as Bertha Watson. I
had never dreamt of cutting out the other men: Major Le Mesurier-Groselin,
who had money, for instance, or Austin Graham—especially Austin
Graham. There had been a rumour in the air—planted there, no doubt,
by some of the women who have a marvellous scent for a light trail—that
there was an understanding between Graham and Bertha. I noticed that she
never looked at him with her bewitching little smile as she did at the
rest of us. But that was all I could detect. Perhaps she thought that he
was wiser than herself. Perhaps, moreover, she was right; for Graham was
the wisest man up there, and I think the bravest. He meant business, he
told me, and had come to make his name in this little war.
He was a quiet-going, fair man, with that inestimable advantage of looking
at all times exactly what he was, namely, a gentleman by long descent. He
was a great friend of mine, and we shared quarters in a sort of gatehouse
to the Rajah's palace, where I knew that he worked night and day, for he
was chief of the staff, and had a great scheme of crushing the
insurrection, at one blow, by a surprise assault of the fortified town
twenty miles away, where the claimant lay with his forces.
"Seems to me," said Bertha, when I had duly inscribed my name on the
Government envelope, "that this is what you call a demonstration in force.
This is not serious war. You are not going to fight at all. Things are
much too quiet and orderly—with church parade, and
soirees-dansantes, and visiting cards."
She looked at me, and if I had had any secrets I should have told them to
her then and there.
"Then you think there'll be fighting," she added, with a calmness of
demeanour which was in itself unusual and fascinating enough.
She had no reason to arrive at such a conclusion, for I had not uttered a
sound. I probably did not know, however, in those days that the lies
requiring the minutest care are the unspoken ones.
"You see, I'm only a doctor," I answered, "and, strange to say, the
Brigadier has not as yet taken me into his confidence."
"I know a lot about war," she went on after a momentary pause. She
appeared to have some misgiving about one of the buttons on her long glove
which she had undone and was tentatively tugging at the thread.
"May I button that?" I said hurriedly in my extreme youth, and with a
"Why, yes—if you have any ambition that way." And she extended her
arm towards me. "Now," she said, with a grave air of confidence which I
now distrust whenever it is tried upon me, "if I was the man in charge of
this show, I would just go on like this, giving balls and private
theatricals and exchanging visiting cards. This place is full of spies, of
course. The very servants who wait on the General probably read all his
letters and send copies of them to the enemy. The plan of campaign is
probably as well known to What-'em-you-call-it Khan as it is to the
"No, I am sure it isn't," I interrupted; "because Graham keeps it locked
up in a medical-comfort chest with his dressing-case locked, which we
screwed on ourselves."
"Ah, is that so, doctor? Well, you can't be too careful, can you? As I was
saying, I should convey to the spies the impression that it was only a
demonstration in force. Then one night I should start off quietly, march
twenty miles, and give What-'em-you-call-it Khan Hail Columbia before
She looked at me, gave a knowing little nod of the head, and began fanning
"That is my plan of campaign," she said. "You know Pa is here on purpose
to see the British soldier fight. We have been waiting here a month now,
and I hope you are going to ring up the curtain soon. Pa has theories
about the British soldier, and although he is a General, you know he has
never seen a fight. I tell him if I was a General who hadn't seen a fight,
I'd just go out and sell myself cheap! What?"
"I guess you spoke."
"I said you'd probably do that at any rate."
"Not cheap," she answered gravely, and then we changed the subject. So far
as I recollect, we returned to the discussion of doctors and their trade,
and before long I had the opportunity of airing my special hobby at that
time—the study of native drugs. Miss Watson was deeply interested—at
least, she made me think so, and before we parted I had promised to send
round to her "diggings," as she called them, a bottle of a perfectly
harmless narcotic which I had made up for the use of persons suffering
from sea-sickness or toothache. I use it still, and have some always by me
on service in a bottle labelled "Bertha," for there is, after all,
something in a name.
I went home to my quarters rather thoughtful that night; for Bertha
Watson's plan of campaign was Austin Graham's plan of campaign, and I knew
that Graham was not the man to divulge so much as a hint of this secret. I
know now that if a woman loves a man she knows much that he never tells
her, but I was ignorant of this and many other matters at the time when I
made Bertha's acquaintance.
The days dragged on and we seemed to be no nearer solving the Rajah's
difficulties. There were at that time no native newspapers, and bazaar
gossip, which is, by the way, surer and speedier than the most enlightened
press, made up for the want. Bazaar gossip held much the same opinion as
Bertha Watson—namely, that we were only a demonstration in force.
This opinion gained ground daily, and began like a hardy weed to throw out
tendrils in the shape of details. We were afraid of the claimant to the
throne, it seemed. We had quarrelled with the Rajah, and would not risk a
defeat on his account.
Austin Graham came and went. I sometimes found mysterious natives waiting
for him in our quarters. One of these natives spoke Hindustanee with a
faint Scotch accent, and laughed when I told him so.
"I'm all right in the dialects though," he said, in Glasgow English, and
asked for a cigarette. We sat and talked for half an hour awaiting
Graham's arrival, but he never told me who he was.
One night, about midnight, I was aroused by Le Mesurier-Groselin, who was
in full fighting kit and had a queer light in his eyes which was new to
me, though heaven and the Horse Guards know that I have seen it often
"Get up—Sawbones!" said Le Mesurier-Groselin. "You'll be wanted at
any rate, but now I want you badly. We're just off to smoke the old Khan
out, and something has gone wrong with Graham. For God's sake, man, hurry
up! It will be a pretty fight, and I would not miss it for worlds."
I looked at Le Mesurier-Groselin as I hauled on my clothes. He had eight
thousand a year, an Elizabethan manor in England, and the certainty of a
baronetcy; but the thought of these things never brought to his eyes the
light that was there now.
"What is wrong with Graham?"
"I don't know—wish I did. Can't move him. Seems quite stupid or dead
drunk," answered Le Mesurier-Groselin, handing me my belt.
We hurried upstairs to the room occupied by Austin Graham, and there found
him lying on the bed with his eyes almost, but not quite, shut.
"Where was he to-night—dining with you at mess?" I asked, raising
one heavy lid with my finger.
"No, he dined with the Watsons."
"When did you last see him?"
"About ten o'clock at my quarters. He was coming here to change in time
for the assembly at eleven forty-five—the column is just marching. I
came here to hurry him up and found him like this. The whole attack is his
planning. It would have been the making of him. He was to have led the
ladders. Gad! what a chance the man had—and look at the poor devil
I was examining Austin Graham with a thumping heart, for a queer suspicion
was in my mind. Presently I ran downstairs and uncorked the bottle which I
now label "Bertha." The smell was identical, and I went upstairs again.
"Help me to get him into his boots and tunic," I said.
And Le Mesurier-Groselin and I huddled the man's fighting clothes on to
him by the light of a flickering candle. Le Mesurier-Groselin was a big
man, and my trade had taught me a certain skill in the handling of the
dead. We soon had Austin Graham in full uniform sitting up in my arms,
with the helmet crammed on his head at an unseemly angle. He was perfectly
insensible, but his heart went well.
"Now help me to get him on to his horse," I said.
Le Mesurier-Groselin dropped his eye-glass for the first and last time on
record, and looked at me with a surprised eye and a solemn one.
"I'll obey orders," he said. "But I take it that you are very drunk or
We carried him downstairs and I climbed into Graham's saddle. Le
Mesurier-Groselin lifted Graham, who must have weighed fourteen stone,
into the saddle in front of me, and I rode twenty miles that night with
him there. He recovered consciousness an hour before we reached the Khan's
stronghold, and, as I expected, awoke, as if from sleep, refreshed and
ready for any exertion. We had no time for explanations.
"You were drugged," I said, "by some native spy, who must have got wind of
the intended attack to-night. I knew that the stuff would have to run its
course, so I did not physic you, but brought you along with the column."
I am glad to say he believed me.
Some one found me a restless field-artillery horse which was giving the
gunners a lot of trouble, and I rode back to Oadpur alone—not having
any business at the front. As I approached the old Gate House, the flutter
of a white dress caught my eye. It was almost dawn, and a pink haze hung
over the paddy-fields. The world had that appearance of peace and
cleanliness which is left by the passage of an Indian night. My rooms were
on the ground-floor, and it seemed to me that, at the sound of my horse's
feet, some one had come out of them to pass up the stone stairs that led
to Graham's quarters. As I slipped out of the saddle the sound of a
distant cannon broke the silence of the night, and my horse, despite his
forty miles accomplished in little more than five hours, pricked up his
ears. I tied him up, and instead of going to my own rooms went upstairs.
Miss Watson was standing in the first room I entered. The quick tropic
dawn had come, and I saw the face of a woman who had not slept.
"Major Graham's servant told me that he was ill. I have—a—a
right to know how he is, and where he is," she said with her imperturbable
"Graham is at the front," I answered, and the sound of the cannon, dull
and distant, finished the sentence for me.
Bertha Watson bit her lip to hide its quivering, and looked at me,
"We have rung up the curtain," I added, remembering our talk in the
verandah of the Residency.
"How did he get there?"
"Across my saddle in a state of insensibility, which passed off, as I
expected it would, an hour before the time fixed for the storming of the
fortifications. Some one drugged him in order that he might not take part
in this action. Some one who feared him—or for him. Le
Mesurier-Groselin called me to him, and only we three know of it. I am the
only medical man connected with the affair, and I can certify that it was
a native drug that was used, and that therefore a native must have done
this thing. Probably a native spy, Miss Watson, who, finding out the
proposed surprise too late to warn the rebels, attempted to disorganize
the force by this means. Do you understand?"
She looked at me with all her keen wits in her eyes.
"No one would ever dream that another had done it—say some one who
was attached to Graham, and who, in a panic, gave way to temptation and
did him a great wrong, while saving him from danger."
I stood aside as I spoke and motioned her towards the door, for the place
would soon be astir.
"My!" she exclaimed. "And I reckoned you were a fool—behind that
single eye-glass. It is not you that is the fool, doctor."
Then suddenly she turned at the head of the stairs and whispered hoarsely—
"And if he is killed?"
"That is what he is paid for, Miss Watson. We can only wait and hope that
Austin Graham was not killed, but came back with, as the Brigadier said,
the Victoria Cross up his sleeve. I happened to be near Bertha Watson when
they met, and there was that in her eyes when they encountered his which
was a revelation to me and makes me realize even now what a lonely man I