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 palpitating courage.

"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 Brigadier."

"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 sunrise."

She looked at me, gave a knowing little nod of the head, and began fanning herself.

"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?"

"Nothing."

"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 enough since.

"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 now!"

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 else mad."

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 self-possession.

"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, breathing hard.

"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 he isn't."

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 am.