The Place of Honour by Ethel M. Dell

Wherein a woman with a love of freedom, two soldiers in the Indian Army,

and a snake-bite are most intimately concerned.


CHAPTER I

THE BRIDE

"And that is the major's bride? Ah, what a pity!"

The soft, Irish eyes of Mrs. Raleigh, the surgeon's wife, looked across the ball-room with a very real compassion in their grey depths.

"Pity?" said young Turner, the subaltern, who chanced to be at that moment in attendance upon her. "It's worse than that; it's a monstrous shame! She's only nineteen, you know; and he is twenty years older at least."

Mrs. Raleigh sighed.

"You have met her, Phil," she said. "I am going to get you to introduce me. Let us go across to her."

Mrs. Raleigh was greatly beloved by all subalterns. Her husband's bungalow was open to them day and night, and they took full advantage of the fact.

It was not that there was anything particularly brilliant about the surgeon's wife, but her ready sympathy made her a general favourite, and her kindness of heart was known to be equal to the severest strain.

Therefore, among the boys of the regiment she ruled supreme, and the expression of her lightest wish generally provoked a jealous scramble.

On the present occasion, however, young Turner did not display any special alacrity to serve her.

"There's such a crowd round her it's difficult to squeeze in edgeways," he said. "I shouldn't trouble to go across yet if I were you."

Mrs. Raleigh laughed a little and laid her hand on his arm.

"So you don't like hovering on the outskirts, Phil," she said.

He frowned, and then as suddenly smiled.

"I'm not the sort that cares to fool with a married woman," he declared. "There goes Devereux to swell the throng. I say, let's go and have a drink."

She laughed again as she rose to accompany him. Phil Turner was severely honest in all his ways, and, being a good woman, she liked him for it.

Nevertheless, though she yielded, her eyes still dwelt upon the girl in bridal white who sat like a queen among her courtiers. The dark head that was held so regally erect caught and chained the elder woman's fancy. And the vivid, careless beauty of the face was a thing to bear away in the heart and dream of in solitude. For the girl was lovely with that loveliness which even the most grudging must acknowledge. She shone in the crowd that surrounded her like a rare and brilliant flower in a garden of herbs.

Phil Turner's arm stirred with slight impatience under Mrs. Raleigh's hand, and she turned beside him.

"There is nothing like a really beautiful English girl in all the world," she said, with a smile and another glance in the bride's direction.

Young Turner grunted, and she gave his arm a slight shake.

"You don't deceive me," she said. "You admire her as much as I do. Now, be honest."

He looked at her for a moment moodily. Then——

"Yes," he said abruptly, "I do admire her. But, as for the major, I think he's the biggest fool on this side of the Indian Ocean, and that's saying a good deal."

Mrs. Raleigh shook her head as if she desired to disagree.

"Time alone will prove," she said.


CHAPTER II

EARLY BREEZES

"It's been lovely," said the bride. She leant back in the open carriage, gazing with wide, charmed eyes into the vivid Indian night. "And I'm not a bit tired," she added. "Are you?"

The man beside her did not instantly reply. He was a man of medium height, dark and lithe and amazingly strong. It was not his habit to speak much, but what little he said was usually very much to the point. It was his custom to mask his feelings so completely that very few had the smallest inkling as to his state of mind.

He was considered a hard man in his regiment, but he was known to be a splendid soldier, and chiefly for that reason he was respected rather than disliked. But the kindest critic could not have called him either popular or attractive. And the news of his marriage in England had fallen like a thunderbolt upon his Indian acquaintances, for he had long ago come to be regarded among them as the last man in the world to commit such a folly.

The full extent thereof had not been apparent till his return to his regiment, accompanied by his bride, and then as one man the whole mess had risen and condemned him in no measured terms, for the bride, with all her entrancing beauty, her vivacity, her charm, was certainly a startling contrast to the man who had wedded her—a contrast so sharp as to be almost painful to the onlookers.

She herself, however, seemed to be wholly unaware of any incongruity. Perhaps she had not seen enough of the world to feel it, or perhaps she was wilfully blind to the things she did not desire to see.

In any case her face, as she lay back in the carriage by her husband's side, expressed only the most complete contentment.

"Are you tired, Eustace?" she asked, as he did not hasten to reply to her first question.

"No," he answered, "not tired; but glad to be going back."

"You've been bored," she said quickly. "What a frightful pity! Why did you stay so long?"

Again he paused before replying, and she drummed on his knee with her fingers with slight impatience.

"I had a notion," he said, in his quiet, unhurried tones, "that my wife would have considered it rather hard lines to be dragged away while there was a single man left to dance with."

The bride snatched her hand from his knee with a swiftness of action that could hardly be mistaken. He might have been speaking in fun, but, even so, it was an ugly jest. More probably he had meant the sting that his words conveyed, for, owing to a delicate knee-cap that had once been splintered by a bullet and still at times gave him trouble, Major Tudor was a non-dancer. Whatever his meaning, the remark came upon her flushed triumph like the icy chill before the dawn, dispelling dreams.

"I am sorry," she said, with all the haste of youth, "that you sacrificed yourself to please me. I hope you will not do so again. Now that I am married, I do not need a chaperon. I could quite well return alone."

It was childishly spoken, but then she was a child, and the admiration she had enjoyed throughout the evening had slightly turned her head. He did not reply to her speech. Indeed, it was as if he had not heard it. And her indignation mounted. There was not another man of her acquaintance who would have treated her with a like lack of courtesy. Did he think, because he was her husband, that she belonged to him so completely that he could behave to her exactly as he saw fit? Perhaps. She did not know him very well; nor apparently did he know her. For during the brief six weeks of their married life she had been a little shy, a little constrained, in his presence. But her success had, as it were, unshackled her. Without hesitation she gave her feelings the rein.

"Do you consider that I am not to be trusted?" she asked him sharply.

"I beg your pardon?"

There was a note of surprised interrogation in his voice. She did not look at him, but she knew that his eyebrows were raised, and a faint—quite a faint—sense of misgiving stole over her.

"I asked if you thought me untrustworthy," she asked.

"Oh!"

He relapsed into silence again, and she became exasperated.

"Why don't you answer me?" she said, with quick impatience.

He turned his head deliberately and looked at her; and again she tingled with an apprehension which no previous word or action of his had ever justified.

"Unprofitable questions," he said coolly, "like ill-timed jests, are better left alone."

It was the first intentional snub he had ever administered to her, and she quivered under it, furious but impotent. All the evening's enjoyment had gone out of her. She was conscious only of a desire to strike back and wound him as he had wounded her.

She did not utter another word during the drive, and when they reached their bungalow—the daintiest and most luxurious in the station—she alighted without touching the hand he offered her.

Refreshments awaited them in the dining-room, and the bride swept in and helped herself, suffering her cloak to fall from her shoulders. He picked it up and threw it over a chair. His dark face was quite composed and inscrutable. He was not a handsome man, but there was something undeniably striking about him, a strength of personality that made him somehow formidable. The red and gold uniform he wore served to emphasise the breadth of shoulder, which his height did not justify. He was a splendid wrestler. There was not a man in the mess whom he could not throw.

Yet to those who knew him best, his strength seemed to lie less in what he did than in what he left undone. His restraint was the secret of his power.

Perhaps his young wife felt this, for notwithstanding her utmost effort she knew herself to be at a disadvantage. She set down her glass of sherbet unfinished and turned to the door. It was an abrupt move, but he was ready for it. Before she reached it, he was waiting with the handle in his grasp.

"Going to bed, Audrey?" he asked gravely, "Good-night!"

His manner did not betray that he was aware of her displeasure, yet somehow she was quite convinced that he knew. She paused for a second, and then, with her head held high, she was about to pass him without an answering word or glance. But to her amazement he stopped her, his hand upon her arm.

"Good-night!" he said again.

She faced him then in a blaze of passion, with white cheeks and flaming eyes. But as she met his look her heart gave a sudden thump of fright, and in a second her resistance had crumbled away. He did not speak another word, but his look compelled. Undeniably he was master.

Mutely she raised her face for his kiss, and he kissed her.

"Sleep well," he said.

And she went from him, subdued and humbled, to her room.


CHAPTER III

AMID THE RUINS

"Do let us get away somewhere and enjoy ourselves!"

Audrey spoke in a quick undertone to the man nearest to her. It was three weeks since her arrival at the Frontier station, and she had settled down to the life with the ease of a born Anglo-Indian. Her first vivid enjoyment of its gaieties was a thing of the past, but no one suspected the fact, her husband least of all. She had not, as a matter of fact, been much with him during those three weeks, for she had struck up a warm friendship with Mrs. Raleigh, and in common with all the younger spirits of the regiment she availed herself fully of the privileges of the latter's hospitality.

On the present occasion, however—that of a picnic by moonlight at the crumbling shrine of some long-forgotten holy man—Mrs. Raleigh was absent, and Audrey was bored. She had arrived in her husband's ralli-car, which he had driven himself, but she had speedily drifted away from his side.

There was an element of perversity in her which made her resent the feeling that he only accompanied her into society to watch over her, and, if necessary, to keep her in order. It was not a particularly worthy feeling, but certainly there was something about his attitude that fostered it.

She guessed, and rightly, that, but for her, he would not have troubled himself to attend these social gatherings, which he obviously enjoyed so little. So when, having deliberately and with mischievous intent given him the slip, she awoke suddenly to the fact that he had followed and was standing near her, Audrey became childishly exasperated and seized the first means of escape that offered.

The man she addressed was one of the least enthusiastic of her admirers, but this did not trouble her at all. She had been a spoilt child all her life, and she was accustomed to make use of others without stopping to ascertain their inclinations.

Phil Turner, however, was by no means unwilling to be made use of in this way. The boy was a gentleman, and was as chivalrous at heart as he was honest.

He turned at once in response to her quick whisper and offered her his arm.

"There's an old well at the back of the ruin," he said. "Come and see it. Mind the stones."

"That was splendid of you," she said approvingly, as they moved away together. "Are you always so prompt? But I know you're not. I shouldn't have asked you, only I took you for Mr. Devereux. You are very like him at the back."

"Never heard that before!" he responded bluntly. "Don't believe it, either, if you will forgive my saying so."

She laughed, a merry, ringing laugh.

"Oh, don't you like Mr. Devereux?"

"Yes, he's all right." Phil seldom spoke a disparaging word of any of his comrades. "But I haven't the smallest wish to be like him," he added.

Audrey laughed at him again, freely, musically. She found this young officer rather more entertaining than the rest.

They reached the other side of the shrine. Here, in a débris of stones and weeds, there appeared the circular mouth of an old well, forgotten like the shrine and long disused.

Audrey examined the edge with a fastidious air, and finally sat down on it. The place was flooded with moonlight.

"I wish I were a man," she said suddenly.

"Good Heavens! Why?"

He asked the question in amazement.

"I should like to be your equal," she told him gaily. "I should like to do and say to you just exactly what I liked."

Phil considered this seriously.

"You can do both without being my equal," he remarked at length in his bluntest tone, "that is, if you care to condescend."

"Goodness!" laughed Audrey. "That's the only pretty thing I have ever heard you say. I am sure it must be your first attempt. Now, isn't it?"

He laughed.

"And it wasn't strictly honest," proceeded Audrey daringly. "You know you don't think that of any woman under the sun."

He did not contradict her. He had a feeling that she was fooling him, but somehow he rather liked it.

"What about the women under the moon?" he said. "Perhaps they are different?"

She nodded merrily.

"Perhaps they are," she conceded. "Certainly the men are. Now, you are about the stodgiest person I know by daylight or lamplight except—except—" She stopped. "No, I don't mean that!" she said, with an impish smile. "There is no exception."

Phil was frowning a little, but he looked relieved at her amendment.

"Thank you!" he said brusquely. "I shall never dare to come near you after that."

"Except by moonlight?" she suggested, with the impudent audacity of a child.

What reply he would have made to that piece of nonsense he sometimes wondered afterward, but circumstances prevented his making any. The words had only just passed her lips when she sprang to her feet with a wild shriek of horror, shaking her arm with frantic violence.

"A snake!" she cried. "Take it away! Take it away! It's on my wrist!"

Phil Turner, though young, was accustomed to keep his wits about him, and, luckily for the girl, her agony did not scare them away. He had seized her arm in a fierce grip almost before her frenzied appeal was uttered. A small snake was coiled round her wrist, and he tore it away with his free hand, not caring how he grasped it. He tried to fling the thing from him, but somehow his hold upon it was not sufficient. Before he knew it the creature had shot up his sleeve.

The next instant he had shaken it down again with a muffled curse and was trampling it savagely and vindictively into the stones at his feet.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, wheeling sharply.

"No," gasped Audrey, "no! But you—"

"Yes, the little beast's bitten me," he returned. "You see—"

"Oh, where, where?" she cried. "Let me see! Quick, quick! Something must be done. Can't you suck it?"

He pushed up his sleeve.

"No; can't get at it," he said. "It's just below the elbow. Never mind; it isn't serious!"

He would have tweaked his sleeve down again, though he was pale under his sunburn. But Audrey stopped him, holding his bare arm between her hands.

"Don't be a fool!" she gasped vehemently. "If you can't, I can—and I will!"

Before he could stop her she had stooped, still holding him fast, and put her lips to the tiny puncture in his flesh, on which scarcely more than a speck of blood was visible.

Phil stiffened and stood still, every nerve rigid, as if something had transfixed him. At last, hurriedly, jerkily, he spoke:

"Mrs. Tudor—for Heaven's sake! I can't let you do this. It wasn't poisonous, ten to one. Don't! I say, Audrey—please don't!"

His voice was imploring, but she paid no heed. Her lips continued to draw at the wound, while he, half-distracted, bent over her, protesting, scarcely conscious of what he said, yet submitting in spite of himself.

There came the sound of running feet, and he guessed that her scream had given the alarm. He stood up with mingled agitation and relief, and an instant later was face to face with her husband.

"I—couldn't help it!" he stammered. "It was a snake-bite."

People were crowding round them with questions and exclamations. But Tudor gave utterance to neither. He only put his hand on his wife's shoulder and spoke to her.

"That will do, Audrey," he said. "There's a doctor here. Leave it to him."

At his words Audrey straightened herself, quivering all over; and then, unnerved by sheer horror, she put out her hands with an unconscious groping gesture, and fainted.


CHAPTER IV

AN UNCONVENTIONAL CALL

Audrey had been an only girl at home, and had run wild all her life amongst a host of brothers. She had seen next to nothing of the world previous to her marriage, consequently her knowledge of its ways was extremely slender.

That she had grown up headstrong and extremely unconventional was scarcely to be wondered at.

It had been entirely by her own choice that she had married Eustace Tudor. She had just awakened to the fact that the family nest, like the family purse, was of exceedingly narrow dimensions; and a passion for exploring both mentally and physically was hers.

They had met only a couple of months before he was due to sail for India, and his proposal to her had been necessarily somewhat precipitate. She had admired him wholeheartedly for he was a soldier of no mean repute, and the glamour of marriage had done the rest. She had married him and had, for nearly six weeks, thereafter, been supremely happy. True, he had not made much love to her; it was not apparently his way, but he had been full of kindness and consideration. And Audrey had been content.

But, arrived in that Indian Frontier station where all the world was gay, she had become at once the centre of attraction, of admiration; and, responding to this with girlish zest, she had begun to find something lacking in her husband's treatment.

It dawned upon her that, where others worshipped with open devotion, he did not so much as bend the knee. And, over and above this serious defect, he was critical of her actions and inclined to keep her in order.

This made her reckless at first, even defiant; but she found he could master her defiance, and that frightened her. It made her uncertain as to how far it was safe to resist him. And, being afraid of him, she shrank a little from too close or intimate a companionship with him.

She told herself that she valued her liberty too highly to part lightly with it; but the reason in her heart was not this, and with all her wilfulness, her childish self-sufficiency, she knew that it was not.

On the morning that followed the moonlight picnic she deliberately feigned sleep when he rose, lest he should think fit to prohibit her early ride. She had not slept well after her fright; but she had a project in her mind, and she fully meant to carry it out.

She lay chafing till his horse's hoof-beats told her that he was leaving the house behind him; then she, too, rose and ordered her own horse.

Phil Turner, haggard and depressed after a night of considerable pain, was sitting up in bed with his arm in a sling, drinking tea, when a fellow-subaltern, who with two others shared the bungalow with him, entered, half-dressed and dishevelled, with the astounding news that Mrs. Tudor was waiting in the compound to know how he was.

Phil shot upright in amazement.

"Good Heavens, man! She herself?" he ejaculated.

His brother officer nodded, grinning.

"What's to be done? Send out word that you're still alive though not too chirpy, and would she like anything to drink on the veranda? I can't go, you know; I'm not dressed."

"Don't be an ass! Clear out and send me my bearer."

Phil spoke with decision. Since Mrs. Tudor had elected to do this extraordinary thing, it was not for him to refuse to follow her lead. He was too far in her debt, even had he desired to do so.

His bearer, therefore, was dispatched with a courteous message, and when Phil entered the veranda a quarter of an hour later he found her awaiting him there.

"This is awfully kind of you," he said, as he grasped her outstretched hand. "I was horribly put out about you! You are none the worse?"

"Not a mite," she assured him. "And you? Your arm?"

He made a face.

"Raleigh was with me half the night, watching for dangerous symptoms; but they didn't develop. He cauterized my arm as a precaution—a beastly business. He hasn't been round again yet, but I believe it's better. Yes, it was a poisonous bite. It would have been the death of me in all probability, but for you. He told me so. I—I'm awfully obliged to you!"

He coloured deeply as he made his clumsy acknowledgments. He did not find it an easy task. As for Audrey, she put out her hands swiftly to stop him.

"Ah, don't!" she said. "You did a far greater thing for me." She shuddered and put the matter from her. "I'm sure you ought not to be up," she went on. "I shouldn't have waited, only I thought you might feel hurt if I went away after you had sent out word that you would see me. I think I'll go now. Good-bye!"

There came the jingle of spurs on the veranda, and both started. The colour rose in a great wave to the girl's face as she saw who it was, but she turned at once to meet the newcomer.

"Oh, Eustace," she said, "so you are back already from the parade-ground!"

He did not show any surprise at finding her there.

"Yes; just returned," he said, with no more than a quiet glance at her flushed face.

"How are you, Phil? Had any sleep?"

"Not much," Phil owned, with unmistakable embarrassment. "But Raleigh says I'm not going to die this time. It was good of you—and Mrs. Tudor—to look in. Won't you have something? That lazy beast Travers isn't dressed yet!"

"Oh, yes, he is!" said Travers, appearing at that moment. "I'll punch your head for you, my boy, when we're alone! Hullo, Major! Come to see the interesting invalid? You'll have some breakfast, won't you? Mrs. Tudor will pour out tea for us."

But Tudor declined their hospitality briefly but decidedly, and Audrey was obliged to support him.

Travers assisted her to mount, expressing his regret the while; and when they were gone he turned round to his comrade with a grin.

"The major seems to be in a genial mood this morning," he remarked. "Had they arranged to meet here?"

But Phil turned back into the bungalow with a heavy frown.

"The major's a bungling fool!" he said bitterly.


CHAPTER V

THE BARRIER

Tudor was very quiet and preoccupied during breakfast, but Audrey would not notice it; and when at length she rose from the table she laid her fingers for a second on his shoulder in a passing caress.

He turned instantly and took her hand.

"Just a moment, Audrey!" he said gravely.

She stopped unwillingly, her hand fidgeting ineffectually to be free.

He rose, still holding it in a quiet, strong grasp. He was frowning slightly.

"I only want to say," he said, "that what you did this morning was somewhat unusual, though you may not have been aware of it. Please don't do it again!"

Her cheeks flamed, and she met his eyes defiantly. She left her hand in his rather than prove her weakness, but quite suddenly she was trembling all over. It was a moment for asserting her freedom of action, and she fully meant to do so; but she was none the less afraid.

"I was aware of it," she said, speaking very quickly before his look could disconcert her. "But then what I did last night was unusual, too. Also what Phil Turner did for me. You—you don't seem to realise that he saved my life!"

"I think you discharged your debt," Tudor returned, with a certain dryness that struck her unpleasantly.

"What else could I have done?" she demanded stormily. "If you had been in my place—"

He stopped her.

"I was not discussing that," he said. "I have not blamed you for that. Under the circumstances, you did the best thing possible. But I can't say the same of your conduct this morning; and since you knew that what you did was highly unconventional, I blame you for it. I hope you will be more careful in the future."

Audrey was chafing openly before he ended.

"You treat me like a child," she broke in, the instant he paused. "You don't give me credit for any judgment or discretion of my own."

He raised his eyebrows.

"That is hardly remarkable," he said.

She snatched her hand from him at last, too exasperated for the moment to care what she did or how she did it.

"It is remarkable," she declared, her voice quivering with wrath. "It—it's intolerable. And there's something else that struck me as remarkable, too, and that is that you didn't think it worth while even to thank Phil for—for saving my life last night. I think you might have expressed a little gratitude, even—even if you didn't feel it."

The bitter words were uttered before she realised their full bitterness. But the moment she had spoken them she knew, for his face told her.

A dead silence followed her outburst, and while it lasted she was casting about wildly for some means of escape other than headlong flight. Then, as if he read her impulse in her eyes, he moved at last and turned aside.

She did not hear his sigh as she made her escape, or even then she might have scaled the barrier that divided them, and found beyond it a better thing than the freedom she prized so highly.


CHAPTER VI

MRS. TUDOR'S CONFESSION

"Come in and sit down, Mrs. Tudor. Mrs. Raleigh isn't at home. But she can't be long now. I have been waiting nearly half an hour."

Phil Turner hoisted himself out of the easiest chair in the Raleighs' drawing-room as he uttered the words, and advanced with a friendly smile to greet the newcomer.

"Oh, isn't she in?" said Audrey. "I am afraid I took her for granted at the door."

"We all do," he assured her. "It is what she likes best. Do you know, I haven't seen you for nearly a fortnight? I called, you know, twice; but you were out."

Audrey laughed inconsequently.

"Why don't you treat me as you treat Mrs. Raleigh?" she said. "Come in and wait, next time."

Phil smiled as he handed her to the chair he had just vacated.

"The major isn't so kind to subalterns," he said. "He would certainly think, if he didn't say it, that it was like my cheek."

Audrey frowned over this.

"I don't see what he has to do with it," she declared finally. "But it doesn't signify. How is your arm?"

"Practically convalescent, thanks! There's nothing like first aid, you know. I say, Mrs. Tudor, you weren't any the worse? It didn't hurt you?"

He looked down at her with anxiety in his frank eyes, and Audrey was conscious suddenly that he was no longer a mere casual acquaintance. Perhaps she had been vaguely aware of it before, but the actual realisation of it had not been in her mind till that moment.

She laughed lightly.

"Of course not," she said. "How could it? Don't be so ridiculous, Phil."

His face cleared.

"That's right," he said heartily. "Don't mind me. But I couldn't help wondering. And I thought it was so decent of you to come round and look me up on that first morning."

Audrey's smile faded.

"I am glad you thought it was decent, anyhow," she said, with a touch of bitterness. "No one else did."

"Oh, rot, Mrs. Tudor!"

Phil spoke hastily. He was frowning, as his custom was when embarrassed.

She looked up at him and nodded emphatically.

"Yes, it was—just that," she said, an odd little note of passion in her voice. "I never thought of these things before, but it seems that here no one thinks of anything else."

"Don't take any notice of it," said Phil. "It isn't worth it."

"I can't help myself," said Audrey. "You see—I'm married!"

"So is Mrs. Raleigh." Phil spoke with sudden heat. "But she doesn't care."

"No, I know. But her husband is such an old dear. Everything she does is right in his eyes."

It was skating on thin ice, and Phil at least realised it. He made an abrupt effort to pull up.

"Yes, I'm awfully fond of Major Raleigh," he said. "By the way, he's an immense admirer of yours. Your promptitude the other night quite won his heart. He complimented your husband upon it."

"Did he? What did Eustace say?"

There was more than curiosity in Audrey's voice.

"I don't know."

Phil's eyes suddenly avoided hers. He spoke in a dogged, half-surly tone.

Audrey sat and looked at him for a moment. Then lightly she rose and stood before him.

"Tell me, please!" she said imperiously.

He made a sharp gesture of remonstrance.

"Sorry," he said, after a moment, as she waited inexorably. "I can't!"

"Oh, but you can!" she returned. "You're not to say you won't to me."

He looked down at her.

"I am sorry!" he said less brusquely. "But it can't be done. It isn't worth a tussle, I assure you, nor is it worth the possible annoyance it might cause you if you had your way. Look here, can't we talk of something else?"

She laid her hand impulsively on his arm.

"Tell me, Phil!" she said.

He drew back abruptly.

"You put me in a beastly position, Mrs. Tudor," he said. "I hate repeating things. It isn't fair to corner me like this."

"Don't be absurd!" said Audrey. Her face was flushed and determined. She was bent upon having her own way in this, at least. "I shall begin to hate you in a minute."

But Phil could be determined, too.

"Can't help it," he said; but there was genuine regret in his voice. "You'll have to, I'm afraid."

He was scarcely prepared for the effect of his words. She flung away from him in tempestuous anger and turned as if to leave the room. But before she reached the door some other impulse apparently overtook her. She stopped abruptly with her back to Phil, and stood for what seemed to him interminable seconds, fumbling with her handkerchief.

Then, before he had fully realised the approaching catastrophe, her self-control suddenly deserted her. She sank into a chair with her hands over her face and began to cry.

Now, Phil was young, and no woman had ever thus abandoned herself to tears in his presence before. The sight sent a sharp shock through him that was almost like a dart of physical pain. It paralysed him for an instant; but the next he strode forward, convention flung to the winds, desirous only to comfort. He reached her and bent over her, one hand upon her shaking shoulder.

"I say, Mrs. Tudor, don't—don't!" he urged. "What is the matter? You're not crying because I wouldn't do as you asked me? You couldn't care all that for such a trifle?"

His voice was husky with agitation. He felt guiltily that it was all his fault, and he could have kicked himself for his clumsiness.

She did not answer him, nor did her sobs grow less. It was the pent-up misery of weeks to which she was giving vent, and, having yielded, it was no easy matter to check herself again.

Phil became desperate and knelt down by her side, almost as distressed as she.

"I say," he pleaded—"I say, Audrey, don't cry! Tell me what is wrong. Let me help you. Give me a chance, anyhow. I—I'd do anything in the world, you know. Only tell me."

He drew one of her hands away from her face and held it between his own. She did not resist him. Her need of a comforter just then was very great. Her head was bowed almost against his shoulder and it did not occur to either of them that they were transgressing the most elementary laws of conventionality.

"You can't help me," she sobbed at last. "No one can. I'm just lonely and miserable and homesick. I hate this place and everyone in it except—except you—and a few others. I wish I were back in England. I wish I'd never left it. I wish—I wish—I'd never married."

Her voice came muffled and piteous. It was the cry of a desolate child. And all the deep chivalry in Phil's soul quivered and thrilled in response. Before he knew it, tender, consoling words had sprung to his lips.

"Don't cry, dear; don't cry!" he said. "You'll feel better about it presently. We all go through it, and it's beastly, I know, I know. But it won't last. Nothing does in this chancy world. So what's the good of fretting?"

She could not tell him. Her trouble was too immense at that moment to bear discussion. But he comforted her. She liked the feel of his hand upon her shoulder; the firm, friendly grasp of his fingers about her own.

"I sometimes think I can't go on," she whispered through her tears. "It's like being in prison, and I want to run away. Only I can't—I can't. I've got to bear it all my life."

A slight sound from the open window followed this confidence, and Phil looked up sharply. Audrey had not heard it, and she did not notice his movement.

Her head was still bent; and over it Phil, glaring like a tiger, met the quiet, critical eyes of the girl's husband.

He rose to his feet the next instant, but he did not utter a word.

As for Tudor, he stood quite motionless, quite inscrutable, for the space of seconds, looking gravely in upon them. Then, to Phil's unspeakable amazement, he turned deliberately and walked away. There was thick matting on Mrs. Raleigh's veranda, and his receding footsteps made no sound.


CHAPTER VII

AN UNPLEASANT INTERVIEW

"There!" said Audrey, a few seconds later, "I've been a perfect idiot, I know; but I'm better now. Tell me, do I look as if I had been crying?"

She raised her pretty, woebegone face to his and smiled very faintly.

There was something unmistakably grim about Phil at that moment, and she wondered why.

"Of course you do," he said bluntly.

Audrey got up and peered at herself uneasily in a mirror.

"It doesn't show much," she said, after a careful inspection. "And, anyhow"—turning round to him—"I don't know what you have to be cross about. It—it was all your fault!"

Phil groaned and held his peace. She would know soon enough, he reflected.

Audrey drew nearer to him.

"Tell me what he said to Major Raleigh, Phil," she said rather tremulously.

He shrugged his shoulders and yielded.

"He only said that he wished your discretion equalled your promptitude in emergencies," he said.

"Oh," said Audrey. "Was that all? Well, I think you might have told me before."

Phil laughed grudgingly. The situation was abominable, but her utter childishness palliated it. How was Tudor going to treat the matter? he wondered. What if he—

A sudden thought flashed across Phil's brain, and his face grew set. Of course it had been his fault, since she said so. It remained therefore for him to extricate her, if he could. He turned to her.

"Look here, Mrs. Tudor," he said, in a judicious, elder-brotherly tone, "I think it's a mistake, don't you know, to let yourself get depressed over—well, little things. I know what it is to feel down on your luck. But luck turns, you know, and—and—he's a good sort—a bit stiff and difficult to get on with, but still—a good sort. You won't think me rude if I leave you now? I didn't expect Mrs. Raleigh to be so long, and I'm afraid I can't wait any longer. I've got to dress for mess."

"Goodness!" said Audrey, with a glance at the clock. "Does it take you two hours? No, don't scowl! I'm only joking, so you needn't be cross. Good-bye, then! Thank you for being kind to me."

Her hand lay in his for a moment. She was smiling at him rather sadly, notwithstanding her half-bantering words.

Phil paused a second.

"I'm confoundedly sorry!" he said impulsively. "Don't cry any more."

She shook her head and withdrew her hand.

"Who says I've been crying?" she said lightly. "Go away, and don't be silly!"

He took her at her word and departed.

At the gate of the compound he met Mrs. Raleigh, but he refused to turn back with her.

"I really must go; I've got an engagement," he said. "But Mrs. Tudor is waiting for you. Keep her as long as you can. I believe she's a bit down—homesick, you know." And he hurried away, breaking into a run as soon as he reached the road.

He went straight to the Tudor's bungalow without giving himself time to flinch from the interview that he had made up his mind he must have.

The major sahib was in, the khitmutgar told him and Phil scribbled an urgent message on his card and sent it to him. Two minutes later he was shown into his superior officer's presence, and he realised that he stood committed to the gravest task he had ever undertaken.

Major Tudor was sitting unoccupied before the writing-table in his smoking-room, but he rose as Phil entered. His face was composed as usual.

"Well, Mr. Turner?" he said, as Phil came heavily forward.

Phil, more nervous than he had ever been before, halted in front of him.

"I came to speak to you, sir," he said with an effort, "to—to explain—"

Tudor was standing with his back to the light. He made no attempt to help him out of his difficulties.

Phil came to an abrupt pause; then, as if some inner force had suddenly come to his assistance, he straightened himself and tackled the matter afresh.

"I came to tell you, sir," he said, meeting Tudor's eyes squarely, "that I have nothing to be ashamed of. In case"—he paused momentarily—"you should misunderstand what you saw half an hour ago, I thought it better to speak at once."

"Very prudent," said Tudor. "But—it is quite unnecessary. I do not misunderstand."

He spoke deliberately and coldly. But Phil clenched his hands. The words cut him like a whip.

"You refuse to believe me?" he said.

Tudor did not answer.

"I must trouble you for an answer," Phil said, forcing himself to speak quietly.

"As you please," said Tudor, in the same cold tone. "I have a question to put first. Had I not chanced to see what took place, would you have sought this interview?"

The blood rose in a hot wave to Phil's head, but he did not wince or hesitate.

"Of course I shouldn't," he said.

Tudor made a curt gesture as of dismissal.

"Out of your own mouth—" he said, and turned contemptuously away.

Phil stood quite still for the space of ten seconds, then the young blood in him suddenly mounted to fever pitch. He strode up to his major, and seized him fiercely by the shoulder.

"I won't bear this from any man," he said between his teeth. "I am as honourable as you are! If you say—or insinuate—otherwise, I—by Heaven—I'll kill you!"

The passionate words ceased, and there followed a silence more terrible than any speech. Tudor stood absolutely motionless, facing the young subaltern who towered over him, without a sign of either anger or dismay.

Then at last, very slowly and quietly, he spoke:

"You have made a mistake. Take your hand away."

Phil's hand dropped to his side. He was white to the lips. Yet he would not relinquish his purpose at a word.

"It hasn't been for my own sake," he said, his voice still shaking with the anger he could not subdue.

Tudor made no response. He stood with his eyes fixed steadily upon Phil's agitated face. And, as if compelled by that searching gaze, Phil reiterated the assertion.

"If I had only had myself to consider," he said, "I shouldn't have—stooped—to offer an explanation."

"Let me remind you," Tudor said quietly, "that I have not asked for one."

"You prefer to misunderstand?" said Phil quickly.

"I prefer to take my own view," amended Tudor. "If you are wise—you will be satisfied to leave it so."

It was final, and, though far from satisfied, Phil felt the futility of further discussion. He turned to the door.

"Very well, sir," he said briefly, and went out, holding his head high.

As for Tudor, he sat down again before his writing-table with an unmoved countenance, and after a short interval took up his correspondence. There was no anger in his eyes.


CHAPTER VIII

AT THE DANCE

Audrey saw no more of Phil Turner for some days. She did not enjoy much of her husband's society, either. He appeared to be too busy to think of her, and she in consequence spent most of her time with Mrs. Raleigh. But Phil, who had been one of the latter's most constant visitors, did not show himself there.

It did not occur to Audrey that he absented himself on her account, and she was disappointed not to meet him. Next perhaps to the surgeon's wife, she had begun to regard him as her greatest friend. Certainly the tie of obligation that bound them together was one that seemed to warrant an intimate friendship. Moreover, Phil had been exceptionally kind to her in distress, kinder far than Eustace had ever been.

She was growing away from her husband very rapidly, and she knew it, mourned over it even in softer moments; but she felt powerless to remedy the evil. It seemed so obvious to her that he did not care.

So she spent more and more of her hours away from the bungalow that had been made so dainty for her presence, and Eustace never seemed to notice that she was absent from his side.

He accompanied her always when she went out in the evening, but he no longer intruded his guardianship upon her, and deep in her inmost heart this thing hurt his young wife as nothing had ever hurt her before. She had her own way in all matters, but it gave her no pleasure; and the feeling that, though he might not approve of what she did, he would never remonstrate, grew and festered within her till she sometimes marvelled that he did not read her misery in her eyes.

She met Phil Turner again at length at a regimental dance. As usual her card was quickly filled, but she reserved a waltz for him, and after a while he came across and asked her for one.

"You were very nearly too late," she told him. "Why didn't you come before?"

He looked awkward for a moment. Then—

"I was busy," he said rather shortly. "I'm one of the stewards."

He scrawled his initials across her card and left her again. Audrey concluded in her girlish way that something had made him cross, and dismissed him from her mind.

When at length he came to claim her she was hot and tired and suggested sitting out.

He frowned at the idea, but, upon Audrey waxing imperious, he yielded. They sat out together, but not in the cool dark of the veranda as she had anticipated, but in the full glare of the ballroom amidst all the hubbub of the dancers.

Audrey was annoyed, and showed it.

"I am sure we might find a seat on the veranda," she said.

But Phil was obstinate.

"I assure you, Mrs. Tudor," he said, "I looked in there just now, and every seat was occupied."

"I don't believe you are telling the truth," she returned.

He raised his eyebrows.

"Thank you!" he said briefly.

Something in the curt reply caught her attention, and she gave him a quick glance. He was looking remarkably handsome in his red and gold uniform with the scarlet cummerbund across his shirt. Vexed as she was with him, Audrey could not help admitting it to herself. His brown, resolute face attracted her irresistibly.

She allowed a considerable pause to ensue before she went to the inevitable attack. Somehow, notwithstanding his surliness, she had not the faintest desire to quarrel with him.

"You're very grumpy to-night," she remarked at length in her cheery young voice. "What's the matter?"

He started and looked intensely uncomfortable.

"Nothing—of course!" he said.

"Why of course? I wonder. With me it's the other way round. I am never cross without a reason."

Audrey was still cheery.

He smiled faintly.

"I congratulate you," he said.

Audrey smiled also. Fully exposed as was their position, there was no one near enough to overhear.

"Well, don't be cross any more, Phil," she said persuasively. "Cheer up, and come to tiffin with me to-morrow. Will you? I shall be quite alone."

Phil's smile departed instantly. He glanced at her for a second, and then fixed his eyes steadily upon the ground between his feet.

"You're awfully good!" he said at last. "But—thanks very much—I can't."

"Can't?" echoed Audrey, with genuine disappointment. "Oh, I'm sure that's nonsense! Why can't you? You're not on duty?"

"No," he said, speaking slowly, "I'm not on duty; but—fact is, I'm going up to the Hills shooting for a few days and—I shall be busy, packing guns and things. Besides—"

"Oh, do stop!" she broke in, with sudden impatience. "I know you are only making up as you go along. It's very horrid of you, besides being contemptible. Why can't you say at once that you are not coming because you don't want to come?"

Her quick pride had taken fire at sound of his deliberate excuse; and, as was its wont upon provocation, her anger flamed high at a moment's notice.

Phil did not look at her. His expression was decidedly uneasy, but there was a certain grimness about him that did not seem to indicate the probability of any excessive show of docility in face of a browbeating.

"I don't say it," he said doggedly at length, "because, besides being rude, it wouldn't be strictly true."

"I shouldn't have thought you would have had any scruples of that sort," rejoined Audrey, hitting her hardest because he had managed to hurt her. "They haven't been very apparent to-night."

Phil made no protest, but he was frowning heavily.

She leant slightly towards him, speaking behind her fan.

"Be honest just for a second," she said, "if you can, and tell me; are you tired of calling yourself a friend of mine? Are you trying to get out of it? Because, if you are, it's quite the easiest thing in the world to do so. But once done—"

She paused. Phil was looking at her at last, and there was something in his eyes that startled her. A sudden pity rushed over her heart. She felt as she had felt once long ago in England when a dog—an old friend of hers—had been injured. He had looked at her with just such eyes as those that were fixed upon her now. Their dumb pleading had been almost more than she could bear.

Involuntarily she laid her hand on his arm, music and dancers all forgotten in that moment of swift emotion.

"Phil," she whispered tremulously, "what is it? What is it?"

He did not answer her by a single word. He simply rose to his feet, as if by her action she had suggested it, and whirled her in among the dancers.

He kept her going to the very last chord, she too full of wonder and uncertainty to protest; and then he led her straight through the room to where Mrs. Raleigh stood, surrounded by the usual crowd of subalterns, muttered an excuse, and left her there.


CHAPTER IX

DREADFUL NEWS

It was nearly a week later that Audrey, riding home alone in a rickshaw from a polo-match, was overtaken by young Gerald Devereux, a subaltern, who was tearing along on foot as if on some urgent errand. Recognising her, he reduced his speed and dropped into a jog-trot by her side.

"You haven't heard, of course?" he jerked out breathlessly. "Beastly bad news! Those hill tribes—always up to some devilry! Poor old Phil—infernal luck!"

"What?" exclaimed Audrey. "What has happened to him? Tell me, quick, quick!"

She turned as white as paper, and Devereux cursed himself for a clumsy fool.

"It may not be the worst," he gasped back. "Dash it! I'm so winded! We hope, you know, we hope—but it's usually a knife and good-bye with these ruffians. Still, there's a chance—just a chance."

"But you haven't told me what has happened yet," cried Audrey, in a fever of impatience.

He answered her, still running by her side "The Waris have got him; rushed his camp at night and bagged everything. The coolies were in the know, no doubt. Only his shikari got away. He has just come in wounded with the news. I'm on my way to tell the Chief, though I don't see what good he can do."

"You mean you think he is murdered?" gasped Audrey, through white lips.

He nodded.

"Afraid so, poor beggar! Well, so long, Mrs. Tudor! We must hope for the best as long as we can."

He put his hand to his cap, and ran on, while Audrey, with a set, white face, was borne to her bungalow.

Her husband was sitting on the veranda. He rose as she alighted and gave her his hand up the short flight of steps to his side.

"You are rather late," he said in his grave way. "I am afraid you will have to hurry."

They were dining out that night, but Audrey had forgotten it. She stared at him as if dazed.

"What is it?" he asked. "Nothing wrong?"

She gasped hysterically.

"Oh, Eustace, an awful thing—an awful thing!" she cried. "Mr. Devereux has just told me—"

Her voice broke, and her lips formed soundless words. She groped vaguely for support with one hand.

Tudor put his arm round her and led her, tottering, indoors.

"All right; tell me presently," he said quietly. "Sit down and keep still for a little."

He put her into an arm-chair and left her there. In a few seconds he returned with some brandy and water, which he held to her lips in silence. Then, setting down the glass, he began to rub her nerveless hands.

Audrey submitted passively at first to his ministrations, but presently as her strength returned she sat up.

"You haven't heard?" she asked him shakily.

"I have heard nothing," he answered. "Can you tell me now?"

"Yes—yes!" She paused a moment to steady her voice. Then—"It's Phil!" she faltered. "He has been taken prisoner—murdered perhaps—by those dreadful hill men! Oh Eustace"—lifting her face appealingly—"do you think they would kill him? Do you? Do you?"

But Tudor said nothing. He made no attempt to comfort her, and she turned from him in bitter disappointment. His lack of sympathy at such a moment was almost more than she could bear.

"How did Devereux know?" he asked, after a pause.

She shook her head.

"He said something about a shikari. He was going to tell the colonel; but he didn't think it would be any use. He said—he said—"

She broke off, quivering with agitation. Her husband took the glass from the table again and made her drink a little. She tried to refuse, but he insisted.

"You have had a shock. It will do you good," he said, in his level, unmoved voice.

And Audrey yielded to the mastery she had scarcely felt of late.

The spirit helped to steady her, and at length she rose.

"I am going to my room, Eustace," she said, not looking at him. "I—can't go out to-night. Perhaps you will make my excuses."

He did not answer her, and she threw him a swift glance. He was standing stiff and upright. His face was stern and composed; it might have been a stone mask.

"What excuse am I to make?" he asked.

Her eyes widened. The question was utterly unexpected.

"Why, the truth—of course," she said. "Say that I have been upset by the news, that—that—I hadn't the heart—I couldn't—Eustace,"—appealing suddenly, a tremor of indignation in her voice—"you don't seem to realise that he is one of my greatest friends. Don't you understand?"

"Yes," he said—"yes, I understand!"

And she marvelled at the coldness—the deadly, concentrated coldness—of his voice.

"All the same," he went on, "I think you must make an effort to accompany me to the Bentleys' to-night. It might be thought unusual if I went alone."

She stared at him in sudden, amazed anger.

"Eustace!" she exclaimed. "How can you be so cruel, so cold-blooded, so—so heartless? How can you expect such a thing of me—to sit at table and hear them all talking about it, and his chances discussed? I couldn't—I couldn't!"

He did not press the point. Perhaps he realised that her nerves in their present condition would prove wholly unequal to such a strain.

"Very well," he said quietly at length. "I will send a note to excuse us both."

"I don't see why you should stay at home," Audrey said, turning to the door. "I would far rather be alone."

He did not explain his motive, and she went out of his presence with a sensation of relief. She had never fully realised before how wide the gulf between them had become.

She remained shut up in her room all the evening, eating nothing, face to face with the horror of young Devereux's brief words. It was the first time within her memory that death had approached her sheltered life, and she was shocked and frightened, as a child is frightened by the terrors of the dark.

Very late that night she crept into bed, dismissing her ayah, and lay there shivering and forlorn, thinking, thinking, of the cruel faces and flashing knives that Phil had awaked to see. She dozed at last in her misery, only to wake again with a shriek of nightmare terror, and start up sobbing hysterically.

"Why, Audrey!" a quiet voice said, and she woke fully, to find her husband standing by her bed.

She turned to him impulsively, hiding her face against him, clinging to him with straining arms. She could not utter a word, for an anguish of weeping overtook her. And he was silent also, bending over her, his hand upon her head.

Gradually the paroxysm passed and she grew quieter; but she still clung closely to him, and at length with difficulty she began to speak.

"Oh, Eustace, it's all so horrible! I can't help seeing it. I'm sure he's dead, or, if he isn't, it's almost worse. And I was so—unkind to him the last time we were together. I thought he was cross, but I know now he was only miserable; and I never dreamt I was never going to see him again, or I wouldn't have been so—so horrid!"

Haltingly, pathetically, the poor little confession was gasped out through quivering sobs and the face of the man who listened was no longer a stony mask; it was alight and tender with a compassion too great for utterance.

He bent a little lower over her, pressing her head closer to his heart; and she heard its beating, slow and strong and regular, through all the turmoil of her distress.

"Poor child!" he said. "Poor child!"

It was all the comfort he had to offer, but it was more to her than any other words he had ever spoken. It voiced a sympathy which till that moment had been wholly lacking—a sympathy that she desired more than anything else on earth.

"Don't go away, Eustace!" she begged presently. "It—it's so dreadful all alone."

"Try to sleep, dear," he said gently.

"Yes, but I dream, I dream," she whispered piteously.

He laid her very tenderly back on the pillow, and sat down beside her.

"You won't dream while I am here," he said.

She clasped his hand closely in both her own and begged him tremulously to kiss her. By the dim light of her night-lamp she could scarcely see his face; but as her lips met his a great peace stole over her. She felt as if he had stretched out his hands to her across the great, dividing gulf that had opened between them and drawn her to his side.

About a quarter of an hour later Eustace Tudor rose noiselessly and stood looking down at his young wife's sleeping face. It was placid as an infant's, and her breathing was soft and regular. He knew that, undisturbed, she would sleep so for hours.

And so he did not dare to kiss her. He only bowed his head till his lips touched the coverlet beneath which she lay; and then stealthily, silently, he crept away.


CHAPTER X

A CHANGE OF PRISONERS

Heavens, how the night crawled! Phil Turner, bound hand and foot, and cruelly cramped in every limb, hitched himself to a sitting posture and began to calculate how long he probably had to live.

There was no moon, but the starlight entered his prison—it was no more than a mud hut, but had it been built of stone walls many feet thick his chance would scarcely have been lessened. It was merely a question of time, he knew, and he marvelled that his fate had been delayed so long.

To use his comrade's descriptive language, he had expected "a knife and good-bye" full twenty hours before. But neither had been his portion. He had been made a prisoner before he was fully awake, and hustled away to the native fort before sunrise. He had been given chupatties to eat and spring water to drink, and, though painfully stiff from his bonds, he was unwounded.

It had been a daring capture, he reflected; but what were they keeping him for? Not for the sake of hospitality—of that he was grimly certain. There had been no pretence at any friendly feeling on the part of his captors. They had glared hatred at him from the outset, and Phil was firmly convinced, without any undue pessimism, that they had not the smallest intention of sparing his life.

But why they postponed the final deed was a problem, that he found himself quite unable to solve. It had worried him perpetually for twenty hours, and, combined with the misery of his bonds, made sleep an impossibility.

Sleep! The very thought of it was horrible to him. It had never struck him before as a criminal waste of the precious hours of life, for Phil was young, and he had not done with mortal existence. There were in it deeps he had not sounded, heights he had never scaled. He was not prepared to forego these at the will of a parcel of murderous ruffians who chanced to object to the white man's rule. He had friends, too—friends he could not afford to lose—friends who could not afford to lose him.

Doubtless his murder would be avenged in due course; but—He grimaced wrily to himself in the darkness, and tried once more to ease his cramped limbs.

From outside came the murmur of voices. He could just see the shoulder of one of his guards at the entrance and the steel glint of a rifle-barrel. He gazed at the latter hungrily. Oh, for just a sporting chance—to be free even in the midst of his enemies with that in his hand!

A shadow fell across the entrance, and he saw the rifle no more. He saw the two Wari sentinels salaaming profoundly, and he began to wonder who the newcomer might be—a personage of some importance apparently.

There followed an interval of some minutes, during which Phil began to chafe with feverish impatience. Then at last the shadow became substance, moving into his line of vision, and a man, wrapped in a long, native garment and wearing a chuddah that concealed the greater part of his face, glided into the hut on noiseless, sandalled feet.

He held a naked knife in his hand, and Phil's heart began to thud unpleasantly. It taxed all a man's self-control to face death in cold blood, trussed hand and foot and helpless as an infant. But he gripped himself hard, and faced the weapon without flinching. It would not do to let these murderous ruffians see a white man afraid.

"Hullo!" he said contemptuously. "Come to put the finishing touch, I suppose? You'll hang for it, you infernal, treacherous brute; but that's a detail you border thieves don't seem to mind."

It eased the tension to hurl verbal defiance at his murderer, and there was just the chance that the fellow might understand a little English. But when his visitor stooped over him and deliberately cut his bonds, he was astounded into silence.

He waited dumfounded, and a muscular hand gripped his shoulder, holding him motionless.

"You'll be all right," a quiet voice said, "if you don't make a confounded fool of yourself."

Phil gave a great start, and the hand that gripped him tightened. Through the gloom he made out the outline of a grim, bearded face.

"Control yourself!" the quiet voice ordered. "Do you think I've done this for nothing? We are alone—it may be for five minutes, it may be for less. Get out of your things—sharp, and let me have them."

"Great Jupiter—Tudor!" gasped Phil.

"Yes—Tudor!" came the curt response. "Don't stop to jaw. Do as I tell you."

He took his hand from Phil's shoulder and stood up, backing into the shadows.

Phil stood up, too, straightening himself with an effort. The suddenness of this thing had thrown him momentarily off his balance.

"Quick!" commanded Tudor in a fierce whisper. "Take off your clothes. There isn't a second to lose."

But Phil stood uncertain.

"What's the game, Major?" he asked.

Tudor's hand gripped him again and violently.

"You fool!" he whispered savagely. "Don't stand gaping there! Can't you see it's a matter of life and death? Do you want to be killed?"

"No, but—"

Phil broke off. Tudor in that frame of mind was a stranger to him, but he was none the less one who must be obeyed. Mechanically almost he yielded to the man's insistence and began to strip off his clothes.

Tudor helped him with an energy that neither fumed nor faltered. Mute obedience was all he required. But when he dropped the garment he wore from his own shoulders, Phil paused to protest.

"I am not going to wear that!" he said. "What about you?"

"I can look after myself," Tudor answered curtly. "Get into it—quick! There is no time for arguing. You're going to wear these, too."

He pulled the ragged, black beard from his face and the chuddah from his head.

But Phil's eyes were opened, and he resisted.

"Heavens above, sir!" he said. "Do you think I'm going to do a thing like that?"

"You must!" Tudor answered.

He spoke quietly, but there was deadly determination behind his quietude. They faced one another in the gloom, and suddenly there ran between them a passion of feeling that blazed unseen like the hidden current in an electric wire.

For a few seconds it burnt fiercely, silently; then Tudor laid a firm hand on the younger man's shoulder.

"You must," he said again. "The choice does not rest with you. It is made already. It only remains for you to yield—whatever it may cost you—as I am doing."

Phil started as if he had struck him.

"You are wrong, sir," he exclaimed. "On my oath, you are wrong. You don't understand. You never have understood. I—I—"

Tudor silenced him summarily with a hand upon his lips.

"I know, I know!" he said. "There is no time for this. Leave it and go. If it is any comfort to you to know it, I think no evil of you. I realise that what has happened had to happen, was in a sense inevitable, and I blame myself alone. Listen to me. This disguise will take you through all right if you keep your mouth shut. You are a priest, remember, preaching the Jehad, only I've done all the preaching necessary. You have simply to walk straight through them, down the hill till you come to the pass, and then along the river-bed till you strike the road to the Frontier. It's six miles away, but you will do it before sunrise. No, don't speak! I haven't finished yet. You are going to do this not for your own sake or for mine. You think you are going to refuse, but you are not. As for me, your going or staying could make no difference. I have come with a certain object in view, but I shall remain, whether I gain that object or not. That I swear to you most solemnly."

He turned away with the words and began to loosen his sandals. Phil watched him dumbly. He was face to face with a difficulty of such monstrous proportions that he was utterly nonplussed. From the distance came the sound of voices.

"You had better go," observed Tudor, in steady tones. "The guards are coming back. It will hasten matters for both of us if we are discovered like this."

"Sir!" Phil burst out suddenly. "I—can't!"

Tudor wheeled swiftly. It was almost as if he had been waiting for that desperate appeal. He caught up the native garment and flung it over Phil's shoulders. He dragged the beard down over his face and secured the chuddah about his head. He did it all with incredible rapidity and a strength that would not be gainsaid.

Then, holding Phil fast in a merciless, irresistible grasp, he spoke:

"If you attempt to disobey me now, I'll kill myself with my own hands."

There was no mistaking the resolution of his voice, and it wrought the end of the battle—an end inevitable. Phil realised it and accepted it with a groan. He did not utter another word of protest. He was conquered, humiliated, powerless. Only when at last he was ready to depart he stood up and faced Tudor, as he had faced him on the day that the latter had refused to give him a hearing.

"I've given in to you," he said; "but it's to save your life, if possible, and for no other reason. You can think what you like of me, but not—of her! Because, before Heaven, I believe this will break her heart."

He would have said more, but Tudor cut him short.

"Go!" he said. "Go! I know what I am doing—better than you think!"

And Phil turned in silence and went out into the world-wide starlight.


CHAPTER XI

THE AWAKENING

The sun was already high when Audrey awoke. She started up, refreshed in body and mind. Her first thought was of her husband. No doubt he had gone out long before. He always rose early, even when off duty.

Then she remembered Phil, and her face contracted as all the trouble of the night before rushed back upon her. Was he still living? she wondered.

She stretched out her hand to ring for her ayah. But as she did so her eyes fell upon a table by her side and she caught sight of an envelope lying there. She picked it up.

It was addressed to herself in her husband's handwriting, and, with a sharp sense of anxiety, she tore it open. The note it contained was characteristically brief:

I hope by the time you read this to have procured young Turner's release, if he still lives—at no very great cost, I beg you to believe. I desire the letter that you will find on my writing-table to be sent at once to the colonel. There is also a note for Mrs. Raleigh which I want you to deliver yourself. God bless you, Audrey.

E.T.

Audrey looked up from the letter with startled eyes and white cheeks. What did it mean? What had he been doing in the night while she slept? How was it possible for him to have saved Phil?

Trembling, she sprang from her bed and began to dress. Possibly the note to Mrs. Raleigh might explain the mystery. She would ride round with it at once.

She went into Tudor's room before starting and found the letter for the colonel. It was addressed and sealed. She gave it to a syce with orders to deliver it into the colonel's own hands without delay.

Then, still quivering with an apprehension she would not own, she mounted and rode away to the surgeon's bungalow.

Mrs. Raleigh received her with some surprise.

"Ah, come in!" she said kindly. "I'm delighted to see you, dear; but, sure, you are riding very late. And is there anything the matter?"

"Yes," gasped Audrey breathlessly. "I mean no, I hope not. My husband has—has gone to try to save Phil Turner; and—and he left a note for you, which I was to deliver. He went away in the night, but he—of course he'll—be back—soon!"

Her voice faltered and died away. There was a look on Mrs. Raleigh's face, hidden as it were behind her smile, that struck terror to Audrey's heart. She thrust out the letter in an anguish of unconcealed suspense.

"Read it! Read it!" she implored, "and tell me what has happened—quickly, for I—I don't understand!"

Mrs. Raleigh took the letter, passing a supporting arm around the girl's quivering form.

"Sit down, dear!" she said tenderly.

Audrey obeyed, but her face was still raised in voiceless supplication as Mrs. Raleigh opened the letter. The pause that followed was terrible to her. She endured it in wrung silence, her hands fast gripped together.

Then Mrs. Raleigh turned, and in her eyes was a deep compassion, a motherly tenderness of pity, that was to Audrey the confirmation of her worst fears.

She did not speak again. Her heart felt constricted, paralysed. But Mrs. Raleigh saw the entreaty which her whole body expressed, and, stooping, she took the rigid hands into hers.

"My dear," she said, "he has gone into the Hills in disguise, up to the native fort beyond Wara, as that is where he expects to find Phil. Heaven help him and bring them both back!"

Audrey stared at her with a stunned expression. Her lips were quite white, and Mrs. Raleigh thought she was going to faint.

But Audrey did not lose consciousness. She sat there as if turned to stone, trying to speak and failing to make any sound. At last, convulsively, words came.

"They will take him for a spy," she said, both hands pressed to her throat as if something there hurt her intolerably. "The Waris—torture—spies!"

"My darling, my darling, we must hope—hope and pray!" said the Irishwoman, holding her closely.

Audrey turned suddenly, passionately, in the enfolding arms and clung to her as if in physical agony.

"You may, you may," she said in a dreadful whisper, "but I can't—for I don't believe. Do you in your heart believe he will ever come back?"

Mrs. Raleigh did not answer.

Audrey went on, still holding her tightly:

"Do you think I don't know why he wrote to you? It was to put me in your care, because—because he knew he was never coming back. And shall I—shall I tell you why he went?"

"Darling, hush—hush!" pleaded Mrs. Raleigh, her voice unsteady with emotion. "There, don't say any more! Put your head on my shoulder, love. Let me hold you so."

But Audrey's convulsive hold did not relax. She had been a child all her life up to that moment, but, like a worn-out garment, her childhood had slipped from her, and she had emerged a woman. The old, happy ignorance was gone for ever, and the revelation that had dispelled it was almost more than she could bear. Her newly developed womanhood suffered as womanhood alone can suffer.

And yet, could she have drawn the veil once more before her eyes and so have deadened that agonising pain, she would not have done so.

She was awake now. The long, long sleep with its gay dreams, its careless illusions, was over. But it was better to be awake, better to see and know things as they were, even if the anguish thereof killed her. And so she refused the hushing comfort that only a child—such a child as she had been but yesterday—could have found satisfying.

"Yes, I can tell you—now—why he went," she said, in that tense whisper which so wrung Mrs. Raleigh's heart. "He went—for my sake! Think of it! Think of it! He went because I was fretting about Phil. He went because—because he thought—- that Phil's safety—meant—my happiness, and that his safety—his—his precious life—didn't—count!"

The awful words sank into breathless silence. Mrs. Raleigh was crying silently. She was powerless to cope with this. But Audrey shed no tears. It was beyond tears and beyond mourning—this terrible revelation that had come to her. By-and-by, it might be, both would come to her, if she lived.

She rose suddenly at length with a sharp gasp, as of one seeking air.

"I am going," she said, in a clear, strong voice, "to the colonel. He will help me to save my husband."

And with that she turned to the veranda, and met the commanding-officer face to face. There was another man behind him, but she did not look at him. She instantly, without a second's pause, addressed the colonel.

"I was coming to you," she said through her white lips. "You will help me. You must help me. My husband is a prisoner, and I am going into the Hills to find him. You must follow with men and guns. He must be saved—whatever it costs."

The colonel laid his hand on her shoulder, looking down at her very earnestly, very kindly.

"My dear Mrs. Tudor," he said, "all that can be done shall be done, all that is humanly possible. I have already told Turner so. Did you know that he was safe?"

He drew her forward a step, and she saw that the man behind him was Phil Turner himself—Phil Turner, grave, strong, resolute, with all his manhood strung up to the moment's emergency, all his boyhood submerged in a responsibility that overwhelmed the lesser part of him, leaving only that which was great.

He went straight up to Audrey and took the hands she stretched out to him. Neither of them felt the presence of onlookers.

"He saved my life, Mrs. Tudor!" he said simply. "He forced me to take it at his hands. But I'm going back with some men to find him. You stay here with Mrs. Raleigh till we come back. We shall be quicker alone."

A great sob burst from Audrey. It was as if the few gallant words had loosened the awful constriction at her heart.

"Oh, Phil, Phil!" she cried brokenly. "You understand—what this is to me—how I love him—how I love him! Bring him back to me! Promise, Phil, promise!"

And Phil bent till his lips touched the hands he held.

"I will do it," he said with reverence—"so help me, God!"


CHAPTER XII

A WOMAN'S AGONY

All through the day and the night that followed Audrey watched and waited.

She spent the terrible hours at the Raleighs' bungalow, scarcely conscious of her surroundings in her anguish of suspense. It possessed her like a raging fever, and she could not rest. At times it almost seemed to suffocate her, and then she would pace to and fro, to and fro, hardly knowing what she did.

Mrs. Raleigh never left her, caring for her with a maternal tenderness that never flagged. But for her Audrey would almost certainly have collapsed under the strain.

"If he had only known! If he had only known!" she kept repeating. "But how could he know? for I never showed him. How could he even guess? And now he never can know. It's too late, too late!"

Futile, bitter regret! All through the night it followed her, and when morning came the haggard misery it had wrought upon her face had robbed it of all its youth.

Mrs. Raleigh tried to comfort her with hopeful words, but she did not seem so much as to hear them. She was listening, listening intently, for every sound.

It was about noon that young Travers raced in, hot and breathless, but he stopped short in evident dismay when he saw Audrey. He would have withdrawn as precipitately as he had entered, but she sprang after him and caught him by the arms.

"You have news!" she cried wildly. "What is it? Oh, what is it? Tell me quickly!"

He hesitated and glanced nervously at Mrs. Raleigh.

"Yes, tell her," the latter said. "It is better than suspense."

And so briefly, jerkily, the boy blurted on his news:

"Phil's back again; but they haven't got the major. The fort was deserted, except for one old man, and they have brought him along. They are over at the colonel's bungalow now."

He paused, shocked by the awful look his tidings had brought into Audrey's eyes.

The next instant she had sprung past him to the open door and was gone, bareheaded and distraught, into the blazing sunshine.

How she covered the distance of the long, white road to the colonel's bungalow, Audrey never remembered afterwards. Her agony of mind was too great for her brain to register any impression of physical stress. She only knew that she ran and ran as one runs in a nightmare, till suddenly she was on the veranda of the colonel's bungalow, stumbling, breathless, crying hoarsely for "Phil! Phil!"

He came to her instantly.

"Where is he?" she cried, in high, strained tones. "Where is my husband? You promised to bring him back to me! You promised—you promised—"

Her voice failed. She felt choked, as if an iron hand were slowly, remorselessly, crushing the life out of her panting heart. Thick darkness hovered above her, but she fought it from her wildly, frantically.

"You promised—" She gasped again.

He took her gently by the arm, supporting her.

"Mrs. Tudor," he said very earnestly, "I have done my best."

He led her unresisting into a room close by. The colonel was there, and with him a man in flowing, native garments.

"Mrs. Tudor," said Phil, his hand closing tightly upon her arm, "before you blame me, I want you to speak to this man. He can tell you more about your husband than I can."

He spoke very quietly, very steadily, almost as if he were afraid she might not understand him.

Audrey made an effort to collect her reeling senses. The colonel bent towards her.

"Don't be afraid of him, Mrs. Tudor," he said kindly. "He is a friend, and he speaks English."

But Audrey did not so much as glance at the native, who stood, silent and impassive, waiting to be questioned. The agony of the past thirty hours had reached its limit. She sank into a chair by the colonel's table and hid her face in her shaking hands.

"I've nothing to ask him," she said hopelessly. "Eustace is dead—dead—dead, without ever knowing how I loved him. Nothing matters now. There is nothing left that ever can matter."

Dead silence succeeded her words, then a quiet movement, then silence again.

She did not look up or stir. Her passion of grief had burnt itself out. She was exhausted mentally and physically.

Minutes passed, but she did not move. What was there to rouse her? There was nothing left. She had no tears to shed. Tears were for small things. This grief of hers was too immense, too infinite for tears.

Only at last something, some inner prompting, stirred her, and as if at the touch of a hand that compelled, she raised her head.

She saw neither the colonel nor Phil, and a sharp prick of wonder pierced her lethargy of despair. She turned in her chair, obedient still to that inner force that compelled. Yes, they had gone. Only the native remained—an old, bent man, who humbly awaited her pleasure. His face was almost hidden in his chuddah.

Audrey looked at him.

"There is nothing to wait for," she said at length. "You need not stay."

He did not move. It was as if he had not heard. Her wonder grew into a sort of detached curiosity. What did the man want? She remembered that the colonel had told her that he understood English.

"Is there—something—you wish to say to me?" she asked, and the bare utterance of the words kindled a feeble spark of hope within her, almost in spite of herself.

He turned very slowly.

"Yes, one thing," he said, paused an instant as she sprang to her feet with a great cry, then straightened himself, pushed the chuddah back from his face, and flung out his arms to her passionately.

"Audrey!" he said—"Audrey!"


CHAPTER XIII

HAPPINESS AGAIN

By slow degrees Audrey learnt the story of her husband's escape.

It was Phil's doing in the main, he told her simply, and she understood that but for Phil he would not have taken the trouble. Something Phil had said to him that night had stuck in his mind, and it had finally decided him to make the attempt.

Circumstances had favoured him. Moreover it was by no means the first time that he had been among the Hill tribes in native guise. One sentinel alone had returned to guard the hut after Phil's departure, and this man he had succeeded in overpowering without raising an alarm.

Then, disguising himself once more, he had managed to escape just before the dawn, and had lain hidden for hours among the boulders of the river-bed, fearing to emerge by daylight. But in the evening he had left his hiding-place, and found the fort to be occupied by British troops. The Waris had gone to earth before their advance, and they had found the place deserted.

He had forthwith presented himself in his disguise and been taken before Phil, the officer-in-command.

"But surely he knew you?"

"Yes, he knew me. But I swore him to secrecy."

She drew a little closer to him.

"Eustace, why?" she whispered.

His arm tightened about her.

"I had to know the truth first," he said.

"Oh!" she murmured. "And now—are you satisfied?"

He bent and kissed her forehead gravely, tenderly.

"I am satisfied," he said.


"Well, didn't I tell you so?" laughed Phil, when they shook hands later.

Audrey did not ask him what he meant, for, with all his honesty, Phil could be enigmatical when he chose. Moreover, it really didn't much matter, for, as she tacitly admitted to herself, fond as she was of him, he no longer occupied the place of honour in her thoughts, and she was not vitally interested in him now that the trouble was over.

So when, a few weeks later, Phil cheerily packed his belongings and departed to Poonah, having effected an exchange into the other battalion stationed there, only his major understood why, and was sorry.