Table of Contents

Title Page


On the Face of the Waters

Miss Stuart's Legacy

About the Publisher




FLORA ANNIE STEEL (2 April 1847 – 12 April 1929) was an English writer, who lived in British India for 22 years. She was noted especially for books set or otherwise connected with the sub-continent.

She was born Flora Annie Webster in Sudbury, Middlesex, the sixth child of George Webster. In 1867, she married Henry William Steel, a member of the Indian Civil Service, and lived there until 1889, chiefly in the Punjab, with which most of her books are connected. She grew deeply interested in native Indian life and began to urge educational reforms on the government of India. Mrs Steel became an Inspectress of Government and Aided Schools in the Punjab and also worked with John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard Kipling's father, to foster Indian arts and crafts. When her husband's health was weak, Flora Annie Steel took over some of his responsibilities.

Flora Annie Steel was interested in relating to all classes of Indian society. The birth of her daughter gave her a chance to interact with local women and learn their language. She encouraged the production of local handicrafts and collected folk-tales, a collection of which she published in 1894.

Her interest in schools and the education of women gave her a special insight into native life and character. A year before leaving India, she coauthored and published The Complete Indian Housekeeper, giving detailed directions to European women on all aspects of household management in India.

In 1889 the family moved back to Scotland, and she continued her writing there. Some of her best work, according to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, is contained in two collections of short stories, From the Five Rivers and Tales of the Punjab.

Her novel On the Face of the Waters (1896) describes incidents in the Indian Mutiny. She also wrote a popular history of India. John F. Riddick describes Steel's The Hosts of the Lord as one of the "three significant works" produced by Anglo-Indian writers on Indian missionaries, along with The Old Missionary (1895) by William Wilson Hunter and Idolatry (1909) by Alice Perrin. Among her other literary associates in India was Bithia Mary Croker.

She died at her daughter's house in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire on 12 April 1929.


On the Face of the Waters





A WORD OF EXPLANATION is needed for this book, which, in attempting to be at once a story and a history, probably fails in either aim.

That, however, is for the reader to say. As the writer, I have only to point out where my history ends, my story begins, and clear the way for criticism. Briefly, then, I have not allowed fiction to interfere with fact in the slightest degree. The reader may rest assured that every incident bearing in the remotest degree on the Indian Mutiny, or on the part which real men took in it, is scrupulously exact, even to the date, the hour, the scene, the very weather. Nor have I allowed the actual actors in the great tragedy to say a word regarding it which is not to be found in the accounts of eye-witnesses, or in their own writings.

In like manner, the account of the sham court at Delhi—which I have drawn chiefly from the lips of those who saw it—is pure history; and the picturesque group of schemers and dupes—all of whom have passed to their account—did not need a single touch of fancy in its presentment. Even the story of Abool-Bukr and Newâsi is true; save that I have supplied a cause for an estrangement, which undoubtedly did come to a companionship of which none speak evil. So much for my facts.

Regarding my fiction: An Englishwoman was concealed in Delhi, in the house of an Afghan, and succeeded in escaping to the Ridge just before the siege. I have imagined another; that is all. I mention this because it may possibly be said that the incident is incredible.

And now a word for my title. I have chosen it because when you ask an uneducated native of India why the Great Rebellion came to pass, he will, in nine cases out of ten, reply, "God knows! He sent a Breath into the World." From this to a Spirit moving on the face of the Waters is not far. For the rest I have tried to give a photograph—that is, a picture in which the differentiation caused by color is left out—of a time which neither the fair race or the dark race is ever likely to quite forget or forgive.

That they may come nearer to the latter is the object with which this book has been written.











The Western phrase echoed over the Eastern scene without a trace of doubt in its calm assumption of finality. It was followed by a pause, during which, despite the crowd thronging the wide plain, the only recognizable sound was the vexed yawning purr of a tiger impatient for its prey. It shuddered through the sunshine, strangely out of keeping with the multitude of men gathered together in silent security; but on that March evening of the year 1856, when the long shadows of the surrounding trees had begun to invade the sunlit levels of grass by the river, at Lucknow, the lately deposed King of Oude's menagerie was being auctioned. It had followed all his other property to the hammer, and a perfect Noah's Ark of wild beasts was waiting doubtfully for a change of masters.

"Going! Going! Gone!"

Those three cabalistic words, shibboleth of a whole hemisphere's greed of gain, had just transferred the proprietary rights in an old tusker elephant for the sum of eighteenpence. It is not a large price to pay for a leviathan, even if he be lame, as this one was. Yet the new owner looked at his purchase distastefully, and even the auctioneer sought support in a gulp of brandy and water.

"Fetch up them pollies, Tom," he said in a dejected whisper to a soldier, who, with others of the fatigue party on duty, was trying to hustle refractory lots into position. "They'll be a change after elephants—go off lighter like. Then there's some of them La Martiniery boys comin' down again as ran up the fightin' rams this mornin'. Wonder wot the 'ead master said! But boys is allowed birds, and Lord knows we want to be a bit brisker than we 'ave bin with guj-putti. But there! it's slave-drivin' to screw bids for beasts as eats hunder-weights out of poor devils as 'aven't enough for themselves, or a notion of business as business."

He shook his head resentfully yet compassionately over the impassive dark faces around. He spoke as an auctioneer; yet he gave expression to a very common feeling which in the early fifties, when the commercial instincts of the West met the uncommercial ones of the East in open market for the first time, sharpened the antagonism of race immensely; that inevitable antagonism when the creed of one people is that Time is Money, of the other that Time is Naught.

From either standpoint, however, the auction going on down by the river Goomtee was confusing; even to those who, knowing the causes which had led up to it—the unmentionable atrocities, the crass incapacity on the one hand, the unsanctioned treaties and craze for civilization on the other—were conscious of a distinct flavor of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Deluge all combined, as they watched the just and yet unjust retribution going on. But such spectators were few, even in the outer fringe of English onlookers pausing in their evening drive or ride to gratify their curiosity. The long reports and replies regarding the annexation of Oude which filled the office boxes of the elect were unknown to them, so they took the affair as they found it. The King, for some reason satisfactory to the authorities, had been exiled, majesty being thus vested in the representatives of the annexing race: that is, in themselves. A position which comes naturally to most Englishmen.

To the silent crowds closing round the auctioneer's table the affair was simple also. The King, for some unsatisfactory reason, had been ousted from his own. His goods and chattels were being sold. The valuable ones had been knocked down, for a mere song—just to keep up the farce of sale—to the Huzoors. The rubbish—lame elephants and such like—was being sold to them; more or less against their will, since who could forbear bidding sixpence for a whole leviathan? That this was in a measure inevitable, that these new-come sahibs were bound to supply their wants cheaply when a whole posse of carriages and horses, cattle and furniture was thrown on an otherwise supplied market, did not, of course, occur to those who watched the hammer fall to that strange new cry of the strange new master. When does such philosophy occur to crowds? So when the waning light closed each day's sale and the people drifted back cityward over the boat-bridge they were no longer silent. They had tales to tell of how much the barouche and pair, or the Arab charger, had cost the King when he bought it. But then Wajeed Ali, with all his faults, had never been a bargainer. He had spent his revenues right royally, thus giving ease to many. So one could tell of a purse of gold flung at a beggar, another a life pension granted to a tailor for inventing a new way of sewing spangles to a waistcoat; for there had been no lack of the insensate munificence in which lies the Oriental test of royalty, about the King of Oude's reign.

Despite this talk, however, the talkers returned day after day to watch the auction; and on this, the last one, the grassy plain down by the Goomtee was peaceful and silent as ever save for the occasional cry of an affrighted hungry beast. The sun sent golden gleams over the short turf worn to dustiness by crowding feet, and the long curves of the river, losing themselves on either side among green fields and mango trees, shone like a burnished shield. On the opposite bank, its minarets showing fragile as cut paper against the sky, rose the Chutter Munzil—the deposed King's favorite palace. Behind it, above the belt of trees dividing the high Residency gardens from the maze of houses and hovels still occupied by the hangers-on to the late Court, the English flag drooped lazily in the calm floods of yellow light. For the rest, were dense dark groves following the glistening curve of the river, and gardens gravely gay in pillars of white chum-baeli creeper and cypress, long prim lines of latticed walls, and hedges of scarlet hibiscus. Here and there above the trees, the dome of a mosque or the minaret of a mausoleum told that the town of Lucknow, scattered yet coherent, lay among the groves. The most profligate town in India which by one stroke of an English pen had just been deprived of the raison-d'être of its profligacy, and been bidden to live as best it could in cleanly, courtless poverty.

So, already, there were thousands of workmen in it, innocent enough panderers in the past to luxurious vice, who were feeling the pinch of hunger from lack of employment; and there were those past employers also, deprived now of pensions and offices, with a bankrupt future before them. But Lucknow had a keener grievance than these in the new tax on opium, the drug which helps men to bear hunger and bankruptcy; so, as the auctioneer said, it was not a place in which to expect brisk bidding for wild beasts with large appetites. But the parrots roused a faint interest, and the crowd laughed suddenly at the fluttering screams of a red and blue macaw, as it was tossed from hand to hand, on its way to the surprised and reluctant purchaser who had bid a farthing for it out of sheer idleness.

"Another mouth to feed, Shumshu!" jeered a fellow butcher, as he literally flung the bird at a neighbor's head. "Rather he than I," laughed the recipient, continuing the fling. "Ari! Shumshu, take thy baby. Well caught, brother! but what will thy house say?"

"That I have made a fat bargain," retorted the big, coarse owner coolly, as he wrung the bird's neck, and twirled it, a quivering tuft of bright feathers and choking cries, above his head. "Thou'lt buy no meat at a farthing a pound, even from my shop, I'll swear, and this bird weighs two, and is delicate as chicken."

The laugh which answered the sally held a faint scream, not wholly genuine in its ring. It came from the edge of the crowd, where two English riders had paused to see what the fun was about.

"Cruel devils, aren't they, Allie?" said one, a tall, fair man whose good looks were at once made and marred by heaviness of feature. "Why! you've turned pale despite the rouge!" His tone was full of not over-respectful raillery; his bold, bloodshot eyes met his companion's innocent looking ones with careless admiration.

"Don't be a fool, Erlton," she replied promptly; and the even, somewhat hard pitch of her voice did not match the extreme softness of her small, childish face. "You know I don't rouge; or you ought to. And it was horrible, in its way."

"Only what your ladyship's cook does to your ladyship's fowls," retorted Major Erlton. "You don't see it done, that's all the difference. It is a cruel world, Mrs. Gissing, the sex is the cruelest thing in it, and you, as I'm always telling you, are the cruelest of your sex."

His manner was detestable, but little Mrs. Gissing laughed again. She had not a fine taste in such matters; perhaps because she had no taste for them at all. So, in the middle of the laugh, her attention shifted to the big white cockatoo which formed the next lot. It had a most rumpled and dejected appearance as it tried to keep its balance on the ring which the soldier assistant swung backward and forward boisterously.

"Do look at that ridiculous bird!" she exclaimed, "Did you ever see any creature look so foolish?"

It did, undoubtedly, with its wrinkled gray eyelids closed in agonized effort, its clattering gray beak bobbing rhythmically toward its scaly gray legs. It roused the auctioneer from his depression into beginning in grand style. "Now, then, gentlemen! This is a real treat, indeed! A cockatoo, old as Methusalem and twice as wise. It speaks, I'll be bound. Says 'is prayers—look at 'im gemyflexing! and maybe he swears a bit like the rest of us. Any gentleman bid a rupee!—a eight annas?—a four annas? Come, gentlemen!"

"One anna," called Mrs. Gissing, with a coquettish nod to the big Major, and a loud aside: "Cruel I may be to you, sir, but I'll give that to save the poor brute from having its neck wrung."

"Two annas!" There was a stress of eagerness in the new voice which made many in the crowd look whence it came. The speaker was a lean old man wearing a faded green turban, who had edged himself close to the auctioneer's table and stood with upturned eyes watching the bird anxiously. He had the face of an enthusiast, keen, remorseless, despite its look of ascetic patience.

"Three annas!" Alice Gissing's advance came with another nod at her big admirer.

"Four annas!" The reply was quick as an echo.

A vexed surprise showed on the pretty babyish face. "What an impertinent wretch! Eight annas—do you hear?—eight annas!"

The auctioneer bowed effusively. "Eight annas bid for a cockatoo as says——" he paused cautiously, for the bidding was brisk enough without exaggeration. "Eight annas once—twice—Going! going——"

"One rupee!"

Mrs. Gissing gave a petulant jag to her rein. "Oh! come away, Erlton, my charity doesn't run to rupees."

But her companion's face, never a very amiable one, had darkened with temper. "D——n the impudent devil," he muttered savagely, before raising his voice to call: "Two rupees!"

"Five!" There was no hesitation still; only an almost clamorous anxiety in the worn old voice.

"Ten!" Major Erlton's had lost its first heat, and settled into a dull decision which made the auctioneer turn to him, hammer in hand. Yet the echo was not wanting.


The Englishman's horse backed as if its master's hand lay heavy on the bit. There was a pause, during which that shuddering cough of the hungry tiger quavered through the calm flood of sunshine, in which the crowd stood silently, patiently.

"Fifteen rupees," began the auctioneer reluctantly, his sympathies outraged, "Fifteen once, twice——"

Then Alice Gissing laughed. The woman's laugh of derision which is responsible for so much.

"Fifty rupees," said Major Erlton at once.

The old man in the green turban turned swiftly; turned for the first time to look at his adversary, and in his face was intolerant hatred mingled with self-pity; the look of one who, knowing that he has justice on his side, knows also that he is defeated.

"Thank you, sir," caught up the auctioneer. "Fifty once, twice, thrice! Hand the bird over, Tom. Put it down, sir, I suppose, with the other things?"

Major Erlton nodded sulkily. He was already beginning to wonder why he had bought the brute. Meanwhile Tom, still swinging the cockatoo derisively, had jumped from the table into the crowd round it as if the sea of heads was non-existent; being justified of his rashness by its prompt yielding of foothold as he elbowed his way outward, shouting for room good-naturedly, and answered by swift smiles and swifter obedience. Yet both were curiously silent; so that Mrs. Gissing's voice, wondering what on earth Herbert was going to do with the creature now that he had bought it, was distinctly audible.

"Give it to you, of course," he replied moodily. "You can wring its neck if you choose, Allie. You are cruel enough for that, I dare say." The thought of the fifty rupees wasted was rankling fiercely; fifty rupees! when he would be hard put to it for a penny if he didn't pull off the next race. Fifty rupees! because a woman laughed!

But Mrs. Gissing was laughing again. "I shan't do anything of the kind. I shall give it to your wife, Major Erlton. I'm sure she must be dull all alone; and then she loves prayers!" the absolute effrontery of the speech was toned down by her indifferent expression. "Here, sergeant!" she went on, "hold the bird up a bit higher, please, I want to see if it is worth all that money. Gracious! what a hideous brute!"

It was, in truth; save for the large gold-circled eyes, like strange gems, which opened suddenly as the swinging ceased. They seemed to look at the dainty little figure taking it in; and then, in an instant, the dejected feathers were afluff, the wings outspread, the flame-colored crest, unseen before, raised like a fiery flag as the bird gave an ear-piercing scream.

"Deen! Deen! Futteh Mohammed." (For the Faith! For the Faith! Victory to Mohammed.)

The war cry of the fiercest of all faiths was unmistakable; the first two syllables cutting the air, keen as a knife, the last with the blare as of a trumpet in them. And following close on their heels came an indescribable sound, like the answering vibration of a church to the last deep organ-note. It was a faint murmur from the crowd till then so silent.

"D——n the bird! Hold it back, man! Loosen the curb, Allie, for God's sake, or the brute will be over with you!"

Herbert Erlton's voice was sharp with anxiety as he reined his own horse savagely out of the way of his companion's, which, frightened at the unexpected commotion, was rearing badly.

"All right," she called; there was a little more color on her child-like face, a firmer set of her smiling mouth: that was all. But the hunting crop she carried fell in one savage cut after another on the startled horse's quarters. It plunged madly, only to meet the bit and a dig of the spur. So, after two or three unavailing attempts to unseat her, it stood still with pricked ears and protesting snorts.

"Well sat, Allie! By George, you can ride! I do like to see pluck in a woman; especially in a pretty one." The Major's temper and his fears had vanished alike in his admiration. Mrs. Gissing looked at him curiously.

"Did you think I was a coward?" she asked lightly; and then she laughed. "I'm not so bad as all that. But look! There is your wife coming along in the new victoria—it's an awfully stylish turn-out, Herbert; I wish Gissing would give me one like it. I suppose she has been to church. It's Lent or something, isn't it? Anyhow, she can take that screaming beast home."

"You're not——" began the Major, but Mrs. Gissing had already ridden up to the carriage, making it impossible for the solitary occupant to avoid giving the order to stop. She was rather a pale woman, who leaned listlessly among the cushions.

"Good evening, Mrs. Erlton," said the little lady, "been, as you see, for a ride. But we were thinking of you and hoping you would pray for us in church."

Kate Erlton's eyebrows went up, as they had a trick of doing when she was scornful. "I am only on my way thither as yet," she replied; "so that now I am aware of your wishes I can attend to them."

The obvious implication roused the aggressor to greater recklessness. "Thanks! but we really deserve something, for we have been buying a parrot for you. Erlton paid a whole fifty rupees for it because it said its prayers and he thought you would like it!"

"That was very kind of Major Erlton,"—there was a fine irony in the title,—"but, as he knows, I'm not fond of things with gay feathers and loud voices."

The man, listening, moved his feet restlessly in his stirrups. It was too bad of Allie to provoke these sparring matches. Foolish, too, since Kate's tongue was sharp when she chose to rouse herself. None sharper, in his opinion.

"If you don't want the bird," he interrupted shortly, "tell the groom to wring its neck."

Mrs. Gissing looked at him, her reproachful blue eyes perfect wells of simplicity. "Wring its neck! How can you, when you paid all that money to save it from being killed! That is the real story, Mrs. Erlton; it is indeed——"

He interrupted his wife's quick glance of interest impatiently. "The main point being that I had, or shall have to pay fifty rupees—which I must get. So I must be off to the racecourse if I don't want to be posted. I ought to have been there a quarter of an hour ago; should have been but for that confounded bird. Are you coming, Mrs. Gissing, or not?"

"Now, Erlton!" she replied, "don't be stupid. As if he didn't know, Mrs. Erlton, that I am every bit as much interested as he is in the match with that trainer man!—what's his name, Erlton? Greyman—isn't it? I have endless gloves on it, sir, so of course I'm coming to see fair play."

Major Erlton shot a rapid glance at her, as if to see what she really meant; then muttered something angrily about chaff as, with a dig of his heels, he swung his horse round to the side of hers.

Kate Erlton watched their figures disappear behind the trees, then turned indifferently to the groom who was waiting for orders with the cockatoo. But she started visibly in finding herself face to face with a semi-circle of spectators which had gathered about the figure of an old man in a faded green turban who stood close beside the groom, and who, seeing her turn, salaamed, and with clasped hands began an appeal of some sort. So much she gathered from his bright eyes, his tone; but no more, and all unconsciously she drew back to the furthest corner of the carriage, as if to escape from what she did not understand, and therefore did not like. That, indeed, was her attitude toward all things native. Yet at times, as now, she felt a dim regret at her own ignorance. What did he want? What were they thinking of, those dark, incomprehensible faces closing closer and closer round her? What could they be thinking of, uncivilized, heathen, as they were? tied to hateful, horrible beliefs and customs, unmentionable thoughts; so the innate repulsion of the alien overpowered her dim desire to be kind.

"Drive on!" she called in her clear, soft voice, "drive on to the church."

The grooms, new taken from royal employ,—for the victoria had been one of the spoils of the auction,—began their arrogant shouting to the crowd; the coachman, treating it also in royal fashion, cut at his horses regardless of their plunging. So after an instant's scurry and flurry, a space was cleared, and the carriage rolled off. The old man, left standing alone, looked after it silently for a moment, then flung his arms skyward.

"O God, reward them! reward them to the uttermost!" The appeal, however, seemed too indefinite for solace, and he turned for closer sympathy to the crowd. "The bird is mine, brothers! I lent it to the King, to teach his the Cry-of-Faith that I had taught it. But the Huzoors would not listen, or they would not understand. It was a little thing to them! So I brought all I had, thinking to buy mine own again. But yonder hell-doomed infidel hath it for nothing—for he paid nothing; and here—here is my money!" He drew a little bag from his breast and held it up with shaking hand.

"For nothing!" echoed the crowd, seizing on what interested it most. "For sure he paid nothing."

The murmur, spreading from man to man in doubt, wonder, assertion, was interrupted by a voice with the resonance and calm in it of one accustomed to listeners. "Nay! not for nothing. Have patience. The bird may yet give the Great Cry in the house of the thief. I, Ahmed-oolah, the dust of the feet of the Most High, say it. Have patience. God settles the accounts of men."

"It is the Moulvie," whispered some, as the gaunt, hollow-eyed speaker moved out of the crowd, a good head and shoulders taller than most there. "The Moulvie from Fyzabad. He preaches in the big Mosque to-night, and half the city goes to hear him." The whispering voices formed a background to the recurring cry of the auctioneer, "Going! Going! Gone!" as lot after lot fell to the hammer, while the crowd listened to both, or drifted cityward with the memory of them lingering insistently.

"Going! Going! Gone!" What was going? Everything, if tales were true; and there were so many tales nowadays. Of news flashed faster by wires than any, even the gods themselves, could flash it; of carriages, fire-fed, bringing God knows what grain from God knows where! Could a body eat of it and not be polluted? Could the children read the school books and not be apostate? Burning questions these, not to be answered lightly. And as the people, drifting homeward in the sunset, asked them, other sounds assailed their ears. The long-drawn chant of the call to prayer from the Mohammedan mosques, the clashing of gongs from the Hindoo temples, the solitary clang of the Christian church bell. Diverse, yet similar in this, that each called Life to face Death, not as an end, but as a beginning; called with more insistence than usual in the church, where a special missionary service was being held, at which a well-known worker in the vineyard was to give an address on the duty of a faithful soldier of Christ in a heathen land. With greater authority in the mosque also, where the Moulvie was to lay down the law for each soldier of the faith in an age of unbelief and change. Only in the Hindoo temples the circling lights flickered as ever, and there was neither waxing nor waning of worship as mortality drifted in, and drifted out, hiding the rude stone symbol of regeneration with their chaplets of flowers; the symbol of Life-in-Death, of Death-in-Life. The cult of the Inevitable.

There was no light in these dark shrines, save the circling cresset; none, save the dim reflection of dusk from white marble, in the mosque where the Moulvie's sonorous voice sent the broad Arabic vowels rebounding from dome to dome. But in the church there was a blaze of lamps, and the soldierly figure at the reading desk showed clear to the men and women listening leisurely in the cushioned pews. Yet the words were stirring enough; there was no lack of directness in them. Kate Erlton, resting her chin on her hand, kept her eyes on the speaker closely as his voice rose in a final confession of the faith that was in him.



"I CONCEIVE IT IS EVER the hope and aim of a true Christian that his Lord should make him the happy instrument of rescuing his neighbor from eternal damnation. In this belief I find it my duty to be instant in season and out of season, speaking to all, sepoys as well as civilians, making no distinction of persons or place, since with the Lord there are no such distinctions. In the temporal matters I act under the orders of my earthly superior, but in spiritual matters I own no allegiance save to Christ. So, in trying to convert my sepoys, I act as a Christian soldier under Christ, and thus, by keeping the temporal and spiritual capacities in which I have to act clearly under their respective heads, I render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, to God the things that are God's."[1]

There was a little rustle of satisfaction and relief from the pews, the hymn closing the service went with a swing, and the congregation, trooping out into the scented evening air, fell to admiring the address.

"And he looked so handsome and soldierly, didn't he?" said one voice with a cadence of sheer comfortableness in it as the owner nestled back in the barouche.

"Quite charming!" assented another. "And to think of a man like that, brave as a lion, submitting to be hustled off his own parade ground because his sepoys objected to his preaching. It is an example to us all!"

"I wouldn't give much for the discipline of his regiment," began Kate Erlton impulsively, then paused, certain of her hearers, uncertain of herself; for she was of those women who use religion chiefly as an anodyne for the heartache, leaving her intellect to take care of itself. With the result that it revenged itself, as now, by sudden flashes of reason which left her helpless before her own common sense.

"My dear Mrs. Erlton!" came a shocked coo, "discipline or no discipline, we are surely bound to fight the good——Gracious heavens! what is that?"

It was the cockatoo. Roused from a doze by the movement of Kate's carriage toward the church-door, it had dashed at once into the war-cry—"Deen! Deen! Futteh Mohammed!"

The appositeness of the interruption, however, was quite lost on the ladies, who were too ignorant to recognize it; so their alarm ended in a laugh, and the suggestion that the bird would be a noisy pet.

Thus, with worldly gossip coming to fill the widening spaces in their complacent piety, they drove homeward together where the curving river shimmered faintly in the dark, or through scented gardens where the orange-blossom showed as faintly among the leaves, like star-dust on a dark sky.

But Kate Erlton drove alone, as she generally did. She was one of those women whose refinement stands in their way; who are gourmets of life, failing to see that the very fastidiousness of their palate argues a keener delight in its pleasures than that of those who take them more simply, perhaps more coarsely. And as she drove, her mind diverted listlessly to the semicircle of dark faces she had left unanswered. What had they wanted? Nothing worth hearing, no doubt! Nothing was worth much in this weary land of exile where the heart-hunger for one little face and voice gnawed at your vitality day and night. For Kate Erlton set down all her discontent to the fact that she was separated from her boy. Yet she had sent him home of her own free will to keep him from growing up in the least like his father. And she had stayed with that father simply to keep him within the pale of respectability for the boy's sake. That was what she told herself. She allowed nothing for her own disappointment; nothing for the keen craving for sentiment which lay behind her refinement. All she asked from fate was that the future might be no worse than the past; so that she could keep up the fiction to the end.

And as she drove, a sudden sound made her start, for—soldier's wife though she was—the report of a rifle always set her heart a-beating. Then from the darkness came a long-drawn howl; for over on the other side of the river they were beginning to shoot down the hungry beasts which all through the long sunny day had found no master.

The barter of their lives was complete. The last "Going! Going! Gone!" had come, and they had passed to settle the account elsewhere. So, amid this dropping fire of kindly meant destruction, the night fell soft and warm over the shimmering river and the scented gardens with the town hidden in their midst.





"YOU SENT FOR ME, I believe, Mrs. Erlton."

"Yes, Mr. Greyman, I sent for you."

Both voices came reluctantly into the persistent cooing of doves which filled the room, for the birds were perched among a coral begonia overhanging the veranda. But the man had so far the best of it in the difficult interview which was evidently beginning, in that he stood with his back to the French window through which he had just entered; his face, therefore, was in shadow. Hers, as she paused, arrested by surprise, faced the light. For Kate Erlton, when she sent for James Greyman in the hopes of bribing him to silence regarding the match which had been run the evening before between his horse and her husband's, had not expected to see a gentleman in the person of an ex-jockey, trainer, and general hanger-on to the late King's stables. The diamonds with which she had meant to purchase honor lay on the table, but this man would not take diamonds. What would he take? She scanned his face anxiously, yet with a certain relief in her disappointment; for the clean-shaven contours were fine, if a trifle stern; and the mouth, barely hidden by a slight mustache, was thin-lipped, well cut.

"Yes! I sent for you," she continued—and the even confidence of her own voice surprised her. "I meant to ask how much you would want to keep this miserable business quiet; but now——" She paused, and her hand, which had been resting on the center table, shifted its position to push aside the jewel-case; as if that were sufficient explanation.

"But now?" he echoed formally, though his eyes followed the action. She raised hers to his, looking him full in the face. They were beautiful eyes, and their cold gray blue, with the northern glint of steel in it, gave James Greyman an odd thrill. He had not looked into eyes like these for many a long year. Not since, in a room just like this one, homely and English in every twist and turn of foreign flowers and furniture, he had ruined his life for a pair of eyes, as coldly pure as these, to look at. He did not mean to do it again.

"But now I can only ask you to be kind, and generous, Mr. Greyman! I want you to save my husband from the disgrace your claim must bring—if you press it."

Once more the monotonous cooing from the outside filled the darkness and the light of the large, lofty room. For it was curiously dark in the raftered roof and the distant corners; curiously light in the great bars of golden sunshine slanting across the floor. In one of them James Greyman stood, a dark silhouette against an arch of pale blue sky, wreathed by the climbing begonia. He was a man of about forty, looking younger than his age, taller than his real height, by reason of his beardless face and the extreme ease and grace of his figure. He was burned brown as a native by constant exposure to the sun; but as he stooped to pick up his glove which had slipped from his hold, a rim of white showed above his wrist.

"So I supposed; but why should I save him?" he said briefly. The question, thus crudely put, left her without reply for a minute; during which he waited. Then, with a new tinge of softness in his voice, he went on: "It was a mistake to send for me. I thought so at the time, though, of course, I had no option. But now——"

"But now?" she echoed in her turn.

"There is nothing to be done save to go away again." He turned at the words, but she stopped him by a gesture.

"Is there not?" she asked. "I think there is, and so will you if you understand—if you will wait and let me speak." His evident impatience made her add quickly, "You can at least do so much for me, surely?" There was a quiver in her voice now, and it surprised her as her previous calm had done; for what was this man to her that his unkindness should give pain?

"Certainly," he said, pausing at once, "but I understand too much, and I cannot see the use of raking up details. You know them—or think you do. Either way they do not alter the plain fact that I cannot help—because I would not if I could. That sounds brutal; but, unfortunately, it is true. And it is best to tell the truth, as far as it can be told."

A faint smile curved her lips. "That is not far. If you will wait I will tell you the truth to the bitter end."

He looked at her with sudden interest, for her pride attracted him. She was not in the least pretty; she might be any age from five-and-twenty to five-and-thirty. And she—well! she was a lady. But would she tell the truth? Women, even ladies, seldom did; still he must wait and hear what she had to say.

"I sent for you," she began, "because, knowing you were an adventurer, a man who had had to leave the army under a cloud—in disgrace——"

He stared at her blankly. Here was the truth about himself at any rate!

"I thought, naturally, you would be a man who would take a bribe. There are diamonds in that case; for money is scarce in this house." She paused, to gain firmness for what came next. "I was keeping them for the boy. I have a son in England and he will have to go to school soon; but I thought it better to save his father's reputation instead. They are fine diamonds"—she drew the case closer and opened it—the sunshine, streaming in, caught the facets of the stones, turning them to liquid light. "You needn't tell me they are no use," she went on quickly, as he seemed about to speak; "I am not stupid; but that has nothing to do with the question. I want you to save my husband—don't interrupt me, please, for I do want you to understand, and I will tell you the truth. You asked me why? and you think, no doubt, that he does not deserve to be saved. Do you think I do not know that? Mr. Greyman! a wife knows more of her husband than anyone else can do; and I have known for so many years."

A sudden softness came into her hearer's eyes. That was true at any rate. She must know many things of which she could not speak; a sort of horror at what she must know, with a man like Major Erlton as her husband, held him silent.

"Yet I have saved him so far," she went on, "but if what happened yesterday becomes public property all my trouble is in vain. He will have to leave the regiment——"

"He is not the first man, as you were kind enough to mention just now," interrupted James Greyman, "who has had to leave the army under a cloud. He would survive it—as others have done."

"I was not thinking of him at all," she replied quietly. "I was thinking of my son; my only son."

"There are other only sons also, Mrs. Erlton," he retorted. "I was my mother's, but I don't think the fact was taken into consideration by the court-martial. Why should I be more lenient? You have come to the wrong person when you come to me for charity or consideration. None was shown to me."

"Perhaps because you did not need it," she said quickly.

"Not need it?"

"Many a man falls under the shadow of a cloud blamelessly. What do they want with charity?"

He rose swiftly and so, facing the light again, stood looking out into it. "I am obliged to you," he said after a pause. "Whether you are right or wrong doesn't affect the question from which we have wandered. Except—" he turned to her again with a certain eagerness—"Mrs. Erlton! You say you are prepared to tell the truth to the bitter end; then for Heaven's sake let us have it for once in our lives. You never saw me before, nor I you. It is not likely we shall ever meet again. So we can speak without a past or a future tense. You ask me to save your husband from the consequences of his own cheating. I ask why? Why should I sacrifice myself? Why should I suffer? for, mark you, there were heavy bets——"

"There are the diamonds," she interrupted, pointing to them; their gleam was scarcely brighter than her scornful eyes.

He gave a half smile. "Doubtless there are the diamonds! I can have my equivalent, so far, if I choose; but I don't choose. It does not suit me personally; so that is settled. I can't do this thing, then, to please myself. Now, let us go on. You are a religious woman, I think, Mrs. Erlton—you have the look of one. Then you will say that I should remember my own frailty, and forgive as I would be forgiven. Mrs. Erlton! I am no better than most men, no doubt, but I never remember cheating at cards or pulling a horse as your husband does—it is the brutal truth between us, remember. And if you tell me I'm bound to protect a man from the natural punishment of a great crime because I've stolen a pin, I say you are wrong. That theory won't hold water. If our own faults, even our own crimes, are to make us tender over these things in others, there must be—what, if I remember right, my Colenso used to call an arithmetical progression in error until the Day of Judgment; for the odds on sin would rise with every crime. I don't believe in mercy, Mrs. Erlton. I never did. Justice doesn't need it. So let us leave religion alone too, and come to other things—altruism—charity—what you will. Now who will benefit by my silence? Will you? You said just now that a wife knows more of her husband than a stranger can. I well believe it. That is why I ask you to tell me frankly, if you really think that a continuance of the life you lead with him can benefit you?" He leaned over the table, resting his head on his hand, his eyes on hers, and then added in a lower voice, "The brutal truth, please. Not as a woman to man, or, for the matter of that, woman to woman; but soul to soul, if there be such a thing."

She turned away from him and shook her head. "It is for the boy's sake," she said in muffled tones. "It will be better for him, surely."

"The boy," he echoed, rising with a sense of relief. She had not lied, this woman with the beautiful eyes; she had simply shut the door in his face. "You have a portrait of him, no doubt, somewhere. I should like to see it. Is that it, over the mantelpiece?"

He walked over to a colored photograph, and stood looking at it silently, his hands—holding his hunting crop—clasped loosely behind his back. Kate noticed them even in her anxiety; for they were noticeable, nervous, fine-cut hands, matching the figure.

"He is not the least like you. He is the very image of his father," came the verdict. "What right have you to suppose that anything you or I can do now will overcome the initial fact that the boy is your husband's son, any more than it will ease you of the responsibility of having chosen such a father for the boy?"

She gave a quick cry, more of pain than anger, and hid her face on the table in sudden despair.

"You are very cruel," she said indistinctly.

He walked back toward her, remorseful at the sight of her miserable self-abasement. He had not meant to hit so hard, being accustomed himself to facing facts without flinching.

"Yes! I am cruel; but a life like mine doesn't make a man gentle. And I don't see how this trivial concealment of fact—for that is all it would be—can change the boy's character or help him. If I did——" he paused. "I should like to help you if I could, Mrs. Erlton, if only because you—you refused me charity! But I cannot see my way. It would do no one any good. Begin with me. I'm not a religious man, Mrs. Erlton. I don't believe in the forgiveness of sins. So my soul—if I have one—wouldn't benefit. As for my body? At the risk of you offering me diamonds again,"—he smiled charmingly,—"I must mention that I should lose—how much is a detail—by concealment. So I must go out of the question of benefit. Then there is you——"

He broke off to walk up and down the room thoughtfully, then to pause before her. "I wish you to believe," he said, "that I want really to understand the truth, but I can't, because I don't know one thing. I don't know if you love your husband—or not."

She raised her head quickly with a fear behind the resentment of her eyes. "Put me outside the question too. I have told you that already. It is the simplest, the best way."

He bowed cynically. She came no nearer to truth than evasion.

"If you wish it, certainly. Then there is the boy. You want to prevent him from realizing that his father is a—let us twist the sentence—what his father is. You have, I expect, sent him away for this purpose. So far good. But will this concealment of mine suffice? Will no one else blab the truth? Even if concealment succeeds all along the line, will it prevent the boy from following in his father's steps if he has inherited his father's nature as well as his face? Wouldn't it be a deterrent in that case to know early in life that such instincts can't be indulged with impunity in the society of gentlemen? You will never have the courage to keep the boy out of your life altogether as you are doing now. Sooner or later you will bring him back, he will bring himself back, and then, on the threshold of life, he will have an example of successful dishonesty put before him. Mrs. Erlton! you can't keep up the fiction always; so it is better for you, for me, for him, to tell the truth—and I mean to tell it."

She rose swiftly to her feet and faced him, thrusting her hair back from her forehead passionately, as if to clear away aught that might obscure her brain.

"And for my husband?" she asked. "Have you no word for him? Is he not to be thought of at all? You asked me just now if I loved him, and I was a coward. Well! I do not love him—more's the pity, for I can't make up the loss of that to him anyhow. But there is enough pity in his life without that. Can't you see it? The pity that such things should be in life at all. You called me a religious woman just now. I'm not, really. It is the pity of such things without a remedy that drives me to believe, and the pity of it which drives me back again upon myself, as you have driven me now. For you are right! Do you think I can't see the shame? Do you think I don't know that it is too late—that I should have thought of all this before I called my boy's nature out of the dark? And yet——" her face grew sharp with a pitiful eagerness, she moved forward and laid her hand on his arm. "It is all so dark! You said just now that I couldn't keep up the fiction; but need it be a fiction always? What do we know? God gives men a chance sometimes. He gives the whole world a chance sometimes of atoning for many sins. A Spirit moves on the Waters of life bringing something to cleanse and heal. It may be moving now. Give my husband his chance, Mr. Greyman, and I will pray that, whatever it is, it may come quickly."

He had listened with startled eyes; now his hand closed on hers in swift negation.

"Don't pray for that," he said, in a quick low voice, "it may come too soon for some of us, God knows—too soon for many a good man and true!" Then, as if vexed at his own outburst, he drew back a step, looking at her with a certain resentment.

"You plead your cause well, Mrs. Erlton, and it is a stronger argument than you perhaps guess. So let him have this chance that is coming. Let us all have it, you and I into the bargain. No don't be grateful, please, for he may prove himself a coward, among other things. So may I, for that matter. One never knows until the chance comes for being a hero—or the other thing."

"When the chance comes we shall see," she said, trying to match his light tone. "Till then, good-by—you have been very kind." She held out her hand, but he did not take it.

"Pardon me! I have been very rude, and you——" he paused in his half-jesting words, stooped over her outstretched hand and kissed it.

Kate stood looking at the hand with a slight frown after his horse's hoofs died away; and then with a smile she shut the jewel case. Not that she closed the incident also; for full half an hour later she was still going over all the details of the past interview. And everything seemed to hinge on that unforeseen appeal of hers for a chance of atonement, on that unpremeditated strange suggestion that a Spirit might even then be moving on the face of the waters; until, in that room gay with English flowers, and peaceful utterly in its air of security, a terror seized on her body and soul. A causeless terror, making her strain eyes and ears as if for a hint of what was to come and make cowards or heroes of them all.

But there was only the flowerful garden beyond the arched veranda, only the soft gurgle of the doves. Yet she sat with quivering nerves till the sight of the gardener coming as usual with his watering pot made her smile at the unfounded tragedy of her imaginings.

As she passed into the veranda she called to him, in the jargon which served for her orders, not to forget a plentiful supply to the heartsease and the sweet peas; for she loved her poor clumps of English annuals more than all the scented and blossoming shrubs which in those late March days turned the garden into a wilderness of strange perfumed beauty. But her cult of home was a religion with her; and if a visitor remarked that anything in her environment was reminiscent of the old country, she rejoiced to have given another exile what was to her as the shadow of a rock in a thirsty land.

So, her eye catching something barely up to western mark in the pattern of a collar her tailor was cutting for her new dress, she crossed over to where he squatted in the further corner of the veranda.

"That isn't right. Give me something to cut—here! this will do."