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MOSES LAFAYETTE O'LEARY tossed his soiled pith helmet to a coolie. Sweat streamed down his almost liver-colored face from a mass of black hair that curled with quite un-oriental vigor. He looked like a vaudeville Irish version of a Hindu without a turban. He squinted toward the setting sun. The Kadur River, where it circled the city wall, was blood-red.
"Blood!" he remarked. "If I was superstitious—"
He entered Captain Carl Norwood's tent. Norwood's native servant objected. O'Leary smote the servant. He removed a whiskey bottle, two long tumblers and a siphon from the ice-box at the rear, and came out winking at Sergeant Stoddart, who was shirt-sleeved, sweating, muscular and thirsty.
"Caught you!" said Stoddart.
O'Leary grinned. "All you're fit to catch is hell and malaria. I'm taking pity on you. Here." They sat, on cases of surveyors' instruments, facing each other. O'Leary observed:
"As a sergeant of sappers, you're a sap sergeant. You believe you're here to find out why the Kadur River is all silted up. As if nobody knew it. You'll sweat. You'll wade. You'll work. You'll catch diseases; and you'll draw your pay, if you live. Pretty soon now you'll be sent home on a troop-ship to tell the English in the pubs how you'd rule India if you was commander-in-chief. You'd look handsome in a cocked hat."
"Kid yourself you know a lot, don't you?" said Stoddart. "This is good whiskey."
"Sure I know a lot. I'm three men. You're only what's left of one, and white at that. I draw one-third your pay for using three times your brains. You only know what you're told, all tripe and army regulations. Hindsight. Mine's foresight."
"You're like all Eurasians," said Stoddart. "You'd bet on all three horses in a three-horse race, and then set yourself up as a clairvoyant, along of having picked the winner. The secret of why the Kadur River has silted up is like a dog's bone that he buries in sight of half the county. The priests have a diamond mine, and they're critturs o' habit. They dig by day. Come night-time, they've been dumping clay into the river since Noah's Deluge."
"Don't you take the Scriptures in vain," said O'Leary. "Noah was a saint, which is more than you are. Stick to your river survey. Watch out that the dam don't break and learn you what a deluge is. Your job is to work with a dumpy and tape and a couple o' poles, and set down figures to be stuck away in a file. My job's to look for the reasons o' things. I'm good at it."
"I'll admit," said Stoddart, "you could find a drink in the Sahara. What d'you kid yourself you're here to find out?"
"Your Uncle Moses, which is what I'm known as, will be looking for the promised land for your betters to make a mess of. Your Uncle Lafayette, which is my favorite name with the women, will be acting vigorous and gallant, same as usual, on supernumerary's pay. The O'Leary of me being Irish, there's no foretelling what I'll do. Except, I'll do it. Why d'you suppose they sent Captain Carl High-cockalorum Norwood and his easy smile, to Kadur, on a survey, that a saphead sergeant such as you are could tackle? And why did they send me along with him? They don't mind saving pension money by sending you to die o' malaria, but they don't waste valuable men like me. Soon as I know what kind of trouble the Captain gets himself into, I'll show you how he gets fetched out of it. No, no more whiskey. I'll have to lie about this, as it is. One lie's plenty. You're a Protestant; you don't have to confess your lies."
"Won't that Goanese priest let one lie cover two drinks?"
"No. He knows me. He'll suspect two motives. I might risk it, if you could tell me where the Captain's heading for this minute."
"Easy," said Stoddart. "Pass the bottle. Captain Norwood is on his way to the Residency to report arrival."
O'Leary kept his hand on the bottle: "What else?"
"Nothing else. Regulation routine. In case you don't happen to know it, and you're an ignorant savage, a Resident at the court of a Maharajah is an Army officer who's no good at soldiering. So they put him in the 'political.' As a rule he's no good at that either. He's a sort of ambassador. He attends functions. And he keeps out o' trouble whenever he can. They tell me this Resident is a dabster at doing nothing and keeping it wrapped in cellophane."
O'Leary passed the bottle: "Well, you get your drink, but you don't deserve it. I'll bet my month's pay against yours that the Captain's in trouble already. Trouble's what he came here for. Did you ever know Norwood not to get what he's after?"
"There's someone else after something," said Stoddart, staring over the rim of his tumbler, beyond O'Leary. "I'll bet you know who he is. And I'll bet you know what he wants, you bleeding ferret. What is it?"
"You'd better scram," O'Leary answered. "Secrets and sergeants don't mix good."
Stoddart snorted: "There you go, murdering the King's English, as well as not minding your own business. You picked up the word scram in the movies and you think it's clever. The trouble with you is, Moses, that you try to talk too many languages, but you can't shoot a bee-line in one of them. Talk English."
"I will," said O'Leary. "You scram. That gentleman who's making you so curious is going to have to talk English too, on account o' my dignity."
"Who is he?"
"He's the oil-can."
"Meaning what?" asked Stoddart. "He looks greasy enough from the heat, but you haven't looked at him, so you didn't mean that."
"All right, I'll educate you. After that, you scram and learn English. I'm keeping him waiting o' purpose."
"On account of your dignity?"
"No. My dignity is like that bottle nose o' yours: it's been punched a time or two, but there it is. It's inseparable and I'll be buried with it. I'm keeping him waiting on account o' his indignity that needs a bit o' taking notice of, so it won't be no secret from him. His name is Noor Mahlam. No, not baa-lamb. Mahlam. He's the oil-can that goes around dripping the lies into the local works to make 'em grind good, and smell rotten and sound scandalous."
"Reporter for the local paper?" asked Stoddart.
"No. He's from the red-light district." Stoddart grinned. "Seeing he's a friend of yours, I might have guessed that."
"You've drunk your drink, so scram."
"I'd like another drink."
"'Twouldn't be good for you, and you know it. What you want is information about the red-light district. Well, I'll tell you. Kadur City is hot."
"You bet it's hot," said Stoddart. "It's a hundred and five this minute, in the shade of my awning. But I suppose you had morals in mind."
"Morals is right," said O'Leary. "This place has the hottest morals this side o' hell, unless maybe perhaps Lahore goes it one worse."
"I never was in Lahore," said Stoddart. "That's why you're still in the Army. Stay away from Lahore, and maybe you'll get home safe to England with a pension. Lahore is full o' women. And believe me, they're women. I mean, not ladies."
"Yes, I know what you mean. I've heard tell of 'em."
"And those women o' Lahore," said Moses O'Leary, "are about the square root of one-tenth of one per cent as bad as the men. This man Noor Mahlam, who is squinting right now at the back o' my neck, is a jewel in the crown of Kadur's infamy. He thinks he's tough, but he's only crooked. He can eke himself a living in Kadur. But even the police o' Lahore would laugh at him. He couldn't live there long enough to starve."
"What do you suppose he wants?" asked Stoddart.
"He wants news, you sapper. He wants to know why Captain Catch-em-alive-o Carl Norwood is in Kadur."
"You'll tell him?"
"Bet your boots and medals I'll tell him."
"Will you give him a drink?"
"I will not. For the sake of a harmless innocent like you I don't mind letting down my dignity at times. But I wouldn't steal Captain Norwood's whiskey for that buzzard."
"He doesn't look like a buzzard. He looks fat and good natured."
"You're too innocent. Boy, when you get home to London they'll pay you money to believe what you read in the daily paper. Now scram. I've kept that bloke waiting long enough—no, you don't! You let go o' that bottle. It's Captain Norwood's."
Moses Lafayette O'Leary took a private swig from the bottle inside Norwood's tent, and then put it away in the chop-box. With his hands in his trouser pockets for the sake of dignity, he strode toward the tree beneath which Noor Mahlam sat wondering how to broach the subject of his meditations. He did not appear to be wondering. His black turban only partly concealed a philosopher's forehead. His silver-brimmed spectacles enhanced the mellow mildness of intelligent dark brown eyes. His nose was fleshy and good humored. His black beard and moustache were well cared for. They concealed something. His mouth was not in evidence. He arose to greet Moses O'Leary and, judging by the movement of his beard, he smiled, but the smile was invisible. At close quarters it was evident that his bulk was mostly fat, not muscle. He fitted flabbily into a bazaar-made black alpaca European suit.
O'Leary smiled too, genially. And he was polite, because Indians always are polite to one another and the Eurasian can swing from pole to pole of convention as readily as a thermometer registers change. There was nothing insincere about that, and it implied no concession to the other's prejudices. He took the upper hand at once by speaking English:
"How d'you do, Noor Mahlam."
"How do you do, sir."
Moses O'Leary straightened himself slightly and drew his right hand from his pocket. He had to live up to being addressed as "sir" by a man of means from the red-light district. But it stirred his alertness. His suspicion, and more than that, was already wide awake. His voice hardened a trifle:
"Sit down, Noor Mahlam. Hot, isn't it? No, I'll stay on my feet. I've business to attend to. Can't spare you more than a minute or two."
"How did you know my name, sir?" asked Noor Mahlam in silky accents that suggested there was something else than silk beneath. It was a quiet agreeable voice, unless one listened to it too attentively.
Moses O'Leary smiled with the pride of the expert who needs no praise to justify his self-esteem:
"It's my job to know things. Check me. You were a lawyer. You served a term in prison in Cawnpore for cheating a client. You were disbarred. And now you're a pimp. Am I right?"
"Sir, I am a public relations counselor. It is a new profession, in India."
"It's a new name for an old game," said O'Leary. "But you've come to the right place. I'm the publicity man o' this surveying party. What do you want?"
Noor Mahlam looked bland and innocent. His eyes were as kind as the milk of the moon, but his mouth remained hidden. He wiped the sweat off his face with a handkerchief, then removed his spectacles and wiped them too, before he answered:
"I want nothing, Mr. O'Leary."
"You're a lucky bloke!"
"I came to enquire if I can be useful. If I could have the ear of your officer—"
"I'm it. I'm both ears. I'm his teacher, his keeper, his nurse, his confidential secret'ry, his father confessor and information man."
"Sir, if you are truly in Captain Norwood's confidence—"
"Try me. Him and me are like the two sides of a rupee. And it's a two-headed rupee. He'd believe me even if I was to tell him you're honest."
"I could reciprocate, Mr. O'Leary. There are many people to whom it is highly important to know why Captain Norwood is in Kadur."
"Have you heard about the survey of the Kadur River?"
"Yes, Mr. O'Leary, but nobody believes that."
"Well, it's the fact. We're here to run a survey of the Kadur River."
"Ah! But of what else than the river? I am commissioned to offer rupees fifty for correct information."
"And me a poor man! If I weren't a good Christian and afraid to take the name of the Lord in vain, I'd be critical o' your conscience. What's come over the race o' pimps? D'you think it's decent to insult my poverty with an offer o' fifty rupees?"
"Sir, I might make it a hundred."
"You'll have to make it twice that before I'll hesitate. Besides, I don't think I need you."
"Mr. O'Leary, I think you underestimate my 'value. There is nothing that I don't know about the politics of Kadur. I am the trusted informant of people in very high places."
"High?" said O'Leary. "In the magistrates' courts they call 'em low places. If all the gossip you've got is from the red-light district, you can go look for another customer. Captain Norwood's decent."
"Ah, but how about you?"
"I know how to take care o' myself. What d'you take me for? A tourist? I don't need no guide to teach me how to gawk at easy women."
"Sahib, I can tell you actual, authentic facts about the palace."
The word "sahib" was a mistake. It stiffened O'Leary's feeling of superiority. It spurred him to contemptuous offensive tactics:
"I don't believe you. What's new at the palace?" Noor Mahlam chuckled. It was like the gurgle of dirty water and it swallowed the silk of his voice. Even his gesture changed. He became as hoarse as an auctioneer encouraging a doubtful bidder:
"Sahib, there is newness at the palace such as never before was! There is a godsend in the guest-house. She has money, and a niece worth more than money. Oh, such loveliness! And oh, such ill temper! The aunt is never satisfied unless she is humiliating someone. She humiliates even His Highness. And the niece is never happy unless she can be as kind as her aunt is cruel."
"Why are they there?" asked O'Leary.
"It is a mystery. Nobody knows."
"Who wants to know?"
"Ah, sahib, you must not ask what I may not tell you."
"I'll bet a month's pay," said O'Leary, "that the temple Brahmins have sent out a call for information."
"Would it make any difference to you, Mr. O'Leary, where the two hundred rupees came from, supposing you had it?"
"Two fifty might tempt me. I'd think it over."
"Even that price might not be too high for exact information as to why Captain Norwood is in Kadur; and also why Mrs. Harding and Miss Lynn Harding are here at the same time. There is some connection. What is it?"
"I'll find out," said O'Leary.
"And you will sell me the information?"
"I'll think it over. If I can't find a higher bidder, maybe you and I can do business. You'd better watch out for me. I'll take a stroll through the bazaar later on."
"Very well, Mr. O'Leary. My office is—"
"What do I care where your office is. D'you think I'd let myself be seen calling on you? You keep a dekko lifting. You've plenty o' spies. Find out where I go, and follow, and bring your money with you. Three hundred."
"But sahib, we agreed to—"
"I said three hundred. You'd better go before I'm seen talking to you. Captain Norwood might be back any minute. If he should ask me who you are I'd have to tell him, and it wouldn't sound nice. Him and me never lie to each other."
"Very well, Mr. O'Leary, I will go now. But please remember: it is dangerous to—"
"I know all that stuff. No need to try to scare me. I'm scared a'ready. Don't you worry. If it's Brahmins at the bottom o' this, I'll keep it secret. So long. And don't you come back here unless I tell you it's safe."
"Very well, sahib."
"And see here; I'm not blind, deaf, drunk, nor innocent. I've my own ways o' finding out this, that and the other. So I know you're in no one's confidence. You're a heel, if you know what that means. You overheard some talk in the bazaar, and you spotted one o' my spies, and he talked. You gave him one rupee, eight annas."
"Shall I whistle him? He's here in the camp."
"But will you believe him against me?"
"You listen! If you want to, you can brag that I trust you. I'd as soon trust a snake. But your bragging won't cost me anything, nor commit me to nothing. So you go to your principals and have your money ready, spot cash, before you waste any more o' my time."
"Sahib, I am in the confidence of most important people."
"Prove it! And now clear out quick before Captain Norwood comes and sees me talking to you. He'd think I'd lost my sense o' self-respect. That's all. Not another word. Beat it."
CAPTAIN CARL NORWOOD was in nothing yet that he or anyone could recognize as trouble. On horseback, followed by a mounted native orderly, he was entering the ancient gate of Kadur City. A good-looking fellow, young to be a Captain of Royal Engineers. He looked more like a cavalryman. Inside the city gates, there was a stinking herd of loaded camels. They blocked the street.
Norwood's horse that wasn't used to camels went into a panic. When he had calmed the horse he dismounted, gave the reins to the orderly, and told him to let the horse get used to the smell of camels and follow as soon as the camels were out of the way. He wanted to stretch his legs anyhow. It was only a mile walk to the Residency, on the far side of the city. The swarming streets were interesting, just before sunset, with the night life just beginning and the afternoon life not yet dead.
The Residency stood in a vast compound amid neem trees. Guard-house—flagpole—Union Jack. The Residency guard of native Indian infantry was turning out to pay the customary honors to the flag at sunset. The Resident was on the front steps, middle-aged and military looking. Norwood had to wait until the brief ceremony was over. His reception was not cordial. The invitation to dinner was perfunctory, so phrased that it was easy to refuse.
"I'm tired, sir. Long march. I would like to turn in early."
"Very well, Captain Norwood. Don't let me inconvenience you. I was informed, of course, that you were coming. Can't say that I approve of this survey of the Kadur River. The priests will resent it bitterly. There may be trouble enough as it is over the temple boundary dispute. The Maharajah claims ownership of certain buildings, beneath which it has been an open secret for centuries that the priests have a diamond mine."
"That's why I'm here, sir. I was told that Prince Rundhia started the argument."
"Yes, he's heir to the throne. He had to start it in the Maharajah's name, but it was Rundhia's idea. The Maharajah is a quiet old gentleman, thank heaven. No initiative. Satisfied to let things take their course. I believe the quarrel would settle itself, if we would let it alone. The diamond mine is one of those open secrets that do no harm until they're aired by busybodies. The arrangement has worked perfectly well all these years. The priests don't win many diamonds from the mine. Sometimes years go by without their finding any stones worth putting on the market. But they make an occasional find. They turn over a certain percentage to the Maharajah, and sell the remainder for temple revenue. There's no reason to suppose they're not honest about the division. I wish our Government hadn't interfered. In a way, I resent your being here. You are to write a report, I suppose?"
"Yes. There's a rumor the mine is dangerous."
"Good God, man! They don't let anyone near the mine—not even the Maharajah!"
"Provision has been made for that, sir."
The Resident squirmed. "Well, take care that your—" he selected a word; he used it tartly: "—spies don't make trouble."
Norwood returned to the city. The new street lights had been turned on. There was a swarm of homing traffic—bullock carts, camels, droves of pedestrians, scandalously noisy and decrepit autos. Norwood stood on a sort of traffic island in mid-street—an oasis of palms with an ancient fountain and one big glaring arc-light. He could see the orderly bringing the horses; he might just as well wait for them.
Threading its way through the traffic in the direction of the palace, there came one of those old-fashioned carriages in which zenana ladies take the air. It was magnificently horsed. Two mounted men rode ahead to clear the way, and they were followed by two runners armed with sticks. Two men in splendid livery on the box. Two footmen on a platform behind the carriage. Two more horsemen bringing up the rear. The carriage had no windows. There were slats instead, through which the occupants could see out without being seen. It was obviously a palace turnout.
As the carriage drew near Norwood, a terrifically noisy Ford truck frightened the horses. Almost at the same moment, two elephants loomed into view from a side street. The horses plunged. The driver had hard work to control them. The carriage swayed violently. The right front wheel struck the curb, close to Norwood. The shock jerked open the door. The electric arc-light shone in, revealing the occupants. The coachman reined the horses to a standstill, shouting to the footmen to seize their heads.
Diamonds, pearls, zephyry silken saris of the hue of Himalayan dawn. Two women. The older, stout one raised a fan to hide her face. It was the other who held Norwood spellbound.
She was young. She was full of laughter. She had mocking, excitable, generous eyes that looked wild to lose their innocence and revel in what shouldn't be, but is, and is amusing. She saw no evil, only humor in being stared at by a man who shouldn't see her, and hadn't expected to. Indian zenana ladies are supposed to shrink from men's eyes. Hers met Norwood's full, and full of laughter.
Hair like spun gold. So she might be a Rajput princess. If so, she had probably never been seen by any man except her father, perhaps her brother, and her husband if she had one, since she was nine or ten years old. She might be seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, there was no guessing. Perhaps older.
Norwood, of course, recovered self-possession. He was in uniform, so he saluted. He was about to speak; he had thought of a properly gallant re mark that would sound almost like a quotation from the Arabian Nights, when the palace servants took the situation in hand.
The mounted men spurred up with a clatter of hooves and harness. The two footmen leaped down from the rear platform, thrust themselves between Norwood and the carriage door, slammed the door and faced him, not even courteous. Teeth—whites of their eyes in evidence. Hilts of their ornamental scimitars thrust forward. Bristling black beards. Ugly.
The driver recovered command of his horses. The carriage moved on. The footmen jumped up behind. Norwood was left wondering. He had had a vision. He had never seen such a beautiful girl.
The older, stouter woman, who had used the fan to hide her face, should be the Maharanee of Kadur. But Norwood knew she was childless; otherwise Prince Rundhia, the Maharajah's nephew, would not be heir to the throne. The ladies of Kadur have black, not golden hair, so the younger girl could hardly be a relative. She might be a princess on a visit from some northern Indian State.
That they were wearing so much jewelry suggested that they were returning from some elaborate ceremony, very likely in the temple, whose enormous bulk dominated the city.
The orderly, selected because he was a native of Kadur, rode up with the led horse.
"Has Prince Rundhia taken a wife?" Norwood asked him.
"No, sahib." One does not discuss zenana ladies—not with men of an alien race. The orderly grinned himself into the kind of silence that suggests the subject is forbidden.
Norwood rode back to his camp, where Moses Lafayette O'Leary lied, like three men of three different races, about who had drunk the whiskey. Norwood's servant knew nothing about it. He had learned by experience that it didn't pay to take O'Leary's lies in vain, there being always enough truth in them to make them worse than barbed wire.
"It was an emergency," said O'Leary. "Yes, sir, I took the liberty. But how can I get information if I mayn't count on your knowledge o' my honesty, and take a chance now and then on your overlooking what would be impudence if someone else should do it? I have to treat my informants decent. Have you heard who's staying at the palace? There's a guest-house in the garden full o' women. Americans. Two. A young one. And an aunt who'd fill a hotel. Truck-loads o' luggage. I've heard say the aunt could make a brace of tigers wish they'd looked the other way. They say she's a holy terror. But they tell me the young one 'ud melt your heart to look at her. They call the young one Miss Lynn Harding."
"What else have you found out?"
"You're about due for an Irish promotion. You're getting too fat. I've my eye on a man who knows what work is."
"All right, sir. If you want me to talk before I know what I'm talking about, I'll do it. Here goes. The whole bazaar's as full o' dirty rumors as Stoddart's dog is o' fleas. There's a game on, and it's all set. They're laying for us, and the way they figure it we're in the bag already. I've been offered a bribe to tell why you're in Kadur."
"No. Promises. Man name o' Noor Mahlam."
"That name isn't on the list. Who is he?"
"Calls himself a free-lance. He's a sort o' speculator, wanting to buy options—took an option on me. He's back in the bazaar now, offering to deliver me to the highest bidder. It's the Prince against the Brahmins, and the whole of Kadur betting on the outcome. The temple Brahmins don't intend to lose their diamond mine if hook or crook can keep it for 'em."
"Beyond that you were offered a bribe, did you get any other line on their intentions?"
"No. I know we're being spied on. There's a saying in Kadur that diamonds see in the dark. We're being watched now. We can't afford a mistake. But they'll try some more bribery first before they act ugly."
"Don't take their money. Don't take a gift of any kind from anyone."
"I'm incorruptible. I always was. And I always aim to be. But if you'd slip me a few more rupees of expense money, that wouldn't be corruption, would it? Here I go taking my soul in my two fists and plunging it into dens o' vice and infamy, perjuring myself and telling lies and listening to stuff that 'ud turn the stomachs o' the holy saints, and I don't even get fair spending money. It's a Scotch Government that you and I work for; they'd make Jews and Armenians and Hindu moneylenders look like profligates—How about twenty rupees and no questions asked?"
"I don't expect to ask questions. Your job is to tell me what you know."
"As soon as I know I'll tell you. Trust me, sir."
"Moses, if the time should come when I don't trust you, you won't like the consequences. That will be all for the moment."
"Don't I get twenty rupees?"
"All right, it's a cheap Government. Make it ten rupees."
"Oh, all right, sir, all right. 'The greatest o' these is charity.' It's a miserable poor Government. We'll call it charity. I'll work for nothing."
"Get out of here. And when I send for you, remember your manners."
"All right, sir. Handsome is as handsome does. I'll wear a top hat if you say so. All right. All right."
MRS. DEBORAH HARDING, in leggings, a short skirt, and a wide pith helmet, wearing goggles, and with a camera suspended somehow from her portly figure, prodded ruins with the ferrule of a green silk sunshade. Two palace servants danced attendance on her, doing their obsequious utmost to prevent calamity.
"Sahiba! Not good! Much too many cobra—kerait—scorpions—too bad. Come, look this way. Plenty ruins this way."
But Mrs. Deborah Harding wasn't in the habit of taking the advice of anyone less than a Supreme Court Justice; nor would she hesitate to question that if it didn't agree with her own convictions. She was dynamic, opulent, willful dignity personified. As honorary special correspondent to The Woman Citizen, of Aaronville, Clarendon County, Ohio, she was being an authority on ruins. She looked like authority. She had authoritative gestures, and a note-book. Nobody, not even an ignorant Indian native, could mistake her for anything less than an autocrat. She prodded ruins as she would have prodded inferior persons from whom she desired information.
It was close on sunset. Mrs. Deborah Harding's goggles were dusty. The blood-red sun-rays confused her vision. She was one of those people who always believe what they see but nothing that they don't see. She saw a cobra. She did not see that the stone, on which she set her foot, was loose, curved on its under side and resting insecurely on a flat rock. So she twisted her ankle and sat down—hard. It jolted every bone in her corpulent body.
Two hundred and eight pounds of widow with bankers' references and one hundred per cent opinions, can sit down harder than a crate of groceries. She had barely enough breath left to command the servants to kill the cobra.
They didn't kill it. Those were more or less sacred ruins, so it was a more or less sacred cobra. A bullied Hindu's right of disobedience is sacred, as long as he makes a gesture in the right direction.
"I never saw such people—such a country. I have travelled all around the world from America. I have visited numbers of countries. I have not seen your equals anywhere for inefficiency and lack of human intelligence. What shall I do now? I am in pain. Have you no ideas? Can't you suggest something?"
The servants tried to help her to her feet. She couldn't stand. The brave old tyrant's eyes were watering with pain beneath the goggles, which was why she didn't remove them; she'd be damned before she'd let Indian servants see her wet-eyed. She obviously couldn't re-mount the quiet pony that had brought her to the scene. Even the exasperated servants hadn't enough malice to persuade her to attempt that. One of them mounted the pony and cantered away for assistance. Mrs. Deborah Harding sat fanning herself and making impotently harsh remarks about the swarms of flies that were looking for a last, lazy meal before going to sleep.
The cantering servant drew rein at an outlying police kana and, after a heatedly uncomplimentary debate with the policeman in charge, phoned the palace. The Maharanee was out. It entered no one's head to consult the Maharajah; it was his hour of the day to study postage stamps, so he was incommunicado, except to the physician who should bring him his evening tonic. However, Prince Rundhia had returned that afternoon, from a visit to Delhi. Someone phoned him. Things happened.
There are two palaces. Rundhia's is separated from the Maharajah's only by a high wall and two widths of glorious garden. Rundhia's imported patent automatic garage-door swung open. His imported ex-Czarist chauffeur whirled a Rolls-Royce to the front door. Rundhia took the wheel. They opened the front gate just in time. Another split second and he would have crashed it, sacked the lot of them, and bummed a new car from his aunt.
There was a whirl of dust, a din of tooting. Headlights flooded the narrow roads with blinding glare. Three dogs and some belated chickens died the death. Three villages gasped and called on thirty gods to witness their piety. Rundhia rammed on the brakes and got out of the car to bow to Mrs. Harding just as calmly, as blandly, as amusedly courteous as if he were entering her drawing room. The Russian chauffeur dusted him from head to foot and knelt to wipe his beautiful brown-and-white shoes.
"Well, I am glad to see you," said Mrs. Deborah Harding. "I don't know who you are, but—"
"Prince Rundhia, your host's nephew."
"How d'you do. You took your own time, didn't you? I had begun to think no one was coming."
THE garden guest-house was a copy of a cottage at Juan les Pins. It had been Rundhia's idea. The Prince had persuaded his aunt the Maharanee to go thoroughly modern for once.
The Maharanee almost worshipped Rundhia, but she had compelled him to return from Europe by cutting off the supplies of cash. She wanted him to learn to be fit for the throne. But Rundhia was always threatening to go to Europe again unless she made things tolerable; so she had to make good his gambling losses and to humor his whims. There was a continual struggle between them, she paying his debts at strategic intervals, and striving to preserve some vestige of the ancient culture that her nephew despised.
No one had stayed at the guest-house until Mrs. Deborah Harding heard about it during her tour of India. She knew exactly how to contrive invitations. She considered she conferred a favor on the rulers of Kadur by accepting their hospitality for herself and her niece. As a matter of fact it was true. Lynn Harding was a prodigious comfort to the Maharanee, and it suited Aunty very well indeed that the Maharanee should monopolize Lynn for a while.
Lynn Harding had been becoming troublesome. The skillful tyranny of Aunty's moneyed fostering had forced Lynn to postpone the natural rebellion of youth to an age at which some girls are steadying down. Lynn's rebellion had hardly more than begun. Aged twenty-two, she had been denied the democratic grace of college education.
Aunty, who held the purse-strings, knew that colleges corrupt; and what Aunty knew, was so. No one could change Aunty's opinions. Lynn hadn't tried to change Aunty. But she had learned to be strategic and even diplomatic. She had assented, without enthusiasm, to become engaged to a decadent F.F.V. But there, Aunty's first reverse had caught her completely off-guard. An immovable will and an irresistible explosive met. Lynn blew up. She didn't merely break the engagement. She smashed it. She scattered its splintered fragments recklessly, until the social cream of several counties curdled with malicious laughter that even reached Washington. Aunty received condolences that made her blood boil. Moreover, Lynn had to be handled with gloves and wasn't even contrite.
So Aunty beat a strategic retreat. She decided on a world tour. It had been fairly successful, barring occasional incidents on shipboard and in hotels. The almost incredibly beautiful Lynn had received enough attention from unpedigreed, or at any rate uncertified, strangers to keep Aunty on the war-path.
The British officers in India had given Aunty plenty to worry about. So the invitation from the Maharanee of Kadur had come like a godsend. It gave Lynn a romantic outlet for enthusiasm in impeccably respectable surroundings, where there were no undesirable men to ruin Aunty's dream of a correct and socially influential marriage.
So this Prince was a staggerer. He had been absent when the Hardings arrived, frequently mentioned but not expected to return for several weeks from what was spoken of as a vacation. Aunty had had a good look at him in the full glare of the headlights of the Rolls-Royce. He was a worse shock than the undignified bruise and the twisted ankle. He resembled one of those young Argentine plutocrats who used to corrupt Paris until the price of beef and wheat reduced them to the level of common mortals. A splendid figure of a man, perfectly tailored. Manners that only money can buy and cynicism support. Beautiful eyes, without a trace of effeminacy and not yet betraying signs of having lived too furiously. An all-conquering male. Heir to a throne as old as England's.
With astonishing strength he lifted Aunty from the earth and placed her on the soft-springed cushions that made her sigh with physical relief and mental horror. Aunty knew she was up against it. The Prince drove her with skill. He avoided bumps. He damned the guard at the palace front gate with the voice of a cultured gentleman and a vocabulary that Aunty instinctively knew was scurrilous. At the arched entrance to the guest-house patio, he lifted her out. He caused servants to come like firemen to a burning house. He sent immediately for his private Bengali doctor, a member of his own household.
"Competent, Mrs. Harding, I assure you. Discreet, I guarantee."
Almost simultaneously with the arrival of the Bengali doctor, who looked devilishly discreet and more afraid of Aunty than if she were the devil's own widow, the Maharanee's carriage drew up, with its horses' noses snorting on top of the Rolls-Royce.
Out got Lynn, too full of excitement and alarm and fun and sympathy to remember she should veil her face. She could hear her aunt through the open guest-house window. Lynn came running into the glare of Rundhia's headlights. There was nothing that anyone could do about that. There they were, he, she and astonishment. Lynn's diamonds, loaned by the Maharanee, sparkled like Lynn's eyes, more brilliant no doubt, but much less interesting.
"Who are you? What is wrong with Aunty?"
"Your aunt has hurt herself. My physician and some women are exploring for broken bones. I believe it is nothing serious."
Aunty, it was obvious, thought otherwise. She wasn't liking the doctor. She was calling him a fool, and she could make the word sound like a description of a flunkey caught stealing.
The Maharanee had to be ceremonially helped out of the carriage. She, too, had heard Aunty's yells. She was overflowing with eagerness to overwhelm an injured guest with kindness, but she couldn't run as fast as Lynn. And then Rundhia stood in the way, smiling, careful not to embarrass Lynn with gallantry. His memories of all the women he had ever loved and left had vanished. He didn't mind making that obvious. But he made no false move.
"Nothing," he said in English, to the Maharanee. "A twisted ankle. A bruise. A little badly shaken I believe. My doctor is attending to her. Won't you introduce me to the goddess?"
The Maharanee purred. She unveiled her face. She put her arm around her lamplit protégée: "Lynn darling, this is my nephew Prince Rundhia. He is a bad boy, but I do hope you will like each other. Rundhia, this is Miss Lynn Harding, who is teaching me how Americans do things; and I am having such fun pretending she is one of us. I wish she were! Oh, how I wish it."
"She is too beautiful to be one of us," said Rundhia. His half-mocking insincerity had exactly the right nuance. He bowed the Maharanee into the guest-house with an air of taking nothing seriously. He stood aside, lighting a cigarette, waiting for the Bengali doctor, listening to Aunty's angry protests that the doctor was breaking her leg. Lynn wondered. Why the sudden aloofness? She decided to let the Maharanee bear the first brunt of Aunty's anger, while she waited on the far side of the Rolls-Royce, where the Prince couldn't see her.
Presently, when the doctor came out, Rundhia eyed him in the lamplight with a stare that made the Bengali flinch. He did his best to look like a confidential, dignified retainer, but it didn't work. Aunty had broken his dignity, and his fear of the Prince had no covering left. He almost stammered:
"Nothing broken. Tape—iodine—bandages. She will soon recover." He made a sudden, nervous effort to regain the feeling of being important and on the inside of events. "Have you heard that Captain Norwood, of the Royal Engineers, has arrived? He is in camp outside the city."
Rundhia looked startled. The doctor continued: "He has with him an Eurasian named Moses O'Leary who, they say, already is poking his ugly nose into what is none of his business."
There was quite another expression on Rundhia's face from the one with which he had greeted Lynn. After a moment's thought he touched the doctor's arm and led him away into the darkness. Rundhia and the doctor stood talking.
Lynn Harding stood examining the Rolls-Royce. She was quite used to luxury, but even Hollywood owned nothing like that thing. Its gadgets and gold-plated adornments were a sufficiently good excuse for giving Aunty's temper time to cool off. So she lingered, letting the Maharanee go alone into the guest-house. Aloneness, of course, included three servants, but a Maharanee is lucky who endures only six eyes to watch what she does, and six ears to hear what she says. Lynn could not hear what Prince Rundhia was saying to the doctor, but he was doing all the talking and she felt fairly sure that he was talking about her. She saw him dismiss the doctor and stand staring at him in an attitude that vaguely suggested Adolph Menjou in one of his early pictures. The doctor looked hopeless, helpless; as he hurried away his back suggested humiliation. Lynn felt sorry for him and began to wonder whether she couldn't invent something wrong with herself, so as to make an excuse to send for him and talk to him and find out why he was a man of sorrow. But that line of thought was interrupted by Rundhia. He strode toward her looking as deadly self-assured as Mephistopheles. Lynn fell on guard. In spite of years of Aunty's supervision she had had her share of encounters with men who approach good-looking girls with a definite technique. She spotted that in a minute: knew without forming the thought in her mind—knew instinctively that Rundhia had grasped the Aunty Harding situation and intended to leap fences. His would be no conventional opening.
"You win," said Rundhia.
"Whatever you came for."
"I came for a good time."
"Uh-uh? Been having it?"
Rundhia's wonderful eyes glanced sidewise at the guest-house window. Aunty's voice was quite audible, and no one within earshot was ever permitted to be in doubt about what kind of time Aunty was having. Lynn chose not to answer Rundhia's unspoken question. If it was conversation he wanted, she would tell him something he did not yet know.
"Your aunt has been conducting me into Indian mysteries."
"We have none," said Rundhia. "We are an open book. We are three hundred and fifty million people, every single one of whom carries his heart on his sleeve. You are the mystery. Have you a heart? Where is it?"
Lynn laughed: "Is that any of your business?"
"Of course it's my business."
"Because you are the most beautiful mystery I have ever seen. Every mystery is an invitation to find the right key."
"Oh, are you a detective?"
"You bet I am. I've detected your cruelty. You intend to keep me guessing. I can't endure it." Lynn laughed again: "Should I pity you?"
"No. Pity and compassion are the twin curses of India. We're so compassionate to one another that we hate one another for not being even more miserable than we are, so as to be able to mop up greater floods of useless pity."
"So you're an iron man?"
"No—nor a jellyfish. I have a leathery disposition, due to talents that have dried from lack of use."
"Oh, are you lazy?"
"No. Iron has entered into me. It's like a spur that dug too deep and keeps on working inward. It irritates abundant energy that has no outlet. Add boredom to that, and what have you?"
"It sounds like an explosive mixture. Aren't you afraid you may blow up? I believe you're sorry for yourself."
"Sorrow is not in me," he retorted. "I don't know the emotion."
"Not even when you make mistakes?"
"I never make them. A mistake is what a fool does to an opportunity. All that I have lacked until now is a real opportunity."
"To be foolish?"
"To be energetic, willful, talented and wonderfully wise. I am a genius. How long are you intending to stay here?"
"I don't know. Aunty Harding is the Bureau of Intentions. If you get too talented and wise, I daresay you can cut short our visit very easily. Aunty specializes in wisdom, and she doesn't enjoy competition."
"Ah, but I have talents."
"Too many. They're a nuisance."
"What are you really good at?"
Prince Rundhia chuckled: "Now, now—are you flattering me, or are you really interested?"
"Yes, honestly, I'm interested. I've never talked with a Prince. What are you good at?"
"Isn't it obvious? I'm very good indeed at recognizing goddesses who visit Kadur."
"Do they come here often?"
"Until now, they were legendary—morbidly unhealthy myths, who left behind their unclaimed luggage in the shape of idiotic morals and the kind of superstition that corrupts independence. But now that a genuine goddess has come to Kadur—"
"Aunty will adore it."
"Mystery again! Mystery! Will adore what?"
"Being called a goddess. However, she's a fallen goddess at the moment. I must go in and see her."
"There is no need to worry about her," Rundhia objected. "She's quite all right—just a bit shaken—undoubtedly angry—perhaps suffering a little pain, but nothing serious. My doctor said she will be well in a couple of days."
"All the same, I will go in and see her. I suppose we'll meet again? Do you live at the palace?"
"I have a palace of my own," said Rundhia. "I live there like a spider in its lair, awaiting opportunity to pounce on goddesses who come to Kadur. Oh, yes, Miss Harding. We will meet again. Yes, indeed we will meet. Count on my entertaining you."
Mrs. Harding's voice came through the guest-house window sharply impatient:
"Lynn! Lynn! Where are you?"
"All right, Aunty. I'm coming."
Experienced tyranny knows countless ways of compelling submission. Aunty groaned on a sumptuous bed:
"No, don't let me trouble you. Don't let me be a nuisance. I am sure that the cares of a palace must be more than enough. You must try to forget my existence. Lynn can look after me."
Lynn's eyes met the Maharanee's—deep unto deep. The Maharanee looked rather like a New York East-side Jewess who has risen through the ruck of immigration to the ranks of affluence and prestige. Full-bosomed, matronly, kind, but aware that the world is full of pitfalls: aware that the world needs kindness, but can misinterpret and cruelly resent good intentions. She was afraid to say anything that might make Lynn mistrust her, even though Lynn in oriental jewelled finery looked like the golden-haired, glorious daughter of kings of legend that the Maharanee, in her secret heart of hearts, imagined she herself might be, if only nature had endowed her with the outer grace. She had the genius, gentleness, iron. She had also a will that no Deborah Harding could bully to obedience.
Lynn undid a necklace from the palace heirlooms, and handed it to the Maharanee. She began to remove a bracelet, but the complicated fastening prevented. She held out her wrist.
"Please. I must get into some clothes that Aunty thinks respectable and stay with her."
The mild, plump Maharanee countered with surprising firmness:
"Darling, we will expect you to dinner. Yes, I will take the jewelry because it must be returned to the Keeper of the Jewels. I will choose two women from my own attendants who shall take care of Mrs. Harding. They shall entertain her if she wishes. They are skillful with the lute and many other instruments. They sing. They dance. So Mrs. Harding shall not feel neglected. I will send some special dishes from the palace."
She almost flounced out, giving Aunty no time to reply. There was silence until the drum-beat of the horses' hooves died away along the drive in the direction of the palace. Then Aunty spoke:
"This comes of making social concessions. I never heard of such audacity. Did you hear her speak to me as if I were a servant or a charity patient? Go and take off that immodest costume. It suggests a fancy-dress ball in a bad-house. Then come back and tell me what you did this afternoon."
"I was in the temple," Lynn answered. "I have been where no other white woman ever was. I have been having the time of my life. I am sorry you are hurt. But I am very tired of your scolding, Aunty. You seem to me to try to take the fun out of everything. If the doctor hadn't said you are only slightly hurt, I would stay here and be glad to do it."
"Doctor! Do you call that thing a doctor? He's a monkey. I was never in my life so embarrassed, so humiliated. As soon as I can move without torture, we will pack up and leave, unless I have been poisoned by that creature's touch. He made me shudder. I won't let him come near me again."
"But, Aunty, he has promised to return with something to relieve the pain, so that you will get some sleep."
"Sleep! While you are doing what in the palace? Do you think I am deaf, blind? Do you think I have forgotten your flirting on board ship and in hotels until I blushed for you? I heard you, through the window, talking to Prince Rundhia."
"Aunty, I think I hate you. It makes me feel mean and ungrateful. I would so much rather love you."
"I have left off hoping to be loved," said Aunty. "I demand your respect. That may teach you to respect yourself and so merit the respect of your equals. Love? Gratitude? Illusions! I have learned that. I shall feel well recompensed if I can only guide you through the age of indiscretion until the time when your breeding asserts itself and you can be trusted to take a proper place in the world." Lynn went and changed into black silk Chinese pajamas. They would remind Aunty of that fancy-dress ball on board ship, when the penniless son of a Tirhoot planter had made the pace so hot that Aunty nearly had fits. To hell with Aunty. Lynn stared at her own reflection in the mirror, not quite liking it. She smiled at herself, just to see what the smile would look like.
"That isn't me! I'm not sly! I'm angry. I'm indignant! I'm—That's what I'll become unless I break Aunty's hold! Damn Aunty! Damn her! I'll be independent if it kills me!"
The Maharanee returned from the palace, excited, fawned on by four women. Two meek men-servants followed her with baskets of provisions. Lynn ran to greet her. The Maharanee almost squealed at the sight of Lynn in black pajamas with her golden hair massed in becoming contrast.
"Wonderful! But no, that won't do! Yes it will, yes it will! I forget. I am so excited, I forget! We are to have an informal supper party at the palace, instead of dinner—truly, truly unconventional—modern—a picnic!"
"Oh, my God!" said Aunty.
But the Maharanee could be as deaf as Fate when it pleased her to be. She continued, almost breathless:
"His Highness my husband" (she always spoke of the Maharajah as His Highness my husband) "has heard that Captain Norwood is in Kadur. Captain Norwood is a Royal Engineer. He is said to be a man of great attainments. His Highness my husband is very eager to be pleasant to him."
"Engineer?" said Aunty.
"Yes, he is to make a survey of the Kadur River, It would not be etiquette to notice him until after he makes his formal call, which he should do tomorrow. However, I persuaded His Highness my husband, who is a very conventional man, but now and then he listens to me. I suggested to him that a very informal supper-party need not interfere with Captain Norwood's formal call tomorrow. Lynn darling, you must come and help me to arrange it. We have sent a car for Captain Norwood, but very likely he will come on horseback; he is said to be an independent person. Rundhia will come, for I have promised Rundhia the sort of informality he loves. But Lynn, you must come at once, please. I need ideas." She turned to Aunty: "We are so, so sorry, Mrs. Harding, that you can't be with us."
Aunty sat up. It made her groan, but she smiled her sweetest at the Maharanee's veiled embarrassment:
"I will spare you that regret," she answered. "I will be there. You have a rickshaw? Your women can help me to dress, I don't doubt. Lynn and I will be leaving as soon as I am fit to travel. A last supper in your palace will be something to remember."
"Oh, how gracious of you," said the Maharanee. "But are you quite sure—"
The Bengali doctor appeared, cautious, with a bedside confidential air that did not, however, prevent the Maharanee from instinctively veiling her face.
"Mrs. Harding, I have a little pellet for you, just one little pellet, prepared specially."
"Thank you, I don't take pellets."
The doctor hesitated. The Maharanee spoke through her veil:
"Mrs. Harding is coming to supper at the palace."
"Oh?" said the doctor. "Well, perhaps she will take the medicine at supper. Shall I send it by a servant? She should take it with a little piece of bread or with a glass of water."
"Thank you, you needn't trouble," said Mrs. Harding. "I need no medicine."
"Come, Lynn." The Maharanee could hardly wait while Lynn looked for a wrap. "We must be ready before Captain Norwood comes. It is important that we make on him the friendliest impression."
"So long, Aunty. See you later."
"Lynn, go back and put on something decent!"
"No, no!" said the Maharanee. "I like her this way."
"Scandalous!" said Aunty. She said it loudly, not under her breath.
The Maharanee had royal ears that could hear and ignore. She was well trained in the royal art of knowing but seeming not to know. She looked portly and short beside Lynn, but there was rhythm in her movement, and in her thought, too, that leaped the invisible walls of mere appearances and landed safely on the plane of metaphysics far beyond the reach of Aunty Harding's matters of fact and merely logical malice. Passing through the shadows cast by the electric lights along the garden path she seemed a link with ancient India—almost a living incarnation of the past. But she spoke of the moment:
"Lynn, your aunt doesn't enjoy being used by destiny. That is a pity, because people who oppose their destiny do have such a difficult time, don't they. Destiny always wins."
"Aunty isn't always a good loser," Lynn admitted. "She is always brave. But I don't think she believes in destiny."
"Does she never consult an astrologer?"
Lynn laughed: "She did once—at Atlantic City. I was with her, and she intended to have my horoscope cast too, just for fun, because it was a rainy day and there was nothing else to do. But the astrologer didn't get around to me. Aunty wouldn't tell him her right age. She made herself out to be ten years younger than she was, because she said it was none of the astrologer's business. And the astrologer told her she had a weakness for men and must be very careful about a dangerous love affair within six months. He also told her that she didn't know how to manage people. Then she walked out. No, Aunty doesn't believe in astrologers."
"But you? You believe in them?"
"I think the answer is no. I know so little about them—practically nothing. But aren't they charlatans? I've always been told that they are."
"Oh, many of them are," the Maharanee admitted. "There are charlatans in all professions. We have a very good court astrologer. I will order him to cast your horoscope. In fact, I have already consulted him about it."
"What fun! But please do keep it secret from Aunty. She would have conniption fits."
"Very well, we won't tell her. But from what the astrologer has already told me—and perhaps partly also from my own intuition—I am beginning to believe, Lynn, that you are a very fortunate arrival in the midst of our perplexities."
"If good fortune means having a good time, then I agree with you," Lynn answered. "It doesn't need a horoscope to prove that. I'm having a grand time."
"We love you and we will all do our best to make you happy," said the Maharanee. "But the astrologer says this is a time of great crisis for us. I believe you are a sending, as we call it. There are many sendings just now, and they are badly mixed. They are contradictory and in opposition to one another. His Highness my husband is so anxious to make a good impression on Captain Norwood. It is so important. Will you help us to make a good impression on him?"
"But I might do the wrong thing! I might say the wrong word. I might commit some indiscretion. Am I in on an intrigue?"
"Yes, dear, a very serious intrigue."
"Oh, what fun! Is it dangerous?"
"The astrologer says that it might become dangerous."
"Maharanee dear, this sounds wonderful! Is it a real dark oriental intrigue?"
The Maharanee laughed amiably, after a second's hesitation and with noticeable effort:
"Yes, dear, it is certainly dark. It is secret, and it has to do with a diamond mine, but I hope you won't mention that to anyone."
"I'm glad you warned me. Of course, I won't mention it."
"All walls in India have ears," said the Maharanee. "And we have a saying in Kadur that diamonds see in the dark." With a movement of her sari she threw off a mood as if it were something tangible that obeyed the law of gravity. She laughed gaily: "But let us forget the darkness. This evening let us play at being unconventional and unimportant. Let us have fun!"
"Grand! A picnic."
"Yes, a picnic. Kadur never had a picnic. This will be the first time in all Kadur's history."
CAPTAIN CARL NORWOOD'S tent faced the Kadur River. About a mile away, it resembled a moonlit irregular ribbon of silver streaming from the enormous temple; and the temple was a citadel of mystery that loomed against Indian night. There was a stillness that seemed like the womb of music, into which the clatter and voices from the camp kitchen fell naturally and the hoof-beats of a cantering horse thudded on dusty earth like calculated drum-beats.
A shadow that was a horse was reined in with unnecessary vigor. A palace messenger dismounted. Norwood's servant, careful for his master's dignity, accepted a silver tube with the air of conferring a favor. He handed the tube to Norwood on a brass dish, after he had kept him waiting until he had found the dish and cleaned it. It suggested magic, as if he were wiping away the possibility of dangerous contagion.
Norwood opened the tube, after he had made sure that the servant had withdrawn to a sufficient distance. He drew out a letter written by the palace secretary on beautiful paper that smelt of old rose leaves. He scowled, raised his eyebrows, scratched his red head, lowered his eyelids a little so that the corners of his eyes suggested he was staring through a haze of improbabilities in search of a clue. Then he went to the table and wrote, inserted his own letter into the tube and returned it to the messenger, who cantered away.
"Tell Moses I want him."
Moses O'Leary came and stood in the door of the tent. He was a picture of controlled alertness. In the lamplight the whites of his eyes made his skin look darker. His effort to seem casual increased the suggestion of tense excitement. There could be absolutely no doubt whatever that Moses Lafayette O'Leary was in his element and minding everyone's business, including his own.
Norwood stared at him: "Where were you, that you came so quickly? Were you eavesdropping?"
"I wouldn't think of such a thing, sir."
"Well, don't get too virtuous. I've been invited to the palace for supper."
"I haven't had time yet, sir, to find out much about what's doing at the palace."
"Has anyone from the palace been enquiring about me?"
"Yes, sir. Prince Rundhia's servant came asking if you'd need to borrow a horse. He knew you didn't, because we were standing right under our horses' noses when he asked the question. Besides, I weren't the right person to ask. But he slipped me a box o' the Prince's cigars and asked a lot about you."
"What did you tell him?"
"Me? I told him you're the mildest man on earth, and how nothing interests you so much as running surveys."
"What did you find out?"
"Same as I told you—not much. He had his orders, and he hadn't had time to forget 'em, and he's scared o' the Prince. I got a line on the Prince all right. His brains are made o' curry powder and red pepper. He's about as safe to tackle as a she-cobra that has just laid her eggs. He's what they call a steamer."
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing for nothing. Lavish—at cent per cent. He'd give you anybody's money, if he knew what he was getting for it."
"If I should hear of your taking his money, you'll find yourself in serious trouble."
"What else did you find out?"
"Nothing, excep' what I've already told you. There's a Mrs. Harding and a Miss Harding at the guest-house. Mrs. Harding has a hurt foot and has been attended by Prince Rundhia's doctor. Miss Harding has already met Rundhia, and they've talked."
"What about the doctor?"
"He's no good."
"No good in what way?"
"No self-respect. Scared. He lets the Prince brow-beat him—takes a tongue lashing without answering back—lets himself be treated like a dog—no dignity excep' when the Prince isn't looking."
"Nothing new about Noor Mahlam?"
"No. I reckon they'll call him off. He was just a try-out, that's all he was—sort o' skirmisher to feel out the lay of the land. I kept raising my price o' purpose. They don't trust a buzzard like that one with three hundred rupees. Soon as he tells 'em my price is three hundred, they'll figure that means two hundred for him and a hundred for me. They'll give him five rupees and call him off. But they'll be satisfied that I'm out for the money, so they'll leave the next move up to me. They'll figure I'll go hunting for Noor Mahlam. They'll watch. There'll be one of them casual, accidental, chance acquaintances show up, who'll really know the inside works and try to hook me proper. Then we'll learn something."
"Find out all you can about Prince Rundhia."
"That ought to be easy. I could go to the bazaar tonight and—Could I draw some money?"
"You may have five rupees."
"That's awful little."
"It will save you from thinking you're important. All I want from you is information. Do you understand me?"
"Yes. But sometimes you have to buy information."
"Not with my money," Norwood answered. "But isn't it Government money?"
"Here are five rupees. Take them. Stay sober and keep out of mischief."
"You mean stay away from women? Maybe I'd better write a list o' questions on a pretty sheet o' paper and go to the temple and ask them folk to write the answers, so I'll get 'em straight!"
"Don't be impudent."
"Well, sir, what do you expect me to do?"
"Do you know where to stable a horse if I let you take one?"
"Yes, sir. There's a stable right down near the red-light district, where the talk's hot. It's the stable where the moneylenders keep the cattle and horses they've attached for debt. They have to keep 'em there until they're sold at auction. It's a good clean stable; there's regular inspection by a Government vet. No glanders. No anthrax."
"All right. You may take the bay mare. Get a move on."
"Couldn't I have ten rupees, sir? Five is awful little. It'll cost money to stable the horse and—"
"No. I have given you five. Tell the sentry that if a car comes for me from the palace, he's to send it back and say I'll come on horseback."
"And remember: what I really need is to know what the temple priests are up to."
"Well, sir, I'll try to find out."
"That's impossible. Those people don't spread their secrets through the red-light district. But you may be able to pick up information, a hint here and a hint there, that will give me a chance to guess what they're up to. Don't be in a hurry. Don't try to find out too much all at once. Don't ask too many questions. Listen."
"Good night. I'll expect a report from you tomorrow morning."
NOTHING was ever quite like it in Kadur's history. Plumbing, electric light, modern furniture, and even the will to do it can't make an Indian palace, dusty with tradition, lend itself to what the Maharanee kept insisting was a picnic. She wanted to-be so modern and unconventional that even Rundhia would approve. Sullenly defied by the outraged head-steward, whose turban almost rose from his hair with horror, she dismissed him and took charge.
Lynn, on the other hand, wanted to "go oriental." The servants, who lived by tradition and rule of thumb, pretended not to understand the Maharanee. They pretended to understand Lynn. There were at least fifty servants. Every single one of them believed that sanity had fled, along with his own dignity, religion and the gods knew what else. Only Lynn's gales of laughter saved the Maharanee from tears. The Maharajah sulked in his study, examining postage stamps.
The eventual compromise was something between a bean-feast and a banquet, in the glass-roofed patio, amid a forest of potted palms and canaries in silver cages. There were Chinese lanterns and an utter drunkenness of flowers. The long table was loaded with silver and gold. But there were paper napkins (those were Lynn's suggestion). There were eight important-looking men to wait on table, instead of sixteen; they grinned at Lynn's embroidered black silk Chinese pajamas, as the voters grin at a reforming politician.
The Maharanee summoned the Keeper of the Jewels, selected a cluster of the most famous diamonds from the Kadur collection, and pinned it artfully on Lynn's black silk. Lynn looked stunning in embroidered black silk. It showed off her eyes and her golden hair. Excitement made her parted lips so kissable that the Maharanee had qualms of conscience.
"Darling, my nephew Rundhia is a bad boy! Be careful!"
Lynn laughed. The prospect of annoying Aunty was delicious. Aunty would be scandalized by high jinks in a palace. Aunty was one of those people who think that palace life should be like one endless coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey. She could count on Aunty to keep Rundhia within bounds; the old spoil-sport had no other motive for attending the supper. And there would be Captain Norwood. Was he the man she had seen when the carriage door flew open? Hah! It was a grand, exciting world.
"Maharanee dear, I don't think caviar looks decent in a silver soup tureen. Let's serve it on toast in the usual way."
The first arrival was Rundhia, in dinner jacket and turban of cloth of silver, critical of the cocktails; he introduced ingredients learned in Europe. He watched Lynn. He made apparently random remarks to discover her system, in case she had one. He could strip a woman naked with his eyes, and re-clothe her with flattery.
"Miss Harding, you look innocent, gay and very beautiful. But I mistrust you. Your emotions seem to me to be too honest. You will go home and laugh at us all."
"Going home soon," Lynn answered. "Aunty didn't laugh when she said that. She meant it."
"Is that what amuses you?"
"No. I'd rather stay here. I love it."
"I wonder what you mean by love it. Do you love us?"
"I love the Maharanee. And I love these pussyfooted eastern nights. I'm wild about it all. I can't bear the thought of going home yet."
The sheep-faced Maharajah entered, toadied by attendants, who arranged the cushions for him in a chromium-plated armchair at the end of the long room. He was shocked by Lynn's pajamas, but the Maharanee managed him: she was devoted, deferent, overwhelming. He became obedient; he complimented Lynn in curiously perfect English. Too polite to speak any other language than English in Lynn's presence, he frowned sullenly at Rundhia and refused a cocktail:
"Your Bengali didn't bring my tonic."
"Sorry," said Rundhia. "He was attending to Mrs. Harding. He hasn't forgotten it."
Then came Norwood. Hot night though it was, he was in full mess uniform, not whites. Shorter than Rundhia; but five feet eleven inches is, after all, plenty, if it's built right and properly carried. Rundhia's six feet one, and almost perfect features, somehow weren't so noticeable after Norwood came into the room. Norwood had red hair and one of those bits of moustaches that draw attention to the line of the lips. His red shell jacket gloved a vigorous torso. There was nothing meek about him; nothing arrogant. He was a British gentleman in uniform, as unself conscious as a visitor at the zoo.
He recognized Lynn instantly. His expression changed to let her know he recognized her. But he was imperturbable. Nothing surprised him. The palace chamberlain presented him to the Maharajah and the Maharanee. He was gracious to them. The Maharanee introduced him to Lynn. He studied her. He smiled. He said:
"How do you do. We have met, I believe. I am very curious. Don't tell me. It might spoil the fun of finding out. Am I to sit next to you at dinner? I was always lucky."
Then he walked up and shook hands with Rundhia: "Pleased."
"Yes. Nice to meet you."
It suggested the well-oiled motion of machine-guns getting ready. They were enemies, at sight, as charmed to meet each other as match and powder barrel. Lynn knew it instantly. The sheep-faced Maharajah stared as if he saw a rare stamp in someone else's collection. The tactful Maharanee shepherded along a servant with the cocktails and made conversation.
Then Aunty arrived. After that, there was nothing to do but to listen to Aunty's distant condescensions. She was wonderful. Even Rundhia admired her spunk. Dressed in a formal evening gown on purpose to make Lynn feel ashamed of herself, taped and strapped by the doctor until she could hardly move, in torture from the twisted ankle, she proposed to dominate that company. She did, until Norwood subdued her. She wasn't used to being snubbed by mere captains.
"What do Engineer officers do?" she demanded.
"Nothing," he said, "except answer questions. Why? I might lend you a man who can do things."
Rundhia twisted the radio dial; his face was again under control by the time he had found a fox-trot. He snapped his fingers to a servant to roll the rug off the parquet floor. Norwood was at the wrong end of the room to seize that opportunity. Rundhia danced with Lynn. Norwood went and talked to the Maharajah, whose conversation seemed to have been learned from a book on "how to be polite to strangers." The Maharanee talked to Aunty, who was as proud of Lynn's dancing as she was exasperated by Lynn's behavior. Lynn was cutting up for Aunty's benefit, and there was nothing that Aunty could do about it.
Norwood's conversation with the Maharajah was interrupted by the arrival of the Bengali doctor, followed by a servant with a big blue goblet on a tray. The Maharajah swallowed the contents of the goblet in one long draught and Norwood noticed that he became immediately more at ease. But Norwood was also watching Rundhia, who left off dancing with Lynn and accompanied the Bengali to the door, talking to him low-voiced.
Norwood promptly commandeered Lynn. He didn't dance as well as Rundhia, but well enough; and while he danced he talked candidly, instead of hinting as Rundhia did.
"If I were you," he said, "I'd stick to champagne. The cocktails taste phoney."
Lynn wasn't sure she liked him. On the other hand, she wasn't sure she didn't.
"Why were you rude to Aunty?"
"She was rude to me," he answered.
"She had an accident today, so she isn't herself."
"Who is? You, for instance? Princess? Cinderella on her night out? Or rebel? You know what happens to rebels, don't you, unless their friends are reliable?"
A great gong boomed. It was as ancient as the palace. It was the bronze voice of memory.
"Picnic!" exclaimed the Maharanee. "No formality. Lynn, dear, lead the way. We will all follow."
So the Maharajah came last, to the servants' horror, and it was Lynn who contrived the seating. Norwood's luck suffered a flat tire. He found himself between the Maharanee and Aunty. Rundhia and Lynn sat opposite; the Maharajah at one end of the table, the Maharanee at the other.
The Maharajah only pretended to eat. In theory, he had abandoned caste restrictions, but in practice, he lacked the Maharanee's courage. He wilted under Aunty Harding's barrage of remarks. Her vigor depressed him. Aunty had no patience with weaklings:
"You're a hypochondriac," she told him.
The Maharajah sighed. "I am a victim of public duty. Affairs of state impose a sedentary life that has ruined my health. But I have found that Rundhia's physician understands my ailment." The physician reappeared in the doorway, nervous, unself-assertive. He came behind Aunty's chair and whispered to her. Norwood couldn't hear what he said, but he saw him lay two pellets on a plate at Aunty's right hand.
"Drugs! No thank you!"
"What are they?" asked the Maharajah. "Exactly the same that your Highness has been taking for your nerves," said the physician.
"I have iron nerves," said Aunty.
The physician smiled. He separated the two pellets with a fork and held the plate toward the Maharajah.
"Set her the example," he suggested.
"My monotonous life consists of nothing else than setting good examples," said the Maharajah. "If it won't hurt me, it won't hurt you." He reached for a pellet.
Norwood noticed that the doctor moved the plate so that the Maharajah's fingers closed on the one that had been nearer Aunty. If it was a trick it was smooth. Rundhia was paying rather witty attention to Lynn; he was making her laugh.
"As a compliment, but against my better judgment," said Aunty. She swallowed the other pellet.
"Thank you," said the Bengali. "Thank you, madam. That relieves my anxiety. You should not be here. You should be in bed. There is no knowing what people's nerves may do to them when they have suffered a bodily shock such as you received this afternoon."
He bowed himself out.
Norwood carried on a desultory conversation with the Maharanee. He liked her. Everybody always liked her. But he was watching Lynn and Rundhia, enjoying Lynn's vivacity and not slow to perceive that she was flirting on purpose to annoy her aunt. He heard Rundhia say to Lynn: "I notice you're wearing some of the Kadur jewels. They are the imperishable jackdaw savings of a long line of parasites, of whom I am the only sensible example. If I dared, I would steal them, sell them, and buy Europe's love, which is for sale, I assure you. But there's a funny law that makes these hoarded gems the property of our unborn descendants. I would hate to go to prison or be stabbed in the back, even for stealing from problematic grandchildren. How will you feel when they take them off you? They will, you know, tonight. When I wear them, they take them off me. They count them, too. They know my principles! When may I show you the treasures?"
"We leave tomorrow, if Aunty is well enough." Lynn's eyes met Norwood's. She had intended he should hear that. The Maharanee protested: "Lynn, I shall be disconsolate."
"Sorrow, loving company, will make me your companion in the arms of grief," said Rundhia. He stared at Norwood.
"Looking for a fellow-mourner?" Norwood asked. "Or have I spilt soup on my shirt."
"You are spotless," said Rundhia. "Perfect. I was feeling jealous."
"Hold it. Jealousy, you know, endureth all things."
"Don't be blasphemous," said Aunty, looking suddenly faint. She recovered, pulled herself together. "It is time Lynn saw Europe."
"Ah!" remarked Rundhia. "Lynn, how would you like me to show you Paris?"
"India would please me more," Lynn answered.
Aunty used her napkin suddenly. She was either indisposed or else staggered by Rundhia's use of Lynn's first name. Perhaps both. Norwood thought so. He watched her. He was just in time to prevent her falling from the chair. Everyone, including the Maharajah, jumped up. Lynn ran to her. The servants formed a scrimmage around Lynn and Aunty. The Maharajah scolded the Maharanee sotto voce.
Rundhia sent a servant running for the doctor. The other servants picked up Aunty and carried her into the next room, where she groaned on a couch and nearly fainted from humiliation. Rundhia met the doctor at the door. Norwood, watching them, pretending not to, wasn't certain whether they spoke. The doctor nodded, put on his most judicial professional air, felt Aunty's pulse and shrugged his shoulders. He spoke to the Maharanee.
"Well, I warned her. At her age, a shock has consequences. She should have remained in bed and kept quiet. She should be put to bed now and I think a nurse should be in attendance."
"Are you sure she isn't seriously ill?" Lynn asked him.
"No, I am not. She has a temperature. It is impossible to say, but I think she is only suffering from nervous exhaustion and perhaps, too, from mental disturbance." He turned again to the Maharanee: "I advise that Miss Lynn Harding should be moved into the palace, so that Mrs. Harding may be quiet."
Lynn laughed: "That's a testimonial for me! But thank you, I'll take care of her."
"No," said the doctor. He caught Rundhia's eye. Rundhia came to his rescue and made signals to the Maharanee, who wanted nothing better than to have Lynn under her own roof.
"Lynn, dear, please do as the doctor tells you. Please, please."
Aunty groaned and protested that it was a shame to inflict Lynn on the Maharanee, but she was overruled. She was carried out on an improvised litter and rushed to the guest-house, where Lynn's belongings were collected by the servants and conveyed to the palace. The doctor whispered to Lynn:
"Miss Harding, I believe this is nothing serious. I overheard her quarrelling with you. She is of a choleric disposition. Swift recovery is not predictable for choleric persons, of great weight, in a hot climate, whose tempers are exasperated. Stay away from her and she will soon recover."
The picnic, of course, was a total collapse. No one even thought of resuming it. Rundhia, watching Norwood, invited Lynn for a stroll in the moonlit garden. To Norwood's horror, the Maharajah invited him into the study to discuss the Kadur River survey and the boundary dispute between himself and the priests:
"Just you and I together, Captain Norwood, quite informally, that we may understand each other when the official discussion begins."
Norwood couldn't refuse. With the thought at the back of his head that the innocent, beautiful Lynn was being led by Rundhia through moonlit arbors toward Rundhia alone knew what, he had to listen with assumed interest and courteous attention to the Maharajah's droning homilies on law, tradition, history, and documentary evidence.
It was midnight before Norwood yawned himself out of the study and ordered his horse to be brought to the front door. Nothing that the Maharajah had told him was of the slightest genuine importance except the last remark of all, proffered with a self-conscious giggle as he held Norwood's hand and bade him good night:
"Are you well protected? Should I lend you a bodyguard?"
"Thanks, it might look compromising."
"But if the priests should guess that you intend to report in my favor, some of their adherents might kill you. Adherents are always more fanatical than those whose interests they seek to serve. The murder of a British officer, it is true—hee-hee—might lead to an investigation that would break the power of the priesthood. I, not they, would be the gainer in the end. But could you imagine my feelings! I would rather lose all the diamonds in Kadur than that you should meet with what might befall you if you are not discreet."
"Your Highness may trust me to be careful and strictly neutral," said Norwood.
Norwood was thinking of Lynn.
RUNDHIA was puzzled and Lynn knew it. She enjoyed it. It was cool and beautiful beneath the moonlit trees in the garden. It was exciting to walk with the heir to an ancient throne, whose adoring but understanding aunt had warned her he was dangerous. Lynn knew, because the Maharanee had told her, even if she couldn't have guessed it, that Rundhia's European educational career had been one long series of conquests of women. She wished Aunty could see her. She was just about fed up with Aunty Deborah Harding.
"You are the strangest mixture of intelligence and innocence that I have ever met," said Rundhia. "You are in love with all this. You are thrilled by the exotic strangeness. But it's all old stuff to me, remember. I'm a babe in the woods, too, in a certain sense. I'm as lost as you are. Things and places don't make life worth living. It's the people in the places, and the things they do together. If you loved me and I loved you—"
"But neither of us does," Lynn interrupted. "We are East and West. Europe delights you because you can't ever really understand it. And the East enraptures me for the same reason."
"So we've that much in common," said Rundhia. "Let me tell you something else we have in common. We like each other."
"Yes. One would have to be blind, deaf, demented, not to like you. What's wrong with me?" Lynn's defensive tactic was a thousand times more shrewd than Aunty would dream of giving her credit for:
"Well, for instance, why do you dislike Captain Norwood?"
"For the same reason that he doesn't like me," said Rundhia. "Cherchez la femme. Thank the father and mother who bred him, he's only an Engineer. If he were Cavalry, I might feel jealous. Lynn, I love you."
"How many women have you said that to?"
"Hundreds. But I lied to all the others."
"I have sometimes had to lie to Aunty. But I'm not nearly as practised a liar as you must be. Let's be truthful."
"I am telling you the truth. I have always thought myself a cynic. I didn't know I had a heart until I met you. I have found and lost it in the same moment. It is yours. What will you do with it?"
His arm crept around her. He hardly knew how she slipped away from him. She waltzed away. She ran along the path, her arms extended to embrace the moonlit luxury of hue and view and perfumed flowers. By the time he overtook her, her retort was ready:
"Tell me about the British Resident in Kadur."
"He's a political nuisance, a social bore and a self-conscious prig, about due for a pension."
"I take it you're his press agent. What does he look like?"
"Hasn't he called on you?"
"I believe he did. I wasn't in. I suspect Aunty was rather rude to him."
Rundhia chuckled: "Well, he looks like what he is—suspicious, senile, stupid. If your aunt was rude to him, he won't invite you to dinner at the Residency. You're lucky. He'll pretend to forget you. Let's forget him."
As if the Resident were a sort of traffic cop, the very thought of him seemed to have reduced Rundhia's speed. But his right arm presently resumed its sensuous approach. Lynn returned to the subject of Norwood:
"Perhaps you don't like men with red hair?"
"I am looking," he answered, "at your hair. I want to bury my hands in it, bathe my face in it, breathe the—"
"Borax! I washed it and the water's terrible!" She escaped him again. Her black pajamas vanished into shadow; she became a beautiful, disembodied head in a golden aureole that asked:
"Is Captain Norwood married? I didn't ask him."
"Well, why didn't you ask him?"
"I didn't care."
"Good!" said Rundhia. "I'm going to make you care about something else. Come along. I'll behave. Come this way."
He led her up steps to the top of the ancient garden wall. Lynn almost shouted at the beauty, it was so midnight marvellous. A road ran beneath the wall. Beyond that, in the distance, was the ancient temple and the city, with the Kadur River like molten silver. On the far bank, the ghats where they burned the dead glowed crimson, spaced between shadowy shrines.
The garden wall was ten feet thick. There was a summer-house on the wall, a sort of kiosk; it had been swept and provided with cushions by a servant who crouched in shadow. Rundhia ordered the servant away. He went and lurked at the foot of the steps, but Rundhia shouted at him and he fled. Rundhia led Lynn into the open-sided kiosk. "You have promised," she said, "to behave."
"Do you believe men's promises when they're in love? Are you as naive as that?"
"Yes. Don't be silly. Let us look at the view."
"Look at me."
His eyes were hardly less fiery than the glowing end of his cigarette. They made Lynn's flesh tingle. He threw away the cigarette.
"Lynn, you romantic girl, this scene enchants you because love has stolen on you unaware. Neither of us until now has ever known what love is."
"Do you think you know now?" she retorted. "You know I know it. You are cruel."
"You agree with Aunty Harding, do you? She insists I'm cruel."
"Damn your Aunty Harding."
"Yes, I hate her. I suppose I shouldn't. I don't feel one bit sorry for her. That isn't right, is it?"
"Of course it's right. Lynn, you don't know what a glorious girl you are, nor what life is. You have let that old vixen of an aunt suppress and restrain you, while life beckons! Your aunt's unkindness is passion deprived of its natural outlet. She's a savage. She will freeze you, if you let her, and then rob you of your frozen youth! Haven't you heard the call of life and felt its impulse? Love! Live! Let me teach you, you beautiful, exquisite—"
"I wish you'd sit farther away," she interrupted. "Why don't you make love to your own countrywomen?"
"There isn't in all India such a lovely girl as you are."
"How do you know? It's true, isn't it, that most of them are kept in seclusion and you're not allowed to see them? Is that why you make love to me? Why not burgle a zenana?"
"Lynn," he said, "I don't make love. I am love. And you also. We are love itself, as a musician becomes music. Why waste the glorious hours?"
"What do you know about music?" she retorted. "Can you sing Indian songs?"
"Yes, love songs! I play the guitar."
"You can? What fun! Why not get it? There couldn't be a more perfect place for singing than this garden wall in moonlight."
Rundhia sensed that he had cast his fly too boldly. She wasn't hooked. She needed more subtle persuasion. He shouted to the servant to fetch the guitar. There was no answer; the servant had taken him too strictly at his word, he was out of earshot. Rundhia shouted again and again. He swore under his breath. Then he governed his anger and smiled at Lynn:
"Will you wait here if I go and get it?"
"You look murderous. Don't whip the servant!" He went in search. He met the man a hundred yards away, waiting for him, making signals, breathless from running but afraid to disobey Rundhia's order to stay out of sight. His signals could have only one meaning. Even in that mood Rundhia didn't choose to ignore a summons from the man who did his undercover errands. So Rundhia hurried.
His undercover man was waiting for him in the usual place, by the gate in the wall that separated the Maharajah's palace from Rundhia's—an unimportant-looking but peculiarly unmeek Hindu, who spoke in a low voice without preliminary gestures of respect:
"The priests have learned of Captain Norwood's arrival. They sent me to speak with his Eurasian spy, O'Leary, who is a reptile. O'Leary has already detected the opening of the mine."
Rundhia thought swiftly, and spoke slowly: "Go and tell the priests that Captain Norwood is here to line his own pocket. Say he is in debt and seeks an opportunity to pay his debts. His secret report will be in favor of the highest bidder. But don't say you heard it from me. Say O'Leary was drunk and you heard it from him. Make it perfectly clear to the priests that any other officer than Norwood would be scrupulously fair, so let them think about it."
Then Rundhia found a servant in the garden of his own palace and sent him running to fetch the guitar. He had been absent about ten minutes by the time he started to return toward the summer-house where he had left Lynn waiting.
THE palace front gate clanged behind Norwood. The sullen sentry stood at ease, then easy and resumed his snooze. Norwood turned his horse along the road by the palace wall, riding slowly because the sais was following on foot. He had ridden about fifty yards to a curve in the road when O'Leary stepped forth from a shadow. He didn't look like O'Leary. He was wearing a turban, and dressed like a dripping wet, dirty Hindu of no caste or ostensible occupation. Norwood drew rein and listened, watching the road for pedestrians.
"I didn't stable the mare in the city. She's back in camp. I'll need her later."
"As soon as I'm dressed decent again, I'll go back to the bazaar. I told a yarn about coming back to camp for more money. I'm going to need it."
"Plenty. I was right about Noor Mahlam. They've ditched him. So I did too. He was only ground bait. He talked too much, then tried to have me knifed to stop me talking. They'd a trap set for me and I walked straight into it. A woman. I'll tell you about her later; she'd fill a dictionary."
"Never mind about the woman. What happened?"
"Nothing happened there. It couldn't. I left your mare tied up to the verandah railing, military saddle and all, and your initials on the bridle. So they couldn't take chances. And I could. And I did."
"That's enough about you. What happened?"
"Kindergarten stuff. Confidence game. The woman's bully flattered me I knew the woman's sister in Lahore, and he said the woman's sister'd given me a rep for being smarter than most, and a man o' my word. Then he introduced me to the woman. She's all honey and poison. Sister my eye.
Two words, and I knew she was lying about that."
"Never mind her lies, or whose sister she is. How much truth did she tell you?"
"Not much, barring that I'm the most exciting man she'd ever seen. She was true enough excited, so I knew the bully was listening in; and he weren't her proper bully neither; he was someone who'd been rung in on her, and she scared o' him and not used to his ways. She said there'd be a thousand rupees for me if I'd act discreet."
"Whose thousand rupees?" asked Norwood. "Trust your Moses O'Leary. I asked her that quick. She said it was Prince Rundhia's thousand rupees. So I knew it wasn't."
"What does she want you to do?"
"She told me a mess o' lies about Prince Rundhia having quarrelled with the temple Brahmins, and him wanting to get back at 'em, to spite 'em. She told me, and I acted surprised, that there's a diamond mine in the temple area. There's a thousand rupees for me if I persuade you to run your survey line slap through the temple area, so that the mine will belong to the Maharajah instead of the temple priests."
"What did you tell her?"
"I said you're easy, but you're honest. I said I'll have to find some way of artfully deceiving you if you're to do what's needed. I said I'd have to look into it, and I made her tell me where the mine is and how to get a look at it. She came clean."
"How did she know?"
"She'd been told. And she was out of her depth already. She wanted word with the bully, and she tried to get me to stay where I was. But I thought of the bay mare standing outside in the alley, and she fidgety, and you fond o' the mare and liable to find fault with me if she should come to harm. And I guessed it 'ud be wise to look into the woman's story first before wasting a whole night on her. So I said I'd brought no money and would go back and get some. That was lame, but I couldn't think of a better excuse. O' course, she answered that she wouldn't take my money. Free drinks—free everything. But I told her I'm proud and I'd go back to camp and return. So that was that. I set off at full gallop, and I guess that made the bully believe me, even if she didn't. She's too experienced to believe much except what's bad o' people."
"You say you galloped the mare through the streets? Did she sprain that weak tendon?"
"No, sir. The mare's all right. I woke the sais and had her well rubbed down, and a light blanket and all. Then I got into this disguise and hurried down to the river to check the woman's story. That part of it's true. The mine is where she said it is. So I'll go back to her and—"
"You will do what I tell you."
"Were you followed?"
"Not from the bazaar I wasn't."
"You'd better leave that woman and her bully guessing, and show me the mine. Where is it?"
"The mine dump," said O'Leary, "is beneath the waterfall. I went right up to it. They dump by night. I saw 'em dumping out of baskets. There's a guard set, and I came near getting scragged, but I took to the water. I advise you to stay away from it."
"Thanks!" said Norwood. "How close could I get without having to swim?"
O'Leary pointed: "Two hours from now, when the moon's about there, I can guide you to a place where you can see along under the apron of water."
"Very well, O'Leary. Which way did you come?"
"Short cut. Don't you try it. Horse might break a leg."
"All right, I'll follow the road. Meet me in camp."
O'Leary vanished. Norwood had ridden another fifty yards when he heard angry shouting, several times repeated. He wasn't sure, but he thought he also heard a girl's voice. He rode forward slowly and then, a bit alarmed by the ensuing silence, stirred his horse to a canter. He drew rein, looking upward at Lynn, not much more than two or three minutes after Rundhia had left her. She was sitting in full moonlight on top of the wall, on a cushion, with one foot hanging over the wall and her back against the kiosk.
"Hello!" he remarked.
"You sound original," she answered. "Don't the English always say 'Are you there'?"
"Do you know it's after midnight?"
"I am at the age of indiscretion," she answered. "How old are you?"
"I don't know."
"I'd almost given up hope of seeing you again."
"You should see Aunt Deborah first. You owe her an apology. I'm Aunty's niece."
"Did Rundhia leave you all alone here?"
"He said he'd come back."
"Well, he'll keep that promise. How well do you know him?"
"I met him for the first time this evening."
"At your age, there is danger in exotic likes and dislikes."
"How old do you think I am, Captain Methuselah?"
"Young and beautiful enough to need experienced advice."
"You talk like Aunt Deborah. Anybody ever call you Uncle?"
"Yes, I have two nieces, aged six and seven."
"You don't look it. I had guessed you as eighteen. However, no doubt you know how to take care of yourself among men of your own race. I'm taking it for granted that you're a damned nice girl with a sense of humor but a bit rebellious against certain sorts of restraint. All this is new, and you're enjoying it. You like the Indian setting, and the novelty and the moonlight and all that stuff."
"Yes. And I like you. I would not like to hear of you making a mess of your life for the sake of a spot of excitement. You don't understand India. You don't understand Rundhia."
A shadow moved. Someone chuckled:
Rundhia loomed on the wall with a guitar in his hand. He smiled down at Norwood. The moonlight shone on his teeth.
"We were reaching a beautiful understanding," said Rundhia. "Are you on your way to camp? Well, it's a grand night for a ride. Sorry you're tired and sleepy. Sweet dreams! I hope camp is comfortable."
Norwood eased his horse a little nearer to the wall. He gave the reins to the sais. In another moment he was standing upright on the saddle, with his head within six inches of the top of the wall:
"I am not so sleepy as perhaps I look," he answered. "Give me a hand up, Rundhia."
Lynn watched. This was something altogether new in her experience. Rundhia hesitated. Moonlight betrayed him. Rundhia felt tempted to refuse. But he hadn't the iron. He could have scared the horse and made Norwood look ridiculous. But he hadn't the nerve. Lynn felt sorry for him. With a shrug he handed the guitar to her, in order to use both hands to help Norwood scramble up the wall.
Norwood straightened his jacket and smiled at Lynn.
"Thank you, Rundhia," he said without looking at him.
Rundhia sneered: "Don't mention it!"
Norwood called down to the sais in Hindustani.
"Meaning?" Lynn asked. "It sounds like swear words."
"He has told the sais," said Rundhia, "to take the horse to the palace gate. That means we are to have the honor—"
Norwood interrupted: "No. The indescribable felicity."
"Of more advice?" Lynn suggested.
Norwood smiled again: "Yes. About going to bed. There's madness in this moonlight."
"Something else, too," said Rundhia. "You weren't invited."
Norwood stared. "No. I noticed it. Can you strum on that thing?"
Lynn spoke with all the malice she could put into her voice:
"You like music, Captain Norwood? I supposed your line was engineering and ordering people about."
Norwood laughed. "Not about, but abed. It's late. However, let's hear Rundhia."
"Yes, please sing." Lynn knew she hadn't even scratched the surface of Norwood's humor. So she felt exasperated.
Rundhia smiled and plucked a chord or two: "Ever hear this one?"
He sang beautifully. His voice was a good tenor, and he handled the guitar with care. He avoided Norwood's eyes. He sang to Lynn. The words meant nothing to her, but she couldn't fail to perceive the passion suggested by the B-flat minor melody. At the end of a stanza, Norwood interrupted:
"Damn that stuff, Rundhia! Sing something decent."
Rundhia passed him the guitar. He thought he had him at a disadvantage:
"You sing," he answered. "Perhaps you know something for good little boys and girls. Do you know any hymns?"
Norwood surprised both of them. He took the guitar and changed the tuning, struck some chords at random and then played the thing better than Rundhia could. He felt his way through one air to another, until he found one that suited his mood. Then he trolled out Kipling's On the Road to Mandalay.
He had a fine voice, baritone, and he could whistle the chorus instead of repeating familiar words. It wasn't great art, but it was manly. It was decent. Where there "weren't no Ten Commandments," Norwood plainly had inviolable standards of his own.
"As usual, the Army roars its slogans to the sky," said Rundhia. "I can imagine you in love with a Burmese woman, Norwood. Why not apply for a Rangoon billet?"
"And miss this?" Norwood answered. He was looking at Lynn. "Here's your guitar. Are we going?"
He offered Lynn his arm and she was too astonished to refuse. He wasn't her rightful escort. She hardly knew him, and what she did know had annoyed her. However, she found herself walking beside him with her arm in his, and there was nothing for Rundhia to do but to follow them down the ancient steps until the garden path was wide enough for three abreast. Norwood pressed Lynn's arm to make her listen. He spoke so low that she could hardly hear him:
"The Maharanee is a dotard on Rundhia. You can't depend on her for that reason. Leave Kadur the moment your aunt is fit to travel."
"Oh, you can't guess—"
"Yes, I know. I was an orphan. I was raised on stupid discipline and fossilized injustice—Oh, hello, Rundhia, you there? Thought you'd stayed behind to pray or something."
Rundhia was grinding his teeth. He didn't answer.
Lynn took pity on him: "When will you show me the treasure room?"
"When we're alone," Rundhia answered. Then, spitefully: "Ours is one of the few treasures that haven't found their way to London."
"You mean the others were plundered?" Lynn asked.
"Pawned," said Norwood.
After that they walked in silence to the palace front door.
"Good night," said Rundhia pointedly.
Norwood smiled. "I'll ask you to be kind enough to see me to the gate, Rundhia. The guard let me out once tonight. They might think I'm my own ghost if I turn up alone. Miss Harding, you know why the beautiful Indian girls are locked up in zenanas, don't you?"
"Is that a conundrum? No, why?"
"Because good-looking Indian men would be ashamed of 'emselves if they couldn't make Casanova look like a mere amateur."
"Are you being rude?"
Rundhia came to her aid: "Excuse him, Lynn! Soldiers fold their tents and leave their girls behind them. They suppose all women are alike. He meant it as a friendly warning not to trust me." Lynn stood at bay on the palace steps. It was on the tip of her tongue to insult Norwood so thoroughly that he would never presume to speak to her again. She wasn't quite sure he didn't expect that. Perhaps he really thought she was the kind of girl who would admit a Casanova through her bedroom window. But she glanced from one man to the other and changed her mind.
"I seem born to be—" She hesitated. She had almost said "misunderstood." She rejected the word. It was weak, self-pitying. Standing there under the portico light, Norwood looked strong, good-humored, self-reliant. She turned up the steps.
"How about a stroll as far as the guest-house to find out how your aunt is?" Rundhia suggested.
"Thanks, no. There's a phone in my bedroom. I will use that. Good night. Good night, Captain Norwood."
Lynn was admitted into the palace by four footmen who bowed to the ground. Norwood took Rundhia's arm and began to walk with him toward the front gate. It was the second time that night that Rundhia resented, but didn't resist.
"Let's understand each other," said Norwood.
"Oh, I understand you. Damn your eyes, she isn't English. She's American. She is none of your business."
"Let's not talk business," Norwood answered. "Let's talk man to man. If anything should happen to her—"
"What, for instance?"
"I would hold you answerable. You and I can get along all right if nothing happens to her. Am I quite clear?"
"Yes. You may go to hell. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly," said Norwood. "Good night."
NORWOOD changed into khaki and followed O'Leary's lantern. O'Leary was nervous, talkative, deliberately disrespectful. Being only one-third Irish, two-thirds of his truculence was assumed, not genuine. However, Norwood understood that.
"Someone," said O'Leary, "must have overheard us talking near the palace gate. I was followed to camp. Heard him. Couldn't see him. We're followed now. They'll take your number down unless you watch out. All you officers believe, because your uniform was made in London, that you've only got to call the police and—"
"All right, strafe me! That's the Army for you. I'm not Army. I'm an underpaid civilian supernumerary. Sack me if you want to. If I had the price, I'd be drunk this minute, snug in bed and snoring, and the hell with the Royal Engineers. It isn't my notion of meat and gravy to be traipsing in front of an officer, this time o' night, on an errand o' death. I'll bet you. I'm game to bet my pay we're walking slap into trouble, headlong, slam the lid and no way out. Them priests are laying for us."
"Stop your noise, or I'll kick you."
A footpath led along the river bank toward a waterfall. It shone in moonlight like a glass arch, vaguely orange color. The river was low. The fall was uniform but thin. It spread from end to end of the ancient dam, perhaps a hundred feet in width, and the plunging water was almost transparent. It could be nothing but light from behind it that caused that orange luminescence.
O'Leary resumed his discourse: "Call me a liar. I don't mind, I'm used to it. But am I right that you was warbling on the palace wall? And am I right that you came twice out through the palace front gate, but only went in once? And am I right that you and Rundhia was walking in the palace garden with a girl whose aunt has bellyache and two-three palace women 'tending to her in the guest-house? Okay. I don't know nothing, do I? Then believe this: while you was performing an officer's job wi' a banjo and a beauty, I sat thirsty by the camp-fire, so the smoke 'ud keep the skeeters off me, hoping for one o' my spies to show up. But came along a man I don't know. Crep' up surreptitious. Spoke Punjabi, mispronouncing it. It weren't his right language. Says he: 'How much?'"
"Gave you money?"
"Not one anna! He wanted to know your price to side with the priests against the Maharajah."
"What did you tell him?"
"What did you do?"
"He was gone too quick. I missed him with the new iron skillet what the cook had stuck to clean itself among the embers. Damned nigh red-hot. If I'd hit him, he'd ha' sizzled. Point is that whoever sent him will be figuring they tried the wrong diplomacy. Next thing, knife or bullet. Dodge 'em and look out for poison. Make the cook taste everything and then bury the cook. From now on, I eat nothing. Even whiskey ain't safe. They can drill and plug the bottle; but it kills more comforting than ground glass or bamboo fibre. The priests know you dined at the palace tonight. They're dead sure the Maharajah greased your palm. Well—there's where the dump is. 'Tain't safe to go closer."
"Wait here," said Norwood.
The roar of the waterfall almost drowned O'Leary's voice:
"Yeh. I'm the Army, I am. Lead on, dammit. Nothing from me but God's truth in the King of England's English. But I'm a liar. Go ahead. See for yourself. A dead officer can't sack me, so I'll say what I like. Go ahead and get it. I can take it as good as you can."
O'Leary picked up a stick. He shadowed Norwood along the footpath, until Norwood peered beneath the waterfall. He had to stand on a slippery ledge of rock. As O'Leary had foretold, the moon's rays did wanly penetrate, but it was torchlight that revealed the tunnel-mouth. Norwood stood there for several minutes watching spectral figures dump blue clay from baskets, to be carried away by the river.
"Look out!" yelled O'Leary.
Norwood jumped. A living cobra, flung by an unseen hand, struck his face—fell writhing—struck—missed. Norwood almost fell into the pool beneath the waterfall, but O'Leary crashed him, shoved, almost fell in, too, but scrambled—regained his footing—attacked the cobra—beat it with the long stick, slew it.
"Now are you satisfied! Lied to you, did I? Going on in through the hole, or acting sensible? Want to know how it feels to be pitched in the dark down a diamond mine?"
"Back to camp," said Norwood.
"Thank you, I'll take whiskey! Watch your step, and watch your Uncle Moses. If I signal, don't call me a liar, duck quick!"
As foster-mother, Aunty Deborah Harding had neglected no detail of Lynn's social education. Whatever Lynn did, she did well. She had been taught to ride perfectly. On one of the Maharajah's thoroughbreds, in the early morning cool, she looked worthy of the splendid animal that she controlled with no visible effort. Lynn, the mystic Indian daybreak and the vigor of her motion through the long mauve shadows, were all one merriment to make a man's eyes widen and his heart leap.
One could recognize Rundhia from a mile off by the way he swung his right arm at the trot, an unconscious habit that it had been nobody's business to tell him about. But Rundhia could ride, too. They were a pair to stop and gaze at.
Norwood, who was also riding, waited for them. He was in a hurry to get down to the river, but he would have kept all India waiting for a chance to speak to Lynn. He recognized the fact. It surprised him. His horse noticed its rider's mood and pranced, plunging, trying to snatch the bit.
Rundhia, with the end of his turban streaming in the wind, rode by at full gallop with the obvious purpose of inducing Lynn to do the same thing. But Lynn drew rein; so Rundhia returned, pretending that his horse had been out of hand. He strafed the horse savagely to save the trouble of lying about it.
Lynn seemed to have forgotten the previous night's disagreement. She appeared glad to see Norwood:
"What are you doing up so early?"
"The sight of you on horseback is better than sleep," he answered. "I had dreams about you."
"I can't remember. You know how dreams escape you when you wake up."
"Come along for a gallop."
"Can't," said Norwood. "Sorry. I would like to." He jerked his head in the direction of the river, where Moses O'Leary was waving his sun helmet. "How's your aunt this morning?"
"In a very bad temper, I'm sorry to say. Every time she moves it hurts, and she hates to lie still."
"I know that feeling—took a toss once that crocked me for three weeks. I was like the Army in Flanders—swore horribly. Since then I've always pitied women who mayn't say what they think!" Lynn laughed. "I wish she'd say it to you instead of me. Give her the chance, why don't you! Poor old thing, she's sick every time she eats, but she insists on eating. Tea, fruit, toast—chota hazri, don't they call it. She has been up since before daylight, on the verandah. She can't look at me without losing her temper. But she likes you. She says she never before met a well-bred Engineer. From Aunty, that's a compliment. Won't you come to breakfast?"
"Can't. Sorry." Looking at Lynn's eyes, thinking about Rundhia, Norwood spoke unguardedly: "My man is signalling—some people waiting for me near the waterfall. I must go. I will call as soon as I can." He looked straight at Rundhia.
It was then that Lynn noticed that Rundhia and Norwood hadn't spoken.
"Should I introduce you?" she suggested, laughing.
Norwood saluted her, wheeled his horse, and rode away, not looking backward. He heard Rundhia laughing.
O'Leary met him by the river, full of self-importance:
"You should send me to Geneva! I'm a diplomat. They're waiting. If you're nice, and no one's looking, they may let you see the mine. I convinced 'em that all you're here for is to blow the Government's nose. It needs blowing, I told 'em, on account of some sneak squealing on 'em that their mine isn't safe for laborers, and you're here to muzzle the talk."
"I would like to muzzle you," said Norwood.
"Same as it says in the Bible about muzzling the ox that grinds your corn," O'Leary answered.
Norwood studied him a moment. There was only one way to get the value out of O'Leary. No use making him sulky. Keep him busy.
"Go to the bazaar," he ordered. "Here's some money. Pick up all the palace gossip that's going the rounds."
"I get you! Smell a rat—just smell him and I'll catch him. This isn't much money."
"It's all you're going to get."
"One o' these days," said O'Leary, "I'm going to hire a secretary and take a chance with the Official Secrets Act and dictate my memoirs. Page one, I'll tell 'em the Intelligence is run by cheap 'uns. They'd make a Scotchman feel like multiplying loaves and fishes, free for nothing!"
Norwood rode alone along the river bank until the path grew narrow near the waterfall and he could no longer see the huge bulk of the temple, nor even the city wall that followed the curve of the river beyond the dam. He dismounted and hitched his horse to a shrub. The water tumbled innocently, lazily over the dam; there was hardly a hint that behind that beautifully curved translucent screen there might be the mouth of a tunnel. The river water and the river-bed were vaguely blue. There was no other indication.
There were four men seated near the ledge on which Norwood had nearly lost his life the night before. They stood up, greeting him respectfully. They were Brahmins but not priests; they looked like responsible men of affairs who might, perhaps, be trusted with the financial details of some of the temple business.
After the usual salutations, they gathered closely around him, so that Norwood needn't raise his voice against the roar of the water. He plunged straight into his subject:
"One of our Air Force pilots has reported having glimpsed an open pit surrounded by those outlying buildings near the temple area. It's an open secret that the priests have been working a diamond mine for centuries. We have heard the mine is dangerous. I want a secret look at it. Perhaps I can advise you how to make it safe. One other thing: stop dumping clay in the river. Perhaps I can advise what to do about that. As for the dispute about ownership, my party is running a survey line to establish facts. I have seen nothing yet to suggest that the priests are not the rightful owners. If you've any documents, I'd be glad to see them. My report isn't the last word, but it's likely to carry weight."
If Norwood hadn't been thinking about Lynn and Rundhia, he might have noticed that the Brahmins looked a lot too pleased. One of them, pushing past him, slipped a tiny black paper envelope into Norwood's left-hand tunic pocket. He apologized for having brushed against him. Norwood had hardly noticed that he did.
The four held a whispered consultation. Then their spokesman said, in excellent English, but with a trace too much silk in his voice:
"We appreciate your honor's courtesy. But we are intermediaries, on whom it is incumbent to convey the message to the proper quarter. It shall doubtless have immediate consideration." He paused, then added, as if choosing an innocuous polite phrase: "We know well that your honor's report will have great weight. We hope that your honor's judgment may not be influenced by worthless arguments."
"Snakes, for instance?" Norwood smiled genially. "You know where to find me. Let me know when to expect you, and I'll take care that no one throws live cobras at you! One of your people threw one at me last night. That wasn't kind to the cobra."
They stared blankly. Norwood saluted with a gesture that they might interpret how they pleased, and returned to his horse. They remained standing, watching him, until he had ridden out of sight.
Back in camp, Norwood sat under the tent awning to have his boots polished by his servant, while he gave orders for the day.
"Sergeant Stoddart," he said suddenly. "There's a middle-aged lady in the Maharajah's guest-house who had a rather bad spill yesterday. Bruises. Perhaps abrasions. Might be complications if she isn't careful. A Bengali doctor is attending her, and you can't always depend on those fellows to use fresh antiseptic."
"I'd be awful sick, before I'd let one of 'em dose me, sir."
"Well, before you go down to the river, take a look in my medicine chest. You'll find a new two-ounce bottle of iodine. I think I'll take it to her. Wrap it up so that it won't break."
Stoddart found the bottle and wrapped it loosely in paper. Norwood stuffed it into his left-hand tunic pocket, and rode away. It seemed a good idea to tell the Resident about the supper-party at the palace. If he should learn of it first from someone else he might resent Norwood's having refused his own invitation to dinner; his resentment was notorious for superficial dignity and undercover spite.
The Resident was in his office, reasonably civil, but he frowned when Norwood told him about the palace supper.
"You met the Hardings, I suppose? What did you make of them?"
"Tourists. Beautiful niece. Terrible aunt. I gathered, without being told, that the aunt has money."
"Rundhia show up? Did you notice anything suggestive of the possibility of scandal?"
"I thought the niece a damned nice girl, sir. A bit romantic. A bit carried away by the novelty of her surroundings. Full of fun. But—I should say there's nothing wrong with her whatever."
"Let me know if you change your mind about her. Any conversation with the Maharajah?"
"Yes. I was alone with him until midnight. He showed me all the documents that he seems to think bear on his claim to own that temple property. He seems very anxious to avoid a lawsuit, and it isn't difficult to guess why, though I'm not a lawyer, He showed me nothing that even half persuaded me he has a case against the priests. Of course, we'll know more when we've run the survey. But as far as I've gone, I should say the priests have a walk-over."
"You sound prejudiced."
"I haven't a trace of prejudice, sir, one way or the other."
"Why not reserve your opinion? Are you off now to call on the Maharajah?"
"Yes. I'm a bit early, but I have something to do on the way."
"Very well. Keep me posted."
NORWOOD left his horse in charge of the sais at the palace front gate. He intended to return and ride up the long drive to the front door for his formal call on the Maharajah. But the footpath to the guest-house was shorter than the winding carriage-road, so he walked, to leave the iodine for Mrs. Harding.
Two hundred yards of the path were beneath a pergola between dense shrubs. Then it opened on to an acre of lawn and a fountain. The guest-house verandah faced the lawn and, beyond that, a bower of creepers that were still luxuriant but weather-weary. They were browning. There were wide gaps in their foliage. An open-sided stone summer-house and the croquet lawn beyond it were quite easy to see. But that was not all.
A breakfast table had been set between the summer-house and the edge of the croquet lawn. It was protected from the sun by the branches of an overleaning tree. Breakfast was finished, and the table deserted. Norwood wondered why the ubiquitous Indian servants hadn't carried away the table, until he noticed Rundhia and Lynn. It was perfectly obvious then that Rundhia had commanded the servants to keep away.
Lynn was no longer in riding breeches. She looked delicious in a frock of Nile-green print and a wide leghorn hat. Norwood wasn't sure, but he suspected she knew she could be seen from the guest-house verandah, and that Rundhia did not know. She and Rundhia were laughing. Suddenly Rundhia snatched her hat off, used it as a shield to hide behind, caught her in his arms and kissed her. It was no fool of a kiss. It was an experience. Lynn did make a show of resistance. She struggled free and recovered her hat.
Norwood's view of it, against the background of the leghorn hat, made him set his jaw. But he relaxed it again and smiled, a bit grimly, a bit maliciously. From the opposite direction he had heard what sounded like an oath, although it was nothing worse than the well-bred, almost inarticulately gurgled word:
Aunty Deborah Harding had also seen that lingering and only laughingly resisted kiss.
Aunty was on the screened verandah, propped on pillows, on a reed chaise longue, with a table beside her. A native servant was just in the act of removing a tray of breakfast things.
"May I approach," asked Norwood, "or are you purdah?"
"Who is it? I can't see you. Oh, yes, Captain Norwood, come in if you can bear the sight of me. I should look presentable. I never had so many women in all my life to push and pull me about. This is my second attempt at a meal this morning. You'll have to run away if I can't keep it down. What has brought you, pray, at this hour?" He had forgotten the iodine. "Thought I'd ask how you're coming along."
"As if you cared! Now tell your real motive." Norwood chuckled: "Not guilty. Wish I could amuse you with a plea of mischief. I haven't a reprehensible thought in my head."
"Then you're no gentleman!" she answered. "I never knew a gentleman who couldn't entertain an invalid with gossip. Do you mind being useful?"
"Now you frighten me," he answered, laughing. "There are people who say useful when they mean obedient."
"Will you bring my niece here? She's beyond those trees, talking to someone. I want her to come here and talk to me. Will you tell her I said so, and please don't take no for an answer."
Norwood strolled across the lawn, tapping his boots with a riding whip. He coughed a couple of times. By the time he had peered around the trees, Lynn and Rundhia were seated opposite each other on wickerwork chairs. Lynn seemed unselfconscious. Rundhia looked venomously sly; he offered Norwood no greeting whatever.
"I happened to be calling on your aunt," said Norwood, "and she asked me to say that she wants to see you—"
Lynn looked dubious: "What sort of mood is she in?"
"Very polite to me," said Norwood.
"That's a danger signal. She can't be polite to more than one person at a time. I think I won't go."
"You will have to pardon me," said Norwood, "but I agreed to bring you."
"You always do what you say you will?"
"Yes." He looked straight at Rundhia, who ignored him.
"Prince Rundhia," said Lynn, "is going to show me the jewel room."
"Is he?" said Norwood.
Rundhia winced noticeably: "Perhaps you'd better go," he said to Lynn. "There's lots of time. She'll have her tantrum out, and you can meet me later."
Lynn compared them, as clearly as if she had said it aloud. Her smile was a bit forced when her eyes met Norwood's:
"Do you always order people?" she demanded. "Don't you ever say please?"
He laughed. "I can't kneel. Breeches too tight."
"What will you do if I won't come?"
"Scream," he answered.
"I dare you."
"Tuesday is my day for screaming. Are you game to wait here until Tuesday?"
"No. I'm coming with you." She glanced at Rundhia: "You'll excuse us?"
"I excuse you," he answered.
There was not much conversation between Lynn and Norwood on the way to the guest-house. Lynn was evidently nervous. She looked vaguely guilty, but defiant. Norwood couldn't think what to say to her. It felt like leading someone to the headsman to be executed. Anything one says on such occasions is pretty sure to be wrong. He felt a premonition of disaster. He looked so comfortless that Lynn noticed it:
"What are you worried about?"
"Oh, nothing. I was wondering what your aunt eats."
She laughed at him. "Liar! That's the very first time you haven't spoken like a polished ramrod."
"I told part of the truth. I am worried about you."
"You needn't be. I'm all right."
She ran forward to speak to her aunt. The tray of breakfast things was being carried out by a palace servant. Norwood stopped the man, inspected the tray, and selected a piece of toast. He looked for something to wrap it in. That reminded him. He groped in his left hand pocket for the iodine, tore off half the paper in which Stoddart had wrapped the bottle, stuffed the untidy package back, wrapped the toast in the torn-off paper and put that into his right-hand pocket.
There was no sense in hanging around. He didn't choose to overhear a quarrel between Lynn and Aunty. It hadn't started yet. He didn't enter the verandah; he spoke through the wire screen: "I'm expected at the palace, so I can't stay, Mrs. Harding. I brought you some fresh iodine, in case the doctor's stuff is pretty ancient, as sometimes happens."
He plunged his hand into his tunic pocket and Lynn came to the screen door to receive the bottle. He looked at her, groping with his left hand, trying to pull out the bottle without the untidy paper; but a piece of string, tied with one of Stoddart's knots, prevented. So he pulled out the disgraceful package with a quick smile of apology.
"Hello," said Lynn, "you've dropped something."
He stooped, picked up what lay at his feet but didn't recognize it. It was a quite small black paper envelope.
"I saw it fall from your pocket," said Lynn.
He opened it. It contained a neatly folded paper of diamonds. Nine large, clear white brilliants shone in the sun. He scowled at them and stuffed the package back into his pocket, evidently upset. He appeared to hope that Lynn hadn't seen the diamonds. He seemed about to mention them, but changed his mind. Lynn thought he seemed suspicious of her. Then suddenly:
"Excuse me, won't you?"
He walked away. Lynn's eyes followed, wondering. He looked like a man who has been hit hard and is trying not to show it.
"Lynn," said her aunt's voice.
Lynn faced about: "Aunt Deborah! I have seen someone staring at what he dreaded. Or it seemed to me so."
"I never in all my life felt less like talking nonsense. I don't think you guess, Aunt Deborah, how nearly you and I have reached the edge of—"
"Edge of what?"
"Of something neither of us understands."
Mrs. Harding coughed drily and tightened the line of her lips. Lynn watched Norwood. When he was out of sight she followed him a little way along the path until she could see him again through a gap in the shrubbery. His back, shoulders and the carriage of his head were not so eloquent as Rundhia's—not by a long way. In fact, they were hardly eloquent at all. They were a sort of statement of fact without circumlocution or trimmings. What Rundhia could suggest beautifully, and might attempt ingeniously, and what Norwood would be silent about, but would do, were as opposite as plus and minus.
"Lynn!" Mrs. Harding shouted. It was the voice with which she called women's club meetings to order. "Come here. I wish to talk to you."
Lynn returned slowly, thinking swiftly, pausing at the door of the verandah to summarize what she was thinking about. She was tired of meekness. She was feeling ashamed of herself. She needed ten words for a sort of telegram to hurl at Aunty and begin the battle instead of waiting as usual to let Mrs. Harding open fire. But ten words are not easy to find when memories of fifteen years of rank injustice surge into the mind. A million words, yes. A big dictionary would have made an almost perfect missile. But there wasn't one.
"Lynn, you're letting in the flies. Come in and close that door behind you."
Lynn slammed the screen door. "Aunty, did anyone ever throw a book at you or something equally heavy?"
"Good. Then you know what it feels like. So I needn't do it. Please consider yourself thrown at."
"Girl, what on earth do you mean? Have you gone crazy?"
"I mean this: you're a fanatic, and you're cruel. But all your fanaticism, and all your cruelty, can't change what I think."
Mrs. Harding snorted. "Do you ever think? Do you know what you think?"
Lynn walked to the end of the verandah and stood staring at the garden with her back toward her aunt. The trouble was that she did not know what she thought. Her rebellion against Mrs. Harding was an emotion; she didn't have to think about that; it was as natural as any other honest reaction. But Norwood? Rundhia? She knew, without needing to ask, what Aunty thought. But what did she think?
"LYNN, please rearrange my pillows."
It was not Aunty's cultured, conventional voice but the hard, unsympathetic one in which she almost always commanded attention to her comfort as a prelude to the luxury of an explosion of temper. Two palace women, loaned by the Maharanee, had been fussing with the pillows less than five minutes before. Lynn rearranged them. She waited. Her silence offered the old termagant no opening, so Aunty Harding abandoned her usual gradual style of attack. She exploded:
"Don't dare to speak to me, you sullied creature, until you have washed your mouth! There is soap and water in the bedroom."
"Wash your mouth this minute! I saw you—permitting yourself to be kissed by Prince Rundhia!"
"Aunty, I'm no longer five! Aren't you forgetting—"
"To my humiliation I remember too much! You are old enough at least to try to keep up an appearance of decency."
"Would you rather I should call you what you are? After all my care to raise you properly and to provide you with advantages that less fortunate girls have to do without: after seventeen years of continual effort to teach you dignity and ladylike conduct—what am I to think of a girl who lets herself be kissed, like a common adventuress, in public, at ten in the morning? Our journey has been one long series of outrageous offenses against my dignity—to say nothing of your own reputation."
Lynn made a brave effort to keep her temper. She sat down in a wicker chair beside the chaise longue, and controlled her voice. She forced a laugh. It sounded unforced.
"Aunty, there's no harm in a kiss after breakfast! It's kisses after midnight that—"
"Don't you dare to try to justify your grossness! Even your graceless father had enough sense of his social position to keep his indecencies out of sight!"
"Don't 'aunty' me! You inherit your father's wantonness."
"I never knew him," Lynn answered. "I only know what you and other people have told me. Others seem to have admired him. Wasn't he merry and brave and generous? Would he have endured your injustice? I have had to. For seventeen years. Aunty, I am very near the end of endurance. I knew you were looking. That is why I let Rundhia kiss me."
"Oh! So you defend yourself by adding impudence to vulgar—"
"Aunty, I won't listen to you! You are not well, so I am trying to be patient, but—"
"Nonsense! You took advantage of my accident to misbehave like an ill-bred strumpet. What were you doing last night after supper?"
"I was in the garden with Prince Rundhia. Alone with him part of the time. Captain Norwood turned up later."
"I suppose he caught you kissing Rundhia! He saw you kissing him again this morning. And he knew I had seen you. I could hardly keep myself in countenance. The moment he had fetched you here to me he almost ran away, he was so disgusted."
"What concern am I of Captain Norwood's?" Lynn retorted. "Aunty, I'm so fed up with your constant bullying and misrepresentation that I won't stand any more of it. Think that over."
"Lynn, are you threatening me?"
"Yes." Lynn stood up. "I am going to say what I think. I am not ungrateful, though you constantly accuse me of it. I know I have been expensive, and perhaps disappointing, although I have tried to please you, even to the point of becoming engaged to the humorless specimen that you picked out for me to marry. That was the last straw. I admit that I did think of marrying him. To be rid of your tyranny. And then of divorcing him. To be free to go my own way. I thought it through, and it didn't seem decent to me. So I broke the engagement. I said why. I told him. I told you."
"You humiliated us all. And now—"
"Aunty, you may take back the word strumpet, if you said it without thinking."
Aunty's grim silence as good as repeated the word. She took back nothing.
Lynn repeated: "I kissed Prince Rundhia, in a spirit of fun and partly to defy you."
"Fun indeed! Vulgar, suggestive impropriety, with an Indian prince whose immorality is notorious! Don't answer me! I am so ashamed of you I can't discuss it! I am dumbfounded. You must be a throw-back to that wench that your great-grandfather Harding married, in the gold-rush days, in Sacramento. Bad breeding always will out, I suppose. I should have realized it long ago. There is nothing to be done now except to recognize the fact. Heaven knows what your end will be. The moment I am well enough to move, I will take the first ship home. No European tour! That is out of the question. You can't behave yourself. From the moment we reach home, I am through with you. Whether or not I disinherit you will depend—"
Lynn's rebellion flared to its inevitable climax. She interrupted: "Disinherit me now, if you please! Do it now, Aunty. I have made my last submission to your cruel money! You have educated me so that I haven't one chance in a thousand to earn a living. God knows what I can do. But I will find something. I accept the odds. I will make a go of it somehow."
Aunty's stare was skeptical, scornful. Lynn turned away.
"Where are you off to now?"
"To the palace. The Maharanee is human. Perhaps she and I can find something to laugh at."
"Very well, Lynn. All your clothes were removed to the palace last night, against my wishes.
Go and pack them. If it kills me, we are taking the first boat home, and you may say so to the Maharanee. You may tell her why. If you don't, I will."
"And if you don't," Lynn answered, "the palace women will! They have been listening through the bedroom window. So if you want to get the first malicious word in, you had better be quick! Write a letter, why don't you? I assure you I won't discuss it."
She picked up her tennis racket and unscrewed the frame. It was a hardly conscious gesture: it was much too hot for tennis. She walked out through the screen door, carrying the racket. On her way to the palace, she swished at imagined tennis balls. She kept passing people, but no one spoke to her. Several respectable looking turbaned Indians salaamed and stared. They seemed to wonder what those angry eyes and the toss of her chin might mean. Aware of that, she got control of herself. She even laughed—and then laughed at the laugh, it was so pathetically dismal.
As she approached the palace front door, she saw Norwood's horse near the portico. She recognized Norwood's sais, squatting down under the horse's nose, half asleep, instead of flicking flies off the horse as he should.
Lynn stood where she was for a moment, thinking. If she hadn't felt too proud, she would have waited there to speak to Norwood when he came out from the palace. Had he really seen her kissing Rundhia? He would probably refuse to talk about it. But he wouldn't lie; one knew that about Norwood. She would know the truth in a second.
Then she saw Rundhia. He had been watching for her. One could tell that by his manner. He looked astonishingly handsome in a gray suit of some thin material and a gray silk turban.
"Tennis?" he asked. "In this heat?"
"No. Tantrum! I'm so angry I could kill."
"Don't kill me, Lynn. I'm important. Tell me instead."
She studied him. Then, smiling: "You are not the right person to tell. I have been talking to me. Me and I don't like each other. Say something humorous. Please!"
Rundhia looked sympathetic, gently mocking. "Had a row with Aunty? So have I had a row with my aunt. Let's exchange confidences."
Lynn used the racket as if she were returning one of Rundhia's serves. "Would you tell me the truth?"
He grinned. "Well, almost. Who can be in love and tell the whole truth? I will lie to you, of course, about my character. But I will tell the truth about yours! You're a lovely, inspiriting, challenging fact, Lynn Harding. You're an event."
"I feel like a skeleton in my own dark closet," she retorted, and Rundhia laughed.
"Come and I'll show you the treasures. Drive away the very memory of Aunty!"
All the way up the palace stairs and along the ancient corridor, Rundhia chattered gaily. Lynn answered in monosyllables, perfectly aware that Rundhia was talking to divert attention from his motive. There was a huge mirror where the corridor made a right angle turn into the ancient, recently restored wing of the palace. Side-by-side with her, Rundhia stood and smiled at their reflections. Servants in the corridor smiled too.
"Beauty and the beast!" said Rundhia.
"Bromide! Rundhia, you look like secrets in a suave disguise."
"My very inmost heart," he answered, "is an open book. Can't you read it?"
"I don't want to."
He kept his distance. That sinuous right arm of his behaved itself. He walked ahead of her through the narrow anteroom, where two turbaned guards salaamed respectfully. Rundhia spoke to one of the guards, who switched on the electric light in the treasure room. The masonry wall was ten feet thick; the door a foot thick. The guard closed the door behind them and opened an eyehole. Lynn could see the guard's eyes.
It was stuffy in there. A smell of incense—almost a religious atmosphere, utterly quiet. Rundhia's footfall on the tiled floor sounded like a disturbance in church. He went to the far side, to an iron-bound chest, and seemed to be examining the lock. Lynn, with her back to the closed door, stared around the room.
There was a long teak table between her and Rundhia, loaded with golden and jewelled ornaments: embossed golden shields, scimitars in gold sheaths, scores of objects such as are carried in procession by the servants of an oriental throne. Electric light shone within lanterns, suspended on chains from the ancient beams. At the far end of the room, on the right, was a huge glass case, in which the famous Kadur diamonds sparkled, stealing color from the jewelled lanterns.
When she glanced at Rundhia again, he had his back to the iron chest and he was staring at her, dark-eyed, not smiling—noticeably not. Lynn accepted the unspoken challenge:
"I am sorry I let you kiss me this morning. I shouldn't have. It wasn't fair. It may have given you a wrong impression."
"The correct one being—"
"Oh, I was just being mischievous. It meant nothing."
Rundhia eyed her for several seconds without speaking. She didn't feel afraid of him, but every fibre in her being was aware of crisis. Simulating calmness that she did not feel, she almost unconsciously moved the tennis racket from one hand to the other.
"Careful with that," he advised. "Put it down. You might break something. Come over here and see the emeralds."
She did not put down the tennis racket. That would have been obedience. She was obeying no one. It was not obedience that made her walk toward him around the overloaded table. She was walking straight into danger. She didn't deceive herself about that for a moment. Neither did Rundhia try to deceive her. Passion, confident and self-avowed, glowered in his splendid eyes. They were more arresting than the diamonds in the glass case. He looked bold, experienced, and much more masculinely beautiful than any human being she had ever met. She could feel her heart pounding. And she felt as sure of herself as if she were about to plunge into a warm inviting sea. She didn't hesitate.
"Lynn, I love you!"
"Weren't you going to show me the emeralds?"
Strange, how such tactics checked him. He behaved as he did in the garden the previous night when she mentioned the British Resident and Norwood. It seemed to make him nervous—to remind him of some insufficiency within himself. He glanced past her, at the eyehole in the door, then turned and opened the iron chest. He took out two handfuls of huge emeralds:
"Some of these are engraved with Cleopatra's cartouche. Part of the treasure that she sent to India, when she was planning to escape from the Romans. Two thousand years ago! Take them. Hold them."
She laid her tennis racket on the table. He poured emeralds into her hands. They seemed alive. They seemed to have within their green depths timeless, luxurious consciousness of secrets.
"Thousands," she said, "I suppose, are like me. What is it about precious stones that—"
"Thrills you? Sensuous things, aren't they? Feel their magic! Press them against your face! Enjoy them! One of these days they'll be mine. These emeralds are not State property. Lynn! Love me and I'll give them to you!"
"Thank you. I don't want them."
"Maharanee Lynn of Kadur! How would that be? Lynn—"
He moved both arms toward her. She poured back the emeralds into his hands. He had to take them, or they would have crashed to the tiled floor and that might have brought in the guard. Rundhia dumped them back into the chest. Lynn spoke before he could:
"Show me the diamonds. Captain Norwood—" Rundhia flinched. Lynn noticed it— "wouldn't show me those that he has."
Again she had sent Rundhia's thought off on a tangent. His eyes weren't steady any longer. Lynn followed up:
"They looked like big ones, but he's careless with them. If I hadn't noticed them fall he might have lost them."
"Diamonds?" said Rundhia. "In Norwood's pocket? When?"
"This morning. He let them fall while he was talking to me."
She was already sorry she had said it. Rundhia's eyes darkened with what looked like cunning. Lynn felt safer. Rundhia was running wild along a new line, for the moment. But Lynn felt guilty. She should not have defended herself at Norwood's cost. She hadn't meant to. But she guessed now that she had. It made her self-contemptuous and angry.
"Rundhia, what are you thinking about?"
"You! You only!" His eyes sought hers again. "To hell with Norwood! Lynn beloved, beautiful, glorious girl—"
Lynn laughed. "Ask Aunty Harding what I am! She saw us!"
"Damn her, what do we care?"
"Captain Norwood also saw us."
"Any of his business?" Rundhia checked again. His eyes darkened. "Look here, Lynn, I don't like to tell tales about people—"
"Why do it then?"
"You ought to know this. Norwood has been talking."
"Yes. While he was waiting to enter the audience room just now he asked a palace official where you slept last night."
"I don't believe it."
"The official told me."
"Captain Norwood never would do such a thing."
"Don't you know he's a spy for the British Intelligence? Such fellows haven't a scruple. Do you think I would lie to you?"
"Yes! I know you would! Let's go now, Rundhia. I've seen enough. I want to talk to the Maharanee."
"Merciless! You want to tantalize me? I'm already mad about you! Mad, I tell you! Lynn, do you believe this love that sweeps me like a storm can't conquer you? Do you suppose you can fire my veins, torture my heart—and not burn in the same ecstasy? I said burn! You are as passionate as I am! You are no cold beauty. Come here."
She would rather have died than have screamed for the guard. The guard had closed the eyehole in the door. She saw that as she struggled in Rundhia's arms. He was as strong as a panther—as fierce. And she wasn't afraid. She resisted with all her might. She didn't hate him. She couldn't.
"Lynn, I'm lonely! Love me!"
She was against the table. He was pushing her backward. Things were falling off the table. He was kissing her. His face was buried in her hair. She freed her right arm—groped—seized the tennis racket and struck him hard in the face with its edge. Blood. Blood on her frock. Lots of it. Rundhia let go then. He found his handkerchief and held it to his face. Blood.
Lynn gasped, breathless: "What have I done?"
He didn't answer. With the handkerchief to his face he turned away from her.
"Rundhia," she said, "I wouldn't have hurt you for worlds."
"You have broken my heart," he answered.
It was the Maharanee's voice. The great teak door had swung open. The Maharanee stood in the doorway, staring, with the guards behind her. She turned and dismissed the guards.
"Rundhia, what have you been doing? There is blood on Lynn's frock! Lynn! Darling, what has he done to you?"
"No harm," Lynn answered. She turned to hide the blood and the rip in her frock.
The Maharanee spoke to Rundhia, in his own language, vehemently, for about a minute. She was at no loss for words. She let him have it with the governed directed anger that cuts like a whip. Then, in English, for Lynn's benefit:
"Don't play for sympathy! That is no more than one of your usual nose-bleeds! Let your doctor attend to it. Go!"
Rundhia strode from the room. The Maharanee came and put her arm around Lynn:
"Lynn, Lynn darling, I am too ashamed to tell you how I feel. Has he hurt you? Are you all right? I have told him I will neither pay his debts nor speak to him again until he has your full forgiveness."
"Oh, I forgive him. It was my fault. How did you happen to come on the scene?"
"I wished to talk to you. A servant told me you were in the treasure room with Rundhia. I came to—But you say it was your fault?"
"Yes. I dared him."
"You dared him? Lynn, I can't believe it."
"Oh, well, I didn't run. I could have. It's the same thing." She looked down at the blood on her dress. "I must go and change this."
"I am coming with you," said the Maharanee. "Yes, to your room. Oh, Lynn, we love you so. What can I say to you? That wretch! That stupid, willful Rundhia!"
"Shall we go?" Lynn answered. "I can make it, I think, if we go now. It's hot and stuffy in here. I'm a bit faint. I'll be all right if I lie down for a minute or two."
NORWOOD could almost physically feel those diamonds in his tunic pocket. He should have asked Lynn not to mention them. He knew that. It was too late to turn back. And besides, she was having a row with her aunt and it wouldn't be cricket to butt in. He wished he hadn't seen Lynn kiss Rundhia. There were two things that Norwood ached to do that minute. One was to punch Rundhia. The other was to go to the temple and throw those diamonds at the high priest.
But that was just the kind of thing that Norwood could be trusted not to do. He knew exactly what he should do. But the Maharajah and his court were waiting to give him official audience. He glanced at his watch. There remained only five minutes in which to reach the palace in time for the appointment, so he mounted his horse at the gate and rode up the long drive to the front door, where he arrived exactly on the minute. The sais wiped the dust from his boots and he strode up the palace steps, expecting to get away within fifteen minutes. But time, in India, is one of lethargy's dimensions.
He was kept waiting, in polite conversation with palace officials, while the Maharajah's chamberlain considered, and discussed with his secretary, typewritten ceremonial schedules graded for every possible occasion. Half an hour passed before Norwood was ushered into the audience chamber to endure a formal presentation to the man with whom he had been closeted until midnight of the night before.
As a captain, Norwood wasn't entitled to be received from the throne, so the Maharajah sat on a gilded chair at one side of the room, with officials of only second-grade importance on smaller chairs to right and left. The chamberlain stood and read aloud from the instruction for the reception of British captains:
"His Highness now enquires after the visitor's health... The visitor responds... His Highness is pleased to welcome him... His Highness begs him to be seated... The visitor sits... His Highness..."
The Maharajah spoke in Persian, although he hardly understood it. Persian was the ceremonial language of the court. Norwood spoke English, although there was a star against his name in the Army list in proof that he spoke Persian well. The remarks were translated by the court interpreter. Finally, Norwood remarked that this was one of the proudest moments of his life. The Maharajah bowed acknowledgment and gave him leave to go. Norwood arose from a comfortless chair, bowed exactly the right number of inches, stepped backward three paces, and walked out—but not to the front door.
He was met and importunately detained by the Maharajah's minister of state and four other important members of the Council.
Silently cursing his luck, he did his best to escape. But servile wretches in silken liveries flung open the door of an anteroom.
"Look here, Diwan sahib, I'd be awfully glad to talk things over with you now, but I have urgent -business at the Residency."
"Oh, but Captain Norwood, we could phone the Residency."
"That wouldn't help, I'm afraid. I'm not expected there. I need the Resident's advice."
"Ah, but Captain Norwood, is not our need greater? Documents, arguments, some witnesses, are ready now! His Highness has postponed important business to be present. He is waiting in the Council room. This boundary dispute is so urgent and its implications so important, that we feel our importunity is justified. We beg you."
Norwood could almost feel those diamonds, burning him through the lining of his tunic pocket. Tension crept into his normally easy manner. The ministers detected it. Tension became mutual.
"I hope you'll bear in mind I'm in a hurry."
"Yes, but this needs very close attention, Norwood sahib. It is intricate—involved. It—"
The door of the anteroom closed behind them. The door of the Council chamber opened. For the second time within fifteen minutes, Norwood bowed to the Maharajah.
Two cars started from Rundhia's palace door within two minutes of each other. Having brought Rundhia's nose-bleed under control, the Bengali doctor drove away first, in the smaller car, for a professional call on Aunty Harding. If he had been going to his own execution, he might have looked equally comfortless. Perhaps he dreaded Aunty Harding's temper, perhaps something else.
Rundhia, a moment or two later, climbed into the new Rolls-Royce and laid his head back on the cushions, to prevent the nose-bleed from recurring. He was still bleeding slightly. He kept dabbing with a handkerchief.
"The British Residency!"
The Russian chauffeur drove like fury, but Rundhia made him slow down near the Residency gate. Though he affected to despise all ceremonial, Rundhia took cynical pleasure in making sure they should turn out the guard. He had phoned to say he was coming, so he was shown into the dim library, where the shades were drawn against the brazen sunlight, and the Resident didn't keep him waiting more than a couple of minutes.
"How are you, Rundhia. How is the new Rolls-Royce behaving?"
Rundhia dabbed at his nose with the handkerchief. "The car is quite well, thank you. How are you?"
They sat in armchairs eyeing each other in comfortless silence for nearly a minute. The Resident, who was feeling drowsy, tried to look firm, but fatherly and cordial. Rundhia was very good indeed at looking insolent without giving actual grounds for offense. He did his best, until the Resident decided to take hatred by the horns:
"Of course, I've no inkling of the reason for this unexpected visit, Rundhia. However, I'm glad you came. There are no witnesses, and, of course, this is off the record. I am taking the opportunity to remind you, once more, privately, that our treaty with this otherwise independent State of Kadur gives to His Majesty's Indian Government the right to veto the succession to the throne of any heir in whom His British Majesty's advisers may lack sufficient confidence."
"I have always been civil to you. But you couldn't like me, even if you tried, could you!" Rundhia retorted.
"I take exception to that," said the Resident. "I have my duty to consider, not my personal likes and dislikes. As a matter of actual fact, I could easily like you, if you would give me the opportunity. When you choose, you can be charming, and you are very intelligent. But on several occasions I have deplored your conduct and have had to speak to you about it. You have recently returned from Delhi. Rumors reached me. Without revealing confidences, I may say they were more than rumors. There are limits beyond which an heir to a throne should not trespass in quest of amusement—or for any other reason. I remind you that your cousin Jodha comes of age this week."
"Jodha is such a crock he couldn't cut up if he tried," said Rundhia. "One leg in the grave. The other's rotten. Why drag him in? He'll be dead soon."
"Failing acceptable heirs, the throne of Kadur can be escheated. I am warning you, Rundhia."
"Thanks! I have heard you. Now it's my turn and I'll warn you. It's what I came for. Who is this Captain Norwood? I notice you didn't present him at the palace. He came alone. Why? Are you keeping your hands off? Why does he carry diamonds in his tunic pocket? Why is he nervous when someone happens to see them? Is he one of your British gentlemen who never—never under any circumstances, never take a bribe? From a priest, for instance—to report, according to his honorable conscience, in the priests' favor!"
"You are talking dangerously."
"Yes. Whose danger? It would smell sweet, wouldn't it! I was riding early this morning. I saw Norwood on his way to the river—overheard him say that priests were waiting for him near the river. And I happen to know he was down by the river after midnight last night. Now he carries diamonds in his tunic pocket."
"Have you seen them?"
"I am well informed about it."
"Look here, Rundhia. You don't expect me, do you, to credit an unsupported charge, based on hearsay, against an officer who has a perfectly clean record?"
"Would you prefer that I take my information elsewhere?"
"Who was your informant?"
"I refuse to tell you."
The Resident rose from his chair: "I hope the drive home won't affect you disagreeably!"
Rundhia actually started for the door. As he drew abreast, the Resident said:
"Hello, I notice your nose is bleeding. Have you been in an accident?"
"You mean to tell me—? Do you know where Norwood is now?"
"At the palace, in conference, perhaps fishing for a larger bribe from someone else."
"Now, now, Rundhia! Who was your informant about those diamonds?"
"I might tell you in strict confidence."
"I promise nothing. But I will believe nothing unless you tell me your informant's name."
"Between you and me, it was Miss Lynn Harding."
"How should she know?"
"She saw them. Norwood is in love with her."
"You know that?"
"Any fool could guess it. I think Norwood casually let her see them to impress her. He is mad about her. Don't quote me. It's up to you now."
"Have you spoken to Norwood about it?" Instead of answering, Rundhia patted his nose with the handkerchief. "I am going home now to lie down," he remarked. "My head aches. If you keep me out of this, I'll keep you posted, but if you quote me, I'll deny I said a word about it."
"Well, Rundhia, you have made a very serious accusation against an officer in good standing. I shall have to think what to do."
"I shall know what to do, if you do nothing," Rundhia retorted. "Good-bye."
THE Maharanee's maid, who changed Lynn's frock, was one of those who had been loaned to Aunty Harding, because she knew English. It was impossible not to believe that the Maharanee already knew more than the facts about Lynn's break with her aunt. The maid left the bedroom. The Maharanee sat by the verandah window, staring past the edge of the sun-blind into the garden. There was hardly a sound except the purring of the two electric fans.
Lynn lay on the silk-draped cot on the verandah. There was a table beside her, lemonade, flowers. She was feeling all right, but uncharacteristically cautious. Aunty seemed dozens of miles away—past history, and yet a menace more real and vivid than the grip of Rundhia's hands that she could still feel on the skin of her wrists. She had a feeling she was not yet through with Aunty Harding.
Meanwhile, she smoked a cigarette and watched the Maharanee, who seemed to Lynn to be considering, not what to say, but how to say what was crowding her thought.
"Maharanee dear, I wish you wouldn't feel so upset."
"How you must despise us."
"Please! I don't. To go away leaving you thinking anything as untrue as that would be dreadful. I am not even angry with Rundhia."
"I am more than angry with him," said the Maharanee. "I am ashamed. Lynn, is it true—it has been told to me—that Mrs. Harding saw Rundhia kiss you in the garden?"
"Yes. That, too, was my fault. I could have prevented it. I knew Aunty was looking. I did it to annoy her."
"Not because you like Rundhia?"
"Oh, I like him. He is the handsomest thing I have ever seen, and amusing. I was playing with fire, I knew that. I knew I had started something. So I went with him to the treasure room to have it out, and make it quite clear that he mustn't try it again."
The Maharanee's worried face relaxed into a wise smile: "My dear, you don't know Rundhia if you think he won't try it again! Unless—is it true.—it has been told to me—that Mrs. Harding has decided not to stay here any longer?"
"First train, and first steamer for home," Lynn answered. "Marching orders. At the moment, it hurts her to move and she can't keep food down. But the doctor can probably fix that. And she's brave. She has an iron will. She told me to pack my things."
"And will you do it?"
"What in the world else can I do? I haven't a sous marquis to my name. Aunty gives me pocket money—no more."
The Maharanee smiled: "Yes. Lack of money can make even Rundhia obey. But it is a limited power. It can be broken."
"So I think. But it remains to be seen," Lynn answered.
"You are of age? You don't look it, but you are, are you not? If I invite you to remain in the palace as my guest, will you accept?"
"How can I?"
"It would give me very great pleasure to provide you with more than pocket money. I can easily invent a salaried position. You have been such a comfort, such a joy to me, that your companionship would more than justify a requisition on His Highness my husband's exchequer. Is it true—it has been told to me—that Mrs. Harding threatened to—my informant did not clearly understand—I think the word was disinherit?"
"Aunty has threatened that several times. Today I took her at her word," Lynn answered. "She will pay my fare home. After that, I go on my own way—earn a living. It was final."
"Can you legally be left without money?"
"I suppose so."
"Why? Do you mind telling me?"
"Why should I mind? It's no secret. But I was so young when it happened that it's mostly hearsay. People have told me that Aunty Harding persuaded my mother to divorce my father because of some woman who should have been simply kicked into the street. Mother wouldn't accept alimony. She died practically penniless. Father died the following year, in an accident. Aunty took me to live with her when I was five years old. But she never adopted me. I don't know why. I'm glad she didn't."
"What became of your father's money?"
"I don't know. I think the other woman got it. Anyhow, there was none."
"You say you will earn a living. How? What can you do?"
"I don't know yet."
"For such a beautiful girl as you are there is always marriage to look forward to. Is Mrs. Harding not afraid of what people may say if she should leave you penniless until you marry?"
"She isn't afraid of people. Other people are afraid of her. She will simply say I was impossible. But I won't accept another cent from her. Maharanee dear, you can't guess. Perhaps I'm as ungrateful and bad as she says. But I know what I have had to endure. No more humiliation from Aunty Harding! I am through."
"Then why go home with her, since you are welcome here?"
Lynn laughed. "Will you chain up Rundhia?"
"It is that of which I wish to talk to you," said the Maharanee. "Unless Rundhia's offense so hurt your pride—"
Lynn laughed again: "Maharanee dear, I have only just now discovered my pride. I'm going to hang on to it. Rundhia may look to his own pride. Never mind about locking him up, I'm not afraid of him."
"Strange though it may sound, you have no need to fear him," said the Maharanee. "When people are afraid of him, he knows that and he takes advantage. That is inborn in Rundhia. He has the autocratic disposition of his ancestors and very keen intelligence, but not much self-restraint. He is not as cynical as he pretends. That is only a pose."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I know Rundhia. He is affectionate. Amoral, yes; but only to the point where his intelligence, his poetic nature and his sentiment discover one and the same objective. Then he becomes idealistic. He loves me, who am only his aunt and benefactress, not his mother or his passion of a moment. He would lie and steal, and swindle me for money for his gross extravagances. But he would never do to me what he would consider a real injury. He is utterly honest—he is heart-whole—when he tries to teach me to be modern. Given the right guidance, Rundhia can be one of the world's truly great men. All he needs is guidance."
"That's what I've been getting for seventeen years! Who's to guide Rundhia?" Lynn asked. "Can't you?"
"No. He tries to guide me to be modern. Lynn, he needs you!"
Lynn laughed again: "With a tennis racket? I misguided him this morning, badly. If I were Rundhia, I think I'd be so through with me that—"
"Lynn, he loves you. Rundhia has never loved anyone as he loves you. Rundhia goes for what he wants. That is his great fault. But it shows a power of decision. Given guidance, it can be changed into a virtue."
"Maharanee dear, he's merely having some emotions. Until I came, and amused him, he was almost bored out of his senses. I revived emotions that he thought he couldn't get except in Europe. He no more loves me than I love him."
"You are mistaken. Rundhia, it is true, has tossed aside a hundred women. There are always such women, eager to spoil and corrupt. Rundhia well understands such women. And there are other, silly women who lose their heads and become moths in the flame of such men as Rundhia. They have received what they deserved: his contempt. That is life, Lynn. It is universal. There is no need to be modern to perceive that. Can one not be modern and perceive a greater truth: that a woman can make of a strong man anything whatever that she has the spirit to imagine?"
"Do you call Rundhia strong?" Lynn retorted. "I know he can ride, and play tennis and—and nearly break a woman's wrists! But can he take it? Do you know what that means? Has he inside courage?"
"He is willful," said the Maharanee, "and unscrupulous too, when he has set his heart on something. Only he will never truly injure anyone he loves. And what is willfulness but courage without guidance? She whom he loves can guide him."
"Maharanee dear, what are you driving at?" The Maharanee chose to aim her arrow in her own way. She ignored the question:
"I am afraid for Rundhia, not of him. His cousin Jodha, who is a physical weakling and not worth a snap of anybody's fingers, would be heir to the throne if Rundhia should die. However, Rundhia, except for nose-bleeds, is very healthy. Impulse has led him into indiscretions. What I fear is that another escapade or two may cause the British to exercise their treaty right to veto Rundhia's succession."
"And if Jodha should die?"
"Then there would be no heir. Kadur would become a part of British India. The throne would be escheated, as they call it. Lynn, you can save Kadur."
"Yes. Rundhia loves you. You, Lynn, you can make of Rundhia a ruler worthy of his race."
"But I am of a different race, Maharanee dear."
"Do you know how many European women have become the wives of Indian princes?"
"I have heard of one or two. One reads of them now and then in the newspapers. Don't most of them live in Europe? Parasites, spending other people's money? I don't know Europe. But I know me—just a little!"
"Europe would ruin Rundhia," said the Maharanee. "He yearns for Europe, because European women fascinate him and amuse him. He must stay here. And he needs you."
"For his collection? I'm a one-man woman,"
Lynn retorted. "I'm romantic. You may not believe it, but I'm old-fashioned. I insist on a one-woman man. You're not suggesting, are you, that Rundhia meets that test?"
"Rundhia," said the Maharanee, "has not been tested. He is like a racehorse that has not yet learned what racing is. A real test will prove Rundhia's mettle. My dear, there was no law, nor even a custom, that obliged His Highness my husband to refrain from taking more than one wife. Legally a Hindu husband may have many wives, if he pleases. I see you smile, but I assure you he was not always the retiring, ceremonially minded man that you know. It has been a great grief to him that I am childless. But in spite of his ministers' urging, I believe he has never even considered taking a second wife. It is the woman—" Lynn interrupted, grinning: "Aunty Harding could manage Rundhia. It would kill me to have to keep tabs on a man. She'd love it. I simply wouldn't do it. If I loved him, that would be all the more reason for not spying on him. And if I didn't love him, I wouldn't marry him."
"I have never spied on His Highness my husband," said the Maharanee. "And as for loving him, I never saw him until the day we were married. We have been companions—friends. He has learned to look to me for sympathy and such advice as I can give. We have learned to love each other. We have never had one quarrel—not one. Rundhia already loves you."
"Maharanee dear, are you making me a proposal of marriage? Why doesn't Rundhia do it himself? I wish I had ten thousand dollars to bet you that you couldn't persuade him to marry me! That isn't Rundhia's line. He might offer me money, if he had it; and jewelry, when he gets it; and perhaps a villa on the Riviera as long as his credit was good. But marriage? When Rundhia marries, he will have to be bought for a high price. And Rundhia won't stay bought."
"He has the determination of a conquerer. And Lynn, he has made up his mind he will marry you."
"Maharanee dear, didn't you make it up for him?"
"Lynn, you are the one love of Rundhia's life."
"Six or seven men told me that between San Francisco and Calcutta! Aunty chased them. It made me so angry I could almost have killed her. I can say no."
"Lynn darling, say nothing until you have thought. You haven't had time to think. And you are naturally prejudiced at the moment, even though you are so magnanimous and don't admit it. A greater magnanimity than yours I have seldom heard of. Lynn, the offer of a throne is not contemptible. Shall I write a note to Mrs. Harding saying you have accepted my invitation?"
"Better let me tell her that," said Lynn. "Aunty would blow up. She isn't one bit pleasant when she's angry. Say you've invited me. How would that be?"
THE Maharajah bleated like an old sheep. A lawyer in a black alpaca frock coat droned interminable arguments. Documents were produced. Expert witnesses committed artfully evasive perjury. Norwood sat at the foot of the long table, looked, listened, and made endless notes.
They weren't half through by lunch-time. They gave him tiffin in the palace, all by himself, in a silent room, where a clock ticked as loud as fork against plate and he caught himself eating in time to the hypnotic beat, thinking of diamonds. Curried mutton and rice. Whiskey and soda. Sweet cakes. Fruit. Coffee. A cigar. And then back to the Council room to listen to more arguments that were interrupted by the arrival of Rundhia's Bengali physician, shepherding a servant who carried a big blue goblet on a plate.
The Maharajah swallowed his tonic and immediately became less nervous. Then he asked, in English, presumably for Norwood's benefit:
"How is Mrs. Harding?"
Norwood cared less than nothing about Mrs. Harding's feelings at the moment, but he couldn't help hearing the doctor's answer:
"She is not well. But I cannot persuade her to take medicine. She is petulant—very."
The Maharajah tried to seem incredulous of any lady's petulance: "Convey my solicitude." Norwood managed to escape from the conference soon after that. He was away on the horse before the sais woke up. He cantered to the Residency, where he had to wait in the office an exasperating fifteen minutes, until the Resident could be awakened from his afternoon snooze and could get tubbed and come downstairs.
"May I see you alone, sir?"
The Resident nodded. He didn't appear to enjoy the prospect. They went into the darkened library, and Norwood sat in the same chair that Rundhia had occupied. He laid the black paper package of diamonds on the table:
"Take a look at those, sir. I want to turn them over to you. I would like to get a receipt, and to make a statement in writing."
The Resident opened the envelope and poured the diamonds into his hand. He made a wry face and poured them back again:
"I haven't counted them."
"They look valuable. Where did you get them?"
"I am not absolutely certain. I think they must have been slipped into my pocket, early this morning, by one of the unofficial representatives of the temple authorities, who met me by appointment, near the waterfall."
"What were you doing?"
"Inviting myself for a visit of inspection of the mine. They met me to discuss it."
"And you say they dropped these in your pocket?"
"I believe so. It's a pretty obvious attempt to bribe me to write a report in their favor."
"But they said nothing? Not even a hint?"
"One of them, I remember, did say he hoped my judgment wouldn't be affected by worthless arguments. He rather dwelt on the word worthless, but it made no special impression on me at the time."
"Very well, Captain Norwood, I will take your statement." The Resident glanced at his watch. "You're rather late with it. There seems to me to be needed some explanation why you didn't give these to me when you called this morning."
"I didn't know, at that time, that I had them in my pocket."
The Resident's face was expressionless: "You had better be sure to include that in your statement. It's credible, of course, in view of your record. But people might draw inferences. Don't you think so?"
"You suggest, sir?"
"Nothing. I am offering advice. It might be inferred that you accepted these-diamonds and said nothing about them until you learned, let us say at the palace, that someone knew about it; and that then you hurried to me in a rather belated attempt to establish innocence. I am simply pointing out to you what might be inferred if you are not particularly careful."
Norwood stared at the package of diamonds. He thought a minute. Then he looked straight in the Resident's eyes and spoke quite calmly:
"You appear to me to be hinting. Had you heard about these before I brought them to you?"
"Who was your informant?"
"It was confidential."
"You suspect me of having accepted a bribe?"
"I reserve my opinion."
"Very well, sir, you admit that someone accused me. I want the name of the informant. Otherwise I demand my arrest and a court martial."
"Keep your temper."
"I intended no offense to you, sir. But I have my career to consider. Obviously someone is trying to break me over this business. It's a serious charge. I came to you at the first possible minute after I found the diamonds in my pocket. But the mere rumor of my having accepted a bribe might wreck my career. You know what suspicion can do to a man. As a matter of fair play I have a right to know who your informant is. How else can I scotch the accusation?"
"How would you propose to scotch it?"
"By having it out with your informant."
"You have already been reported to me for punching someone's nose."
"My informant's nose was bleeding."
"Very well, who was he? I have punched no one's nose. Someone has been lying to you, about me. Surely I have the right to know who he is."
"Captain Norwood, on your word of honor, are you telling the truth?"
"Well, perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps I inferred it. I forget the exact words. Prince Rundhia certainly intended me to understand that you had made his nose bleed."
"Oh. So it was Rundhia. I wonder how the devil Rundhia knew I had those diamonds."
"Well, did you call on Miss Harding this morning?"
Norwood stared. He looked almost as if he had been punched in the jaw.
"Yes," he said, after a moment. "I called on Mrs. Harding to take her a bottle of fresh iodine. Miss Harding saw the diamonds when they fell from my pocket."
"Is it true that you have been paying her a lot of attention?"
"You have not had words with Rundhia about her?"
"Yes. I did tell Rundhia, last night after midnight, that if anything should happen to Lynn Harding, I would hold him answerable."
"Why should you have said that?"
"Because I like her. I suspected Rundhia's intentions."
"What did he answer?"
"Told me to go to hell. We haven't spoken to each other since."
"Well," said the Resident, "I don't know much about the Hardings. The aunt seemed to me a detestable woman. I haven't met the niece. Rundhia more than suggested that you've fallen in love with the niece, and that you showed her the diamonds to make an impression."
Norwood snorted: "That would be a damned strange way of making love to a nice girl."
"Are you sure she is nice? Why should she have told Rundhia?"
"I don't believe she did. Rundhia lied, if you ask me. Perhaps a servant told him."
"Have you seen nothing that suggests to you that Miss Harding might be more or less in league with Rundhia?"
"You mean, to ruin me?"
"For any purpose. Have you ever heard of American title hunters? Does it occur to you that if Rundhia could prejudice the case against the priests by proving they had bribed a British officer, the decision might go against the priests? The diamond mine would become the property of the throne. The throne would be worth having. The heir to the throne would be worth marrying."
"I can't imagine Lynn Harding considering that, sir."
"She is her aunt's niece," said the Resident. "I can imagine the aunt not only considering it but imposing her will on the niece. And you don't know Rundhia as well as I do. Is the girl good-looking? Isn't the aunt wealthy?"
"My impression was, and is," said Norwood, "that Lynn Harding is an inexperienced, damned nice girl, completely on the level but in serious danger of being badly fooled by Rundhia."
"Let me know if you change your mind. I said that before, you remember. Have you your own pen? Here's paper. Better write your statement about this packet of diamonds."
"Just a moment, sir. This occurs to me. Is Rundhia exactly in good standing?"
"No. Confidentially, speaking off the record, I took a recent occasion to warn him that one more indiscretion might endanger his succession to the throne."
"I suppose," said Norwood, "it would be a great deal easier, and would cause a lot less trouble, to veto him now than to have to depose him later on, after he had come to the throne?"
"Why, yes, certainly. Even the right of veto isn't anything we like to exercise. To depose a ruling prince, after once having recognized his right to the throne—well, it has been done. But it isn't good policy, if it can be avoided. You see, the alternative to Rundhia is Jodha, who is an invalid and likely to be childless. We might be accused of deposing Rundhia in order to grab Kadur. No. If Rundhia should succeed to the throne, his position would be fairly secure."
"Then isn't it Rundhia's cue to force the pace?"
"What do you mean?"
"To succeed to the throne before there's enough on the record against him to justify a veto?"
"Why do you ask that?"
"I've been noticing things."
"Mrs. Harding was taken remarkably suddenly ill last night, during supper."
"So I have heard. What of it?"
"It suited Rundhia's book. It provided a good excuse for getting Lynn Harding away from her aunt. Do you happen to have heard whether the Maharajah is drugging himself?"
"No. Nothing serious, I believe. He's a bit of a hypochondriac. He discharged his own doctor. Rundhia's doctor, who is attending him now, took precautions. He called in a specialist to okay the prescription, and he gets the stuff from our dispensary in Delhi."
"He could change it when he gets here."
"Oh, I think that's quite improbable."
"Well, sir, did Rundhia try to put pressure on you to arrest me for taking a bribe?"
"He threatened to take his information elsewhere if I don't do something about it."
Norwood thought a minute. "If Rundhia should be planning a coup of some kind, don't you think he'd be cunning enough to kick up a smoke screen?"
"Rundhia is more impetuous than cunning," the Resident answered.
Norwood thought again, scowling, for half a minute. Then:
"D'you think he's sufficiently impetuous to try to kill several birds with one stone?"
"He might be. He's an impatient fellow—not at all good at waiting for what he makes up his mind that he wants."
"If he could prejudice the case against the priests, by accusing them of having bribed me. And if he could break me for taking a bribe. And break you for knowing about it but doing nothing—there would be a scandal that might distract attention from whatever else he might be doing at the moment."
"I concede that," said the Resident. "But if I report you as charged with having accepted a bribe, can you disprove it? If you could identify the Brahmin who, you say, put those diamonds into your pocket without your knowledge, he would say on the witness stand that you had demanded a bribe, and that he saw some unknown person hand it to you. How can you prove you didn't know those diamonds were in your pocket? Can you?"
"No," said Norwood.
"Stay away from the palace. Better wait until. Rundhia makes the first move."
"You don't believe in taking bulls by the horns?"
"Norwood, I had a premonition the moment you arrived, that that red hair of yours would set fire to things. We're in a fine mess. It's either you or Rundhia. It breaks you, if he can make his accusation good. Witnesses come cheap in Kadur. He could hire them by the dozen. But if he fails to make it good, I think I can guarantee you it shall break him."
"Hardly fair to me, is it, to compel me to sit still and be shot at?"
"What do you suggest?"
"First, I'll write that statement. Then I'd like to have a talk with Miss Lynn Harding."
"Stay away from the palace! Rundhia may be lying in wait to denounce you and have you warned off."
"The guest-house is in the grounds, but it's no part of the palace. I could get Miss Harding to come and talk to me there."
"What good can that do?"
"No knowing. But I can find out whether I'm right or not that Rundhia lied when he said she told him. Prove that to begin with, and then perhaps I can prove something else."
"Well, go on. Write your statement."
MOSES LAFAYETTE O'LEARY, with a cigar in his teeth, wearing a clean striped shirt and a snow-white solar topee, strolled along the widest street of the bazaar; it was about fourteen feet wide, lined on either hand by rows of open shops in which bunnias sat cross-legged and admired the gracious ways of God, who brings business to people who wait patiently. True, not too much business; but sufficient, and that is enough, since there are numberless gods and some of them can be bribed to add secretive little profits in secretive little ways that even the police don't suspect. That is to say they are very ingenious; because the Indian police are adroitly suspicious people, notably observant.
Meanwhile, there was Moses Lafayette O'Leary, very wonderful to see and to admire and very obviously bent on mischief. One might say hell-bent. He was evidently thirsty. For a man of bifurcated ancestry whose roots, like river tributaries, drew fertility of character from Europe on the one hand, and from Asia on the other, he appeared peculiarly innocent, even guileless. He looked like pay-day. Money seemed to be burning a hole in his pocket. Consequently, he was an object of suspicion; because all India knows that things are almost never what they seem, and humans absolutely never.
A sacred bull, abominably fat from plundering the sacks of grain in front of the corn-chandlers' shops, blocked O'Leary's way. He kicked the brute. It bellowed with rage and plunged into a Cheap Jack shop, upsetting tables and trays. The Cheap Jack and his family abused O'Leary instead of the bull, but O'Leary took no notice of such a trifle as that, beyond tilting the topee a bit further over his right eye. He was using his left eye. He had spotted Noor Mahlam lurking in a doorway, and he knew Noor Mahlam waited for him; he looked as if he had been waiting a long time, exhausting nearly all the philosophy from behind that serenely wrinkled forehead. He was trying to subdue and conceal his relief at the sight of O'Leary. He even tried to appear interested in the devastation brought on by the Brahmini bull. And he deceived Moses O'Leary by not one hair's breadth. Moses walked straight up to him:
"Wipe your spectacles," said Moses. "Don't you recognize me?"
Noor Mahlam began to answer in the vernacular. Moses interrupted:
"Speak English. If you've business with me, I don't want it known all over the bazaar. Where's that three hundred rupees you promised me?"
"You are too late," said Noor Mahlam.
"You mean you've spent it?"
"That is a foolish question. If I had spent it, I could get more—twice, three times as much."
"Uh-huh?" said Moses. "What do you mean? You were watching for me. What do you want?"
"Someone has taken a very much bigger bribe than three hundred rupees," said Noor Mahlam.
"Someone. You know him."
"You paid it to him?"
"No. Others paid it to him, and there were witnesses. But an impartial witness, who could testify to having seen the bribe in someone's tunic pocket, would be worth not three hundred rupees, but three times that much, or even more—say a thousand. That is a lot of money."
O'Leary grinned: "You show it to me."
Noor Mahlam blinked behind his spectacles: "You take me for a simpleton? You think I carry fortunes in my pocket, to tempt the bazaar thieves?"
Moses O'Leary spat—a form of eloquence that the diplomats at Geneva might do well to cultivate; he meant so much, but said so little. He implied, as Noor Mahlam perfectly understood, that he had noticed a change of attitude. At their first interview, at the camp, Noor Mahlam had addressed him as "sir" and "sahib." The omissions of those titles of so-to-speak respect created a diplomatic situation that Moses O'Leary understood perfectly how to handle:
"Terms for witness," said O'Leary, "are cash in advance."
Noor Mahlam blinked again. "If you will come with me—"
"I won't," said O'Leary. "I'm an easy man to deal with. Here, now, or never."
Noor Mahlam's attitude changed subtly. His almost invisible mouth grimaced into a smile behind the hair that usually masked revelation: "Ah, sahib! If it were only you that we must deal with. You we could count on. You we could trust. Your intelligence is such that we could safely pay you in advance and confidently count upon your testimony."
"You can cut the fat off the ham," said Moses. "Trot out the meat. What do you want that's worth a thousand rupees of anybody's money? It ain't your money."
"Sahib, a certain lady saw a certain person drop from his pocket a packet containing diamonds of great value."
"No one else can hear what you're saying. When? Where?"
"I was not told the exact hour. It was seen by a spy and reported instantly to certain persons."
"Certain persons. It happened at the threshold of the palace guest-house verandah."
"Are you inviting me to shove my head into the jaws o' Mrs. Harding? D'you think I'm crazy?"
"No, sahib. I well know your reputation for intelligence and that is why I ask you to accompany me to—"
"I won't. I've other business. And I won't go any nearer that old Mrs. Harding than I can throw a stone. I've heard all about her. Anyone who goes near her is asking for the wrong kind o' trouble."
"But sahib, it is not Mrs. Harding. It is Miss Harding who saw the bribe fall from a certain officer's tunic pocket."
"Easy!" said O'Leary. "Easy. Now I get you! You and I can do business. You're a sensible man. The blokes who selected you to proposition me picked a winner, they did. Sure. You pay me a thousand rupees; and all I've got to do is to get a haircut and borrow an officer's uniform, and go and make love to the gal. That's simple. She'll fall head over heels in love with me as sure as my name's Moses. Then all I've got to do is teach the lady how to get a British officer in trouble. Oh, it's crafty! Come on, hand over your thousand rupees."
"But, sahib, listen to me."
"No. My ears are too full o' your wisdom. They won't hold any more. D'you notice the toe o' my boot? It's just been cobbled. It's hard. It's going to land fight in your stomach if you waste any more o' my time. Who's that bloke watching you?"
Noor Mahlam turned, stared, blinked and shook his head:
"I don't know who he is," he answered. "But I have been told that it is very dangerous to know too much and to refuse generous offers of payment for a very simple little thing that a man of your talents can easily do."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Invent an excuse to speak to Miss Lynn Harding. Tell her that a reward has been offered for a lost packet of diamonds, which are said to have been dropped by someone near the palace guest-house verandah. Should you say it subtly, she will answer innocently. She will tell you what she saw. If you should take a witness with you—"
"Sergeant Stoddart, for instance?"
"Yes, the sergeant would do perfectly. Then there would be two reliable witnesses to what she said, and she would not retract. There would be a thousand rupees for you."
"And Captain Norwood?"
"That will be his business. It is unfortunate but—"
"I'm a half-breed, I am," Moses answered, "and I'm a sinner, if you know what that means. It costs me a heap o' money to keep out o' hell. I could use that thousand rupees. But I'd rather go to hell for pulling out your tongue by the roots than for framing my officer. He has his faults, but he's a gentleman and I've kep' him out o' trouble for thirteen years. Go and tell that to the Brahmins. Scram!"
Noor Mahlam smiled again. "There are means," he remarked, "for compelling silence."
"Yeah, I know," said Moses. "You signal that bloke in the red turban, and he sticks a knife in my back. I'll give him the signal and let's see what happens. Here goes!"
Somewhere Moses had learned soccer, and learned it well. His right toe landed accurately on the bulge of Noor Mahlam's belly and almost buried itself. Moses' right fist moved eight inches like a piston. A hook to the jaw staggered Noor Mahlam backwards into a dark doorway, where he lay writhing. There was no need to waste any more attention on Noor Mahlam. But the man in a red turban, who had been watching the conversation, made a signal. A constable, who had been loitering through the bazaar, abruptly turned his back and walked away. The man in the red turban rushed at Moses, not showing his knife until he was almost within stabbing distance. But his tempo was wrong. Perhaps he never learned soccer. Certainly he had never learned boxing; he carried his chin much too far forward. It was an absolutely perfect target for Moses' toe, which very nearly broke from the impact. The man in the red turban dropped without a groan, motionless, stunned. Moses picked up his knife, wiped it carefully, smelt the blade and ran his thumb gently along the edge. A very dirty looking person in a huge soiled white turban and ragged clothing emerged from a doorway and grinned at Moses. Moses handed him the knife: "Khabardar hona! Zahr!—Watch out. That thing's poisoned. I can smell it. See here now: I'm off to the cock-fights—after that, a woman—I don't know yet which woman, but she'll be a tiger-cat, so stand by. There'll be others laying for me. Use that knife if you have to. I've got to dig to the bottom of this."
"Talk English, if you have to speak to me. And now scram, and watch out for my boot. I'm going to kid 'em you're my enemy."
Moses' toe missed the undercover man by a tenth of an inch as he fled. Moses lighted a cigar. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and resumed his stroll toward a house where gamblers wagered fortunes on the trained ferocity of fighting-cocks—and gossip, unlike legend, dealt with details of each graceless moment as it threaded through the thoughts of men.
NORWOOD cantered from the Residency toward the guest-house; to have galloped would have been a bit too noticeable. Even so, he was delayed, near the end of the street that leads toward the teeming section of the city. Moses O'Leary stood there watching for him. He looked filthy, and at least partially drunk. But he made signals. It was almost never wise to ignore O'Leary's signals. Norwood drew rein.
"Hssst!" said O'Leary. "I've news!"
"It ain't good news."
"Out with it."
"It's all over the bloody bazaar that you've taken a bribe from the priests. Say it ain't true!"
"What did you say?"
"I said what I've told the priest any number o' times: 'I'm a bad man, I am. There's almost nothing I ain't guilty of, one time or another. But I've this to my credit. I'm the wet and dry nurse to a gentleman.' That's what I said."
"What do you mean by all over the bazaar? Who told you?"
"All the gamblers know it."
"Hold your tongue. Go straight back to the camp. Wait there for me."
"But I've more news—worse than that news."
"Keep it. Do as I told you. Hold your tongue. Return to camp and wait for me."
Norwood's air of calm authority deserted him as he cantered forward. O'Leary was a drunkard and an impudent rogue, but a very dependable spy. He had learned he could bet on O'Leary's information. Even his horse seemed to notice the anger and other emotions that boiled in Norwood's veins. The horse shied. It kicked out savagely. However, that gave Norwood something else to think about. He had resumed his normal appearance of imperturbability by the time he reached the palace gate. He turned his horse over to one of the guards until the sais could catch up. Then he walked to the guest-house.
There were five huge trunks on the verandah and three native servants. Mrs. Harding, looking pale and in a vile temper, reclined on the chaise longue, superintending the packing of the trunks.
"Good afternoon. Can I speak to Miss Lynn Harding?"
Norwood's voice startled her. The certainty that he had overheard her remarks to the servants increased her anger. She didn't even invite him on to the verandah.
"Sorry," said Norwood. "I must. Where is she?"
"Must? Oh, well, come in, Captain Norwood. Tell one of these imbeciles to take the things off that chair."
"Is Miss Harding here?"
"No. Pray be seated. You may give your message to me."
Norwood smiled. "I wish to speak to Miss Lynn Harding—alone."
Mrs. Harding set her mouth grimly: "I will not even deliver a message to her unless I approve the message. I am tired of being used as a mere convenience."
"Packing up to go?" asked Norwood. "Miss Harding going away with you?"
"If not, it will be the last she will ever see of me. I have received an impertinent note from the Maharanee."
"Well, I must see Miss Harding before she leaves. I want a statement from her."
"I will have nothing to do with it! Statement? What kind of statement?"
"Something personal that occurred this morning."
"Oh! If that is your business, Captain Norwood, I wash my hands of it—entirely. I have suffered sufficient humiliation. My niece behaved disgracefully. If there are complications, I prefer not to know about them. Nothing would surprise me. I don't even know where she is at the moment. As for any statement from her, I should say it would be as valueless as that of any other girl who has forgotten her self-respect. You know what you saw this morning. You saw as much as I did. Don't deny it! Why should you need a statement?"
Norwood began to look courteously determined. His smile froze slightly:
"I didn't come here to consult you," he said, "about what you or I saw, or did not see. I want to know what Miss Lynn Harding saw."
"Well, if you can find her, ask her. She will very likely not tell you the truth."
"I doubt that."
"That is your privilege, Captain Norwood. I am also privileged to have my doubts. Rumors reach even me. That babu doctor can no more keep a story to himself than he can diagnose an ailment."
"Oh. What has he told you about me?"
"He appeared to be well informed. Ask him about it—if you care to."
"I am asking you, Mrs. Harding."
"Yes, I heard you. I don't repeat gossip. I don't wish to be mixed up in it. In all my life, I have never met so many unscrupulous persons in one place at the same time. The Maharanee is my hostess at the moment, so I reserve comment about her, beyond saying that she knew I have disapproved Lynn's conduct. She has had the audacity to invite Lynn to stay on with her after I leave. I forbid it, of course. Equally, of course, Lynn will do as she pleases. If Lynn accepts the invitation, I am through with her forever."
Norwood's pugnacity broke restraint. He stood up. He looked utterly unconcerned and good-humored except for the fact that his eyes looked steadily at Aunty Harding's. He didn't raise his voice. He didn't betray anger. He spoke quite calmly:
"Lynn is a lovely girl. Has anyone ever said that of you, Mrs. Harding?"
"Did you come here to insult me?"
"No, Mrs. Harding. I am being more polite than perhaps the occasion warrants."
"Oh. If that is your opinion—"
He interrupted: "My opinion is this: if Lynn Harding should get into trouble, God Almighty will hold you answerable. There isn't a high-spirited girl in the world who wouldn't—"
"Oh! She has been discussing me, has she?"
"No," he answered.
Aunty Harding looked skeptical. "You have your duties?" she suggested. "Don't let me detain you."
"I haven't finished, Mrs. Harding."
"I won't listen to you."
"Sorry to contradict a lady, but you shall listen. It is your clear duty, Mrs. Harding, to have yourself carried to the palace if you can't walk."
"Oh? What on earth for?"
"If you can persuade your niece to go away with you tonight, that may save not only her, but more than one other person from disastrous consequences."
"Oh. So you want her out of the way! What has Lynn done to you? I have heard a rumor that you are in trouble. But what authority does that give you to lecture me? Why don't you go to the palace?"
Aunty Harding's vindictive eyes perceived, even through Norwood's almost impenetrable imperturbability, that she had scored a hit. She added:
"Aren't you welcome at the palace?"
"I have told you what your duty is," said Norwood. "There my own duty ends, as far as you are concerned. Good afternoon, Mrs. Harding."
He walked out. For five or ten minutes, he strode the footpaths in the palace garden, hoping for a glimpse of Lynn. Then he glanced at his watch and returned to the palace gate, where he mounted his horse and cantered back to camp.
MOSES LAFAYETTE O'LEARY sat on a box in front of Norwood's tent, less sober than he looked, and looking not so sober as he should be. Facing him sat Sergeant Stoddart, weary from a day's work surveying the river.
"Be a Christian," said Stoddart.
"Not a drop!" O'Leary answered.
"Why not? You know where he keeps it. You can get away with murder. Even if he catches on, he won't do worse than call you a couple of names and then forget it. He thinks you're indispensable."
"He knows that," said O'Leary. "But he isn't always reasonable. I know the symptoms. He's in trouble, same as I told you he would be. I met him, at a street corner, not far from the palace. And I gave him the signal so he drew rein for a confab."
"For you to tell him which side of his handkerchief to blow his nose on, I suppose," said Stoddart.
"Him and me exchanged confidences. Norwood went where he went, subsequent and diplomatic—but I'd took a look at him. And I says to myself, says I, I says: 'Sober up! There's that there something in the Captain's eye that indicates there's doings. And O'Leary will be called upon to do 'em. Same as usual. Only this will be different. On account o' that look in his eye.' No, you don't get your drink. Here he comes. Better button your shirt, or he'll give you hell."
Norwood dismounted near the horse-line, issued sharply detailed orders about the care of his horse and strode toward the tent:
"I will send for you when I want you, Stoddart. Come here, O'Leary."
Norwood's servant removed his riding boots and produced whiskey and soda. Norwood drank. O'Leary watched him drink. Norwood lighted a cigarette, smoked half of it, and then spoke to O'Leary:
"Now then. Sit down on that box and begin. Omit the introduction. Tell the news."
"'T's bad, not good, news," said O'Leary. "Might have got some good news if I'd had more money. Good news comes expensive oftener than not. What I'm tellin' you now, I'd tell to Father Manoel, on bended knees, and none but him and Saint Antonio to hear me. So get it first time. If I have to say it twice over, I might get muddled. I'm drunk, on account of having had to drink cheap liquor. Seeing it was your responsibility, and none o' mine, me being under your orders, I went gambling. Cock-fights. I lost a little money to a man who don't know cock-fighting from puss-in-the-corner. But he's runner for the layers of odds who'd bet you you don't know your own name. And they'd make money doing it. But there weren't much news there.
"So pretty soon him and me went to a fortune-teller, who gets a rake-off from the odds layers for telling the mugs which way to bet. He knew plenty. I showed him a couple o' tricks, and I told him some lies about you, so him and me got chummy. Then all three of us went to a house where the women can guess from way up street how much money a man has. You can't get through the door o' that house unless you've money in your pocket. But the fortune-teller had some money. It weren't his fortunate afternoon. He paid for three. And the liquor was vile. One way and another, I learned what's going on, and it's that bad, I've betted on it."
"Never mind the details of your bet. Tell your story."
"I betted five rupees. The insiders are offering five to one that the Maharajah won't five the week out. I betted he will."
"If me and you weren't on the job, I'd hedge. It was a woman told me why the odds are five to one he'll die within a week. She was as drunk as a Bombay crow, and she told me who's taking the five to one, same as I did, only for a different reason. I asked her, and she laughed like a hyena—"
"Never mind what she did. What did she tell you?"
"She didn't tell me nothin'. She asked questions. If the Maharajah should die, who would come to the throne? Who owes a lakh of rupees and has promised to pay when he comes to the throne? Whose creditors have threatened to appeal to the British Resident? Whose aunt, being angry with him, this very day refused him money with which to pay off his creditors?"
"That sounds like palace gossip," said Norwood.
"I could tell you more than that, that's happened in the palace," said O'Leary.
Norwood threw his cigarette away.
"Stick to your story," he ordered sharply.
"The woman," said O'Leary, "and mind, I'm telling you, she was drunk, was teasing the fortune-teller about him being the man who sells the stuff that people die of. He hit her. They had to pull him off her. He'd ha' killed her if they hadn't. On our way to that house, the fortune-teller'd told me that he'd laid a nice sized bet, at even money, that the Maharajah will be dead by midnight."
"Before daybreak. Claimed he'd cast a horoscope that proved it. Father Manoel would strafe me fifty paternosters and a fine, if I believed a horoscope. So I betted the opposite way."
Norwood's right hand went into his tunic pocket for a cigarette. He pulled out something that he had forgotten—buttered toast, wrapped in paper, that he had taken that morning from Mrs. Harding's breakfast tray. He unwrapped it, sniffed it, turned it over and over between his fingers, without apparently giving it any thought whatever.
"What's that?" O'Leary asked.
"Go on with your story."
"It's a string o' questions, not a story. When they tell you a thing in plain words, 'tain't true—ever. Here's a question: if the heir to a throne should owe you money, and you'd get paid if he comes to the throne along o' someone dying; and the odds was five to one that the someone would die within a week; wouldn't you bet heavy against his dying, so that if he didn't die, you'd get some money anyhow? That's what Rundhia's creditors are doing. If the Maharajah dies, and Rundhia comes to the throne, they'll get paid. And if the Maharajah doesn't die, they'll win their bet. You get that?"
"What else did you hear?"
"I told you. It's all over the bloody bazaar that the priests have bought you. They're betting about that, too. They're betting you'll be broke out o' the Army within three months, because Rundhia wants that diamond mine, and he figures breaking you will help him to get it. I took two to one, to two rupees. That's all the money I had left."
"You mean, you betted I'll be broke out of the Army?"
"Take a look! Look good! Do I look like Moses Lafayette O'Leary? You recognize me? Drunk, yes. But crazy? I wish someone 'ud lay me the odds that you won't be a major inside of a year!"
"Well, what else did you hear?"
O'Leary stepped outside the tent. "You ain't goin' to like this one!"
"Come back, you fool. Sit down. Now, tell it."
"Naming no names. There's some say Rundhia has put it over on her. Some say he tried, and got left at the post. Everybody says he stopped a wallop on the snout that kept the doctor busy for a half hour. That's all. I didn't hear nothing else whatever. Not enough money. I spent what I had like a paymaster-general. What's that you have in your hand?"
"Get me a dog and we'll find out."
"There ain't no dog in camp, barring that cur of Stoddart's. Stoddart keeps him tied up, on account o' his having bit the cook. Stoddart don't favor the cook, he ain't that stupid. But if the cook gets hydrophobia, we'll all be biting one another and—"
"Bring the brute here."
"You mean the cook or Stoddart?"
Norwood sat smoking and frowning until O'Leary came towing the dog, at the end of a length of insulated wire. It was a mean-looking brute with pale blue eyes, a vagabond slink in its gait, and an insatiable void in its belly. The sight of any kind of food excited the animal. He pricked his ears. Norwood tossed him the piece of toast. He gulped it.
"Hold him," said Norwood.
The dog sat there seeming to expect Norwood to go on feeding him. Neither Norwood nor O'Leary spoke until the dog's attention wandered and he began to strain at the leash.
"That will do. Let him go."
The dog took six strides. Then he stopped, and the toast came forth like Jonah from the belly of the whale.
"Meaning?" asked O'Leary.
"Somebody wasn't intended to die," said Norwood. "Merely intended to feel too ill to interfere with someone. Can you sober up? Or shall I—"
"I'm sober. Forget your medicine chest! Once was enough o' that stuff! What do you want done? I'll do it!"
"Do you know Rundhia's Bengali doctor?"
"Don't I! I know the names o' three women who—"
"Never mind that. I don't want hearsay. I want first-hand information, in a hurry, about what he's doing."
"So I needn't be too particular?"
"You will be on your absolutely best behavior."
"What you want is a miracle."
"Yes. And to produce one, if you must, you may admit that it was I who sent you to make enquiries. Get busy."
PRINCE RUNDHIA returned from his interview with the Resident charged with that mysterious sensation that can lead a genius to startling victory. He had tasted success. He had made a British Resident squirm. Rundhia had crossed his Rubicon. He had started something. He felt like a genius, and he looked the part now as he stepped out of his Rolls-Royce at the palace front door.
Not even Rundhia, possessed by a rage against everything old-fashioned that stood in the way of his modern notions, would have dared to invade the women's quarter of the palace. He did not even dare to invade the Maharanee's boudoir. He had to sit, biting his fingernails, in an apartment that had been redecorated for Rundhia's special use. It was at the opposite end of the corridor from the Maharanee's apartment. Between him and the women's reservation was a substantial gate of highly polished brass, of which the ceremonial, merely theoretically necessary key, was in the hands of a seventy-year-old servant who was nearly blind.
The Maharanee came fussing into Lynn's bedroom:
"Lynn darling, Rundhia wishes to see you."
"Have him shown in." Lynn glanced instinctively around the beautiful bedroom-verandah to make sure that the place was tidy. Then, before the Maharanee could speak: "Oh, I forgot. This is India, isn't it. Well, I think I'd better not see him alone. Will you come with me?"
"Lynn darling, I have told him I will never speak to him again until he has your complete forgiveness."
Lynn laughed: "All right. Come and hear me forgive him. It seems to me you're more afraid of Rundhia than I am. Read this first: it's a note from Aunty. Isn't it perfect? Aunty is one of those people who never use more than ten words in a telegram."
The Maharanee read the note aloud:
"Refuse the Maharanee's invitation, pack your things and come away. Deborah Harding."
"You will obey her?"
"No," Lynn answered. "I have obeyed her for the last time. May I say I have accepted your invitation?"
"Please, Lynn. Please accept it."
"Very well, let's keep Rundhia waiting, while I write her a note."
So Lynn wrote a note to her aunt, but she did not show it to the Maharanee:
"Maharanee dear, I haven't been very polite to her, so I don't think you should see it. It wouldn't be quite decent, would it? I mean, after all, it's personal between her and me. Besides, I think I'll think it over before I send it. I won't seal the envelope yet. Let's go and see Rundhia."
Lynn and the Maharanee emerged through the big brass gate and became modern women. The seventy-year-old servant with the key preceded them and announced them, but they walked into Rundhia's den as if it were a New York apartment, which it rather resembled.
Rundhia instantly left off chewing his fingernails. He became the man of action, handsomely sure of himself and cunningly aware that he must rise to an occasion. He did. He offered them chairs in silence and remained standing until the Maharanee spoke:
"Rundhia, that you should have dared to ask permission to speak to Miss Lynn Harding, makes me hope you are ashamed and that you wish very humbly to beg her pardon."
Rundhia was perfect. He didn't even make any contrite gestures. He looked straight at Lynn as if he and she hadn't even an excuse for a misunderstanding.
"I am not in the least ashamed," he answered. "A man who wouldn't have behaved as I did would have been an incongruous monstrosity without blood in his veins, or a heart, or a human emotion. My humility, such as it is, is solely due to my failure to make Lynn love me as I love her. I live in hope. I won't do anything like that again. Lynn, I admire your independent spirit just as much as I adore your charm. I propose to marry you, and I don't in the least regret having learned that you respect yourself."
"Good for you," Lynn answered. "Now Maharanee dear, you can talk to him again, can't you?"
"Yes," said the Maharanee, "if you are so magnanimous as to accept that speech for an apology. But I will not pay Rundhia's debts until I see how he behaves! I have heard plenty of Rundhia's promises."
Rundhia smiled at his aunt: "You dear old despot, you could make me promise anything!" He glanced at Lynn. "Have you heard from Norwood?"
Something froze in Lynn's medley of emotions. All the other emotions, even her sense of humor, remained exactly as they were. But she changed her position and lighted a cigarette. A vague uneasiness, that escaped explanation, asserted itself.
"What about him?" she answered.
Rundhia's eyes watched hers with masked triumph.
"There is more than a rumor," he said. "There is proof. To the hilt. Norwood has accepted a bribe. Norwood's number is up."
The Maharanee gasped. She looked shocked, and Lynn noticed it. Lynn said nothing.
"Rundhia, what have you been doing?" asked the Maharanee.
"The Resident phoned, asking me to come and see him," Rundhia answered. "He has heard about Norwood carrying diamonds in his pocket."
Lynn laid down her cigarette. It didn't taste good. "Rundhia," she said, "who told the Resident?"
Rundhia shrugged his shoulders. "How should I know?"
"But I think you do know," said the Maharanee. "Rundhia," she repeated, "what have you been doing?"
Rundhia smiled. Lynn watched him with an entirely new fascination. It wasn't pleasant, but it held her attention like something dreadful, that one can't look away from.
"The important thing," said Rundhia, in a judicial voice, "is: what has Norwood been doing?"
Rundhia sat down. He laughed. He crossed his knees. He watched Lynn from under partly lowered eyelids. But beneath those eyelids, Lynn saw triumph. So did the Maharanee. Rundhia continued:
"Norwood accepted a present of diamonds, from some agents of the temple authorities, to write a report in the priests' favor, in connection with the dispute about the boundary line and the question of who owns the land that the diamonds came from. There's your incorruptible British officer! Same old story! Good-bye Norwood! They will hold a court martial behind closed doors, of course. British dignity must be preserved, and all that twaddle. Later on, the usual little notice in the Gazette— 'His Majesty the King having no further use for his services.' Who gets the diamonds? They'll turn up in London!"
Lynn was remembering. The physical struggle with Rundhia in the treasure room was a fact through which slowly emerged something less than a fact—an impression. She remembered Rundhia's eyes when she told him about the packet of diamonds that she had seen fall from Norwood's pocket. She remembered her immediate regret at having mentioned Norwood and the diamonds, even though she did it to distract Rundhia's attention from herself. Regret enlarged itself now into a kind of cold, appalling horror.
"Rundhia," she asked almost hoarsely, "did you mention my name in connection with this?"
"Why should I?"
"Did you? Would you rather I should ask the Resident?"
"I had to tell him all I knew," Rundhia answered. "It was confidential—off the record. I forbade him to mention your name or mine."
"Have they arrested Captain Norwood?"
"Damned if I know. Norwood is a crook, who has been found out. Why should you bother about him?"
The Maharanee interrupted: "Lynn dear, why are you so nervous? If Rundhia learned of something wrong, it was his duty—"
Rundhia interrupted his aunt: "Duty? Norwood insulted every single one of us, including you, Lynn. I heard him. He's a cad. Let him take the consequences."
Lynn returned to the main point: "Rundhia, you say that the Resident phoned you. But how did the Resident know? Wasn't it you who phoned the Resident? If you don't tell me, I intend to ask the Resident. There's a phone here. Shall I use it?"
"My advice to you is to keep out of it," Rundhia answered. "They might make you give evidence. Do you wish to be dragged into a scandal? Norwood is guilty. Do you want to add to the poor devil's humiliation by appearing in court against him?"
"Rundhia, was it you who told the Resident about those diamonds in Captain Norwood's pocket?"
Rundhia didn't answer. Lynn got out of her chair and went and sat beside the phone. It was on a little table near the Maharanee. She raised the phone off the bracket, but let it click down again when Rundhia opened his lips.
"Since you insist," said Rundhia. "Yes. I told the Resident. However, he was already suspicious of Norwood. He was glad to get my information."
"And you told the Resident that your information came from me?"
"I had to. But as I have already told you, I forbade him to mention your name."
"Then I am in the position of having betrayed Captain Norwood?"
"Do you call it betrayal? He's a crook. He accepted a bribe. Not the first time either, I dare bet you."
Lynn spoke indignantly: "I don't believe Captain Norwood would accept a bribe from anyone. I haven't even the slightest suspicion of his being guilty, no matter what you, or the Resident, or anyone may think. I shouldn't have mentioned those diamonds to you. I did it inadvertently, when I felt I had to say something and it was the first thing that came to mind. You had no right to repeat what I said."
Rundhia produced his cigarette case: "Well, you said it, and I told the Resident." He appealed to the Maharanee. "What do you think? I have Kadur to consider. As the heir to the throne, could I reasonably be asked to cover up Norwood's guilt?"
"You should first have consulted His Highness my husband," said the Maharanee. "Why didn't you?"
"Because he would have done nothing, as usual," Rundhia retorted.
Lynn's fingers returned to the telephone, but her eyes were on Rundhia. The threat of the telephone no longer worked. He nodded.
"Go ahead," he said. "Phone the Resident, if you care to. I wanted to keep you out of it, but do as you please."
Lynn stood up. "No," she answered. "I will write to Captain Norwood. I will ask him to come and see me. Perhaps my evidence would help him. At the very least, I can tell him how sorry I am."
"Lynn dear!" said the Maharanee.
But Lynn was resolute. She wouldn't listen to her. "May I have pen, ink and paper?"
No one answered. Lynn tugged open the drawer of the writing table, pulled out paper, sat there and began to write. She laid the note she had addressed to Aunty Harding on the desk. In her haste, she splashed ink on the envelope. When she had finished her letter to Norwood, she noticed the blots on the letter to Aunty Harding. She threw Aunty's envelope into the waste-basket. She turned both letters face downward on the blotter while she searched for envelopes. There were none in the desk drawer. She asked Rundhia for envelopes. He found two. She inserted the letters, sealed up the envelopes and addressed them. Rundhia walked out of the room.
"I have sent him," said the Maharanee, "to find a reliable messenger, who will know how to find Captain Norwood if he is not at his camp."
Lynn gave both letters to the Maharanee. "Darling," said the Maharanee, "Rundhia adores you so much that you could persuade him to do anything."
Lynn stared: "Do you think I could persuade him to try to prove Captain Norwood's innocence?"
"But Lynn dear, if Captain Norwood has been guilty of taking a bribe—"
Lynn interrupted: "I don't believe Captain Norwood is guilty."
"But what do you know about him?"
"Maharanee dear, what do you know about me? How do you know I'm not a criminal?"
"Maharanee dear, even if Captain Norwood could be guilty of an ungentlemanly, mean thing like taking a bribe, it was I who betrayed him and I want him to know it. If he isn't guilty—"
The door opened suddenly. Rundhia entered, followed by an attendant in the Maharajah's livery.
"Yes," said the Maharanee, "that man can be trusted. Lynn dear, I will give him both your letters. He will find Captain Norwood, even if he has to hunt all over Kadur."
She gave the man emphatic orders in his own language, told him to go at once, watched him along the corridor and led Lynn through the brass gate to the women's quarters.
Rundhia waited, standing. When he heard the messenger's footfall returning along the corridor, he opened the door, admitted him, closed the door, held out his hand, received both letters, glanced at them and returned to the messenger the one that was addressed to Mrs. Harding.
"Deliver that one. After that, keep out of sight for an hour. Then return and say that you have delivered the other letter to Captain Norwood. Go."
Rundhia opened the letter that was addressed to Norwood. He smiled. There was no heading:
Your unkindness about what you saw this morning does not make me wish to hurt you in return. There is something I wish to tell you. It is important. I hate myself for something that I said unintentionally, under great strain. I can explain it. Won't you see me?
Rundhia tore the letter into fragments, burned it in an ashtray, crushed the ashes to powder and then strode to the phone. He called up the Bengali doctor:
"Come and see me. Yes, in my suite at the palace. Now. I don't care how busy you are. Come at once."
THE Bengali doctor entered Rundhia's suite at the palace with the air of a crook who is afraid of a master-crook. He assumed an air of self-importance that he didn't feel; of confidence that didn't exist. He didn't wait for Rundhia to tell him to be seated, and he began to speak in Bengali.
Rundhia interrupted him: "Speak English. I sent for you here, instead of to my house, to avoid eavesdropping. The only servants in this palace who know any English have been loaned to the Hardings."
"All the same, I will look." The Bengali opened the door suddenly and glanced into the corridor. He did the same thing to the door leading into the next room. He looked out of the windows onto the balcony before resuming his seat. Rundhia began on him without preliminaries:
"You may discontinue dosing Mrs. Harding. Miss Lynn Harding has accepted an invitation to remain here at the palace, so the sooner the aunt clears out of Kadur the better. Let her get well."
"She has refused medicine. I had to put it on her breakfast food. And now she won't eat. She will recover quickly enough! There is nothing much the matter with her. I am relieved. I do not like to do such things to western people."
Rundhia ignored that. He lighted a cigarette and blew several smoke rings. He examined the tip of the cigarette and then asked suddenly: "Could you get at Captain Norwood?"
"I think you'd better. Last night at supper, Norwood watched your clumsy by-play when you gave that pellet to Mrs. Harding. The way you switched the pellets wasn't clever. Norwood suspects you."
"Captain Norwood is himself under suspicion," the Bengali answered. "He stands accused, does he not, of having accepted a bribe? You told me to say so to Mrs. Harding. And I did."
"Yes. I was coming to that," Rundhia interrupted. "I thought the news might influence her to keep Norwood away. Now, look here: officers caught taking bribes, especially if they're popular and well connected, very often commit suicide. Norwood's suicide would be appropriate, convenient and, in the circumstances, not suspicious. How do we go about it?"
"We don't!" the Bengali answered, without a second's hesitation.
"Oh. You think you can afford to defy me?"
"It is not defiance. It is discretion. Also, it was not in the bargain. What I have agreed to do, I will do. When I have done that, you will pay me, because I know more about you than you know about me. When I have received my money, I will go my way and live respectably. I will not interfere with Captain Norwood. No. I will not. That is final."
Rundhia stared at him scornfully: "Timorous fool! All you Bengalis are alike. You run out. You've no consciences, but you're afraid of the last minute. You can't stand up and go over the top. Look here. Norwood drinks whiskey and soda. He's an Engineer, and there's no reason whatever why he shouldn't have some cyanide in his kit. He has a logical reason for committing suicide. It ought to be a simple matter to get cyanide into his whiskey without anyone suspecting you."
"I have told you that I will not do it," the Bengali answered.
Rundhia studied him. His unconscious gesture suggested what was going on in his mind. He extinguished the cigarette by rubbing it to pieces on the ashtray. Then he lighted another.
"Well," he remarked at last, "it might be dangerous to do. You and I must be careful."
The Bengali folded his hands across his stomach: "Very careful."
"Things mustn't be traced back to us," said Rundhia. "There is nothing, so far, than can be traced back to me. But I have the goods on you; and by God, if you don't do what I tell you, you're in trouble."
Fear looked forth from the Bengali's eyes, but he said nothing. He crossed his knees and waited.
"Norwood has got to be killed," said Rundhia. "He is in love with Miss Lynn Harding. He hates me. He is suspicious by nature. He is on the defensive. And he is the type of person whose idea of self-defense is to attack with every scrap of energy he has. That kind of person is much too dangerous. You and I can't afford to let him live. If we can blame his death on the priests, that could be made to hold water. The priests bribed him. By this time, they probably know that the news of the bribe is out. It would be natural for them to murder Norwood, to stop his mouth."
"Well, why not let them! Why not leave it to them?" the Bengali retorted.
"Because they won't do it, you fool! Did you ever know a priest to do a thing at the right time to suit someone else? It will have to be done for them. Now here's the idea: they keep a hospice where mendicants may live as long as they please, for no payment. There are three men in that hospice, who would kill their mothers and anyone else for an ounce of opium. For two ounces, they would murder ten children apiece."
"Yes," the Bengali answered. "I know those three men. I will have nothing to do with them."
"Wait until I have finished speaking, you white-livered fool! Do you think I would be such a reckless lunatic as to send you to talk to them? They would be blackmailing you for the rest of your life. This is what you are to do."
"I will have nothing to do with it. That is final."
"Oh, yes you will. You know my man Gulbaz?"
"Too well. Someday that badmash will turn on you."
Rundhia smiled: "Long before that, dear doctor, he shall swallow one of your prescriptions! Summon Gulbaz. Give him money. I will give you three hundred rupees, and you may keep the change. Tell Gulbaz he is to hire those three men to assassinate Norwood tonight. I don't care how they do it, and I hope they get caught. They have been living for months in the temple hospice. Everyone will believe they are in the pay of the priests. Do you understand?"
"I understand you. I won't do it. I have done what I have done, because you knew of former indiscretions, for which you could have betrayed me to the law. And I will do what I will do, because I need the money. There it ends. I wish you wouldn't keep me waiting. I am becoming nervous. I have drugged his medicine until he needs it five times daily. Now he is demanding one at bedtime. Why wait?"
"Are you sure of the poison?"
"Quite sure. It is the same that I gave you to test on the monkey that you packed in ice and sent to Delhi to be autopsied. It is a vegetable poison. It escapes analysis by all known methods. It is one of five poisons that baffle analysis, once it has become absorbed by the blood. They will find in your uncle's stomach, if they look, some traces of marijuana, which it can be proved that he himself bought, and which I added to his tonic at his own written request. I advise you to act quickly."
Rundhia nodded: "If you will attend to the killing of Norwood, I will let you do the other job tonight. But I want Norwood out of the way."
"I have told you. I will have nothing to do with the killing of Norwood."
"Damn your eyes. I won't forget your having failed me like this in an awkward moment! Very well then. Find Gulbaz and send him to me. No, not here; to my own house. I will tell Gulbaz what to do. You hold yourself in readiness to do your job tonight and do it properly. After that, you may go to the devil."
"I will go away from Kadur, you may believe me," the Bengali answered.
THE brass gate clanging behind Lynn and the Maharanee had a peculiar effect on Lynn. It made her feel buried alive in eastern luxury. Her appreciation of the seclusion, from which she could run in and out as she pleased, had not faded. But it didn't feel the same. The click of the lock being turned by the old near-sighted servant, had a sinister suggestion that she noticed for the first time. There was a chill at Lynn's heart. As she walked beside the Maharanee into the room, that was called the boudoir but retained the sumptuous, old-fashioned splendors of a royal bibi-kana, she felt more self-critical than ever before in her life. Not even Aunty Harding's crudest accusations had made her feel as guilty, and as impotent to undo wrong.
"Lynn darling, why are you silent? I can almost always count on you for chatter when I feel despondent."
"Maharanee, did you ever betray anyone?"
"Never, or I think not. I have made many mistakes; and I have been unkind, angry, stupid, sometimes I daresay, cruel. I have been selfish and ungenerous. But I don't think I ever betrayed anyone. I don't remember that I ever did."
"Then you can't know how it feels," Lynn answered.
"Let us sit here by the window," said the Maharanee. "Tell me how it feels. Perhaps I can help you to feel differently. You have helped me in so many ways. There is a law of compensation. Perhaps comes now my opportunity to do for you what you have done for me."
"I hate myself," Lynn answered. "You can't change that. I don't want it changed. If I didn't hate myself for what I've done, I shouldn't be fit to live. The dreadful part is, that I can't undo what I did. Oh, my God—" she put her head between her hands "—I didn't mean to do it. If I could cut out my tongue! But I said it. I can't unsay it."
"My dear, you are suffering reaction from your quarrel with your aunt."
"Damn Aunty. The hell with Aunty. Aunty may go to the devil—do you hear that?—to the devil. I don't care what Aunty thinks, or says, or does. I am not reacting to her. I hate her, because what she said of me—is true. I am treacherous."
"Lynn darling, did you promise Captain Norwood not to speak about those diamonds?"
"No. He didn't ask me to promise. He took it for granted that I wouldn't mention what any idiot could guess he hadn't wanted me to see. Captain Norwood saw me kissing Rundhia. I know he did."
"Did he say so?"
"Of course he didn't. And of course he won't mention it, ever, to anyone else. The man is a gentleman."
The Maharanee smiled. "Lynn darling, where did you learn about men?"
"Oh, if it amuses you, say Aunty taught me. I don't need to be taught. I know a man when I see him. Tell me that red head, those gray eyes, and that mouth, and the set of those shoulders, and that straight way of saying exactly what he means, are the marks of anything else than a gentleman—and I will doubt even your wisdom, Maharanee dear. I can't bear to be despised by a man like that. Do you know, Maharanee, it's funny: I wouldn't mind a bit if Rundhia despised me. And yet I don't dislike Rundhia. Why is it?"
"Perhaps you don't yet understand Rundhia."
"Oh, yes I do. Rundhia is a beautiful savage."
"Lynn darling—! Rundhia's ancestors were civilized, chivalrous noblemen when yours were running naked in the woods! Julius Cæsar sold your ancestors as slaves in Rome when Rundhia's were living in a golden age of art and everything that gives nobility to man!"
"Rundhia must have forgotten lots," Lynn answered. "I can forgive him for having forgotten manners in the treasure room this morning. I can see that as a joke. But do you expect me to forgive him for having repeated what I told him in a moment of confidence?"
"Darling, did you ask him not to tell?"
"I made it quite clear I was sorry I had told him."
"Well, you must remember that you told him something that concerns the State of Kadur. You uncovered to him the existence of a bribe that might have changed the destiny of Kadur by legalizing the priests' possession of the diamond mine. I haven't told you much about the diamond mine. It is supposed to be a secret. Do you call it a betrayal that I have mentioned it to you?"
"Don't worry. I won't tell!" Lynn answered. "I never want to hear diamonds mentioned again. How long will it take that messenger to reach Captain Norwood?"
"That depends on where Captain Norwood is. The messenger will have to look for him. He has gone on horseback. I ordered him not to spare the horse. It might take him half an hour—an hour."
"Did you tell him to wait for an answer?"
"Yes. Captain Norwood will be sure to write an answer, because I did not give the messenger the usual receipt book in which Captain Norwood might have merely scribbled his initials. There being no receipt book, he will feel obliged to write at least an acknowledgment."
"I can't wait for an answer! I wish I had gone in search of him, myself. I haven't any pride left. His career will be ruined, won't it?"
"But darling, he deserves to be ruined if he accepts bribes."
"Now you talk like Aunty Harding! That is the way she has been accusing me, for seventeen years, with no more evidence than her imagination, or what someone said. I don't believe—I won't, I don't believe that Captain Norwood would accept a bribe from anyone, in any circumstances."
"Darling, if he is innocent, he will be able to prove it."
"Do you believe that? I can easily doubt it," Lynn answered. "I have never once been able to prove my innocence, against Aunty's accusations. Not one single once! Not one time—ever. To this minute, she believes everything she has ever said against me." Then, suddenly: "What is Rundhia doing?"
"I don't know."
"Does he like to be despised?"
"Lynn dear, if you should despise him, I don't know what might happen. Rundhia loves you."
"Does he? You think so? Tell him I despise him! And I will, until he proves to me that he has done his absolute, utmost best to undo the cowardly wrong he has done to Captain Norwood. You may say I will help in whatever way I possibly can. But if he doesn't do his best for Captain Norwood, I will never speak to him again."
"Maharanee dear, won't you please tell him? I mean it. He might believe you."
The Maharanee sighed. She left Lynn and walked out of the room to find Rundhia.
Lynn went to the piano; she had to do something. It was a splendid piano but it hadn't been tuned for a year. Lynn was out of practice. The combined assault on Mozart's reputation made a couple of canaries chitter in a different key. Lynn slammed down the piano-lid and paced the floor. She sat down to write another note to Norwood, tore it up and paced the floor again. Then she took hold of herself. She was seated in the armchair by the window, staring at an illustrated magazine, when the Maharanee came back.
"Darling, Rundhia has promised."
"What did he promise to do? What can he do?"
"Lynn darling, there are some things it is wiser not to know. Seemliness and convenience (am I using the right word?) so often are supported upon contemptible things that exist beneath the surface. Is it not so in America also? Rundhia has promised to employ a creature, whose profession is to produce evidence. If one party to a lawsuit should have ten witnesses, this person would produce twenty witnesses to contradict them."
"You mean perjury?"
"I mean that Captain Norwood can be cleared of the charge of bribery," the Maharanee answered. "However, Rundhia made a condition."
"Life is so involved," said the Maharanee. "Lynn dear, everything is conditional on something else. For instance, His Highness my husband rules Kadur on condition that he rules not too unwisely. We eat on condition that people pay their taxes."
"Maharanee dear! Tell me. Don't prepare me for it. I can take it without our pretending it's something else."
"Very well," said the Maharanee. "Let us be quite frank with each other. Rundhia loves you."
"So says Rundhia."
"And I love you."
"I can believe that," Lynn answered. "Why else should you be so kind? I haven't influence or money."
"You have personality," the Maharanee answered. "You have imagination and spirit. You can redeem Rundhia. So that when the day comes that he shall be Maharajah of Kadur, he will be a great man. Rundhia will do anything for you—anything. Your influence will persuade him to do good things, of that I am sure. Even now, having known you only one day, for your sake he is willing to save Captain Norwood. But he makes conditions."
"Can't he tell them to me?"
"He has gone in search of that creature Gulbaz. Rundhia has taken it for granted that you will accept the conditions, since he has accepted, as a command, your wish that he should help Captain Norwood."
"Am I in a trap?" Lynn asked suddenly.
"Darling! You have asked of Rundhia that he shall risk losing perhaps (there is no knowing) but perhaps, the undivided title to a diamond mine that has been a source of revenue for many centuries. That is what covering up Captain Norwood's act of treachery may mean."
Lynn almost lost her temper. She retorted: "I was treacherous. So was Rundhia. I don't believe Captain Norwood has been! I won't believe it until they prove it."
The Maharanee returned to her subject: "Rundhia insists that you mustn't tell Captain Norwood whose influence it was that saved him. He demands—and I think that is fair, isn't it?—Rundhia can't afford to be compromised—he demands that if Captain Norwood should characteristically force his way into your presence, you will not answer Norwood's questions."
"But I have asked Captain Norwood to come and see me."
The Maharanee's sympathy looked genuine. Lynn didn't doubt it:
"Lynn dear, Rundhia thinks that Captain Norwood probably believes you told about the diamonds because you knew that Captain Norwood was embarrassed by your having seen them, and you wished to punish him for remarks he had made, in the garden, last night. Rundhia thinks that perhaps Captain Norwood won't answer your letter."
Lynn was silent for a long time, thinking. The Maharanee watched her, reading, on Lynn's face, the course of the struggle between pride, humiliation, anger—and some other, western emotion that not even Lynn could have put into words. It was too simple. Too elementary. It escaped analysis. At last Lynn spoke:
"I promise. I won't tell Captain Norwood that Rundhia is helping him. But will Rundhia do it?"
"For you he will do anything," the Maharanee answered.
NORWOOD sat in his tent and checked Stoddart's survey figures, found a couple of mistakes, corrected them, admonished Stoddart and gave the sergeant instructions for the following day. Stoddart asked for leave to visit the bazaar.
"No. I want you to keep your eye on the camp. There are plenty of thieves in this neighborhood. Besides, I am rather expecting a visit from certain Brahmins. It will be a rather confidential sort of visit. They are likely to come quietly, after dark. It wouldn't do to mistake them for thieves. So keep your eyes open. I will instruct the sentries, of course, but I want you, Stoddart, to keep very wide awake. The minute O'Leary shows up, send him to me."
Norwood smoked after that, for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then, three times, with his hands behind him, he paced the distance between his tent and the horse-line. He noticed that O'Leary had taken a horse without permission, but decided to say nothing about it. If O'Leary had asked, he would have let him take a horse, but not that good one.
After the third of his pacings to and fro, he sat at the table in his tent and wrote a letter to Lynn Harding, tore it up, and made several more attempts. He tore up the last one, gathered all the scraps of paper into one heap, carried them to a cook-fire and burned the lot. Since the cook looked displeased at having had his fire interfered with, Norwood inspected the pots and pans and fined the cook two rupees, the fine to be remitted contingent on thirty days' good behaviour.
He returned to his tent, scraped out a pipe, wrote another letter to Lynn Harding and tore up that one. It was getting on toward dark. The Kadur River was a splurge of crimson. He heard the hoof-beats of O'Leary's horse at about the hour when he had first seen Lynn Harding in the Maharanee's carriage. Norwood's servant came and lighted the lamp in the tent.
O'Leary approached the horse-line through the trees and the scrub, from a direction chosen to prevent Norwood from seeing which horse he had taken. He turned the horse over to a sais and walked to Norwood's tent with an air of nonchalance and a slouch in his gait. Norwood knocked the ashes from his pipe and refilled it. It was only when O'Leary had no news worth telling that he tried to look smart. When he looked as unimportant as most people believed him to be, he was absolutely certainly primed with red-hot news. By the time O'Leary reached the tent, Norwood was in an easy camp-chair, cutting the pages of a new book and smoking as if there were nothing on earth to be troubled about.
"That lamp ain't fit to read by," said O'Leary. "You'll ruin your eyes. The only kind o' engineer that can look after himself has a couple o' fingers missing, along o' having learned what engineering is! Let me turn it out. I'll fix it later."
"Come in. Sit down."
O'Leary blew out the lamp. Then he sat. It was not yet night outside, but it was too dark in the tent for them to see each other's faces.
"Meaning you!" said O'Leary. "I could have picked you off against that lamplight from a hundred yards away, aye, and no one know who done it."
"Talk," said Norwood.
"I'm dry o' talking. I've a throat like a baker's oven."
"You shall have a drink presently."
"Said the devil to the sinner! That Bengali doctor's sore at someone. He's scared. He's roiled. He's up to mischief. Like all them Bengalis, he's a mixture of too many different kinds of education. He's as full of spite as a scalded cat. He has imagination like the toothache. What he needs is an umbrella, to keep worry off with."
"Did he talk to you?"
"Did he!—Time to post the sentries?"
"Stoddart is doing it now. Can't you hear him?"
"Yeh, but I know Stoddart."
"Stoddart has his orders. I will go the rounds presently. What did the Bengali doctor tell you? Come on now, out with it."
"The way I managed him was this," said O'Leary. "I was looking in on Mrs. Harding, cracking on I'd come to fix the plumbing, on account o' my hearing her raising hell. She was doing a better job of that than you or I could. I understand she's a widow. I don't blame her husband for taking a chance on the nex' world. She has her things pretty near packed, in about a lorry-load o' trunks on the verandah. She was cussing out the servants until the doctor turned up, and then she turned her guns on him. She demanded her bill, and he remarked she didn't owe him nothing. So I knew right then, there was a cockroach in somebody's butter. I stuck around, umbrageous.
"What she said to that Bengali doctor, mind you, I wouldn't say to a thief. He was trying to persuade her to take some physic for her stomach. And she wouldn't. He said it 'ud make her stomach easy, and she'd be fit to travel. He offered to swallow some of it himself, to prove it was harmless. But she said he could swallow the bottle, for all o' her. He said he was trying to speed the parting guest, and she said she didn't need no speedin'. She said she was getting the hell out o' there ( only she didn't use no bad language, I mean, not what a priest 'ud call bad). She said she couldn't get out fast enough to suit her.
"But that Bengali stuck to it. I never seen a man stand up to such a scorching and keep on taking it. Me listening, mind you, but them not seeing me. Oftener than not folks lie to each other, specially strangers, without much meaning to it. I refereed that both o' them was telling the truth. I gave it a draw. So there's something wrong somewhere. There weren't nothing for me to do but stop the fight.
"So I showed up, suitable respectful cracking on I hadn't heard nothing. And I said I was Captain Norwood's private servant and had the Captain left his pipe on the verandah when he called this afternoon? You should have heard that female talk, and what she said about you! She said she wouldn't put it past you to have smoked your pipe on her verandah, but if you had done it she'd have kicked the stinking thing into the bushes. Long and short o' it, she don't like you. And she accused me o' your having sent me to her to make another attempt to use her as a go-between. She said she didn't believe one dam-thing that the Bengali doctor had told her, except that Captain Norwood was a crook what took bribes; and that the sooner me and the Bengali got out o' her sight, the better she'd like it. She pitched a hundred-rupee note at him for his fee, and he let it lie there. Him and me—"
Norwood interrupted: "What became of the hundred rupees?"
"The priest shall have what's coming to him," said O'Leary. "Let me tell this story straight on end, afore I get too thirsty to remember. I followed the Bengali. I overtook him where it was quiet, and no shrubbery where folks could scratch their noses poking into other people's business. I spoke reproachful.
"I asked him: 'Doctor sahib, did you tell that woman what she said you told her about Captain Norwood?' He came back at me with: 'Are you genuinely Captain Norwood's servant?' And I said if I'm not genuine, there's less than sixteen annas to a rupee. And when he'd thought a bit he answered: 'Yes, I told her. I repeated rumor. I should not have done it.' He acted nervous. And after a minute, he pulled out five rupees and gave 'em to me. I looked noncommittal, so he gave me five more. Then he said to me: 'Will you be seeing Captain Norwood? How soon? Tell him, but don't say who told you, that his life is in danger—tonight! Warn him that his enemies have heard about that bribe, and they will try to kill him. Let him look to himself.'
"So, of course, I played up. I acted ugly. Him being a Bengali, I imputed motives—plenty of 'em—anything that came into my head, until I think he told the truth. You can't ever be sure a Bengali is telling the truth, if he's talking to you. You have to listen in on 'em to get truth you're sure of. But I think he gave his real reason. I wouldn't bet on it, but it's worth repeating."
Norwood knocked out his pipe: "What was it?"
"He don't care a damn about you. But he's scared stiff o' what might happen if they killed a British officer in Kadur. I figured out the meaning o' that, quicker than you'd take a snapshot. He's up to something crafty. No knowing what. But he figures he can get away with it all right if nothing happens, like the killing of a British officer, that would bring a British investigation on the scene."
Norwood refilled his pipe: "So you think the priests intend to murder me?"
"Neither do I."
"If they did intend to," said O'Leary, "that Bengali doctor wouldn't know about it."
"Well," said Norwood, "you've done nicely.
You have a hundred and ten rupees for an hour's work."
"Not me. I'm proud. I gave him back his ten rupees. He's nothing but a babu doctor."
Norwood found the whiskey bottle in the dark. He poured a stiff drink and locked up the bottle, gave the drink to O'Leary, and walked off on his rounds to instruct the sentries.
O'Leary waited for him outside the tent. He looked as nervous as the shadow of a tree that quivers in the evening wind. Twice he started to overtake Norwood, but thought better of it. At last when Norwood returned, he hesitated, and if Norwood hadn't faced him he might not have spoken.
"Still here?" said Norwood. "What's on your mind?"
"There's a man I'm scared of."
"Oh? Who is he?"
"He's an old acquaintance o' yours."
"I asked: who is he?"
"A man name o' Gulbaz."
"Oh, is that devil in Kadur? Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"Because I was afraid you'd go after him." Norwood smiled. O'Leary grinned. "What I do," said Norwood, "and what I don't do are none of your business."
"Yes, they are! Gulbaz 'ud kill you. Then what? He swore to get you, on account o' that Poona business, when you caught him stealing from the secret files."
"Yes, I remember he was angry."
"You shouldn't have let him off. I warned you then. You sail you'd a good reason."
"It still is a good reason."
"It was a crazy reason."
"Remember your manners."
"I haven't any—not when you go chancing getting bumped off by a badmash that 'ud skin his mother for the price o' leather. You said you'd catch him later doing something important."
"Did I say that?"
"You did. I'll forget it if you will. There's nothing doing this time."
"Because I won't say where he is nor what he's up to. You leave him to me!"
Norwood chuckled: "You propose to yourself to steal my thunder, do you!"
"So help me God, I wouldn't steal nothing from you, and you know it."
"Not even whiskey."
"Please, sir, Captain Norwood, you listen to me. You listen to your Uncle Moses, just once. You're quality, you are. You're too valuable to be risked against a swine like Gulbaz. He's dirt. He's fit for nothing but a knife in the back and to hell with him. He's my job. You leave him to me." Norwood chuckled again: "Moses, your friend Gulbaz—"
"—is the apple of my eye. I won't have him hurt. Not a hair of his head."
"How about his belly? I can kick like a battery mule."
"You're not to touch him. Gulbaz is mine, saith the rule of the game. I need him. As soon as this little business in Kadur is finished, we've a survey to run, eight hundred miles from here, where there's a dark little game going on. And your friend Gulbaz is the bell-wether—"
"He's a pig and a snake and a son of a—"
"Never mind what he is. It's what he shall do that matters. He shall decoy his friends—"
Moses laughed: "That swine hasn't any friends."
"He has three bosom friends and a gang of eleven all told. He shall decoy them all into one net."
"Says you," observed Moses.
"Don't be theatrical. You may go and talk to Gulbaz if you want to, but you're not to touch him. If you get yourself killed, I'll pay that priest of yours to say no masses for you. You shall stay in hell forever."
"Mayn't I have just one crack at him? I could make him a hospital job, where you'd know where he is and—"
"I have given you a definite order that you're not to touch him."
"Yes, but suppose he takes a crack at me?"
"In that case, you're to run away."
"Stoddart can't run. He's too fat. I'd like to borrow Stoddart."
"I'll need him."
"I said: what for?"
"For a witness. If I don't have a witness, there'll be nothing Gulbaz won't do or won't swear to."
"How long do you expect to be gone?"
"About twenty minutes. Maybe less. It don't take long to get Gulbaz' goat."
"I can't afford to lose Stoddart."
"I'll bring that big baby back as safe as if he rode a bath-chair."
"Very well, I will tell Stoddart to go with you."
"And see here, sir—"
"Well? What's on your mind now?"
"Just this once, may I talk to you man to man?"
"That's what you're paid to do."
"And say straight what I mean? No pulling punches?"
"If you'll remember your manners, I'll listen. What is it, Moses?"
"Well, seeing as how you've asked for it, I'll tell you. Woman trouble is the worst kind o' trouble. Woman danger is the worst kind o' danger. There ain't no sense in it, nor no dividends. Lay off women."
"You mean you've heard some gossip about me and women? Are you such a fool that you listen to that kind of stuff? What's come over you? You know better than that."
"Wisht I didn't. One woman, and she a young 'un, is a hundred times dangerouser than a hundred women. You can raise hell with a hundred women and get away with it. But tackle one, and she's got you. You're in the bag. You take my advice and—"
Norwood shut him up with a sudden gesture: "Dismiss. Tell Sergeant Stoddart to come here."
IT had been an army lorry once, but it had fallen on evil days and was now a contractor's truck, so it looked suitably unofficial. The Indian driver had been commandeered by Moses and for one rupee eight annas in lawful money had agreed to go anywhere, lawful or not. Inside, beneath the rotting and ragged canvas cover, Moses sat on the floor facing Sergeant Stoddart.
"You're a fathead," said Moses. "You don't know what it's all about and you never will know."
Stoddart lighted his pipe. His face by the light of the match looked tolerant and noncommittal. He moved the match to get a better look at Moses. Moses grinned and reached for Stoddart's tobacco.
"You don't know nothing," said Moses, "excep' what I tell you. And I ain't saying much. So if we exaggerate your genius a bit you're ninety-nine parts ignorant."
Stoddart passed the matches to Moses. "Probably," he answered, "that's why the Captain sent me to keep an eye on you. He said I'm to bring you home sober, in one piece, right side up and with your trousers on. Last time I had to rescue you, remember, you left your trousers in a bad-house."
"Sure. I snaffled a new pair out o' that. They cost the Government three rupees eight annas. And I saved 'em come close to a lakh o' rupees by spoiling one o' Gulbaz' little games. He had it all set that time to loot a railway pay car. But I spiked him."
"Oh, all right. It was Captain Norwood spiked him. But it was me who tipped him the office, even if I was in shirt tails, and a torn shirt, too."
"Yes, and pye-eyed drunk," said Stoddart. "Drunk, was I? Did you never hear o' General Grant?"
"You mean the American General? Him who was President later on and sold his sword to pay his debts or something?"
"That's him. You're not so ignorant as I thought you are."
"What do you know about General Grant?"
"Time he was General, fighting a war, he sent a barrel o' whiskey to President Lincoln, so the Government would have sense enough to okay his plans. That's history."
"I don't get your point," said Stoddart. "You'll see the point about the day after tomorrow. The point is that when I'm drunk I'm worth ten o' you sober, and the Captain knows it."
"Maybe. But you didn't catch Gulbaz."
"Nobody can't catch Gulbaz. Not with the goods. He's too crafty. Me and you have got to find out what Gulbaz is up to tonight."
"I thought this was all about a diamond mine," said Stoddart.
"It was. But it ain't."
"Oh? Have they settled that argument already? Did the Maharajah climb down that quick? It took me less than half a day to run the line from the ancient landmark. The whole of that temple area belongs to the priests. But that won't stop a lawsuit, will it? These Indians 'ud go to law about twice two. They're never satisfied until the lawyers get all their money."
"You keep your fat head out o' mischief and let problems alone," said Moses. "Tonight's no problem. It's easy excep' the consequences. We're going to lose a good officer, one way or the other, and the question is which."
"You half breeds are all alike," said Stoddart. "You daren't say what you think." He stuck his thumb in the bowl of his pipe and struck another match. His eyes were inquisitive. "You don't mean—"
"I mean you're a fathead. That's plain talk, isn't it? Now it's your turn. You tell me what you're thinking about, plain words and no this, that, and the other. Come clean."
"Everyone in camp has heard it," said Stoddart. "First I heard of it was from a coolie down by the river."
"Someone's been bribed."
"And you believe it?"
"Long ago," said Stoddart, "I gave up believing anything in India except pay-day and where there's smoke there's fire. I've known of officers burning their fingers. If the officer we're thinking about took a bribe, he'll be broke for it as sure as you and I sit in this truck. That's one way we can lose him. What's the other?"
"He didn't take no bribe," said Moses. "Me or you might take one—you special. But not him. If Captain Catch-'em-alive-o Norwood should be sitting on the South Pole with nothing to eat, and he'd lost his return ticket, and there was moneylenders sitting all around him threatening lawsuits, and he'd a tip on the stock-market that only called for a couple o' thousand rupees to make a fortune with in fifteen minutes, even so you couldn't bribe him to okay a phoney voucher for two annas."
"They may have framed him," said Stoddart. "They'll frame your picture in a museum one o' these days as the champion fathead that ever came even from England to look popeyed at a puzzle. There's three men in India who can't be framed successful, that's to say unless they frame each other. One's me. Another's Captain High-Cockalorum Norwood. And the third is Gulbaz."
"Who'd want to frame you?" asked Stoddart. "You're not worth it. What's the other way we can lose the Captain?"
"He's no womanizer," said Stoddart. "That's where your half breed intellect can't wrap itself around a fact and hang on. You've got all the vices of both races, and you can't believe that a white man can live clean just because he feels that way about it."
"What I can't believe is one thing," said Moses. "For instance, I can't believe in your intelligence. But what I know is something else. Since Captain Ginger-headed Norwood cut his milk teeth on his first job for the secret intelligence, I've been his teacher, his preacher, his nurse and confidential adviser and—"
"You should be Viceroy, you should."
"No, I'd have no patience with the Council. The point is, I know Captain Norwood. I know him asleep and awake and between times. I know the hard side of him, and it's as hard as iron. I know the soft side of him, and it's about as soft as a kick from a battery mule. I know the good-natured side of him. There ain't no dog that ever wagged a tail that's half as good-natured as Captain Carl Norwood when the mood's on him. And I know his temper; if you'd use it for dynamite you could blow up the Taj Mahal with one shot. It 'ud win a world war easy. Me, I know him. I know him inside out, and outside in. I've seen all sorts o' women try to put one over on him, in all sorts o' ways, open, surreptitious and clandestine, including offering me money—and me a pauper. Not one of 'em had any more chance than a pye-dog has to catch a railroad train. I'd stand at the Golden Gate and take my soul's oath to St. Peter himself, that Captain Redhead Norwood is a clean living Captain of Engineers. So put that in your pipe and smoke it."
"Then what do you mean by calling him a womanizer?" Stoddart demanded.
"You ought to be a reporter for the papers. You get all your facts right. I said woman. A woman, you fathead. One woman—half o' two women. Can you figure that one?"
"You mean one of Gulbaz' women? Is that what we're going after?"
"I know what you're good for," said Moses. "You should have one o' them booths at a Fair. You should set yourself up as a clairvoyant fortune-teller. Use a crystal and a deck o' cards. You'd make a fortune at it. Lord, you'd guess 'em right every time."
"Well then, what woman are you talking about?"
"Naming no names, she's at the palace."
"You mean Miss Lynn Harding? It's all over the camp that Prince Rundhia has her number."
"You seen her?" asked Moses.
"Yes," said Stoddart, "I saw her on horseback riding with the Prince. She's a good looker."
"How close did you look?"
"Oh, a couple of hundred yards."
"Are you blind?"
"I've better sight than you, you drunkard."
"And you couldn't tell, from two hundred yards away, that that girl's a good 'un? You want to bet? D'you want to bet your month's pay against mine that Norwood hasn't made up his mind that he wants her?"
"What makes you think you know?"
"If Captain Carrot-head Norwood wants something, it's good. And if it's good, he goes after it. And if he goes after it, you bet your boots he gets it. He'll get a brass hat before he's finished. And he'll get that girl before a week's out. That's how we lose him."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, for one thing she'll like to see a real smart looking Sergeant around. So you'll get a transfer. And can you imagine a sweet, nice virtuous young lady putting up with me for longer than it takes to get drunk once?"
"It wouldn't hurt you to stay sober for a change," said Stoddart.
"I could do it. I'm a man o' mettle. But she'd ask me questions. And I'm no liar. I'd get telling her the truth. And it ain't ladylike. She'd object, and who's to blame her. You can't change decent women. And you can't change me. The truth's indecent. So my number's up. I turn in my resignation on the day he says come hither and she cometh. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tonight." Stoddart refilled his pipe with almost supernatural patience. "What are we up to tonight?" he demanded. "Why are we here in this bloody truck? Where are we going?"
"Didn't he tell you?"
"No, he told me to look after you."
"That's what I told him to tell you."
"All right, General Moses, where are we going? To the Promised Land?"
"We're going hunting a bribe."
"You may keep all you get."
"How much do you reckon we'll get?"
"Twice half o' what he thinks it's worth. We split it fifty-fifty, on account o' your Puritan nature and your good looks and your gift for not letting your head know what your brains are doing."
"What are we going to be bribed for?"
"For our virtue. What else could he buy? Mine ain't for sale, but yours is. He wants it for the travelling wax-works o' curiosities he's taking along to tour India. Bottle o' brine containing extract o' Sergeant Stoddart's virtue. Very scarce. Poison. Don't touch."
"All right then, put it this way: why are we worth bribing?"
"We ain't," said Moses.
"Speak for yourself. Whose money is he chucking away?"
"You may bet your boots it isn't his money. Considering the kind o' badmash crook he is, that has to pay out money by the bucketful to keep his skin on his back and his line o' retreat open, Gulbaz is close. He's so mean that a Scotch flea couldn't get a living off him."
"But you say he'll bribe us?"
"Don't start spending it before you get it. Want to gamble? I'll take ten rupees for my half."
"I haven't ten with me. I left it in camp. I know better than bring money when I'm in your company in the red-light district."
"All right then, I'll toss you for it—winner take all."
"I've a long memory," said Stoddart. "I've seen what you can do with a coin. What you could do to it in a dark truck would be worse than Gulbaz."
"Gulbaz," remarked Moses, "is a sucker. You know what that means?"
"Yes, but what do you mean?"
Moses raised the cover of the truck and took a quick glance at the narrow street. Then he lowered the cover and spoke:
"We'll be there in a minute. I want you to get this, Stoddart. Try to understand it. It's important."
"You may cut the preamble. In case you don't know it, you ignorant savage, a preamble is a lot of words intended to disguise the meaning of what follows. So say it plain."
"Gulbaz has it in for Captain Norwood. That's how big a sucker he is. He's crafty. But he hasn't sense enough to know that there's two men in India can beat him. One's me. The other's Cockalorum Norwood. Catch-'em-alive-o Norwood.
One o' these days Gulbaz is going to sit in Norwood's net, alive and nasty. But not yet."
"None o' your business. You're only a fathead sergeant. You know nothing o' the inside working o' things. But Gulbaz isn't here in Kadur for his health, or for yours and mine either. He's here to get Captain Norwood and make a profit at the same time. He's got a game on, and he's got it all timed to a minute. That's why you're here."
"There you go again," said Stoddart. "Blowed if I understand you. Speak plain."
"I'll say it slow," said Moses. "Words o' one syllable. If I was alone, and if Gulbaz was ready, he'd stick a knife into me. But seeing that you're along, and you a soldier that has cost the taxpayer a heap o' money for upholding the blooming dignity of His Majesty the King, he'll think twice about it. If I was stuck in the back it 'ud be a loss to the human race and a bull's eye for Gulbaz. But they wouldn't even write it up in the paper."
"Not in the society column?" asked Stoddart.
"But if it happened to you, half the sweating countryside 'ud have to turn out for your funeral, marching slow, arms reversed, Dead March in Saul. And after that, there'd be an investigation, two courts of enquiry, military and civil, plus a headache for the Maharajah and at least a column in the Bombay Times embellishing the record of a faithful Tommy Atkins, first in peace and first in war and first claim on the C.I.D., police and supernumerary units if he's bumped off without a formal declaration o' war that's okayed by the League o' Nations. You're an unimportant fathead, and you don't know nothing. But if you was stuck in the back in Kadur they'd work hard to avenge you, and Gulbaz knows it. So I'm safe. And I'm valuable. That's the point."
"I don't get your point. If we're not out to bag Gulbaz, why go near him? What do you reckon to find out?"
"Time," said Moses. "Gulbaz times it like a jockey. He's the best judge o' pace in all India. He times it to the minute. If he isn't ready, then he'll play for time. If he's ready, he won't. And if hi doesn't, and the Army don't have to bury you wi' a brass band, you're lucky. Most fatheads are lucky; they have to use luck for brains. But we'll soon know. Here we are."
The truck halted in front of a house whose red front door was bolted, barred, and scrawled in chalk with infamous remarks anent the virtue of its inmates. There was an alley, a yard wide, pitch dark at the farther end. Into that alley yellow light streamed through a door that was partly ajar. There was a faint staccato drumbeat, a twang of stringed music, the sickly wail of a flute, and a stench in which sensuous perfume fought with the reek of garbage. Moses spoke to the truck driver, and the truck driver sounded the horn—three times, then three more, then once.
The dissolute and dirty looking person in the big white turban, to whom Moses gave a captured knife in the bazaar, appeared suddenly, apparently from nowhere.
"What's that bloke up to? Where did he come from?" Stoddart demanded.
"If you'd looked under the truck you'd know," said Moses. "He ain't respectable, so he don't ride first class like me and you."
Moses whispered to the man, who walked down the alley and entered the door.
"Is this your harem? Aren't we going in?" asked Stoddart.
"No. You'd break the ladies' hearts. We'll wait here and give 'em a chance. This is Gulbaz' temporary field headquarters. I've sent him a message. He'll come or he won't. If he don't, we'll know the answer."
"What did you tell that bloke to say to him?"
"I said that Sergeant Stoddart's here with information that he'll sell for a price and wants a personal interview, face to face, no go-betweens."
"You've got your nerve," said Stoddart. "It'll be all over the bloody bazaar that I'm telling secrets. Why don't you use your own name?"
"We've hooked him. Here he comes," said Moses. "Keep your hair on now and sit tight. Say nothing, and leave it to me."
Through the door, down the alley and straight to the truck, without glancing aside, without a moment's hesitation, came a man of medium height and middle weight, who walked like a young god, though he was middle-aged. He was dressed in a tight-fitting turban, white singlet and loin-cloth and a striped silk semi-European jacket. He had deep dark eyes, classic features and a face that was almost an Apollo's except for his mouth. The mouth was ribald, ingenious, versatile. It was an actor's mouth. The lips were capable of almost any expression within the human scope including the rarest of all, which is no expression. At the moment he was smiling as if tolerant benevolence had overflowed the brim of contentment. He looked like a man who had just made a fortune and knew exactly how to spend it to the best advantage. He came to the tail of the truck, gave one glance at Stoddart and stared straight at Moses. His smile changed, outwardly only a little, but something happened at the corners of his lips. It had changed to a fighting smile, merciless, malicious.
"You're a dog," he remarked in plain English.
"Fancy you giving away secrets," Moses answered. "I'm here to sell 'em for cash on the nose. Me and this Sergeant know something. It's hot. We're splitting fifty-fifty. How much?"
"I will listen. You may tell your secret."
"Cash on the nose," said Moses. "Money down or nothing doing."
Gulbaz' smile changed again. It conveyed a suggestion of vanity beyond the utmost reach of ordinary mortals. He glanced at Stoddart, then back at Moses.
"Are you satisfied?" he asked. "You have recognized me? You can truly report that you have seen me in Kadur? You saw the door I came from? Very well, you may watch me return. After that, you may go to the devil."
"I'm staying here until my messenger comes out into the street alive," said Moses.
"I will send him to you," Gulbaz answered. "He is lucky. Luckier than you are. Wait and see."
Gulbaz strode back down the alley and entered the door. A moment later the messenger came out, looking scared, as if he felt murder behind him. He ran and crawled in under the truck. Moses spoke to the driver. The truck started, forward, because the street was too narrow to turn around in.
"Where now?" asked Stoddart.
"Back to camp," said Moses.
"Well, you drew blank that time. If you feel as foolish as you look you'll think twice before you call me a fathead again. You've spent a rupee eight annas for nothing, and you're not a cent the wiser."
"Plus having learned that you're stupider than any other blasted Britisher I ever met," said Moses, "I've learned all I came for. Gulbaz isn't as smart as he thinks. In some ways he's near as stupid as you, all along of his pride."
"Oh, that's easy to say but it's just talk," said Stoddart. "If you ask me, you're a liar. You haven't learned anything. To the extent that a white man can condescend to a half breed without losing caste, we've been fair to middling friends, you and I. But if you use my name again promiscuous like that, I'll knock your block off."
"Fathead," said Moses. "He knows me. He doesn't know you. He came out because he was curious."
"And he told you to go to the devil. That's all you learned."
"Fathead! You mean that's all you learned. I learned that he's ready. He's red-hot ready."
"Ready for what?"
"To get Norwood. He's trigger-ready. If he weren't, he'd be playing for time, and we'd be arguing this minute about the price o' what we'll tell him if he'll pay."
"You mean he'd have bribed us?"
"I do not. Gulbaz makes promises. And he sometimes keeps his promises, unless—"
"Unless someone else can keep 'em for him with a long knife. He can hire that done for five rupees a head. So why pay us a thousand? Can your intellect answer that conundrum? Figure it out on a board when you get home."
Moses spoke to the driver. The noisy engine began to hurry. The truck bumped on rough pavement. The man with the big white turban fell from his perch, gave chase and climbed in behind. Moses spoke again and the truck went faster—faster.
"It looks to me like wasted time," said Stoddart.
"You've no integrity," said Moses. "You've no pride in your profession. You'd insult your soul with guesswork. Get this, saphead: since the day I knew him, I haven't never, not once, told Norwood nothing that I didn't know for certain sure. If I'd tell my Catch-'em-alive-o Captain that the sun was the moon, he'd bet on it. And when I tell him, as soon as we get to camp, that his life's in danger, he'll bet on that and take measures according. I bet on him, and he bets on me, because we know each other. You chew on that, fathead, and watch what happens."
THE Maharanee was scrupulously fair. Rather than disguise her motive, she revealed it. She stripped objections to it naked. She didn't pretend that Rundhia was a prince of virtue or a man of his word, except when it suited him, or when compelled to keep a promise. The Maharanee believed every word she said. But she used arguments that sounded curious, even to Lynn, who was under the spell of the eastern environment.
She mentioned the court fortune-teller, a Brahmin, who had been told Lynn's birth-date and was casting a horoscope:
"Lynn, it will take him at least a week to finish that horoscope. But already he says it indicates that this year, this month, almost this day, you are to meet your destiny in Kadur. Rundhia's horoscope is also critical at this time. The astrologer says that Rundhia's destiny presents him with a crisis, and that your stars and his are in close conjunction at this moment."
Astrology was all new stuff to Lynn. It sounded dubious. It was not so luring to her imagination as the unfamiliar eastern dignities, survivals of the long-dead past that Rundhia detested, and the Maharanee cherished in her heart but conscientiously tried to forget, to oblige Rundhia.
"Lynn darling, I have a plan to capture your romantic heart! It is a trap, so I warn you. Last night, we were unconventional. We were modern.
Tonight, let us follow the ancient custom. Let us honor His Highness my husband by waiting on him, at a meal soon after sunset, as the women were proud to do in ancient days. He will enjoy it, and it will help you to love us, who love you."
So Lynn permitted herself to be dressed again as an Indian princess, in the same costume that she wore when Norwood first saw her.
"Lynn, spiritually you are one of us! We are your friends. Your own have turned against you. Has Captain Norwood answered your note? He hasn't, has he? And your aunt intends to disinherit you? When she reaches the United States, will she speak well of you? She leaves you penniless. But we love you. And if you will marry Rundhia, I will settle money on you. The law and the custom is different in different Indian States. In Kadur women have property rights. I will make a settlement witnessed by the American Consul. If you wish, you shall retain your American nationality. You will never be dependent on Rundhia, who is not to be trusted with too much money. You will be able to meet him on his own terms. Your influence will be real, not only sentimental. I will teach you how to manage Rundhia. You will inspire Rundhia to greatness. He has been a bad boy, but he needs only you to make him good and brilliant and great."
"I think the supper will be fun," Lynn answered.
Rundhia would have been out of place at that supper, even if he would have accepted an invitation to what he would have called a farce. Since they were playing at being old-fashioned, Lynn had to keep her face veiled in the Maharajah's presence.
The Maharajah sat alone, cross-legged, at a low table, in solemn, patriarchal grandeur. Lynn and the Maharanee waited on him, Lynn taking each dish from a servant and handing it to the Maharanee, who served her husband on her knees. Subdued music flowed through an open door from another room. A Brahmin blessed each dish before it reached Lynn's hands. Someone behind a screen sang falsetto songs in praise of Krishna and the damsels with whom that lord of life made merry.
Lynn could have slapped the Maharajah for his smugness. He accepted it all, including the Maharanee's worshipful devotion and Lynn's veiled silence, as his natural right. He broke no rules of ancient etiquette with any such vulgarity as thanks. But when he had finished his meal, he permitted himself the ancient condescension, clipped into a pompous phrase, of hoping the women would enjoy their supper.
He was escorted from the room by fawning servants, and then Lynn and the Maharanee ate alone together, seated not at the sacred table but on cushions on the floor. It was much better fun than a picnic. Lamplight and subdued color against dark walls, the strains of eastern music and the feeling of being alive and conscious in a dream of long-dead days, all served Lynn's mood.
"Have you enjoyed it?" the Maharanee asked her.
"That is the polite answer. Now tell me the truth."
"Captain Norwood didn't answer my letter."
"If he is so discourteous, why think about him? Lynn dear, Rundhia, by now, has done whatever can be done for Captain Norwood. Will you talk now with Rundhia? Will you walk with him? If you are afraid of his passionate nature, I will send a servant to—"
Lynn interrupted: "Where is he? Yes, I want to talk to him."
She found Rundhia standing in moonlight, in a golden turban and European dinner clothes. As a palace door closed behind Lynn, she, too, stepped into the moonlight, with her face half veiled under the sequined sari. It was she who looked oriental. Rundhia looked like a western athlete, in more or less fancy dress. And he called Lynn a goddess in western terms that any polo-playing American gallant might have used:
"You look like Miss India! You almost give me religion! Pull away that curtain! Show your golden hair, and let's give all the other goddesses a sight to make them green with envy!"
Lynn uncovered her head and walked beside him in silence.
"I feel like a god tonight," said Rundhia "Have you been drinking?" Lynn asked.
"You golden-haired iconoclast! You arrow aimed into the heart of my ballooning self-esteem! You delicious archer! I have had five cocktails. Do I seem drunk?"
"What sized cocktails?"
"Measured to my mood, exactly."
"Then you seem astonishingly sober. What have you done about Captain Norwood?"
"Lynn, let's forget Norwood. I want to talk to you."
"I can't forget him. You and I have wronged him."
"Has he answered your letter?" Rundhia retorted.
"No. But have you forgotten your promise?"
"Didn't the Maharanee tell you? Don't trouble yourself about Norwood. Forget him. Talk to me."
"I wish to talk about Captain Norwood."
"He has talked about you, I don't mind telling you. According to one of the palace servants, he told your aunt this afternoon that he's disgusted with you."
"I can believe he is disgusted," Lynn answered.
"But I can't imagine him saying so to Aunty, or to anyone else."
"Let us talk about you," said Rundhia.
"Very well, what about me?"
"Now you have made me speechless!"
"Have I? Then perhaps you will listen to me."
"Beloved, I will gladly listen to you, in an ecstasy of patience and devotion, during years which shall flow so fast that we'll be old before we know it!"
"Did you get that from a book?"
"I never read books. When I talk to you, my tongue can only stutter miserable hints of how I feel. You make me delirious. Be good enough to notice that these arms resist impulse!" He extended his arms toward the moon, then dropped them to his sides. "Oh, Lynn, I love you."
"Good job I don't love you," she answered. "There'd be—"
"A new golden age in Kadur!" Rundhia interrupted. "Lynn: philosophy, religion, economics and the other muck they made me listen to at school and college left me, until you came, dry of faith in anything but evil—and even evil dying! You are my first glimpse of goodness."
"Don't you love the Maharanee? Isn't she good?"
"Oh, yes. She is good past history. Lynn, you are the present and the future! One straight look into your blue eyes, and I knew what hope means and the higher vision. I had never seen it, until I saw you. Lynn! For you, I will abandon even prejudice! I will drop my hedonism like a beggar's rags, to bathe in your inspiration. I will live in Kadur, if you wish it. Be my wife and we will build together, until Kadur blooms into a land of joy!"
"Sounds good," Lynn answered. "What was in the cocktails?"
"Don't joke! Lynn, I'm in love. I mean every word I'm saying to you."
"I mean what I say, too," Lynn answered. "I don't love you—What was that noise? In the distance. It sounded like shooting."
"I didn't hear it," said Rundhia.
They had reached the steps that led to the kiosk on the garden wall. It was dark in the wall's shadow. He was justified in offering his arm to guide her up the steps, but he put it around her. She could feel his vibrance. She escaped him—ran up the steps ahead of him, then waited on the wall in full moonlight, facing him, unafraid.
"There! Did you hear that? Wasn't that a rifle-shot, Rundhia?"
"Might have been," he answered. "Not so easy to tell."
"Isn't Captain Norwood's camp in that direction?" Lynn asked.
"Somewhere over there, yes. Possibly a jackal or a stray dog scared his sentries. Never mind Norwood. Lynn, you say you don't love me. I don't believe you."
"Why not? I told you the plain truth—Do you think sentries would fire at a dog?"
"His would! He's crazy. Lynn, I don't believe you because you forgave what I did in the treasure room. And because when you hurt me, you were sorry. Also because you are not afraid to be alone with me now. Lynn, you don't know yourself. You're—"
"Do you know yourself?" she retorted. "Don't you think it strange that they should be shooting at night?"
"No. Most soldiers live in a continual state of false alarm. They're like silly virgins. Lynn, listen to me. Don't I excite you?"
"You did. But I saw you, and I heard you laugh at Captain Norwood's ruin."
"I was laughing at me and my complete surrender to you! Lynn—do you realize what I offer? The throne of Kadur! Wealth, luxury—a life of power, liberty, usefulness, pleasure! Social recognition, and the snobs all clowning for your nod! My adoration! My name! Maharanee Lynn of Kadur! You and I—"
"You are not up my street," Lynn interrupted. "We are on different sides of the fence."
Rundhia looked stunned—angry, but he controlled his temper.
"You dislike me?"
"You admit I can stir your emotions?"
"Oh, yes. I admit that. Why tell lies about it? You're magnetic. I almost fell in love with you."
"Lynn, you are thinking about East and West. That hoary old superstition! It lingers, they tell me, in America more tenaciously than anywhere else, though even schoolbooks nowadays admit that we and you are of the same race. Do you know how many western women have become the wives of Indian princes?"
"I don't want to know. I don't care."
"You are right, Lynn. Quite right. Why should you care? It is love, not what others have done, that crumbles superstitions. Lynn, I love you. I wouldn't lie to you—"
"Have you done your best for Captain Norwood? Have you really done it? What have you done?"
"Never mind. I have done it."
"Then I will listen. You were saying—?" Rundhia had to recover the train of his thought. He turned away from her a moment, paced the wall, and came back:
"Lynn, my love for you may sound selfish. I always have been selfish, until I met you. I have no practice with words that a genuine lover should use. But I am genuine. For the first time in my life, I am unselfish. May I tell you—will you listen if I tell you—what my heart tells me?"
"Yes, I will listen, Rundhia."
"Will you really listen?"
"Yes, Rundhia. I would rather listen to almost anything than my own thought, at the moment."
"You are feeling deserted?"
"Despised!" Lynn answered. "If Captain Norwood had answered my letter—"
"You are lonely! So am I lonely! Lynn, diwaza kola hai! The door is open! Enter. It is that short step across the threshold that makes you hesitate. Leap!"
"You mean into your arms?"
"Lynn, you make me hate myself. Am I so unappealing to your—" Suddenly he changed his voice. He sounded angry: "Are you in love with Norwood?"
"I hardly know him. How could I be? I only know that I never felt dirty before in all my life. I don't like it, Rundhia. And I can't forgive you for having crowed over Captain Norwood's disgrace. You and I brought it on him."
"Lynn, is that all that's the matter? If I give you my word of honor that I have solved the Norwood problem, will you listen to me?"
"Have you solved it?"
"If I prove to you, before midnight, that there is no longer any problem about Norwood, will you come into my arms?"
"Speak plainly, Rundhia."
"I will. Lynn, face it! Norwood has no use for you. Has he answered your letter? He has not! The messenger reported that he tore up your letter without reading it. I don't know why you care a damn what happens to him. He doesn't care what happens to you. Your aunt doesn't care. She is leaving you flat."
Lynn interrupted: "You say Captain Norwood tore up my letter? Why didn't you tell me that before?"
"To save your feelings. However, you know now. That's how he feels. That's Norwood. Lynn, you are merely hesitating on that damned old superstitious crumbling platform of 'East is East and West is West,' that Kipling lied about. You and I are above all that nonsense. Lynn, beloved, come into my arms now! You are lonely. So am I lonely. See, I am waiting for you. Come here, Lynn. Come of your own will. Be mine. Face things from the inside looking outward. You shall be my wife, and I swear by my love for you, that Norwood—"
"Oh, that's only a promise," Lynn interrupted. "I won't believe you about Captain Norwood, until you prove it."
"You believe me about me? You believe I love you?"
"But, Rundhia, I don't love you."
"I offer you Kadur!"
"Kadur isn't yours yet. And I don't think I want it."
Rundhia changed his tactics: "Are you afraid to trust me?"
"I'm not afraid to trust you. I just don't."
"Do you trust the Maharanee?"
"May I repeat to you, in confidence, advice she gave me?"
"No. If it was confidential, I won't listen."
"It was not in confidence. She said to me: 'Rundhia, if Lynn should yield herself to you, she would be yours forever. Otherwise, you may have difficulty. Lynn is that kind of girl.'"
"I don't believe you," Lynn answered. "I will ask her if she said it."
Rundhia ground his teeth. Then he laughed, and his laugh rang as true as a bell:
"I admit it. I lied. It was I who said it to her."
"What did she say?"
"She said I couldn't seduce you."
"She was perfectly right," Lynn answered. "Rundhia, you can't. For a few minutes I thought that possibly you could. But you can't. That's the truth. Please believe it."
"Come and talk with me in the kiosk," said Rundhia.
"No," Lynn answered. "Talk here. No. I won't go into the kiosk."
THE Resident was worried. In view of the prevalent political unrest and of the convenient fact that the State of Kadur had been quiescent for years, he had received confidential instructions from his State Department to be very discreet in his relations with the court of Kadur. It was impossible to misinterpret the order. It was plainly worded. He was not to interfere, if it could possibly be helped.
He had a Parsee secretary, with whom he was not on really confidential terms, and whom he never consulted about anything other than rule of thumb procedure. The Resident was due before long for retirement on pension. He had an intelligible, natural, human disposition to retire without leaving a mess behind him for his successor to clean up. Consequently, he intensely disliked Norwood's commission of investigation of the Kadur boundary dispute, with its corollary of a prod at the priestly hornets' nest.
On the other hand, he had discovered, rather to his annoyance, that Norwood was a very likeable person, with an exceptionally good service record. Even prejudice couldn't make him believe that Norwood had accepted a bribe. It might be impossible to prove that Norwood hadn't accepted one, and there might be a cloud over Norwood's career forever after. But the Resident hadn't a doubt that Rundhia, or else perhaps the priests, or even both of them in some nefarious secret alliance, had framed Norwood. He was inclined to believe that the priests' agents had bought Rundhia, with a view to some political advantage after Rundhia should have come to the throne. Rundhia, he suspected, would do almost anything for cash.
Not being a fool, nor even a very unimaginative man, he suspected that Norwood's interest in Lynn Harding was something rather more than Platonic. He hadn't met Lynn, but he had watched her one morning, when she cantered past the Residency on one of the Maharajah's horses. He had had a good look at her through powerful binoculars, at a moment when she was presumably unselfconscious, and certainly unaware that she was being watched. It required no stretch of imagination to believe that Norwood, with his reputation for combined discretion and audacity, might fall in love with Lynn Harding on sight, keep his intentions to himself, and go after her with the determination with which a different type of man goes after money.
And one could believe almost anything of Rundhia: even believe that Rundhia might act honorably, if honor and the circumstances didn't clash with Rundhia's convenience. The Resident liked Rundhia. Almost everyone did who knew him. But it was a bit difficult to separate Rundhia, from Rundhia's unregenerate inclinations and his record. So the Resident wrote a report, marked "secret," to the State Department, in which he respectfully urged His Majesty the King's advisers to oppose Prince Rundhia's succession to the throne of Kadur. He had small doubt that his advice would be found acceptable.
But that wasn't going to save Norwood. It was far more likely to ruin Norwood, because Rundhia employed a secret agent in Delhi, who would learn of the Indian Government's intentions about the veto in next to no time. Rundhia, and Rundhia's friends, would jump to the conclusion that Norwood had been using secret influence in order to get back at Rundhia for the accusation of bribery. Rundhia and his friends would strike back, and there would be so much purchased, perjured evidence produced, that Norwood would have no chance whatever.
So the Resident decided to do some private investigation on his own account. The person to talk to first, undoubtedly, was Miss Lynn Harding. He knew that Lynn was staying at the palace as the Maharanee's guest. Everyone in Kadur knew that; it didn't even come under the heading of secret information. Like everyone else, the Resident admired the Maharanee, and found it easy to be civil to the Maharajah; in fact, he was on good terms with the Maharajah, having obtained for him recently a package of postage stamps for his collection. But it would be obviously indiscreet to go to the palace to question Lynn. It would set the entire palace household by the ears, and very likely might precipitate unpredictable trouble. The Resident was in Kadur to prevent, to foresee and to avoid trouble.
There was nothing for it but to call on Mrs. Harding and to ask her to summon Lynn to the guest-house for a confidential interview. He detested Mrs. Harding. He knew she was a snob and he suspected her of being a title-huntress. He had called on her once, and she had been damned rude, because she hadn't understood his position; she had suspected him of being merely one more penurious British officer who wished to make Lynn's acquaintance. But there are lots of unpleasant tasks that a man feels called on to undertake, in the course of duty, so the Resident ordered his car and set forth, calling en route at the Post Office to register his letter to the Department of State, so that his Parsee secretary shouldn't know about it and be tempted to talk.
Aunty Harding, of course, didn't see the guard turned out to salute him at the palace gate. He hadn't a very important-looking car. He wasn't in uniform. In civilian clothes he didn't look very distinguished.
Aunty Harding's locked and labelled trunks stood in a severe row at one end of the verandah. Aunty Harding reposed on pillows at the other end, where she received the Resident with hostile politeness. The verandah faced away from the sunset and the surrounding trees cast a deep shadow, so the electric light had been turned on in the living-room, and the only light there was came through the living-room window. Aunty Harding couldn't see him very well, and she hadn't her spectacles. But she remembered his name, and she had learned, indirectly, since their first interview, that he was a personage. So she bristled self-defensively and patronized him.
"Mayn't I offer you whiskey? You English are such devotees of that drink, aren't you. In the States, our men drink Bourbon. Please smoke."
"I came to talk with Miss Lynn Harding."
"You will have to look for her elsewhere."
"Oh, I know she's at the palace. Isn't there a telephone? Could you ask her to come here a moment? It won't take long. I merely want to ask her a few questions."
"I can't do what you ask. I am no longer responsible for Lynn. If I should summon her she wouldn't obey me."
"Oh? I hope nothing serious has—"
"A plot! Dishonorable! Contemptible! I won't bore you with my private affairs. It is sufficient to say that I received an insolent communication from the Maharanee. She has invited Lynn to stay with her—without consulting me, mind you. And I have received an astonishing note from my niece, addressed to me, but intended for Captain Norwood, of all impossible people! As if I were a mail box! And as if I didn't know what is being said about Captain Norwood! It was a deliberately malicious insult to me!"
"Did you forward the note to Captain Norwood?"
"No. Why should I?"
"May I see it?"
"No. Certainly not."
"Well, Mrs. Harding, I think you are within your rights about that. Quite commendable. Yes.
Very. But shouldn't Norwood get it? If you care to put it in an envelope and seal it, I will have it sent to him by a very reliable messenger."
"One more effort to make of me a mere convenience! I won't do it. I have never lent myself to any sort of underhanded intrigue. I don't know what is going on. I don't want to know. I wash my hands of it. But it is an intrigue. I know that."
The Resident, having felt out Mrs. Harding's punches, countered. He began his attack:
"Mrs. Harding, it is quite true that you don't know what is going on. If it weren't that Captain Norwood, who is a gentleman whose opinion I respect, has assured me that your niece is a thoroughly nice girl—"
"How does he know?" Aunty interrupted.
"He is an officer of unblemished record, and a gentleman who has never done a shabby thing in his life. That is why I value his opinion."
Aunty interrupted: "I have my own opinion of an 'officer and a gentleman' about whom even babus and servants gossip. If Lynn had wished to associate herself with common graft and bribery, she might better have remained in America. We have plenty of corrupt officials—mostly of foreign extraction, I am thankful to say. Many of them Irish," she added.
The Resident smiled: "Yes, Mrs. Harding. I confess to being Irish. So look out! I will take no nonsense from you. If necessary, I will confront you with Captain Norwood and let him demand that letter."
"What if I destroy it?"
"I will have you arrested."
"You daren't! I will wire my Consul!"
"You will do as you please about that. If you care to write out the telegram, I will have it sent for you. Your Consul, of course, will ask me what I think about you. Equally, of course, you will remain in India as long as evidence is needed in connection with this intrigue that you spoke of."
"I am leaving tonight," said Aunty Harding, firmly.
"Oh, yes? It is a long way from here to the station. You have a lot of luggage. You propose to catch the midnight train?"
"I have made my own arrangements with a native contractor, thank you."
"I understand, then, that you propose to go away at midnight, leaving your niece to her own devices."
"Well, that is perhaps outside my province. But there is no question about my responsibility in connection with Captain Norwood. He is a distinguished young officer, in temporary difficulty, who needs all the legitimate help he can get. He is well connected, and popular. He is the younger brother of the very distinguished Earl of Ashlawn. Numbers of people would be shocked if Norwood were disgraced. You have a letter, belonging to Captain Norwood, that he possibly needs. Think that over, Mrs. Harding. It is now up to you. Good evening."
The Resident got into his car and drove away. He wasn't quite sure, but he thought he heard Mrs. Harding call after him. He smiled. In the course of his political career, he had met several (male and female) Aunty Hardings. He didn't doubt there would be action.
At the palace gate, he made provision against too much action. He stopped the car for a few moments, for a private chat with the commander of the guard.
NORWOOD went the round of the sentries. There were only four of them. They had already received orders from Sergeant Stoddart. Norwood repeated the instructions:
"There are thieves in the neighborhood, and there is a rumor that there might be a raid on the camp. It isn't likely to be anything serious, but look out for it. Don't kill anyone if you can help it. In any event, you are to challenge three times and then fire your first shot in the air. I am expecting visitors, who may perhaps approach stealthily, because their business is secret. So look out for them, and be careful not to mistake them for thieves."
He returned to his tent, where O'Leary sat holding an empty glass with futile optimism.
"Get out of here, now, and make yourself useful."
"Yes. Those Brahmins with whom I talked down near the waterfall this morning—"
"Yeah, they slipped one over on you! I heard all about it."
"Hold your tongue then. I expect they'll be coming to talk to me about my visiting the mine."
"You need a nurse," O'Leary answered. "You'd never get your brass hat one of these days if it weren't for your Uncle Moses. Them there Brahmins are as likely to come and talk to you tonight as I am to kiss the Queen of England. They figure they've bought you. And they figure they can prove it on you, if you don't come across. They'll sit quiet, them Brahmins will. What you're up against is what I warned you. That Bengali doctor was too scared for his own skin to be telling me lies. Set your lamp to one side of the tent and eat your supper in shadow, if you can't eat in the dark. Watch out they don't chuck no more cobras at you. They've guns. They've automatics. And there's Gulbaz in back o' this, so watch out. Gulbaz and a woman."
Norwood stared at him. "Woman?" he said. "What do you mean?"
"You told me to mind my own business. This ain't my business."
"How about another whiskey?"
"Do you wish to be sat in the cook-fire?"
"You'd spoil your supper! But I've been thinking. If you want to know what I was thinking, I'll tell you. Barring two or three injustices you've done to me, and I'm of a forgiving disposition, along o' having to confess my sins to the priest, there's only one man in Kadur, by my reckoning, who'd pay money to see you dead and buried."
"You may name him."
"Name him yourself. Him and you was thumbing a guitar and singing to the same girl. Let's suppose he knows, for instance, that the priests slipped you a bribe. And let's suppose he thinks you're honest. Let's suppose he thinks you'll earn the bribe and fix it so the priests win their case. And him heir to the throne. And him and you mashing the same golden-haired beauty. He'd be as officer-headed as you are if he didn't hit quick—and below the belt. He'll hit hard! What's to stop him from spiking the Brahmins' case by getting them blamed for having murdered you? Answer that one? Why not lay off the girl? If I was you, I'd—"
"Don't let me have to caution you too often, O'Leary. What I expect from you is information. I do my own thinking. If I should ever need advice from you, I'll tell you."
"'Tain't never no use advising nobody about no woman," said O'Leary. "I know symptoms when I see 'em. All right, mum's the word, I ain't saying nothin'."
"Get out of here."
Norwood smoked in silence until supper-time. He would have liked another conversation with O'Leary, but he knew O'Leary's limit. It was as peculiar as O'Leary's value; he had to be snubbed and on occasion severely punished, or he would get out of hand. There wasn't any question of O'Leary's loyalty; but he didn't relish the thought of listening to O'Leary's probable opinion of Lynn.
He ate supper in silence, waited on by a rather scared servant, too familiar with the symptoms of impending explosion to dare to call attention to himself any more than could possibly be helped. The Goanese cook called it a dinner. Norwood called it ullage. Nobody was pleased.
After supper, Norwood wrote another letter to Lynn Harding. He didn't tear up that one. He addressed it in care of Mrs. Harding at the guest-house, and then stuck it into his tunic pocket. He was still undecided. Determined, but not ready with his plan. O'Leary came and warned him again about sitting too near the lamp, so he went outside the tent and sat in the shadow cast by the rising full moon. A sentry challenged.
"Careful!" Norwood shouted. "Don't shoot unless you have to. And don't shoot to kill!"
A bullet whizzed past him—then another. They came from two directions.
"Sentries, hold your fire!" he shouted.
Stoddart came charging up, breathing hard, fastening his tunic and belt as he ran.
"All present, sir! All ready!"
"Very well, Stoddart. Keep your hair on. Post two men to guard my tent. Send two to the horse-line and the remainder to guard the store tent. Thieves—I think."
Norwood walked ahead into the darkness, shadowed by O'Leary.
"Now what?" asked O'Leary. "For the love o'—"
"Fetch a lantern on a long stick. Hurry."
Norwood stood in deep black shadow waiting for him. O'Leary ran up with a lantern at the end of a very long stick—at least ten feet long.
"Give that to me. Next shot they fire, raise a yell that I'm hit."
"Okay. I get you. You're a credit to your Uncle Moses."
Norwood held the pole extended toward his left to its limit. He walked forward. The lantern danced as if it were in someone's hand. A bullet spat out of the darkness. Norwood fell. O'Leary shouted at the top of his lungs:
"Stoddart! Hi there, Stoddart! They've shot the Captain! He's dead! They hit him through the heart!"
Stoddart and four men came hurrying. Norwood whispered:
"Pick me up. Carry me into the tent feet first."
"Mournful and solemn," O'Leary added.
"Lay me on the cot in full lamplight. Spread a sheet over me," said Norwood.
"He's as dead as trouble," said O'Leary.
So they carried Norwood to the cot and there he lay, in lamplight, while Stoddart slightly overdid the business of taking over command. O'Leary scouted. At the end of ten minutes, O'Leary returned to the tent.
"That's done it. They've gone. I crashed among the bushes like a pig with a panther after him. Nobody fired a shot. There wasn't a sound. They've gone for good. All Kadur will know that you're dead, within twenty minutes. They may even tell 'em the news at the palace, though I doubt that. Palaces get the news late, after other folks have had time to lay their bets."
Norwood sat up. He stared at O'Leary. O'Leary held his tongue. He watched, waited. Norwood didn't speak for sixty seconds. Then: "O'Leary, there is just one chance in fifty that Prince Rundhia is on the wall, by that kiosk, where he was last night."
"Better take your pistol," said O'Leary.
"If it was Rundhia who tried to have me shot," said Norwood, "he will have an alibi. Yes, that wall is worth trying."
"Take your pistol," said O'Leary.
"I will ride the Kathiawari mare. You may ride the gelding. Have 'em saddled. Tell that new nit-wit sais to come along on the dun. Get a move on."
"Where's your pistol?"
"Will you mind your own business! Get the horses, and send Stoddart to me for orders."
IT almost seemed as if the night knew that Norwood had made up his mind. He was riding a fresh horse, but he didn't hurry. He was followed by a mounted sais, and by O'Leary on another horse. The horses, the sais and O'Leary behaved like a snake's tail. They followed the head without asking questions. Norwood gave no orders. He didn't tell O'Leary what he intended to do. But as they came near the palace garden wall, he reduced the speed a little and O'Leary, without needing to be told to do it, went scouting ahead.
The sais was simply an obedient, incurious automaton. He followed Norwood, drew rein when Norwood did, walked his horse in the deep dust because Norwood did, and kept close to the wall because Norwood did.
O'Leary, on the other hand, made plenty of noise. He made a signal, pointing with his right arm, as he broke from shadow into moonlight. There was nothing mysterious about his signal; he simply pointed to the swinging tendril of a baobab. It overhung the wall in search of earth in which to take root. It looked like a python, swaying slightly in the faint evening breeze.
O'Leary cantered past the moonlit kiosk. He didn't look up. If anyone had heard the horses coming, they would see O'Leary riding on into the night intent on business of his own. When he drew rein, he didn't look backward; he seemed to be considering which to take of two paths that lay ahead of him like streaks of silver moonlight.
That made it very easy for Norwood. He drew rein beneath the baobab tendril. He didn't even have to stand in the saddle to reach it. The sais rode forward and took the reins. Norwood climbed the tendril, hand over hand, swung himself on to the wall, and walked forward. As he emerged out of the shadow of the overhanging trees, he saw O'Leary looking backward toward him. Norwood extended both arms and moved them slightly up and down. That was an order to O'Leary to patrol the road. Norwood wanted no witnesses. He walked forward along the wall, toward the kiosk, where Rundhia stood talking to Lynn.
Lynn saw him first. She looked startled and Rundhia faced about—for a moment speechless.
"You, is it!" he said. "What the devil do you mean, climbing walls at this hour of the night?"
"I came looking for you. No, it isn't my ghost. They missed me. Did you hear the shooting? Aren't you rather a duffer at choosing marksmen?"
"I don't know and I don't care a damn what you mean by that remark," said Rundhia. "Get off the wall."
"When I'm ready. Rundhia, what have you been saying about me?"
"You flatter yourself. I don't care to talk about you."
"What did you say to the Resident? He mentioned that you had called to see him."
"Did he? Well, my conversation with the Resident was confidential."
"So was mine, Rundhia. Say to me what you said to him."
"You may go to the devil." Rundhia glanced backward at Lynn, then sneered at Norwood: "People who pocket bribes are not entitled to—" It wasn't exactly a haymaker. It was a right-handed wallop without any ringside pedigree, but with all the strength, contempt and anger of a clean-living man behind it, that landed on Rundhia's chin like a gun going off. It brought a laugh from O'Leary, who couldn't possibly have seen it. Rundhia reeled backward toward the garden as if pole-axed, out for the count. He did a forward knife-bend on the edge of the wall, and toppled backward into the darkness. The crash of shrubbery announced that he had fallen soft. Norwood glanced at Lynn then:
"Just a minute, please."
He ran down the steps to take a look at Rundhia and dragged him out of the shrubbery on to the path. He made a rough estimate that no bones were broken and let him lie there. He returned up the steps and confronted Lynn.
"I suppose you've killed him."
They could see each other almost as distinctly as in full daylight. Lynn's hair was a mass of spun gold. Her emotions, revealed on her face, her parted lips, her startled, questioning, proud eyes drove out of Norwood's mind the few terse phrases that he had prepared. He said suddenly, because he couldn't think of anything else to say:
"What are you doing in that make-up?"
"Why did you hit Rundhia?" she retorted. "Rundhia knew. He will remember why I hit him when he wakes up."
"You should have hit me," Lynn answered. "That was a cowardly blow. You gave him no warning. Are you sure you haven't killed him?"
"I'm afraid he'll live. Is it true, Miss Harding, that you told Rundhia about a packet of diamonds that you saw drop from my pocket this morning?"
Norwood stared at her. She didn't flinch. She continued speaking after a moment:
"That is why I wrote inviting you to come and see me. I wanted to tell you what I had done, and to explain how I came to do it, and to apologize."
"I didn't believe you had said it," Norwood answered. "I came to—"
Lynn interrupted: "I did say it. It was my fault. I wish you had hit me, instead of Rundhia. I would have preferred that to the humiliation of being despised and of being—"
Rundhia moaned on the path in the darkness below.
"Captain Norwood, I must go and help Rundhia. Will you please let me pass?"
"No," said Norwood. "I will shout for servants presently, to carry him to bed."
"His nose may be bleeding!"
"Serve him right. I came to tell you—"
"I can't bear to be told. I know. You're too late, Captain Norwood. I have heard that what I said has got you into serious trouble. I am ashamed of it, if that is what you want to know. If you had read my—"
Norwood interrupted her. "What do you mean by too late?"
"If you had answered my letter—" Lynn's lips were trembling. She was choking. "Rundhia—" She couldn't continue. She felt like crying, and she'd be damned if she would. Suddenly she controlled herself and looked straight in his eyes: "Captain Norwood. If you please. I must go and look after Rundhia. Will you let me get by?" Norwood didn't move: "What did you say in your letter?" he asked.
"If you despised me too much to read it, why ask that now? I know you got the letter. It was sent by one of the Maharanee's messengers, who came back and said he had given it to you. He said you tore it up; he saw you do it."
"Did the messenger tell you that?"
"He told Rundhia."
"Oh," said Norwood.
O'Leary whistled, in the distance, somewhere between the kiosk and the palace front gate. Rundhia groaned again. By the noise, he appeared to be helping himself to his feet by holding on to the shrubbery. Norwood called to him:
"Are you all right, Rundhia?"
"You go to hell," said Rundhia's voice from the darkness. "I'm going to have you arrested." Rundhia's footsteps went staggering away in the direction of the palace.
Norwood faced Lynn again: "Sorry. I'm in a hurry. Would you like me to see you as far as the palace steps?"
"Oh, no. Thank you."
"Well, look here: I wrote you a letter, just in case I didn't find you. I brought it with me. Will you take it now and read it later? It's quite important. Perhaps you'll give me an answer next time we meet."
"If we do meet," Lynn answered. "Why should we? Good-bye."
"So long. Don't forget my letter, will you? I didn't expect to find you alone, so I wrote what I thought you wouldn't care to have me say in other people's presence. I said exactly what I think."
Lynn paused on her way to the head of the steps. O'Leary whistled again, twice this time.
"So long," Norwood repeated. "See you as soon as I can."
Lynn spoke abruptly: "One moment, Captain Norwood. You say you have said what you think of me in this letter? I said what I thought of myself and of you, in my letter to you. You tore mine up."
She tore up Norwood's letter. She scattered its fragments into the darkness.
"Careful down those steps," said Norwood. "See you later."
"Why?" Lynn answered.
Norwood swung himself down from the wall, by the baobab tendril. He swung himself on to his horse and was off at a gallop. O'Leary had whistled three times. That meant "urgent."
THE horses and their riders were invisible in the shadow where the high wall curved away from the moonlight. O'Leary spoke hoarsely:
"That must ha' been a snorter! You could ha' heard that punch halfway to Delhi. Who did you hit?"
"Mind your own business. Why did you whistle?"
"Stoddart sent a man from camp to overtake you. He gave the message to me. He said there'd come a sweeper, running like hell, from Mrs. Harding in the guest-house. She says she has to see you in a hurry, it's important, and won't you come quick?"
"What's become of the sweeper?"
"He lit out. He said all's quiet at the palace."
"Nothing else new?"
Norwood thought a second: "You go to the Residency. Ask to see the Resident in person. Give your message to nobody else. Here—here's my card. Send that in. Ask the Resident to stand by the phone and expect a call from me at any minute."
"Do I know anything, if he asks?"
"No. Look here, O'Leary: I know what I'm going to do, but I don't know what will happen. You follow the Resident to the palace. Slip in through the gate after him and watch for that Bengali doctor. Hold him, if you catch him coming out or going in. When you see me coming out of the palace, if I hold up my right hand, let him go. If I hold up both hands, turn him over to the gate guard. You've no police power, remember. So be careful."
Norwood was off at full gallop, with the sais hard after him, before O'Leary could answer. He drew rein at the palace gate and was delayed there for a moment or two by an argument between the commander of the gate guard and an Indian contractor, who had turned up with a motor truck for Mrs. Harding's luggage and a car for Mrs. Harding. Because Norwood was in uniform, the contractor appealed to him:
"Sir, I am refused admission. Sir, I have an order from the American lady, Mrs. Harding, to collect her luggage and to convey her to the station. It is a long way and a bad road. She has already paid me. I fear we shall not catch the midnight train unless—"
The commander of the gate guard drew Norwood aside: "It is his honor the Resident's wish," he said quietly.
"No business of mine," said Norwood. "May I leave my horses inside the gate?"
The great gate clanged behind him. He walked to the guest-house. Mrs. Harding was no longer recumbent on pillows on the chaise longue. She seemed even to have partially recovered from her lameness. She was seated bolt upright on one of her trunks, on the garden path, in front of the verandah door.
"So you've come!" she remarked. "Well, I supposed you would. You are the only gentleman in Kadur."
Norwood grinned. "Who has been kidding you?"
"There's no understanding you English," she retorted. "Why don't you use your title?"
"I haven't one."
"But your brother is an Earl, isn't he? So you're an Honorable, aren't you?"
"That is not what you inferred at our last interview."
"Well, I didn't know who you are. How could I? I have a letter for you, from Lynn. But the envelope was addressed to me. I have thought it over, and I suppose she must have put it into the wrong envelope by mistake, because I have received no answer to my letter to her. Here it is."
Norwood stepped on to the verandah to read it by the light from the window.
Dear Captain Norwood,
I am feeling ashamed and so sorry that I hardly know what to write. Won't you please call as soon as you can and let me explain. I mentioned, without thinking, something that occurred this morning. To my horror, I have now learned that what I said has been repeated, and that the result may be—I can't write it! Please, Captain Norwood, please believe that what I said was merely thoughtless; and that what I have heard about you I refuse to believe. I know you are an honorable man. Please help me to undo my very bad mistake. I will be waiting for you at the palace. Won't you call as soon as possible?
Norwood returned to Mrs. Harding. "How long have you had this?"
"Don't try any of that hoity-toity arrogance on me!" she retorted. "I'm a Harding, I'll have you understand! I sent a messenger for you because—"
"I came to use your telephone," he interrupted.
"No. It's useless."
Norwood looked startled: "You mean out of order?"
"It has silver-plated thingummies, but the operator can't speak English. It's worse than Europe."
"Is the phone in the living-room?"
Norwood was gone before she could answer. He dashed into the house, seized the phone and gave the Residency number. Then he lowered his voice:
"That you, sir? Norwood speaking from the guest-house. Can you come to the palace?... Yes, I know you told me to keep away. But I'm a ghost. I'm supposed to be dead... You say you'd heard it already? My God, they were quick!... No, no, I wasn't hurt. The point is this, sir: they are betting even money in the bazaar that the Maharajah won't outlive the night. I suspect poison... What's that?... Well, for one thing, I know for a fact that Mrs. Harding has been given poisoned toast to make her vomit... Well, sir, obviously to keep her away from the niece... Yes, yes, I have that letter. I've just read it... If I'm not too late, and I don't think I am, I'm going in to upset someone's apple-cart... Yes, sir, I understand that. But if I'm mistaken, you can say I did it off my own hook in disobedience to orders. Can you think of an excuse for coming at this hour of the night?... All right, then I'll go ahead."
He hung up, thought for a couple of seconds and then returned to Aunty Harding.
"Thanks," he said. "Good night. I'm in a hurry."
"Stop! Come back. Captain Norwood, I didn't send for you to use my telephone! Here are my trunks, and I can't get anyone to wait on me. I can't get away and I can't go back in! I paid a contractor in advance, and he hasn't turned up. Please do something."
"Were you running out on Lynn?" Norwood asked her.
"Captain Norwood, how dare you say that!"
"No, I was not! I was bluffing."
"Uh-huh. Shall I tell her you were bluffing?"
"Don't you dare! If you know where she is, you bring her here. If she refuses, you may say I will sit here until she does come, if I die of waiting. You may say, if you like, that I'm sorry I spoke severely. Lynn behaved abominably, and you know it. But I'm her aunt. I forgive her. Say that. What are you waiting for? Do you think if I could walk, I wouldn't be in that palace this minute!"
"Better go inside, or you'll be bitten by mosquitoes. Shall I help you in?"
"No. Here I sit until I see Lynn."
"All right. So long. See you later."
Norwood strode away into the darkness toward the broad drive leading to the palace front door.
RUNDHIA was punch drunk. All the physical fight had been knocked out of him. He knew his nose was bleeding. He knew Lynn was in Norwood's grasp. That Norwood had escaped death was a staggerer almost worse than the punch on the jaw. For the moment, he could think of nothing but Norwood. Like a man in the ring, who is almost out on his feet, he obeyed the instinct to deliver a foul blow.
He reeled and staggered, gradually recovering, along a short cut toward his own palace. As his nerves and muscles recovered, so did his brain. He began to think a little clearly. By the time he reached his palace and had sent for the Bengali doctor, his nose had ceased bleeding and he needed nothing more than a bath and a change of clothing. There were plenty of servants to lay out clean clothes. He talked to the Bengali doctor in the bathroom, where the shower drowned the sound of their voices. Even so, he spoke English, lest one of the valets should overhear.
"Now listen. Don't answer me, or I'll have you hanged. Damn you, I mean that. I'm desperate. Thanks to your letting me down in a pinch and refusing to have anything to do with it, the attack on Norwood was bungled."
"He is alive? I heard they killed him."
"Do I look as if they'd killed him! He's on the rampage. I'm going to get him."
"Watch your own step. If you fail to kill your man tonight, up goes your number! Is the old fool mulling over his stamp albums?"
"Yes. His Highness is studying stamps. He has with him that stamp salesman from Lahore, who can speak nothing but Punjabi, but can swindle without speaking at all."
"All right, I'll talk English to him. The old sheep shall do one useful thing before he dies. You have the poison ready?"
"Yes, but this is a crisis," the Bengali answered. "Are you in a fit condition to control a crisis? To me, you seem very nervous. Let me feel your heart-beat. Why not postpone this until tomorrow?"
"Because tomorrow the old sheep might change his will. I've had a warning from the Resident. By the day after tomorrow, they might already have vetoed my succession to the throne. If he's already dead they'll let me succeed, to save themselves trouble. So poison the old sheep tonight, and take your money and go to the devil. I hope I never see you again. If you fail, I'll take damned good care you hang!"
"There is no risk of failure, unless you are too excited and behave suspiciously."
"Yes, there is," said Rundhia. "You do as I tell you. Be a little late with his tonic, so that he drinks it greedily. I'm going in to see him now. After I come out, you wait until someone else goes in to see him."
"But if no one goes?"
"I will take care that someone does go. If you give it to him in someone else's presence, it will look more innocent. Will he be able to speak after he drinks it?"
"No. It will paralyze his nerves immediately."
"How long will it take him to die?"
"Perhaps ten minutes. Perhaps less. It will appear to be heart failure."
"Very well then. Where's your needle? Give me a strong shot."
"No. Not too strong. You must not get the habit. After this, you will need your faculties and self-control, if we are not to be found out. I will give you just sufficient to steady your nerves." Rundhia held out his arm for the shot. He dressed in a hurry and walked to the palace. He was refused admission to the Maharajah's study, until he fumed and threatened so violently that at last the frightened door attendant screwed up courage to disobey orders and go in and announce him. Rundhia followed the attendant, pushed him back out of the room, and slammed the door.
The Maharajah stared, noted the expression on Rundhia's face and made a warning gesture toward the Punjabi stamp salesman.
"Can he understand English?" Rundhia demanded.
"I believe not."
"Well, I will speak English. If he does understand it, it won't much matter. I want you to call up the Resident and demand the immediate arrest of Captain Norwood!"
"Why?" asked the Maharajah.
"He has not only taken a bribe from the priests, as you already know—"
"I have heard it said."
"You know it's true. And now he has assaulted me. He knocked me out with a punch in the face."
"Were you drunk?" asked the Maharajah. And, before Rundhia could answer: "It would be beneath my dignity to ask the Resident to take official cognizance of a brawl between two drunkards."
Rundhia calmed himself. Then: "Does your dignity permit the heir to the throne to be punched in the face without anything being done about it?"
"I don't put my face where it is punched by people," said the Maharajah. "Why not follow my example?"
"Then you won't do anything about it?"
"No. I think it likely this is only one more of your indiscretions. If trouble comes of it, I will attend to that tomorrow. This is the evening on which I do not permit interruption while I study my stamp collection. You will please leave the room."
Rundhia turned his back on him and walked out. His gesture was so insolent that even the quiet old Maharajah noticed it. He called him back:
"Rundhia, where are your manners?"
Rundhia made the prescribed salaam, with both hands to his forehead, bowing. The Maharajah nodded:
"And now be good enough, Rundhia, to send in your doctor. He is late with my tonic."
LYNN changed from the Indian costume. She entered the Maharanee's boudoir in a chiffon evening gown.
"Please don't get up, Maharanee dear. You treat me as if I were royalty and you a subject or something."
"Why did you change your dress, Lynn? You looked so charming in—"
"Oh, this dress feels more honest somehow. I mean more like my real colors. Maharanee dear, I'm afraid I'm all upset. I'm not fit to talk to."
"Lynn dear, what has happened?"
"Rundhia made love to me, and I wasn't even polite to him. Captain Norwood came, and punched Rundhia—he knocked him off the wall.
I thought he had Killed him. Oh, why do I keep on getting other people into trouble!"
The Maharanee's worried face seemed to age under Lynn's eyes:
"Lynn, did he hurt Rundhia badly?"
"No, I think not. Rundhia walked away."
"Did you speak to Captain Norwood?"
"Yes, I insulted him. I did it thoroughly. I suppose I shouldn't have, since it was I who injured him. But I couldn't help it. He tore up my letter, so I tore up his. I am not meek by nature. I'm not good at pretending."
"And Rundhia wasn't hurt? You are sure?"
"Captain Norwood went down off the wall to look. It wasn't long before Rundhia walked away. I don't know why he didn't come back and face Captain Norwood, but perhaps he was too stunned by being knocked off the wall. Rundhia didn't behave very well."
"He needs you, Lynn."
Lynn laughed—bitter—contemptuous: "Needs me? I need a friend. Rundhia is—"
"Be strong," said the Maharanee. "I am your friend."
"Yes, bless you! Rundhia seemed strong," Lynn said. "And he talked like a perfect lover. I had almost begun to believe he can love. And then something happened. There was shooting—perhaps nothing important—I don't know. I asked Rundhia, and I thought he was lying when he said he didn't know. After that—it was quite sudden—I didn't believe in him any longer. I can't explain it. Then Captain Norwood came."
A servant entered. He announced that Prince Rundhia was waiting.
"Lynn, will you see him?"
"Not alone," Lynn answered.
The Maharanee thought a minute: "It is against precedent, against custom. Lynn dear, will you be shocked if I ask Rundhia to come in here to talk to us?"
Lynn found a smile. "I suppose you're afraid he might brag! Let's risk that. I won't tell."
Rundhia strode in. He stood stock-still in the centre of the room. He was wearing a blood-red turban and dinner jacket. He looked like the real Rundhia again. Easy to imagine him horsed and riding hard at an enemy. He gazed at Lynn a moment, then at the Maharanee:
"Has Lynn told you?" he asked.
"Yes, Rundhia. What did you do to make Captain Norwood strike you?"
Rundhia tossed his head. He looked like a man when he did that.
"Lynn saw. Lynn heard," he answered. "I went at once and demanded Norwood's arrest. His Highness your husband, my revered and beloved uncle, refused. Lynn must decide."
"Decide what?" Lynn asked.
Rundhia looked strangely at her. "Does he live or die? It was because you were there that Norwood struck me. I hadn't offered to strike him. There is only one possible retort to that insult—unless you forbid. That is what you must decide now. Lynn, I have offered you my heart and the throne of Kadur. What is your answer?"
"Lynn," said the Maharanee—and stopped speaking.
There was a knock at the door. A servant entered:
"Captain Norwood sahib! He waits. He begs leave to speak to Her Highness the Maharanee. Captain Norwood says his business is very urgent."
A canary peeped. There was no other sound for several seconds. Rundhia ground his teeth and watched Lynn. Lynn met Rundhia's eyes. They were dark—hard—resolute. But so were hers hard. She was deciding. Not hesitating. Slowly mastering herself.
"I will not see Captain Norwood," said the Maharanee. "This is no hour for me to receive him." She stared at Rundhia. Then, slowly, to the servant: "Tell Captain Norwood he should ask for His Highness my husband. I will send word to His Highness, asking him to receive Captain Norwood."
The servant vanished.
Lynn got up out of her chair. She looked desperate but perfectly calm.
"Lynn darling," said the Maharanee.
Rundhia interrupted: "Norwood's fate is in your hands. I will do anything for you—if—"
"If what, Rundhia?"
"If you accept my love."
"I don't love you," she answered.
"Accept my love. My love will make you love me!"
"If not?" Lynn asked.
"I will kill Norwood. After that, I will let happen what may. If my love means nothing, I will trample it into oblivion. Yes or no, Lynn?"
"Rundhia." Lynn's voice was as quiet and controlled as if she were facing death. "The barrier between you and me is your laugh when you boasted of Captain Norwood's ruin. You promised me that you would do your best to clear him. Did you?"
"No," said Rundhia. "But if you will marry me, I will. I will accept your promise. I don't believe you know how to break one. I will keep mine."
"Rundhia, you are sometimes right," said the Maharanee. "Lynn would never break her word. She would rather die. Perhaps she can teach you never to break yours."
"Rundhia," said Lynn, "I will promise to marry you, if you will write, and sign, a retraction of any and all accusations against Captain Norwood. You must put it in the form of a letter to the British Resident, and it must be witnessed by the Maharanee and the Maharajah. You must meet Captain Norwood in my presence, and the Maharanee's, and you must say to him personally that you withdraw. I won't ask you to beg his pardon, because I won't do that. I won't speak to him. But I insist on your behaving like a man."
The Maharanee spoke suddenly with a ring of command in her voice:
"Rundhia, go to the table and write!"
Rundhia went to the table. Lynn sat down beside the Maharanee:
"Maharanee dear, you must be my wise friend, for I am all in the dark. I feel so western and so lonely, and I don't know whether I am doing right or wrong. But I will do my best."
Lynn interrupted her: "Will you make me a promise? Will you never, never tell Captain Norwood why I married Rundhia? Will you keep it a secret?"
The Maharanee was silent for nearly a minute. She was not quite dry-eyed. She spoke suddenly, low-voiced:
"Lynn, do you love Captain Norwood?"
"Maharanee dear, I have promised to marry Rundhia."
The Maharanee shook her head, staring at Lynn.
"Won't you promise?"
The Maharanee nodded.
"There you are," said Rundhia. "Is this good enough? This ought to give him a clean sheet. Read it."
NORWOOD stood stock-still, beneath a Tibetan devil-mask, between two suits of ancient Indian armor. He had sent up his card to the Maharanee with a request for an immediate interview. It was an outrageous request, and he knew it. The palace chamberlain approached him, stared—stared harder—hesitated, and then:
"Captain Norwood? We had heard you are dead!"
"Yes. I have been wondering who is sorry I'm not dead. Has the Maharajah heard it?"
"No, I believe not. He is rather inaccessible this evening. And it was only a rumor, unconfirmed yet. It was thought best not to mention it to him prematurely. May I congratulate you on your escape. It was said that criminals attacked your camp. I am sincerely—"
"Your business at the palace? I think the Maharajah might be pleased to see you. He has a document—"
"I have asked to see the Maharanee."
"Oh, impossible! Captain Norwood, please. We have been very unconventional of late, but—"
"Here comes the servant," said Norwood.
The servant delivered his message: the chamberlain accompanied Norwood upstairs as far as the anteroom that led into the Maharajah's study: "I am sure His Highness will be glad to see you, because of that new document he has discovered. The attendant in the anteroom will announce you. Hee-hee! You may believe it or not, but I wouldn't dare to do it. When he is studying his stamps, he is like an ogre. As a rule, he excludes everyone, except the doctor with his tonic. Even the doctor is rather afraid to enter. He wants someone else to go in first and break the—what is it they call it—sales resistance? He asked me to let him know if anybody goes in."
"Don't mention my name," said Norwood.
"I wouldn't think of it. The doctor and I are not cronies. I will simply say someone went in. I believe you will be admitted. His Highness spoke of you. I think he really wants to see you."
The chamberlain left him. Norwood was announced. The Punjabi stamp salesman was dismissed, smiling as if he had done good business. The door closed, and Norwood was alone with the Maharajah.
He stood facing him across a huge, old-fashioned, gilded and painted desk, on which were six huge stamp albums and a hammered golden gong on a heavy stand. Norwood made the conventional bow. The Maharajah stared. He looked more sheepish than ever, and yet vaguely hostile. Since he exercised his privilege of keeping his visitor standing in silence until he was spoken to, Norwood looked away from him and studied the room.
It was fairly large, but contained only two chairs, other than the one on which the Maharajah sat at the desk. In the corner, at the Maharajah's right, a high, carved, ancient screen apparently concealed a door. Three walls were almost entirely lined with shelves of stamp albums.
At last the Maharajah spoke: "I am pleased to receive you, Captain Norwood, even though the hour is unusual. You came to speak to me about the—ah—boundary dispute? I have news. Since I saw you, my secretary has found a document which seems to me to make the priests' case so ridiculous that—"
"Oh, I expect to find in the favor of the priests, Your Highness. Those documents may interest lawyers. I am only concerned with the boundary line. I have been accused of accepting a bribe from the priests—"
"Oh! Captain Norwood, you astonish me. Who is your accuser?"
"I supposed you already knew. He will tell you. As a matter of fact, I called on Her Highness the Maharanee. I want to speak to Miss Lynn Harding. I have reason to believe that without the Maharanee's advice she might refuse to see me until perhaps tomorrow. I need to see her tonight. I hoped to persuade the Maharanee to arrange the interview, but she refused, so I came to you instead."
"Is it urgent? Won't you please be seated? Won't you read this document?"
"Your Highness, do you think I would disturb you at this time of night if it wasn't urgent!"
"Oh, well, possibly an interview can be arranged. I will enquire presently. Won't you read that document?"
Norwood smiled agreeably: "I will. As you have reason to know, sir, I'm a bit slow at reading this ancient script."
"I wouldn't care to let that out of my possession," said the Maharajah.
"Suits me," Norwood answered. "I ask nothing better than to sit here for the time being. You will learn why, later."
The Maharajah looked up sharply, but Norwood raised the document between them. He couldn't see Norwood's face:
"You flatter me," he said after a moment.
Norwood grinned. But the Maharajah didn't see that either. Norwood sat pretending to study the document for several minutes, while the Maharajah fidgeted and examined postage stamps through a magnifying glass. He kept glancing at the door. He seemed to be listening.
At last came a knock at the door. The Maharajah tapped the gong with his fingers and the Bengali doctor entered, making his suavest professional bow. He was followed by the Maharajah's personal attendant, carrying a big blue goblet on a silver tray. The Bengali eyed Norwood with horror.
"You are late," said the Maharajah. "Why are you late?"
"I was delayed, your Highness. I—"
Norwood had laid down the document. He rose from his chair. He stepped behind the Bengali. He held his right fist ready for emergency and seized the goblet in his left hand. The Bengali stepped back, out of reach of the fist. The Maharajah made a sudden exclamation, not unlike a sheep's bleat. The white-clad servant backed away, showing the whites of his eyes. Norwood held the goblet toward the Bengali:
"Drink it!" he commanded.
The Bengali was speechless. It was several seconds before he could stammer: "Sir, are you mad?"
The Maharajah, with his elbows on the desk, and one hand within reach of the drumstick of the golden gong, leaned forward, staring.
Norwood spoke again quite calmly. But it was a deadly calm. It frightened the Bengali:
"You are, aren't you, the doctor who poisoned Mrs. Harding's toast?"
"Sir, beware whom you slander!" The Bengali appealed to the Maharajah: "Is Your Highness pleased to hear me slandered by a madman who is known to have been bribed by—"
Norwood interrupted: "Cut that! You heard me. Drink it!"
"That is His Highness' tonic."
"Drink it!" said the Maharajah. He looked almost happy. He sounded quite calm. But his fingernails drummed on the desk. Not a sign of humor.
The Bengali backed away from Norwood. He looked three shades paler. He was trembling. The Maharajah's right hand seized the drumstick of the golden gong. He raised it.
"No," said Norwood. "Not yet, please, Your Highness."
The Maharajah stared. He seemed uncertain whether to feel flattered or offended. He laid down the drumstick and resumed the tapping on the desk with his fingernails:
"I become nervous," he said, "without my tonic. This is very bad for my nerves. Captain Norwood, how did you know about this?"
Norwood answered without looking at him. He was watching the Bengali and the white-clad servant:
"I didn't know. I guessed it. Both of you, go and stand over in that corner, with your backs to the wall!"
The servant obeyed promptly. He went down on his knees in the corner. He put his hands together and held them in front of his face. The Bengali backed away slowly, watching Norwood's eyes. He backed until he reached a bookcase. Suddenly he snatched a stamp album and hurled it at the goblet. Norwood caught the album in his right hand, by one leaf of the cover. He set the goblet on the desk, without spilling more than two or three drops. Then he closed the album carefully and gave it to the Maharajah. The Maharajah petted it, stroked it:
"My collection of Cape of Good Hopes! My triangular black!" He glared at the Bengali. "You vandal! Now I know you are guilty! Why did you throw it?"
The Bengali had recovered some of his presence of mind: "It was at him I threw it. By his touch he has defiled your drinking goblet! He is a bribe-taker! I suspect him of having tampered with your tonic. What has he put into it? I advise Your Highness not to taste it!"
Norwood smiled. "Good advice!" He resumed the goblet, in his left hand. He had heard a noise at the door behind the screen: three distinct knocks, and then two.
The Maharajah glanced at the screen, irritably. He shook his head. He looked at Norwood. Norwood nodded. The Maharajah tapped the golden gong with his fingers. He looked more sheep-faced than ever, as if Norwood's audacity had almost hypnotized him. He was obeying, in the same way that he obeyed the palace chamberlain at a ceremony.
The door behind the screen opened, closed again, and the Maharanee appeared. Norwood bowed to her, but she took no notice of him. She went straight to the Maharajah, knelt beside his chair, and whispered. He grumbled at her, sotto voce. She continued whispering. At last he nodded. She stroked his right hand, murmured traditional phrases of respect and left the room. She didn't even glance at the Bengali.
"I need my tonic," said the Maharajah. "I am becoming more nervous each minute."
"Whiskey and soda should be a good prescription for that," said Norwood. "I'd have brought a flash if I had any sense. I didn't think of it."
"I have never defiled myself with whiskey," said the Maharajah.
Norwood kept his eye on the Bengali: "If you had never drunk anything worse than a scotch and soda, they wouldn't be betting in Kadur bazaar that you'll be dead by midnight. Any money on it, doctor? What odds did you get?"
The door behind the screen opened again. The Maharanee reappeared, veiled. She was followed by Lynn, and then Rundhia. Rundhia looked startled. He shot one penetrating glance at the Bengali, then at Norwood, then at the Maharajah. He made a very obvious effort to recover self-possession. He dragged up a chair for the Maharanee. She refused it; she went and knelt beside the Maharajah; she stared through her veil at the Bengali. Rundhia pulled the chair toward Lynn. Lynn removed the cushion from the chair, nudged Rundhia and gave it to him; he arranged it carefully for the Maharanee to kneel on. Lynn sat down.
"Captain Norwood," said the Maharanee, "why did you wish to see me?"
"About this," said Norwood. He hadn't time to reply decently. He had noticed that Rundhia was trying to signal the Bengali through the opening under the desk, so he got in the way. As soon as Rundhia had stood up again, Norwood spoke:
"Rundhia, here's something for your bruised face. Come and drink it."
Lynn stared with parted lips from one man to the other. Rundhia glanced at her; he looked stung, scared, sullen. Norwood hadn't looked at Lynn once since she entered the room.
The Maharajah pointed the gong drumstick at the Bengali: "Stand still," he commanded. "If you are unable to stand, you may sit—on the floor—where you are."
"Rundhia," said Norwood, "how about a trial by ordeal? You have accused me, behind my back. I accuse you, to your face, of an attempt to poison His Highness. What do you say? Shall we share this drink together? You drink half. I'll drink what's left."
"You are the last man I would drink with," Rundhia retorted.
Norwood laughed. He thrust his right hand into his tunic. "Steady, Rundhia! Keep your hand away from your pocket. I have you covered.—Lynn! Reach into Rundhia's hip-pocket and put his pistol on the desk!"
Lynn stared—resentful, alarmed, puzzled. Parted lips. Wide blue eyes. Frowning.
Norwood repeated the order: "Lynn, do as I tell you!"
"Rundhia," she asked, "have you a revolver?"
Rundhia was watching Norwood's right hand.
He didn't dare to take his eyes off Norwood. He didn't dare to move his own right hand. Lynn felt in his pocket. She laid an automatic on the table:
"Rundhia," she said, "I didn't think that of you."
"Rundhia!" said the Maharanee. She had unveiled her face.
Lynn spoke again: "Rundhia, you came to offer Captain Norwood something else than that, didn't you. Where is it?"
Rundhia snarled: "Tell him to put his own pistol on the desk."
"I haven't one," said Norwood. He reached for Rundhia's pistol, jerked it open, broke it with a blow on the edge of the desk and tossed it into the waste-basket.
"You have damaged my desk," said the Maharajah. "It is a beautiful desk."
Lynn behaved as if a cold draught had caught her between the shoulders. She appeared to thrill for a moment and to change that, almost by an act of will, into a shudder. After that, she stared straight at the Maharanee, who had veiled her face again and was stroking the Maharajah's right hand.
There came a knock at the door. The Maharanee rearranged her veil. Norwood stepped aside, keeping his eyes on Rundhia, who was biting his lip. The Maharajah tapped the gong with his fingers. The door opened. The anteroom attendant spoke rapidly in his native tongue. The Maharajah looked like a frightened sheep. He nodded, speechless. The attendant bowed in the Resident and closed the door behind him. Norwood, still holding the goblet in his left hand, reopened the door and jerked his head at the Bengali:
"Get out!" he commanded.
The Resident stared. He almost forgot to bow to the Maharajah. He watched the Bengali leave the room. Then he looked at Norwood again and raised his eyebrows.
Norwood spoke sotto voce: "Did my man follow you?"
"Yes," said the Resident.
"All right then. The doctor won't get far."
"You surprise us," said the Maharajah. "We are overburdened with joy by this visit. But what does it mean?"
The Resident looked comfortless: "I am at a loss for an answer! Captain Norwood sent me a sort of SOS. He—"
"May I speak?" asked Norwood.
The Resident answered: "I think you'd better, if His Highness—"
"Yes, please," said the Maharajah. He was looking more puzzled than anyone else, except Rundhia, who seemed confused by Lynn's gaze; he avoided it.
"Rundhia," said Norwood. He held up the blue goblet in his left hand, almost as if he were going to drink a toast: "Let's hear your accusation. What have you against me?"
Rundhia eyed him sullenly: "Nothing," he answered. "I don't know you."
Norwood smiled: "Very cautious of you, Rundhia. I am really alive."
The Resident also smiled. He startled everyone by saying:
"Rundhia, there is a conversation on record. Of course, only my version of it. But I refused, you remember, to treat it as confidential. I made a memorandum of it."
Rundhia swallowed what was left of his dignity. He was looking beaten. He spoke as if the insolence had all oozed out of him:
"I forget what I said. I withdraw it anyhow. I have already written this."
He groped in his inside pocket, avoiding Lynn's eyes, although Lynn looked sympathetic. He produced an envelope, strode past Lynn and offered it to Norwood. Norwood waved it aside and jerked his head toward the Resident.
The Resident accepted the envelope, and bowed to the Maharajah: "You permit me?"
"By all means. I am fascinated."
Rundhia, glaring at Norwood, retreated backwards until he almost tripped over Lynn's feet.
He murmured some sort of apology, and went and stood with his back to the wall. His hands went reaching for an album, on the shelf behind him. Norwood set the goblet on the desk behind the gong.
"Can you hit it?" he asked. "Have a try. Luck changes, you know, Rundhia."
Rundhia muttered. He stuck his hands in his trousers pockets.
Lynn was watching the Resident. He had opened the envelope. He read the letter. He passed it to Norwood:
"Is this satisfactory to you, Norwood?"
"It's entirely up to you, sir. I accept it if you do."
The Resident stepped forward and laid the letter in front of the Maharajah: "Will your Highness please read that and, if you see fit, witness it? I have a gallant officer here in need of a rebuttal of some secret accusations that might ruin his career."
The Maharajah read, stared at the Resident, stared at Rundhia, stared at Norwood, reached for his fountain pen and signed.
Rundhia recovered a bit of his insolence. "Are you satisfied?" he demanded.
"No," said Norwood. "Not yet." He reached for the goblet—raised it, sniffed it, smiled at Rundhia. Then he looked straight at Lynn.
Lynn was watching the Maharanee, but she seemed conscious of Norwood's stare. Rundhia whispered to her, but she took no notice. The Maharanee was whispering. The Maharajah stared at Norwood. The Resident produced a handkerchief and blew his nose:
"Steady!" he said behind the handkerchief.
"Rundhia," said Norwood, "I will ask you two questions. Answer whichever you please. What is in this goblet?"
The Maharanee pulled herself to her feet, picked up her cushion and went and knelt at the Maharajah's left hand, so that she could watch Rundhia:
"Rundhia," she said, "answer!"
Rundhia said nothing; he glared at Norwood. Lynn turned in her chair to watch Rundhia's face. Norwood spoke again:
"You don't answer the first one? Very well, here's the other: why did you sign that retraction? I didn't ask you for it. Who did?"
Rundhia was silent.
"Speak!" said the Maharanee. She had unveiled her face. She was looking at Lynn.
Rundhia glanced at Lynn. Lynn looked suddenly straight at Norwood and spoke with such constrained emotion that her voice sounded fiercely angry:
"Captain Norwood, I asked Rundhia to write that. If it isn't what you wanted, you may blame me."
Norwood's lips moved toward a smile, but he saw her embarrassment, so he checked it. He looked straight in her eyes for several seconds before he looked at Rundhia again:
"Substitute question, Rundhia! You didn't answer that one. How much did you charge for this retraction of your accusation against me?"
The Maharanee caught her breath sharply. The Maharajah suddenly noticed that the Resident hadn't a chair. He commanded the white-robed kneeling servant to draw up the only unoccupied chair. The Resident sat down and blew his nose again:
"Careful, Norwood! Careful!"
Rundhia had had time to consider. He sneered: "I wrote that as an act of magnanimity. Was it wasted on you?"
Norwood glanced quickly at Lynn. "No, no, Rundhia, it wasn't wasted. But tell us all what is in this goblet. I could have it analyzed. Perhaps you would prefer to consult that Bengali doctor before you answer? Question a bit awkward? Your trouble is that you can't guess how much I know, can you? Can you guess why I let the Bengali leave the room? Any chance that he betrayed you? Rather drop the question? Very well, answer the other: how much or what did you charge, and to whom, for the magnanimous retraction of your accusation against me? I insist on an answer." Rundhia spoke sullenly: "Nothing. No one. I don't even know what you mean."
Norwood looked at Lynn. Her lips moved. He was in time to check her:
"Please say nothing! I want Rundhia to tell it—Rundhia, choose. I won't wait all night. Account for the contents of this goblet—or else answer: what promise have you exacted—from whom?"
The Maharanee spoke in a strained voice: "Answer him, Rundhia."
Rundhia was silent. Lynn stared. He avoided her eyes.
"If I should have to mention this goblet again," said Norwood, "I will ask His Highness the Maharajah to summon the guard. What promise have you exacted from whom as the price of your signing that retraction?"
"There was no price."
The Maharanee was looking at Lynn. She spoke suddenly: "Rundhia, speak like a man! There was a promise!"
Rundhia stared at his feet. He had the grace to speak as if he were ashamed. He almost mumbled: "I release her from the promise."
Norwood looked at Lynn steadily: "Do you accept that?"
"No! I refuse. Is this your vengeance? It's cruel. Doesn't the retraction satisfy you?"
Norwood smiled at Lynn and made a reassuring gesture. Rundhia stared; he looked astonished. The Maharanee stood up. Norwood spoke: "Lynn, did Rundhia tell you that I tore up your letter? He lied. Your aunt gave it to me less than an hour ago. It reached her by mistake in the wrong envelope."
"I confirm that," said the Resident.
Lynn stood up and waited for Rundhia to speak. He didn't.
"Rundhia," she said, "did you hear that?" Then, turning: "Thank you, Captain Norwood."
"Just a misunderstanding," Norwood answered. "I will explain it later."
Lynn shook her head. Her eyes met his but she made no reply. She left the room by the door behind the screen. The Maharanee followed her. Silence.
The Resident wiped his face with the handkerchief: "Steady, Norwood," he said. "Steady." He spoke aloud to the Maharajah:
"Does Your Highness wish—"
"I wish for tranquillity! I do not care to know any more!"
"Carry on!" said the Resident. "Careful!"
Norwood raised the goblet, this time in his right hand: "You don't deserve this, Rundhia. You're a blackguard." He glanced at the Resident: "You agree, sir?"
The Resident nodded. The Maharajah stared, fascinated. Norwood spilled the contents of the goblet on the floor.
"Have you spoiled the rug?" asked the Maharajah. "That is a very good rug."
The kneeling servant crawled and used his snow-white turban as a mop. The Maharajah turned to Rundhia:
"Leave the room. Never return."
Rundhia moved toward the door behind the screen, but the Resident jumped out of his chair. Rundhia began to hurry. Norwood was too quick. He shoved the screen in Rundhia's way. It banged against the door and the noise almost made the Maharajah scream.
"Your Highness," said the Resident, "in Prince Rundhia's presence, I take this opportunity to inform you that I have written to His Majesty's advisers, strongly recommending them to exercise their veto in the matter of Prince Rundhia's succession to the throne of Kadur."
"You have already written?"
"I have mailed the letter."
"I resign," said Rundhia sullenly. "You and your veto may go to the devil."
"May I speak to Your Highness alone?" asked the Resident.
The Maharajah scowled at Rundhia: "Go out that way!" He pointed to the door into the anteroom.
Rundhia walked out. Norwood followed. He overtook Rundhia at the head of the stairs, and Rundhia turned about and faced him:
"I sincerely regret," he remarked, looking straight into Norwood's eyes, "that the men who fired at you, missed."
"Yes, you had rotten luck, Rundhia, What will you do—go to Europe? The Riviera? That's crowded with might-have-beens who insisted on hitting below the belt. D'you know, Rundhia, if I had oven suspected you of having put one over on Lynn Harding, I would have let you hang. You know, they hang even princes who play at your game." He laughed. "No, Rundhia, no. You will walk ahead of me down the stairs. I know that trick."
At the foot of the stairs, Norwood pulled out his card-case, produced a card and gave it to one of the palace servants:
"Send that up to Miss Lynn Harding. Say I will be waiting outside. I will meet her near the front steps."
He walked out. Under the glare of the portico light he pulled out his handkerchief, raised his right arm and waved it.
O'Leary's shrill whistle answered: long-short, long-short—"Order received and executed—okay!"
O'Leary had released the Bengali doctor.
LYNN looked like a ghost in white chiffon. She turned instinctively to the right and stepped into the darkness. She stood within a few paces of the spot where, one night ago, she had bridled at Norwood's blunt comments. It seemed as if a whole lifetime had passed in the interval. The guitar and the songs on the wall were a far-off memory.
Norwood strode out of the darkness. "Silence!" he said. "Not a word. Nothing so easy on the nerves as saying nothing."
He took her arm into his, and strode forward, avoiding moonlight, choosing paths that were overhung by branches. After a while, he whistled softly a few snatches of a funny little tune that Lynn had heard. It was an Indian tune familiar to Indian thieves and other people of peculiar repute and notorious humor but not much virtue. It was a tune identifiable by its rhythm as unlikely to appeal to those who hold past error to be proof that nothing good can happen. It was an irresponsible, impious, gay little tune that disobeyed several canons of musical taste, suggesting that some sorts of disobedience might possibly, or even probably find favor with the hundred thousand little local gods who live so close to men and women. It was a medicine tune. There was magic in it. It suggested laughter tartened by a hint of slightly Rabelaisian malice. Lynn found it absolutely impossible to listen to that gay little tune and at the same time to take herself seriously. It couldn't be done. It ought to be done. She should be feeling like Clytemnestra, or Electra or Lady Macbeth. The moon and the luminous gloom of the Indian night; the soft silence and the heavy perfume; black shadows in which mystery lay hidden; the vivid memory of poison in a big blue glass and of Rundhia stripped of his mask and revealed—all these should have built and crystallized themselves into a tragedy. They didn't. Lynn felt strangely excited.
Norwood, too, was revealed. Perhaps he never did wear a mask. Perhaps he was exactly the man he pretended to be—just a Captain of Royal Engineers, on special survey duty. Perhaps. All the same, he was more mysterious than ever Rundhia had been. She could always guess pretty accurately what Rundhia would say next, and from the very first minute she met him she had known perfectly what Rundhia wanted. She did not know what Norwood intended. Very likely he was going to lecture her on how an American girl should behave in an Indian setting. She hoped not; but it would be quite English to make the attempt; they even tell their King and Queen how to behave. If he tried it, she intended to fight back. But she hoped he wouldn't. There was a dim foreknowledge, perhaps only a hunch, underlying her belligerent mood, that fighting back wouldn't get very far.
They continued walking until they came to a moonlit lotus pond and stood together staring at the reflections of trees. A little animal jumped into the water and swam. They watched the ripples spread until they reached the marble banks. At last Norwood spoke:
"I can't analyze it. I suppose I'm feeling guilty."
"Want some more silence?"
"No. I would rather you'd say what you think." Norwood chuckled: "You remember the parrot. I draw extra pay for thinking and not talking.
"I understand. You would rather not say what you think of me. Is that it?"
Norwood chuckled again. It made Lynn angry. If he was merely amused, that was even worse than an elderly brother attitude—even worse than aloof austerity talking down to her.
"Are your thoughts so priceless," she asked, "that they have to be wrapped in cellophane and locked away?"
"They wouldn't do in a book," he retorted. "They would never get by the censor. But I'll tell you one thing to begin with."
Lynn faced him suddenly. "What is it?"
"Your Aunt Harding is not a credit to you. You have neglected her education."
"I suppose that's your tactful way of saying that Aunty has neglected my education. Well, it isn't Aunty's fault. I ran out on her. I did what I did on my own responsibility, against her wishes. And I'm not sorry I did it. Is that perfectly clear?"
"Perfectly. But you misunderstood me. I meant what I said. I have only one special virtue."
Lynn waited. It was a trap; she felt sure of it. She hadn't minded walking into Rundhia's traps, because she knew she could find her way out of them. But this man was different. He was absolutely different and he made her heart jump like a thing trying to get out of a cage. Rundhia had never done that, not even in his most exciting moments. But Norwood waited, too. So at last she did ask him:
"You say only one virtue? What is it?"
"I never use double meanings."
"Are you telling the truth?"
"Good. Then please say what you think of me, straight, without any double meanings or reservations. Let's get that over with."
"Very well, Lynn. But are you quite sure you won't be belligerent about it? I didn't bring you out here to start a fight."
It wasn't the first time he had called her Lynn, but she noticed it. When Rundhia first called her Lynn she actually hadn't noticed it.
"I never am belligerent," she answered.
"No? What a pity. Of course, I don't expect to be shot but I don't even want to make you really angry. You're a bit angry now, aren't you?"
"Yes, but with myself. I'm not angry with you. Go ahead, punish me. I'll take it. Say what you think."
"Do you promise you won't hit back, or make a scene, or accuse me of hidden motives?"
"Captain Norwood, kindly go ahead and tell me. I've treated you very badly and you're entitled to revenge. I will listen. And I won't answer back."
"Don't promise what?"
"That you won't answer back. There are rare occasions when a quick answer is about the only thing that—"
Lynn interrupted: "I will listen to anything you care to say. And I won't answer, no matter what you say. And after that, I will go away and you won't ever see me again."
Norwood smiled. She wished he wouldn't smile. The moonlight limned his well shaped head and revealed his face. Beneath his courteous good humor she could sense a restraint that presaged power when he should choose to let it loose. She had seen him punch Rundhia. She had seen him take command in an emergency and make his seniors obey. Hadn't he any mercy. She hoped he hadn't! She didn't want mercy at his hands. She preferred savagery; it would hurt less than half measures. It might help her to hate him. She wished she did hate him; it would have been so much easier.
"Say what you think," she insisted.
"I think the same now that I did when I first saw you."
"What is it?"
"Perhaps I'm not being quite accurate. It wasn't until that astonishing picnic at the palace that I made up my mind to marry you. I fell in love with you at first sight, without guessing who you were, when I saw you with the Maharanee in the carriage. When I saw you on horseback in the early morning, it was all over as far as I'm concerned—nothing further to argue about. I've committed myself to the hilt. How about you?" Lynn caught her breath. "I—I never dreamt of it!"
"I know you didn't. And you're not dreaming now. We're both of us stone-cold sober and wide awake."
"Do you always make love like this."
"I don't even know the first rules of the game. I'm a chronic bachelor, suddenly converted."
"But Captain Norwood—"
"The only girl I ever fell in love with calls me Carl or else calls the police."
"But—" Lynn laughed. "Are there any police."
"Try. Shout for them. An Indian night is as full of eyes as the sky is of stars."
"But I wouldn't know what to say to the police. I'd better call you Carl."
"And now to use one of your phrases, let's get this over with: I'm a pauper. I've four hundred pounds a year and an Engineer Captain's pay."
"Carl, I hope you don't think I'm wealthy. I haven't a cent in the world. I've been disinherited."
"You have? Is that an actual fact?"
"Yes. Aunty hasn't even left me a reputation."
"God, that's marvelous! Oh, my God, what luxury! I was scared stiff."
"Yes. Scared of you. Afraid you'd think I was after your money."
"Carl, I haven't a cent."
"All right. More preliminaries. Mostly I live in a tent. My servants are scandalous rogues, who know nearly as much as I do about crime and treachery and worse."
"Is there anything worse?"
"Oh, yes, lots of things. Treachery is merely the veil of what goes on in India. I'm a man of secrets. I'm acquainted with sin. I associate with sinners. And I love it. I won't be made over." Lynn laughed: "You said I failed at making Aunty over. I don't think I'm good at that. I never lived in a tent, and I've been kept away from sinners. I'm a very ignorant person. You'd better think again, hadn't you?"
"No. I've finished thinking about that. But how about you? It's your last chance. Lynn, you're on the edge of the abyss of matrimony. Any questions?"
"Millions of questions! Billions! I don't even know you. I'll ask them afterwards."
"Good. That's the style. There'll be lots of time afterwards. Well, you've refused to call the police, and you've promised not to talk back or make a scene. So I'll be damned if I'll wait any longer. Lynn, I love you."
The Indian night and the Indian stars; the perfumed silence and the moonlit lotus pool all merged into a consciousness of love—one moment of eternity that swept away the past—one moment of unselfconscious mystery in which the lover and the loved were one and all life was their realm, all values were in true perspective. Love was real. Everything else was illusion and unreal. Until gradually, even in Carl Norwood's arms, Lynn's awareness of earth resumed its spell and she looked away at their reflections in the moonlit lotus pond.
"Look, Carl. See us! Look."
"Shadows." Then he spoke strangely: "Shadows of reflections that reflect what? You and I are shadows. We move in response to something else. What is it?"
"Carl are you real? Is that you talking?"
"I suspect it's the real me talking to the real you. Lynn, I'm steeped in eastern thought. Life's good. We're growing—getting wiser gradually. That's why I spared Rundhia. He'd have been hanged if I hadn't done what I did. Now he'll get some money from the Maharanee and live in Europe."
"But Carl—" Lynn hesitated. "Perhaps I shouldn't say it."
"All right, I'll say it for you. He'll go to Europe and do it again. And lots of women won't have sense enough to stand him off until he's ruined them and sneered and gone."
"Yes, I was thinking of that. It was a mean thought."
"No, it wasn't."
"The way I thought it, it was mean. Carl, I believe you because I can't disbelieve you, not for any other reason. It seems impossible. How can such a man as you are, with such thoughts as you think, possibly love me? I believe I deliberately tempted Rundhia. The Maharanee—" Norwood chuckled. "All right, I'll say that for you, too. She said he really loved you. He'd be a fool if he didn't. The trouble is, he is a fool. So it won't last. Not that it makes any difference."
"But if I've made him wretched—"
"That's his business. Each of us pays for his own mistakes."
"But that was my mistake."
"Your end of it was yours. But you paid cash. Rundhia doesn't. He lets the bill run at compound interest. Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody's worth a damn who hasn't made 'em."
"The worse the better. The rule is, learn and don't repeat. On that condition there's no aftermath. You pay once and that's all."
"Carl, do you mean that a person's past isn't—"
Norwood laughed: "Sink of iniquity, Lynn, unchastened Jezebel, come to think of it, I left your past history seated on a trunk on the path outside the guest-house. What with the mosquitoes and her temper she'll be cooking up a future unless we go to her rescue."
"Carl, I'm shameless. I really am. I'd forgotten her."
"Did you ever have toothache? One forgets that, too, afterwards."
"But this isn't afterwards. You don't know Aunty. Carl, I'll go to her. You mustn't come. Please, really, you mustn't. She will say things that I don't want you to hear. They're not true but she'll say them."
"Are you sure?"
"You mean, am I sure they're not true?"
"I mean, are you sure she'll say them?"
"Yes. She always does when she's angry."
"Let's find out."
"You're embarrassed. So'm I. It's good for both of us, so let's do it together."
They took their time, strolling along shadowy moonlit paths toward the guest-house, too interested in each other to notice voices until they were quite close up beneath the darkness of the overhanging trees.
The trunks no longer stood in a row on the garden path. There was a light in the servants' pantry at the rear, and a smell of cooking. Light poured through the living-room window.
"Hush," said Norwood. "Listen. Rule number one is don't talk in the dark. Rule number two is listen and learn, but never tell tales."
The Maharanee's voice came quite distinctly through the open window:
"If I, who am broken-hearted, can forgive my nephew Rundhia—"
An unmistakable voice interrupted: "You're being silly. Don't be sentimental. You probably ruined Rundhia by being sentimental. At your age you ought to know better. You should have spanked him when he was young, and kept him short of pocket money when he was older. I neglected to spank Lynn. That's the trouble and I'm ashamed of myself. Are you sure you know where she is? Are you quite sure? Who told you she is near the lotus pond with Captain Norwood?"
"Six servants," said the Maharanee, "and one gardener. Also the Chief of Police very kindly took the trouble to phone me about it."
"Imagine the impudence of that girl!"
"But I haven't noticed that she is impudent."
"If she was in love with Captain Norwood she should have told me."
"Do you think she knew it?" asked the Maharanee. "I knew it, late this evening. But do you think that Lynn knew it?"
Aunty Harding cackled a chairwoman's ladylike laugh on two notes, politely derisive:
"Knew it? Maharanee, what this younger generation knows is more than you and I ever will know. They're incorrigible. That girl has more whalebone in her will than there are cents in a dollar. It isn't brittle. You can't break it. It's resilient."
"Yes," said the Maharanee, "this generation has its own ideas. It goes its own way. Lynn will go far."
Aunty coughed drily: "Go far? She will go to the devil, I don't doubt. But I have this consolation. If what you say is true, she has disgraced herself with the only gentleman I have met in India."
The Maharanee protested loyally: "His Highness my husband—"
"Oh, kings don't count," said Aunty. "They're middle class nowadays. I can't forgive kings for the way they've sold out to the politicians. I never will forgive them. I'm a democrat and I'll die in my boots."
"But you'll forgive Lynn?"
"Getting back at me, are you? A little sarcasm, eh? Maharanee, if I can get that minx Lynn to forgive me before she has had time to slander me to Captain Norwood, I'll think I'm lucky. I'll be a wizard—or is it a witch?"
"Or are you a little wiser than you were?" the Maharanee suggested.
Norwood whispered: "How much did you bet? Are you still scared?"
Moses Lafayette O'Leary's whistle piped from the nearby shrubbery a few notes of a private signal: C, D, F,—C,D,F,—C,D,F—C. It startled Lynn.
"What was that? It sounded like someone in hiding. Are we being watched?"
"Yes, the night has eyes in India. They've a saying here that even diamonds see in the dark. That's a very rough diamond informing me that all's clear and he's off home. You go in. I'll follow you presently. I want to speak to him."
Norwood walked alone into the shrubbery. He almost walked into Moses O'Leary.
"I warned you," said O'Leary, "about women. By the hundred they're all right. One's a problem. But you wouldn't listen. I suppose you'll get yourself a new man now, to say yes to you and tell you you're Solomon. But Solomon had him a thousand wives, and concubines on top o' that. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. Am I out of a job?"
"Where's your horse?"
"'Tain't a horse. I rode your bay mare. She's near the gate."
"When you get back to camp see that she's rubbed down carefully and give her a light blanket. Stand by and see it done. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, sir, Captain Norwood."
"Here's the key to the whiskey. Help yourself. You've leave of absence until noon tomorrow. Turn up sober or I'll—"
"Is the Government broke?"
"Here are ten rupees. But that's not Government money. It's personal. Don't get into trouble with it."
"Well, sir, I've seen miracles in my day. I've seen you pick winners. Maybe she's as reliable as she is good looking. Here's hoping. I'll say a prayer for you."
"Don't keep that mare standing. Good night."
"Good night, sir, and here's hoping."
Moses Lafayette O'Leary strode away into the night, until the sound of his footfall ceased on the dusty path and there was nothing more heard of him but the tune that he whistled:
"Oh, officers' wives get puddings and pies
And soups and roasts and jellies,
But poor Tommies' wives get sweet—"
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