The Bronze Bell
Louis Joseph Vance
Part 6 out of 6
though unnaturally pale, her anguish of fear and despair had set its
marks upon her face without one whit detracting from the appeal of her
beauty. He went to her immediately, and as their eyes met, hers flamed
with joy, relief and--he dared believe--a stronger emotion.
"You--you're not hurt, Mr. Amber?"
"Not at all. The bullet went out through my sleeve. And you?" He
dropped on his knees, with his pocket-knife severing the ends of rope
that bound her.
"I'm all right." She took his hands, helping herself to rise. "Thank
you," she said, her eyes shining, a flush of colour suffusing her face
"Did you cut those ropes, Amber?" Labertouche interposed curtly.
The Englishman explained without turning from his sombre and morose
regard of Naraini. "Too bad--we'll have to tie this woman up, somehow.
She's a complication I hadn't foreseen.... Here; you'd better leave me
to attend to her--you and Miss Farrell. Go on down the gallery--to the
left, I'll catch up with you."
The pistol which he still held lent to his demand a sinister
significance of which he was, perhaps, thoughtless. But Sophia Farrell
heard, saw, and surmised.
"No!" she cried, going swiftly to the secret-agent. "No!" She put a
hand upon his arm, but he shook it off.
"Did you hear me, Amber?" said Labertouche, still watching the queen.
"What do you mean to do?" insisted Sophia. "You can't--you mustn't--"
"This is no time for half-measures, Miss Farrell," Labertouche told her
brusquely. "Our lives hang in the balance--Mr. Amber's, yours, mine.
"You promise not to harm her?"
"Amber!" cried the Englishman impatiently. "Will you--"
"Please, Miss Farrell!" begged Amber, trying to take the girl's hand
and draw her away.
"I won't!" she declared. "I'll not move a step until he promises. You
don't understand. No matter what the danger she's--"
"She's a fiend incarnate," Labertouche broke in. "Amber, get that
"She's my sister!" cried Sophia. "_Now_ will you understand?"
"What!" The two men exclaimed as one.
"She's my sister," the girl repeated, holding up her head defiantly,
her cheeks burning--"my sister by adoption. We were brought up
together. She was the daughter of an old friend of my father's--an
Indian prince. A few years ago she ran away--"
"Thank God!" said Amber from the bottom of his soul; and, "Ah, you
would!" cried Labertouche tensely, as Naraini seized the opportunity,
when his attention was momentarily diverted, to break for freedom.
Amber saw the flash of a steel blade in the woman's hand as she struck
at the secret-agent, and the latter, stepping back, deflected the blow
with a guarding forearm. Then, with the quickness of a snake, Naraini
stooped, glided beneath his arms, and slipped from the cell.
With a smothered oath Labertouche leaped to the doorway, lifting his
pistol; but he was no quicker than Sophia, who caught his arm and held
him back. "No," she panted; "not even for our lives--not at that
He yielded unexpectedly. "Of course you are perfectly right, Miss
Farrell," said he, with a little bow. "I'm sorry that circumstances ...
But come! She'll have this hornet's nest about our ears in a brace of
seconds. Hark to that!"
A long, shrill shriek echoed down the gallery. Labertouche shrugged and
turned to the left. "Come along," he said. "Amber, take Miss Farrel's
hand and keep close to me." He led the way from the cell at a brisk
pace--one, indeed, that taxed Sophia's powers of endurance to maintain.
Amber aided her as much as he might, but that was little; the walls of
the passageway were too close together to permit him to be by her side
much of the time. For the most part he had to lead the way, himself
guided by the swiftly moving patch of light cast by Labertouche's
bull's-eye. But through it all he was buoyed up and exhilarated out of
all reason by the consciousness of the hand that lay trustfully in his
own; a hand soft and small and warm and (though he could not see it)
white, all white! More, it was the hand of his wife to be; he felt this
now with an unquestioning assurance. He wondered if she shared the
subject of his thoughts ...
The gallery sloped at varying grades, more or less steep--mostly
more--and minute by minute the air became more dank and cold. At an
unseen turning, where another passage branched away, a biting wind
swept out of the black nowhere, chilling them to the marrow. Deeper and
still deeper, into the very bowels of the earth, it seemed, the
secret-agent led them, finding his way with an unfaltering confidence
that exalted Amber's admiration of him to the pitch of hero-worship.
At length the gallery dipped and ran level, and now, while still cold,
the wind that blew in their faces was cleaner, burdened with less of
the clammy effluvium of death and decay; and then, abruptly, the walls
narrowed suddenly, so that Amber was forced to surrender possession of
the girl's hand and to fall behind her. She went forward without
question, following the dancing spotlight.
Amber paused to listen for sounds of pursuit, but hearing nothing save
the subdued sigh of the draught between the straitened walls of rock,
followed until the walls fell away and his hands, outstretched, failed
to touch them, and he was aware that the stone beneath his feet had
given way to gravel. He halted, calling guardedly to Labertouche.
The secret-agent's voice came from some distance. "It's all right, my
boy. Miss Farrell is with me. Come along."
There was an _Úlan_ in his tone that bespoke a spirit of gratulation
and relief and led Amber to suspect that they were very close upon the
end of their flight, near to escape from the subterranean ways of
Kathiapur the dead. He proceeded at discretion in the direction of
Labertouche's voice--the light being invisible--and brought up flat
against a dead wall. Coincidently he heard Sophia exclaim with surprise
and delight, somewhere off on his left, and, turning, he saw her head
and shoulders move across a patch of starlit sky. In half a dozen
strides he overtook her.
They stood on a low, pebbly ledge, just outside the black maw of the
passage--an entrance hidden in a curtain-like fold in the face of the
cliff that towered above them, casting an ink-black shadow. But beyond
it the emblazoned firmament glowed irradiant, and at their feet the
encircling waters ran, a broad ribbon of black silk purling between the
cliff and the opposing shores, where a thicket of tamarisks rose, a
black and ragged wall.
Labertouche strode off into the water. "Straight ahead," he announced;
"don't worry--'tisn't more than knee-deep at the worst. I've horses
waiting on the other side--"
"Horses!" Amber interrupted. "Great heavens, man, you're--you're
"No--lucky," Labertouche retorted briskly. "Where'd I've been without
Ram Nath? He's taking care of the animals.... Come along. What're you
waiting for? Don't you know--" He turned to see the girl hesitant,
though with lifted skirts. "Oh," he said in an accent of understanding,
and came back. "If you'll help me, Amber, I daresay we can get Miss
Farrell across without a wetting."
He offered to clasp hands with the Virginian and so make a seat; but
Amber had a happier thought.
"I think I can manage by myself, thank you--if Miss Farrell will trust
His eyes met the girl's, and in hers he read trust and faith unending:
he was conscious of a curious fluttering in his bosom.
"Trust _you!_" she said, with a little, broken laugh, and gave herself
freely to his arms.
Labertouche grunted and turned his back, wading out into the stream
with a great splashing.
Amber straightened up, holding her very close to him, and that with
ease. Had she been thrice as heavy he could have borne her with as
little care as he did his own immeasurably lightened heart in that hour
of fulfilment. And she lay snug and confident, her arms round his neck,
the shadowed loveliness of her face very near to him. The faint and
elusive fragrance of her hair was sweet and heady in the air he
breathed; he could read her eyes, and their allure and surrender was
like a draught of wine to him. He felt the strength of ten men
invigorate him, and his soul was sober with a great happiness. But a
little while and she would be in safety; already her salvation seemed
assured.... The further bank neared all too quickly. He would willingly
have lingered to prolong the stolen sweetness of that moment, forgetful
altogether of the danger that lay behind them.
Ahead, he saw Labertouche step out upon a shelving shore and, shaking
his legs with an effect irresistibly suggestive of a dog leaving the
water, peer inland through the tamarisks. His low, whistled signal
sounded as Amber joined him and put down the girl--reluctantly. Her
whispered thanks were interrupted by an exclamation from Labertouche.
"Hang it all! he can't've mistaken the spot. I told him to wait right
here, and now ... We daren't delay." He cast an apprehensive glance
across the stream. "Look lively, please."
He shouldered away through the thicket, and for several moments they
struggled on through the hindering undergrowth, their passage betrayed
by much noisy rustling. Then, as they won through to open ground,
Labertouche paused and whistled a second time, staring eagerly from
right to left.
"I'm blessed!" he declared, with a vehemence that argued his desire for
stronger language. "This is bad--bad--bad! He never failed me before!
A mocking chuckle seemed to break from the ground at their feet, and in
the flicker of an eyelash a shadow lifted up out of the
scrub-encumbered level. Sophia cried aloud with alarm; Labertouche
swore outright, heedless; and Amber put himself before her, drawing his
revolver, heartsick with the conviction that they were trapped, that
their labour had gone all for naught, that all futilely had they
schemed and dared....
But while his finger was yet seeking the trigger the first shadow was
joined by a score of fellows--shades that materialised with like
swiftness and silence from the surface of the earth--and before he
could level the weapon Labertouche seized his wrist. For an instant he
resisted, raging with disappointment; but the Englishman was cool,
strong, determined; inevitably in the outcome the weapon was pointed to
"Steady, you ass!" breathed the secret-agent in his ear. "Can't you
And Amber gave over, in amazement unbounded, seeing the starlight
glinting down a dozen levelled rifle-barrels, glowing pale on the
spiked, rounded crowns of pith helmets, and striking soft fire from
burnished accoutrements; while a voice, thick with a brogue that was
never bred out of hearing of Bow Bells, was hectoring them to
"'Ands up, ye bloomin' black beggars! 'Ands up, I s'y!"
"Tommies!" cried Amber; and incontinently he dropped the revolver as
though it had turned hot in his hand.
"Steady, my man!" Labertouche interrupted what threatened to develop
into a string of intolerable abuse. "Hold your tongue! Can't you see
we've a lady with us?"
"Ul-_lo!_" The soldier lowered his rifle and stepped closer, his voice
vibrating with astonishment. "Blimme, 'ere's a go!... beggar of a
nigger givin' me wot-for 's if 'e was a gent! 'Oo in 'ell d'ye think
y'are, yer 'ighness?'
"That'll do. Put down those guns, and call your commanding officer.
I'll explain to him. Where is he? What troops are you? When did you
Such queries and commands discharged quickly in crisp English from the
mouth of one who wore the color and costume of a Mohammedan of high
degree, temporarily dazed his captors. In a body they pressed round the
three, peering curiously into their faces--the two white and the one
dark; and their murmurings rose and swelled discordant. "Blimme if 'e
_ain't_ a gent!" "T'other un is!" "An this un a leddy!"...But to his
interrogations Labertouche got no direct reply. While as for Amber, he
could have laughed aloud from a heart that brimmed with thanksgiving
for the honest sound of their rich rough voices; besides which, Sophia
stood very close to him, and her fingers were tight about his....
"What's this?" A sharp voice cut the comments of the Tommies, and they
were smitten silent by it. An officer, with jingling spurs and sword in
hand, elbowed through the heart of the press. "Stop that row instantly.
What's this? Who are you, sir?"
"I sent the message from Kathiapur, and I'm uncommonly happy to meet
you, whoever you may be, sir. Tell your men to fall back, please, and
I'll introduce myself properly."
Two words secured the secret-agent the privacy he desired; the officer
offered him an ungloved hand as the troopers withdrew out of hearing.
"Happy, indeed!" he said cheerfully. "I'm Rowan, Captain, Fourteenth
"I'm Labertouche, I.S.S. This is Miss Farrell, daughter of Colonel
Farrell, and this Mr. Amber, of New York. We're just escaped from that
rock over there and--if you'll pardon--I'd suggest you set a strong
guard over the ford behind those tamarisks."
"One moment, please." The officer strode off to issue instructions in
accordance with Labertouche's advice. "We got here only a quarter of an
hour ago," he apologised, swinging back as the men deployed into the
thicket, "and haven't had time to nose out the lay of the land
"I infer you got my man with the horses--native calling himself Ram
"He's with the Colonel-commanding now, Mr. Labertouche. As I was
saying, we've hardly had time to do more than throw a line of pickets
round the rock. It's been quick work for us--marching orders at
midnight yesterday, down by train to Sar, and forced march across the
desert ever since daybreak."
"I'd hardly hoped the thing could be done so quickly. If I had been
able to get the information an instant earlier, my mind would've been
easier, captain, but--Hello!"
From the ford an abrupt clamour of voices interrupted. The officer
hooked up his scabbard. "Sounds as if my men had gathered in somebody
else," he said hastily. "If you'll excuse me, I'll have a look." He
trotted off into the shade of the tamarisks.
As he disappeared the disturbance abated somewhat. "False alarm," Amber
"I fancy not," said Labertouche. "If I'm not mistaken our friend
Naraini left for the special purpose of raising the hue and cry. This
should be the vanguard of the pursuit."
Amber looked upward. Overhead the soulless city slumbered in a
stillness apparently unbroken, yet he who saw its profile rugged
against the stars, could fancy what consternation was then, or
presently would be, running riot through its haunted ways.
"How many of 'em are there, do you reckon?" he asked.
"Three or four hundred," replied the secret-agent absently; "the pick
and flower of Indian unrest. My word, but this will kick up a row!
Think of it, man! three hundred and fifty-odd lords and princes bagged
all at once in the act of plotting the Second Mutiny! What a change it
will work on the political face of the land! ... And the best of it is,
they simply can't get away."
"Is this the only exit, then--the way we escaped?"
"Not by three--all on the other side of the rocky where they rode up
and left their horses. And that's where the most of 'em will come out,
by twos and threes, like the animals out of the Ark, you know. What a
"And we've you to thank!"
"I? Oh, dear boy, thank the Tommies!"
"But what would we have done, or the Tommies either, without you?"
"What indeed!" Sophia echoed warmly. "I've had no chance, as yet--"
"Not another word, my dear Miss Farrell!" Labertouche protested,
acutely uncomfortable. "To've been able to help you out of the scrape
"But I must--" she began, and stopped with a little cry as a shot rang
out from the heart of the thicket, to be followed by another and then
by a shriek of agony and a great confusion of sounds--shouts and oaths
and noisy crashings in the tamarisks as of many men blundering hither
Silenced, with a slight shudder of apprehension, the girl drew to
Amber's side, as if instinctively. He took her hand and drew it through
"Run to earth at last!" cried Labertouche. "I wonder--"
"If my hope's good for anything," Amber laughed, less because he felt
like laughing than for the purpose of reassuring Sophia, "this will be
the gentleman who trained the Hooded Death to dance, or else he who--"
He was thinking with vindictive relish of what fate he would mete out
to the manipulator of the Bell, were it left to him to pass sentence.
But he broke off as a body of soldiery burst from the tamarisks, and,
headed by young Rowan, hurried toward the three, bringing with them a
silent and unresisting prisoner.
"I say," the officer called excitedly in advance, "here's something
uncommon' rum. It's a woman, you know."
"Aha!" said Labertouche, and "Ah!" said Amber, "with a click of his
teeth, while the woman on his arm clung to him the closer.
"I thought we'd better bring her to you, for she said ..." Rowan
paused, embarrassed, and took a fresh start. "My men got to the ford
just as she was coming ashore with three other men, and the whole pack
took to cover on this side. Two of the men are still missing, but we
routed out the other just now with this--ah--lady. He showed fight and
got bayonetted. But the woman--excuse me, Mr. Amber--she protests--by
George, it's too ridiculous!--"
"I have claimed naught that is not true!" an unforgettably sweet voice
interrupted from the centre of the group. It opened out, disclosing
Naraini between two guards, in that moment of passion and fear perhaps
more incomparably beautiful than any woman they had ever looked upon,
save her who held to Amber's arm, a-quiver with womanly sympathy and
During her flight and her resistance Naraini's veil had been rent away;
in the clear starlight her countenance, framed in hair of lustrous jet
and working with uncontrollable rage and despair, shone like that of
some strange tempestuous Aphrodite fashioned of palest gold. Beneath
its folds of tightly drawn, bespangled gauze her bosom swelled and fell
convulsively, and on her perfect arms, more softly beautiful than any
Phidias ever dreamed to chisel, the golden bracelets and bangles
clashed and tinkled as she writhed and fought to free herself of the
defiling hands. Half-mad with disappointment, she raged amid the
scattered shreds of her dream of power like a woman hopelessly
"Aye, I have claimed!" she stormed. "I have claimed justice and the
rights of wifehood, the protection of him whose wife I am; or, if he
deny me, I claim that he must suffer with me--he who hath played the
traitor's part to-night, betraying his Cause and his wife alike to
their downfall!... I claim," she insisted, lifting, in spite of the
soldiers' restraining hands, one small quivering arm to single Amber
out and point him to scorn, "that this is the man who, wedded to me by
solemn right and the custom of the land, hath deserted and abandoned
me, hath denied me even as he denies his birthright, when it doth
please him, and forswears the faith of his fathers! I claim to be
Naraini, Queen, wife to Har Dyal Rutton, rightful ruler of
Khandawar--coward, traitor, renegade--who stands there!"
"For the love of Heaven, Rowan, shut her up!" cried Labertouche. "It's
all a pack of lies; the woman's raving. Rutton's dead, in the first
place; in the second, he's her father. She can't be his wife very well,
whether he's alive or dead. It's simply a dodge of hers to gain time.
Shut her up and take her away--she's as dangerous as a wildcat!"
"Nay, I will not be gagged nor taken hence till I have said my say!"
With a sudden furious wrench Naraini wrested her arms from the grasp of
the guards and sprang away, eluding with lithe and snake-like movements
their attempts to recapture her. "Not," she cried, "until I have
wrought my will upon the two of them. Thou hast stood in my light too
long, O my sister!"
A hand blazing with jewels tore at the covering of her bosom and
suddenly came away clutching a dagger, thin, long, and keen; and
snarling she sprang toward the girl, to whose influence, however
unwitting, she rightly ascribed the downfall of her scheme of empire.
Rowan and Labertouche leaped forward and fell short, so lightning swift
she moved; only Amber stood between her and her vengeance. Choking with
horror, he put the girl behind him with a resistless hand, and took
Naraini to his arms.
"Ah, hast thou changed thy mind, Beloved?" The woman caught him
fiercely to her with an arm about his waist, and her voice rose shrill
with mocking triumph, "Are my lips become so sweet to thee again? Then
see how I kiss, thou fool!"
She thrust with wicked cunning, twice and again, before the men tore
her away and disarmed her. For an instant wrestling like a demon with
them, still animated by her murderous frenzy, still wishful to fill her
cup of vengeance to the brim with the blood of the girl, she of a
sudden ceased to resist and fell passive in their hands, a dying
flicker of satisfaction in the eyes that watched the culmination of her
To Amber it was as if his body had been penetrated thrice by a needle
of fire. The anguish of it was exquisite, stupefying. He was aware of a
darkening, reeling world, wherein men's faces swam like moons, pallid,
staring, and of a mighty and invincible lethargy that pounced upon him,
body, brain and soul, like a black panther springing from the ambush of
the night. Yet there were still words that must be spoken, lest they
live in his subconsciousness to torment him through all the long, black
night that was to receive him. He tried to steady himself, and lifted
an arm that vibrated like the sprung limb of a sapling, signing to the
"_Labertouche_," he said thickly ... "_Sophia ... out of India ... at
once ... life_ ..."
The girl's arms received him as he fell.
A LATER DAY
A man awoke from a long dream of night and fear, of passion, pain, and
death, and opened eyes whose vision seemed curiously clear, to realise
a new world, very unlike that in which the incoherent action of his
dream had moved--a world of light and lively air, as sweet and
wholesome as glistening white paint, sunshine, and an abundance of
pure, cool air could render it.
Because he had known these things in a former existence, he understood
that he lay in the lower berth of a first-cabin stateroom, aboard an
ocean steamship; a spacious, bright box of a room, through whose open
ports swayed brilliant shafts of temperate sunlight, together with
great gusts of the salt sweet breath of the open sea. Through them,
too, he could see patches of unclouded blue, athwart which now and
again gulls would sweep on flashing, motionless pinions.
The man lay still and at peace, watching, wondering idly, soothed by
the sense of being swung through space, only vaguely conscious of the
plunging pulsations of the ship's engines, hammering away indomitably
far in the hold beneath him. His thoughts busied themselves lightly
with a number of important questions, to whose answers the man realised
that he was singularly indifferent. Who was he? What had happened to
bring him back to life (for he was sure that he had died, a long time
ago)? How had he come to that stateroom? What could the name of the
vessel be? Where ... Deep thoughts were these and long; the man drowsed
over them, but presently was aroused by the sensation of being no
longer alone, of being watched.
His eyeballs seemed to move reluctantly in their sockets, and his head
felt very light and empty, although so heavy that he could not lift it
from the pillow. But he managed to shift his gaze from the window until
it rested upon a man's face--a gaunt, impassive brown face illuminated
by steady and thoughtful eyes, filled with that mystic, unshakable
spirit of fatalism that is the real Genius of the eastern peoples. The
head itself stood out with almost startling distinctness against the
background of pure white. It was swathed with an immaculate white
turban. The thin, stringy brown neck ran into a loose surtout of snowy
The sick man felt that he recognised this countenance--had known it,
rather, in some vague, half-remembered life before his latest death.
The name...? He felt his lips move and that they were thin and glazed.
Moistening them with his tongue he made another attempt to articulate.
A thin whisper passed them in two breaths: "Ram ... Nath ..."
Hearing this, the dark man started out of his abstraction, cast a
swift, pitiful glance at the sick man's face, and came to hold a
tumbler to his lips. The liquid, colourless, acrid, and pungent,
slipped into his mouth, and he had to swallow whether he would or no.
When the final drop disappeared, Ram Nath put down the glass, smiled,
laid a finger on his lips, and went on tiptoe from the stateroom.
After awhile the man without an identity fell asleep, calmly,
restfully, in absolute peace. When again he awakened it was with the
knowledge that he was David Amber, and that a woman sat beside him.
Her face was turned from him, and her brown eyes, clouded with dreams,
were staring steadfastly out through the open port; the flowing banners
of sunshine now and again touched her hair with quick fire--her
wonderfully spun hair, itself scarcely less radiant than the light that
illumined it. Against the blue-white background her gracious profile
showed womanly and sweet. There was rich colour in cheeks fresh from
the caress of the sea wind. She smiled in her musing, scarlet lips
His voice sounded in his own hearing very thin and brittle. The girl
turned her gaze upon him swiftly, the soft smile deepening, the
dream-light in her eyes burning brighter and more steady. She bent
forward, placing over his wasted hand a hand firm and warm, strong yet
gentle, its whiteness enhanced by the suggested tracery of blue veins
beneath the silken skin, and by the rosy tips of her slender, subtle
"David!" she said.
He sighed and remembered. His brows knitted, then smoothed themselves
out; for with memory came the realisation that, since he was there and
she by his side, God was surely in his Heaven, all well with the world!
"Five days, David."
"At sea, David, on a _Messageries_ boat for Marseilles. Dear ..."
He closed his eyes in beatific content: "David ... Dear ...!"
"Can you listen?"
"Yes ... sweetheart."
Her voice faltered; she flushed adorably. "You mustn't talk. But I'll
tell you.... They refused to let us go back to Kuttarpur; an escort
took us across the desert to Nok, you in a litter, I on horseback.
There we took train to Haidarabad and Karachi. Ram Nath came with us,
as bearer, it being necessary that he too should leave India. My father
and your man Doggott joined us at Karachi, where this steamer touched
the second day."
"You understand, now--?"
"He told me nothing. I haven't seen him since that morning, when, just
after you were wounded, we started for Nok. He posted off to Kuttarpur
to find my father.... No; it was you who told me--everything--in your
"And ... you forgive--?"
He smiled faintly. "That photograph?"
"I had it ready to return to you that morning, David."
"Knowing what it meant to me?"
"Knowing what it meant to _me_--what it meant to both of us, David."
"So you weren't offended, that night?"
"I loved you even then, David. I think I must have loved you from that
first day at Nokomis. Do you remember...?"
His eyes widened, perplexed, staring into her grave, dear eyes. "Then
why did you pretend--?"
With the low, caressing laugh of a happy child, the girl knelt by the
side of his berth, and laid her cheek against his own. "Oh, David, my
David! When do you expect to understand the heart of a woman, dear
heart of mine?"
THE FINAL INCARNATION
About five o'clock of an evening in April the Cunarder _Caronia_, four
hours out from Queenstown and buckling down to a night's hard work
against the northwesterly gale, shipped a sea. It was not much of a
sea--merely a playful slap of a wave that broke against the staunch
black side and glanced upward in a shower of spray, spattering
liberally a solitary passenger who had been showing enough interest in
the weather to remain on deck until that particular moment. Apparently
undisconcerted by the misadventure, he shook himself and laughed a
sober, contented laugh, found a handkerchief and mopped his face with
it, then, with a final approving survey of the lowering and belligerent
canopy of wind-cloud that overhung the tortured ocean, permitted
himself to be blown aft to the door of the first-cabin smoking-room.
Opening this by main strength, he entered. The gale saved him the
bother of closing it.
Removing his rain-coat and cap and depositing them on a convenient
chair, he glanced round the room and discovered that he shared it with
a single passenger, who was placidly exhausting the virtues of an
excellent cigarette. Upon this gentleman the newcomer bent a regard
steadfast and questioning, but after returning it casually the smoker
paid him no further attention. Dissatisfied, the other moved toward
him, and the deck slanted suddenly and obligingly the better to
accelerate his progress, so that he brought up with a lurch in the seat
next the smoker. The latter raised the eyebrows of surprise and hoped
that the gentleman had not hurt himself.
"I didn't, thank you, Mr. David Amber."
Mr. David Amber looked the gentleman over with heightened interest. He
saw a man of medium height, with a sturdy figure that bore without
apparent fatigue the years that go with slightly greyish hair. He was
quietly dressed and had intelligent eyes, but was altogether
unimpressive of manner, save for a certain vague air of reserve that
assorted quaintly with his present attitude.
"You've the advantage of me, sir," Amber summed up the result of his
"It's not the first time," asserted the other, with an argumentative
shake of his head. "No-o?" Light leaped in Amber's eyes. "Labertouche!"
"Surprised you, eh?" The Englishman grinned with pleasure, pumping
Amber's arm cordially. "I don't mind owning that I meant to."
"Well, considering that this is positively your first appearance as
yourself on the stage of my life, you don't deserve any credit for
being able to deceive me. When one gets accustomed to remembering you
only as a native--generally as a babu in dirty pink satin--...Do you
know, I made all sorts of enquiries after you, but they told me, in
response to my wires to Calcutta, that you'd dropped out of the world
entirely. I had begun to fear that those damned natives must have got
you, after all, and that I'd never see you again."
"I'd almost given up hope of ever seeing myself again," said
"But why didn't you--?"
"Business, dear boy, business.... I was needed for several days in the
neighbourhood of Kathiapur."
"It seems as though I'd waited several years for news of Kathiapur. The
"There are a good many things that happen in India that fail to get
into the newspapers, Amber. It wasn't thought necessary to advise the
world, including Russia, that half the native potentates in Hindustan
had been caught in the act of letting the Second Mutiny loose upon
India." A network of fine wrinkles appeared about his eyes as he smiled
enjoyment of what he seemed to consider a memorable joke.
"Go on," pleaded Amber.
"Kathiapur was a sort of mousetrap; the brutes came out by twos and
three, just as I said they would, for the better part of three days. It
was either surrender or starve with them, and after five-sixths of them
had elected not to starve we turned a couple of companies of Tommies
into the place, and I don't believe they left unturned a stone big
enough to hide a rabbit. One by one they routed 'em out and booted 'em
down to us. Meanwhile we had rushed enough troops to Kuttarpur to keep
their tails quiet."
"And Salig Singh--and Naraini?"
"Salig Singh, it turned out, was the chap that got bayoneted in the
tamarisks. Naraini managed somehow to steal away the next night, under
the noses of any number of sentries; beauty such as hers would bribe
her way out of hell, I think. What became of her I don't know, but I
can prophesy that she won't live long. She was rather too advanced in
her views, for India--some centuries ahead of her race. She and Salig
Singh had it all planned, you know; his was the master-mind, hers the
motive-power. They were to crown you, instead of Salig's son, the next
day--in the name of Har Dyal Rutton; and then you were to die suddenly
by virtue of hemp poison or some other contagious disease, and Salig
was to step into your shoes as Emperor of Hindustan, with Naraini as
his Empress.... She should have stayed home and been a suffragette."
"Better for her," said Amber. "Of course I've found out about her, from
Farrell. It seems that she was brought up in England, with Sophia, and
always given to believe she was his own daughter, but she was a wild
thing and hard to handle. One day she found out about her
parentage--how, it's not known, but Farrell suspects that the men who
were hounding Rutton got into communication with her. At all events,
she brooded over the thing, and when, five years or so ago, Mrs.
Farrell died and the Colonel sent for Sophia to join him in India,
Naraini--well, she rebelled. He refused to let her leave England, and
she finally took the bit in her teeth and ran away--vanished and was
never heard of again until Sophia recognised her in Kathiapur."
"I myself can fill in the gap," Labertouche volunteered. "She joined
some of Salig's underlings in Paris and went thence direct to
Khandawar, assuming the name of one of the old queens who had elected
opportunely to die.... Queer case--singular instance of reversion to
"A mighty distressing one to the old colonel; you know Rutton kept
religiously to his promise not to see the child after he'd given her
into Farrell's care. Farrell lost all track of him and was unable to
communicate with him, of course, when Naraini chose to strike out for
herself.... One thing has always puzzled me; the girl called me by her
father's name, pretending to recognise me as her husband; you can't
reconcile such conduct."
"You can, easily enough--beg pardon, my dear fellow. Neither she nor
Salig Singh was for an instant deceived. But Salig _had_ to deliver up
_a_ Har Dyal Rutton to the Council, so Naraini was set to seduce you.
Their plans only required that you should be madly infatuated with her
for a couple of days; after that ..." Labertouche turned down his thumb
significantly. "I fancy there must have been a family secret or
tradition, handed down from father to son in the Rutton line, that some
day one of the family would be called upon to raise the standard of the
Second Mutiny. That will explain why Har Dyal Rutton, a gentleman of
parts and cultivation, dared not live in India, and why--because he was
sworn to keep the secret--he laid stress on the condition that you were
not to mention his name."
"Still, he gave me permission to talk to Dhola Baksh."
"True; but it seems that Dhola Baksh had been his confidential
body-servant in Kuttarpur, during his too-brief reign. Rutton thought
he would be able to help you, and knew that he would be loyal to his
"Finally, what about that photograph?"
"You've Salig Singh to thank for its return, I fancy. I had nothing to
do with it. But they were bent on luring you to Naraini's bower, and
they figured that after receiving it you'd go anywhere to meet the man
who returned it. By the way, where's Ram Nath?"
"He's staying in England as body-servant to Colonel Farrell."
"He's well off, so; his sphere of usefulness in India was at an end.
So, in fact, was mine. That's why I'm here--on indefinite leave of
absence. One or two things grew out of the affair of the Gateway to
make me a person of interest to the natives, and when that happens in
India it's just as well for the interesting person to pack up and get
thence with all possible expedition. It's too bad; I was really doing
some good work there. Well...! When the East gets into a fellow's
blood, he's a hopeless, incurable case; I shall go back, I presume,
some day. If the big trouble comes in my lifetime--and I think it will;
come it will unquestionably, soon or late--I shan't be able to keep
away, you know." He glanced at his watch and rose. "Time to dress for
dinner," said he; and as they were moving to the door, he added: "What
ever became of that emerald ring, Amber?"
"The Eye?" Amber laughed. "Well--it was silly enough; but women are
superstitious, you know--Sophia dropped it overboard one day as we were
coming through the Mediterranean. She said she was afraid of it ... and
I don't know but I sympathise with her."
"I'm certain I do. And yet, in your case, it was the means of
introducing you, wasn't it?... But there! It's been on the tip of my
tongue a dozen times to ask, but other things got in the way.... How
_is_ Mrs. Amber?"
"You shall see for yourself," said Amber, "when we meet for dinner."
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