The Way of an Eagle
Ethel M. Dell
Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Bill Hershey and PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: Drawn by John Cassel.
"Where am I?" she gasped. "What--what
have you done with me?"]
The Way of an Eagle
By E.M. DELL
II.--A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER
III.--THE VICTIM OF TREACHERY
V.--THE DEVIL IN THE WILDERNESS
VI.--WHEN STRONG MEN FAIL
VII.--THE COMING OF AN ARMY
IX.--THE SCHOOL OF SORROW
X.--THE EAGLE SWOOPS
XI.--THE FIRST FLIGHT
XIII.--THE VOICE OF A FRIEND
XIV.--THE POISON OF ADDERS
XVII.--An Old Friend
XIX.--A Hero Worshipper
XX.--News from the East
XXI.--A Harbour of Refuge
XXII.--An Old Story
XXIII.--The Sleep Called Death
XXIV.--The Creed of a Fighter
XXV.--A Scented Letter
XXVI.--The Eternal Flame
XXVII.--The Eagle Caged
XXVIII.--The Lion's Skin
XXIX.--Old Friends Meet
XXX.--An Offer of Friendship
XXXI.--The Eagle Hovers
XXXII.--The Face in the Storm
XXXIII.--The Lifting of the Mask
XXXIV.--At the Gate of Death
XXXVI.--The Eagle Strikes
XXXVII. THE PENALTY FOR SENTIMENT
XXXVIII. THE WATCHER OF THE CLIFF
XXXIX. BY SINGLE COMBAT
XL. THE WOMAN'S CHOICE
XLI. THE EAGLE'S PREY
XLII. THE HARDEST FIGHT OF ALL
XLIV. LOVE'S PRISONER
XLV. THE VISION
XLVI. THE HEART OF A MAN
XLVII. IN THE NAME OF FRIENDSHIP
XLVIII. THE HEALING OF THE BREACH
XLIX. THE LOWERING OF THE FLAG
LI. THE BIRD OF PARADISE
LII. A WOMAN'S OFFERING
LIII. THE LAST SKIRMISH
LV. OMNIA VINCIT AMOR
LVI. THE EAGLE SOARS
"There be three things which are too wonderful
for me, yea, four which I know not:
The way of an eagle in the air;
the way of a serpent upon a rock;
the way of a ship in the midst of the sea;
and the way of a man with a maid."
Proverbs xxx, 18-19.
THE WAY OF AN EAGLE
The long clatter of an irregular volley of musketry rattled warningly
from the naked mountain ridges; over a great grey shoulder of rock
the sun sank in a splendid opal glow; from very near at hand came the
clatter of tin cups and the sound of a subdued British laugh. And in
the room of the Brigadier-General a man lifted his head from his hands
and stared upwards with unseeing, fixed eyes.
There was an impotent, crushed look about him as of one nearing the
end of his strength. The lips under the heavy grey moustache moved a
little as though they formed soundless words. He drew his breath once
or twice sharply through his teeth. Finally, with a curious groping
movement he reached out and struck a small hand-gong on the table in
front of him.
The door slid open instantly and an Indian soldier stood in the
opening. The Brigadier stared full at him for several seconds as if he
saw nothing, his lips still moving secretly, silently. Then suddenly,
with a stiff gesture, he spoke.
"Ask the major sahib and the two captain sahibs to come to me here."
The Indian saluted and vanished like a swift-moving shadow.
The Brigadier sank back into his chair, his head drooped forward, his
hands clenched. There was tragedy, hopeless and absolute, in every
line of him.
There came the careless clatter of spurred heels and loosely-slung
swords in the passage outside of the half-closed door, the sound of a
stumble, a short ejaculation, and again a smothered laugh.
"Confound you Grange! Why can't you keep your feet to yourself, you
ungainly Triton, and give us poor minnows a chance?"
The Brigadier sat upright with a jerk. It was growing rapidly dark.
"Come in, all of you," he said. "I have something to say. As well to
shut the door, Ratcliffe, though it is not a council of war."
"There being nothing left to discuss, sir," returned the voice that
had laughed. "It is just a simple case of sitting tight now till
Bassett comes round the corner."
The Brigadier glanced up at the speaker and caught the last glow of
the fading sunset reflected on his face. It was a clean-shaven face
that should have possessed a fair skin, but by reason of unfavourable
circumstances it was burnt to a deep yellow-brown. The features were
pinched and wrinkled--they might have belonged to a very old man; but
the eyes that smiled down into the Brigadier's were shrewd, bright,
monkey-like. They expressed a cheeriness almost grotesque. The two men
whom he had followed into the room stood silent among the shadows. The
gloom was such as could be felt.
Suddenly, in short, painful tones the Brigadier began to speak.
"Sit down," he said. "I have sent for you to ask one among you to
undertake for me a certain service which must be accomplished, but
which I--" he paused and again audibly caught his breath between his
teeth--"which I--am unable to execute for myself."
An instant's silence followed the halting speech. Then the young
officer who stood against the door stepped briskly forward.
"What's the job, sir? I'll wager my evening skilly I carry it
One of the men in the shadows moved, and spoke in a repressive tone.
"Shut up, Nick! This is no mess-room joke."
Nick made a sharp, half-contemptuous gesture. "A joke only ceases
to be a joke when there is no one left to laugh, sir," he said. "We
haven't come to that at present."
He stood in front of the Brigadier for a moment--an insignificant
figure but for the perpetual suggestion of simmering activity that
pervaded him; then stepped behind the commanding officer's chair, and
there took up his stand without further words.
The Brigadier paid no attention to him. His mind was fixed upon one
subject only. Moreover, no one ever took Nick Ratcliffe seriously. It
seemed a moral impossibility.
"It is quite plain to me," he said heavily at length, "that the time
has come to face the situation. I do not speak for the discouragement
of you brave fellows. I know that I can rely upon each one of you to
do your duty to the utmost. But we are bound to look at things as they
are, and so prepare for the inevitable. I for one am firmly convinced
that General Bassett cannot possibly reach us in time."
He paused, but no one spoke. The man behind him was leaning forward,
He went on with an effort. "We are a mere handful. We have dwindled
to four white men among a host of dark. Relief is not even within a
remote distance of us, and we are already bordering upon starvation.
We may hold out for three days more. And then"--his breath came
suddenly short, but he forced himself to continue--"I have to think of
my child. She will be in your hands. I know you will all defend her to
the last ounce of your strength; but which of you"--a terrible gasping
checked his utterance for many labouring seconds; he put his hand over
his eyes--"which of you," he whispered at last, his words barely
audible, "will have the strength to--shoot her before your own last
The question quivered through the quiet room as if wrung from the
twitching lips by sheer torture. It went out in silence--a dreadful,
lasting silence in which the souls of men, stripped naked of human
convention, stood confronting the first primaeval instinct of human
It continued through many terrible seconds--that silence, and through
it no one moved, no one seemed to breathe. It was as if a spell
had been cast upon the handful of Englishmen gathered there in the
The Brigadier sat bowed and motionless at the table, his head sunk in
Suddenly there was a quiet movement behind him, and the spell was
broken. Ratcliffe stepped deliberately forward and spoke.
"General," he said quietly, "if you will put your daughter in my care,
I swear to you, so help me God, that no harm of any sort shall touch
There was no hint of emotion in his voice, albeit the words were
strong; but it had a curious effect upon those who heard it. The
Brigadier raised his head sharply, and peered at him; and the other
two officers started as men suddenly stumbling at an unexpected
obstacle in a familiar road.
One of them, Major Marshall, spoke, briefly and irritably, with a
touch of contempt. His nerves were on edge in that atmosphere of
"You, Nick!" he said. "You are about the least reliable man in
the garrison. You can't be trusted to take even reasonable care of
yourself. Heaven only knows how it is you weren't killed long ago. It
was thanks to no discretion on your part. You don't know the meaning
of the word."
Nick did not answer, did not so much as seem to hear. He was standing
before the Brigadier. His eyes gleamed in his alert face--two weird
pin-points of light.
"She will be safe with me," he said, in a tone that held not the
smallest shade of uncertainty.
But the Brigadier did not speak. He still searched young Ratcliffe's
face as a man who views through field-glasses a region distant and
After a moment the officer who had remained silent throughout came
forward a step and spoke. He was a magnificent man with the physique
of a Hercules. He had remained on his feet, impassive but observant,
from the moment of his entrance. His voice had that soft quality
peculiar to some big men.
"I am ready to sell my life for Miss Roscoe's safety, sir," he said.
Nick Ratcliffe jerked his shoulders expressively, but said nothing. He
was waiting for the General to speak. As the latter rose slowly, with
evident effort, from his chair, he thrust out a hand, as if almost
instinctively offering help to one in sore need.
General Roscoe grasped it and spoke at last. He had regained his
self-command. "Let me understand you, Ratcliffe," he said. "You
suggest that I should place my daughter in your charge. But I must
know first how far you are prepared to go to ensure her safety."
He was answered instantly, with an unflinching promptitude he had
"I am prepared to go to the uttermost limit, sir," said Nicholas
Ratcliffe, his fingers closing like springs upon the hand that gripped
his, "if there is a limit. That is to say, I am ready to go through
hell for her. I am a straight shot, a cool shot, a dead shot. Will you
His voice throbbed with sudden feeling. General Roscoe was watching
him closely. "Can I trust you, Nick?" he said.
There was an instant's silence, and the two men in the background
were aware that something passed between them--a look or a rapid
sign--which they did not witness. Then reckless and debonair came
"I don't know, sir. But if I am untrustworthy, may I die to-night!"
General Roscoe laid his free hand upon the young man's shoulder.
"Is it so, Nick?" he said, and uttered a heavy sigh. "Well--so be it
then. I trust you."
"That settles it, sir," said Nick cheerily. "The job is mine."
He turned round with a certain arrogance of bearing, and walked to the
door. But there he stopped, looking back through the darkness at the
dim figures he had left.
"Perhaps you will tell Miss Roscoe that you have appointed me
deputy-governor," he said. "And tell her not to be frightened, sir.
Say I'm not such a bogey as I look, and that she will be perfectly
safe with me." His tone was half-serious, half-jocular. He wrenched
open the door not waiting for a reply.
"I must go back to the guns," he said, and the next moment was gone,
striding carelessly down the passage, and whistling a music-hall
ballad as he went.
A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER
In the centre of the little frontier fort there was a room which one
and all of its defenders regarded as sacred. It was an insignificant
chamber, narrow as a prison cell and almost as bare; but it was the
safest place in the fort. In it General Roscoe's daughter--the only
white woman in the garrison--had dwelt safely since the beginning of
that dreadful siege.
Strictly forbidden by her father to stir from her refuge without
his express permission, she had dragged out the long days in close
captivity, living in the midst of nerve-shattering tumult but taking
no part therein. She was little more than a child, and accustomed
to render implicit obedience to the father she idolised, or she had
scarcely been persuaded to submit to this rigorous seclusion. It would
perhaps have been better for her physically and even mentally to
have gone out and seen the horrors which were being daily enacted all
around her. She had at first pleaded for at least a limited freedom,
urging that she might take her part in caring for the wounded. But her
father had refused this request with such decision that she had never
repeated it. And so she had seen nothing while hearing much, lying
through many sleepless nights with nerves strung to a pitch of torture
far more terrible than any bodily exhaustion, and vivid imagination
ever at work upon pictures more ghastly than even the ghastly reality
which she was not allowed to see.
The strain was such as no human frame could have endured for long.
Her strength was beginning to break down under it. The long sleepless
nights were more than she could bear. And there came a time when
Muriel Roscoe, driven to extremity, sought relief in a remedy from
which in her normal senses she would have turned in disgust.
It helped her, but it left its mark upon her--a mark which her father
must have noted, had he not been almost wholly occupied with the
burden that weighed him down. Morning and evening he visited her, yet
failed to read that in her haunted eyes which could not have escaped a
Entering her room two hours after his interview with his officers
regarding her, he looked at her searchingly indeed, but without
understanding. She lay among cushions on a _charpoy_ of bamboo in
the light of a shaded lamp. Young and slight and angular, with a
pale little face of utter weariness, with great dark eyes that gazed
heavily out of the black shadows that ringed them round, such was
Muriel Roscoe. Her black hair was simply plaited and gathered up at
the neck. It lay in cloudy masses about her temples--wonderful hair,
quite lustreless, so abundant that it seemed almost too much for the
little head that bore it. She did not rise at her father's entrance.
She scarcely raised her eyes.
"So glad you've come, Daddy," she said, in a soft, low voice. "I've
been wanting you. It's nearly bedtime, isn't it?"
He went to her, treading lightly. His thoughts had been all of her for
the past few hours and in consequence he looked at her more critically
than usual. For the first time he was struck by her pallor, her look
of deathly weariness. On the table near her lay a plate of boiled rice
piled high in a snowy pyramid. He saw that it had not been touched.
"Why, child," he said, a sudden new anxiety at his heart "you have had
nothing to eat. You're not ill?"
She roused herself a little, and a very faint colour crept into her
white cheeks. "No, dear, only tired--too tired to be hungry," she told
him. "That rice is for you."
He sat down beside her with a sound that was almost a groan. "You must
eat something, child," he said. "Being penned up here takes away your
appetite. But all the same you must eat."
She sat up slowly, and pushed back the heavy hair from her forehead
with a sigh.
"Very well, Daddy," she said submissively. "But you must have some
too, dear. I couldn't possible eat it all."
Something in his attitude or expression seemed to strike her at this
point, and she made a determined effort to shake off her lethargy. A
spoon and fork lay by the plate. She handed him the former and kept
the latter for herself.
"We'll have a picnic, Daddy." she said, with a wistful little smile.
"I told _ayah_ always to bring two plates, but she has forgotten. We
don't mind, though, do we?"
It was childishly spoken, but the pathos of it went straight to the
man's heart. He tasted the rice under her watching eyes and pronounced
it very good; then waited for her to follow his example which she did
with a slight shudder.
"Delicious, Daddy, isn't it?" she said. And even he did not guess what
courage underlay the words.
They kept up the farce till the pyramid was somewhat reduced; then by
mutual consent they suffered their ardour to flag. There was a faint
colour in the girl's thin face as she leaned back again. Her eyes were
brighter, the lids drooped less.
"I had a dream last night, Daddy," she said, "such a curious dream,
and so vivid. I thought I was out on the mountains with some one. I
don't know who it was, but it was some one very nice. It seemed to be
very near the sunrise, for it was quite bright up above, though it was
almost dark where we stood. And, do you know--don't laugh, Daddy,
I know it was only a silly dream--when I looked up, I saw that
everywhere the mountains were full of horses and chariots of fire. I
felt so safe, Daddy, and so happy. I could have cried when I woke up."
She paused. It was rather difficult for her to make conversation for
the silent man who sat beside her so gloomy and preoccupied. Save that
she loved her father as she loved no one else on earth, she might have
felt awed in his presence.
As it was, receiving no response, she turned to look, and the next
instant was on her knees beside him, her thin young arms clinging to
"Daddy, darling, darling!" she whispered, and hid her face against him
in sudden, nameless terror.
He clasped her to him, holding her close, that she might not again see
his face and the look it wore. She began to tremble, and he tried to
soothe her with his hand, but for many seconds he could find no words.
"What is it, Daddy?" she whispered at last, unable to endure the
silence longer. "Won't you tell me? I can be very brave. You said so
"Yes," he said. "You will be a brave girl, I know." His voice quivered
and he paused to steady it. "Muriel," he said then, "I don't know if
you have ever thought of the end of all this. There will be an end,
you know. I have had to face it to-night."
She looked up at him quickly, but he was ready for her. He had
banished from his face the awful despair that he carried in his soul.
"When Sir Reginald Bassett comes--" she began uncertainly.
He put his hand on her shoulder. "You will try not to be afraid," he
said. "I am going to treat you, as I have treated my officers, with
absolute candour. We shall not hold out more than three days more. Sir
Reginald Bassett will not be here in time."
He stopped. Muriel uttered not a word. Her face was still upturned,
and her eyes had suddenly grown intensely bright, but he read no
shrinking in them.
With an effort he forced himself to go on. "I may not be able to
protect you when the end comes. I may not even be with you. But--there
is one man upon whom you can safely rely whatever happens, who will
give himself up to securing your safety alone. He has sworn to me that
you shall not be taken, and I know that he will keep his word. You
will be safe with him, Muriel. You may trust him as long as you live.
He will not fail you. Perhaps you can guess his name?"
He asked the question with a touch of curiosity in the midst of
his tragedy. That upturned, listening face had in it so little of a
woman's understanding, so much of the deep wonder of a child.
Her answer was prompt and confident, and albeit her very lips were
white, there was a faint hint of satisfaction in her voice as she made
"Captain Grange, of course, Daddy."
He started and looked at her narrowly. "No, no!" he said. "Not Grange!
What should make you think of him?"
He saw a look of swift disappointment, almost of consternation, darken
her eyes. For the first time her lips quivered uncertainly.
"Who then, Daddy? Not--not Mr. Ratcliffe?"
He bent his head. "Yes, Nick Ratcliffe. I have placed you in his
charge. He will take care of you."
"Young Nick Ratcliffe!" she said slowly. "Why, Daddy, he can't even
take care of himself yet. Every one says so. Besides,"--a curiously
womanly touch crept into her speech--"I don't like him. Only the other
day I heard him laugh at something that was terrible--something it
makes me sick to think of. Indeed, Daddy, I would far rather have
Captain Grange to take care of me. Don't you think he would if you
asked him? He is so much bigger and stronger, and--and kinder."
"Ah! I know," her father said. "He seems so to you. But it is nerve
that your protector will need, child; and Ratcliffe possesses more
nerve than all the rest of the garrison put together. No, it must be
Ratcliffe, Muriel. And remember to give him all your trust, all your
confidence. For whatever he does will be with my authority--with
His voice failed suddenly and he rose, turning sharply away from the
light. She clung to his arm silently, in a passion of tenderness,
though she was far from understanding the suffering those last words
revealed. She had never seen him thus moved before.
After a few seconds he turned back to her, and bending kissed her
piteous face. She clung closely to him with an agonised longing to
keep him with her; but he put her gently from him at last.
"Lie down again, dear," he said, "and get what rest you can. Try not
to be frightened at the noise. There is sure to be an assault, but the
fort will hold to-night."
He stood a moment, looking down at her. Then again he stooped and
kissed her. "Good-bye, my darling," he said huskily, "till we meet
And so hurriedly, as if not trusting himself to remain longer, he left
THE VICTIM OF TREACHERY
There came again the running rattle of rifle-firing from the valley
below the fort, and Muriel Roscoe, lying on her couch, pressed both
hands to her eyes and shivered. It seemed impossible that the end
could be so near. She felt as if she had existed for years in this
living nightmare of many horrors, had lain down and had slept with
that dreadful sound in her ears from the very beginning of things. The
life she had led before these ghastly happenings had become so vague a
memory that it almost seemed to belong to a previous existence, to an
earlier and a happier era. As in a dream she now recalled the vision
of her English school-life. It lay not a year behind her, but she felt
herself to have changed so fundamentally since those sunny, peaceful
days that she seemed to be a different person altogether. The Muriel
Roscoe of those days had been a merry, light-hearted personality. She
had revelled in games and all outdoor amusements. Moreover, she had
been quick to learn, and her lessons had never caused her any trouble.
A daring sprite she had been, with a most fertile imagination and a
longing for adventure that had never been fully satisfied, possessing
withal so tender and loving a heart that the very bees in the garden
had been among her cherished friends. She remembered all the sunny
ideals of that golden time and marvelled at herself, forgetting
utterly the eager, even passionate, craving that had then been hers
for the wider life, the broader knowledge, that lay beyond her reach,
forgetting the feverish impatience with which she had longed for
the day of her emancipation when she might join her father in the
wonderful glowing East which she so often pictured in her dreams. Of
her mother she had no memory. She had died at her birth. Her father
was all the world to her; and when at last he had travelled home on a
brief leave and taken her from her quiet English life to the strange,
swift existence of the land of his exile, her soul had overflowed with
Nevertheless, she had not been carried away by the gaieties of this
new world. The fascinations of dance and gymkhana had not caught her.
The joy of being with her father was too sacred and too precious to be
foregone for these lesser pleasures, and she very speedily decided to
sacrifice all social entertainments to which he could not accompany
her. She rode with him, camped with him, and became his inseparable
companion. Undeveloped in many ways, shy in the presence of strangers,
she soon forgot her earlier ambition to see the world and all that it
contained. Her father's society was to her all-sufficing, and it was
no sacrifice to her to withdraw herself from the gay crowd and dwell
apart with him.
He had no wish to monopolise her, but it was a relief to him that the
constant whirl of pleasure about her attracted her so little. He liked
to have her with him, and it soon became a matter of course that she
should accompany him on all his expeditions. She revelled in his tours
of inspection. They were so many picnics to her, and she enjoyed them
with the zest of a child.
And so it came to pass that she was with him among the hills of the
frontier when, like a pent flood suddenly escaping, the storm of
rebellion broke and seethed about them, threatening them with total
No serious trouble had been anticipated. A certain tract of country
had been reported unquiet, and General Roscoe had been ordered to
proceed thither on a tour of inspection and also, to a very mild
degree, of intimidation. Marching through the district from fort to
fort, he had encountered no shadow of opposition. All had gone well.
And then, his work over, and all he set out to do satisfactorily
accomplished, his face towards India and his back to the mountains,
the unexpected had come upon him like a thunderbolt.
Hordes of tribesmen, gathered Heaven knew how or whence, had suddenly
burst upon him from the south, had cut off his advance by sheer
immensity of numbers, and, hemming him in, had forced him gradually
back into the mountain fastnesses through which he had just passed
It was a stroke so wholly new, so subtly executed, that it had won
success almost before the General had realised the weight of the
disaster that had come upon him. He had believed himself at first to
be involved in a mere fray with border thieves. But before he reached
the fort upon which he found himself obliged to fall back, he knew
that he had to cope with a general rising of the tribes, and that the
means at his disposal were as inadequate to stem the rising flood of
rebellion as a pebble thrown into a mountain stream to check its flow.
The men under his command, with the exception of a few officers, were
all native soldiers, and he soon began to have a strong suspicion that
among these he numbered traitors. Nevertheless, he established himself
at the fort, determined there to make his stand till relief should
The telegraph wires were cut, and for a time it seemed that all
communication with the outside world was an impossibility. Several
runners were sent out, but failed to break through the besieging
forces. But at last after many desperate days there came a message
from without--a scrap of paper attached to a stone and flung over the
wall of the fort at night. News of the disaster had reached Peshawur,
and Sir Reginald Bassett, with a hastily collected force, was moving
to their assistance.
The news put heart into the garrison, and for a time it seemed that
the worst would be averted. But it became gradually evident to General
Roscoe that the relieving force could not reach them in time. The
water supply had run very low, and the men were already subsisting
upon rations that were scarcely sufficient for the maintenance of
life. There was sickness among them, and there were also many wounded.
The white men were reduced to four, including himself, the native
soldiers had begun to desert, and he had been forced at last to face
the fact that the end was very near.
All this had Muriel Roscoe come through, physically scathless,
mentally torn and battered, and she could not bring herself to realise
that the long-drawn-out misery of the siege could ever be over.
Lying there, tense and motionless, she listened to the shots and yells
in the distance with a shuddering sense that it was all a part of her
life, of her very being, even. The torture and the misery had so eaten
into her soul. Now and then she heard the quick thunder of one of the
small guns that armed the fort, and at the sound her pulses leaped
and quivered. She knew that the ammunition was running very low. These
guns did not often speak now.
Then, during a lull, there came to her the careless humming of a
British voice, the free, confident tread of British feet, approaching
She caught her breath as a hand rapped smartly upon the panel. She
knew who the visitor was, but she could not bring herself to bid him
enter. A sudden awful fear was upon her. She could neither speak nor
move. She lay, listening intently, hoping against hope that he would
believe her to be sleeping and go away.
The knock was not repeated. Dead silence reigned. And then quickly
and decidedly the door opened, and Nick Ratcliffe stood upon the
threshold. The light struck full upon his face as he halted--a clever,
whimsical face that might mask almost any quality good or bad.
"May I come in, Miss Roscoe?" he asked.
For she had not moved at his appearance. She lay as one dead. But as
he spoke she uncovered her face, and terror incarnate stared wildly at
him from her starting eyes. He entered without further ceremony,
and closed the door behind him. In the shaded lamplight his features
seemed to twitch as if he wanted to smile. So at least it seemed to
her wrought-up fancy.
He gazed greedily at the plate of rice on the table as he came
forward. "Great Jupiter!" he said. "What a sumptuous repast!"
The total freedom from all anxiety or restraint with which he made
this simple observation served to restore to some degree the girl's
tottering self-control. She sat up, sufficiently recovered to remember
that she did not like this man.
"Pray have some if you want it," she said coldly.
He turned his back on it abruptly. "No, don't tempt me," he said.
"It's a fast day for me. I'm acquiring virtue, being conspicuously
destitute of all other forms of comfort. Why don't you eat it
yourself? Are you acquiring virtue too?"
He stood looking down at her quizzically, under rapidly flickering
eyelids. She sat silent, wishing with all her heart that he would go
Nothing, however, was apparently further from his thoughts. After a
moment he sat down in the chair that her father had occupied an hour
before. It was very close to her, and she drew herself slightly
away with a small, instinctive movement of repugnance. But Nick was
sublimely impervious to hints.
"I say, you know," he said abruptly, "you shouldn't take opium. Your
donkey of an _ayah_ ought to know better than to let you have it."
Muriel gave a great start. "I don't"--she faltered. "I--I--"
He shook his head at her, as though reproving a child. "Pussy's out,"
he observed. "It is no good giving chase. But really, you know, you
mustn't do it. You used to be a brave girl once, and now your nerves
are all to pieces."
There was a species of paternal reproach in his tone. Looking at him,
she marvelled that she had ever thought him young and headlong. Almost
in spite of herself she began to murmur excuses.
"I can't help it. I must have something. I don't sleep. I lie for
hours, listening to the fighting. It--it's more than I can bear."
Her voice quivered, and she turned her face aside, unable to hide her
emotion, but furious with herself for displaying it.
Nick said nothing at all to comfort her, and she bitterly resented
his silence. After a pause he spoke again, as if he had banished the
matter entirely from his mind.
"Look here," he said. "I want you to tell me something. I don't know
what sort of a fellow you think I am, though I fancy you don't like
me much. But you're not afraid of me, are you? You know I'm to be
It was her single chance of revenge, and she took it. "I have my
father's word for it," she said.
He nodded thoughtfully as if unaware of the thrust. "Yes, your father
knows me. And so"--he smiled at her suddenly--"you are ready to trust
me on his recommendation? You are ready to follow me blindfold through
danger if I give you my hand to hold?"
She felt a sharp chill strike her heart. What was it he was asking of
her? What did those words of his portend?
"I don't know," she said. "I don't see that it makes much difference
how I feel."
"Well, it does," he assured her. "And that is exactly what I have
come to talk about. Miss Roscoe, will you leave the fort with me,
and escape in disguise? I have thought it all out, and it can be done
without much difficulty. I do not need to tell you that the idea has
your father's full approval."
They were her father's own words, but at sound of them she shrank
and shivered, in sheer horror at the coolness with which they were
uttered. He might have been asking her to stroll with him in the leafy
quiet of some English lane.
Could it be, she asked herself incredulously, could it be that her
father had ever sanctioned and approved so ghastly a risk for her? She
put her hand to her temples. Her brain was reeling. How could she do
this thing? How could she have permitted it to be even suggested to
her? And then, swift through her tortured mind flashed his words:
"There will be an end. I have had to face it to-night." Was it this
that he had meant? Was it for this that he had been preparing her?
With a muffled exclamation she rose, trembling in every limb. "I
can't!" she cried piteously, "oh, I can't! Please go away!"
It might have been the frightened prayer of a child, so beseeching
was it, so full of weakness. But Nick Ratcliffe heard it unmoved. He
waited a few seconds till she came to a stand by the table, her back
towards him. Then with a sudden quiet movement he rose and followed
"I beg your pardon," he said. "But you can't afford to shirk things
at this stage. I am offering you deliverance, though you don't realise
He spoke with force, and if his aim had been to rouse her to a more
practical activity, he gained his end. She turned upon him in swift
and desperate indignation. Her voice rang almost harsh.
"How can you call it deliverance? It is at best a choice of two
horrible evils. You know perfectly well that we could never get
through. You must be mad to suggest such a thing. We should be made
prisoners and massacred under the very guns of the fort."
"I beg your pardon," he said again, and his eyelids quivered a little
as if under the pressure of some controlled emotion. "We shall not be
made prisoners. I know what I am saying. It is deliverance that I am
offering you. Of course you can refuse, and I shall still do my
utmost to save you. But the chances are not equal. I hope you will not
The moderation of this speech calmed her somewhat. In her first wild
panic she had almost imagined that he could take her against her will.
She saw that she had been unreasonable, but she was too shaken to tell
him so. Moreover, there was still that about him, notwithstanding his
words, that made her afraid to yield a single inch of ground lest by
some hidden means he should sweep her altogether from her precarious
foothold. Even in the silence, she felt that he was doing battle with
her, and she did not dare to face him.
With a childish gesture of abandonment, she dropped into a chair and
laid her head upon her arms.
"Oh, please go away!" she besought him weakly. "I am so tired--so
But Ratcliffe did not move. He stood looking down at her, at the black
hair that clustered about her neck, at the bowed, despairing figure,
the piteous, clenched hands.
A little clock in the room began to strike in silvery tones, and he
glanced up. The next instant he bent and laid a bony hand upon her two
"Can't you decide?" he said. "Will you let me decide for you? Don't
let yourself get scared. You have kept so strong till now." Firmly
as he spoke, there was somehow a note of soothing in his voice, and
almost insensibly the girl was moved by it. She remained silent and
motionless, but the strong grip of his fingers comforted her subtly
"Come," he said, "listen a moment and let me tell you my plan of
campaign. It is very simple, and for that reason it is going to
succeed. You are listening now?"
His tone was vigorous and insistent. Muriel sat slowly up in response
to it. She looked down at the thin hand that grasped hers, and
wondered at its strength; but she lacked the spirit at that moment to
resent its touch.
He leaned down upon the table, his face close to hers, and began to
unfold his plan.
"We shall leave the fort directly the moon is down. I have a disguise
for you that will conceal your face and hair. And I shall fake as a
tribesman, so that my dearest friend would never recognise me. They
will be collecting the wounded in the dark, and I will carry you
through on my shoulder as if I had got a dead relation. You won't
object to playing a dead relation of mine?"
He broke into a sudden laugh, but sobered instantly when he saw her
shrink at the sound.
"That's about all the plan," he resumed. "There is nothing very
alarming about it, for they will never spot us in the dark. I'm as
yellow as a Chinaman already. We shall be miles away by morning. And I
know how to find my way afterwards."
He paused, but Muriel made no comment. She was staring straight before
"Can you suggest any amendments?" he asked.
She turned her head and looked at him with newly-roused aversion in
her eyes. She had summoned all her strength to the combat, realising
that now was the moment for resistance if she meant to resist.
"No, Mr. Ratcliffe," she said, with a species of desperate firmness
very different from his own. "I have nothing to suggest. If you wish
to escape, you must go alone. It is quite useless to try to persuade
me any further. Nothing--nothing will induce me to leave my father."
Whether or not he had expected this opposition was not apparent on
Nick's face. It betrayed neither impatience nor disappointment.
"There would be some reason in that," he gravely rejoined, "if you
could do any good to your father by remaining. Of course I see your
point, but it seems to me that it would be harder for him to see you
starve with the rest of the garrison than to know that you had escaped
with me. A woman in your position is bound to be a continual burden
and anxiety to those who protect her. The dearer she is to them, so
much the heavier is the burden. Miss Roscoe, you must see this. You
are not an utter child. You must realise that to leave your father
is about the greatest sacrifice you can make for him at the present
moment. He is worn out with anxiety on your behalf, literally bowed
down by it. For his sake, you are going to do this thing, it being the
only thing left that you can do for him."
There was more than persuasion in his voice. It held authority. But
Muriel heard it without awe. She had passed that stage. The matter
was too momentous to allow of weakness. She had strung herself to the
highest pitch of resistance as a hunted creature at bay. She threw
back her head, a look of obstinacy about her lips, her slight figure
straightened to the rigidity of defiance.
"I will not be forced," she said, in sharp, uneven tones. "Mr.
Ratcliffe, you may go on persuading and arguing till doomsday. I will
not leave my father."
Ratcliffe stood up abruptly. A curious glitter shone in his eyes, and
the light eyebrows twitched a little. She felt that he had suddenly
ceased to do battle with her, yet that the victory was not hers. And
for a second she was horribly frightened, as though an iron trap had
closed upon her and held her at his mercy.
He walked to the door without speaking and opened it. She expected
him to go, sat waiting breathlessly for his departure, but instead he
stood motionless, looking into the dark passage.
She wondered with nerves on edge what he was waiting for. Suddenly
she heard a step without, a few murmured words, and Nick stood on one
side. Her father's Sikh orderly passed him, carrying a tray on which
was a glass full of some dark liquid. He set it down on the table
before her with a deep salaam.
"The General Sahib wishes Missy Sahib to have a good night," he said.
"He cannot come to her himself, but he sends her this by his servant,
and he bids her drink it and sleep."
Muriel looked up at the man in surprise. Her father had never done
such a thing before, and the message astonished her not a little.
Then, remembering that he had shown some anxiety regarding her
appearance that evening, she fancied she began to understand. Yet
it was strange, it was utterly unlike him, to desire her to take an
opiate. She looked at the glass with hesitation.
"Give him my love, Purdu," she said finally to the waiting orderly.
"Tell him I will take it if I cannot sleep without."
The man bowed himself again and withdrew. To her disgust, however,
Nick remained. He was looking at her oddly.
"Miss Roscoe," he said abruptly, "I beg you, don't drink that
stuff. Your father must be mad to offer it to you. Let me take the
She faced him indignantly. "My father knows what is good for me better
than you do," she said.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't profess to be a sage. But any
one will tell you that it is madness to take opium in this reckless
fashion. For Heaven's sake, be reasonable. Don't take it."
He came back to the table, but at his approach she laid her hand upon
the glass. She was quivering with angry excitement.
"I will not endure your interference any longer," she declared, goaded
to headlong, nervous fury by his persistence. "My father's wishes are
enough for me. He desires me to take it, and so I will."
She took up the glass in a sudden frenzy of defiance. He had
frightened her--yes, he had frightened her--but he should see how
little he had gained by that. She took a taste of the liquid, then
paused, again assailed by a curious hesitancy. Had her father really
meant her to take it all?
Nick had stopped short at her first movement, but as she began to
lower the glass in response to that disquieting doubt, he swooped
suddenly forward like a man possessed.
For a fleeting instant she thought he was going to wrest it from her,
but in the next she understood--understood the man's deep treachery,
and with what devilish ingenuity he had worked upon her. Holding her
with an arm that felt like iron, he forced the glass back between her
teeth, and tilted the contents down her throat. She strove to resist
him, strove wildly, frantically, not to swallow the draught. But he
held her pitilessly. He compelled her, gripping her right hand with
the glass, and pinning the other to her side.
When it was over, when he had worked his will and the hateful draught
was swallowed, he set her free and turned himself sharply from her.
She sprang up trembling and hysterical. She could have slain him in
that instant had she possessed the means to her hand. But her strength
was more nearly exhausted than she knew. Her limbs doubled up under
her weight, and as she tottered, seeking for support, she realised
that she was vanquished utterly at last.
She saw him wheel quickly and start to support her, sought to evade
him, failed--and as she felt his arms lift her, she cried aloud in
What followed dwelt ever after in her memory as a hideous dream, vivid
yet not wholly tangible. He laid her down upon the couch and bent over
her, his hands upon her, holding her still; for every muscle, every
nerve twitched spasmodically, convulsively, in the instinctive effort
of the powerless body to be free. She had a confused impression also
that he spoke to her, but what he said she was never able to recall.
In the end, her horror faded, and she saw him as through a mist
bending above her, grim and tense and silent, controlling her as it
were from an immense distance. And even while she yet dimly wondered,
he passed like a shadow from her sight, and wonder itself ceased.
Half an hour later Nicholas Ratcliffe, the wit and clown of his
regiment, regarded by many as harebrained or wantonly reckless,
carried away from the beleaguered fort among the hostile mountains the
slight, impassive figure of an English girl.
The night was dark, populated by terrors alive and ghastly. But he
went through it as one unaware of its many dangers. Light-footed and
fearless, he passed through the midst of his enemies, marching with
the sublime audacity of the dominant race, despising caution--yea,
grinning triumphant in the very face of Death.
Out of a deep abyss of darkness in which she seemed to have wandered
ceaselessly and comfortlessly for many days, Muriel Roscoe came
haltingly back to the surface of things. She was very weak, so weak
that to open her eyes was an exertion requiring all her resolution,
and to keep them open during those first hours of returning life a
physical impossibility. She knew that she was not alone, for gentle
hands ministered to her, and she was constantly aware of some one who
watched her tirelessly, with never-failing attention. But she felt
not the smallest interest regarding this faithful companion, being
too weary to care whether she lived or fell away for ever down those
unending steeps up which some unseen influence seemed magnetically to
It was a stage of returning consciousness that seemed to last even
longer than the period of her wandering, but this also began to pass
at length. The light grew stronger all about her, the mists rolled
slowly away from her clogged brain, leaving only a drowsing languor
that was infinitely restful to her tired senses.
And then while she lay half-dreaming and wholly content, a remorseless
hand began to bathe her face and head with ice-cold water. She awoke
reluctantly, even resentfully.
"Don't!" she entreated like a child. "I am so tired. Let me sleep."
"My poor dear, I know all about it," a motherly voice made answer.
"But it's time for you to wake."
She did not grasp the words--only, very vaguely, their meaning; and
this she made a determined, but quite fruitless, effort to defy. In
the end, being roused in spite of herself, she opened her eyes and
And all his life long Nick Ratcliffe remembered the reproach that
those eyes held for him. It was as if he had laid violent hands upon a
spirit that yearned towards freedom, and had dragged it back into the
sordid captivity from which it had so nearly escaped.
But it was only for a moment that she looked at him so. The reproach
faded swiftly from the dark eyes and he saw a startled horror dawn
Suddenly she raised herself with a faint cry. "Where am I?" she
gasped. "What--what have you done with me?"
She stared around her wildly, with unreasoning, nightmare terror. She
was lying on a bed of fern in a narrow, dark ravine. The place was
full of shadow, though far overhead she saw the light of day. At one
end, only a few yards from her, a stream rushed and gurgled among
great boulders, and its insistent murmur filled the air. Behind her
rose a great wall of grey rock, clothed here and there with some dark
growth. Its rugged face was dented with hollows that looked like the
homes of wild animals. There was a constant trickle of water on all
sides, an eerie whispering, remote but incessant. As she sat there in
growing panic, a great bat-like creature, immense and shadowy, swooped
soundlessly by her.
She shrank back with another cry, and found Nick Ratcliffe's arm
thrust protectingly about her.
"It's all right," he said, in a matter-of-fact tone. "You're not
frightened at flying-foxes, are you?"
Recalled to the fact of his presence, she turned sharply, and flung
his arm away as though it had been a snake. "Don't touch me!" she
gasped, passionate loathing in voice and gesture.
"Sorry," said Nick imperturbably. "I meant well."
He began to busy himself with a small bundle that lay upon the ground,
whistling softly between his teeth, and for a few seconds Muriel sat
and watched him. He was dressed in a flowing native garment, that
covered him from head to foot. Out of the heavy enveloping folds his
smooth, yellow face looked forth, sinister and terrible to her fevered
vision. He looked like some evil bird, she thought to herself.
Glancing down, she saw that she was likewise attired, save that
her head was bare. The hair hung wet on her forehead, and the water
dripped down her face. She put up her hand half-mechanically to wipe
the drops away. Her fear was mounting rapidly higher.
She knew now what had happened. He had drugged her forcibly--she
shivered at the remembrance--and had borne her away to this dreadful
place during her unconsciousness. Her father was left behind in the
fort. He had sanctioned her removal. He had given her, a helpless
captive, into this man's keeping.
But no! Her whole soul rose up in sudden fierce denial of this. He
had never done this thing. He had never given his consent to an act so
cowardly and so brutal. He was incapable of parting with her thus. He
could never have permitted so base a trick, so cruel, so outrageous, a
deed of treachery.
Strength came suddenly to her--the strength of frenzy. She leaped to
her feet. She would escape. She would go back to him through all
the hordes of the enemy. She would face anything--anything in the
world--rather than remain at the mercy of this man.
But--he had not been looking at her, and he did not look at her,--his
arm shot out as she moved, and his hand fastened claw-like upon her
"Sorry," he said again, in the same practical tone. "But you'll have
something to eat before you go."
She stooped and strove wildly, frantically, to shake off the detaining
hand. But it held her like a vice, with awful skeleton fingers that
she could not, dared not, touch.
"Let me go!" she cried impotently. "How dare you? How dare you?"
Still he did not raise his head. He was on his knees, and he would not
even trouble himself to rise.
"I can't help myself," he told her coolly. "It's not my fault. It's
She made a final, violent effort to wrest herself free. And then--it
was as if all power were suddenly taken from her--her strained nerves
gave way completely, and she dropped down upon the ground again in a
quivering agony of helplessness.
Nick's hand fell away from her. "You shouldn't," he said gently. "It's
no good, you know."
He returned to his former occupation while she sat with her face
hidden, in a stupor of fear, afraid to move lest he should touch her
"Now," said Nick, after a brief pause, "let me have the pleasure of
seeing you break your fast. There is some of that excellent boiled
rice of yours here. You will feel better when you have had some."
She trembled at the sound of his voice. Could he make her eat also
against her will, she wondered?
"Come!" said Nick again, in a tone of soft wheedling that he might
have employed to a fractious child. "It'll do you good, you know,
Muriel. Won't you try? Just a mouthful--to please me!"
Reluctantly she uncovered her face, and looked at him. He was kneeling
in front of her, the _chuddah_ pushed back from his face, humbly
offering her an oatmeal biscuit with a small heap of rice piled upon
She drew back shuddering. "I couldn't eat anything--possibly," she
said, and even her voice seemed to shrink. "You can. You take it. I
would rather die."
Nick did not withdraw his hand. "Take it, Muriel," he said quietly.
"It is going to do you good."
She flashed him a desperate glance in which anger, fear, abhorrence,
were strongly mingled. He advanced the biscuit a little nearer. There
was a queer look on his yellow face, almost a bullying look.
"Take it," he said again.
And against her will, almost without conscious movement, she obeyed
him. The untempting morsel passed from his hand to hers, and under the
compulsion of his insistence she began to eat.
She felt as if every mouthful would choke her, but she persevered,
urged by the dread certainty that he would somehow have his way.
Not until the last fragment was gone did she feel his vigilance relax,
but he ate nothing himself though there remained several biscuits and
a very little of the rice.
"You are feeling better?" he asked her then.
A curious suspicion that he was waiting to tell her something made
her answer almost feverishly in the affirmative. It amounted to a
premonition of evil tidings, and instinctively her thoughts flew to
"What is it?" she questioned nervously. "You have something to say."
Nick's face was turned from her. He seemed to be gazing across the
"Yes," he said, after a moment.
"Oh, what?" she broke in. "Tell me quickly--quickly! It is my father,
I know, I know. He has been hurt--wounded--"
She stopped. Nick had lifted one hand as if to silence her. "My dear,"
he said, his voice very low, "your father died last night--before we
left the fort."
At her cry of agony he started up, and in a second he was on his
knees by her side and had gathered her to him as though she had been
a little child in need of comfort. She did not shrink from him in her
extremity. The blow had been too sudden, too overwhelming. It blotted
out all lesser sensibilities. In those first terrible moments she
did not think of Nick at all, was scarcely conscious of his presence,
though she vaguely felt the comfort of his arms.
And he, holding her fast against his breast, found no consolation, no
word of any sort wherewith to soothe her. He only rocked her gently,
pressing her head to his shoulder, while his face, bent above her,
quivered all over as the face of a man in torture.
Muriel spoke at last, breaking her stricken silence with a strangely
effortless composure. "Tell me more," she said.
She stirred in his arms as if to free herself from some oppression,
and finally drew herself away from him, though not as if she wished to
escape his touch. She still seemed to be hardly aware of him. He was
the medium of her information, that was all. Nick dropped back into
his former attitude, his hands clasped firmly round his knees, his
eyes, keen as a bird's and extremely bright, gazing across the ravine.
His lips still quivered a little, but his voice was perfectly even and
"It happened very soon after the firing began. It must have been
directly after he left you. He was hit in the breast, just over the
heart. We couldn't do anything for him. He knew himself that it was
mortal. In fact, I think he had almost expected it. We took him into
the guardroom and made him as easy as possible. He lost consciousness
before he died. He was lying unconscious when I came to you."
Muriel made a sharp movement. "And you never told me," she said, in a
"I thought it best," he answered with great gentleness. "You could not
have gone to him. He didn't wish it."
"Why not?" she demanded, and suddenly her voice rang harsh again. "Why
could I not have gone to him? Why didn't he wish it?"
Nick hesitated for a single instant. Then, "It was for your own sake,"
he said, not looking at her.
"You mean he suffered?"
"While he remained conscious--yes." Nick spoke reluctantly. "It didn't
last long," he said.
She scarcely seemed to hear him. "And so you tricked me," she said;
"you tricked me while my father was lying dying. I was not to see
him--either then or after--for my own sake! And do you think"--her
voice rising--"do you think that you were in any way justified in
treating me so? Do you think it was merciful to blind me and to take
from me all I should ever have of comfort to look back upon? Do you
think I couldn't have borne it all ten thousand times easier if I
could have seen and known the very worst? It was my right--it was
my right! How dared you take it from me? I will never forgive
She was on her feet as the passionate protest burst from her, but she
swayed as she stood and flung out her arms with a groping gesture.
"I could have borne it," she cried again wildly, piteously. "I could
have borne anything--anything--if I had only known!"
She broke into a sudden, terrible sobbing, and threw herself
down headlong upon the earth, clutching at the moss with shaking,
convulsive fingers, and crying between her sobs for "Daddy! Daddy!" as
though her agony could pierce the dividing barrier and bring him
back to her. Nick made no further attempt to help her. He sat gazing
stonily out before him in a sphinx-like stillness that never varied
while the storm of her anguish spent itself at his side.
Even after her sobs had ceased from sheer exhaustion he made no
movement, no sign that he was so much as thinking of her.
Only when at last she raised herself with difficulty, and put the
heavy hair back from her disfigured face, did he turn slightly and
hold out to her a small tin cup.
"It's only water," he said gently. "Have some."
She took it almost mechanically and drank, then lay back with closed
eyes and burning head, sick and blinded by her paroxysm of weeping.
A little later she felt his hands moving about her again, but she was
too spent to open her eyes. He bathed her face with a care equal to
any woman's, smoothed back her hair, and improvised a pillow for her
And afterwards she knew that he sat down by her, out of sight but
close at hand, a silent presence watching over her, till at last, worn
out with grief and the bitter strain of the past weeks, she sank into
natural, dreamless slumber, and slept for hours.
THE DEVIL IN THE WILDERNESS
It was dark when Muriel awoke--so dark that she lay for a while
dreamily fancying herself in bed. But this illusion passed very
quickly as her brain, refreshed and active, resumed its work. The cry
of a jackal at no great distance roused her to full consciousness, and
she started up in the chill darkness, trembling and afraid.
Instantly a warm hand grasped hers, and a low voice spoke. "It's all
right," said Nick. "I'm here."
"Oh, isn't it dark?" she said. "Isn't it dark?"
"Don't be frightened," he answered gently. "Come close to me. You are
She crept to him shivering, thankful for the shielding arm he threw
"The sunrise can't be far off," he said. "I expect you are hungry,
She was very hungry, and he put a biscuit into her hand. The very fact
of eating there in the darkness in some measure reassured her. She ate
several biscuits, and began to feel much better.
"Getting warmer?" questioned Nick. "Let me feel your hands." They were
still cold, and he took them and thrust them down against his breast.
She shrank a little at the touch of his warm flesh.
"It will make you so cold," she murmured.
But he only laughed at her softly, and pressed them closer. "I am not
easily chilled," he said. "Besides, it's sleeping that makes you cold.
And I haven't slept."
Muriel heard the news with astonishment. She was no longer angry with
Nick, and her fears of him were dormant. Though she would never forget
and might never forgive his treachery, he was her sole protector in
that wilderness of many terrors, and she lacked the resolution to keep
him at arm's length. There was, moreover, something comforting in his
presence, something that vastly reassured her, making her lean upon
him almost in spite of herself.
"Haven't you slept at all?" she asked him in wonder. "How in the world
did you keep awake?"
He did not answer her, only laughed again as though at some secret
joke. He seemed to be in rather good spirits, she noticed, and she
marvelled at him with a heavy pain at her heart that was utterly
beyond expression or relief.
She sat silent for a little, then at length withdrew her hands,
assuring him that they were quite warm.
"And I want to talk to you," she added, in a more practical tone than
she had previously managed to assume. "Mr. Ratcliffe, you may be in
command of this expedition, but I think you ought to tell me your
"Call me Nick, won't you?" he said. "It'll make things easier. You are
quite welcome to know my plans, such as they are. I haven't managed
to develop anything very ingenious during all these hours. You see we
are, to a certain extent, at the mercy of circumstances. This place
isn't more than a dozen miles from the fort, and the hills all round
are infested with tribesmen. I hoped at first that we should get clear
in the night, but you were asleep, and on the whole it seemed best to
lie up for another day. We might make a bolt for it to-morrow night if
all goes well. I have a sort of instinct for these mountains. There is
always plenty of cover for those who know how to find it. It will be
slow progress, of course, but we will keep moving south, and, given
luck, we may fall in with Bassett's relief column before many days."
So with much serenity he disclosed his plans, and Muriel marvelled
afresh at the confidence that buoyed him up. Was he really as
sublimely free from anxiety as he wished her to believe, she wondered?
It was difficult to think otherwise, even though he had admitted that
they were governed by circumstance. She began to think that there was
magic in him, some hidden reserve force upon which he could always
draw when all other resources failed.
Another matter had also caught her attention, and this she presently
decided to investigate. She had never thought of Nick Ratcliffe as in
any sense a remarkable person before.
"Did you actually carry me ten miles?" she asked.
"Something very near it," said Nick.
"How in the world did you do it?" Her interest was quickened.
Undoubtedly there was something uncanny in this man's strength.
"You're not very heavy, you know," he said.
His arm was still around her, and she suffered it; for the darkness
still frightened her when she allowed herself to think.
"Have you had anything to eat?" she asked him next.
"Not quite lately," said Nick. "I've been smoking. I wonder you didn't
His tone was somehow repressive, but she ignored it with a growing
temerity. After all, he did not seem such an alarming person on a
"Does smoking do as well as eating?" she asked.
"Much better," said Nick promptly. "Care to try?"
She shook her head in the darkness. "I don't think you are telling the
truth," she said.
"What?" said Nick.
He spoke carelessly, but she did not repeat her assertion. A sudden
shyness descended upon her, and she became silent. Nick was quiet too,
and she wondered what was passing in his mind. But for the tenseness
of the arm that encircled her, she could have believed him to be
dozing. The silence was becoming oppressive when abruptly he broke it.
"See!" he said. "Here comes the dawn!"
She started and stared in front of her, seeing nothing.
"Over to your left," said Nick. And turning she beheld a lightening of
the darkness high above them.
She breathed a sigh of thankfulness, and watched it grow. It spread
rapidly. The walls of the ravine showed ghostly grey, then faintly
pink. Through the dimness the boulders scattered about the stream
stood up like mediaeval monsters, and for a few panic-stricken seconds
Muriel took the twining roots of a rhododendron close at hand for the
coils of a gigantic snake. Then as the ordinary light of day filtered
down into the gloomy place she sighed again with relief, and looked at
He was sitting with his chin on his hand, gazing across the ravine. He
did not stir or glance in her direction. His yellow face was seamed in
a thousand wrinkles.
A vague misgiving assailed her as she looked at him. There was
something unnatural in his stillness.
"Nick!" she said at length with hesitation.
He turned sharply, and in an instant the ready grin leaped out upon
his face. "Good morning," he said lightly. "I was just thinking how
nice it would be to go down there and have a wash. We've got to pass
the time somehow, you know. Will you go first?"
His gaiety baffled her, but she did not feel wholly reassured. She got
up slowly, and as she did so, her attention was caught by something
that sent a thrill of dismay through her.
"Don't look at my feet, please," said Nick. "They won't bear
inspection at present."
She turned horrified eyes to his face, as he thrust them down into a
bunch of fern. "How dreadful!" she exclaimed. "They are all cut and
gashed. I didn't know you were barefooted."
"I wasn't," said Nick. "I've got some sandals here. Don't look like
that! You make me want to cry. I assure you it doesn't hurt in the
He grinned again as he uttered this cheerful lie, but Muriel was not
"You must let me bind them up," she said.
"Not for the world," laughed Nick. "I couldn't walk with my feet
in poultice-bags, and we shall have some more rough marching to do
to-night. Now don't you worry. Run along like a good girl. I'm going
to say my prayers."
It was flippantly spoken, but Muriel realised that it would be better
to obey. She turned about slowly, and began to make her way down to
The sunlight was beginning to slant through the ravine, and here and
there the racing water gleamed silvery. It was intensely refreshing to
kneel and bathe face and hands in its icy coldness. She lingered long
over it. Its sparkling purity seemed to reach and still the throbbing
misery at her heart. In some fashion it brought her peace.
She would have prayed, but she felt she had no prayer to offer. She
had no favour to ask for herself, and her world was quite empty now.
She had no one in her heart for whom to pray.
Yet for awhile she knelt dumb among the lifeless stones, her face
hidden, her thoughts with the father whose loss she had scarcely
begun to realise. It might be that God would understand and pity her
silence, she thought drearily to herself.
The rush of the water drowned all sound but its own, and the memory
of Nick, waiting above, faded from her consciousness like a dream. Her
brain felt numb and heavy still. She did not want to think. She leaned
her head against a rock, closing her eyes. The continuous babble of
the stream was like a lullaby.
Under its soothing influence she might have slept, a blessed
drowsiness was stealing over her, when suddenly there flashed through
her being a swift warning of approaching danger. Whence it came she
knew not, but its urgency was such that instinctively she started up
and looked about her.
The next instant, with a sound half-gasp, half-cry, she was on
her feet, and shrinking back against her sheltering boulder in the
paralysis of a great horror. There, within a few yards of her and
drawing nearer, ever nearer, with a beast-like stealth, was a tall,
black-bearded tribesman. Transfixed by terror, she stood and gazed
at him, waiting dumbly, cold from head to foot, feeling as though her
very heart had turned to stone.
Nearer he came, and yet nearer, soundlessly over the stones. His eyes,
gleaming, devilish, were to her as the eyes of a devouring monster.
In her agony she tried to shriek aloud, but her voice was gone, her
throat seemed locked. She was powerless.
Close to her, for a single instant he paused; then, as in a lightning
flash, she saw the narrow, sinewy hand and snake-like arm dart forward
to seize her, felt every muscle in her body stiffen to rigidity in
anticipation of its touch, and shrank--shrank in every nerve though
she made no outward sign of shrinking.
But on the instant, with a panther-like spring, sure, noiseless,
deadly, another figure leapt suddenly across her vision. There
followed a violent struggle in front of her, a confused swaying to and
fro, a cry choked instantly and terribly, the tinkling sound of steel
falling upon stone. And then both figures were on the ground almost
at her feet, locked together in mortal combat, fighting, fighting
like demons in a silence that throbbed with the tumult of unrestrained
Later she never could remember how long it took her to realise that
the second apparition was Nick, or if she had known it from the first.
She felt herself hovering upon the brink of a great emptiness, a void
immense, and yet all her senses were alive and tingling with horror.
With agonised perception of what was passing, she yet felt numbed: as
though her body were dead, but still contained a vital, tortured soul.
And it was thus that she presently saw Nick's face bent above the
black-bearded face of his enemy; and remembered suddenly and horribly
a picture she had once seen of the devil in the wilderness.
With his knees he was gripping the writhing body of his fallen foe.
With his hands--it came upon her as she watched with a shock of
anguished comprehension--he was deliberately and with deadly intention
choking out the man's life.
"Curse you! Die!" she heard him say and his voice sounded like the
snarl of a wild beast. His upper lip was drawn back, the lower one was
between his teeth, and from it the blood dripped continuously upon his
hands and upon the dark throat he gripped.
"Give me that knife!" he suddenly said, with an upward jerk of the
A dagger was lying almost within his reach, close to her foot. She
could have kicked it towards him had not her body been fast bound in
that deathly inertia. But her whole soul rose up in wild revolt at
the order. She tried to cry out, to implore him to have mercy, but
she could not make a sound. She could only stand in frozen horror, and
witness this awful thing.
She saw Nick shift his grip to one hand and reach out with the other
for the weapon. He grasped it and recovered himself. A great darkness
was descending upon her, but it did not come at once. It hovered
before her eyes, and seemed to pass, and again she saw the horror
at her feet; saw Nick, bent to destroy like an eagle above his prey,
merciless, full of strength, terrible; saw the man beneath him,
writhing, convulsed, tortured; saw his upturned face, and starting
eyes; saw the sudden downward swoop of Nick's right hand, the flash of
the descending steel.
In her agony she burst the spell that bound her, and shrieking turned
to flee from that awful sight.
But even as she moved, the darkness came suddenly back upon her,
enveloping her, overwhelming her--a darkness that could be felt. For
a little she fought against it frantically, impotently. Then her feet
seemed to totter over the edge of a dreadful, formless silence. She
knew that she fell.
WHEN STRONG MEN FAIL
"Wake up!" said Nick softly. "Wake up! Don't be afraid."
But Muriel turned her face from the light with a moan. Memory winged
with horror was sweeping back upon her, and she wanted never to wake
"Wake up!" Nick said again, and this time there was insistence in his
voice. "Open your eyes, Muriel. There is nothing to frighten you."
Shuddering, she obeyed him. She was lying once more upon her couch of
ferns, and he was stooping over her, looking closely into her face.
His eyes were extraordinarily bright, like the eyes of an eagle, but
the lids flickered so rapidly that he seemed to be looking through her
rather than at her. There was a wound upon his lower lip, and at the
sight she shuddered again, closing her eyes. She remembered that the
last time she had looked upon that face, it had been the face of a
"Oh, go away! Go away!" she wailed. "Let me die!"
"I will go away," he answered swiftly, "if you will promise to drink
what is in this cup."
He pressed it against her hand, and she took it almost mechanically.
"It is only brandy and water," he said. "You will drink it?"
"If I must," she answered weakly.
"You must," he rejoined, and she heard him rise and move away. She
strained her ears to listen, but she very soon ceased to hear him; and
then raising herself cautiously, she drank. A warm thrill of life ran
through her veins with the draught, steadying her, refreshing her. But
it was long before she could bring herself to look round.
The miniature roar of the stream was the only sound to be heard, and
when at length she glanced downwards there was no sign anywhere of
the ghastly spectacle she had just witnessed. She saw the rock behind
which she had knelt, and again a violent fit of shuddering assailed
her. What did that rock conceal?
Nevertheless she presently took courage to rise, looking about her
furtively, half afraid that Nick might pop up at any moment to detain
her. For she felt that she could not stay longer in that place,
whatever he might say or do. The one idea that possessed her was to
get away from him, to escape from his horrible presence, whither she
neither knew nor cared. If he appeared to stop her then, she thought
that she would go raving mad.
But she saw nothing of him as she stood there, and with deep relief
she began to creep away. Half a dozen yards she covered, and then
stood suddenly still with her heart in her throat. There, immediately
in front of her, flung prone upon the ground with his face on his
arms, was Nick. He did not move at her coming, did not seem to hear.
And the thought came to her to avoid him by a circuit, and yet escape.
But something--a queer, indefinable something--made her pause. Why was
he lying there? Had he been hurt in that awful struggle? Was he--was
he unconscious? Was he--dead?
She fought back the impulse to fly, not for its unworthiness, but
because she felt that she must know.
Trembling, she moved a little nearer to the prostrate, motionless
"Nick!" she whispered under her breath.
He made no sign.
Her doubt turned to sudden, overmastering fear that pricked her
forward in spite of herself.
"Nick!" she said again, and finding herself close to him she bent and
very slightly touched his shoulder.
He moved then, and she almost gasped with relief. He turned his head
sharply without raising himself, and she saw the grim lines of his
lean cheek and jaw.
"That you, Muriel?" he said, speaking haltingly, spasmodically. "I'm
awfully sorry. Fact is--I'm not well. I shall be--better--directly. Go
back, won't you?"
He broke off, and lay silent, his hands clenched as if he were in
Muriel stood looking down at him in consternation. It was her chance
to escape--a chance that might never occur again--but she had no
further thought of taking it.
"What is it?" she asked him timidly, "Can I--do anything?"
And then she suddenly saw what was the matter. It burst upon her--a
startling revelation. Possibly the sight of those skeleton fists
helped her to enlightenment. She turned swiftly and sped back to their
In thirty seconds or less, she was back again and stooping over him
with a piece of brown bread in her hand.
"Eat this," she ordered, in a tone of authority.
Nick's face was hidden again. He seemed to be fighting with himself.
His voice came at length, muffled and indistinct.
"No, no! Take it away! I'll have a drain of brandy. And I've got some
Muriel stooped lower. She caught the words though they were scarcely
audible. She laid her hand upon his arm, stronger in the moment's
emergency than she had been since leaving the fort.
"You are to eat it," she said very decidedly. "You shall eat it. Do
you hear, Nick? I know what is the matter with you. You are starving.
I ought to have seen it before."
Nick uttered a shaky laugh, and dragged himself up on to his elbows.
"I'm not starving," he declared. "Take it away, Muriel. Do you think
I'm going to eat your luncheon, tea, and dinner, and to-morrow's
breakfast as well?"
"You are going to eat this," she answered.
He flashed her a glance of keen curiosity. "Am I?" he said.
"You must," she said, speaking with an odd vehemence which later
surprised herself. "Why should you go out of your way to tell me a
lie? Do you think I can't see?"
Nick raised himself slowly. Something in the situation seemed to have
deprived him of his usual readiness. But he would not take the bread,
would not even look at it.
"I'm better now," he said. "We'll go back."
Muriel stood for a second irresolute, then sharply turned her back.
Nick sat and watched her in silence. Suddenly she wheeled. "There!"
she said. "I've divided it. You will eat this at least. It's absurd of
you to starve yourself. You might as well have stayed in the fort to
This was unanswerable. Nick took the bread without further protest.
He began to eat, marvelling at his own docility; and suddenly he knew
that he was ravenous.
There was very little left when at length he looked up.
"Show me what you have saved for yourself," he said.
But Muriel backed away with a short, hysterical laugh.
He started to his feet and took her rudely by the shoulder. "Do
you mean to say--" he began, almost with violence; and then checked
himself, peering at her with fierce, uncertain eyes.
She drew away from him, all her fears returning upon her in a flood;
but at her movement he set her free and turned his back.
"Heaven knows what you did it for," he said, seeming to control his
voice with some difficulty. "It wasn't for your own sake, and I won't
presume to think it was for mine. But when the time comes for handing
round rewards, may it be remembered that your offering was something
more substantial than a cup of cold water."
He broke off with a queer sound in the throat, and began to move away.
But Muriel followed him, an unaccountable sense of responsibility
overcoming her reluctance.
"Nick!" she said.
He stood still without turning. She had a feeling that he was putting
strong restraint upon himself. With an effort she forced herself to
"You want sleep, I know. Will you--will you lie down while I watch?"
He shook his head without looking at her.
"But I wish it," she persisted. "I can wake you if--anything happens."
"You wouldn't dare," said Nick.
"I suppose that means you are afraid to trust me," she said.
He turned at that. "It means nothing of the sort. But you've had one
scare, and you may have another. I think myself that that fellow was
a scout on the look-out for Bassett's advance guard. But Heaven only
knows what brought him to this place, and there may be others. That's
why I didn't dare to shoot."
He paused, his light eyebrows raised, surveying her questioningly; for
Muriel had suddenly covered her face with both hands. But in another
moment she looked up again, and spoke with an effort.
"Your being awake couldn't lessen the danger. Won't you--please--be
reasonable about it? I am doing my best."
There was a deep note of appeal in her voice, and abruptly Nick gave
He moved back to their resting-place without another word, and flung
himself face downwards beside the nest of fern that he had made for
her, lying stretched at full length like a log.
She had not expected so sudden and complete a surrender. It took her
unawares, and she stood looking down at him, uncertain how to proceed.
But after a few seconds he turned his head towards her and spoke.
"You'll stay by me, Muriel?"
"Of course," she answered, that unwonted sense of responsibility still
strongly urging her.
He murmured something unintelligible, and stirred uneasily. She knew
in a flash what he wanted, but a sick sense of dread held her back.
She felt during the silence that followed as though he were pleading
with her, urging her, even entreating her. Yet still she resisted,
standing near him indeed, but with a desperate reluctance at her
heart, a shrinking unutterable from the bare thought of any closer
proximity to him that was as the instinctive recoil of purity from a
The horror of his deed had returned upon her over-whelmingly with his
brief reference to it. His lack of emotion seemed to her as hideous
callousness, more horrible than the deed itself. His physical
exhaustion had called her out of herself, but the reaction was doubly
Nick said no more. He lay quite motionless, hardly seeming to breathe,
and she realised that there was no repose in his attitude. He was not
even trying to rest.
She wrung her hands together. It could not go on, this tension. Either
she must yield to his unspoken desire, or he would sit up and cry
off the bargain. And she knew that sleep was a necessity to him.
Common-sense told her that he was totally unfit for further hardship
She closed her eyes a moment, summoning all her strength for the
greatest sacrifice she had ever made. And then in silence she sat down
beside him, within reach of his hand.
He uttered a great sigh and suffered his whole body to relax. And she
knew by the action, though he did not speak a word, that she had set
his mind at rest.
Scarcely a minute later, his quiet breathing told her that he slept,
but she sat on by his side without moving during the long empty hours
of her vigil. He had trusted her without a question, and, as her
father's daughter, she would at whatever cost prove herself worthy of
THE COMING OF AN ARMY
Through a great part of the night that followed they tramped steadily
southward. The stars were Nick's guide, though as time passed he began
to make his way with the confidence of one well-acquainted with his
surroundings. The instinct of locality was a sixth sense with him.
Hand in hand, over rocky ground, through deep ravines, by steep and
difficult tracks, they made their desperate way. Sometimes in the
distance dim figures moved mysteriously, revealed by starlight,
but none questioned or molested them. They passed from rock to rock
through the heart of the enemy's country, unrecognised, unobserved.
There were times when Nick grasped his revolver under his disguise,
ready, ready at a moment's notice, to keep his word to the girl's
father, should detection be their portion; but each time as the danger
passed them by he tightened his hold upon her, drawing her forward
with greater assurance.
They scarcely spoke throughout the long, long march. Muriel had moved
at first with a certain elasticity, thankful to escape at last from
the horrors of their resting-place. But very soon a great weariness
came upon her. She was physically unfit for any prolonged exertion.
The long strain of the siege had weakened her more than she knew.
Nevertheless, she kept on bravely, uttering no complaint, urged to
utmost effort by the instinctive desire to escape. It was this one
idea that occupied all her thoughts during that night. She shrank with
a vivid horror from looking back. And she could not see into the dim
blank future. It was mercifully screened from her sight.
At her third heavy stumble, Nick stopped and made her swallow some
raw brandy from his flask. This buoyed her up for a while, but it was
evident to them both that her strength was fast failing. And presently
he stopped again, and without a word lifted her in his arms. She
gasped a protest to which he made no response. His arms compassed
her like steel, making her feel helpless as an infant. He was limping
himself, she noticed; yet he bore her strongly, without faltering,
sure-footed as a mountain goat over the broken ground, till he found
at length what he deemed a safe halting-place in a clump of stunted
The sunrise revealed a native village standing among rice and cotton
fields in the valley below them.
"I shall have to go foraging," Nick said.
But Muriel's nerves that had been tottering on the verge of
collapse for some time here broke down completely. She clung to him
hysterically and entreated him not to leave her.
"I can't bear it! I can't bear it!" she kept reiterating. "If you go,
I must go too. I can't--I can't stay here alone."
He gave way instantly, seeing that she was in a state of mind that
bordered upon distraction, and that he could not safely leave her. He
sat down beside her, therefore, making her as comfortable as he could;
and she presently slept with her head upon his shoulder. It was but
a broken slumber, however, and she awoke from it crying wildly that
a man was being murdered--murdered--murdered--and imploring him with
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