Chapter VII

The Green-Eyed Monster

As Jean was hastening along the corridor, she suddenly came face to face with Mrs Ross. The latter had entered the corridor from a narrow passage leading to the rooms occupied by the ladies. The light, feeble as it was, enabled Jean to see that the woman was strangely agitated. Her face was deadly pale, her lips worked convulsively, her hands trembled with excitement.

“Miss Atherton,” exclaimed Mrs Ross fiercely, feverishly, “is it true you’ve charge of Captain Hawke, now in the hospital? I was very unwell all yesterday, and have only just heard of it.”

“Captain Hawke has badly bruised and sprained his arm, and Dr Macpherson asked me to renew the bandages. I don’t know whether that means that he is under my charge,” answered Jean quietly.

Mrs Ross’s breath came quick and short.

“You remember I warned you against him?” she burst out.

“Oh yes, I remember perfectly well. You didn’t explain why.”

“There was no necessity. You were fresh from England, and why should an old scandal in which you have no personal interest be raked up? I thought it was sufficient to caution you about the danger of associating with Captain Hawke.”

“You’re mistaken,” said Jean, her cheek flushing with annoyance. “I am not associating with Captain Hawke. Dr Macpherson wanted as many ladies as possible to learn something about hospital nursing, lest our services should be required. It’s purely an accident that has forced upon me the duty of attending Captain Hawke. I fail to see why I should be answerable to you, Mrs Ross, for anything I may do.”

Jean was angry. Mrs Ross’s anxiety and absurd officiousness annoyed her. Did the woman imagine she was about to fall in love with Hawke? No wonder her face crimsoned.

To her surprise, Mrs Ross did not, as she expected, return a tart answer. Her manner changed; her voice softened.

“Forgive me, dear Miss Atherton. Of course, I’ve no right to make suggestions to you. I was only thinking of my own unhappy girlhood. I pity anyone who makes the same mistake as I did. You’re not offended, are you?”

Mrs Ross held out her hand. Jean could not help taking it. Mrs Ross was apologetic, conciliatory, almost humble.

“Now,” she went on, “we all ought to be friends, and yet it seems to me that since we’ve been shut up in the Residency there have been more bickerings and quarrels than ever.”

This was quite true. Anglo-Indian society in those days was a mass of frivolity and jealousy, always accentuated when people have plenty of money and little to do. The wives and daughters of the officers and civilian officials took their personal enmities with them into the Residency. Until the actual siege began, when the better part of human nature came out, the place was a hotbed of gossip and petty disagreements, not always good-natured and harmless.

The heat and the strained condition of the nerves were no doubt answerable for a good deal of this irritability. Maybe not a little was due to the enforced crowding together of ill-assorted natures which jarred upon each other.

“Let’s go into this little room and talk there,” said Mrs Ross suddenly. “It faces the north. It’s as cool as the tyekhana, and much pleasanter with the open window looking on the river.”

Jean consented, and they sat down on the low basket seats. The light fell athwart Mrs Ross’s face, and her profile, faultless in contour, showed sharply and distinctly against the wall behind. Where Jean was sitting it came distinctly into view, and she was struck by its strangely un-English look.

With all its regularity, it was an enigmatical face. Calm and impassive as now, there was something which suggested that her nature could rise to heights of passion undreamt of by placid people with even temperaments.

“You in England don’t understand quarrels ending in death,” said Mrs Ross, with a peculiar smile.

“Oh, there are such things, but they don’t happen often.”

“Ah! In India death, sooner or later, ends all quarrels. We hate with our whole souls.”

“We?” repeated Jean wonderingly.

“Didn’t you know I had Indian blood in my veins?”

Mrs Ross laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant laugh. Jean had heard many such in the streets of Lucknow.

“Yes,” she went on, “my grandfather, Colonel D’Arcy, was one of Lord Clive’s officers. He married the daughter of an Indian rajah. They say I’m like her.”

Mrs Ross leaned back in her chair, and raising her arms clasped her hands behind her head. She had crossed her knees, and one foot was lazily swinging.

In her were all the typical characteristics of the Hindoo woman. The feet and hands, the ankles and wrists, were small and delicately fashioned; the forehead low, the chin beautifully rounded. Her attitude and expression just then were of the languorous warmth and the love of repose which belong to the East.

They chatted on trivial matters, as women do when they feel there is one subject it is not safe for either to approach. Suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, Mrs Ross sprang to her feet. Her keen eyes had caught sight of a couple of horsemen galloping in at the Baillie Guard Gate. A few musket shots could be heard some distance away.

“What’s the matter?” cried Jean.

“Who can say?” returned Mrs Ross, with a flash like midnight lightning from her dark eyes. “Aren’t we living on a volcano? Who knows when it may burst into flame?”

They watched the two horsemen gallop to one of the doors of the Residency, and throw themselves from their horses. Instantly there was a commotion, and a dozen men or more were seen running to the stables.

No cause for alarm could be seen. But Jean felt horribly nervous. She declared she must inquire what had happened.

“Do as you like,” said Mrs Ross. “Anyhow, if it’s bad news we shall hear of it soon enough.”

Jean ran towards Sir Henry Lawrence’s quarters. She met an officer with whom she had some slight acquaintance, and begged him to tell her what was going on.

“The infantry police have followed the example of their gallant comrades the cavalry,” said he, “and joined the rebels.”

The officer bowed to Jean and darted away. The girl went back where she had left Mrs Ross, but found that she was gone. Men’s shouts and oaths came from the street. She ran to the window.

What could only be called an awkward squad was going in chase of the mutineers. The men had rushed to the stables, or to any place where they were likely to find a horse. They seized what they could.

A field piece was being dragged along by some wretched-looking animals, and a few volunteers had found seats on the tumbril. The infantry could not be got ready in time, so the mounted men did not wait, but went out helter-skelter. No order or formation could be kept. Very few of the Europeans were military men, and the regulars were represented by sixty or seventy Sikhs.

Agitated by what she had seen, and by thoughts of what might follow, Jean slowly made her way back to the hospital.

Do what she could, the caution which Mrs Ross persisted in giving her respecting Hawke was uppermost in her mind. She wished Mrs Ross had said nothing. It made her think of the man otherwise than as simply a patient, and for this she had no desire. What was Captain Hawke to her? For all that as she entered the room, the colour on her face deepened.

It was impossible for her not to be conscious of the change which went over Hawke’s countenance when he saw her enter. The gloom, the anxiety disappeared: his features became restful.

“I thought you were never coming,” said he eagerly. “The time has passed so slowly.”

“You make a very bad patient, Captain Hawke,” was Jean’s reply. “You’re too impatient.”

“Yes, I suppose so. Yet I think I could be patient, if​—​if you bade me hope.”

What did the man mean? She resolved to fix her mind on the routine of the duty and take no notice of anything beyond. She asked him for no explanation, but went on preparing her cold-water bandages. Perhaps he saw that she wasn’t inclined to talk, for he was silent, and contented himself with watching her.

“I’m an ass,” he muttered savagely. “I’d better hold my tongue or I shall say something that may embarrass or offend her, and that’ll shut me up.”

Jean clearly was improving with practice, for the renewal of the bandages took a shorter time than ever. At least, it seemed so to Hawke.

Having completed her task she rose, and would have taken her leave silently, in pursuance of her resolution to be a nurse and nothing but a nurse. But she saw the eager, yearning look in his eyes, and it seemed heartless to go without a word. Hawke, at any rate, had no intention that she should.

“When will you visit me again?” he asked, imploringly.

“At the proper time,” said she, with decision.

“Ah, yes, of course. I couldn’t expect otherwise,” he returned in a dull tone.

She walked swiftly across the room, and went out. His eyes followed her.

“Jack.”

Mrs Ross had approached unseen, and was standing by his side.

“Why do you come here?” he asked, recovering himself with an effort.

“Is that girl your latest conquest?”

“I’ve nothing to say to you, Mrs Ross. You’ve done me injury enough. Leave me alone. Go.”

“Not yet. I want to talk to you about Jean Atherton. May I ask if you’ve acquainted her with certain interesting events in your past life, or do you wish other people to save you the trouble?”

He bit his white lips, and his nostrils quivered with passion.

“You, for instance?” he replied in a low hoarse tone.

“Oh yes, if you like.”

“What have I done to you, Edith Ross, that you should pursue me so bitterly, so mercilessly?”

“Pursue you? Why have you come back to be pursued? You know my feelings towards you. They haven’t changed​—​they never will change. The only love I’ve ever had for man I gave to you, Jack.”

“I wish to heaven I’d never seen your face,” said he, scowlingly.

“Amen to that,” she cried, with heaving heart and quivering lip; “but it was to be. How can we escape our fate? Just think. Didn’t we, five years ago, bid each other farewell? and——”

“Did we say farewell?” he asked ironically. “I thought we parted with mutual execrations. I perfectly remember what my feelings were.”

“If I said anything that was bitter, forgive me,” she exclaimed passionately. “Don’t you know I would crawl in the dust, humble myself before you for one smile, one fond word such as you used to give me?”

“I know I was a silly young fool, or I shouldn’t have forged George Holcombe’s name to get you money, after I’d spent every farthing of my own.”

“Yes, I tempted you, I own; but no harm came of it. George made it right with the bank, and no one knew anything about the matter.”

“Do you call the contempt of George Holcombe nothing? Was giving up your sister Agnes nothing? My love for her is an old memory now; it was real enough then. I believe it nearly broke my heart when I told her, disgraced as I was, I couldn’t become her husband. And what happened afterwards?”

His brow became black as midnight.

“Yes, yes, I know,” she replied hurriedly. “We needn’t recall that incident.”

“Oh, but it’s as well we should keep it in our minds. I intend to do so. Perhaps you’ve forgotten the particulars. I’ll refresh your memory. George Holcombe received certain scandalous anonymous letters reflecting on his wife. They contained allusions to matters which could only be known to her, to me, and to one other person. The letters were in my handwriting, or near enough, and they were posted by my own servant. He swore, you remember, that I gave them to him. What could I do or say against such evidence? Wasn’t it better I should clear out of Lucknow? What’s your opinion?”

Edith Ross moved her dry lips, but no sound came from them.

“I think we’ve nothing more to talk about,” he went on coldly. “I don’t understand, since circumstances have forced me to meet you again, why you should choose to persecute and slander me.”

“That is it​—​you don’t understand.”

“Very well; let it remain so. I always was slow in reading women. Now let’s drop the subject.”

“And Jean Atherton?” she asked huskily.

“Ah”​—​he drew a long breath​—​“if the time ever comes when I may speak freely to Jean Atherton, I sha’n’t sail under false colours. I think,” he went on musingly, and apparently not caring whether the woman heard him or not, “death itself wouldn’t be unwelcome, if I knew she loved me. And, by heaven, she shall love me.”

Every syllable lashed Edith Ross like the sting of a whip. Her shapely, delicate fingers were intertwined, and pressed till they were almost bloodless.

She rose, every nerve quivering with fierce passion.

“And you think she will?” she cried. “We’ll see. You pretend to scorn the hand of fate. It may be your destiny to be tortured as I’ve been tortured. Or maybe, you’ll come to me to help you, as you came in the old days to ask me to help you to gain the love of Agnes——”

“Who was as heartless as yourself, and cared for me as little as——”

“As Jean Atherton.”

The strain on her nerves was too intense to be borne in the presence of Jack Hawke. With a face like marble, she hastened from the hospital.

Alone in the corridor, Mrs Ross could have burst into a flood of tears, but with a strong effort of will she restrained herself. Her nerves were overwrought, her senses confused, and it was with difficulty she found her way back to her room, which she shared with other ladies.

Fortunately they were absent, having gone to the tyekhana for coolness. She flung herself on the bed, and there lay for hours, exhausted, and more dead than alive.

About eight o’clock the grounds of the Residency were filled with an excited crowd. The detachment of improvised cavalry, the two field pieces, and the two companies of the 32nd despatched to punish the mutineering military police, had returned weary and footsore. They had had a long and trying march on an exceptionally hot day, and what was much worse, had done very little good.

They had not succeeded in having a fair blow at the main body. The cavalry could have reached the enemy, but were not allowed to charge. Though their hearts were good, they were not disciplined warriors, and the result might have been disastrous, so broken and difficult was the ground. The guns did a little execution, but the infantry came up too late to be of any use.

Edith Ross had by this time recovered her composure, and with the other ladies went to see the returning force march​—​if the limping, halting gait of the exhausted men could be called a march​—​through the Baillie Guard Gate.

Some ten prisoners had been captured; they were tied together by a rope, and passed very close to where the women were standing. One man in the dress of a bhistie, or water-carrier, attracted their attention. His face was not that of a low-class native. He had a beard and moustache and a pair of remarkably keen piercing eyes.

Suddenly there was a commotion in the group.

“Mrs Ross has fainted,” exclaimed someone hastily.

At that moment the water-carrier paused, and his flashing eyes remained fixed on the figure of the half-senseless woman.

Mrs Ross’s unconsciousness lasted but a short time. She was not a weak-nerved woman, but that day of violent emotion and revulsion of feeling had been a trying one.

She had received a terrible shock. In the water-carrier who had been brought in as a prisoner she recognised the one man in India whom she least desired to meet. Azimoolah Khan! This man had been Jack Hawke’s confidential native servant in the days of the reckless young officer’s prosperity, when he gambled and betted and drank, and went through the whole gamut of Anglo-Indian vice.

“Are you better?” said a girl’s voice.

Jean Atherton was by her side. Edith Ross had not regained her self-command, and she could not disguise the look of hatred which flashed across her features when she recognised Jean.

“Oh yes, I’m better, thank you,” she rejoined in a dry, hollow tone.

At that moment Ernest Lennard came up and one of the ladies hastily told him what had happened.

“I should advise you to take a long rest,” said he, with a searching glance at Mrs Ross.

“Excellent advice if it only could be followed,” she replied. “Give me your arm, Dr Lennard. I want to talk to you.”

He obeyed. They separated themselves from the group of ladies. But despite Mrs Ross’s expressed desire to talk, she said nothing. As a matter of fact, all she wanted was to get away from the sympathy of her friends.

Lennard was not surprised at her silence. It was only natural. A fainting fit was generally followed by lassitude and exhaustion. He made no reference to it, but talked on other subjects.

“It’s a pity,” said he, “Colonel Inglis couldn’t have given the rebel police a sharp lesson. As it is, they’ve got safely away, free either to go on to Cawnpore or to join the other mutineers, and attack us in Lucknow when the time comes. All we have to show for our day’s work are those ten prisoners I saw being taken into the Baillie Guard.”

“Into the Baillie Guard?” repeated Mrs Ross. “What will be done with them?”

“The sepoys of the party may be hanged. The others, the villagers​—​I noticed a grass-cutter and a water-carrier​—​may be released. It depends upon what they were doing.”

Dr Lennard had by this time conducted Mrs Ross to the main entrance of the Residency.

“Thank you,” said she, “I feel much better. I think I can mount the stairs to my room without any assistance. I’ll release you, Dr Lennard, so you’ll now be able to devote yourself entirely to Miss Atherton.”

She said this with a suspicion of malice, partly because she had noticed the young doctor’s attentions, and partly because she could never think of Jean without bitterness.

Edith Ross fixed her dark glittering eyes on Lennard, and did not fail to note the effect of her words.

“He’s in love with her,” she thought. “So much the better. If I could bring about an engagement between them it would settle Jack Hawke. But that must wait. I’ve something much more pressing to think of.”

The shadows of evening were lengthening apace. The sun had nearly dipped below the horizon. The white cupolas, minarets and towers of Lucknow were tinted with a rosy glow. Mrs Ross ascended to her room, and sat watching the west till the sun had wholly disappeared. Then changing her white dress for a darker one, which in the grey light would not be readily noticeable, she stole out. She went in the direction of the Baillie Guard.

The Baillie Guard was a continuation of that portion of the Residency which had been converted into the hospital, built on ground to which one had to descend considerably. A portion of it was used as a store-room, another as a treasure depository, and the remainder as offices and the barracks of the native soldiers who had remained faithful to their allegiance.

Within one of the smaller rooms of the Baillie Guard, the captured natives had been temporarily confined.

The officer on duty for the night was of that immature age and experience when a man has a tendency to fall in love with a woman older than himself. His infatuation amused Mrs Ross, and she permitted Lieutenant Hilton at times to flirt mildly with her. At others, she snubbed him unmercifully.

He was standing in the doorway, smoking a cheroot, when she stole softly up to him.

“Is it you, Mrs Ross?” he exclaimed.

“Why not? But I suppose you would rather it were someone else.”

“Hang it all, not likely. But you haven’t come to see me, I’ll bet.”

“Why not? Anyhow, you don’t seem particularly glad to see me, so I’ll go away.”

“Don’t​—​don’t,” he pleaded. “I am glad​—​awfully glad. I thought I’d offended you. I passed you twice to-day and you never noticed me.”

“Poor fellow,” said she, in the melting tones always at her command. She held out her hand in token of amity, and the enraptured youth raised it to his lips.

“There, that’ll do. You needn’t hold my fingers so tightly.”

“I should like to hold them for ever,” he murmured.

“Don’t be silly. I suppose you’re on duty now, Fred, and that I’m doing wrong in talking to you.”

It was the first time she had called him Fred, and the monosyllable from her lips thrilled him to the finger-tips.

“You can’t do wrong in my eyes, Edith. I may call you Edith​—​mayn’t I?”

“Perhaps​—​if you behave yourself very nicely. But I mustn’t be seen here. Suppose any of your brother officers were to pass.”

She allowed him to hold her hand, and the poor lad, overcome with such condescension, scarcely knew whether he was standing on his head or his heels.

“Do you know why I came to see you?” said she, fingering a button on his uniform. “I felt so dull, I wanted someone nice to talk to me.”

Lieutenant Hilton was delighted.

“No; you don’t mean it? How awfully jolly of you.”

Her hair brushed his cheek, and had he dared he would have kissed it, but he always had a fearful joy in flirting with Edith Ross. He never knew when she was in the mood for unlimited admiration.

Suddenly she drew herself back.

“What’s that noise?” she asked.

“Those prisoners who were brought in about an hour ago. What a jolly row the beggars are making. I’ll make ’em shut up if you like.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter at all, now that I know the meaning of the noise. I’m so interested in prisons and prisoners. They always make me think of Baron Trenck, the Man in the Iron Mask, the Prisoner of Chillon, and half-a-dozen more. There’s so much romance in a prison. Don’t you think so?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen any romance in a prison. I’ve seen a good deal of dirt,” said the prosaic Hilton.

“I should so awfully like to know what the inside of a prison’s like. Mayn’t I have just one peep?” said she, glancing upwards.

“I wouldn’t if I were you​—​you won’t like it.”

“Oh, but I must. I’ve set my heart upon it.”

Lieutenant Hilton laughed. A pretty woman’s whim must be gratified. He conducted her along a passage to the door of a room, in front of which a couple of sentries were posted. At the young officer’s orders the door was opened a little way.

“Oh, but I can’t see,” objected the lady. “I want to go in altogether and feel that I’m really in prison.”

Hilton allowed her to enter. A smoky lamp was hanging in the centre of the room. Its lurid light obscured rather than revealed the men squatted on the ground huddled together. At the extreme end was the bhistie, his eyes glowing like coals from beneath his dark, lowering brows.

“May I say a word to any of them?” inquired Mrs Ross, with soft timidity.

“If you like. I don’t mind.”

The lady spoke to the water-carrier in his own language. It was unintelligible to Hilton, whose knowledge of Hindustani was very limited. But even he, guileless, as he was, noticed that the way the man answered Mrs Ross angered her. This was what passed between the two:

“I thought Mrs Ross would contrive to pay the poor water-carrier a visit,” said the man, with a covert sneer.

“Why are you here, Azimoolah?”

“The mem-sahib can herself answer that question. Was I not brought here by her countrymen?”

“But you were near Lucknow. Didn’t you promise me you’d never visit the city, and didn’t I pay you well for that promise?”

“Oh yes, five years ago. But the Azimoolah who was Captain Hawke’s servant then is not the Azimoolah of to-day. Don’t you know that since that time I’ve gained power, wealth​—​that the Nana himself is but a puppet in my hands? Have I not been across the black water to England? Ay, and the bright eyes of English ladies, as fair as the mem-sahib herself, have brightened at my coming.”

Mrs Ross had heard nothing of this. It seemed incredible.

“It’s a lie,” she exclaimed angrily.

“It’s the truth; but I trust to Mrs Ross to keep my secret. It will be good for her own sake to do so. I know Captain Hawke is here, and he will recognise me if you betray me. What shall I say then? That you bribed me to forge his handwriting? That you paid me to write scandalous letters to Mr Holcombe? That you again paid me to post them, and swear that I did so by the order of Captain Hawke?”

Hot and stifling as the room was, the woman shivered.

All the blood in her body seemed to rush to her heart. Yet it was necessary to master her feelings. Was not this young Englishman standing close by and watching them? He might be suspicious though he did not understand a word they said.

“You won’t do that, Azimoolah,” she forced herself to reply as calmly as she could. “I’ve never injured you, and I paid you well for all you did for me.”

“Oh, that’s nothing. I act to please myself, and bad things are more pleasant than good. You’re like that, too. The blood of our race runs in your veins. You loved Captain Hawke with your whole being, and yet you struck him a fatal blow.”

It was too true. Bitterly had Edith Ross regretted the mad fit of spite and revenge which had prompted her to injure the man she loved​—​an injury which could only be atoned by the exposure of her own wickedness.

“What’s the fellow saying, Mrs Ross? If he’s insolent, I hope you’ll tell me,” suddenly struck in Hilton.

“Nothing, nothing,” she replied hurriedly. “He’s not rude. It’s only his way of speaking.”

“Yes,” resumed Azimoolah, “it’s true I’ve been to England. If you don’t believe me, bring me face to face with the girl who was standing by your side when we were brought in. She did not recognise me in my disguise, but I knew her again. She is very handsome​—​as handsome as you, Mrs Ross​—​and younger. Would you like me to tell her the story of Captain Hawke, and how he was ruined by the woman who loved him?”

“Great heavens, no,” she cried, her agitation overpowering her for a moment. “Azimoolah, you shall be released. I’ll say that I knew you years ago, as an honest, respectable man.”

“Aha!” laughed the Mohammedan, “they think I am a spy, and they are right. If you vouch for my character they may let me go. But if I meet Captain Hawke, what then?”

“There’s not much fear of that if you’re released within twenty-four hours. He’s in the hospital. Remember, you must leave Lucknow at once.”

“Yes, I agree to that.”

“Then it’s a compact?”

“I swear it​—​by Allah!”

“I’ve seen enough, Mr Hilton,” said she, turning to the young officer. “Thank you very much.”

“That fellow had a tremendous jaw,” said Hilton, a little discontentedly.

He had never seen Mrs Ross so animated; and though it was absurd to be jealous of a prisoner​—​a common water-carrier​—​something like the pangs of jealousy shot through him.

“Well, he interested me a little, because it turns out my father used to employ him. Directly he reminded me of two or three things, I recollected him at once. He’s a very respectable man, and I can’t understand his being suspected as a spy. You must take me at once to Colonel Inglis.”

“At once?” faltered Hilton.

“At once, please,” said Mrs Ross, peremptorily. “Oh, you needn’t be afraid of my getting you into trouble.”

“I don’t mind that a bit,” said the young man gruffly. “If it is for your sake.”

“Don’t talk nonsense! I suppose you want to rise in your profession. I shall simply say I saw the man as he was being taken to the Baillie Guard, and recognised him.”

All Mrs Ross’s sweetness had disappeared. But her influence over the ingenuous lad was not lessened. She was taken to Colonel Inglis, and so impressed him with the innocence of the supposed water-carrier​—​whose name she did not say was Azimoolah Khan​—​that the man, after being examined the next day, was ordered to be released before sunset.

But she was in a fever of anxiety until this became an accomplished fact. She ascertained that Azimoolah would be marched to the iron bridge across the Gumti. Here she waited for and joined him when the guard had crossed the bridge.

“I’ve kept my word, Azimoolah. You owe me something in return,” she whispered.

“What shall it be?”

“You said you had met in England the girl who was standing by my side when you were brought into the city. Tell me her name.”

No one was by, and they were talking in English, which Azimoolah spoke with a perfect accent. He smiled.

“Jean Atherton,” said he.

“How did you meet her? When and where was it?” she cried excitedly.

Azimoolah explained.

“And you can prove this?”

“I have letters in which her name is mentioned.”

“Let me have them. That’s what I ask in return for the service I’ve done you to-day.”

“I promise.”

“When?”

“Within two weeks.”

He salaamed. Some people were approaching. They parted.