Part 1 out of 6
THE BRONZE BELL
By LOUIS JOSEPH VANCE
F. E. Z.
Chatelaine of Juniper Lodge
This story is dedicated by one to whom her hospitality, transplanted
from its Kentucky home, will ever remain a charming memory.
[Illustration: "NOT ONCE DID HE LOOK BACK WHILE AMBER WATCHED--HIMSELF
DIVIDED BETWEEN AMUSEMENT, ANNOYANCE, AND ASTONISHMENT" (PAGE 14)]
I DESTINY AND THE BABU
II THE GIRL AND THE TOKEN
IV THE MAN PERDU
V THE GOBLIN NIGHT
VI RED DAWN
VII MASKS AND FACES
VIII FIRST STEPS
IX PINK SATIN
X MAHARANA OF KHANDAWAR
XI THE TONGA
XII THE LONG DAY
XIII THE PHOTOGRAPH
XIV OVER THE WATER
XV FROM A HIGH PLACE
XVI SUNRISE FOR TWO
XVII THE WAY TO KATHIAPUR
XVIII THE HOODED DEATH
XIX RUTTON'S DAUGHTER
XX A LATER DAY
XXI THE FINAL INCARNATION
DESTINY AND THE BABU
Breaking suddenly upon the steady drumming of the trucks, the prolonged
and husky roar of a locomotive whistle saluted an immediate
Roused by this sound from his solitary musings in the parlour-car of
which he happened temporarily to be the sole occupant, Mr. David Amber
put aside the magazine over which he had been dreaming, and looked out
of the window, catching a glimpse of woodland road shining white
between sombre walls of stunted pine. Lazily he consulted his watch.
"It's not for nothing," he observed pensively, "that this railroad
wears its reputation: we are consistently late."
His gaze, again diverted to the flying countryside, noted that it had
changed character, pine yielding to scrub-oak and second-growth--the
ragged vestments of an area some years since denuded by fire. This,
too, presently swung away, giving place to cleared land--arable acres
golden with the stubble of garnered harvests or sentinelled with
unkempt shocks of corn.
In the south a shimmer of laughing gold and blue edged the faded
Eagerly the young man leaned forward, dark eyes the functions of
waiting-room and ticket and telegraph offices. From its eaves depended
a weather-worn board bearing the legend: "Nokomis."
The train, pausing only long enough to disgorge from the baggage-car a
trunk or two and from the day-coaches a thin trickle of passengers,
flung on into the wilderness, cracked bell clanking somewhat
By degrees the platform cleared, the erstwhile patrons of the road and
the station loafers--for the most part hall-marked natives of the
region--straggling off upon their several ways, some afoot, a majority
in dilapidated surreys and buckboards. Amber watched them go with
unassumed indifference; their type interested him little. But in their
company he presently discovered one, a figure so thoroughly foreign and
aloof in attitude, that it caught his eye, and, having caught, held it
clouded with perplexity.
Abruptly he abandoned his belongings and gave chase, overtaking the
object of his attention at the far end of the station.
"Doggott!" he cried. "I say, Doggott!"
His hand, falling lightly upon the man's shoulder, brought him squarely
about, his expression transiently startled, if not a shade truculent.
Short and broad yet compact of body, he was something round-shouldered,
with the stoop of those who serve. In a mask of immobility,
full-colored and closely shaven, his lips were thin and tight, his eyes
steady, grey and shallow: a countenance neither dishonest nor
repellent, but one inscrutable. Standing solidly, once halted, there
remained a suggestion of alertness in the fellow's pose.
"Doggott, what the deuce brings you here? And Mr. Rutton?"
Amber's cordiality educed no response. The grey eyes, meeting eyes
dark, kindly, and penetrating, flickered and fell; so much emotion they
betrayed, no more, and that as disingenuous as you could wish.
"Doggott!" insisted Amber, disconcerted. "Surely you haven't forgotten
The man shook his head. "Beg pardon, sir," he said; "you've got my nyme
'andy enough, but I don't know _you_, and--"
"But Mr. Rutton?"
"Is a party I've never 'eard of, if you'll excuse my sayin' so, no
more'n I 'ave of yourself, sir."
"Well!" began Amber; but paused, his face hardening as he looked the
man up and down, nodding slowly.
"Per'aps," continued Mr. Doggott, unabashed, "you mistyke me for my
brother, 'Enery Doggott. 'E was 'ome, in England, larst I 'eard of 'im.
We look a deal alike, I've been told."
"You would be," admitted Amber drily; and, shutting his teeth upon his
inherent contempt for a liar, he swung away, acknowledging with a curt
nod the civil "Good-arfternoon, sir," that followed him.
The man had disappeared by the time Amber regained his kit-bag and
gun-case; standing over which he surveyed his surroundings with some
annoyance, discovering that he now shared the station with none but the
ticket-agent. A shambling and disconsolate youth, clad in a three-days'
growth of beard, a checked jumper and khaki trousers, this person
lounged negligently in the doorway of the waiting-room and, caressing
his rusty chin with nicotine-dyed fingers, regarded the stranger in
Nokomis with an air of subtle yet vaguely melancholy superiority.
"If ye're lookin' for th' hotel," he volunteered unexpectedly, "there
aint none;" and effected a masterly retreat into the ticket-booth.
Amused, the despised outlander picked up his luggage and followed
amiably. "I'm not looking for the hotel that aint," he said, planting
himself in front of the grating; "but I expected to be met by someone
"Thet's the Quain place, daown by th' ba-ay," interpolated the youth
from unplumbed depths of mournful abstraction.
"It is. I wired yesterday--"
"Yeour name's Amber, aint it?"
"Well, Quain didn't get yeour message till this mornin'. I sent a kid
daown with it 'baout ten o'clock."
"But why the--but I wired yesterday afternoon!"
"I knaow ye did," assented the youth wearily. "It come through raound
closin' time and they wa'n't nobody baound that way, so I held it
"This craze for being characteristic," observed Mr. Amber obscurely,
"is the only thing that really stands in the way of Nokomis becoming a
thriving metropolis. Do you agree with me? No matter." He smiled
engagingly: a seasoned traveller this, who could recognise the futility
of bickering over the irreparable. Moreover, he had to remind himself
in all fairness, the blame was, in part at least, his own; for he had
thoughtlessly worded his telegram, "Will be with you to-morrow
afternoon"; and it was wholly like Quain that he should have accepted
the statement at its face value, regardless of the date line.
"I _can_ leave my things here for a little while, I presume?" Amber
suggested after a pause.
The ticket-agent stared stubbornly into the infinite, making no sign
till a coin rang on the window-ledge; when he started, eyed the
offering with fugitive mistrust, and gloomily possessed himself of it.
"I'll look after them," he said. "Be ye thinkin' of walkin'?"
"Yes," said Amber over his shoulder. He was already moving toward the
"Knaow yeour wa-ay?"
"I've been here before, thank you."
"Fer another quarter," drawled the agent with elaborate apathy, "I'd
leave the office long enough to find somebody who'd fetch ye daown in a
rig for fifty cents."
But Amber was already out of ear-shot.
Crossing the tracks, he addressed himself to the southward-stretching
highway. Walking briskly at first, he soon left behind the
railway-station with its few parasitic cottages; a dip in the land hid
them, and he had hereafter for all company his thoughts, the desultory
road, a vast and looming sky, and bare fields hedged with impoverished
A deep languor brooded over the land: the still, warm enchantment of an
Indian Summer which, protracted though it were unseasonably into the
Ides of November, had yet lost nothing of its witchery. There was no
wind, but now and again the air stirred softly, and when it stirred was
cool; as if the earth sighed in sheer lassitude. Out of a cloudless
sky, translucent sapphire at its zenith fading into hazy topaz-yellow
at the horizon, golden sunlight slanted, casting shadows heavy and
colourful; on the edge of the woodlands they clung like thin purple
smoke, but motionless, and against them, here and there, a clump of
sumach blazed like a bed of embers, or some tree loath to shed its
autumnal livery flamed scarlet, russet, and mauve. The peace of the
hour was intense, and only emphasised by a dull, throbbing
undertone--the muted murmur of the distant sea.
Amber had professed acquaintance with his way; it seemed rather to be
intimacy, for when he chose to forsake the main-travelled road he did
so boldly, striking off upon a wagon-track which, leading across the
fields, delved presently into the heart of the forest. Here it ran
snakily and, carved by broad-tired wheels and beaten out by slowly
plodding hoofs in a soil more than half sand, glimmered white as
rock-salt where the drifting leaves had left it naked.
Once in this semi-dusk made luminous by sunlight which touched and
quivered upon dead leaf and withered bush and bare brown bough like
splashes of molten gold, the young man moved more sedately. The hush of
the forest world bore heavily upon his senses; the slight and stealthy
rustlings in the brush, the clear dense ringing of some remote axe, an
attenuated clamour of cawing from some far crows' congress, but served
to accentuate its influence. On that windless day the vital breath of
the sea might not moderate the bitter-sweet aroma of decay that swam
beneath the unmoving branches; and this mournful fragrance of dying
Autumn wrought upon Amber's mood as might a whiff of some exquisite
rare perfume revive a poignant memory in the bosom of a bereaved lover.
His glance grew aimless, his temper as purposeless, lively anticipation
giving way to a retrospection tinged with indefinable sadness.
Then into the silence crept a sound to rouse him from his formless
reverie: at first a mere pulsing in the stillness, barely to be
distinguished from the song of the surf; but presently a pounding, ever
louder and more insistent. He paused, attentive; and while he waited
the drumming, minute by minute gaining in volume, swept swiftly toward
him--the rhythmic hoofbeats of a single horse madly ridden. When it was
close upon him he stepped back into the tangled undergrowth, making
room; for the track was anything but wide.
Simultaneously there burst into view, at the end of a brief aisle of
trees, the horse--a vigorous black brute with white socks and
muzzle--running freely, apparently under constraint neither of whip nor
of spur. In the saddle a girl leaned low over the horn--a girl with
eyes rapturous, face brilliant, lips parted in the least of smiles. A
fold of her black habit-skirt, whipping out, almost snapped in Amber's
face, so close to him she rode; yet she seemed not to see him, and very
likely did not. A splendid sketch in black-and-white, of youthful
spirit and joy of motion: so she passed and was gone....
Hardly, however, had the forest closed upon the picture, ere a cry, a
heavy crashing as of a horse threshing about in the underbrush, and a
woman's scream of terror, sent Amber, in one movement, out into the
road again and running at a pace which, had he been conscious of it,
would have surprised him.
A short fifty yards separated him from the bend in the way round which
the horse and its rider had vanished. He had no more than gained this
point than he was obliged to pull up sharply to avoid running into the
Although dismounted, she was on her feet, and apparently uninjured. She
stood with one hand against the trunk of a tree, on the edge of a small
clearing wherein the axes of the local lumbermen had but lately been
busy. Her horse had disappeared; the rumble of his hoofs, diminuendo,
told the way he had gone.
So much Amber comprehended in a single glance; with a second he sought
the cause of the accident, and identified it with a figure so _outré_
and bizarre that he momentarily and excusably questioned the testimony
of his senses.
At a little distance from the girl, in the act of addressing her, stood
a man, obese, gross, abnormally distended with luxurious and sluggish
living, as little common to the scene as a statue of Phoebus Apollo had
been: a babu of Bengal, every inch of him, from his dirty red-and-white
turban to his well-worn and cracked patent-leather shoes. His body was
enveloped in a complete suit of emerald silk, much soiled and faded,
and girt with a sash of many colours, crimson predominating. His hands,
fat, brown, and not overclean, alternately fluttered apologetically and
rubbed one another with a suggestion of extreme urbanity; his lips,
thick, sensual, and cruel, mouthed a broken stream of babu-English;
while his eyes, nearly as small and quite as black as shoe-buttons
--eyes furtive, crafty, and cold--suddenly distended and became
fixed, as with amazement, at the instant of Amber's appearance.
Instinctively, as soon as he had mastered his initial stupefaction,
Amber stepped forward and past the girl, placing himself between her
and this preposterous apparition, as if to shield her. He was neither
overly imaginative nor of a romantic turn of mind; but, the
circumstances reviewed, it's nothing to his discredit that he
entertained a passing suspicion of some curious conspiracy against the
girl, thought of an ambuscade, and with quick eyes raked the
surroundings for signs of a confederate of the Bengali.
He found, however, nothing alarming, no indication that the man were
not alone; nor, for that matter, could he reasonably detect in the
fellow's bearing anything but a spirit of conciliation almost servile.
None the less he held himself wary and alert, and was instant to halt
the babu when he, with the air of a dog cringing to his master's feet
for punishment, would have drawn nearer.
"Stop right there!" Amber told him crisply; and got for response
obedience, a low salaam, and the Hindu salutation accorded only to
persons of high rank: "Hazoor!" But before the babu could say more the
American addressed the girl. "What did he do?" he inquired, without
looking at her. "Frighten your horse?"
"Just that." The girl's tone was edged with temper. "He jumped out from
behind that woodpile; the horse shied and threw me."
"You're not hurt, I trust?"
"No--thank you; but"--with a nervous laugh--"I'm furiously angry."
"That's reasonable enough." Amber returned undivided attention to the
Bengali. "Now then," he demanded sternly, "what've you got to say for
yourself? What do you mean by frightening this lady's horse? What are
you doing here, anyway?"
Almost grovelling, the babu answered him in Urdu: "Hazoor, I am your
Without thinking Amber couched his retort in the same tongue: "Count
yourself lucky you are not, dog!"
"Nay, hazoor, but I meant no harm. I was resting, being fatigued, in
the shelter of the wood, when the noise of hoofs disturbed me and I
stepped out to see. When the woman was thrown I sought to assist her,
but she threatened me with her whip."
"That is quite true," the girl cut in over Amber's shoulder. "I don't
think he intended to harm me, but it's purely an accident that he
Inasmuch as the babu's explanation had been made in fluent, vernacular
Urdu, Amber's surprise at the girl's evident familiarity with that
tongue was hardly to be concealed. "You understand Urdu?" he stammered.
"Aye," she told him in that tongue, "and speak it, too."
"You know this man, then?"
"No. Do you?"
"Not in the least. How should I?"
"You yourself speak Urdu."
"Well but--" The situation hardly lent itself to such a discussion; he
had the babu first to dispose of. Amber resumed his cross-examination.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "And what is your business in this place?"
The fat yellowish-brown face was distorted by a fugitive grimace of
deprecation. "Hazoor, I am Behari Lal Chatterji, solicitor, of the
"Well? And your business here?"
"Hazoor, that is for your secret ear." The babu drew himself up,
assuming a certain dignity. "It is not meet that the message of the
Bell should be uttered in the hearing of an Englishwoman, hazoor."
"What are you drivelling about?" In his blank wonder, Amber returned to
English as to a tongue more suited to his urgent need of forcible
expression. "And, look here, you stop calling me 'Hazoor.' I'm no more
a hazoor than you are--idiot!"
"Nay," contended the babu reproachfully; "is it right that you should
seek to hoodwink me? Have I not eyes with which to see you, ears that
can hear you speak our tongue, hazoor? I am no child, to be played
with--I, the appointed Mouthpiece of the Voice!"
"I know naught of your 'Voice' or its mouthpiece; but certainly you are
no child. You are either mad, or insolent--or a fool to be kicked." And
in exasperation Amber took a step toward the man as if to carry into
effect his implied threat.
Alarmed, the babu cringed and retreated a pace; then, suddenly, raising
an arm, indicated the girl. "Hazoor!" he cried. "Be quick--the woman
faints!" And as Amber hastily turned, with astonishing agility the babu
sprang toward him.
Warned by his moving shadow as much as by the girl's cry, Amber leapt
aside and lifted a hand to strike; but before it could deliver a blow
it was caught and a small metallic object thrust into it. Upon this his
fingers closed instinctively, and the babu sprang back, panting and
"The Token, hazoor, the Token!" he quavered. "It is naught but
"Token, you fool!" cried Amber, staring stupidly at the man. "What in
"Nay, hazoor; how should I tell you now, when another sees and hears?
At another time, hazoor, in a week, or a day, or an hour, mayhap, I
come again--for your answer. Till then and forever I am your slave,
hazoor: the dust beneath your feet. Now, I go."
And with a haste that robbed the courtesy of its grace, the Bengali
salaamed, then wheeled square about and, hitching his clothing round
him, made off with a celerity surprising in one of his tremendous bulk,
striking directly into the heart of the woods.
For as much as a minute he was easily to be followed, his head and
shoulders rising above the brush through which he forged purposefully,
with something of the heedless haste of a man bent on keeping a
pressing engagement--or a sinner fleeing the wrath to come. Not once
did he look back while Amber watched--himself divided between
amusement, annoyance, and astonishment. Presently the trees blotted out
the red-and-white turban; the noise of the babu's elephantine retreat
diminished; and Amber was left to knit his brows over the object which
had been forced upon him so unexpectedly.
It proved to be a small, cubical box, something more than an inch
square, fashioned of bronze and elaborately decorated with minute
relief work in the best manner of ancient Indian craftsmanship.
"May I see, please?" The voice of the girl at his side recalled to
Amber her existence. "May I see, too, please, Mr. Amber?" she repeated.
THE GIRL AND THE TOKEN
In his astonishment he looked round quickly to meet the gaze of
mischievous eyes that strove vainly to seem simple and sincere. His
own, in which amusement was blended with wonder, noted that they were
very handsome eyes and rather curiously colourful, the delicate sepia
shade of the pupils being lightened by a faint sheen of gold in the
irides; they were, furthermore, large and set well apart. On the whole
he decided that they were even beautiful, for all the dancing glimmer
of perverse humour in their depths; he could fancy that they might well
seem very sweet and womanly when their owner chose to be serious.
Aware that he faced an uncommonly pretty woman, who chose to study him
with a straightforward interest he was nothing loath to imitate, he
took time to see that she was very fair of skin, with that creamy,
silken whiteness that goes with hair of the shade commonly and unjustly
termed red. This girl's hair was really brown, a rich sepia interwoven
with strands of raw, ruddy gold, admirably harmonious with her eyes.
Her nose he thought a trace too severely perfect in its modelling, but
redeemed by a broad and thoughtful brow, a strong yet absolutely
feminine chin, and a mouth.... Well, as to her mouth, the young man
selected a rosebud to liken it to; which was really quite a poor
simile, for her lips were nothing at all like rose-leaves save in
colour; but they were well-shapen and wide enough to suggest
generosity, without being in the least too wide.
Having catalogued these several features, together with the piquant
oval of her face, and remarked that her poise was good and gracious in
the uncompromising lines of her riding-habit, he had a mental portrait
of her he was not likely soon to forget. For it's not every day that
one encounters so pretty a girl in the woods of Long Island's southern
shore--or anywhere else, for that matter. He felt sure of this.
But he was equally certain that he was as much a stranger to her as she
She, on her part, had been busy satisfying herself that he was a very
presentable young man, in spite of the somewhat formidable reputation
he wore as a person of learned attainments. There could be no better
way to show him to you than through her eyes, so you must know that she
saw a man of less than thirty years, with a figure slight and not
over-tall but well-proportioned, and with a complexion as dark as hers
was light. His eyes, indeed, were a very dark grey, and his hair was
black, and his face and hands had been coloured by the sun and wind
until the tan had become indelible, almost, so that his prolonged
periods of studious indoor seclusion worked little toward lightening
it. If his looks attracted, it was not because he was handsome, for
that he wasn't, but because of certain signs of strength to be
discerned in his face, as well as an engaging manner which he owned by
right of ancestry, his ascendants for several generations having been
notable representatives of one of the First Families of Virginia. Amber
was not inordinately proud of this fact, at least not more so than nine
out of any ten Virginians; but his friends--who were many but mostly
male--claimed that he wrote "F.F.V." before the "F.R.S." which he was
entitled to inscribe after his name.
The pause which fell upon the girl's use of his name, and during which
they looked one another over, was sufficiently prolonged to excuse the
reference to it which Amber chose to make.
"I'm sure," he said with his slow smile, "that we're satisfied we've
never met before. Aren't we?"
"Quite," assented the girl.
"That only makes it the more mysterious, of course."
"Yes," said she provokingly; "doesn't it?"
"You know, you're hardly fair to me," he asserted. "I'm rapidly
beginning to entertain doubts of my senses. When I left the train at
Nokomis station I met a man I know as well as I know myself--pretty
nearly; and he denied me to my face. Then, a little later, I encounter
a strange, mad Bengali, who apparently takes me for somebody he has
business with. And finally, you call me by name."
"It isn't so very remarkable, when you come to consider it," she
returned soberly. "Mr. David Amber is rather well known, even in his
own country. I might very well have seen your photograph published in
connection with some review of--let me see.... Your latest book was
entitled 'The Peoples of the Hindu Kush,' wasn't it? You see, I haven't
"That's sensible of you, I'm sure. Why should you?... But your theory
doesn't hold water, because I won't permit my publishers to print my
picture, and, besides, reviews of such stupid books generally appear in
profound monthlies which abhor illustrations."
"Oh!" She received this with a note of disappointment. "Then my
explanation won't do?"
"I'm sorry," he laughed, "but you'll have to be more ingenious--and
"And you won't show me the present the babu made you?"
He closed his fingers jealously over the bronze box. "Not until...."
"You insist on reciprocity?"
"That's very unkind of you."
"How?" he demanded blankly.
"You will have it that I must surrender my only advantage--my
incognito. If I tell you how I happen to know who you are, I must tell
you who I am. Immediately you will lose interest in me, because I'm
really not at all advanced; I doubt if I should understand your book if
I had to read it."
"Which Heaven forfend! But why," he insisted mercilessly, "do you wish
me to be interested in you?"
She flushed becomingly at this and acknowledged the touch with a
rueful, smiling glance. But, "Because I'm interested in you," she
"And ... why?"
"Are you hardened to such adventures?" She nodded in the direction the
babu had taken. "Are you accustomed to being treated with extraordinary
respect by stray Bengalis and accepting tokens from them? Is romance
commonplace to you?"
"Oh," he said, disappointed, "if it's only the adventure--! Of course,
that's easily enough explained. This half-witted mammoth--don't ask me
how he came to be here--thought he recognised in me some one he had
known in India. Let's have a look at this token-thing."
He disclosed the bronze box and let her take it in her pretty fingers.
"It must have a secret spring," she concluded, after a careful
"I think so, but...."
She shook it, holding it by her ear. "There's something inside--it
rattles ever so slightly. I wonder!"
"No more than I."
"And what are you going to do with it?" She returned it reluctantly.
"Why, there's nothing to do but keep it till the owner turns up, that I
"You won't break it open?"
"Not until curiosity overpowers me and I've exhausted every artifice,
trying to find the catch."
"Are you a patient person, Mr. Amber?"
"Not extraordinarily so, Miss Farrell."
"Oh, how did you guess?"
"By remembering not to be stupid. You are Miss Sophia Farrell, daughter
of Colonel Farrell of the British Diplomatic Service in India." He
chuckled cheerfully over this triumph of deductive reasoning. "You are
visiting the Quains for a few days, while _en route_ for India with
some friends whose name I've forgotten--"
"The Rolands," she prompted involuntarily.
"Thank you.... The Rolands, who are stopping in New York. You've lived
several years with your father in India, went back to London to 'come
out' and are returning, having been presented at the Court of St.
James. Your mother was an American girl, a schoolmate of Mrs. Quain's.
I'm afraid that's the whole sum of my knowledge of you."
"You've turned the tables fairly, Mr. Amber," she admitted. "And Mr.
Quain wrote you all that?"
"I'm afraid he told me almost as much about you as he told you about
me; we're old friends, you know. And now I come to think of it, Quain
has one of the few photographs of me extant. So my chain of reasoning's
complete. And I think we'd better hurry on to Tanglewood."
"Indeed, yes. Mrs. Quain will be wild with worry if that animal finds
his way back to the stable without me; I've been very thoughtless." She
caught up her riding-skirt and started down the path with Amber
trudging contently beside her. "However," she considered demurely, "I'm
not at all sorry, really; it's quite an experience to have a notability
at a disadvantage, even if only for a few minutes."
"I wish you wouldn't," he begged in boyish embarrassment. "I'm not a
notability, really; Quain's been talking too much. I'll get even with
"That sounds so modest that I almost believe I've made a mistake about
your identity. But I've no doubt you're right; Mr. Quain does
exaggerate in praise of his friends. Very likely it is as you insist,
and you're only an ordinary person, after all. At least, you would be
if stray babus didn't make you mysterious presents."
"So long as there is that to hold your interest in me, I'm content," he
told her, diverted. "How much longer shall you stay at Tanglewood, Miss
"Unhappily," she sighed, "I must leave on the early train to-morrow, to
join the Rolands in New York."
"You don't want to go?"
"I'm half an American, Mr. Amber. I've learned to love the country
already. Besides, we start immediately for San Francisco, and it'll be
such a little while before I'll be in India."
"You don't care for India?"
"I've known it for less than six years, but already I've come to hate
it as thoroughly as any exiled Englishwoman there. It sits there like a
great, insatiable monster, devouring English lives. Indirectly it was
responsible for my mother's death; she never recovered from the illness
she contracted when my father was stationed in the Deccan. In the
course of time it will kill my father, just as it did his father and
his elder brother. It's a cruel, hateful, ungrateful land--not worth
the price we pay for it."
"I know how you feel," he said with sympathy. "It's been a good many
years since I visited India, and of course I then saw and heard little
of the darker side. Your people are brave enough, out there."
"They are. I don't know about Government; but its servants are loyal
and devoted and unselfish and cheerful. And I don't at all understand,"
she added in confusion, "why I should have decided to inflict upon you
my emotional hatred of the country. Your question gave me the opening,
and I forgot myself."
"I assure you I was thoroughly shocked, Miss Farrell."
"You should have been--surprised, at least. Why should I pour out my
woes to you--a man I've known not fifteen minutes?"
"Why not, if you felt like it? After all, you know, we're both of us
merely making talk to--ah--to cover our interest in one another."
She paused momentarily to laugh at his candour. "You are outspoken, Mr.
Amber! It's very pretty of you to assert an interest in me; but why
should you assume that I--"
"You said so, didn't you?"
"Wel-l ... yes, so I did."
"You can change your mind, of course."
"I shan't, honestly, until you turn stupid. And you can't do that until
you stop having strange adventures. Will you tell me something?"
"If I can."
"About the man who wouldn't acknowledge knowing you? You remember
saying three people had been mistaken about your identity this
"No, only one--the babu. You're not mistaken--"
"I knew you must be David Amber the moment I heard you speaking Urdu."
"And the man at the station wasn't mistaken--unless I am. He knew me
perfectly, I believe, but for reasons of his own refused to recognise
"He was an English servant named Doggott, who is--or once was--a valet
in the service of an old friend, a man named Rutton."
She repeated the name: "Rutton? It seems to me I've heard of him."
"I don't remember," she confessed, knitting her level brows. "The name
has a familiar ring, somehow. But about the valet?"
"Well, I was very intimate with his employer for a long time, though we
haven't met for several years. Rutton was a strange creature, a man of
extraordinary genius, who lived a friendless, solitary life--at least,
so far as I knew; I once lived with him in a little place he had in
Paris, for three months, and in all that time he never received a
letter or a caller. He was reticent about himself, and I never asked
any questions, of course, but in spite of the fact that he spoke
English like an Englishman and was a public school man, apparently, I
always believed he had a strain of Hungarian blood in him--or else
Italian or Spanish. I know that sounds pretty broad, but he was
enigmatic--a riddle I never managed to make much of. Aside from that he
was wonderful: a linguist, speaking a dozen European languages and more
Eastern tongues and dialects, I believe, than any other living man. We
met by accident in Berlin and were drawn together by our common
interest in Orientalism. Later, hearing I was in Paris, he hunted me up
and insisted that I stay with him there while finishing my big
book--the one whose title you know. His assistance to me then was
invaluable. After that I lost track of him."
"And the valet?"
"Oh, I'd forgotten Doggott. He was a Cockney, as silent and
self-contained as Rutton.... To get back to Nokomis: I met Doggott at
the station, called him by name, and he refused to admit knowing
me--said I must have mistaken him for his twin brother. I could tell by
his eyes that he lied, and it made me wonder. It's quite impossible
that Rutton should be in this neck of the woods; he was a man who
preferred to live a hermit in centres of civilisation.... Curious!"
"I don't wonder you think so. Perhaps the man had been up to some
mischief.... But," said the girl with a note of regret, "we're almost
They had come to the seaward verge of the woodland, where the trees and
scrub rose like a wild hedgerow on one side of a broad, well-metalled
highway. Before them stretched the eighth of a mile of neglected land
knee-deep with crisp, dry, brown stalks of weedy growths, beyond which
the bay smiled, a still lake of colour mirroring the intense
lapis-lazuli of the calm eastern skies of evening. Over across its
waters the sand dunes of a long island glowed like a bar of new red
gold, tinted by the transient scarlet and yellow glory of the
smouldering Autumnal sunset. Through the woods the level, brilliant,
warmthless rays ran like wild-fire, turning each dead, brilliant leaf
to a wisp of incandescent flame, and tingeing the air with an
evanescent ruby radiance against which the slim young boles stood black
To the right, on the other side of the road, a rustic fence enclosed
the trim, well-groomed plantations of Tanglewood Lodge; through the
dead limbs a window of the house winked in the sunset glow like an eye
of garnet. And as the two appeared a man came running up the road,
"That's Quain!" cried Amber; and sent a long cry of greeting toward
"Wait!" said the girl impulsively, putting out a detaining hand. "Let's
keep our secret," she begged, her eyes dancing--"just for the fun of
"About the babu and the Token; it's a bit of mystery and romance to
me--and we don't often find that in our lives, do we? Let us keep it
personal for a while--between ourselves; and you will promise to let me
know if anything unusual ever comes of it, after I've gone. We can say
that I was riding carelessly, which is quite true, and that the horse
shied and threw me, which again is true; but the rest for ourselves
only.... Please.... What do you say?"
He was infected by her spirit of irresponsible mischief. "Why, yes--I
say yes," he replied; and then, more gravely: "I think it'll be very
pleasant to share a secret with you, Miss Farrell. I shant say a word
to any one, until I have to."
* * * * *
As events turned he had no need to mention the incident until the
morning of the seventh day following the girl's departure. In the
interim nothing happened, and he was able to enjoy some excellent
shooting with Quain, his thoughts undisturbed by any further appearance
of the babu.
But on that seventh morning it became evident that a burglary had been
visited upon the home of his hosts. A window had been forced in the
rear of the house and a trail of burnt matches and candle-grease
between that entrance and the door of Amber's room, together with the
somewhat curious circumstance that nothing whatever was missing from
the personal effects of the Quains, forced him to make an explanation.
For his own belongings had been rifled and the bronze box alone
abstracted--still preserving its secret.
In its place Amber found a soiled slip of note-paper inscribed with the
round, unformed handwriting of the babu: "Pardon, sahib. A mistake has
been made. I seek but to regain that which is not yours to possess.
There will be naught else taken. A thousand excuses from your hmbl.
obt. svt., Behari Lal Chatterji."
A cry in the windy dusk; a sudden, hollow booming overhead; a vision of
countless wings in panic, sketched in black upon a background of dulled
silver; two heavy detonations and, with the least of intervals, a
third; three vivid flashes of crimson and gold stabbing the purple
twilight; and then the acrid reek of smokeless drifting into Amber's
face, while from the sky, where the V-shaped flock had been, two
stricken bundles of blood-stained feathers fell slowly, fluttering....
Honking madly, the unscathed brethren of the slain wheeled abruptly
and, lashed by the easterly gale, fled out over the open sea,
triangular formation dwindling rapidly in the clouded distances.
Shot-gun poised abreast, his keen eyes marking down the fall of his
prey, Amber stood without moving, exultation battling with a vague
remorse in his bosom--as always when he killed. Quain, who had dropped
back a pace after firing but one shot and scoring an unqualified miss
at close range, now stood plucking clumsily, with half frozen fingers,
at an obstinate breech-lock. This latter resisting his every wile, his
temper presently slipped its leash; as violently as briefly he swore:
"Gladly," agreed Amber, without turning. "But what?"
"Of course." There were elaborations which would not lend themselves to
decorative effect upon a printed page.
"Then damn it yourself, Quain; I'm sure you can do it ever so much more
thoroughly than I. But what's the matter?"
"Rim-jammed cartridge," explained Quain between his teeth. The lock
just then yielding to his awkward manipulation, stock and barrel came
apart in his hands. "Just my beastly luck!" he added gratuitously. "It
wouldn't've been me if--! How many'd you pot, Davy?"
"Only two," said Amber, lowering his weapon, extracting the spent
shells, and reloading.
"Only _two!_" The information roused in Quain a demon of sarcasm.
Fumbling in his various pockets for a shell-extractor, he grunted his
disgust. "Here, lend us your thingumbob; I've lost mine. Thanky....
Only two! How many'd you expect to drop, on a snapshot like that?"
"Two," returned Amber so patiently that Quain requested him,
explosively, to go to the devil. "If you don't mind," he said, "I'll go
after my ducks instead. You'll follow? They're over there, on our way."
And accepting Quain's snort for an affirmative he strolled off in the
direction indicated, hugging his gun in the crook of his arm.
Fifty yards or so away he found the ducks, side by side in a little
hollow. "Fine fat birds," he adjudged them sagely, weighing each in his
hand ere dropping it into his lean game-bag. "This makes up for a lot
of cold and waiting."
Satisfaction glimmering in his grave dark eyes, he lingered in the
hollow, while the frosty air, whipping madly through the sand-hills,
stung his face till it glowed beneath the brown. But presently, like
the ghost of a forgotten kiss, something moist and chill touched gently
his cheek, and was gone. Startled, he glanced skywards, then extended
an arm, watching it curiously while the rough fabric of his sleeve was
salted generously with fine white flakes. Though to some extent
apprehended (they had been blind indeed to have ignored the menace of
the dour day just then dying) snow had figured in their calculations as
little as the scarcity of game. Amber wondered dimly if it would work a
change in their plans, prove an obstacle to their safe return across
The flurry thickening in the air, a shade of anxiety colored his mood.
"This'll never do!" he declared, and set himself to ascend a nearby
dune. For a moment he slipped and slid vainly, the dry sand treacherous
to his feet, the brittle grasses he clutched snapping off or coming
away altogether with their roots; but in time he found himself upon the
rounded summit, and stood erect, straining the bitter air into panting
lungs as he cast about for bearings.
Behind him a meagre strip of sand held back a grim and angry sea;
before him lay an eighth of a mile of sand-locked desolation, and then
the weltering bay--a wide two miles of leaping, shouting waves,
slate-coloured but white of crests. Beyond, seen dimly as a wall
through driving sheets of snow, were the darkly wooded rises of the
mainland. In the west, to his left, the blank, impersonal eye of the
light-house, its pillar invisible, winked red, went out, and flashed up
white. Over all, beneath a low and lustreless sky as flat as a plate,
violet evening shadows were closing in like spectral skirts of the
imminent night. But, in the gloom, their little cat-boat lay occult to
his searching gaze.
Quain's voice recalling him, he turned to discover his host stumbling
through a neighbouring vale, and obeying a peremptory wave of the elder
man's hand, descended, accompanied by an avalanche in miniature.
"Better hurry," shouted Amber, as soon as he could make himself heard
above the screaming of the gale. "Wind's freshening; it looks like mean
"Really?" Quain fell into step at his side. "You 'stonish me. But the
good Lord knows I'm willin'. Whereabout's the boat?"
"Blessed if I know: over yonder somewhere," Amber told him, waving
toward the bay-shore an arm as vaguely helpful as his information.
"Thank you so much. Guess I can find her all right. Hump yo'self,
They plodded on heavily, making fair progress in spite of the hindering
sand. Nevertheless it had grown sensibly darker ere they debouched upon
the frozen flats that bordered the bay; and now the wind bore down upon
them in full-winged fury, shrieking in their ears, searing their eyes,
tearing greedily at the very breath of their nostrils, and searching
out with impish ingenuity the more penetrable portions of their
For a moment Quain paused, irresolute, peering right and left, then
began to trudge eastwards, heavy boots crunching the thin sedge-ice. A
little later they came to the water's edge and proceeded steadily along
it, Quain leading confidently. Eventually he tripped over some
obstacle, stumbled and lurched forward and recovered his balance with
an effort, then remained with bowed head, staring down at his feet.
"Hurt yourself, old man?"
"No!" snapped Quain rudely.
"Then what in--"
"Eh?" Quain roused, but an instant longer looked him blankly in the
eye. "Oh," he added brightly--"oh, she's gone."
"The boat," affirmed Quain, too discouraged for the obvious retort
ungracious. He stooped and caught up a frayed end of rope, exhibiting
it in witness to his statement. "Ain't it hell?" he inquired
Amber's gaze followed the rope, the further end of which was rove
through the ring of a small grapnel anchor half buried in the spongy
earth. "Gone!" he echoed dismally.
"Gone away from here," said Quain deliberately, nodding at the rope's
end. "The tide floated her off, of course; but how this happened is
beyond me. I could kill Antone." He named the Portuguese labourer
charged with the care of the boats at Tanglewood. "It's his job to see
that these cables are replaced when they show signs of wear." He cast
the rope from him in disdain and wheeled to stare baywards. "There!" he
cried, levelling an arm to indicate a dark and fleeting shadow upon the
storm-whipped waters. "There she goes--not three hundred feet off. It
can't be five minutes since she worked loose. I don't see why...! If it
hadn't been for that damned cartridge...! It's the devil's own luck!"
A blur of snow swept between boat and shore; when it had passed the
former was all but indistinguishable. From a full heart Quain
blasphemed fluently.... "But if she holds as she stands," he amended
quickly, his indomitable spirit fostering the forlorn hope, "she'll go
aground in another five minutes--and I know just where. I'll go after
"The deuce you will! How?"
"There's an old skimmy up the shore a ways." Already Quain was moving
off in search of it. "Noticed her this morning. Daresay she leaks like
a sieve, but at worst the water's pretty shoal inshore, hereabouts."
"Cold comfort in that."
"Better than none, you amiable--"
"Can you swim?" Amber demanded pointedly.
"Like a fish. And you?"
"Not like a fish."
"Damn!" Quain brought up short with a shin barked against a thwart of
the rowboat he had been seeking, and in recognition of the mishap
liberally insulted his luck.
Amber, knowing that his hurt was as inconsiderable as his ill-temper,
which was more than half-feigned to mask his anxiety, laughed quietly,
meanwhile inspecting their find with a critical eye.
"You don't seriously mean to put off in this crazy hen-coop, do you?"
"Just precisely that. It's the only way."
"It simple madness. I won't--"
"You don't want to stay here all night, do you?"
"Well, then, lend us a hand and don't stand there grumbling. Be
thankful for what you've got, which is me and my enterprise."
"Oh, all right."
Together they put their shoulders to the bows of the old, flat-bottomed
rowboat, with incredible exertions uprooting it from its ancient bed,
and at length had it afloat.
Panting, Quain mopped his forehead with a handkerchief much the worse
for a day's association with gun-grease, and peered beneath his hand
into the murk that veiled the bay.
"There she is," he declared confidently: "aground." He pointed. "I'll
fetch up with her in no time."
But Amber could see nothing in the least resembling the catboat, and
said so with decision.
"She's there, all right," insisted Quain. "'Tain't my fault if you're
blind. Here, hold this, will you, while I find me a pole of some sort."
He thrust into Amber's hand an end of rotten painter at which the
rowboat strained, and wandered off into the night, in the course of
time returning with an old eel-pot stake, flotsam of some summer storm.
"Pure, bull-headed luck!" he crowed, jubilant, brandishing his trophy;
and jumped into the boat. "Now sit tight till I come back?...
"I'm coming, too," Amber repeated quietly.
"The hell you are! D'you want to sink us? What do you think this is,
anyway--an excursion steamer? You stay where you are and--I say--take
care of this till I come back, like a good fellow."
He thrust the butt of his shot-gun into Amber's face, and the latter,
seizing it, was rewarded by a vigorous push that sent him back half a
dozen feet. At the same time the painter slipped from his grasp and
Quain, lodging an end of the eel-pot stake on the hard sand bottom, put
his weight upon it. Before Amber could recover, the boat had slid off
and was melting swiftly into the shadows.
After a bit Quain's voice came back: "Don't fret, Davy. I'm all right."
Amber cupped hands to mouth and sent a cheerful hail ringing in
response. Simultaneously the last, least, indefinite blur that stood
for the boat in the darkness, vanished in a swirl of snow; and he was
alone with the storm and his misgivings. Upon these he put a
check--would not dwell upon them; but their influence none the less
proved strong enough to breed in him a resistless restlessness and keep
him tramping up and down a five-yard stretch of comparatively solid
earth: to and fro, stamping his feet to keep his blood circulating,
lugging both guns, one beneath either arm, hunching his shoulders up
about his ears in thankless attempt to prevent wet flakes from sifting
in between his neck and collar--thus, interminably it seemed, to and
fro, to and fro....
In the course of time this occupation defeated its purpose; the very
monotony of it sent his thoughts winging back to Quain; he worried more
than ever for his friend, reproaching himself unmercifully for that he
had suffered him to go alone--or at all. Quain had a wife and children;
that thought proved insupportable.... Had he missed the catboat
altogether? Or had he gained it only to find the motor disabled or the
propeller fouled with the wiry eel-grass that choked the shoals? In
either instance he would be at the mercy of the wind, for even with the
sail close-reefed he would have no choice other than to fly before the
fury. Or had the boat possibly gone aground so hard and fast that Quain
had found himself unable to push her off and doomed to lie in her,
helpless, against the fulling of the tide? Or (last and most grudged
guess of all) had the "skimmy" proved as unseaworthy as its dilapidated
appearance had proclaimed it?
Twenty minutes wore wearily away. Falling ever more densely, the snow
drew an impenetrable wan curtain between Amber and the world of life
and light and warmth; while with each discordant blast the strength of
the gale seemed to wax, its high hysteric clamour at times drowning
even the incessant deep bellow of the ocean surf. Once Amber paused in
his patrol, having heard, or fancying he had heard, the staccato
_plut-plut-plut_ of a marine motor. On impulse, with a swelling heart,
he swung his gun skywards and pulled both triggers. The double report
rang in his ears loud as a thunderclap.
In the moments that followed, while he stood listening, with every
fibre of his being keyed to attention, the sense of his utter isolation
chilled his heart as with cold steel.
A little frantically he loaded and fired again; but what at first might
have been thought the faint far echo of a hail he in the end set down
reluctantly to a trick of the hag-ridden wind; to whose savage voice he
durst not listen long; in such a storm, on such a night, a man had but
to hearken with a credulous ear to hear strange and terrible voices
whispering, shrieking, gibbering, howling untold horrors....
An hour passed, punctuated at frequent intervals by gunshots. Though
they evoked no answer of any sort, hope for Quain died hard in Amber's
heart. With all his might he laboured to convince himself that his
friend must have overtaken the drifting boat, and, forced to relinquish
his efforts to regain the beach, have scudded across the bay to the
mainland and safety; but this seemed a surmise at best so far-fetched,
and one as well not overlong to be dwelt upon, lest by that very
insistence its tenuity be emphasised, that Amber resolutely turned from
it to a consideration of his own plight and problematic way of escape.
His understanding of his situation was painfully accurate: he was
marooned upon what a flood tide made a desert island but which at the
ebb was a peninsula--a long and narrow strip of sand, bounded on the
west by the broad, shallow channel to the ocean, on the east connected
with the mainland by a sandbar which half the day lay submerged.
He had, then, these alternatives: he might either compose himself to
hug the leeward side of a dune till daybreak (or till relief should
come) or else undertake a five-mile tramp on the desperate hope of
finding at the end of it the tide out and the sandbar a safe footway
from shore to shore. Between the two he vacillated not at all; anything
were preferable to a night in the dunes, beaten by the implacable
storm, haunted by the thought of Quain; and even though he were to find
the eastern causeway under water, at least the exercise would have
served to keep him from freezing.
Ten minutes after his last cartridge had been fruitlessly discharged,
he set out for the ocean beach, pausing at the first dune he came upon
to scrape a shallow trench in the sand and cache therein both guns and
his game-bag. Marking the spot with a bit of driftwood stuck upright,
he pressed on, eventually pausing on the overhanging lip of a
twenty-foot bluff. To its foot the beach below was aswirl knee-deep
with the wash of breakers, broad patches of water black and glossy as
polished ebony alternating with vast expanses of foam and clotted
spume, all aglow with pale winter phosporescence. Momentarily, as he
watched, at once fascinated and appalled, mountainous ridges of
blackness heaved up out of the storm's grey heart, offshore, and,
curling crests edged with luminous white, swung in to crash and shatter
thunderously upon the sands.
Awed and disappointed, Amber drew back. The beach was impassable; here
was no wide and easy road to the east, such as he had thought to find;
to gain the sandbar he had now to thread a tortuous and uncertain way
through the bewildering dunes. And the prospect was not a little
disconcerting; afraid neither of wind nor of cold, he was wretchedly
afraid of going astray in that uncertain, shifting labyrinth. To lose
oneself in that trackless wilderness...!
A demon of anxiety prodded him on: he must learn Quain's fate, or go
mad. Once on the mainland it were a matter of facility to find his way
to the village of Shampton, telephone Tanglewood and charter a "team"
to convey him thither. He shut his teeth on his determination and set
his face to the east.
Beset and roughly buffeted by the gale; the snow settling in rippling
drifts in the folds of his clothing and upon his shoulders clinging
like a cloth; his face cut by clouds of sand flung horizontally with
well-nigh the force of birdshot from a gun: he bowed to the blast and
plodded steadily on.
Imperceptibly fatigue benumbed his senses, blunted the keen edge of his
emotions; even the care for Quain became a mere dull ache in the back
of his perceptions; of physical suffering he was unconscious. He fell a
prey to freakish fancies--could stand aside and watch himself, an atom
whirling in the mad dance of the tempest, as the snow-flakes whirled,
as little potent. He saw himself pitting his puny strength of mind and
body against the infinite force of the elements: saw himself fall and
rise and battle on, gaining nothing: an atom, sport of high gods! To
the flight of time he grew quite oblivious, his thoughts wandering in
the past, oddly afar to half-remembered scenes, to experiences more
than half-forgotten, both wholly irrelevant; picturesque and painful
memories cast up from the deeps of the subconsciousness by some
inexplicable convulsion of the imagination. For a long time he moved on
in stupid, wondering contemplation of a shining crescent of sand backed
by a green, steaming wall of jungle; there was a dense blue sky above,
and below, on the beach, dense blue waters curled lazily up the feet of
a little, naked, brown child that played contentedly with a shell of
rainbow hues. Again he saw a throng upon a pier-head, and in its
forefront an unknown woman, plainly dressed, with deep brown eyes
wherein Despair dwelt, tearless but white to the lips as she watched a
steamer draw away. And yet again, he seemed to stand with others upon
the threshold of the cardroom of a Hong-Kong club: in a glare of garish
light a man in evening dress lay prone across a table on whose
absorbent, green cloth a dark and ugly stain was widening slowly....
But for the most part he fancied himself walking through scented,
autumnal woods, beside a woman whose eyes were kind and dear, whose
lips were sweet and tempting: a girl he had known not an hour but whom
already he loved, though he himself did not dream it nor discover it
till too late.... And with these many other visions formed and
dissolved in dream-like phantasmagoria; but of them all the strongest
and most recurrent was that of the girl in the black riding-habit,
walking by his side down the aisle of trees. So that presently the
tired and overwrought man believed himself talking with her, reasoning,
arguing, pleading desperately for his heart's desire;... and wakened
with a start, to hear the echo of her voice as though she had spoken
but the instant gone, to find his own lips framing the syllables of her
Thus strangely he came to know that beyond question he loved. And he
stopped short and stood blinking blindly at nothing, a little
frightened by the depth and strength of this passion which had come to
him with such scant presage, realising for the first time that his need
for her was an insatiable hunger of the soul.... And she was lost to
him; half a world lay between them--or soon would. All his days he had
awaited, a little curiously, a little sceptical, the coming of the
thing men call Love; and when it had come to him he had not known it
nor guessed it until its cause had slipped away from him.... Beyond
Abruptly he regained consciousness of his plight, and with an effort
shook his senses back into his head. It was not precisely a time when
he could afford to let his wits go wool-gathering. And he realised that
he had been, in a way, more than half-asleep as he walked; even now he
was drowsy, his eyes were heavy, his feet leaden--and numb with cold
besides. He had no least notion of what distance he might have
travelled or whether he had walked in a straight line or a circle; but
when he thought to glance over his shoulder--there was at the moment
perhaps more wind with less snow than there had been for some time--he
found the lighthouse watching him as it had from the first: as if he
had not won a step away from it for all his struggle and his pains. The
white, staring eye winked sardonically through a mist of flakes, was
blotted out and turned up a baleful red. It seemed to mock him, but
Amber nodded at it with no unfriendly feeling. It still might serve his
purpose very well, if his strength held, since he had merely to keep
his back to the light and the ocean beach upon his right to win to the
Shampton sandbar, whether soon or late.
Inflexible of purpose in the face of all his weariness and
discouragement, he was on the point of resuming his march when he was
struck by the circumstance that the whitened shoulder of a dune, quite
near at hand, should seem as if frosted with light--coldly luminous.
Staring, speculative, he hung in the wind--inquisitive as a cat but
loath to waste time in footless inquiry. The snow-fall, setting in with
augmented violence, decided him. Where light was, there should be man,
and where man, shelter.
His third eager stride opened up a wide basin in the dunes, filled with
eddying veils of snow, and set, at some distance, with two brilliant
squares of light--windows in an invisible dwelling. In the space
between them, doubtless, there would be a door. But a second time he
paused, remembering that the island was said to be uninhabited. Only
yesterday he had asked and been so informed.... Odd!
So passing strange he held it, indeed, that he was conscious of a
singular reluctance to question the phenomenon. That superstitious
dread of the unknown which lies dormant in us all, in Amber stirred and
awoke and held him back like a strong hand. Or, if there be such a
thing as a premonition of misfortune, he may be said to have
experienced it in that hour; certainly a presentiment of evil crawled
in his brain, and he hesitated at a time when he desired naught in the
world so much as that which the windows promised--light, heat and human
companionship. He had positively to force himself on to seek the door,
and even when he had stumbled against its step he twice lifted his hand
and let it fall without knocking.
There was not a sound within that he could hear above the clamour of
the goblin night.
In the end, however, he knocked stoutly enough.
THE MAN PERDU
A shadow swept swiftly across one of the windows, and the stranger at
the door was aware of a slight jarring as though some more than
ordinarily brutal gust of wind had shaken the house upon its
foundation, or an inner door had been slammed violently. But otherwise
he had so little evidence that his summons had fallen on aught but
empty walls or deaf ears that he had begun to debate his right to enter
without permission, when a chain rattled, a bolt grated, and the door
swung wide. A flood of radiance together with a gust of heated air
struck him in the face. Dazzled, he reeled across the threshold.
The door banged, and again the house in the dunes shuddered as the
storm fell upon it with momentarily trebled ferocity; as if, cheated of
its foreordained prey, it would rend apart his frail refuge to regain
Three paces within the room Amber paused, waiting for his eyes to
adjust themselves to the light. Vaguely conscious of a presence behind
him, he faced another--the slight, spare silhouette of a man's figure
between him and the lamp; and at the same time felt that he was being
subjected to a close scrutiny--both searching and, at its outset, the
reverse of hospitable. But he had no more than become sensitive to this
than the man before him stepped quickly forward and with two strong
hands clasped his shoulders.
"David Amber!" he heard his name pronounced in a voice singularly
resonant and pleasant. "So you've run me to earth at last!"
Amber's face was blank with incredulity as he recognised the speaker.
"Rutton!" he stammered. "Rutton--why--by all that's strange!"
"Guilty," said the other with a quiet laugh. "But sit down." He swung
Amber about, gently guiding him to a chair. "You look pretty well done
up. How long have you been out in this infernal night? But never mind
answering; I can wait. Doggott!"
"Take Mr. Amber's coat and boots and bring him my dressing-gown and
"And a hot toddy and something to eat--and be quick about it."
"Very good, sir."
Rutton's body-servant moved noiselessly to Amber's side, deftly helping
him remove his shooting-jacket, whereon snow had caked in thin and
brittle sheets. His eyes, grey and shallow, flickered recognition and
softened, but he did not speak in anticipation of Amber's kindly
"Good-evening, Doggott." To which he responded quietly: "Good-evening,
Mr. Amber. It's a pleasure to see you again. I trust you are well."
"Quite, thank you. And you?"
"I'm very fit, thank you sir."
"And"--Amber sat down again, Doggott kneeling at his feet to unlace and
remove his heavy pigskin hunting-boots--"and your brother?"
For a moment the man did not answer. His head was lowered so that his
features were invisible, but a dull, warm flush overspread his cheeks.
"And your brother, Doggott?"
"I'm sorry, sir, about that; but it was Mr. Rutton's order," muttered
"You're talking of the day you met Doggott at Nokomis station?"
interposed his employer from the stand he had taken at one side of the
fireplace, his back to the broad hearth whereon blazed a grateful
Amber looked up inquiringly, nodding an unspoken affirmative.
"It was my fault that he--er--prevaricated, I'm afraid; as he says, it
was by my order."
Rutton's expression was masked by the shadows; Amber could make nothing
of his curious reticence, and remained silent, waiting a further
explanation. It came, presently, with an effect of embarrassment.
"I had--have peculiar reasons for not wishing my refuge here to be
discovered. I told Doggott to be careful, should he meet any one we
knew. Although, of course, neither of us anticipated...."
"I don't think Doggott was any more dumfounded than I," said Amber. "I
couldn't believe he'd left you, yet it seemed impossible that you
should be here--of all places--in the neighbourhood of Nokomis, I mean.
As for that--" Amber shook his head expressively, glancing round the
mean room in which he had found this man of such extraordinary
qualities. "It's altogether inconceivable," he summed up his
"It does seem so--even to me, at times."
"Then why--in Heaven's name--"
By now Doggott had invested Amber in his master's dressing-gown and
slippers; rising he left them, passing out through an inner door which
led, evidently, to the only other room in the cottage. Rutton delayed
his reply until the man had shut the door behind him, then suddenly,
with the manner of one yielding to the inevitable, drew a chair up to
face Amber's and dropped into it.
"I see I must tell you something--a little; as little as I can help--of
"I'm afraid you must; though I'm damned if I can detect a glimmer of
either rhyme or reason in this preposterous situation."
Rutton laughed quietly, lounging in his armchair and lacing before him
the fingers of hands singularly small and delicate in view of their
very considerable strength--to which Amber's shoulder still bore aching
"In three words," he said deliberately: "I am hiding."
Amber bent forward, studying the elder man's face intently. Thin and
dark--not tanned like Amber's, but with a native darkness of skin like
that of the Spanish--it was strongly marked, its features at once
prominent and finely modelled. The hair intensely black, the eyes as
dark and of peculiar fire, the lips broad, full, and sympathetic, the
cheekbones high, the forehead high and something narrow: these combined
to form a strangely striking ensemble, and none the less striking for
its weird resemblance to Amber's own cast of countenance.
Indeed, their likeness one to the other was nothing less than weird in
that it could be so superficially strong, yet so elusive. No two men
were ever more unalike than these save in this superficial accident of
facial contours and complexion. No one knowing Amber (let us say) could
ever have mistaken him for Rutton; and yet any one, strange to both,
armed with a description of Rutton, might pardonably have believed
Amber to be his man. Yet manifestly they were products of alien races,
even of different climes--their individualities as dissimilar as the
poles. Where in Rutton's bearing burned an inextinguishable, almost an
insolent pride, beneath an ice-like surface of self-constraint, in
Amber's one detected merely quiet consciousness of strength and
breeding--his inalienable heritage from many generations of Anglo-Saxon
forebears; and while Rutton continually betrayed, by look or tone or
gesture, a birthright of fierce passions savagely tamed, from Amber one
seldom obtained a hint of aught but the broad and humourous tolerance
of an American gentleman.
But to-night the Virginian had undergone enough to have lost much of
his habitual poise. "Hiding!" he reiterated in a tone scarcely louder
than a whisper.
"And you have found me out, my friend."
"But--but I don't--"
Rutton lifted a hand in deprecation; and as he did so the door in the
rear of the room opened and Doggott entered. Cat-like, passing behind
Amber, he placed upon the table a small tray, and from a steaming
pitcher poured him a glass of hot spiced wine. At a look from his
employer he filled a second.
"There's sandwiches, sir," he said; "the best I could manage at short
notice, Mr. Amber. If you'll wait a bit I can fix you up something
"Thank you, Doggott, that won't be necessary; the sandwiches look
mighty good to me."
"Thank you, sir. Will there be anything else, Mr. Rutton?"
"If there is, I'll call you."
"Yes, sir. Good-night, sir. Good-night, Mr. Amber."
As Doggott shut himself out of the room, Amber lifted his fragrant
glass. "You're joining me, Rutton?"
"With all my heart!" The man came forward to his glass. "For old sake's
sake, David. Shall we drink a toast?" He hesitated, with a marked air
of embarrassment, then impulsively swung his glass aloft. "Drink
standing!" he cried, he voice oddly vibrant. And Amber rose. "To the
King--the King, God bless him!"
"To the King!" It was more an exclamation of surprise than an echo to
the toast; nevertheless Amber drained his drink to the final drop. As
he resumed his seat, the room rang with the crash of splintering glass;
Rutton had dashed his tumbler to atoms on the hearthstone.
"Well!" commented Amber, lifting his brows questioningly. "You _are_
sincere, Rutton. But who in blazes would ever have suspected you of
being a British subject?"
"But it seems to me I should have known--"
"What have you ever really known about me, David, save that I am
"Well--when you put it that way--little enough--nothing." Amber laughed
"And I? Who and what am I?" No answer was expected--so much was plain
from Rutton's tone; he was talking to himself more than addressing his
guest. His long brown fingers strayed to the box and conveyed a
cigarette to his lips; staring dreamily into the fire, he smoked a
little ere continuing. "What does it mean, this eternal 'I' round which
the world revolves?" His voice trailed off into silence.
Amber snapped the tension with a chuckle. "You can search me," he said
irreverently. And his host returned his smile. "Now, will you please
pay attention to me, my friend? Or do you wish me to turn and rend
myself with curiosity--after I've attended to these excellent
sandwiches?... Seriously, I want to know several things. What have you
been doing with yourself these past three years?"
Rutton shook his head gravely. "I can't say."
"You mean you won't?"
"If you will have it that way."
"Well ... I give you up."
"That's the most profitable thing you could do, David."
"But, seriously now, this foolish talk about hiding is all a joke,
"No," said Rutton soberly; "no, it's no joke." He sighed profoundly.
"As for my recent whereabouts, I have been--ah--travelling
considerably; moving about from pillar to post." To this the man added
a single word, the more significant in that it embodied the nearest
approach to a confidence that Amber had ever known him to make:
"Hunted by whom?"
"I beg your pardon." Rutton bent forward and pushed the cigarettes to
Amber's elbow. "I am--ah--so preoccupied with my own mean troubles,
David, that I had forgotten that you had nothing to smoke. Forgive me."
"That's no matter, I--"
Amber cut short his impatient catechism in deference to the other's
mute plea. And Rutton thanked him with a glance--one of those looks
which, between friends, are more eloquent than words. Sighing, he shook
his head, his eyes once more seeking the flames. And silently studying
his face--the play of light from lamp and hearth throwing its features
into salient relief--for the first time Amber, his wits warmed back to
activity from the stupor the bitter cold had put upon them, noticed how
time and care had worn upon the man since they had last parted. He had
never suspected Rutton to be his senior by more years than ten, at the
most; to-night, however, he might well be taken for fifty were his age
to be reckoned by its accepted signs--the hollowing of cheek and
temple, the sinking of eyes into their sockets, the deepening of the
maze of lines about the mouth and on the forehead.
Impulsively the younger man sat up and put a hand upon the arm of
Rutton's chair. "What can I do?" he asked simply.
Rutton roused, returning his regard with a smile slow, charming,
infinitely sad. "Nothing," he replied; "absolutely nothing."
"No man can do for me what I cannot do for myself. When the time
comes"--he lifted his shoulders lightly--"I will do what I can. Till
then...." He diverged at a tangent. "After all, the world is quite as
tiny as the worn-out aphorism has it. To think that you should find me
here! It's less than a week since Doggott and I hit upon this place and
settled down, quite convinced we had, at last, lost ourselves ... and
might have peace, for a little space at least!"
Amber glanced curiously round the room; sparely furnished, bare,
unlovely, it seemed a most cheerless sort of spot to be considered a
haven of peace.
"And now," concluded Rutton, "we have to move on."
"Because I've found you here?"
"Because you have found me."
"I don't understand."
"My dear boy, I never meant you should."
"But if you're in any danger--"
"I am not."
"You're not! But you just said--"
"I'm in no danger whatever; humanity is, if I'm found."
"I don't follow you at all."
Again Rutton smiled wearily. "I didn't expect you to, David. But this
misadventure makes it necessary that I should tell you something; you
must be made to believe in me. I beg you to; I'm neither mad nor making
game of you." There was no questioning the sane sincerity of the man.
He continued slowly. "It's a simple fact, incredible but absolute,
that, were my whereabouts to be made public, a great, a staggering blow
would be struck against the peace and security of the world.... Don't
laugh, David; I mean it."
"I'm not laughing, Rutton; but you must know that's a pretty large
order. Most men would--"
"Call me mad. Yes, I know," Rutton took up his words as Amber paused,
confused. "I can't expect you to understand me: you couldn't unless I
were to tell you what I may not. But you know me--better, perhaps, than
any living man save Doggott ... and one other. You know whether or not
I would seek to delude you, David. And, knowing that I could not, you
know why it seems to me imperative that, this hole being discovered,
Doggott and I must betake ourselves elsewhere. Surely there must be
solitudes----!" He rose with a gesture of impatience and began
restlessly to move to and fro.
Amber started suddenly, flushing. "If you mean--"
Rutton's kindly hand forced him back into his chair. "Sit down, David.
I never meant that--never for an instant dreamed you'd intentionally
betray my secret. It's enough that you should know it, should
occasionally think of me as being here, to bring misfortune down upon
me, to work an incalculable disaster to the progress of this
civilisation of ours."
"You mean," Amber asked uncertainly, "thought transference?"
"Something of the sort--yes." The man came to a pause beside Amber,
looking down almost pitifully into his face. "I daresay all this sounds
hopelessly melodramatic and neurotic and tommyrotic, David, but ... I
can tell you nothing more. I'm sorry."
"But only let me help you--any way in my power, Rutton. There's nothing
I'd not do...."
"I know, David, I know it. But my case is beyond human aid, since I am
powerless to apply a remedy myself."
"And you _are_ powerless?"
Rutton was silent a long moment. Then, "Time will tell," he said
quietly. "There is one way...." He resumed his monotonous round of the
Mechanically Amber began to smoke, trying hard to think, to penetrate
by reasoning or intuition the wall of mystery which, it seemed, Rutton
chose to set between himself and the world. The intense earnestness of
the man's hopeless confession had carried conviction. Amber believed
him, believed in the reality of his trouble; and, divining it dimly, a
monstrous, menacing shape in the vagueness of the unknown, was himself
dismayed and a little fearful. He owed much to this man, was bound to
him by ties not only of gratitude but of affection, yet, finding him
distressed, found himself simultaneously powerless to render aid.
Inwardly mutinous, he had to school himself to quiescence; lacking the
confidence which Rutton so steadfastly refused him, he was impotent.
Presently he grew conscious that Rutton was standing as if listening,
his eyes averted to the windows. But when Amber looked they showed,
beneath their half-drawn muslin shades, naught save the grey horizontal
rush of snow beyond the panes. And he heard nothing save the endless
raving of the maniac wind.
"What is it?" he inquired at length, unable longer to endure the
tensity of the pause.
"Nothing. I beg your pardon, David." Rutton returned to his chair,
making a visible effort to shake off his preoccupation. "It's an ugly
night, out there. Lucky you blundered on this place. Tell me how it
happened. What became of the other man--your friend?"
The thought of Quain stabbed Amber's consciousness with a mental pang
as keen as acute physical anguish. He jumped up in torment. "God!" he
cried chokingly. "I'd forgotten! He's out there on the bay, poor
devil!--freezing to death if not drowned. Our boat went adrift somehow;
Quain would insist on going after her in a leaky old skiff we found on
the shore ... and didn't come back. I waited till it was hopeless, then
concluded I'd make a try to cross to Shampton by way of the tidal bar.
And I must!"
"It's impossible," Rutton told him with grave sympathy.
"But I must; think of his wife and children, Rutton! There's a chance
yet--a bare chance; he may have reached the boat. If he did, every
minute I waste here is killing him by inches; he'll die of exposure!
But from Shampton we could send a boat--"
"The tide fulls about midnight to-night," interrupted Rutton,
consulting his watch. "It's after nine,--and there's a heavy surf
breaking over the bar now. By ten it'll be impassable, and you couldn't
reach it before eleven. Be content, David; you're powerless."
"You're right--I know that," groaned Amber, his head in his hands. "I
was afraid it was hopeless, but--but--"
"I know, dear boy, I know!"
With a gesture of despair Amber resumed his seat. For some time he
remained deep sunk in dejection. At length, mastering his emotion, he
looked up. "How did you know about Quain--that we were together?" he
"Doggott saw you land this morning, and I've been watching you all day
with my field-glasses, prepared to take cover the minute you turned my
way. Don't be angry with me, David; it wasn't that I didn't yearn to
see you face to face again, but that ... I didn't dare."
"Oh, that!" exclaimed Amber with an exasperated fling of his hand.
"Between the two of you--you and Quain--you'll drive me mad with
"I'm sorry, David. I only wish I might say more. It hurts a bit to have
you doubt me."
"I don't doubt," Amber declared in desperation; "at least, I mean I
won't if you'll be sensible and let me stand by and see you through
this trouble--whatever it is."
Rutton turned to the fire, his head drooping despondently. "That may
not be," he said heavily. "The greatest service you can do me is to
forget my existence, now and henceforth, erase our friendship from the
tablets of your memory, pass me as a stranger should our ways ever
cross again." He flicked the stub of a cigarette into the flames.
"Kismet!... I mean that, David, from my heart. Won't you do this for
me--one last favour, old friend?"
"I'll try; I'll even promise, on condition that you send me word if
ever you have need of me."
"That will be never."
"I'll send for you if ever I may, David; I promise faithfully. And in
return I have your word?"
"Then...." Rutton attempted to divert the subject. "I think you said
Quain? Any relation to Quain's 'Aryan Invasion of India?"
"The same man. He asked me down for the shooting--owns a country place
across the bay: Tanglewood."
"A very able man; I wish I might have met him.... What of yourself?
What have you been doing these three years? Have you married?"
"I've been too busy to think of that.... I mean, till lately."
Amber flushed boyishly. "There was a girl at Quain's--a guest.... But
she left before I dared speak. Perhaps it was as well."
"Because she was too fine and sweet and good for me, Rutton."
"Like every man's first love."
The elder man's glance was keen--too keen for Amber to dissimulate
successfully under it. "You're right," he admitted ruefully. "It's the
first sure-enough trouble of the sort I ever experienced. And, of
course, it had to be hopeless."
"Why?" persisted Rutton.
"Because--I've half a notion there's a chap waiting for her at home."
"In England." The need for a confidant was suddenly imperative upon the
younger man. "She's an English girl--half English, that is; her mother
was an American, a schoolmate of Quain's wife; her father, an
Englishman in the Indian service."
"Sophia Farrell." A peculiar quality, a certain tensity, in Rutton's
manner, forced itself upon Amber's attention. "Why?" he asked. "Do you
know the Farrells? What's the matter?"
Rutton's eyes met his stonily; out of the ashen mask of his face, that
suddenly had whitened beneath the brown, they glared, afire but
unseeing. His hands writhed, the fingers twisting together with cruel
force, the knuckles grey. Abruptly, as if abandoning the attempt to
reassert his self-control, he jumped up and went quickly to a window,
there to stand, his back to Amber, staring fixedly out into the
storm-racked night. "I knew her father," he said at length, his tone
constrained and odd, "long ago, in India."
"He's out there now--a Political, I believe they call him, or something
of the sort."
"She's going out to rejoin him."
"What!" Rutton came swiftly back to Amber, his voice shaking. "What did
"Why, yes. She travels with friends by the western route to join
Colonel Farrell at Darjeeling, where he's stationed just now. Shortly
after I came down she left; Mrs. Quain had a wire a day or so ago,
saying she was on the point of sailing from San Francisco.... Good
Lord, Rutton! are you ill?"
Something in the man's face had brought Amber to his feet, a prey to
inexpressible concern; it was as if a mask had dropped and he were
looking upon the soul of a man in mortal torture.
"No," gasped Rutton, "I'm all right. Besides," he added beneath his
breath, so that Amber barely caught the syllables, "it's too late."
As rapidly as he had lost he seemed to regain mastery of his
inexplicable emotion. His face became again composed, almost immobile,
and stepping to the table he selected a cigarette and rolled it gently
between his slim brown fingers. "I'm sorry to have alarmed you," he
said, his tone a bit too even not to breed a doubt in the mind of his
hearer. "It's nothing serious--a little trouble of the heart, of long
standing, incurable--I hope."
Perplexed, yet hesitating to press him further, Amber watched him
furtively, instinctively assured that between this man and the Farrells
there existed some extraordinary bond; wondering how that could be,
convinced in his soul that somehow the entanglement involved the woman
he loved, he still feared to put his suspicions to the question, lest
he should learn that which he had no right to know ... and while he
watched was startled by the change that came over Rutton. At ease, one
moment, outwardly composed if absorbed in thought, the next he was
rigid, every muscle taut, every nerve tense as a steel spring, his
keen, thoughtful face hardening with a look of brutal hatred, his eyes
narrowing until no more than a glint of fire was visible between the
lashes, lips straining apart until they showed thin and bloodless, with
a gleam of white, set teeth between. His head jerked back suddenly, his
gaze fixing itself first upon the window, then shifting to the door.
And his fingers, contracting, tore the cigarette in half.
"Rutton, what the deuce is the matter?"
Rutton seemed not to hear; Amber got his answer from the door, which
was swung wide and slammed shut. A blast of frosty air and a flurry of
snow swept across the room. And against the door there leaned a man
puffing for breath and coughing spasmodically--a gross and monstrous
bulk of flesh, unclean and unwholesome to the eye, attired in an
extravagant array of coloured garments, tawdry silks and satins
clinging, sodden, to his ponderous and unwieldy limbs.
"The babu!" cried Amber unconsciously; and was rewarded by a flash of
recognition from the coal-black, beady, evil eyes of the man.
But for that involuntary exclamation the tableau held unbroken for a
space; Rutton standing transfixed, the torn halves of the cigarette
between his fingers, his head well up and back, his stare level,
direct, uncompromising, a steady challenge to the intruder; the babu
resting with one shoulder against the door, panting stertorously and
trembling with the cold and exposure he had undergone, yet with his
attention unflinchingly concentrated upon Rutton; and, finally, Amber,
a little out of the picture and quite unconsidered of the others, not
without a certain effect as of a supernumerary standing in the wings
and watching the development of the drama.
Then, demanding Amber's silence with an imperative movement of his
hand, Rutton spoke. "Well, babu?" he said quietly, the shadow of a
bitter and weary smile curving his thin, hard lips.
The Bengali moved a pace or two from the door, and plucked nervously at
the throat of his surtout, finally managing to insert one hand in the
folds of silk across his bosom.
"I seek," he said distinctly in Urdu, and not without a definite note
of menace in his manner, "the man calling himself Rutton Sahib?"
Very deliberately Rutton inclined his head. "I am he."
"Hazoor!" The babu laboriously doubled up his enormous body in profound
obeisance. Having recovered, he nodded to Amber with the easy
familiarity of an old acquaintance. "To you, likewise, greeting, Amber
"What!" Rutton swung sharply to Amber with an exclamation of amazement.
"You know this fellow, David?"
The babu cut in hastily, stimulated by a pressing anxiety to clear
himself. "Hazoor, I did but err, being misled by his knowledge of our
tongue as well as by that pale look of you he wears. And, indeed, is it
strange that I should take him for you, who was told to seek you in
this wild land?"
"Be silent!" Rutton told him angrily.
"My lord's will is his slave's." Resignedly the babu folded his fat
"Tell me about this," Rutton demanded of Amber.
"The ass ran across me in the woods south of the station, the day I
came down," explained Amber, summarising the episode as succinctly as
he could. "He didn't call me by your name, but I've no doubt he's
telling the truth about mistaking me for you. At all events he
hazoor-ed me a number of times, talked a lot of rot about some silly
'Voice,' and finally made me a free gift of a nice little bronze box
that wouldn't open. After which he took to his heels, saying he'd call
later for my answer--whatever he meant by that. He did call by night
and stole the box. That's about all I know of him, thus far. But I'd
watch out for him, if I were you; if he isn't a raving lunatic, I miss
"Indeed, my lord, it is all quite as the sahib says," the babu admitted
graciously, his eyes gleaming with sardonic amusement. "Circumstances
conspired to mislead me; but that I was swift to discover. Nor did I
lose time in remedying the error, as you have heard. Moreover--"
He shut up suddenly at a sign from Rutton, with a ludicrous shrug of
his huge shoulders disclaiming any ill-intent or wrong-doing; and while
Rutton remained deep in thought by the table, the babu held silence,
his gaze flickering suspiciously round the room, searching the shadows,
questioning the closed door behind which Doggott lay asleep (evidence
of which fact was not wanting in his snores), resting fleetingly on
Amber's face, returning to Rutton. His features were composed; his
face, indeed, might have been taken as a model for some weird mask of
unctuous depravity, but for his eyes, which betrayed a score of
differing phases of emotion. He was by turns apparently possessed by
fear, malice, distrust, a subtle sense of triumph, contempt for Amber,
deference to Rutton, and a feeling that he was master not alone of the
situation but of the man whom he professed to honor so extravagantly.
At length Rutton looked up, suppressing a sigh. "Your errand, babu?"
"Is it, then, your will that I should speak before this man?" The
Bengali nodded impudently at Amber.
"It is my will."
"Shabash! I bear a message, hazoor, from the Bell."
"You are the Mouthpiece of the Voice?"
"That honor is mine, hazoor. For the rest I am--"
"Behari Lal Chatterji," interrupted Rutton impatiently; "solicitor of
the Inner Temple--disbarred; anointed thief, liar, jackal, lickspittle,
and perjurer--I know you."
"My lord," said the man insolently, "omits from his catalogue of my
accomplishments my chiefest honour; he forgets that, with him, I am an
accepted Member of the Body."
"The Body wears strange members that employs you, babu," commented
Rutton bitterly. "It has fallen upon evil days when such as you are
charged with a message of the Bell."
"My lord is harsh to one who would be his slave in all things.
Fortunate indeed am I to own the protection of the Token." A slow leer
widened greasily upon his moon-like face.
"Ah, the Token!" Rutton repeated tensely, beneath his breath. "It is
true that you have the Token?" "Aye; it is even here, my lord." The
heavy brown hand returned to the spot it had sought soon after the
babu's entrance, within the folds of silk across his bosom, and groped
therein for an instant. "Even here," he iterated with a maddening
manner of supreme self-complacency, producing the bronze box and
waddling over to drop it into Rutton's hand. "My lord is satisfied?" he
Without answering Rutton turned the box over in his palm, his slender
fingers playing about the bosses of the relief work; there followed a
click and one side of it swung open. The Bengali fell back a pace with
a whisper of awe--real or affected: "The Token, hazoor!" Amber himself
Unheeded, the box dropped to the floor. Between Rutton's thumb and
forefinger there blazed a great emerald set in a ring of red old gold.
He turned it this way and that, inspecting it critically; and the